The parklets now springing up all over town in response to the pandemic actually had their genesis in September 2011, when the East Bay Bicycle Coalition introduced the City of Oakland to International PARKing Day – an annual celebration during which parking spaces are temporarily reclaimed for landscaping and lounging.
The fabulous parklet in front of Foot Locker with the block “LS” letters (for Lakeshore) was one of four in the Grand Lake District. It was a labor of love designed and constructed by Jeffrey Lim and David Le, the owners of “Garden Hortica,” a succulent nursery that has since closed. The parklet pictured on the right was on the opposite side of the pedestrian bulb-out in front of Arizmendi.
The parklet on the left, which was in front of Monkey Forest Road (now Core Power Yoga) was completely furnished by Urban Furniture. The one in the middle was in front of Noah’s and Starbucks. Bike Share stations are now located at both locations . Elida Scola realized that this looked like a lot of fun (which it was), so the following year (2012) she teamed up with Rebooty to build the parklet on the far right.
The first permanent parklet to open in Oakland in September 2012 was in front of Farley’s at 33 Grand Avenue. As of 2015, six more had been completed as part of the city’s 2012 pilot program which also listed a parklet in front of Arizmendi as “awaiting construction.”
The site plan for the parklet awaiting construction in front of Arizmendi (and Foot Locker as well) is depicted above. Unfortunately, although the construction plans are complete and the $1,000 permit fee has been paid (thanks to a donation from Steve Banker, the former BID Treasurer) construction has been stymied. The most critical issue turned out to be the handicapped parking space to the right of Arizmendi which the city declined to relocate. Alternative plans for a ramp through the parklet were also rejected. A second issue arose in front of Footlocker when the property owner refused to sign off on insurance coverage. The final roadblock came when the City of Oakland subsequently decided to put a moratorium on the construction of additional parklets.
That moratorium ended when it became evident that lots of restaurants and bars throughout Oakland would not survive an ongoing pandemic without access to safe, outside dining facilities. Five parklets have since been constructed as part of the Department of Transportation’s “Flex Streets” program – two on Lakeshore and three on Grand.
This is what Megan Fawcett, the General Manager at Almond and Oak said about theirs:
Our parklet opened in May 2020. It is 32×10 feet. We have 6-8 tables in it at a time. The cost ranged from $3500-$4500. We use the parklet for outdoor dining. The feedback we have received has been very positive. People enjoy that we have lights, candles, curtains and heating lamps. The curtains help keep the cold out on chilly nights and the sun from shining in their faces on sunny days. The parklet has benefited us immensely, providing takeout only is not sustainable for a restaurant like ours. We intend to keep the parklet as long as the city allows. We assume that indoor dining will resume at a fraction of the capacity that it used to. It will be paramount in our survival to keep the parklet for additional seating.
Tim Nugent, co-owner with Jen Biesty of Shakewell, wrote this:
- When did your parklet open? September 2020
- Approximate size? Four parking spot
- Approximate cost? $20,000
- How is it being used and what are you hearing from your customers? Outdoor seating for take out. Customers love it.
- To what extent, has it benefited your business as compared to the COVID months immediately preceding? Little more revenue
- Are any pending changes in the works? No
- Once our lives have returned to something resembling “normalcy”, do you plan on keeping the parklet? Up to the City
- If so, are any significant changes likely? No.
We also spoke briefly with Yuval Atias, the co-owner with Gary Freeman of Oakland Kosher. Their parklet also occupies four parking spaces but the improvements are minimal – basically tables and chairs with wine barrels and 2 x 4’s as barriers. Yuval explained that, with no guarantees of permanence from the city, they were unwilling to do more for the time being. He says that the parklet is well-used and has made a very big difference. Depending on the amount of fees, if any, that the city is going to impose, they do want to keep it and would make substantial improvements.
The parklet in front of MeloMelo Kava Bar is unique in that it’s located in a red zone – so no parking spaces are impacted. The manager reports that it’s been extremely beneficial to their bottom line: “Having a parklet means we have people drinking kava until 9 pm – not 5.”
Just up the block, Todd McKean, co-owner of The Libertine with Matt Winger, says that their parklet cost approximately $15,000 which is a substantial investment but apparently worth it. “It’s made all the difference. Without it, we’d be out of business.” More often than not, The Libertine has a food pop-up set up adjacent to the parklet and when, that’s not the case, patrons are welcome to bring food from other nearby restaurants. They most definitely want to keep the parklet and envision some later relatively minor improvements.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make contact with the owners of Sister restaurant but it’s safe to assume that their parklet has helped them survive and they will want to continue operating it, assuming that any fees are affordable.
Several weeks ago, Miya Chen, Councilmember Bas’s Chief of Staff, responded to an email inquiry saying this:
We met with OakDOT directors about this today. They are convening an interagency working group within the city to figure out how to extend the “flex streets” initiative that covers parklets beyond the declared “local emergency”. We think the big issue (other than certain people wanting more parking) will be the cost of the longer-term permit. We asked them to do as much community engagement as possible, with outreach to the merchants, to solicit feedback on the program and what is needed.
In a phone conversation yesterday, Miya reiterated that council members and city staff want to find a way to make this work and most likely will. As for the future, here’s hoping that, in addition, to preserving the five parklets that are already in place, we can come together as a community to provide outdoor public seating and more landscaping in those locations where parking won’t be sacrificed. Since the plans already exist, let’s revisit the parklet proposed for Arizendi and the opposite side of the bulb-out. Jeffrey Lim also has 2015 conceptual plans for a parklet in front of Noah’s and Starbucks that can be scaled down to accommodate the bike station and there are numerous other locations on Grand and Lakeshore that would work as well.