Hoping to help accommodate local restaurants closed to indoor dining under statewide public health orders aimed at containing the potential spread of COVID-19, the Trinity County Board of Supervisors is working with Caltrans on a permit system allowing sidewalks to be used for outdoor dining.
The coronavirus pandemic has been especially hard on restaurants, briefly allowed to reopen to indoor dining before they were forced to close again several weeks ago. Many are trying to make ends meet by serving take-out orders to go and using any outdoor space they can for socially distanced customer dining and table service.
Some have resorted to using sidewalk space for outdoor seating, but when that area lies within a state highway right-of-way such as Highway 299/Main Street through Weaverville, state law prohibits vending and advertising there.
Trinity County Director of Transportation Rick Tippett said Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration have found a temporary “workaround” allowing the general concept of sidewalk dining to take place through a permit system initiated and monitored by the county.
The county is issued a general permit and in turn will track the specific locations in use and report that to Caltrans. The county permit allows restaurants to install temporary public seating outside in compliance with all state and county policies.
The public seating must be open for use by the general public and not reserved for patrons of any specific business. Seating is only allowed where sidewalks exist that are wide enough to also accommodate access for people with disabilities as required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Vending, sales, transactions, table service and similar activities in the public seating area are strictly prohibited. No portion of any transaction may take place within the state highway right-of-way. For example, a customer may purchase a to-go food order inside the restaurant and use the outdoor seating to consume it, but a restaurant employee may not collect payment from the customer while in the public seating area.
The public seating area may include temporary benches, tables, bike racks, and planters, but must not include any fixed object. Temporary tables and chairs must be distinct from those of nearby businesses and must not include the same or similar color scheme, marking, log, symbol or any other identifier of any particular business. All installations must be heavy enough, or otherwise secured, to prevent moving into travel lanes, highway users or business properties.
Signage may be included to identify the permittee, but all forms of advertising are prohibited in the public seating area, and no fees may be charged for use of the public seating areas. No sidewalk, parking space or road may be closed to create a public seating area, and no alcohol may be consumed in these areas.
Tippett said the state is looking to the local governments to set up the permit program and monitor it. This will be handled through the county’s existing encroachment permit process to which a standard fee of $100 is attached, however, he recommended waiving the fee for the permittees. The permit would be valid for 120 days or until the declared state of emergency has ended.
He said there will be a simple permit request form to fill out at the Department of Transportation “and then I make sure they are in compliance, notifying Caltrans 72 hours before they set up.”
Tippett asked the Board of Supervisors to approve the general concept at its Aug. 18 meeting, authorizing him to work with Caltrans on the encroachment permits and to waive the $100 fee for applicants.
“Hayfork doesn’t have a lot of sidewalks,” noted Sup. John Fenley, and Tippett said “I’ll have to figure out something there, and it is for the county to enforce, but anything I can do to help the merchants, I’m willing to do it as long as they aren’t swinging from the rafters or something.”
Sup. Judy Morris endorsed waiving the fee, saying “the restaurants are most impacted. They can only be outside or offer take-out. Some are managing better than others. Some are really struggling to find outdoor space.”
The board voted 3-1 to approve the general concept and authorize the fee waiver. Sup. Keith Groves was opposed, calling the concept discriminatory in that Weaverville is the only town in the county that actually has sidewalks. Sup. Bobbi Chadwick was absent.