When it was first imagined, outdoor dining was a necessary response to help the California restaurant community survive in the COVID-19 era. California lawmakers knew they could not simply stand by while one of California’s largest business sectors withered and died.

Lawmakers and the restaurant community collaborated on new approaches to sustain operations, including outdoor dining. Once a reality, restaurants benefitted and patrons loved the novel, charming arrangements. Today, it is hard to imagine reverting back to the old way.

But outdoor restaurant dining, still a lifeline to thousands of restaurants, is at risk. In late 2021, news reports chronicled the past promise and present peril of outdoor dining spaces in San Francisco.

No sooner had restaurants started to realize the benefits of San Francisco’s “Shared Spaces” outdoor dining “parklet” structures, than the city started to impose restrictions and costly fines for arbitrary infractions. Other cities, from San Diego to San Clemente, have also vowed a crackdown.

Innovative, thoughtful approaches to helping restaurants stay in business, like outdoor dining, have been a critical lifeline in the last two years. State policymakers need to stay focused on supportive policies that help maintain our community establishments and benefit COVID-weary Californians.