Community

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
 (08.31.12)
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.