Too Many Parklets in the Mission?

Map by Molly Roy

Map by Molly Roy

En Español.

Parking in the city — don’t wanna hear it. Take away 14 parking spots — come again? Yet add something nice in the neighborhood, and voilà, people forget those 14 parking spots ever existed. Or at least most people do.

Often, business owners see the parklets that have grown up along Valencia Street as an extension of commercial space. Customers and many residents see them as a social space. But to some residents, the park-like patches are hell on the ground — rest stops for the homeless or noisy drinkers.

In less than two years, six parklets have appeared in the Mission; four on Valencia and two on 22nd Street. Citywide the parklet population has jumped to 31 in little more than two years, according to pavementtoparks.sfplanning.org. The new public spaces met little early opposition, but that may be changing.

A new parklet proposed for the Mission Beach Café at Guerrero and 14th streets is running into a backlash. At least one proposed for 24th Street was shelved by neighbors who opposed it, and when the first-ever Mission parklet on 22nd and Bartlett disappeared for renovation, some neighbors were relieved to see it go and unhappy when it returned.

Another, planned for 826 Valencia, appears to be on schedule, however. According to Paul Chasan, the planner for this parklet, 826 is in the midst of designing the space. Once the design is finalized and approved, the Department of Public Works (DPW) will issue a final permit. At that point, they may begin building.

“More people can sit in a spot than [the] one car [that] can fit in a spot,” said Betsy Barron, owner of Luxe & Love. She said the Crepe House parklet draws attention to her own business and creates a nice atmosphere along Valencia Street.

“It’s a safe, clean place where people can mingle,” added Kazu Matsuba from Taylor Stitch, near Four Barrel’s parklet. He said crowds of people are good for business. “They’ll sit there, then turn around and walk in.”

“It eliminates the capitalist structure,” said Ash, a barista at Revolution Café. “People can hang out and aren’t forced to buy something.”

That, said some, is just the problem. After business hours, homeless people move to the scene, and sometimes after-hours drinkers gather there. “People are getting territorial,” said Heather from Currents soap store. “They spit, pee, do drugs.” She said it’s turned into a new element of the sidewalk.

Heather said she’d be furious if a parklet were to be installed near her home.

But others disagree. The Deepistan National Parklet — Valencia’s only parklet by a private residence — is near an ice cream shop. Nearby resident Kong Son said people stop by, sit down and chat over ice cream.

Parking Issues?

But what about parking? Parklets reduce the already limited number of parking spots in the neighborhood.

“It’s worth it,” said Jeanne Finley, who drove to Lost Weekend to pick up a video. “It’s an alternative way to interact with the community.” Potrero Hill resident Jeff Saltzman doesn’t mind, either. “I like to see nice things in my neighborhood,” he said. Saltzman acknowledges that parking will always be a struggle, but said there will always be spots to find. A real solution to parking, Napa Valley resident Kurt Niznik said, would be parking garages.

Like many residents, some business owners don’t see the loss of spaces as a big deal. “It’s three parking spots…who cares?” said Leah of NO vintage boutique, referring to Four Barrel’s nearby parklet. “It’s OK if there’s a few less spots,” said Jena McWhirter of Escape From NY Pizza, referring to the parklet outside her business, which also provides outdoor seating for the business. “It affects the parking in the slightest amount.”

Others see the big deal. Franny Giuliani of Paxton Gate pointed to the parklets as a cause of worsening parking conditions. “They’re supposed to be nice for the community, but they take up parking spots,” she said. “They cause more problems than they solve.”

Jenny Liu, who runs Tokyo Futon + Tea, 924 Valencia St., agreed. She doesn’t care for them and decided against one for the front of her store. “I encourage people to stay, but it takes up space,” she said of the four along Valencia Street.

But only a few residents thought the parklets were a bad idea. “Parking is a smarter idea,” said Aaron Garcia, taking out change from a plastic cup to feed his meter. If businesses want more outdoor seating, he said, they should set up tables along the sidewalk.

