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

In a surprise move at its March 21 meeting, the San Juan Bautista City Council ordered all the downtown Third Street parklets to be removed by April 28. The resolution originally allowed for restaurants and bars to keep their parklets and those belonging to retail establishments would have to be dismantled. All remaining parklets had been slated for removal before implementation of the upcoming Third Street Master Plan. 

The city will compensate merchants for the removal at a rate of $5 per square foot, up to $800. City Manager Don Reynolds told BenitoLink that decorative wine barrel plantings at the street corners will also be removed and the road will be restriped to accommodate two-way traffic.

The parklets were originally approved as part of the pandemic-inspired Transformation of Third Street project, adopted in May 2020, which saw the roadway turned into a one-way street. This permitted merchants to extend their businesses an additional 10 feet from the sidewalk into the street, so that stores and restaurants could accommodate customers at a time when state regulations imposed limits on the number of people allowed indoors at restaurants and retail establishments.

Originally slated to be removed by Dec. 31, 2020, the parklets received five more renewals, during which time they were a subject of debate at City Council meetings on issues such as their impact on the historic appearance of the street and the amount of street parking lost to them.

The plan to remove only the retail parklets was criticized by several council members and merchants who said they considered it to be a form of discrimination against those businesses. 

“To me, being fair and consistent is an important part of the community feel,” said councilmember E. J. Sabathia. “And I don’t believe it is fair or consistent to draw distinctions across different types of businesses.”

Heliena Walton, owner of Notably Noble Co., said her understanding was the matter had been tabled for further discussion and that a thriving business district required consistent policies.

“You can’t say it is just for the restaurants,” she said. “A business is a business and we should not segregate them. It opens you up to lawsuits because it is blatant discrimination.”

A motion to amend the resolution to include all parklets was made by Councilmember Jackie Morris-Lopez. Councilmember Scott Freels and Mayor Lesie Jordan voted against the resolution and Morris-Lopez, Sabathia and John Freeman voted in favor.

After the meeting, Planning Commissioner Dan DeVries, who had been involved in the parklet project, told BenitoLink the parklets provided a critical means for businesses to survive during COVID but he thought the owners of the parklets should concede that they were never intended to be permanent. 

“Is outdoor sidewalk-type dining something that we want to incorporate in general in the future in San Juan?” he said. “I think the answer is ‘yes.’ European-style sidewalk cafes would be a wonderful addition to our downtown. But in my mind, the pandemic-era wooden boxes which were installed here—understandably in a hurry—leave a lot to be desired in terms of design and thoughtfulness. We can do much better.”


 We need your help. Support local, nonprofit news! BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is committed to this community and providing essential, accurate information to our fellow residents. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s public service, nonprofit news.