The Pleasanton City Council voted to extend the city's outdoor parklet program through the end of the year during Tuesday's regular meeting, where they also directed staff to design plans for the private leasing of potentially permanent pop-up parklets in the downtown area.
Originally designed in response to the coronavirus pandemic as a temporary way to help businesses expand their space outdoors, city officials say that if done correctly, the parklet program -- which allowed outdoor tents, canopies and other structures called pop-ups to line parking spots or sidewalk space in downtown -- offers opportunities to benefit businesses well past the COVID-era.
"You know, as I think about this, and I think one of the speakers alluded to it, in that the one benefit of COVID is that it forced us to do some things that some people had talked about but ... there was never the thrust to do it until COVID hit," Councilwoman Kathy Narum said during Tuesday's meeting.
"I would like to see the pop-ups continue through the end of the year, and I would like that we direct staff to work with the (Pleasanton Downtown Association) and more specifically the restaurants in three areas: aesthetics, size and safety," she added.
Council members voted 4-1 to extend the temporary parklet program through Dec. 31, beyond its initial Labor Day expiration date. They then unanimously directed city staff to review regulations around parklets for future consideration, including issues surrounding the aforementioned areas listed by Narum.
Located in downtown Pleasanton, pop-ups can occupy up to three parking spaces and were initially granted temporary approval for free while indoor dining was prohibited or limited due to pandemic-related health restrictions.
The program was approved with minimal guidelines in order to expedite businesses' use while removing barriers and costs associated with expanding outdoors. However, city officials say that if the program is to continue on a more permanent basis, it will require additional regulations that address aesthetics and location.
While city staff say the program has generally been viewed favorably by residents, it has in some ways shown a divide between downtown businesses, with restaurants benefiting the most from the extra space while some retailers have criticized the loss of parking and street visibility for their shops.
"I think going to December is going to negatively impact the retailers and I'm really worried about that because you've pretty much taken away all of their holiday shopping unless you can do something with their parking -- which I don't think we will be able to do a lot by then either," said Councilwoman Valerie Arkin, who offered the lone dissenting vote for extending the parklet program through December.
"The aesthetics aren't going to improve as much, the weather is going to be bad ... I want our restaurants to succeed, by all means of course I do; I want our retailers to not shut down either though," she said, adding that she'd rather have the program extend through Oct. 31. "A lot of them are struggling down there, and I would hate to see that happen, especially going into the holiday season."
Council members were in agreement on directing staff to develop a plan that would allow for permanent parklets to be located downtown in the future, which would allow staff to create additional guidelines and aesthetic requirements.
While the council stopped short of officially approving plans for permanent parklets, staff said options include creating parklets on off-streets for private leasing as well as public areas.
City staff also reiterated that the parklet program is not officially a part of the separate Weekend on Main street closure program, which was also enacted as a way to help businesses operate outside during the pandemic by closing Main Street to vehicular traffic between Fridays and Sundays.
That program is currently slated to end on Labor Day (Sept. 6), but the council agreed to discuss potentially expanding that date sometime in the future.