Business / Economy

San Juan Bautista extends parklet program for six months

City will study the feasibility of making outdoor dining structures permanent.

San Juan Bautista considered making its outdoor dining parklets on Third Street permanent, but has settled to extend the program by six months. At its Feb. 16 meeting, the City Council unanimously approved extending the program until Sept. 30. 

While there was minimal public comment, residents—mostly merchants in the historic downtown district—gave input to the city at the Feb. 2 Historic Resources Board/Planning Commission meeting, where representatives recommended the temporary extension. Business owners also voiced support for making the parklets permanent during a town hall hosted by the City Council and Planning Commission on Feb. 9. 

At the town hall, City Manager Don Reynolds said the city has 14 parklets set up and four pending. Before receiving public input, he told residents that the process to make the parklets permanent could take up to 18 months. He called the project a big undertaking because the city would have to move water mains in order to abandon the vehicle right of way on Third Street.

City attorney Deborah Mall clarified that abandoning right of way did not mean the city would be giving up property rights, but that it simply would no longer be used as a roadway. 

Reynolds said there are issues the city will need to address if the parklets become permanent, such as finalizing parklet guidelines, determining the balance between parklets and parking spaces, addressing pedestrian access, and not compromising historic building facades. 

Reynolds said the current parklets take up 15 parking spaces, but that was the least of the worries among business owners who noted that limited parking would not negatively impact tourism, citing Carmel as an example of a place where tourists park blocks away from their intended destination. 

“Obviously we want to continue with parklets and outside dining,” said Steve Io, owner of Inaka Japanese Restaurant.” I don’t have to tell you how beneficial it’s been for us as a restaurant. Without it, I don’t know if we would still be here because it really makes a difference. It makes a huge difference.”

David Mack with Harris and Associates, acting as city engineer, said the city and residents needed to consider all the impacts—positive and negative—of making parklets permanent. Impacts included a change of traffic flow through neighborhoods and potential liability as pedestrians would be near a roadway if the city were to keep the right of way on Third Street.

Making the parklets permanent would also require San Juan Bautista to change city codes, such as parking requirements for new developments downtown. Mack said each development with a residential component currently needs to provide 1.5 parking spaces per bedroom, or a $25,000 in-lieu fee. He said if the city removes that requirement, a new traffic plan would need to be created. 

Other issues Mack said needed to be discussed included visitor parking in residential neighborhoods.

“I think that this project is very doable, but it’s not as simple as restriping the street and allowing people to [install] private structures in the public right-of-way,” Mack said. 

Near the end of the town hall, business owners thanked Mack for bringing the impacts up for discussion.

“Here I thought it was so simple—put the parklet, go down one street, we get to wave at everybody, raise a little glass of beer at everybody,” said Tami Huaracha, owner of Doña Esther’s Mexican Restaurant. “Obviously it’s not that easy is it?”

Discussion continued at the Feb. 16 City Council meeting, where Reynolds said he wanted to host meetings with various groups in town to get more input as he explores the idea of making the parklets permanent.

 

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.