The city of Oakland on Thursday launched the first phase of its Flex Streets Program, closing down city streets and parking areas to allow space for outdoor dining and retail activity as the county lifts more coronavirus restrictions.
"Oakland’s beloved business community has suffered a significant economic hit under the COVID-19 pandemic, and the City is rallying to support it with streamlined access to use the public spaces to aid their recovery,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement. “I'm incredibly proud of the city team that came together swiftly to support our businesses in their time of need."
In addition to the benefit for businesses, the city says the program will open up streets to foot and bicycle traffic for residents.
The city announced last week it was streamlining the permitting process for businesses wanting to apply to use public rights-of-way - sidewalks and parking spaces, in particular - to allow outdoor dining and retail activity under the program.
The city will also waive all fees for these permits to allow commercial activity made possible by Alameda County's updated shelter-in-place order.
On Thursday, Alameda County announced the relaxing of the health officer's orders that reopening outdoor museums, outdoor restaurant dining, religious services, indoor/outdoor retail and outdoor fitness classes. Indoor and outdoor retail and outdoor dining will be allowed at reduced capacity to ensure physical distancing and safety plans are in place.
While essential in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Alameda County's shelter-in-place order greatly impacted small businesses in Oakland and elsewhere, with many seeing sharp declines in revenues. Many of them were forced to lay off workers.
The Flex Streets program is similar to what many Bay Area cities have either already adopted or are discussing, allowing restaurants and retail to open outside.