PLEASANTON — Pleasanton is requiring all downtown businesses to remove their outdoor parklets, tents and other street dining setups by Friday so crews can clean streets and prune trees, but some restaurant owners are bristling at the order, which they say will cost them thousands of dollars and eliminate critically needed dining options during a massive COVID spike.

“For them to rush to take these things out right now, I find it very puzzling,” Maurice Dissels, owner of Oyo restaurant on Main Street, said in an interview.

“This is wrong. The timing is really bad,” Councilmember Julie Testa said at the council’s Jan. 4 meeting.

The order is part of the city’s plan to eventually let restaurant owners along Main Street apply for permits to install permanent parklets in street parking spaces outside their businesses, building on the popularity of the city’s temporary “pop-up” program that was hurriedly put in place as a lifeline for restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic.

The City Council and staff are working up a “pre-approved” parklet design businesses will be able to use to ensure the structures are safe, consistent in appearance and located where they won’t interfere with drainage, emergency access or traffic.

City planner Megan Campbell told the council in December that while the pop-up tents parklets were well-received by residents and visitors, they “also drew some criticism, including about their appearance, adjacent business visibility, impacts to utilities and impacts to traffic.”

“The temporary pop-ups are unsightly,” Mayor Karla Brown said at the Jan. 4 meeting. “We are ready to turn the corner and make these parklets look like Pleasanton.”

The city’s pre-approved designs are expected to be ready no later than April. Businesses will soon be able to submit their own designs following city specifications, but likely wouldn’t be issued a permit earlier than March 1, city staff said.

To ensure everyone starts on the same footing, and to do more thorough street cleaning, tree pruning and utility inspections that have been deferred, city officials say all current parklets must be pulled out.

Dissels said he had a professional contractor build his colorful wooden parklet in parking spaces in front of his Guyanese and South American-inspired restaurant, and it cost him upward of $10,000.

He thinks the parklet would only need minor modifications to meet the new standards, and hopes the city will let it stay in place after an inspection.

“To be honest, I for one can’t afford to rebuild a functional parklet that I have right now,” he said.

“It’s not a portable thing; it’s not modular. We either rip it out, as they are suggesting, or we examine it to see how much it is in line with their new standards,” he said.

Nearby, Beer Baron Whiskey Bar & Kitchen also added a parklet in June, said owner Harpreet Judge, who spent about $12,000 to build it. He similarly is hoping for a reprieve.

“The city should definitely reach out and visit each individual parklet. And if they want us to make changes, we’d be happy to do so,” he said.

“But to tell us to pull them all out and then they’ll give us guidelines and then we’ll put them back in, one it’s time-consuming … and two, it would be very costly,” Judge said.

Dissels and Judge said many of their customers prefer to eat outside, especially amid the omicron variant’s rising spread. Judge said several people have already canceled private indoor events at Beer Baron because of the surge.

“It probably won’t be too long before the county comes in and says outdoors only, or limited seats inside,” Judge said.

City staff said once permanent parklets are in place, Pleasanton plans to do maintenance work around the parklets, share more of the upkeep responsibility with parklet owners, and may require some temporary closures to allow tree pruning.

“It seems just wasteful and illogical and draconian to say remove them for maintenance, when we’re acknowledging that in the future, the maintenance will be able to be done without removal,” Testa said.

Acting City Manager Brian Dolan said the city feels some of the more elaborate parklets might require “some significant reconstruction” to meet the new standards.

“To try and accommodate a couple of them, which isn’t really fair to everybody else during this period when we want to do the cleaning, just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” Dolan said at the meeting.

Pleasanton community development director said the city needs to do more than just a thorough cleaning of the street during the roughly eight weeks parklets will be gone.

“When we allowed those to be installed, we didn’t really review for things like, are these being built over a manhole, is there proper drainage, so it goes beyond just meeting design or dimensional standards,” she said in an interview.

Clark said the new parklet specifications will be designed to more easily allow for maintenance and inspection work.

“The parklets that are there, for the most part, we think won’t be able to facilitate that,” she said. If restaurants don’t comply with orders to remove the parklets, they could be fined, Clark said, but the city will work with the owners first.

Design and appearances aside, Testa said this week she also was concerned for restaurant customers, and felt the removal deadline should be pushed back. “Are we really comfortable shutting down the outdoor dining with a COVID spike the way we are currently experiencing it?” Testa asked her fellow council members at the meeting.

“If you had to pick a time when they had to be down, the severe winter months is probably the best, when there’s less outdoor dining to begin with,” Councilmember Valerie Arkin said.

“There was never a promise that these would be permanent,” Mayor Brown said in an interview, noting that last summer, the council extended the pop-up program through the end of 2021.

“I am definitely compassionate to these small business owners. We’re just trying to do our best for the health of the city,” Brown said.

But Dissels said the two months or more without parklets could cut deep into restaurants’ bottom lines.

“We’re living in a different world here. We’re living in a world of cash flow and immediacy, and the city is living in a bureaucracy-laden environment, and the two don’t quite jive,” he said.

“Because while we do this sunset, COVID is raging, no one is sitting inside. We’re looking at bankruptcy for a lot of these businesses.”

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)



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