Land-Use Coverage: Parklets expected to dominate North Bay downtowns

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Move over Paris — parklets expected to dominate North Bay downtowns

Cities plan to make the pandemic-spurred outdoor dining areas permanent

From wining to dining, Wine Country cities plan to adapt to the French streets-of-Paris lifestyle more than ever before in the coming months with parklets dotting the landscape — but not without a few roadblocks in Sonoma.

City staffs from Marin County’s Sausalito through Sonoma and on to Napa are drawing up plans to make permanent these al fresco dining structures that popped up during the pandemic

This means pages of new design standards need to be drafted and adopted, applications approved and fees paid. Gone are the fee waivers the eateries received to make ends meet during the crisis that lasted for a few years.

In the city of Sonoma where there are at least a dozen parklets, a few of the outdoor dining structures became a point of contention. A few months ago, its two largest outdoor eating areas at Girl & the Fig and El Dorado Kitchen were pulled up after restaurant management complained about the ever-changing city rules and demands. The temporary program extends into next April, but the council may consider making them permanent, when it meets in December.

The Sonoma restaurants were sent letters dating May 13 by city staff demanding they comply to new rules by June 10. For starters, tents, gas or propane heaters, trash cans, bus cleanup stations and signs are now prohibited in the interim rules, while the city works on its permanent program. Noncompliance may lead to a $500-per-day fine.

“That was the trigger,” El Dorado Kitchen General Manager Joel Hoachuck said, referring to the tone of the letter by city staff. Instead, the restaurant running out of the El Dorado Hotel in downtown Sonoma now relies on its award-winning back patio.

Even though he said he lacks staffing to operate the front parklet, Hoachuck said the city standards were in constant flux. He applied to install a parklet cover that was going to cost at least $15,000 but was later told by the city that’s a no-go. He had to remove his propane heaters and replace them with electric versions, a new state requirement. Only

restaurants that have the gas “plumbed” to the area may use the utility fuel.

“The code was always moving. We couldn’t keep spending money without knowing past November if we could keep it. In the business world, we cannot work with maybe, maybe not,” he said of the restaurant on the downtown city square.

So Hoachuck disassembled the parklet that cost his company $25,000 and moved it to its San Jose location. The removal freed up six parking spaces.

The Girl & the Fig restaurant no longer has a parklet too.

“It’s a disaster,” Girl & the Fig President John Toulze said, following robust laughter. He will rely on a back outdoor patio as well.

Toulze, who admitted to being angry about how the matter was handled, also took down his parklet at the end of May when it became apparent the city was playing hardball with its rules. He said he had a site visit by planning staff that warned him before the Memorial Day holiday weekend to get the parklet up to code in a matter of days. He viewed the site visit, email and letter as threats.

Toulze said he even got a visit from the city when he was taking down the parklet.

“They told me I couldn’t do that,” he said.

“They were really aggressive,” he said, adding he took issue with needing to remove his propane heaters.

“Parklets without propane heaters at night are a joke,” he said.

Despite commending Vice Mayor Jack Ding and Councilwoman Sandra Lowe for their support, he now has a “trust” issue with the city.

Acting City Manager Sue Casey called the situation an “unfortunate misunderstanding” and attributed the lack of adequate communication to the restaurants as “timing and staffing” problems. She also pointed to “a divided council” in favor of them as another obstacle.

“I totally get it. This is a real disappointment for me. Maybe I should have been out there myself, but that’s hindsight,” said Casey, who added she had prior obligations that kept her away at the time. The acting city manager, one in four over the last few years, came on the

job in February.

“I just came from Paris. I love the parklets. The restaurants are an important part of our economy. Hopefully we can build that relationship back,” she said. “We’re working on more standards for the permanent program. When they first came about, we were just scrambling to keep the restaurants open.”


The city of Petaluma, also in Sonoma County, decided to make parklets a part of its permanent downtown landscape during its council meeting discussing goals last August. The city expects to have the rules finalized by early next year.

“They have forever changed the way we think about serving our community,” Petaluma City Manager Peggy Flynn said. “Restaurants are so essential to seating our community and crucial for the economy,” she said, calling them a “win-win” for the town.

The city has remained so enthusiastic about the parklets that, like Sonoma and Healdsburg, engineering and permitting fees were waived to keep them up.

Businesses and residents who don’t parklets object to the structures taking up parking spaces.

Economic Development Management Analyst Nancy Sands disagrees there’s not enough parking downtown.

“I rarely can’t find parking downtown,” she said.

But to city officials, if people have to walk a few extra blocks, “that’s part of the plan (for Petaluma),” Sands said.


In the last few years, residents who like to make quick, in-and-out trips downtown have been a little reluctant to giving up parking spaces.

To that, both the cities of Petaluma and Healdsburg swapped long-term (2-hour) parking spaces for those in short-term increments such as 15- and 24-minute, respectively.

“We feel we have adequate parking in downtown Healdsburg. But everything is parking in local government,” City Manager Jeff Kay said.

Kay indicated that many of its visitors

MONDAY, JULY 18, 2022 North Bay Business Journal 3
Mi Pueblo at 800 Petaluma Blvd. N in Petaluma erected a giant parklet the city of Petaluma embraces as shown here on July 10.
See PARKLETS page 21


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and frequent locals have found the longterm lot from Front Street as a useful alternative.

When it returns by next year with a permanent plan covering issues from maintenance and insurance to landscaping and seating, Healdsburg expects to issue three-year licenses to parklet holders at annual fees ranging from $4,000 to $14,000, depending on the size. For now, the current plan comes with 21 pages of guidelines.

Due south, Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Peter Rumble said: “Parklets are really critical to downtown, and I think this city sees them the same way. Even with the concern of parking spaces, they build on an atmosphere.”


With its vibrant downtown scene, the city of Napa expects to take up its permanent parklet plan in a proposed ordinance at the next council meeting set for July 19. Sixteen parking spaces have been blocked off on Main Street since the pandemic began. And the council will consider whether to make that permanent.

Because it will cost $1.5 million to shut down the road and meet code, the city staff has recommended against permanent closure, Community Development Director Vin Smith said.

In Marin County, San Anselmo put out a survey to its residents and found

that 90% of its population was in favor of keeping them around.

Councilman Steve Burdo said he’s not surprised by the high number of people in favor of the eight parklets it has, especially with the pandemic still lingering.

“People’s attitude about being indoors has changed,” he said. “We do want to make them permanent. It’s been the most lively I’ve ever seen this town, and I’ve lived here since 2008.”

Like Healdsburg, the Marin County city wants to address whether to cap off the number of parklets so the town won’t run out of parking spaces. City staff is working on design standards and expects to return with a proposal for its July 28 meeting.

Sausalito is in the same boat in respect to favoring parklets, according to its Chamber of Commerce President Juli Vieira. This is despite the parklets consuming parking spaces for other merchants trying to sell their wares. But Vieira points out that the two industries, hospitality and retail, help each other.

“The reality is, people will come in to the shops after they’ve had a glass of wine or dinner,” she said.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, tech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 27 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or susan.wood@

MONDAY, JULY 18, 2022 North Bay Business Journal 21 Let’sconnect SMI ADVANCED Innovative marketing solutions toempoweryourbusiness Fromideationanddesigntotargeteddigital strategy,ourseasonedteamofmarketing expertsprovidetheresourcesthatmodern organizationsneedtoplan,develop,launch, andtrackengagingmultimediaadvertising campaigns.
People dine at a parklet on East Napa Street.

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