I Live Downtown
If you hadn’t heard, Carmel City Council is meeting this afternoon to talk about the emergency parklet program. The program was put in place last spring to help restaurants get past the health department restrictions on indoor dining. Later, wine bars were included. Basically, the City allows restaurants and wine bars to borrow public parking spaces near their locations to operate at limited capacity until the health department restrictions are lifted. The program expires on December 31, 2020 or when the customers can go back inside, whichever comes first.
Well, who thought this pandemic would last so long?
Since the health risks from coronavirus appear far from over, City staff is asking our City Council for guidance before moving forward. They’ve prepared a short list of questions for Council to review tonight. You can read them below.
Of course, the big question for everyone is–How long will the parklet program be on our streets?
The general consensus amongst local folks, landlords, and business owners who are not restaurants nor wine bars is to end the program when diners and drinkers can move safely back inside. On the surface, that makes sense, but some people even think it’s gone on too long and is hurting their business and risking the spread of coronavirus when the health agencies plead for us to stay home.
Of course, City staff has heard a lot from the restaurant and wine bar owners, but they need to hear from us, too. If you have an opinion you’d like to share tap the Email City Council link and speak your mind. It’s amazing how effective we can be when we speak up.
Seven Questions About Parklets
Carmel City Council Meeting
Date & Time: Tuesday, December 8, 2020 4:00PM
Submitted by: Marnie Waffle, Acting Community Development Planning & Building Director
Subject: Update on Outdoor Seating in the Public Way (OSPW)
Carmel City staff wants to know what to do about the future of the emergency restaurant outdoor seating program (often called parklets) in public parking spaces, walkways, and sidewalks.
Ms. Waffle has presented seven questions for our City Councilmembers to consider.
1. Should the Outdoor Dining program be extended? If so, for how long?
Existing program: Unless dining and wine bar customers can move back into their indoor space earlier, the emergency OSPW (or parklets) program expires December 31, 2020.
Due to early December spikes in positive cases of COVID-19 in our region, it’s unlikely State or County health agencies will allow indoor dining or drinking sooner than the end of the year.
The mayor’s ad-hoc committee has suggested extending the program for five more months ending April 30, 2021. It doesn’t appear to include the original rule ending the parklet program before the April 30, 2020 expiration when dining and drinking can move safely back inside.
There has been concern that some restaurants and wine bars have invested in infrastructure and heating apparatus to create a more comfortable environment for their customers. The owners want to make sure their investment is fully amortized by continuing to use the public space for as long as possible.
Comments Around Town
• We should do anything we can to help people keep their jobs.
• It looks more vibrant, like Europe.
• DO NOT EXTEND THE PARKLETS PROGRAM INDEFINITELY! That space belongs to the public and should be returned to the public a soon as possible.
• This is a handout to only some businesses.
• There have been positive cases of COVID in downtown Carmel, but nobody tells the locals or the tourists. Unacceptable.
• Restaurants and wine tasting are not the only businesses in town. My shop windows are now behind a parklet through the entire Christmas season. Not fair.
• To get to the Post Office during their new hours I have walk through three restaurant dining rooms or take my chances walking down the middle of the street.
• Signage is everywhere telling us to wear masks and stay six feet apart, but I guess the coronavirus doesn’t go in restaurants. Maybe wine kills viruses.
• Ok, restaurants serve food. We all need to eat. But wine tasting? Really? Too risky.
• Thanks to Facebook’s Share button out-of-towners think Carmel is the only place open-for-business. We don’t have the resources to protect our community, our workers, or the tourists when we get swamped.
Extend the parklet program in 90 day increments starting January 1, 2021 or until the health department allows at least 50% capacity indoors, whichever comes first.
2. If the program is extended, should the City collect application and/or parking reservation fees to offset the on-going costs to manage the program?
Examples of other permits and fees: 1. One time temporary encroachment permit: $210 fee
2. Construction parking permit: $35 fee plus $35 per day per space
3. Special event permit: $735 fee plus $100- $200 per day per space
In the case of encroachment and construction permits, the space is rented for convenient access or parking near the project. However, in the case of the parklet, the restaurant or wine bar is using the parking space as a replacement for restricted seating inside their building. In that case, using encroachment and construction permit fees as examples are meaningless.
Comments Around Town
• It would be great if the City could get some income for use of the space.
• It only seems fair to charge rent.
• A special event permit makes sense since the parking space is used strictly for commercial use. However, special events rarely continue for months, so this is unusual.
• Restaurants and wine bars are typically using the public sidewalk as an extension of their dining rooms as customers wait for tables and staff rushes back and forth. The sidewalk area should be considered in the rent equation.
• It’s difficult to estimate the coronavirus transmission that curbside dining presents to restaurant and wine bar workers and their customers as well as people passing by.
• Monterey County currently reports over twice the State average for positive COVID-19 and confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in businesses in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, but little has been done to warn locals, employees, and tourists when outbreaks are discovered.
