Inaka's parklet in San Juan Bautista. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Inaka's parklet in San Juan Bautista. Photo by Robert Eliason.

In a remarkable reversal following public comments from deeply divided retail business owners, restaurant owners and residents, the San Juan Bautista City Council rescinded their decision to remove all the city’s parklets by April 28 and voted instead on a motion to keep them through the end of 2023. 

The vote settled what has been an ongoing discussion for months as to the fate of the parklets, which had originally been scheduled to remain in place until the Third Street Development project was begun at some point in the future.

The resolution made by the council at their March 21 meeting setting the April 28 removal date had originally targeted only the retail business parklets located in the historic Third Street District. 

City Attorney Bob Rathie said that a City Council member had requested a reassessment of the issue following an outpouring of support for the parklets from merchants and residents directed at City Hall. He said the council must first rescind the original resolution and then, should that vote pass, consider what kind of resolution to enact in its place.

What followed was two-and-a-half hours of passionate debate on removing the retail parklets only, keeping all the parklets, or removing all the parklets. John Freeman, who said he had requested the reconsideration based on the volume of emails he had received on the matter, said he thought that allowing only restaurants to have parklets was not discriminatory. 

Council member E. J. Sabathia disagreed, saying it was not fair or consistent to draw distinctions between different types of businesses. He went on to say that meetings to discuss the matter had been carried out in the most divisive way possible, adding that while the city and the merchants speak of unity, their actions do not match their words. 

As before, the public discussion was sharply divided. Many speakers were in favor of maintaining the restaurant parklets, including Tami Castañeda-Huaracha, the owner of Doña Esther’s, who asserted an economic need for her parklets, citing customers who wanted outdoor dining as a means of maintaining social distancing. Others claimed that the removal of retail parklets unfairly targeted those businesses and was particularly discriminatory as most of those parklets were owned by Black businesspeople.

Freeman said he kept track of the speakers and noted that 13 people spoke in favor of the food and bar businesses keeping their parklets; 14 people were in favor of all the parklets remaining; and five people wanted them all removed. He also endorsed the suggestion from Councilmember Scott Freels that the parklets be permitted to stay until the end of the year.

Councilmember Jackie Morris-Lopez defended the original decision to remove the parklets, stating that any extension would “water down” the original intent of last month’s resolution. She also said that the process in which the item was brought back makes the council seem “weak” and “easily manipulated.”

Morris-Lopez said among the factors that led her to vote to remove the parklets include the input from the community outside the business owners, the loss of parking on the historic downtown district, the increase of traffic on the surrounding areas because of the one-way street and because the parklets had been extended several times in order to support businesses.

“It was a hard decision for us to make,” Morris-Lopez said. “We had to peel the bandaid off, but my hope is that we would see something better than parklets for the future for everybody.”

Sabathia said he would vote for a resolution to keep the parklets, saying he believed it would help to unify the community. Mayor Leslie Jordan reminded everyone that at some point, the city was going to have to learn to live without the parklets and that she was not in favor of keeping parklets just for the sake of keeping them, but only if they filled a need, such as those for the restaurants.

Weighing the options available to them, on a motion from Freeman, the council voted 4-1 to rescind the previous resolution and extend the date for the removal of the parklets to Jan 1, 2024, with no new parklets built. Morris-Lopez was the lone “no” vote.


Flood assistance

During his report, City Manager Don Reynolds addressed ongoing negotiations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for funds to help those impacted by the recent flooding. He said that the city has qualified for individual disaster assistance and that people in Mission Farms RV Park who suffered losses can apply for up to 70% of the cost of their trailers. 

Funds are also available to those who had flood damage to their homes on Lang Street. Reynolds said that City Hall had been working to notify victims of the flood regarding available resources.

Reynolds told BenitoLink that people who had flood damage to their trailers or homes can receive information about FEMA assistance by contacting City Hall. He was unsure how much of the money might be available as grants, as opposed to loans, but would be working to get an answer.

According to Reynolds, over 12 culverts at the Rancho Vista development were filled with silt and a significant factor in the flooding there. 

He said the cost of clearing them would be approximately $100,000. 

Reynolds also placed part of the blame for the Mission Farms flooding on CalTrans, saying that work they had done parallel to Highway 156 as part of the new lane expansion construction had helped channel water toward the RV park. Overflowing retention ponds at Mission Farms and the Copperleaf development also contributed to the problem, he said.


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