The loss of parking is a balancing act. Anthony from Fabric8 said his organization accepted the sacrifice when it eliminated one parking spot, and it’s one he and his team are happy with. The parklet is open to families on the weekends, where they play games and create art. “We do urban street art,” he said. “This parklet is an experiment of what that means.”

The goal of parklets is to balance out the busy traffic with pedestrians, said Andres Power at DPW. Some also encourage bicycling by including bike parking rings. The Four Barrel parklet holds 27 bikes and the Freewheel Bike parklet holds six, adding 33 total bike rings in the city.

“Less Cars, More Better”

Many Missionites see the parklets as an incentive to start using new forms of transportation. “Less cars — anything that will promote people to use public transit, to walk and bike,” said Son, who lives near Deepistan National Parklet.

Some visitors agreed, as well. “From what we hear,” said an Australian couple visiting the Mission, “Americans really love their cars.” The pair thinks the parklets are a fantastic idea — even better if they encourage people to use public transit.

It’s not clear how much the lack of parking affects businesses. “I’ve never heard any complaints,” said David Marks, owner of the vintage boutique Room 4, near the Freewheel Bike parklet. Marks said many of his customers come on foot. The owner of Mediterranean eatery Zaytoon Wraps, Chris Totah, helped install the parklet near his restaurant and doesn’t see a parking issue. “The customers are locals in the Mission,” he said. “They don’t drive to get here; much of it is foot traffic.”

And for those attached to their cars? “Oh geez,” said green artist Kazoo, with a dose of sarcasm. “Less cars, more better.” Kazoo creates bags that say “Bikes Make Everything Better.” She’s always happy to see fewer cars and more recreation.

But recreation, some believe, is a better fit for places other than city streets. David Chen, owner of the vintage furniture store The Touch, said if people want to hang out, they shouldn’t be in the street. He’s from China and knows what it’s like to sit outside when cars pass by, belching exhaust fumes. He suggested Dolores Park as a more fitting place for outdoor socializing.

The Noise Problem

Cars aside, there’s another issue at stake: noise.

Whenever people congregate, there’s bound to be more noise and action — including homeless rowdiness — said McWhirter of Escape From NY Pizza. Next door, Café Revolution barista Ash said the area around their parklet is already known as a drug hub; the parklet just makes drug deals convenient.

The fear of noise led to the petition against Mission Beach Café’s proposed parklet alongside its three-car garage.

Two people protested against it — one very close neighbor and one resident of Cole Valley. “They don’t want people hanging out at night,” said Mission Beach Cafe manager Justin Arbogast of the petitioners. “But we have a light system for security.”

Arbogast defended his business’s right to have a parklet. “It’s our garage and our parking spots,” he said. “People aren’t even allowed to park there now, anyway.” He said the parklet would alleviate traffic on Sundays, when there can be a two-hour wait in line to be seated. “It’s a little city with a lot of people,” he said. “We gotta create space.”

The first attempt to create that space was at Café Revolution, where DPW installed a wooden bench parklet, funded by the city through the Pavement to Parks program. Eight of the city’s 31 parklets were funded through Pavement to Parks; the other 23 were funded by businesses owners, like Fabric8, or a resident, like the Deepistan National Parklet. Many of these owners applied for grants on their own to help with funding.

“We were the prototype,” said Ash of Revolution Café. “They wanted to see how people responded to it.” Homeless people began hanging out there, which turned off some authorities, Ash said. So a new design emerged, featuring red tables and chairs that are taken in each night. Now Ash notices fewer homeless people using the space.

But homeless people still convene there, according to some reports. At last month’s community meeting at the Mission District police station, one resident, who asked that his name not be disclosed, complained about noise around the Revolution Café after it closes for the night. He blamed it on people gathering at the parklet to drink.

A Long-Term Investment

So what does it take to create a parklet? Businesses or private residents submit proposals to DPW, which reviews the proposals and meets with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). If proposals follow DPW’s guidelines and are selected, the city posts a 10-day public notice at the proposed location. If no one objects — and usually people don’t, according to DPW’s Power — a permit is issued and construction can begin. If there are objections, as in the case of the Mission Beach Cafe’s proposal, a public hearing is scheduled.

