Businesses across the city will soon be able to replace street parking with seating, but questions remain about how public or private the parklets should be.
Should parklets in front of restaurants be open to everyone? Should restaurants be able to serve food and even alcohol in them? Should they pay to use the public space?
The city of Santa Monica built its first three parklets on Main Street two years ago. The wooden decks offer casual, public seating buffered from the street by planters outside of Holy Guacamole, Jameson’s and Ashland Hill. Now, businesses on Main Street, Montana Avenue and in downtown Santa Monica are clamoring to build their own and City Council has to figure out a rulebook.
While the council lauded the ability of parklets to make neighborhoods more lively and business-friendly at its Tuesday meeting, opinions differed on how businesses should be able to use them.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown strongly opposed allowing restaurants to use parklets as a private space, while Councilmember Greg Morena said he believes restaurants could be permitted to close their parklets to the public at certain times of day. For example, Bru’s Wiffle, a popular brunch spot on Wilshire Boulevard, could use its parklet during the day and open it to the public in the evening.
“Privatization could be reserved for meal service,” Morena said. “Bru’s could use it just for brunch.”
Mayor Gleam Davis said she thinks restaurants should be able to serve food in their parklets without reserving seats for customers.
‘The idea is that seating can be available to anyone … but if someone is sitting in the parklet, they can ask them “would you like food?”,” Davis said.
Councilmember Ted Winterer floated the idea of making businesses pay to use the public space, just as they pay to use the sidewalk as a dining area.
“We shouldn’t give away public space for private enterprise,” he said.
But the businesses would already be footing the bill for the parklets, which cost about $30,000 to construct, and Davis said the city wants to encourage them. The city built the first three parklets but is now transitioning operations over to their adjacent businesses.
“If we’re going to charge people to build parklets and then charge them to use them, I don’t think we’re going to get the parklets we want,” she said.
Hunter Hall, executive director of the Main Street Business Improvement Association (MSBIA) said restaurants need to see some return on investment to spend $30,000 on a parklet. That means they would need to be able to serve food.
“The businesses love them and they want more of them,” Hall said. “But there must be a middle ground where the restaurants can serve food and the public can use them.”
MSBIA chair Anthony Schmitt said businesses would like to serve alcohol in their parklets as well.
“In Tokyo, parklets serve beer and meals,” Schmitt said. “It would be great to work toward that for restaurants here.”
City staff will develop guidelines for parklets and recommend them to the council at a later date.