Republicans just killed outdoor dining in Pennsylvania
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Over the past year, restaurants across Pennsylvania have spent millions and millions of dollars reconfiguring themselves to sell take-away drinks and building outdoor shelters in nearby parking lots so people can continue to eat out without risking getting infected with COVID-19.
That huge investment collided headfirst this week with the State Republican Party and its vengeful crusade against Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. The takeaway drinks and the outdoor construction were made possible by Wolf's pandemic emergency declaration, which foolishly attacked the state GOP as a kind of death knell for freedom. They therefore added a constitutional amendment to the most recent round of primaries that would give lawmakers the power to repeal a governor's declaration of emergency.
Unfortunately (in part because it was a low-turnout area code) that amendment was passed and the Pennsylvania Legislature duly canceled Wolf's Declaration of Emergency. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board then ruled that the regulations allowing take-away drinks and al fresco dining were lifted. Oops!
It's insane because the Republicans clearly didn't think through what they were doing (they've since proposed a bill to legalize take-away drinks, but combined with a measure to undermine the state's alcohol monopoly, so Wolf is likely to veto it ) and because this is exactly the wrong step to take when dining outdoors in the future. No doubt, even in densely populated cities like Philadelphia and New York, there will be a huge argument this summer over whether to sacrifice a few parking spaces to give restaurants space for al fresco dining. Even the smallest driving restriction leads to furious protests among drivers.
But the truth is, alfresco dining was a very welcome reclamation of public property during the pandemic - taking space away from underpriced parking lots and moving it to more pleasant, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Take-away drinks could leak when the pandemic is really over, but outdoor dining options should remain in place indefinitely. Cities should be for people, not vehicles.
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