Dining and Fitness Activities Available on Sidewalks, Parking Spaces

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Last month, outdoor dining, curbside pickup, retail stores, and gym classes were greenlit to operate in public spaces, such as on sidewalks, parking lanes, parks, and Port of San Francisco lands. The Shared Spaces Program (SSP), which’ll run until the end of the year, was created by the City’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force, a group that’s been meeting since April.

By mid-June the City was accepting applications from businesses and neighborhood associations for outdoor retail and dining, including on space managed by the Recreation and Parks Department, Port, and other municipal departments.  Restaurants that already have a permit to place tables and chairs on a patio or adjacent sidewalk don’t need to apply with the SSP.

Allowing outdoor dining required the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) to modify its Shelter-In-Place order. To serve alcohol, a restaurant must apply for a COVID-19 temporary catering authorization from the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. 

“Any business serving alcohol in a Shared Space will have experience serving alcohol in the course of their normal operations…will know how to keep guests safe and under control and how to minimize disruptions to neighbors,” said Gloria Chan, director of communications for the City’s Office of Economic Workforce and Development. “We trust our small business owners to accomplish those goals in the context of Shared Spaces. If there are complaints, the City is prepared to promptly send staff out to investigate, educate, resolve issues, and enforce the rules. The Shared Spaces program will be successful if participating businesses approach the program in a responsible and neighborly way,” 

According to Chan, many different types of businesses, including restaurants, bars, wine shops, bookstores, and gyms want to take advantage of the SSP. “Our neighborhood corridors are made up of a diverse range of small businesses that bring culture and vibrancy to this City. Each corridor is unique. Shared Spaces will help reactivate the corridor in a manner that is consistent with the safety of residents, patrons, and workers,” said Chan. 

“The Shared Spaces Program will allow folks to safely distance while patronizing our small businesses in District 10,” said District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton. 

Chan said City staff who developed the SSP included representation from the Mayor’s Office on Disability and Department of Public Works.  “In order to accomplish the goal of making public space available to businesses in a fast, free, and flexible manner while ensuring accessibility, the City leaned on requirements from existing programs like the Tables and Chairs permit program and the Parklet Program,” said Chan. 

Chan said sidewalk and parking lanes will be available to enterprises immediately facing the areas. “A business can apply for the sidewalk or parking lane space in front of a neighboring business with the written permission of that business. For a proposed temporary street closure, the City will need the businesses on the block to work together to agree on the details of the closure and how space will be allocated,” said Chan.

SSP permitted activities are exempt from street cleaning. Mechanical street cleaners will travel around a Shared Space in a parking lane. SSP operators need to keep the area clean and debris free. The City can revoke a permit if a business doesn’t comply with such requirements as maintaining a straight, clear travel path at least six feet wide. Traffic lanes designated for bikes or cars, bus stops, and red and blue curb zones aren’t eligible for the SSP. Businesses must have $1 million in general commercial liability insurance and use diverters to direct pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle traffic around customers. 

Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association (PDMA) expressed interest in closing 18th Street between Connecticut and Texas streets, a corridor that’s home to a large number of food vendors, including Sunflower Vietnamese Restaurant, 288 Connecticut Street, and Farley’s, 1315 18th Street, to allow outdoor dining, said Keith Goldstein, PDMA president. In a June Zoom meeting, PDMA members noted potential concerns with the idea, including the 22-Fillmore Muni bus line, which runs on 18th Street.

“Historically, it’s been very hard to close a street with an active bus line. There has to be notices at every stop along the route. 18th Street also raises a red flag because it connects to Interstate-280,” said J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president.

Another challenge is that 18th Street tapers as it progresses south, leaving a narrow space for pedestrians to pass by seated diners. 

Supervisor Walton’s office identified five locations for business use adjacent to the Third Street corridor. “These spaces can easily be converted to sidewalk seating or mini plazas with minimal disruption to parking,” said Walton. “These areas are also off the corridor and will feel calm versus being directly on the corridor. All of which have easy access for our first responders. As for Leland, there are open spaces in front of Mission Blue, corner of Peabody, and Leland and in front of the “The Shop” Barber Shop on the same block on the other side of Peabody. We also feel there could be expanded outdoor seating in the Hans Schiller Plaza next to Mission Blue. This space is totally underutilized at the moment.” 

Walton said there’s already a shared space collaboration on Lane Street between Gratta Wines and The Jazz Room, on Third Street. “Sharing parking spaces and driveways will help both businesses increase outdoor seating and more importantly, allow The Jazz Room to reopen with limited capacity with outdoor food and drink service,” said Walton. 

