Outdoor dining on the Central Coast has grown during the pandemic.
In the middle of last year, we saw parklets spring up in curbside parking spaces. Now the City of Paso Robles and other Central Coast cities are discussing whether this once foreign concept will be a more permanent fixture in the downtown areas.
Just two months into the pandemic, KSBY did a story on the concept of a possible parklet in Paso Robles. There were renderings and the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce had a survey circling asking for community input.
"We did have a feeling, though, that it would be well-received as far as giving a different type of feel to our downtown area," said Gina Fitzpatrick, Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce CEO.
Fast forward to 2021 and most restaurants in the heart of downtown have adapted to the innovative way to seat guests outside.
"The customers have come through and really supported it even through the cold times and the hot times," said Trevor Lasalle, Street Side Ale House owner. "I mean, we've kind of gone through it all since it's almost basically been a full year now with the pandemic."
The parklet program is set to expire at the end of June.
The rented water-filled plastic barriers are the greatest cost, running $8,000 to $10,000 a month.
The program was initially paid for by the CARES Act through this past December.
Since then, the city's general fund has covered the cost through the COVID-19 Business Support and Economic Recovery Program.
Meanwhile, the city's propane heater reimbursement program expires at the end of March.
For January, propane subsidies were just under $3,700 for 16 businesses.
During the next city council meeting on March 16, the city is slated to open up the discussion on what comes next.
"The question is, what does the community want to become of the spaces?" said Paul Sloan, City of Paso Robles Economic Development Manager. "Is outdoor dining something that should be part of the local landscape for the downtown experience?"
"When it comes to council on the 16th, our chamber is advocating to maintain the existing temporary parklets through the Fall. So we don't know exactly, maybe September, October something like that," Fitzpatrick said.
The chamber says a task force may be formed to determine the cost for more permanent infrastructure.
The city says fees for a parklet permit are being deferred for businesses until after the pandemic.
The Paso Robles Chamber has since launched another survey for feedback.
"It gives a really warm and welcoming vibe for people to come and sit outside, enjoy the sunshine, and just with all the lights you have around when you come out at night, it's like, it just makes it feel alive," said Jan Matteson, Paso Robles resident.
Critics have voiced concerns over a lack of parking.
"There are a few people that complained but overall, I feel like it's not too bad," said Yadira Cardenas, Orale Taqueria .
Restaurants with the parklets say they've served as a lifeline and in a post-pandemic world, some are hopeful the parklets are here to stay.
"The longer we can see this succeed and continue, I think it would be a great thing moving forward for as long as the city is willing to continue it," Lasalle said.
The City of San Luis Obispo's parklet program runs through June. City leaders may request approval to have it potentially run through the end of the year.