BIKE IT: Commuters who ditch their single cars save money and the environment in the process. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

Parklets are coming to Main Street following City Council’s approval of a pilot program that will remove six parking spots and install three miniature park spaces.

Staff had recommended installing two parklets, one on the 2900 block outside Holy Guacamole and the second on the 2800 block outside Ashland Hill. Council added a third site on the 2700 block outside Finn McCool’s after local businesses argued that a larger pilot program would provide more data from which to judge the program’s success.

Gary Gordon, executive director of the Main Street Business Improvement Association, said more parklets would provide a better sample of activity on the street, more variety in programming, more examples of creativity in programming and a better mix of business operators.

“We did originally ask for four, but there’s no magic number,” he said. “We just thought a pilot program should reveal as much as possible to the council, the staff, the community and the merchants.”

The parklets will be areas of expanded sidewalk containing amenities and street furniture. Nearby businesses will be contracted to operate the spaces but the parklets will remain public property, open to anyone and governed initially in the same way sidewalks are regulated. Restaurants will be prohibited from offering table service in the spaces, alcohol is prohibited, smoking will be prohibited in parklets that are within 20 feet of a doorway and the spaces will be open 24 hours a day.

The operators will be responsible for keeping the spaces clean and free of debris, programming the spaces, ensuring movable items are brought in at the end of the day and providing feedback on the program to staff.

Council’s approval Nov. 24 was for a pilot program of one year with the option for a pair of 1-year extensions. Salvador Valles, assistant director of planning and community development, said a pilot program is necessary to judge if parklets are appropriate for Santa Monica. He said staff would be looking at how the spaces are used, the impact on businesses adjacent to the spaces and street-wide, maintenance problems and potential regulatory updates necessary to accommodate the parklets.

“Success is uncertain,” he said. “We want to be able to test and make sure that it fits in properly in our city.”

Council approved the three locations but did not give final approval to the project and did not approve money to finance the work. Staff will return to council at a future meeting with specific costs now that they know the number and exact location of the proposed parklets.

Valles said costs can vary based on the size and amenities included in a parklet but that smaller projects could cost about $35,000 with increasing costs as the size and construction quality increased.

The City of Santa Monica will foot the bill for the first three but Council said future costs would hopefully be borne by businesses, neighborhood groups, industry groups or other potential partners.

Seven businesses filed applications for the pilot program but Valles said some were eliminated due to impediments like red curbs while others were applications for spaces similar to those proposed.

Local businessman Matthew Gibbons has no connection to the Main Street businesses chosen to operate the parklets but he said the idea is necessary to keep Santa Monica competitive in the regional economy. He said neighboring cities are rapidly expanding their retail options with a stated goal of taking business away from Santa Monica.

“They will recruit Santa Monica’s excellent retail and restaurant staff,” he said. “They will consume all editorial, PR, advertising, online and social media for years and they have all publicly stated they are targeting Santa Monica locals and visitors.”

Gibbons said failure to invest in the business economy would create a cascade of job losses and business closures.

“They have called us out by name and we don’t have a lot left in the development pipeline to counter,” he said. “We must maximize the potential of what we have, which means building parklets.”

Luke Tabet, part-owner of Ashland Hill, said the parklets would be a new way to attract foot traffic to the area and his business wasn’t concerned about the loss of parking spots as he said the parklet would provide an opportunity to increase bike parking, thereby encouraging alternate methods of transportation.

“It’s amazing how much change has happened in Santa Monica already with the new bike system,” he said, “and I think this is the beginning of a lot of positive change for Santa Monica.”

Council said a pilot program with a small number of parklets would be the best way to gather data before considering a citywide expansion.

“It’s exciting, council, to be able to experiment and that’s what this is about,”  Mayor Kevin McKeown said. “It’s a pilot to see how it works.”

Councilman Terry O’Day said the value of the test phase will be in the way parklets impact the larger neighborhood.

“The pilot is not just about the individual parklet but the effect for the entire strip and I think that the network affect of these can be quite powerful,” he said.