Totah, the owner of Zaytoon Wraps, said he and the owner of the Crepe House endorsed their parklet. “It was a lot of money,” said Totah, “but it’s a long-term investment.” The entire process took about six months, the permit two to three months, and cost about $14,000, Totah said.

“More and more people want them,” said Power. Some are expecting them. Mohammed, a local at Revolution Café, said, “I can’t wait to see parklets all over the city.”

Filed under: Front Page, Parking, Parks, Transportation

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47 Comments

  1. tessa

    I never had much of an opinion one way or the other until I walked by some of these. . . Why in the world would anyone choose to sit so close to the exhaust fumes of passing cars?? And for heaven’s sake, don’t take children there to breathe in that excess of exhaust. I don’t think these are a useful solution to the need for community space; they seem more a marketing tool for certain businesses.

    • So people should all stay indoors to let the cars pollute?

      • tessa

        That wouldn’t be my choice. I’d personally prefer that people turn on a few brain cells and work together and come up with realistic plans for healthy public spaces in the community; and then do the collective work necessary to turn those plans into a reality. I’ve found that sarcastic tweet-comments are seldom helpful in that process.

  2. em

    Hmmm… so how many are in front of the mayor house? How about the stuporvisers houses? PUC exec’s houses? Diane’s house? So bizarre that anyone would sit in one and eat exhaust. Restaurants seem allowed to take up any side (and sometimes both) of the sidewalk they want anyway – so much for being a pedestrian. Sad part that the clowns responsible will be gone, like always in a few years, and then we’ll all wonder how this happened, since no one ever gets to vote on this stuff.

  3. maria

    I agree with tessa about the fumes. You can’t enjoy the outdoors and fresh air with cars passing by six feet away from you.

    • ubringliten

      I see the parklets as a barrier between the sidewalks and the streets and that is always a plus. The sidewalks are too narrow. Get rid of all the parking spots and widen the sidewalks would be the best solution.

  4. LovesTheMission

    It looks like I am contrary to the three earlier posters. I really like what these parklets have done to improve the Valencia corridor. By my count they actually increased the number of parking spaces because of the added bicycle parking. Valencia is much more civil, thanks to the urban planning and traffic calming. It is a GOOD thing to encourage the motorists circling for parking spaces to look elsewhere.

    • heather

      I agree with you wholeheartedly, LovesTheMission. How anyone can complain about more green space that encourages community gathering is beyond me. More bicycle parking, more places for people to gather without having to be a consumer and hopefully a move to less cars….sounds perfect to me.

    • mission bred

      I say get rid of these parklets out of the mission. They have been nothing but trouble.

      • LovesTheMission

        It is also fair to say that long term storage of private property on public space (parking) has been costly too. I measure success by looking at how many people enjoy use of that public space. Simple enough, most of the parklets are being used by multiple people most of the time when compared with automobile storage. That sure looks like a more wise use of a public space.

  5. S

    These are not really on high traffic streets. Valencia’s lights are timed for under 25 mph and 22nd street has frequent stop signs.

    I think these should be considered a welcome addition. These parks don’t necessarily encourage homelessness to congregate – but lack of policing them does.

  6. John

    Not enough parking? 16th/Hoff and Mission/Bartlett garages almost always have spaces open.

  7. Ray

    I’m looking forward to the Parklet in front of 826
    valencia. No doubt it will add another creative gathering spot and will contribute to a more family-friendly environment.

  8. John

    The arguments about drugs and homeless could be made against any public space. i would love to see more park lets, i do agree the exhaust and buses passing a foot away at 30 mph is a negative, but it’s still better than nothing.

    • LovesTheMission

      Maybe 20 years ago there was 30 mph traffic on Valencia, but not now. (Those of us who remember when Valencia was a four lane thoroughfare.) The ‘traffic calming’ changes have transformed Valencia St. into a vibrant public space, great for business, great for people. Win-win, as I see it.

