By Jay Williams
On July 20, the SF Board of Supervisors unanimously passed legislation making the Shared Spaces program permanent. The decision changes the nature of the parklets from an emergency response to the pandemic to an ongoing part of San Francisco’s streetscape.
The recent decision from the Board has many local business owners feeling thankful that the new feature can stay.
“We were very relieved,” said Alice Kim, co-owner of Joe’s Ice Cream on Geary Boulevard between 18th and 19th avenues. “We spent lots of effort building one of the most beautiful parklets, but we weren’t 100% certain of how long we could keep it. But now we can look forward to our customers and community being able to enjoy the parklet in the future.”
Many local businesses invested considerable time and money constructing outdoor venues back when that was the only way they were permitted to serve customers. And even though indoor dining has since resumed as San Francisco responds to the changing guidelines in dealing with the pandemic, parklets still remain useful to local businesses. In most cases, parklets allow restaurants and bars to increase their capacity by up to 40%. Businesses can serve more customers, and patrons can avoid long wait times to be seated. Furthermore, the presence of outdoor seating on sidewalks, however sparse, creates an ambiance that is hard to come by on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, or, as Gov. Gavin Newsom declared outside Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant on Geary, “Eat your heart out, Paris!”
Businesses are starting to get more creative with their newfound outdoor spaces as well. Sites whose indoor dining spaces permit at most tables of four or six customers (which is most places in this city) are now able to host larger parties and events. For example, the parklet outside Joe’s Ice Cream has played host to multiple social gatherings for local schools.
While there is a consensus on the Board of Supervisors that parklets should remain open, this unity falters over whether they should be considered public or private spaces. This classification is important when deciding whether businesses have the right to close their parklets outside of business hours – particularly at night. On one side of the issue, you have those who believe that it is wrong to restrict access to a space that would be considered public were it not for the parklet (parking spaces are available to the public 24 hours a day). Most business owners, on the other hand, believe that the ability to secure their parklets is necessary to maintain their cleanliness and safety. This issue was heavily debated by the Board in the run-up to their final vote. As a compromise, the Board voted 6-5 to allow businesses to secure their parklets between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m.; however, they made it clear that parklets are public spaces by requiring that businesses place at least one public bench outside their parklet that is available at all times of the day.
For every parklet built, one, two, or even three parking spaces are lost. In a city where parking can be frustrating, this could present a problem for drivers. It also poses a dilemma for businesses, as having accessible parking is vital to bringing in customers. Also, fewer metered parking spaces mean that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) will bring in less revenue. SFMTA released a statement saying that they project to lose upwards of $9 million because of the loss of parking and may be forced to compensate by raising meter costs.
The City has investigated addressing this, listing “balancing the needs of the curb” as one of its nine goals as part of the new legislation. With the July 20 decision, the Board announced that it is committed to balancing parklets with loading, short-term parking, micromobility needs, and other curbside functions, as well as encouraging the sharing of parklets among businesses on the same block.
Mayor London Breed applauded the decision in a statement before she signed the legislation: “Shared Spaces brought back life and excitement to our neighborhoods during an incredibly challenging time. It has been wonderful to see friends and families enjoying their community and supporting their local businesses. By taking the necessary steps to make Shared Spaces permanent, we are providing another lifeline for local businesses to thrive and creating a clear path forward towards rebuilding our economy as San Francisco recovers from COVID-19.”
Categories: Richmond District