On September 19 (Parking Day), Oakland announced issued a Notice of Parklet Opportunity (NPO). This marked the opening of the second round of Oakland’s Parklet Pilot Program.

In September 2011, the city began its first pilot to allow parklets on city streets. A parklet is temporary public space that replaces one or two parking spots in front of a business with outdoor seating and bicycle parking. Though the adjacent business is responsible for getting the permits, building and maintaining the parklet, the seating is free and open to all.

Three parklets have been built so far under the initial pilot and two more are permitted. The new pilot will allow up to 15 additional parklets in Oakland. The submission deadline for applications is November 17, 2014.

“We’ve heard a lot of really good things from the three that have been built,” according to Parklet Pilot Program Manager Laura Kaminski. She noted that the gallery owners on 25th Street in Uptown, home of the newest parklet, give the space rave reviews. It is heavily used, particularly on First Fridays, where the parklet provides some of the only public seating in the area.

Kaminski thinks the NPO will garner more applications than there are spaces. “There’s been a huge interest. I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls” from interested businesses, she said. In San Francisco, where the movement to reclaim public space through parklets began, a Public Works parklets page lists 46 approved parklets since the first was built in 2010.

Parklet on 40th Street in front of Manifesto Bicycles.

Parklet on 40th Street in front of Manifesto Bicycles.

Installing a parklet can be a challenge for scrappy Oakland businesses operating on slim margins. “It was the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” said MacKay Gibbs, co-owner of Manifesto Bicycles, in an interview for an earlier article. “Harder than opening our own business.”

For Sal Bednarz, owner of the Actual Café and Victory Burger and holder of a parklet permit, the process continues to frustrate. He decided to move his parklet from Alcatraz Avenue to San Pablo Avenue after EBMUD installed a fire hydrant that blocked his original location. “Having it on San Pablo means my neighbors on San Pablo can share in the benefits of it,” he said in a telephone interview. “I think it would add to the aesthetics of the restaurant and the block.”

On San Pablo, however, the process stopped cold. “I’m up against CalTrans [which controls that part of San Pablo]  which is a faceless bureaucracy and doesn’t care about me,” said Bednarz. “The way that they’re approaching the problem is not at all aligned with how parklets are done.”

“I’m disappointed. I was one of the original advocates for parklets in Oakland,” he added. “I’m stuck having invested a lot with nothing to show and no path forward.” But Bednarz is tenacious. “I believe eventually, this is going to get done,” he said.

Kaminski promises the city is working to make things easier for businesses this time around. “We have added more information to the application,” she said, noting that staff has applied what they learned from the initial pilot to streamline the process.

Oakland will decide which projects to approve based on spacing around the city, and innovative design that shows a “unique Oakland flair,” according to Kaminski.

City fees for the encroachment permit needed to build a parklet total about $1,300. Kaminski estimates the cost to build out a parklet, which is borne by the business, at between $7,000 and $12,000 per parking space (most parklets take two parking spots), based on data from San Francisco.

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