With temperatures dropping to 32 degrees and an accumulation of 0.25 inches of rain in recent days, the San Juan Bautista Historic Resources Board at its Nov. 10 meeting adopted new requirements for its parklet guidelines to address coverings, Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility and height of structures.
Despite changes to the parklet design guidelines, a heated discussion at the meeting focused on the question of city oversight. Board member Yolanda Delgado asked why some merchants were allowed to have barriers that were higher than 36 inches, the limit that the board adopted on June 18. The adopted guidelines aim to have uniformity within the historic downtown and help businesses continue to operate while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions set by the state.
Delgado said her frustration was with a lack of oversight by the city that has led to business owners and developers doing what they want. She cited the Casa Rosa project and Copperleaf development as examples.
“I’m kind of upset that you guys did not listen to the historical [board] when we said 36 inches and you guys [said] ‘oh okay, okay, yeah 48 is okay,’” Delgado said. “This is why I’m saying we need to follow our rules so we don’t have this mess.”
In a back and forth with City Manager Don Reynolds and Community Liaison Lizz Turner, Delgado asked the city to explain why it approved plans that did not meet the adopted guidelines.
Both Reynolds and Turner said that though mistakes were made, the city did a great job by acting quickly to help businesses survive through the pandemic despite a small staff.
“We don’t have the staff to be out there watching every single board go up,” Turner said. “We do go back and we walk through, Yolanda. We walk through and check, and when things are brought to our attention or when something doesn’t look right, we go back and we check it. And then we get the officials involved.”
Reynolds said that instead of having business owners take down their barriers and replace them with ones that are compliant with the guidelines, he was asking the board to change the guidelines to allow 36-48-inch barriers.
For board member Luis Matchain, the issue wasn’t staffing, but about paying attention.
“Every project we can check and compare with these guidelines in one hour, I can tell you for sure,” Matchain said.
Though Reynolds said he was ultimately responsible, he received support from city staff and business owners such as Patricia Bains of Mrs. B’s Z-Place and Fran Fitzharris of Brewery Twenty Five, who thanked him and the city for their support during the pandemic.
Bains, referred to by residents as Mrs. B., said she was closed for nearly six months because of COVID-19 restrictions, but invested in a parklet as soon as guidelines became available. And because pandemic conditions are new to everyone, mistakes were made but could be fixed in order to prevent San Juan Bautista from becoming a ghost town.
“I would do nothing to detract from the beauty and the historic atmosphere that it has,” Bains said. “But I think all of us as business owners have worked our behinds to try to come up with what we were asked to do, and it’s because we want to be in San Juan as a business.”
She added that visitors from in and out of the area have had only positive comments on the parklets.
Following the Historic Resource Board meeting, the Planning Commission, made up of the same members, unanimously approved an extension of encroachment permits allowing businesses to keep their temporary parklets on Third Street until March 30, 2021. Prior to the extension, the program was set to end on Dec. 31.
According to the meeting agenda packet, 12 businesses such as Brewery Twenty Five, Sweet Pea Antiques and Inaka Japanese Restaurant have opened or plan to open a parklet since San Juan Bautista transformed Third Street into a one-way street earlier this year.
Reynolds said the extension will allow the city to analyze having permanent parklets and what those would look like.
San Benito County is currently in the red tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy that allows indoor retail activities at 50% capacity and indoor restaurant activities at 25% capacity.
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