A parklet in San Francisco's Noe Valley neighborhood. Photo: San Francisco Pavement to Parks
A parklet in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. Photo: San Francisco Pavement to Parks
A parklet in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. Photo: San Francisco Pavement to Parks

The Berkeley City Council could consider approving a three-year pilot program later this summer to allow businesses to set up parklets in still-to-be-determined locations around town.

So-called parklets — small pockets of open space that are sprouting up in cities around the globe — are a big trend in urban design, with San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks leading the way locally, and Oakland later following suit. Berkeley has, in recent years, been considering its own ideas to beautify public areas where community members can congregate.

The city began looking at parklets in 2011, and initially had planned to begin building them in early 2012. The process has been sluggish, at least in part, because the city does not have a permitting process in place, and several city agencies — including public works, engineering and transportation — have needed to weigh in.

In particular, restaurants and cafes in the North Shattuck Association have expressed interest in setting up the spaces. According to an earlier Berkeleyside story, “the Cheese Board Collective has developed its own parklet concept, and Guerilla Café/Philz Coffee and Masse’s Pastries/Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen have come up with plans for parklets, in consultation with a volunteer designer using San Francisco guidelines.”

In April, the City Council asked the city manager to consider allowing businesses on Telegraph Avenue to set up parklets in nearby yellow-curbed loading zones.

Last month, the city’s Transportation Commission began to hash out some of the details of how Berkeley could to set up its pilot parklet program. According to a staff report prepared for the group’s May 10 meeting: “It is envisioned that the Parklets will be located in areas with pedestrian activity, as additional seating areas for retail patrons, and in areas where there is a desire to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment.”

A parklet on Guerrero Street in San Francisco. Photo: Pavement to Parks San Francisco
A parklet on Guerrero Street in San Francisco. Photo: Pavement to Parks San Francisco

According to city staff, the commission recommended that the council consider allowing up to 10 parklet locations around Berkeley.

“Parklets are intended to be seen as pieces of street furniture, providing aesthetic enhancements to the overall streetscape,” according to the staff report. “In place of car parking, a platform is built to extend the grade of the sidewalk into the street. Once the platform is installed, benches, tables, chairs, landscaping, and bike parking can all be placed on top in order to create a Parklet.”

The spaces would remain publicly accessible; neither commercial signage nor advertising would be allowed. Table service from nearby restaurants also would be verboten.

According to the staff report: “Parklets are intended to be aesthetic improvements to the streetscape, and materials will be required to be of high quality, durable, and attractive. The width of the Parklet must not extend beyond six feet from the curb line. Safe hit posts and wheel stops, or approved equals, may be required. A visible edge to the Parklet is required, which may consist of planters, railing, or cabling. The edges should be visually permeable or ‘see-through.’ Access panels must be included in order to maintain the gutter and area underneath the Parklet and the design must allow for drainage along the gutter to pass underneath the Parklet.”

Businesses that want to set up parklets would work with their own architects or designers to come up with potential plans. These would then be submitted to the city for approval. The city is still trying to determine what kind of permitting to pursue; a likely scenario would be a “minor encroachment” permit from the Public Works department, which simply requires staff review and approval. Appeals of the permits could come before the City Council.

Involved businesses would need to carry insurance and sign a maintenance agreement with the city for care of the space.

Still to be determined are where the parklets would be located, and whether businesses that apply for them would be required to pay a fee to make up for lost parking meter revenue. Both Oakland and San Francisco require some form of replacement revenue, according to the May staff report, either via fees or through the placement of additional meters in the surrounding area. For Berkeley, staff recommended that revenue replacement be required.

According to the May staff report, the city will likely consider a three-year pilot program: “This should allow for sufficient time to collect data on the benefits and impacts of parklets. This data will be used to make a recommendation on adopting a permanent parklet program or discontinuing allowing parklets.”

City planning director Eric Angstadt said Monday, via email, that he has submitted a new report on parklets to the City Council with a tentative public meeting date scheduled for July 2. The agenda committee has not yet set the date in stone, but Angstadt said the item likely will be heard July 2.

[CORRECTION: The Transportation Commission recommended a three-year program, rather than the staff-suggested two years.]

Berkeley parklets stir up excitement, apprehension [07.08.13]
North Berkeley merchants want parklets for the people [08.31.12]
Trees and seating focus for Solano Avenue improvements [08.16.12]
Oakland’s Angstadt to be Berkeley’s new planning director [03.12.12]
Cheese Board Collective: 40 years in the Gourmet Ghetto [07.08.11]
Food takes to the streets, literally, on Park(ing) Day [09.17.10]
Keba Konte, Guerilla Café [04.09.10]

Follow Berkeleyside on Twitter, and on Facebook. Email us at tips@berkeleyside.com. Would you like the latest Berkeley news sent to your email inbox once a day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...