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San Francisco parklets are here to stay, but supes say they can close overnight

Outdoor parklets for restaurants and businesses are here to stay as part of San Francisco’s post-pandemic cityscape.

The supervisory board on Tuesday approved an amended version of the ordinance regulating the shared spaces program to allow most small businesses to continue using public sidewalks and parking spaces to bolster their operations – and to close those spaces at night.

Supervisors were divided over whether to let businesses shut down parks overnight. Supporters of the parklet closures said keeping them open would place a responsibility on business owners to clean the spaces of any nighttime mess or deal with noise from people using the spaces after hours. Supporters of keeping parklets open overnight said they wanted to preserve public space for public use.

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí presented two last-minute amendments on Tuesday to allow companies to close parks overnight and keep the program running within the planning department, which has issued park permits throughout the pandemic. , instead of moving the operation to public works. Both amendments were adopted, with night-time closing times set from midnight to 7 a.m.

“This program is one of the lasting legacies and a positive direction for our city,” said Safaí. “The biggest complaints were when people used these spaces after hours. It is more difficult to defend these spaces if they remain open 24 hours a day.

Supervisors Safaí, Matt Haney, Rafael Mandelman, Gordon Mar, Myrna Melgar and Catherine Stefani voted to allow companies to close parks overnight.

Haney, who represents the inner city neighborhoods most affected by homelessness and outdoor drug use, said business owners in his neighborhood told him leaving parklets open overnight would present ” significant challenges “. He was concerned that companies could be held responsible for issues like a crowd selling drugs in a parklet.

“Requiring them to stay open overnight would make them impractical for many of the small businesses that I represent,” Haney said.

Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Connie Chan, Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen and Shamann Walton voted that parklets should be open to everyone overnight to preserve space removed from the public.

“We are starting this incredible program that has changed the landscape of San Francisco,” said Ronen. “We are giving up an extraordinary amount of public space to accommodate private businesses, as I think we should, but in return, I think the public should be given as much access as possible.”

The law obliges companies to add a public bench near or in the parklet.

In recent months, the parklet program has come under scrutiny as elected officials question how to regulate the hundreds of outdoor spaces that have provided a lifeline for small businesses during the pandemic. In particular, the members of the board of directors sought to ensure that the parklets are accessible to people with disabilities and discussed the permanent privatization of public space.

At one point, the Mayor of London Breed threatened to put the parklet program on the ballot if the board did not pass it.

Family businesses will benefit from a two-year fee waiver for the program to help with economic recovery. Fees range from $ 1,000 to $ 3,000 for a single parking spot, depending on the type of park, and will be required for chain formula stores.

Some business owners were happy to hear that the program they saw as a lifeline would continue.

“I’m exuberant right now,” said Ben Bleiman, founder of the SF Bar Owner Alliance representing 475 bar owners in the city. “This is the biggest positive change for small businesses in my 20 years in San Francisco. “

Bleiman set up parklets at his two bars – Soda Popinski’s in Nob Hill and Teeth in the Mission – whenever he could. The outdoor space was “life or death” at the Nob Hill location, he said, because without it he couldn’t have reopened the bar.

Bleiman was grateful for the last-minute amendment allowing businesses to close their parks at night, arguing that even city parks do not stay open all night.

“I thought that was the recipe for disaster,” he said. “The downsides were extremely obvious. We have an epidemic of clean streets, homelessness, and city crime and safety right now around our trade corridors. Having to keep them open at night would have been a beacon for this activity which would have put small businesses in direct conflict with our neighbors. “

Bleiman did not understand the argument that parklets privatized public space, especially when they occupied parking spaces. He stressed that there would always be enough space on the sidewalks for people, including the disabled or the elderly, to pass.

Shirley To, owner of Bottoms Up Bar and Lounge on Mission Street near the Excelsior, had mixed feelings about the plan to make the parklets permanent. Last year, the parklet she built in August allowed her to keep her business open.

But she had issues, including homeless people using the parklet “like a house” and letting her clean up the space, she said. And in May, a drunk driver slammed into the parking lot late at night, digging a hole in the wall and bumping into a nearby homeless person. With the repairs, she ended up paying over $ 8,000 for the parklet.

She still has the parklet in place but doesn’t use it much, she said, as her guests prefer to be indoors near the TV and out of the wind and cold. She said she would give him another chance when the weather warms up.

“I’m still a little worried about this,” she said.

JK Dineen and Mallory Moench are the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle. Emails: jdineen@sfchronicle.com mallory.moench@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @sfjkdineen @mallorymoench

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