After nearly a year of Covid-19 restrictions, seeing patrons dine out on San Francisco streets has become a familiar scene. City officials are now looking to give businesses a chance to continue outdoor operations long after the pandemic is gone.

Mayor London Breed said Friday from the Castro neighborhood that she and city supervisors plan to introduce legislation at Tuesday’s board meeting that would make The City’s Shared Spaces program permanent.

The current program, which expanded on the the 2010 parklet program and is set to expire at the end of June, allows businesses by permit to use open lots, street spaces, portions of sidewalks and curbs for business operations, such as outdoor dining.

If passed, the legislation would permanently enable businesses to apply for permits to sidewalks, curbside lanes, roadways, private property or pop-up entertainment using a single portal. 

Breed said she wants to make the permitting process as simple as possible, adding:

“When we remove the barriers for small businesses we can make magic happen. We can do incredible things. I am determined to make sure that these shared spaces that we all know and love are here to stay in San Francisco even after this pandemic is over.”

Permits would require approval from several city departments but response time would be limited to 30 days, as outlined under the November voter-approved Proposition H.

Permit fees would be waived through June 2022 — proposed costs after June 2022 were not provided.

The legislation is supported by from supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Ahsha Safai, who co-sponsored the proposal along with supervisors Matt Haney and Catherine Stefani.

While Mandelman supports a permanent Shared Spaces program, he said The City still needs to hear out and address public concerns. The mayor said she has built procedures into the proposal that will enable residents and businesses to work together on issues that arise.

The proposal also seeks clarify that the public can utilize those spaces when they are not being used for commercial purposes.

As for enforcement, a single agency would be in charge and a “Single Bill of Health” would outline compliance rules. A number of city departments are administratively involved in the current Shared Spaces program, including the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Planning Department and the Department of Public works.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Patrons eat outdoors in a shared space operated by The Cove in San Francisco, California, on Friday, March 12, 2021.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, is also pushing to ease restrictions on outdoor dining and alcohol service on a permanent basis. Among other things, Senate Bill 314, which he introduced in February, would allow restaurants with existing ABC licenses to serve alcohol outdoors and expedite the application process for pop-ups and caterers applying for permits and alcohol licenses. 

Since June 2020, over 2,100 Shared Space permits have been granted, the Mayor’s Office said. The program has been a lifeline for some businesses during the pandemic.

Approximately 84 percent of business owners who operate a shared space said in a survey that the program enabled them to reopen and 80 percent said the opportunity prevented business closure. About 90 percent said they would continue doing outdoor business after the pandemic.

Solange Darwish, co-owner of The Cove in the Castro, thanked city officials for launching the Shared Spaces program during such a tough time for businesses.

Darwish said:

“This program allowed restaurants and bars to team up, which gave us a fighting chance to survive this pandemic.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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