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Supervisors prioritize SF businesses with permanent Shared Spaces program

Restaurants and businesses in San Francisco with shared space parklets that emerged in response to Covid-19 health orders will be able to keep their outdoor spots post-pandemic.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved an ordinance to regulate a permanent Shared Spaces program, allowing businesses to continue using sidewalk and parking spaces for extra seating and retail space.

There was extensive debate on two amendments introduced by Supervisor Ahsha Safai. The first would allow business owners to secure spaces overnight from midnight to 7 a.m., and the second would retain the program under the Planning Department instead of the Department of Public Works. The Planning Department has led the current version of the program since its inception last year.

Both amendments ultimately passed.

Safai said he has fielded complaints about the ability to secure parklets during after-business hours.

Haney, who represents District 6, which includes the Tenderloin, Civic Center and downtown area, echoed Safai’s concerns about liability issues for businesses owners with unsecured open spaces after hours, adding: 

“I definitely fear that requiring these to stay open at night would render them unworkable for many neighborhoods that I represent and many of the small businesses that currently operate them.”

Supervisors Safai, Haney, Rafael Mandelman, Myrna Melgar, Gordon Mar and Catherine Stefani voted in favor of allowing businesses to close the spaces late at night.

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

Supervisors, including Shamann Walton, Connie Chan, Dean Preston, Aaron Peskin and Hillary Ronen opposed the amendment for public access reasons. 

Ronen said:

“I am so excited about how Shared Spaces supports our small businesses, but we are giving up an extraordinary amount of public space to accommodate private businesses, as I believe that we should. But in exchange, I believe the public should have the most access to it as it possibly can.”

However, each business is required under the legislation to add a public access bench near each shared space.

Additionally, fees will be waived for most small businesses in the first two years of the now permanent program — fees will not be waived for retail chain stores. Depending on the type of space businesses seek to establish, permit fees can range from $1,000 to $3,000.

Responding to the board’s passage of the Shared Spaces legislation, Mayor London Breed said:

“By taking the necessary steps to make Shared Spaces permanent, we are providing another lifeline for local businesses to thrive and creating a clear path forward towards rebuilding our economy as San Francisco recovers from COVID-19.”

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