Berkeley parklets stir up excitement, apprehension

Some parklets have bicycle racks where users can stash their bikes while they enjoy the pop-up public space. Photo: City of Oakland

Some parklets have bicycle racks where users can stash their bikes while they enjoy the pop-up public space. Photo: City of Oakland

The Berkeley City Council voted last week to bring a new pilot “parklets” program one step closer to city streets. The program, which would create miniature public parks in unused bus stops, parking spaces, or other “dedicated public right-of-way” space, has been eagerly awaited by many merchants in Berkeley.

According to the staff report prepared for the meeting, “Parklets are publicly accessible space for the enjoyment and use of all citizens, and are privately constructed and maintained. It is envisioned that the Parklets will be located in areas with pedestrian activity, as additional seating areas for retail patrons, and in areas where there is a desire to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment.”

The item was set for discussion Tuesday night but was instead moved to the consent calendar by Councilman Laurie Capitelli. Prior to the vote, Councilman Jesse Arreguín reinforced the idea that parklets are public space and can be used by anyone. They are, after all, extensions of the sidewalk, as pointed out by Eric Angstadt, the city’s planning director. Angstadt spoke briefly about the issue, noting that it is the responsibility of businesses that sponsor parklets to ensure the space remains open to the public.

The parklet at 40th St. in Oakland. Photo: City of Oakland.

The parklet at 40th St. in Oakland. Photo: City of Oakland

Despite the overwhelmingly positive response from patrons of the San Francisco parklet program and the enthusiasm of Berkeley businesses, both Arreguín, who broadly supports the parklets program, and Michael Katz, a Berkeley resident, floated several concerns at Tuesday night’s meeting. San Francisco has shut down at least one parklet because it had become a prime destination for drinking and carousing, said Katz, and Arreguín voiced hesitations regarding homeless people attempting to live in the parklets or, conversely, being asked to leave. They brought up the issue of how long it might take to remove a parklet and what the process would cost the city. The staff report on the matter requires businesses sponsoring parklets to be responsible for their upkeep and a schedule for the removal of a parklet, if necessary, is required as part of the business’s maintenance agreement. Additionally, the minor encroachment permit municipal code specifies the situations in which a parklet would be removed.

Another concern noted in the staff report is the loss of city revenue a parklet might cause. Angstadt wrote that it’s unknown how much money the city could lose because no applications have yet been submitted. The applications are set to cost $1,700, but the city manager may be able to waive the fee in the case of financial hardship.

The Transportation Commission recommended that up to 10 parklets be allowed in commercial districts around Berkeley as part of the pilot program. The panel considered allowing parklets in manufacturing and residential districts, but decided to hold off “until the experience with the commercial districts was available.”

Most existing parklets in Oakland and San Francisco occupy parking spaces and jut out a maximum 6 feet into the street. Those cities have charged sponsoring businesses a fee equal to the revenue the city would earn if the parking spaces were available. The Berkeley Transportation Commission, however, recommended that “revenue replacement of any metered parking locations used as a parklet not be required.” Instead, parklet applicants should work with City of Berkeley staff to find other means of revenue, such as placing meters at other previously unmetered spaces.

After the three-year pilot, city staff will decide if a more permanent program is reasonable or desired based on data collected while the program was underway. Applicants who install parklets will be allowed to maintain their parklets for up to two additional years after the program has ended if no permanent program is put in place.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on July 8 at 3:30 p.m. to reflect additional information regarding the removal of parklets and to more accurately represent the views of Councilperson Jesse Arreguín.

Related articles:
Berkeley officials get closer to public “parklet” policy (06.10.13)
North Berkeley merchants want parklets for the people
Trees and seating focus for Solano Avenue improvements (08.16.12)
Oakland’s Angstadt to be Berkeley’s new planning director (03.12.12)
Cheese Board Collective: 40 years in the Gourmet Ghetto (07.08.11)
Food takes to the streets, literally, on Park(ing) Day (09.17.10)
Keba Konte, Guerilla Café (04.09.10)

Eden Teller, a graduate of Berkeley High School, is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She will be attending Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, next year.

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • The_Sharkey

    I hope you’re right.
    I’ve enjoyed Parklets in Oakland and San Francisco, and hope that they are able to work as well in Berkeley as they do in those communities.

    But I admit I do share some reservations. The homeless enablers in Berkeley seem to have a lot more clout here than they do in those other Bay Area cities.

  • The_Sharkey

    Good analysis, Anthony.
    A sad state of affairs, but a good analysis of the reality of what’s going on in that area.

  • guest

    I see a long rainy winter when the parklet outside the Cheese Board will be mostly used as a perch for the beggars in front. Still, everyday the traffic is screwed up, you can’t park and the Cheese Board will have to buy a better pallet mover, there won’t deliveries coming off of Shattuck.

    This parklet craze is oh-so prescious hipster driven. That includes geezer hipsters and the 20-30 balding, tatted, with tiny brim hats variety). But I say bring ’em on. If you think the Park polarizes us, wait till there’s one on every corner – and there is nothing to prevent that other than Lil’ Sanchez’s effervescent optimism.