• Eating and drinking in a roadway presents challenges in physics. Basically, the barriers between the restaurant and wine bar customers and passing cars are not sufficient to reduce potential impact below safe levels in the event a car runs into a parket. The cost of sufficient co-insurance should be factored in the rent.
• When the City establishes a landlord/tenant relationship with the restaurants and wine bars, they’ll naturally feel entitled to the space they rent because they’re paying for it. It may be difficult to reclaim the public space, especially if the restaurant feels they’ve been more prosperous at their new curbside location.
• It’s not out of the question that restaurants and wine bar operators will expect discounts from their current landlords to offset the rent charged by the City of Carmel. Have landlords agreed to discounts they may be asked to absorb?
• If wine bars are offered free street frontage at no charge, it only seems fair that any other retailer should get the same offer. In fact, most other Carmel retail operations are less risky to spreading coronavirus than restaurants and wine bars.
• As locals, we’re not sure when we blinked and let dozens of parkets flood the idyllic streets of Carmel. Most of the restaurant and wine bar owners and workers do not live or vote in Carmel, nor do the tourists. Who allowed this to happen?
Charge parklet rent as a temporary commercial use including a strict 90 day lease. Special event permit: $735 permit fee plus $100-$200 per day per space.
3. What types of outdoor seating covers are acceptable in the public way? Should we explore the use of electric heaters in-lieu of propane?
Many parklets have turned into semi-permanent dining rooms, complete with floors, built-in seating, walls, and roofs. The reason the health department has made an exception for outdoor dining and drinking is not entirely clear given all other safety advice promoted by the agencies, including physical distancing and mask wearing. One of the reasons for the variance is that there is evidence the virus load is diluted outdoors, however that advantage reduces as walls and roofs are added.
Comments Around Town
• Would any of the parklets pass pre-pandemic code enforcement?
• On average, one 15 gallon pound propane tank lasts about 10 hours, or 1 ½ shifts. If 50 parklet permits have been issued and each restaurant and wine bar averages three heaters per parklet, we’re looking at potentially 100 tanks burned per day or 9000 tanks of propane burned in the next three months. The transportation and burning of that much flammable gas in a five block radius presents a safety challenge for the fire department. And a climate change problem for the planet.
• One of these things will catch on fire.
4. Should we allow more than 16 seats within outdoor dining areas with the use of plexi-glass barriers? If so, how many seats should be allowed?
Comments Around Town
• Obviously, the seating and eating protocols at restaurants and wine bars is in direct conflict with all other advice and mandates from the CDC, NIH, Monterey County Health Officer, and all the signs around town.
• If anyone at City Hall has experience and education in aerosol transmission of deadly respiratory viruses, how’s the time to weigh in.
This is a question for the health professionals.
5. Should there be a standard closing time for outdoor dining in the public way? If so, what time should that be?
The current closing time under curfew for restaurants is 10pm. The State Health Department has been clear to remind restaurant operators that doesn’t mean last call at 10pm. Customers must leave by 10pm. Staff cannot loiter.
For Carmel restaurants, closing at 10pm is reasonable while operating outdoors in the public right-of-way.
Wine bars 12pm – 5pm.
6. What approach to enforcement is most appropriate? Revocation of permits or citations?
Comments Around Town
• Due to the unique and confusing nature of this event, it doesn’t appear that code enforcement has been effective in keeping up with restaurant and wine bars owners various interpretations and testing of the emergency variance.
Clarify and enforce the rules swiftly. Repeat offenses will result in revocation of use permit.
7. What does the future of the outdoor seating program look like? Should staff engage the Planning Commission in discussions about outdoor dining as a permanent fixture in the village?
The current parklet program is an emergency response to an unprecedented event. No one thought it would last this long. Most restaurants are operating at lower than average revenue, but some owners have reported better business at their new location.
Comments Around Town
• The casual comparison to the European sidewalk cafe suggests either a foggy memory or they have not been to Europe.
• If you’re surprised you’re doing better on the street than at your original location, don’t tell anyone or they’ll all want it.
• In comparison to Carmel’s unique architecture, the parklets look like box-seats at the rodeo at best, or at worst, a traveling carnival.
• We appreciate the challenges restaurants, and to lesser degree, wine bars are facing, but they’re in the same boat as the rest of us. My business didn’t get a government hand out in the form of free rent on prime real estate.
• Half the restaurants in Carmel have patios and terraces in use before the pandemic. They are the smart ones who should be able to continue using them now and in the future.
• Retailers and landlords who do not benefit from this program are losing their patience.
• The weekly additions to the parklet structure has hidden my store front.
• Where do my customers park? The parklets go right the edge of the parking space so many drivers can’t squeeze in.
• This is a landgrab at a time when we should be focusing on keeping our visitors, workers, and neighbors safe.
When restaurants and wine bars can return inside should be the end of the parklet program. And take down the tents, too.
The City descriptions and comments have been condensed for clarity and brevity. The complete City documents are available here.