Photo courtesy of the city of Healdsburg

Healdsburg’s parklet program — which allows businesses to apply for a temporary outdoor activities permit — will be extended through January 2023 and in the meantime, community services staff will look towards developing a more permanent parklet program.

The extension comes following a unanimous vote on April 5 by the Healdsburg City Council to extend the parklet permit program. With the permit, businesses can use a public right of way, such as a sidewalk or a parking spot, to build a parklet for outdoor dining, retail, or outdoor exercise.

Vice Mayor Ozzy Jimenez recused himself from the discussion and vote due to a conflict of interest with his downtown Plaza business Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar.

According to community services staff, the extension will create better guidance and design standards on parklets, create a more formal inspection mechanism, provide an opportunity to create more aesthetically pleasing parklets and, most importantly, will allow local businesses to recoup from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program was originally set to expire on Dec. 31, 2021.

“I wanted to commend our businesses that in the face of the pandemic the community continued to stay afloat. They did whatever they needed to do stay in business and some have been very creative and I’ve been inspired and grateful for it, so I fully support the extension,” said Mayor Evelyn Mitchell. 

Councilmember David Hagele echoed Mitchell’s sentiments, but suggested the program run through January 2023 so businesses can benefit from the holiday shopping season. City staff originally recommended an extension date of November 2022.

Hagele also advocated for parklet bike parking.

City council members also directed staff to return with plans to discuss the future of the Open Streets program, which for a duration last summer and fall closed Plaza Street between Healdsburg Avenue and Center Street and then between Center and the senior center parking lot.

Extending the parklet program does mean there will be some modifications, including tent allowances, use of propane tanks and heaters, design elements, inspections and maintenance.

Matt Milde, the community services department facilities and event supervisor, discussed several of these changes and proposed solutions during the staff presentation of the parklet program extension.

In terms of administrative work for permit reviews, approvals and inspections, Milde said the community services department will continue to manage the parklet program and staff will establish a timeline and workflow plan for parklet permit submissions, modifications and compliance.

The parklet guidelines will also be updated to highlight that the city reserves the right to remove, dismantle, or potentially even damage a parklet in the event the city needs to access critical infrastructure such as underground utilities.

For ADA compliance, some businesses may have to install access ramps depending on the parklet in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Regarding design standards, businesses won’t be overly restricted in design in order to encourage innovative and thoughtful parklet designs. Businesses will have to provide design samples to assist in including quality aesthetic elements and the orange barriers will have to be replaced or covered.

It also may be possible that the permit program will discontinue the use of tents since tents could pose a safety issue during weather and wind events. Long-term parklets will also have to apply with the fire code.

“We’re proposing discontinuing the use of tents as part of this program in the long term. Those that have permits now would be able to use their tents to December, but in the long term we’d do away with those and there’s also a fire code (issue) that’s tied into this. Propane with the tents is allowed temporarily with the fire code during COVID, but once those emergency orders go away the ability to use propane under tents is also going to go away,” Milde explained during a March 30 community parklet meeting.

Healdsburg Fire Division Chief Fire Marshal Linda Collister said the tents are typically permitted for 180 days. Propane tanks can be used for heating with those tents under the COVID-19 emergency order.

“Tents can stay if they get a building permit after the 180 days,” Collister said.

Parklet permit holders will also be responsible for properly maintaining and cleaning their parklets of any trash, debris or leaves and inspections will be conducted by city staff to ensure compliance.

Parklets that are located on street corners may need to undergo a sightline evaluation to ensure that there’s enough clearance between cars and the parklets and their barriers. 

In terms of parking impacts, 73 parking spots are impacted in the downtown area due to the parklet program. 43 parking spots are permitted for parklet use and 17 are being used for short term, 15-minute parking.

According to statistics from the 2018 Walker Parking Study, there are around 1,416 total public parking spaces and the parklet and open streets program accounts for 5.16% of all available public parking in the study area.   

Overall, the businesses and community members who spoke up during the April 5 meeting in public comment seemed very positive and supportive toward the extension of the program.

“Thank you to the city of Healdsburg and everyone who’s helped the community to begin this process of recovering from this worldwide disaster. As a business owner and a resident, we have had an enormous economic hit. In our case, most of our economic losses came from both supporting our staff in the restaurant and our community vendors — local farmers, local ranchers and local employees,” said restaurant owner and chef Dustin Valette. “We support the opportunity to have time for our business and other businesses in the Healdsburg area to recoup some of the losses. We also love the idea of being able to produce something that Healdsburgundians and business owners are proud of.”    

Tallia Hart, Skip Brand, Will Seppi, Brian Sommer, and others also supported the extension of the parklet program.

Charles Sommer, who works at the Healdsburg Running Company, said he was able to keep his job because of the parklet program and Healdsburg Running Company Owner Skip Brand said it saved his business and their staff.

“It saved our business and kept our staff safe and our customers,” Brand said. “It’s pretty easy to see parklets for restaurants … but for me as a running store our groups wouldn’t even run unless you had a great place to finish that was safe and outside and our parklets are really a must have for retail,” Brand said.

Donna del Rey, the owner of Relish Culinary Adventures, also supported the program but urged the city to use this time and opportunity to rethink downtown and the issue of in-lieu parking fees.

“I appreciate the quick response by the city to create a parklet program in support of local business. I encourage you to improve the temporary extension while also maintaining a long term vision about our downtown area,” Del Rey said. “The downtown area created by the parklets has increased vitality and energy and we should seize this opportunity to at the very least preserve that vitality or preferably, expand it. The issues related to the impact of city ordinances really do bring to light the disconnect between the parklet program and the city’s policy for parking in-lieu fees.

“COVID has made it very clear how much we value our small businesses, especially the food businesses in Healdsburg. I encourage the council to consider the city’s vision for cars and parking downtown and the parking in-lieu fees that impact restaurants particularly heavily,” she continued. “In my mind there’s a disconnect when converting Relish into a restaurant requires a parking in-lieu fee of $40,000 and $70,000 while we sacrifice parking places downtown mostly in support of restaurants. I definitely do not begrudge the businesses taking advantage of the parklets, I support the program, but I do think our policies are in conflict. I think COVID has created an opportunity to rethink the downtown area, our dependence on cars and the overall parking strategy in the city.”        

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