Parklets were a way to keep businesses running and people working during the pandemic but on Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo City Council will weigh the costs and benefits of keeping them.
Community members were asked to fill out a survey about how they feel about parklets. City officials say more than 7,000 people responded.
Many people think parklets offer atmosphere and space, but they also cost money to maintain and they take up parking spaces.
There are currently 30 parklets in San Luis Obispo. During the peak of the pandemic, the city counted more than 40.
“I think it's cool. I guess they're comfortable, a cool place to sit,” said Brian Perry, a restaurant patron in downtown San Luis Obispo.
“When COVID struck and tons of businesses were impacted and shut down, we kind of sprang into action and said well, we have to find some way to help these businesses stay open,” said Luke Schwartz, Transportation Manager for the City of San Luis Obispo.
During the pandemic, business owners needed to sign up for permits for street encroachment, but the city did not charge for those permits.
That could soon change.
“Moving forward, there likely will be some fee for using these spaces,” Schwartz predicted.
He says the city could make more money via tax revenue with the additional seating, but that is only if the restaurants can manage the increased capacity.
For the busy downtown, the parklets reroute traffic, block parking spots, and prevent the city from obtaining revenue from parking permits.
The San Luis Obispo City Council will meet on July 20 to talk about those permits as well as other costs of keeping the parklets.
According to the city, they make around $3,500 a year per parking meter.
Schwartz says the parklets can cost around $10,000 to keep in shape.
"We've had a couple that are restaurants that once they're back allowed indoors and 100%, they simply don't have the staffing capacity or even the kitchen capacity to have table service indoors and some of them have back patios and in the parklet. For others, they found it was just burdensome to be able to stack and clean them and keep them activated, where we pulled them out if they're not being used essentially,” he said.
Schwartz says there is a precedent. The city has a sidewalk café program that charges around one dollar per square foot so they may use that as a reference point.
He estimates that to remove the parklets, it would cost the city around $1,500, but it would mainly be a staffing cost.