Restaurant parklets in San Francisco get new guidelines, $2,000 yearly price ticket

SAN FRANCISCO — Alfresco dining in Parklets has become a big part of the Bay Area’s dining scene. It’s one of the many ways the pandemic has changed the way we live our lives, and now in San Francisco, that change comes with a price.

Starting next month, a new permitting system will put a heavy price on these parklets. Business owners must spend $2,000 per year for each parking space occupied by a Parklet.

Parklets have been a lifeline for David Alexander’s restaurant during the pandemic.

“Oh yeah, we wouldn’t have made it. It pretty much saved us,” said Alexander, owner of Papito Hayes in Hayes Valley.

Alexander, like hundreds of other San Francisco restaurant owners, built the outdoor pods back in 2020 after the city launched its Shared Spaces program, which allowed businesses to use curbs for outdoor seating. Almost three years later, Alexander says customers can’t get enough of the Parklets.

“Oh, they love her,” Alexander said. “Even after COVID, I would say 80% of customers like to sit outside, apart from the cold days.”

Because of this success, the city is now transitioning the program to a more permanent version.

“The Pandemic Program ends on March 31 and this new permanent program will take effect on April 1,” said Robin Abad Ocubillo, Director of Shared Spaces.

The new permanent program, according to Abad Ocubillo, will be essentially the same as the pandemic program, with just a few more security measures.

“We need to provide our paramedics and our firefighters, law enforcement and other first responders with ways to easily get off the street and onto the sidewalk to maybe attend to an emergency or a building fire,” he said.

Abad Ocubillo added that the number of parklets on a given street will depend on that street’s unique layout and location.
He says they are working to accommodate as many companies as possible.

But that can bring other problems. Parking spaces are already notoriously difficult to find in the city. The parklets often take up two or three spaces.

“I live in the suburbs, so I think parking is an issue for me,” said restaurant customer Richard Weng.

Abad Ocubillo says his team is doing what it can to balance the needs of both companies and drivers. One way to do this is to limit the number of parklets each business can have.

Alexander says he was told he could only have two at Papito Hayes.

“So that’s one of the main ones, I have to take one down but I can still keep a few,” Alexander said.

Still, Alexander said he’s grateful to be able to keep the extra square footage.

“You know a lot of the rooms are tiny, so you get all these extra tables, that’s good for everyone I think,” Alexander said.

It’s a program he hopes will live long into the future and become another part of what makes the city so special.

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