  9. Maureen

    I love parklets because I think they improve the quality of life for us all. That said, I have stopped buying pizza from Escape from New York in the Mission because their parklet is full of homeless men and I don’t feel safe there.

    • LovesTheMission

      You might want to give it another try. They recently redesigned and rebuilt that 22nd St. parklet so that it doesn’t serve as a homeless hangout much anymore. Check it out.

  10. Andrea

    It seems to me that both the article and people commenting on it are missing one major point. What I see as a problem created by parklets is that they take out parking spots even at night, when those stores are closed. Residents who need their cars for commuting have always had the option to park in metered spaces off hours and overnight, and these are exactly the spaces taken off the streets by parklets. I agree that it’s nice to have less traffic during business hours, with more people using public transportation or bicycles, but that same choice unfortunately does not apply to all of us commuters, who unfortunately, in this car-centric society, have no other means to get to their workplaces in the East or South Bay than driving, and now have more problems in finding parking spots when they come back in the evening. I would be happy if, like sidewalk tables and benches, parklets could be “folded” and stowed away at night.

    • Andrea

      I am referring in particular to Mission Beach Cafe’s silly notion that “It’s our garage and our parking spots. People aren’t even allowed to park there now, anyway.”. Yes, they are! It’s a yellow area, once the cafe is closed, those parking spots are open to everybody!

    • Aaron

      I wish we could park cars on those pesky sidewalks too, while we’re at it. Oh, wait, people do that.

  11. Evan Goldin

    You know what’s missing from this article? It’s called context. For example, if I am a journalist writing about the removal of parking spaces in San Francisco, it might be good for me to mention how many parking spaces are in San Francisco? That number, as of 2010, was 441,541 spots on the streets and in city garages (http://sf.streetsblog.org/2010/03/29/san-francisco-first-city-in-the-nation-to-count-its-parking-spaces/).

    So you’re telling me it’s a problem that we’ve removed 31 of them? That’s 0.007%.

    • Sir Thomas

      There are 7 billion people on earth. Evan Goldin represents .000000000143%. Guess it wouldn’t matter if we removed him.

      • bewing

        Sir thomas…ever hear the phrase ” it’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt?”exactly what is wrong here…elevating a parking spot to the level of a human being, boggles the mind the level of stupidity and selfishness that exists in this city.

    • Suki

      Thanks Evan! I didn’t know that.

  12. C.

    Once I saw a group of folks building a parklet on Valencia with a big ol’ diesel- stinkin’ farm truck double-parked (and blocking traffic) in the median to offload hay bales, etc. for their creative enterprise. This incongruous image exemplifies the inherent contradiction of these silly trendy spaces — it’s just the latest fad that means nothing, has no long-term potential or benefit, and its existence is ENTIRELY DEPENDENT on the internal-combustion economy it purports to discourage. Come on folks — engage in a little self-reflection and stop being so faddish and hypocritical — parklets are not going to solve our traffic problems — better MUNI transit might help, but that has never happened in the 30 years I’ve been here, in fact it has deteriorated — there isn’t even a 26 Valencia bus on Valencia any more.

    • NoeValleyJim

      Few cars == better Muni. The number one cause of Muni’s slowness is congestion caused by too many cars.

  13. Public space isn’t just for cars. If you think you have the “right” to dump your car anywhere you want, think again.

  14. John Murphy

    Deepistan doesn’t take 2 parking spots – there was a curb cut there to begin with and parking not allowed. And Deep doesn’t have a car that he is parking on the street because his garage is blocked off.

  15. Shotwellian

    Everything on Valencia (and all other streets, for that matter) between the property line on one and the property line on the other is the Public Realm–land that belongs to the public. Some of the public realm is used for driving and parking cars, but it’s also crucial for walking, biking, sitting, talking, etc, etc. We have a process for deciding how we as the community should best use the public realm, and everyone can voice their opinions. But the view of many of these comments, and frankly some of the article, that almost all of the public realm should automatically and without discussion go to the storage and driving of private cars, is ridiculous.

    • violet

      That’s not entirely true — in fact, the “public” does not pay for the space in front of each property. The property owner must pay for the sidewalk — repairs, replacement, etc., as well as the tree maintenance (the city is currently offloading that responsibility to the property owners as well).

