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.
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.”