After outdoor dining exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pleasanton City Council is set to consider creating a longer-term public parklet program to help boost local businesses and enhance vitality in the downtown area Tuesday evening.
Weekend on Main street closures are slated to end on Sept. 6 with no extension proposed, but the council could allow the outdoor tents, canopies and other structures called "pop-ups" currently lining downtown Pleasanton's main artery to stay up longer for the benefit of some local businesses that have struggled since last year.
Many bars and restaurants were forced to shift to takeout and delivery service starting in March 2020, with some exceptions for outdoor dining before indoor dining returned in full June 15. To provide relief to local businesses impacted by the rigorous restrictions, officials agreed to temporarily expand dining and other business activities such as hair salons into outdoor spaces.
The city approved 20 different businesses for the outdoor pop-up expansions, which include tents and canopies with seating areas and furnishings, to be installed in public right-of-way areas such as on-street parking spaces and sidewalks. Another 50 or so approvals were also issued for pop-ups on private property, both in and outside downtown.
Minimal guidelines were provided to help limit costs and barriers for businesses. By doing so, businesses were able to operate while maintaining social distancing.
"Generally, the city has received positive feedback about the vibrancy the pop-ups have added downtown," city staff said in a report. "The program has provided welcome relief and an opportunity for businesses to maintain a healthier volume of customers than would have otherwise been allowed."
Discontinuation of the city's temporary pop-up program has been recommended "within the next few months, due to its somewhat ad-hoc nature and aesthetic concerns," but staff suggested exploring "a formal parklet program that would allow for creation of reserved private parklets" for local businesses, as well as a smaller scale public parklet program.
The pop-ups have met resistance from some residents and other businesses. "While restaurants have found pop-ups to be greatly beneficial, retail businesses have expressed concerns due to loss of parking, as well as decreased street visibility for pass-by traffic," staff said.
With the exception of those located on sidewalks, each pop-up can occupy from zero up to three parking spaces and had been granted temporary approval while indoor dining is prohibited "with potential extension by the city as it sees fit." Though parklets "can encourage traffic calming and enhance the pedestrian environment," those occupying parking spaces have "a corresponding potential impact on parking supply," city officials said.
"Within downtown, there is a high demand for on-street parking, and maintaining a robust parking supply continues to be a significant policy priority for the city," staff said.
Some downtown retailers have complained "that pop-ups are adversely impacting their businesses," and "particularly want to maximize on-street parking and visual sightlines to their storefronts during the fall leasing into the holiday season."
When it comes to developing a parklet program, one key consideration staff noted is whether to make parklets generally available to the public or reserved for the exclusive use of a private business. A temporary parklet installed as part of a pilot program several years ago "was open to the public and was not allocated for the use of any single business."
Overall, staff said structuring a private use parklet program would be challenging, but recommendations such as location standards, design requirements and other operational criteria could be recommended if the council "has interest in continuing to explore a different form of parklet program, such as limited installation of public use parklets sponsored by businesses or the city."
"Conversely, the temporary pop-ups installed during COVID have been installed for the use of a single business' customers," staff said, adding that businesses with an "expressed interest in continuing some form of a parklet program, have implied they expect future parklets to be similarly reserved."
Whether a public or private parklet program is established, staff said "it is likely that the city would want to limit or meter the total number of parklets allowed, to minimize loss of parking on individual blocks." A private use program could potentially restrict some businesses that wish to, from having a parklet and add "complexity to the program," but staff said a public use program could be "managed more equitably" instead.
Should the council decide to pursue a parklet program, staff will develop a draft program for their review, and conduct outreach with local organizations including the Pleasanton Downtown Association, Chamber of Commerce and the city's Economic Vitality Committee.
The council's open-session meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Tuesday (July 20). Read the full agenda here.
In other business
* A resolution to approve the issuance of sewer revenue refunding bonds by the Livermore-Amador Valley Water Management Agency (LAVWMA) is up for council adoption on Tuesday.
LAVWMA is proposing to refinance its outstanding bonds from 2011 by issuing 2021 sewer revenue refunding bonds. In a report, staff said the purpose of refinancing is to save money from lower interest rates.
"Average annual debt service savings are estimated to be $ 1.2 million and total net present savings are estimated to be $ 12.2 million over the ten year term of the 2021 bonds," staff said. "The 2021 bonds will mature in 2031, which is the final maturity of the 2011 bonds."
Originally issued 10 years ago in the principal amount of $105,345,000, the 2011 bonds are currently outstanding in the principal amount of $69.36 million, including maturity of $4.94 million in August 2021.
Pleasanton's share of debt service on the bonds is paid from net revenues of regional sewerage facilities operated by the Dublin San Ramon Services District. Altogether, the city's share of the project average annual debt service savings is $399,895.