The Sebastopol City Council unanimously approved parklets in four locations in downtown Sebastopol at their last meeting on the evening of Oct. 6.
The decision comes in direct response to California Governor Gavin Newson’s shelter in place order which still lists Sonoma County as purple, the most restrictive of quarantine levels. Purple forbids many organizations, such as restaurants and hair salons, from offering indoor service, and as such many small businesses in Sebastopol suffer, unable to meet their expenses in the face of such a drastic loss of revenue.
And so Sebastopol turns to parklets as their small business savior. Parklets are tiny, converted areas, usually from public parking spaces, which are gated off and turned into picnic tables, essentially. Those who have visited Santa Rosa’s downtown are familiar with the concept. Recently our neighbor to the east gated off 4th Street near Courthouse Square for outdoor dining and retail service.
The problem is that the space has to come from somewhere—parking, in this case. And Councilmember Michael Carnacchi takes issue with the city unilaterally stripping local companies of public parking space.
“I say we do outreach first before we just plop it in Main Street,” Carnacchi said in a heated argument with a fellow councilmember. “I’ve taken the time out of my day to walk into every one of those businesses, [Councilmember Sarah Gurney], so for you to sit there on your high-ass horse and tell me what’s best for the business community is B.S.”
Carnacchi’s protest yielded results and he secured the promise of outreach by city staff before voting in the affirmative for the measure.
The City of Sebastopol estimates that each of the parklets will take up two parking spaces apiece and there are four parklets under consideration in the downtown, a total of eight spaces. That’s a small
price to pay, according to Gurney, for small businesses and a public ravaged by Covid-19. “This space could provide us a holiday season in a year we’ve lost—how many holidays? (…) We can’t travel, we can’t go anywhere. This would be helpful for the community,” Gurney said.
But there are many hurdles before Sebastopol can implement its parklet plan. Most cities can simply write a permit, but Sebastopol is different. They stand at the cross-roads of two state highways, Highways 12 and Highway 116 and any work requires approval from Cal-Trans. That can be a bit of a process, but the city hopes to receive approval before the holiday season officially begins.
Sebastopol estimates the total cost for the program at $8,500. The current plan calls for the parklets to stay in place between October to the start of January—cold months, but the city discussed the potential for space heaters and canopies to keep the rain off.
Perfect, according to Councilmember Neysa Hinton. “The parklets aren’t intended for restaurant service. The waiter isn’t going to take it out to you. But if someone wants to grab takeout and eat? Great.”
The plan calls for parklets to be placed in front of Screaming Mimi’s, along the west side of North Main Street, and the west side of South Main Street; the fourth location is still under consideration. The plan now moves to city staff for the permitting and outreach process.