The SF Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to make the city's pandemic parklets all permanent fixtures — and they voted 6-5 to allow businesses to lock them up at night, something that was argued over for about two hours.
The Shared Spaces Program, established by a mayor's executive order in May 2020 as a temporary solution to the forced closure of restaurants and bars across the city, now looks to be a paradigm shift for the city's entire eating and drinking scene — and one that adds a bit more of Europe to our already European-feeling city. The program allows businesses to set up tables and chairs on platforms in street-parking spaces and in adjacent alleys and plazas with minimal permitting headaches, and many restaurants invested significant funds last year into making their spaces cool (and well heated) and inviting.
The program has been granted extensions, and in March of this year, Mayor London Breed introduced legislation to make the program permanent. When it became clear that the supervisors were going to want to debate various issues like allowing the homeless to use the parklets at night, and whether or not the removal of parking spaces was hostile to the disabled community, Breed threw the gauntlet down and accused the board of trying to "butcher" and "water down" her legislation. In May she said that if the board failed to pass the legislation, she would bring it to the November ballot — where it would obviously win.
As the Business Times reports, Tuesday's meeting brought plenty of debate about what constitutes public space when it's sitting next to or in the public right-of-way. And several supes balked at the notion that business owners should have to clean up after whoever sleeps in their parklet after spending money to build it and going into debt for much of last year.
"It’s all public until a $30,000 parklet from a restaurant that’s $100,000 in debt has to pay for damage," said Supervisor Catherine Stefani.
Ultimately, Supervisor Ahsha Safai's amendment allowing businesses to lock parklets up between midnight and 7 a.m. passed in a 6-5 vote. But businesses will be required to provide a bench or some other type of seating for non-customers to use as they pass through.
Another amendment that was approved Tuesday takes the Shared Spaces permit approval process out of the hands of the Department of Public Works and puts it in the hands of the Planning Department — which, arguably, could make future approvals a lot more complicated and time-consuming.
There had also been some previous debate about sidewalk clearance, with Supervisors Peskin and Melgar having introduced amendments that would require eight feet of clearance for wheelchairs on sidewalks that are more than 12 feet wide — and it's not clear whether that amendment made it through.
The legislation still has to go up for a second vote on July 20 before becoming law.
Currently there are about 2,100 shared spaces and parklets that were approved in the last year, with more likely to come.
Tony Gemignani, the owner of the Tony's Pizza Napolitana empire, told NBC Bay Area last night, "All the restaurateurs, all the bar owners want to keep these parklets." And, he added, by allowing restaurants to have extra seating as they emerge from the pandemic, the city is also giving them a faster way to recover financially.
"If we can’t make up for the lost income, by just having some additional seating, I don’t know where we’ll be," he said.
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