Oakland’s sidewalk dining facilities are here to stay

OAKLAND — Many of the roughly 140 sidewalk cafes and parklets that have sprung up during the pandemic will have the option of staying permanently, with some modifications.

City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to streamline the so-called Flex Streets scheme, which allows restaurants, cafes and retail businesses to get free permits to use sidewalks, streets, parking lots or other outdoor spaces private to seat people outside.

Many cities have decided to continue similar programs, which have become popular among diners and restaurateurs. Pleasanton earlier this year ordered its restaurants to remove all of their outdoor parklets, tents and other street food facilities. Meanwhile, San Jose officials have gone in another direction and plan to help restaurants turn their temporary parklets into permanent facilities.

Prior to the pandemic, businesses in Oakland that wanted to install sidewalk cafes or parklets had to obtain “encroachment” permits which required a long list of documents such as a detailed site plan, grant deed and documents. legal descriptions. This typically involved multiple city departments, including planning, transportation, economics, and workforce development. It also involved fees, to the tune of about $3,000.

Now businesses that want to create a parklet or put tables and chairs outside on the sidewalk or on private property like parking lots need only complete a free application online, which is automatically accepted.

The process becomes more complicated for applications seeking to close a traffic lane for tables. These businesses must submit a form of interest and work with Department of Economic Development and Workforce staff to come up with designs. The city’s Department of Transportation must then approve them.

Thanks to Flex Streets, sections of 13 streets have been closed, 14 permits for outdoor private spaces have been granted and more than 60 permits have been issued for mobile food trucks, according to a report by Greg Minor, assistant of the city ​​administrator and program point the person. Most of the parklets and street closures occurred in downtown, uptown and North Oakland.

City staff found when interviewing businesses that many in East Oakland said they were unaware of the streamlined program and some were concerned about setting up outdoor restaurants on some high-traffic streets.

Most businesses that have used the program have told the city that parklets have increased operating space by 30% to 40% and some have had all of their seats moved outdoors.

“This program has been extremely valuable and useful both during the pandemic, but has also opened our eyes to what could be in terms of commercial and economic viability potential for our businesses to expand outdoor dining as well than about opportunities to support local small businesses across the city,” said District 6 council member Loren Taylor.

“We were able to see how much more we could do to support our local businesses,” added District 4 council member Sheng Thao.

The program will continue with its simplified approach, but from July 2023 companies will have to pay an undetermined amount of fees if they do not meet a “fairness test”, which is still being developed.

Restaurants with tables in their parking lots won’t have to pay fees until at least December 2023.

Those wishing to close traffic lanes will need to get approval from city council and pay a fee if the closures last longer than three days, starting in July 2023. But there will be no limit to the number of street closures per year, as was the case before. the pandemic.

The city will also allow unlimited mobile vendor permits as long as there are certain buffers between them and physical businesses. And from July 2023, they will have to pay an application and annual permit fee to operate.

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