The parklets currently lining Main Street in downtown Pleasanton will disappear when the new year arrives but are slated to return in spring, after the Pleasanton City Council unanimously approved a formal parklet program for local businesses at their final meeting this year.
Councilmember Julie Testa -- who also served one last time as vice mayor for the year at the Dec. 21 council meeting -- told the Weekly, "We're going to miss having it for a few weeks," but she said that when the parklets return, they will "have a more polished look instead of the temporary look it's had because of the necessity of the pandemic."
Operating throughout the pandemic and extended by council vote in July, the parklet program is scheduled to end on Jan. 7. The program "has allowed businesses to temporarily expand dining and other business activities outdoors into private parking lots, the sidewalk and public parking spaces" according to a city staff report.
Some downtown businesses have called the pop-ups "key to their survival over the past 18 months," but staff noted there was "some criticism about the aesthetics of these pop-ups within downtown, particularly their appearance, effect on adjacent business visibility and traffic safety."
While researching, staff identified "several key issues and considerations for the parklet program." While "most of the temporary pop-ups installed downtown today will not comply with this program," staff said that "some of the structures may comply with minor alterations."
To address design concerns, staff proposed a pre-approved parklet model that businesses could use. None of the parklets will be required to look the same, but will be expected to follow guidelines like using materials such as wood paneling and metal for overall design continuity.
A design professional will be hired to prepare standard specifications for the parklets, which are currently not allowed to occupy more than two parking spaces and/or 40 linear feet of curb frontage, whichever is less. Because some parking spaces can be up to 24 feet long, the length of the parklet will be customizable.
"That means you could trim it down in front of businesses," Mayor Karla Brown said in an interview last Wednesday, with excess space potentially serving another purpose like bicycle parking.
Costs to prepare the program include hiring a design professional as well as reviewing, inspecting and monitoring the plan. The city may also incur ongoing maintenance costs associated with the parklets such as trimming nearby trees and street cleaning.
Per staff recommendation, some of the program costs could be recouped over time, should the council adopt an annual fee of $1,000 per parking space occupied (with "the fee to be waived during the first year to help offset the costs of investing in the parklet itself"). Application fees for each parklet would also be collected by the city.
During council discussion, Brown asked if the annual fee is "going on in perpetuity."
"Are we expecting these parklets to be in Pleasanton forever or is there a time where the council in the future will look at this and say we really need those parking spaces back or it's just not working?" Brown said. "If you have this automatic fee renewal, is there that chance to take a look back and say, 'is this program working?'"
Associate planner Megan Campbell said along with the annual fee renewal "comes an opportunity to review whether it's working." There are currently no fines for not maintaining parklets but the city does have code enforcement at their disposal.
Campbell said, "I believe it begins with a conversation, not necessarily a fee, and seeing if we can work with them, and then…at a certain point, we can actually begin to have a fine if maintenance is not being upheld to our standards."
According to staff, the restaurant community was vocal during outreach about wanting to keep the temporary pop-ups installed until the formal parklet program is ready. Maurice Dissels, executive chef and founder of Oyo restaurant, said during public comment, "I don't see why the city could not extend the parklet program, maybe in two week increments, until we get closer to having something in hand."
After some deferred street maintenance and cleaning by city operations, businesses will be able to submit a parklet plan starting March 1, with parklet installation beginning either later that month or in April.
Brown said the council may explore a city grant program to help businesses with the cost of installing parklets -- a proposal also supported by Testa, who said "many businesses spent money on the temporary pop-ups and we don't want to burden them with huge startup costs." Testa and others said the pop-ups cost on average approximately $10,000 each.
The total cost for implementing the parklet program including design services is estimated to be less than $25,000, and will be included in the 2021-22 mid-year budget.