Over the past year, restaurants across Pennsylvania have spent millions and millions of dollars reconfiguring themselves to sell take-out drinks and build outdoor shelters in nearby parking lots, so people can keep going. eat outside without risking infection with COVID-19.
That huge investment collided this week with the state’s Republican Party and its vindictive crusade against Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. Takeaway drinks and outdoor construction were made possible by Wolf’s declaration of pandemic emergency, which the state’s GOP absurdly attacked as some sort of fatal blow to freedom. So they added a constitutional amendment to the recent ballot in the primary elections that would give the legislature the power to overrule a governor’s declaration of emergency.
Unfortunately (in part because it was a low-turnout primary), this amendment was passed, and the Pennsylvania legislature duly rescinded Wolf’s declaration of emergency. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board then ruled that the provisions allowing take-out drinks and alfresco dining had been repealed. Oops!
It’s infuriating both because Republicans clearly haven’t given much thought to what they’re doing (they’ve since proposed a bill to legalize take-out drinks, but paired it with a measure to undermine the state’s alcohol monopoly, so Wolf is likely to veto it), and because this is precisely the wrong action to take with outdoor dining in the future. There will no doubt be a huge fight this summer, even in dense cities like Philadelphia and New York, over whether to sacrifice a few parking spots so restaurants can conserve space for alfresco dining. . Even the slightest restriction on driving tends to provoke furious protests from drivers.
But in truth, alfresco dining during the pandemic has been a very welcome takeover of public property – removing space from the hugely undervalued car storage and moving it to more pleasant, pedestrianized neighborhoods. Take-out drinks could be phased out when the pandemic is truly over, but alfresco dining rooms are expected to remain indefinitely. Cities should be for people, not vehicles.
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