Government / Politics

SJB Planning Commission adopts guidelines for parklet construction

Recommendations include design emphasis on safety and compliance with disability laws.

Almost a year and a half after the San Juan Bautista City Council voted to allow parklets within its historic Third Street downtown area, the city’s planning commission voted Nov. 2 to approve a more formal plan that will govern the parklets in the future.

Titled “Guidelines for Temporary Parklets Design, Improvement and Use,” the plan codifies the permits and fees associated with parklets, their overall design objectives, how they fit into the streetscape, and how best the public can be accommodated.

“The parklets were first constructed to be temporary,” said Yolanda Delgado, chairwoman of the Planning Commission. “We wanted more control over their safety and now we have this as a guide for how they should be built.”

San Juan Bautista first approved the installation of parklets in the downtown area on May 19, 2020, with their “Transformation of Third Street” resolution. The first guidelines for parklets were issued on June 12.

The street was repurposed as one lane of one-way vehicle traffic and traffic barriers were installed. Restaurants and retail stores were then allowed to apply for permits that would let them build parklets to accommodate outdoor dining and sales areas.

The parklets were originally approved through the end of 2020. Because of the ongoing pandemic, in September 2020 the City Council extended approval for the parklets through March 20, 2022.

“Prior to these guidelines, some of the parklets were not safe and they had to be taken down,” said Delgado. “We worked with the city engineer and the fire department to be sure they would be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and that they were soundly engineered.”

One concern is compliance with California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) regulations relating to the consumption of alcoholic beverages outside of restaurants and bars.

“At Dona Esthers, for example, you have that area where you can drink standing up,” Delgado said. “During the pandemic, they have not enforced the ABC rules. But I think that is going to change as the pandemic ceases and desists.”

At the Nov. 2 meeting, Commissioner Jackie Morris-Lopez expressed concern over the possible permanence of the parklets as well as the guidelines forcing businesses to comply with new rules for what was intended as a temporary outdoor dining solution.

“We have an endpoint to review this on March 20, 2022,” she said. “We should take this issue to that date and see where we are at with the global pandemic.

Delgado stressed that the parklets were intended to be temporary, as the guidelines specify, and that it was up to the city to decide if they should be made permanent.

“At the same time,” she said, “we want them to be safely engineered and some of them are not up to code.”

Community Development Director Brian Foucht pointed out that the parklets were not originally built to strict standards. 

“I wanted to emphasize that the current parklets, even those constructed using these guidelines, do not require a building permit,” he said. “If they did require a permit, we would be looking at structures that were substantially different. When we start talking about permanency, the entire streetscape would have to be significantly changed. But we are not doing that. We are not proposing these guidelines as a step towards permanence but more as an endgame in respect to temporary parklets.”

The guidelines proposal passed with a three-to-one vote by the planning commissioners with Morris-Lopez voting against it and Luis Matchain not present.

The resolution is scheduled to be presented to the San Juan Bautista City Council for a vote at their next regular meeting on Nov.16.


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