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As parklets take over, restaurants and retailers clash over space

Original post made on Oct 26, 2022

While Palo Alto's parklets are here to stay, the City Council adopted new rules that require restaurants to pay fees for the popular dining areas and to obtain neighbors' consent for parklets that extend past adjacent storefronts.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, October 26, 2022, 9:32 AM

Comments (17)

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2022 at 10:08 am

MyFeelz is a registered user.

"Burt also attempted to walk the fine line between asserting the city's rights over its public spaces and landowners' rights over their businesses." Where else can you get 70% extra tax-free footage except here in Palo Alto?

Here's a thought. Either tax the FULL public space the parklets are taking up, OR reduce the taxes of the fixed buildings that are being hidden from view thanks to the parklets by 70%. It still isn't going to satisfy the merchants who have been losing business for YEARS now to allow people to sit in plastic chairs on asphalt while they eat.

Penny wise, pound foolish, as the saying goes. The Governor says the public emergency is ending. So move all the restaurants. I have an idea for the perfect location. A bunch of industrial buildings need to be torn down at the end of San Antonio road. Talk about easy access! Now that Palo Alto is a "street food tourist destination", let's put those restaurants closer to the freeway. Bikers can come by train, and pedal on down. Or since they are real bike enthusiasts they can pedal all the way from San Mateo or Hollister or wherever for "Street Eats".

Popcorn is popping, sodas 10 cents a bottle.

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 26, 2022 at 12:04 pm

eileen is a registered user.

Love, MyFeelz comment!

Personally, I would love to see some common sense and beauty come back in our dining-out experience! Have you noticed how dirty these
streets are? Yuck!

I do like the new Austrian restaurant called, Naschmarkt. Fantastic food and a beautiful indoor setting! It's located on Birch St. off California Ave. Just around the corner from Printers Inc.

Posted by Chris Dewees
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 26, 2022 at 12:06 pm

Chris Dewees is a registered user.

As much as the general public may like parklets, they were intended to be temporary to support restaurants during the height of the pandemic. They were never intended to be permanent, as reflected in their varied size, construction and poor integration with the design and character of the streets they occupy. I understand the desire of restaurant owners to make them permanent -- a huge expansion of table space at far below market rent -- but other businesses are being harmed (if they were not, they would not object). Rather than wobbling around the issue, the City Counsel should take a more deliberate and thoughtful approach, include a harmonious street and outdoor space design and market lease rates. I bet a solution that is aesthetically pleasing, attractive to pedestrians, well integrated, minimally intrusive and fairly priced would garner significant support. If Mountain View can do this, surely we can too.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2022 at 12:36 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

My take is that most of these are ugly shacks, not well designed pleasant places to dine. Some are much nicer than others but we should at the very least have some standards put in place. I enjoy sitting outside and eating and I find that there are still plenty of passers by walking to another destination, retail, restaurant or vehicle. I think some of these are likely to enter a new establishment on impulse as they pass.

But I do think some of the ugliness and temporary feel of some of these should be dealt with. Additionally, the biggest concern I have is the likelihood of collisions between servers with plates of hot food and passers by not paying attention to moving obstacles. Not sure what the solution may be to this, but feel it is worth mentioning.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 26, 2022 at 12:53 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

I forgot, and this is a timely issue especially after yesterday's mini-swarm of earthquakes. Do all of these parklets conform to earthquake standards? I will take my answer off the air. I already know the answer but will wait till someone from the CC chimes in to reassure everyone that the designs and materials are guaranteed to be earthquake proof and will last for centuries.

p.s. or are there "dine at your own risk" signs planted everywhere?

Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2022 at 1:05 pm

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

I am not sure Palo Alto citizens want context from New York City, but Curbed published interesting context for parklets and plywood: Plywood Gourmet.

This link should be free for a bit longer than a New York minute.

Web Link

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 26, 2022 at 1:20 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Too bad this issue didn't surface more fully before all the candidate forums and endorsement interviews. Given that we are approaching year end it is highly unlikely that the current CC will decide this issue. So, candidate opinions about this are highly relevant.

