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Sacramento restaurants face challenges with keeping outdoor dining going

As the Al Fresco Dining Program becomes permanent, there are new fees and specifications businesses must adhere to.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Outdoor dining is set to become permanent in Sacramento in about a month.
The city voted to approve the move last year and allowed time for local businesses to transition.

But as the Al Fresco Dining Program becomes permanent, there are new fees and specifications businesses must adhere to, making it challenging for some to keep the structures they have already built.

"We're having some difficulties with that right now because they're asking us to change some things that we've already done," said Jason Poole, co-owner of Midtown Spirits, which has a popular patio out front.

When Al Fresco Dining first began during the pandemic, there were no fees associated with the temporary program. Poole said they only had to pay an "encroachment fee."

Under the permanent program, restaurants will be charged a monthly fee depending on the location and size of their outdoor dining space. The city says a patio under 200 square feet that takes up a parking space on the street would be $250 per month. Whereas, a set-up with only two tables and chairs would be $25 per month.

Business owners will also have make sure their patios meet ADA requirements and are compliant with city code. The specifications are making tough for businesses to keep their existing patio structures.

Poole said the city has asked them to change the dimensions of their structure, that they put tens of thousands of dollars into building during the pandemic, but he is hoping they can come to an agreement.

"We're hoping to be able to keep that, work with them and make it a safe great space for the city," said Poole.

The temporary program was extended through June 30 to give restaurants the time to transition and build up their patios.

The city says 31 businesses have submitted applications to participate in the permanent program.

The Rind, a restaurant on L Street, has decided to close their patio at the end of this month. Owner Sara Arbabian said the costs just didn't add up. She says they already put $30,000 into building the structure and would need to put in thousands more to bring it up to code.

"All in all, we're looking at tens of thousands of dollars that we would need to spend to maintain the structure and then of course permitting and monthly fees so it is an expensive endeavor," she said.

Instead, The Rind will focus on revamping the other outdoor seating space next to the restaurant, according to Arbabian.

In a statement, Gabby Miller with the City of Sacramento said, "the program is designed to offer businesses a range of options to decide how they would like to add permanent outdoor dining in the public right-of-way. The Al Fresco Dining Program fees will provide funding for staff time to administer the Al Fresco Dining Program." 

She also says the city "supports and encourages" Sacramento businesses interested in the program to browse through designs to get estimated costs of the project on its proposed sight. 

The city has a grant program that provides financial assistance of up to $20,000 to restaurant owners for construction of Al Fresco dining patios. The program runs through June 30.

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