By JUDITH JOFFE-BLOCK

Two years ago, Ritual Café owner Eileen Hassi was nearly arrested by city police for creating a miniature park in two parking spaces in front of her café.

Now, such guerrilla parks are part of an international holiday devoted to converting parking spaces into temporary parks.

Park(ing) Day, celebrated on Friday in 90 cities worldwide, will create some 500 green spaces.  That’s more than double last year’s record of 200 spaces in 50 cities. This is the third year of Park(ing) Day.As of Wednesday night, eight Mission groups had registered parks on a central map created by the Trust for Public Land, a coordinator of the event.

Even the San Francisco Planning Department is getting in on the fun.

[kml_flashembed movie=”http://media.journalism.berkeley.edu/mission/parkingday.jjb.102308/soundslider.swf” height=”375″ width=”350″ /]

City Planner Lisa Bender said the agency will use the day as an opportunity to engage with the neighborhood about the Mission Streetscape Plan—a proposed set of guidelines for making the neighborhood greener, safer, and more suited for public and pedestrian use.

Bender said the Planning Department will convert a few parking spots on 16th Street between Guerrero and Valencia into an outdoor café seating space. This will be the first time the agency has participated in the holiday.

“The idea of taking a car space and turning it into a community use, like free seating, demonstrates the theme of the plan–to use our streets more for community space,” Bender said.  She pointed out that temporarily converting street parking for other uses is something that is mentioned in the Mission Streetscape Plan.

The Planning Department will be available to talk to residents about the proposal, which calls for improved lighting and paths for pedestrians, sidewalk landscaping, and other initiatives to make Mission streets more conducive to diverse kinds of public use.  A formal meeting for community residents to respond to the plan was held in August and another is scheduled for February.

Hassi of Ritual says that getting people to think more about public space is why this will be her third time participating in the holiday.

“It is so great to take this little tiny piece of land that we all take for granted as being a necessity and turning it into something that is so much better than a parking spot,” she said.

“It changes the whole dynamic of our store. The whole café spills onto the street for the day.”

Others planning to participate include Friends of Mark Sanchez’s campaign for District 9 supervisor.

Sanchez has been endorsed by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which itself is planning to convert a parking space into a bike parking lot a few blocks north at 17th and Valencia.

Here in San Francisco the planning for the day came about organically, said Matt Shaffer of the Trust for Public Land, who helped oversee the international event.

“There was no central organizer, people know how to do it, they know it is coming, and they have been prepping for a year,” he said.

Bender said that the city understands the need to maintain parking and said it should be balanced with other community needs for public transportation and biking.

Carlos Muela said it was a struggle for his family’s tapas restaurant on 16th to receive deliveries because of tight street parking in the area, but even so, he agrees with Bender.

“There are more important things than parking,” said the 21-year old student.  “We have BART we have public transportation, we don’t need more parking.”