Anyone hosting a candidate coffee or other forum, please ask about this.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 26, 2022 at 2:07 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Interesting and relevant comments from the last two posters, especially the point about candidate opinions since the votes of the current CC members are -- as always -- so predictably pro-landlord.

Do note that the new owner of the Restoration Hardware building is not exactly disinterested since there are plans to open a new high-end RH restaurant as reported a few days ago in the New York Times.Web Link

"The Company Once Known as Restoration Hardware Is Opening Restaurants. Why?

The furnishings store has moved into the hospitality business — but the food may not be the point.

On a recent night at the Dining Room at RH Guesthouse New York — a restaurant from the home-design company formerly known as Restoration Hardware — the server began her tableside spiel with a paean to the surroundings: “Welcome to our very beige space.”
RH opened its first restaurant in 2015, in the courtyard of a historic building in the wealthy Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago. Most locations share roughly the same furnishings (chandeliers, olive trees, a fountain) and menu (burgers, chicken, Caesar salads). And more restaurants are on the way, with plans to open in Paris, London, Palo Alto, Calif., and Aspen, Colo."

Posted by Chip
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 26, 2022 at 4:28 pm

Chip is a registered user.

For decades, I enjoyed shopping & dining in downtown Palo Alto, preferring to support mostly local retailers instead of the big chains at Stanford Shopping Center. No more. The "Help-us-out-during-a-pandemic" rationale, which let cafes put tables in streets & on sidewalks is over, folks.
I did not then & will never eat at one of those ugly outdoor places. I don't want to eat where the floor is an unsanitary sidewalk or on a rough tarmac street & people bring dogs to the tables "because it's outside." I won't patronize establishments which usurp tax-payer-funded public spaces, formerly unobstructed sidewalks & street parking. If the food isn't good enough to lure diners inside now, the restaurant deserves to fail & make way for a better business. How is eating inside a plastic-enclosed tent (Evvia) safer/more healthy than eating inside where there's proper ventilation and a clean floor?
Outdoor propane heaters are an ecological abuse.
Perpendicular, cross-sidewalk traffic from servers & bussers is detrimental to pedestrians and inhibits access to retail shops. These parklets (peculiarly-named, since there's nothing pretty or park-like about them) were a publicly-funded gift to restaurants at the expense of retailers. Absolutely make any that Palo Alto so magnanimously allows to remain pay very heavily for the right to impede pedestrians & remove public parking. Some disabled people cannot walk from the garages to the stores they previously visited because convenient street parking is gone. Do not allow even one inch of encroachment into neighboring office or store frontage. Ban the use of propane heaters, in use even when no one is eating outside.
Sayonara, PA. I dine indoors and shop elsewhere. I can safely walk without servers interrupting my forward motion or dogs yipping at me, and worse, causing trip hazards. If I tripped over the leash of a dog tied to a parklet enclosure, I'd sue the cafe & the City.

Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 26, 2022 at 9:06 pm

ALB is a registered user.

The virus is not over so the city working through regulations for parklets is critical. State Street in Santa Barbara is an excellent example of merchants and restaurants working together to deliver an ambienance that appeals to many. Again, this virus keeps marching on and we need outdoor dining. If a patron prefers indoor dining then that is their choice. The city needs to keep outdoor dining for health reasons and because many enjoy that experience over that of indoors.

Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2022 at 4:31 am

resident3 is a registered user.


“State Street in Santa Barbara is an excellent example of merchants and restaurants working together to deliver an ambienance that appeals to many”

Ambience should include cleanliness, are their streets cleaner?
Palo Alto Downtown streets and sidewalks are noticeably dirty lately. Maybe the regular sweeper trucks can’t operate normally with parklets? In NYC you can catch rats around the parklets which could be a site because our local population of rodents will make their way over there if they haven’t already.

