The 2,100 new Shared Spaces and parklet platforms around San Francisco are potentially becoming permanent fixtures, but if the Board of Supervisors has their way there will likely be a host of new restrictions and regulations that complicate matters for business owners. And London Breed does not like that.
The emergency program that allowed these outdoor dining and drinking areas to be built last year was pushed through with minimal regulation attached, which means that across the city there is a wide array of quality and accessibility to be found in the parklets themselves. Accessibility for the disabled is top of mind as the Board of Supervisors debates how to make the program permanent, but there are plenty of other concerns including crosswalk visibility, whether the homeless or anyone else is allowed to sit down in them without ordering something, and whether or not a bus zone or bicycle facility is impacted.
On Monday, the board's Land Use and Transportation Committee took up Mayor London Breed's proposed legislation for making the Shared Spaces program permanent. As Mission Local reports, the popular program attracted a fair bit of public interest to what would not normally be a widely watched committee meeting, with some supporters calling in while dining outdoors at a restaurant during the public comment portion.
But Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Myrna Melgar, and Dean Preston sound likely to advance the legislation to the full board with a host of amendments attached, and they'll still be debating these again at their next meeting in two weeks before doing so.
Last week, Mayor London Breed made public statements to the effect that she was specifically pissed off at this committee for "butchering" legislation and "watering it down," and she vowed to take the issue to voters in the fall if the board doesn't pass it. Breed first introduced the path to permanent parklets in March, and many restaurants and bars are in full support after spending thousands of dollars in most cases to get them built. At the time, she hoped to start taking applications for permanent permits this month.
One issue that is sure to be a sticking point: Disability rights advocates want there to be less infringement on sidewalk space, and therefore Peskin and Melgar have introduced amendments that would require eight feet of clearance on sidewalks that are greater than 12 feet wide — currently the rules only require six feet of open space for passersby and wheelchairs, which some advocates say is not enough. The legislation would still allow for the six-foot rule on sidewalks that are less than 12 feet wide.
Advocates also are pushing for a system of ADA inspections and fines for violations.
"We need to think about this as universal design,” said Jessica Lehman, executive director of San Francisco’s Senior and Disability Action, per Mission Local.
Laurie Thomas, director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, gave an objecting comment saying, "If that [sidewalk rule] moves to eight feet, that means we cannot accommodate seating in many, many restaurants and cafes and bars. Twelve feet is not a very wide sidewalk."
Preston suggested that parklet owners should allow passersby to be able to sit down for a few minutes without being told to leave, however this was reportedly met with plenty of objection from business owners. The biggest issue, besides this being bad for business, is that liquor licenses require bars and restaurants to keep minors out of spaces where booze is being sold.
And then there was some discussion around the infringement on public space in general, and whether bars and restaurants should be allowed to host private events that exclude the public in these spaces. Look for that to come up when this hits the full board as well.
Any hopes that Breed has of this legislation not being watered down, as she puts it, seem all but gone. You can be sure that debate will intensify about the loss of parking spaces in some neighborhoods, which impacts other retail businesses that don't benefit directly from the parklets themselves. (One Noe Valley store owner complained in recent months on an NBC Bay Area broadcast that the Shared Spaces program does nothing but create empty spaces during the daytime when stores need foot traffic, while benefiting restaurants at night.)
But stay tuned as this legislation moves along...