While Stanislaus County is still in the early stages of reopening its economy under State guidelines, the Turlock City Council adopted ordinances on Tuesday that are meant to help businesses use outdoor spaces to increase possibilities when they are allowed to open their doors once again.
The ordinances require a business to apply for a temporary outdoor operations permit. The applications will be reviewed by City Manager Toby Wells for approval. The permits can include allowing businesses to expand operations onto adjoining sidewalks or parking lots. Street closures will also be considered under the temporary permit process.
“The purpose here is to help our businesses move forward. This is not about holding anybody back rather allowing our businesses to start planning for that reopening process,” said Wells.
Businesses will not be allowed to open until it is permitted by the State of California under the reopening plan and they must follow the guidelines released by the State relevant to their individual industry. Some of those guidelines include health screenings for employees, increased sanitation efforts, barriers between customers and clerks and physical social distancing cues. All of the State’s COVID-19 industry guidelines can be found at: covid19.ca.gov.
Most of the Council viewed the ordinances as a step in the right direction in getting local shops back open in a profitable manner.
“Just to be clear, we’re not trying to hinder the abilities of these brick and mortar stores to be open. We’re trying to expand their capabilities by using parking lots, sidewalks, whatever they deem necessary to make sure they can actually make a profit,” said Council member Becky Arellano.
“It’s not a hindrance, we’re just trying to think outside of the box and we’re trying to facilitate that,” Arellano continued.
“This is a great step in being creative with the guidelines and restrictions we need to comply with...I think this is the beginning of the partnership during this pandemic between our businesses, small businesses and government to really team up on this and figure how to open up our local economy and do it in a safe and compliant way, while balancing and trying to get our economy back the way it used to be,” said Council member Nicole Larson.
While a majority of the Council members were very supportive of the ordinances, Mayor Amy Bublak had reservations.
“I worry about equity. There are businesses — on Geer Road and Monte Vista, I can go on and on — that just can’t block off the roadway...We have to be thinking of every business. So, as we start to think about this I get worried because we’re spending a lot of human resources trying to get them out there whereas in my mind it seems more sensible for us to just put that packet out there, have them have it there posted at their place and if there’s a problem we have an abatement or whomever goes out to check on stuff rather than spending onerous time on this trying to work through it. We’re trying to be too involved and it’s going to get us in trouble. I think that with every signature Toby puts on it puts us in more liability,” said Bublak.
The Mayor would rather the city give the businesses parameters but not make them go through an application process before expanding their operations to outside areas. Vice Mayor Andrew Nosrati said he would be supportive of this “maximum flexibility” option with the caveat that any street closures would go through an application process.
City Attorney Doug White had some liability concerns with a blanket allowance for businesses to expand their operations into parking lots and sidewalks.
“While it’s great to be reactive, I’d hate for us to be reactive because somebody’s got ran over in a parking lot or something like that because an unsafe condition was imposed by somebody who just didn’t happen to know any better,” said White. “There’s a reason we require people to go through a permitting process — to make sure what is being done is well thought through and things of that nature.”
Along with health and safety issues, White said he would also be concerned about neighboring businesses getting into disputes when trying to use the same parking lot areas for other uses.
Council member Gil Esquer said he also had concerns with businesses not getting the guidance up front when trying to open new outdoor areas.
“I think the more information we give them at the beginning, so they can get started and get going, is going to be better for them than to have us come by and say ‘oh, you’ve done it wrong,’” Esquer said.
Arellano also brought up the benefit of an application process for tenants seeking permission to implement these outdoor space ideas with landlords.
The Council adopted the ordinances with amendments that the applications would not affect businesses’ current Conditional Use Permits and with changing the language to take out the prohibitions on when businesses can open and just reference that the services offered must be in line with state orders.
For more information on applying for a temporary outdoor operations permit, visit cityofturlock.org or call 209-668-5540.