As for the virus’ effect, it is no longer keeping children from going to school which means that adults can grow up and dine normally at establishments or stay home. Between negotiated tax exemptions for businesses under 10,000 feet, cost of parklets, and restaurants pushing their own candidate for Council, the Chamber of Commerce only asks but by not making sure DT is clean it’s not helping.

Posted by El Pato
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 27, 2022 at 11:59 am

El Pato is a registered user.

State Street in Santa Barbara? There are far more rats under those parklets than any other CA city we visited. Sure, let's copy them!! The highest commercial vacancy rate in the Central Coast and a strong left leaning City Council that paints a pretty picture that all is harmonious. Offices are vacating, retailers are leaving,,,even restaurants are leaving the plywood dump. Retailers are unhappy, landlords are unhappy but the council and press show the rainbows and unicorns like all other parklet loving wingnut. Outdoor dining is not new. The preference to dine outdoors has been #1 for restaurants for over 50 years. Outdoor dining is not attracting new business, it is poaching/transplanting or cannibalizing from neighboring side streets who pay full rent for their patios. 3 years of rent free patios has been the lifeline, not outdoor dining itself. If these restaurants had to pay market rent for their street use (like all other restaurants who chose their location to INCLUDE a paid for dining patio pre-COVID) they would organically reduce their size. They should not receive below market rent. They should not be allowed to expand beyond their footprint. They should not be allowed to continue to steal from their neighbors, who willfully supported their opportunity at a time in these greedy freeloaders want to bury their neighbors with the very hands that generously provided them the handout. Despicable, entitled and greedy freeloaders, enough is enough. The city has afforded these handful of businesses a favortism that has caused severe financial damage to other rule following businesses. These financial damages are only recoverable through reparations and the time is now to hold our city and our state accountable for their carnage.

Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2022 at 2:05 pm

resident3 is a registered user.

Also sad to lose University Avenue to this situation.

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2022 at 4:36 pm

eileen is a registered user.

when I traveled all over Europe this summer I saw very few parklets. Most restaurants have very large awnings that can come out and cover the dining tables. Also, closed-walking streets have tables located right outside the restaurant with pedestrians and bikes walking in the middle of the street.
That way they can see the other retail stores and not run into waiters!
A walking street means walking in the middle of the street! I hope the CC can understand that and get rid of all parklets. They are mostly (with a few exceptions) an ugly eyesore! Yes, the candidates should address this issue.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 27, 2022 at 5:24 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Another obvious answer I won't get here from anybody who's making the rules is this: Suppose I'm on foot, make a wrong turn and end up on Cal Ave. Plumb tired, I sit down at any one of those tables that are on the taxpayer-funded street, where nobody who's doing business there is paying rent or tax. Can I sit there indefinitely and read War and Peace? Or do I have to purchase a meal, to be allowed to stay on streets where nobody is paying rent on tax-free land?

Or, because somebody had to pay for the chair and table, could whoever paid for that evict me?

Could I just sit in the middle of the taxpayer-funded street, without getting in the way of a busser or a waiter?

What if a gaggle of homeless people try to sit there, to get out of the sun/wind/rain/exhaustion?

What if that same gaggle staged a sit-in? It should be safe, since there's no traffic.

And I'm kind of wondering, where are people relieving themselves while sitting in a parklet?

More rhetorical questions we all know the answers to, but everybody's too afraid to say it.

Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2022 at 5:59 pm

resident3 is a registered user.


"Could I just sit in the middle of the taxpayer-funded street, without getting in the way of a busser or a waiter?"

All good questions.

And how can property owners or Restoration Hardware have rights to negotiate what happens on taxpayer-funded streets? I admit I did not continue reading below the headline of this article because it sounds like the usual compromises at City Hall to amass the biggest philanthropy to subsidize businesses at the expense of sensible stuff that one would expect any city to do. Parklets goes above and beyond, but am sure there is an award for this somewhere.

Posted by Robert
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2022 at 5:56 pm

Robert is a registered user.

Well Burt made it perfectly clear she could care less about any retail unless it's restaurants? I'm all for consent the rules apply to all and every small business deserves the same treatment.

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