    And of course there will be casualties. In the photos above: Show me the bollards that protect people from cars every where else they run smack up against each other. And yes, the meridian in front the Cheese board is a tragedy waiting to happen. Waiting for a stroke struck senior or a hot rodding young punk to plow the kids under. And yes the City will be liable for that, and similar accidents in every parklet they approve.

    Using Europe as a example of success is more childlike than use usual, even in Berkeley. It works in Europe because they’re European, they know how to act and how to enforce a standard of social behavior. You won’t find any homeless camping out in the sidewalk cafes of Berlin or Paris or Barcelona, but you will here. They’re our sacred cows, protected by Tolerance, until they die from it.

    Not to mention the inherent lack of equity. When competing business line a street who gets the parklets? Josh, Ali, Juan and Gertrude will be at each others throats over who gets a parklet and then, whose customers use whose parklet?

  • Guest

    You’re better at defending Sarachan than you are at shitting on “hipsters.”

  • EBGuy

    Just a slight correction. Berkeley already has an anti-lie ordinance in commercial areas. See BMC 13.36.015 Creation of accessibility on commercial sidewalks

  • Truth Sayer

    I stand corrected. Thank you.

  • Devin

    So what, we can’t invest in any public space until every homeless person is off the street? Seems like a good way to continue the downward spiral and maintain the status quo.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Family of four not four kids…four blocks away is still congested more like 8-10 blocks which is 1/3 to 1/2 of the total distance and I’m not walking two miles+ for ice cream on a whim (let’s go get ice cream…lets not because it will take two hours.

  • N

    No, the sidewalk is public property, owned by the city. In some places the property lines extend to the street centerline, but that’s extremely rare in Berkeley (and most of the Bay Area). In most places, the property owner is still responsible for maintaining the sidewalk, however (I’m not sure if that applies to business districts).

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Is that perhaps different in commercial areas? In residential areas the lot lines run out to the street centerline, at least based on my very limited data set.

  • fran haselsteiner

    Unless you are producing the solar energy for your electric car from the roof of your home, it may well be fueled by coal somewhere else. But, hey. just so you and your family aren’t affected, right?

  • guest

    What you meant to say was, you’re not Sarachan, you’re a hipster. Try Rogaine.

  • guest

    Yeah, come on, City Attorney, comment on the liability of placing seating on the roadway.

  • Guestorious

    Still better than a bus burning diesel Frannie.

  • Truth Sayer

    You raised another very critical issue. It would be wise to install 5-6 “ round yellow stanchions, capable of stopping a car going 5 mph, outside parklets to restrict vehicular traffic. Though it is not a required safety devise, what will jurors think if an out of control vehicle injured people in a parklet, and these safety devises were not installed? Also, how will it affect the store owner’s insurance since the store installed the parklets? Sorry, I tend to think as a risk manager.

  • Truth Sayer

    Colorfully written, and proof that facts don’t have to be dull. You are spot on regarding Americans. While touring Europe, I can sometime tell who are my fellow Americans – The ones who are using their outside stadium voices amid quite Europeans.

  • anothernonymous

    Even Obama isn’t going to make you walk Downtown.

  • anothernonymous

    Berkeley must not do this!
    Homeless People
    Businesses caring what happens in front of them
    Its new (well at least here)
    I may have to walk further than I want to
    Homeless people
    Danger! We must be safe at all times. Even wearing all black at night crossing unlit intersections
    Homeless people
    I’m old

    What have I missed?

    Oh… Homeless people…

  • Devin

    In neither residential nor business districts do lot lines run to the middle of the street. See county assessor’s maps (available here:, they’ve recently added an aerial / satellite image overlay. Hence the common usage of “city strip” to describe the grass on the street-side of a residential sidewalk. In most districts, the sidewalk is fully City property / responsibility as well although I’m unsure if there is a business district stipulation saying sidewalks are the adjacent lot’s responsibility.

  • guest

    It’s obvious what you got on the SAT…drool.

  • guest

    re: “Yeah, come on, City Attorney, comment on the liability of placing seating on the roadway.”

    20 hours and still no takers?

  • guest

    Allow me to translate the free verse below:

    “Berkeley must not do this.” = “Berkeley” isn’t doing this. It’s a tiny group of entitled folks used to getting their way in experimenting unsuccessfully with Berkeley’s quality of life.

    “Homeless People” = Berkeley’s intractable problems are too boring to deal with. They’d rather play in the street.

    “Businesses caring what happens in front of them” = They’ve never a had business, but they can imagine really, really, well.

    “Its new (well at least here)” – The fact that it’s criminally hazardous, with our streets and driver’s behavoir, has till now been obvious to most adults.

    “I may have to walk further than I want to” = An attempt at satire over the privatizing of public assets for the benefit of the tiny brim hatted lobby.