      • oSEDo

        Both of you are right – all of the sidewalks and streets belong to the public (as Shotwellian says) but the strip from the private property line out to the curb is the property owner’s responsibility to maintain (as Violet says). The parking strip, on other hand, is maintained by the City and it’s nice to see its use democratized.

  16. sf-ped

    Over time these parklets will require more and more City resources to maintain, the Andres Power types claim to the contrary, and they will become like the SFRPD facilities: today all of Mission Park is closed, most of Dolores Park is closed and the poolhouse in Garfield Park is closed, but SF has plenty of money for these pinky-do ideas.

    • Lisa

      I agree, I’d rather have actual parks than stupid parklets.

    • oSEDo

      Mission and Dolores Park playgrounds are closed for renovation that’s close to completion, and Garfield Pool reopens March 12 after cleaning and boiler replacement. My kid is psyched to play at all 3 again soon. And we enjoy the parklets too. Happily, it’s not the either/or choice sf-ped makes it out to be.

  17. John

    I was thinking of the one on Haight, but nonetheless, a Muni bus passing by close enough to touch will disturb your tranquility, regardless of speed.

  18. Joel V

    Why not just make some of these streets, whether several blocks or just one, car-free? The city’s already congested, and the parklets are an indicator that people need more public spaces. The car-free Sunday on Valencia St. last Spring comes to mind.. http://sf.streetsblog.org/2011/05/09/sunday-streets-in-the-mission-shows-the-demand-for-pedestrianized-streets/

  19. googiegomez

    The parklet next to the Rev on 22nd Street is becoming more dangerous (drug dealing & young thugs). CAVA22 is now experiencing some heavy dosage of fights outside of their establishment with dealers congregating at the parklet.

  20. Colin

    Amazing that some people choose cars over parks even on pedestrian-centric streets. Maybe if we razed the whole city, we could make it ALL a parking lot! Or maybe the whiners should try getting out of their cars, or sitting in one of these parks, or maybe moving to Pleasanton.

  21. jen

    i say make it cost $14,000 for someone to park their car on the street for a year. if that’s how much it costs to transform public space into space that is actually used by the public, then it should cost that much for people to store their private automobile in that public space as well.

  22. Ami

    Keep the parklets out of my neighborhood. Out of 24th st. It’s crowded already without having to add convienitent space for transients and drunks. Valencia street can have them, but don’t put them in my back yard. Keep Parkletts out of Lower 24th st.

  23. Angelica

    The Mission was and still is a working class community to some extent. The people who get up at 4 in the morning and don’t have a garage are dependent on available street parking. Someone mentioned that it was “only” 31 spaces. Just goes to show what an elitist construct this is. Lobby for real parks, Children’s park on 23rd and Folsom took decades and now we get parklets because it makes it easier to have your latte. Be a part of what this community is, family, hard working families who don’t have the luxury of hanging out and now must go that extra distance just to park their working vehicle. This is the Mission, deal with the realities not what you think it should be.

  24. The article incorrectly states that the pilot parklets were funded by the Pavement To Parks Program. This is not the case. 22nd & Bartlett parklet and the two parklets on Columbus were funded entirely by private donations. The renovation/redesign of Revolution Cafe was also funded by the businesses. No public money went to these projects. I believe that was the point of the pilots.

    There is a misperception that public funds have gone to, or been displaced, by the parklet program. In fact, other than the staff costs of the Pavement to Parks program in the Planning Department and the mayor’s office, parklets generate income for the city through the permit process and the investment of private capital in the public right of way. No hard research has been done yet on the economic impact, but anecdotally many business owners will tell you that parklets have greatly increased their sales, which contributes to the city’s tax base.

    What should be cause for some concern is actually an overall dis-investment of public resources in the public realm and the reliance on private support of public space. While “public-private partnerships” are in vogue now, it eventually becomes problematic when the only people who can afford creative, interesting public spaces frequent neighborhoods where businesses can afford to pay for them.

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