SF's popular outdoor dining parklets may go away unless supervisors extend program past December

SF's popular outdoor dining parklets may go away unless supervisors extend program past December
Photo: Palette's new outdoor dining area. (Courtesy of Palette via @palette.sf)
By Matt Charnock - Published on October 19, 2020.

Amid the pandemic, SF’s temporary parklets and sidewalk shops have proven to be somewhat lucrative for businesses, and good for locals who want to mingle in safe, socially distant ways — but the city program responsible for allowing them is set to expire December 31.

As the Eater SF so rightly puts it: the idea of patrons dining atop repurposed parking spots would’ve been laughed at before the coronavirus changed life as we know it. Alas, indoor activities remain the most risky for virus transmission, while outdoor activities are going to continue to be the norm for months to come. But the al fresco dining scene many have come to love could soon come to an end.

Currently, the Shared Spaces program — which is responsible for these temporary parklets technically called "shared spaces platforms (SSPs)" — is set to expire at midnight on December 31, 2020, and spell the end to all the SSPs currently operating in San Francisco. And as it stands now, the program has received over 2,000 applications; 1,600 of which have been approved.

Though, two members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, are proposing an extension of the program to April of 2022, which still needs to come to a vote.

The two SF supervisors are also supported by SF Small Business Commission President Sharky Laguana, who’s also created a public petition calling for a three-year-long extension of the program. Some aspects of the program are likely to be adopted indefinitely, though it remains unclear which will be kept and which ones won't.

Given how expensive some of these SSPs are to erect, it seems financially reckless of the City to have store owners shutter them by the end of 2020 — and leave SF businesses with yet another lost stream of revenue. Parklets, especially, cost thousands (if not tens of thousands) to build. SFGate reported that The Page on Divisadero, which has now teamed up with two nearby restaurants to serve more hand-friendly foods like burritos and pizza along with their drinks, spent over $70,000 on their swanky parklet… that even includes wall-mounted fake fish and a stacked bookshelf.

To expect these small businesses to be forced to take down those parklets so soon is not only an albatross for restaurant and bar owners but an outcome that would only cause them further financial strain. (It would also be a not-so-eco-friendly move for one of the greenest cities in the country to then see all these structures tossed away and rendered useless.)

Needless to say, these parklets don’t need to be going anywhere, anytime soon — even if San Francisco remains an “outlier” amid national coronavirus spikes. 

So this week, take it upon yourself to celebrate the city’s newfound infatuation with parklets (and outdoor dining in general) by perhaps first hitting up any one of our favorite outdoor dining experiences in the Mission District.