    “Homeless People” = “We’ve made a mess of the town, but when you’re loaded and eatin’ pizza in the street…who cares?”

    “Danger! We must be safe at all times. Even wearing all black at night crossing unlit intersections” = “I’m ready to accept a little carnage…if it means more places to sit all day.”

    “Homeless people” = “The solution is to put your hands over your ears and yell “I can’t hear you!”

    “I’m old” = It’s an ‘age’ thing. Kids have always wanted to play in the street.

    “What have I missed?” = A lot.

    “Oh… Homeless people..” = “Oh… Homeless people..”

  • guest

    re: “Yeah, come on, City Attorney, comment on the liability of placing seating on the roadway.”

    Eden Teller and Emilie Raguso,: Perhaps you can nudge a comment out of Eric Angstadt?…Anyone in the City?

  • baklazhan

    Clearly, the only solution is to eliminate public space, and to prevent the creation of any new public space.

  • baklazhan

    So if we allow businesses to build parklets they will continue to fail. Businesses must be prevented from building parklets, for their own good!

  • baklazhan

    I basically agree. The proposed rules (which are the same in SF) seem designed to discourage anyone from actually building a parklet. The fact that businesses seem to be falling over themselves to build them anyway only serves to demonstrate what a good idea they are.

  • baklazhan

    Right… someone making use of public space? For eating and relaxing?! I move the city immediately dedicate $40,000 for the prevention of such lunacy.

  • Truth Sayer


  • guest

    1480; the shame

  • guest

    Don’t come down! Stay in the trees! Stay in the trees!!

  • The_Sharkey

    Cute baby’s first troll, but when somebody gets hit by a car jumping the curb or run over walking to/from that little strip, there’s going to be hell to pay since the city has been essentially approving of/encouraging this for years.

    I’d rather pay for the bushes or bollards now than pay the out-of-court settlement later.

  • The_Sharkey

    If that’s true, then why is the homeowner forced to pay for repairs to city infrastructure on city property?

  • Devin

    can you give an example of repairs the City forces homeowners to cover? We don’t have to pay to have potholes filled, or for repairs to the sidewalk.

    If my tree falls into the City right of way they may ask the owner to have it cleaned up or face a fine. Often developers of large-scale projects are “forced” to upgrade the sidewalk around a new apartment building as a condition of approval by the City for granting a use / building permit but not individual homeowners.

  • Eden Teller

    The photo is from the City of Oakland’s website – they have an information page regarding parklets and featured several example photos from SF. Good catch, though!

  • Mbfarrel

    Ignorance, in your case is clearly not bliss. Masse’s, Saul’s, The Cheeseboard, Philz’s and the Guerilla Cafe aren’t businesses?

    Don’t let your cluelessness get in the way of your opinion though

  • guest

    Mbfarrel, et al:

    You surprise me! I honestly had no idea you all live so dangerously. You DO understand that the businesses you listed have SIDEWALK seating, separated from vehicular traffic by a swath of sidewalk and parked cars? Right?

    A parklet is seating IN THE STREET. You knew that – Right?

    And while PARKLETS are too few and too new to really run numbers on, we do have LOTS of data on what happens to things parked on the street. See attached.

  • guest

    see above.

  • guest

    That sounds familiar, let me guess…it’s the chant for our brave brothers and sisters who crapped in buckets for months to save shrubs up near the stadium…Right?

  • Truth Sayer

    I think I’ll just pass on eating in a parklet. For some reason I lost my appetite.

  • Truth Sayer

    Run that by me again where we can understand?

  • guest

    Losing one’s appetite is sad, but losing a business it’s taken years of hard work to build is tragic. Food service operators experimenting with street furniture design have created a rapidly growing opportunity for the legal profession. See:

  • guest

    Sorry, I left off the “l” at the end…accidents happen!

  • The_Sharkey

    I’m referring specifically to the sidewalks, which yes indeed homeowners are expected to pay for which is why so many of them are in such a sad state of disrepair.

    Homeowners used to have to pay for 100% of sidewalk repairs. In 2011 the city began paying for half the cost of sidewalk repairs.

  • Truth Sayer

    Your statement to the Berkeley’s government “that A parklet is seating IN THE STREET. You knew that – Right?” should be the reality check lightbulb turning on in their minds..

  • Devin

    Thanks for the link, I had no idea homeowners were on the hook for sidewalk repairs, that’s nutty. Still doesn’t change the fact that lot lines don’t go into the street, but I appreciate learning that fact.

  • guest

    Lance, Tracey, Francis: Isn’t it responsible journalism to ask for a response from the City on parklet safety/liability? Then add a follow up note to the story.

  • guest

    5 days waiting…I guess that wraps it up. Let’s hope this part of the public record helps streamline the cases and increases jury awards for the victims (or their survivors) in Berkeley’s coming parklet tragedies.

  • jah

    I had a sidewalk repaired… no bill from the city. Seems like that’s only if it’s a major problem?

  • emraguso

    We can certainly follow up as the issue moves forward.