According to Laurie Thomas, Golden Gate Restaurant Association executive director, waterfront restaurants want to use Port space for outdoor dining. 

Fitness Urbano, a gym at 80 Missouri Street, and Barrios Martial Arts, a martial arts school at 1756 18th Street, are interested in conducting fitness activities in Jackson Park. Jude Deckenbach, Friends of Jackson Park executive director, welcomed the idea. Starting last month, a portion of the park was being used for a Monday through Friday summer camp run by SF Tots, a sports club for four to nine-year-olds. The business, which operated at Jackson Park previously, has two pods of 12 children each. The camp is using the clubhouse, one of the diamonds, and part of the outfield, said Tamara Aparton, San Francisco Rec and Parks spokesperson. 

“The public can use these areas and the 120 social distancing circles marked in white when camps are not using this space. Rec and Parks can also consider allowing businesses to hold fitness classes, boot camps, and outdoor dining in this park and others under the current DPH order,” said Aparton.  

Deckenbach said that people are flocking to Jackson Playground seeking a space for health and healing. “While our neighborhood has absorbed much of the City’s recent housing growth, we have yet to receive the promised open and green space to support said development. Therefore, we need to think outside the box as to how we can utilize our precious little open space in our neighborhood. There is plenty of open space beyond the social distance circles that can be allocated for use by our neighborhood health and fitness businesses to provide outdoor fitness classes,” said Deckenbach. 

Aparton said other Southside areas deployed for outdoor activities include Herz Playground at McLaren Park and Bayview Park, which’re hosting Rec and Parks summer camps, as well as the Bayview-Hunters Point YMCA, where the Department of Youth, Children, and Their Families’ summer camp for children of first responders is being held. 

Businesses are concerned about how to operate in shared spaces near homeless encampments, such as a large one at 17th and Connecticut streets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises governments to allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are during the public health crises if formal shelter options aren’t available. According to the CDC, clearing encampments can cause people to sever connections with service providers, increasing the potential for infectious disease spread. The City’s Human Services Agency has stated that it’ll follow these guidelines. 

PDMA is worried about how to best work out the details of a SSP application plan; few restaurant owners participated in the June meeting. “I think understanding things like how many tables can fit in a sidewalk and curb lane, with social distancing, is going to take visits to local restaurants,” said Goldstein. 

“Keith, I can help with those if you want,” responded Kayren Hudiburgh, owner and produce manager of The Good Life Grocery, 1524 20th Street. 

Since shelter-in-place orders took effect in mid-March, restaurants have been employing a range of tactics to survive, including selling gift cards, expanding delivery to Alameda, Marin and San Mateo counties, selling bottles of wine and to-go meals, and limiting hours to when demand is highest. Some eateries, such as STEM Kitchen and Garden, 499 Illinois Street, and Third Rail, 629 20th Street, are closed until further notice.

Another obstacle to deploying public space for restaurants is Southside’s challenging terrain. Some corridors are flat and accessible, others are windy or steep, have damaged asphalt or pavement, see heavy shade, or lack nearby parking. 

Thomas said despite these issues it’s exciting to see the City move forward, “not backward. The City has done such a good job of expediting a complicated operation, which normally would cost a lot of money. Not every restaurant will choose to open now for outdoor dining. For example, I have two restaurants, Terzo and Rose’s Cafe, in Cow Hollow. We’ll be using the next few weeks to continue to prepare for the reopening of indoor dining, keep seating in the current permitted parking area, and add seating in parking lanes.”

According to Thomas the next step will be to add shelter and warmth. “The tents may not be possible until indoor dining reopens, because opening a closed space is similar to opening an indoor dining room. The outside heaters might be harder. They will likely require a fire inspection, if they are allowed at all,” said Thomas. 

Jocelyn Bulow, owner of Chez Maman, a French restaurant with locations in Potrero Hill and Hayes Valley, said he’s applying for outdoor dining.  “Half of my dining room is gone because of the need for social distancing. We want to seat more people outside on 18th Street. I would provide all the tables and chairs. I’m interested in having several tables outside Chez Maman East, our Potrero Hill restaurant at 1401 18th Street,” said Bulow. 

Bulow said starting dining at around 5 p.m. would be beneficial. “I’d like to offer outdoor dining until the end of summer. In Potrero Hill, we’ve been open since late April for take-out. We have a lot of support from the neighborhood,” said Bulow. 

Mission Rock Resort, a waterside, bi-level, seafood restaurant at 817 Terry A Francois Boulevard, is also applying to the Shared Spaces Program.  Nick Osborne, Mission Rock Resort general manager, said most of the eateries’ space is already outdoors.  “Our floor plan prioritizes social distancing so our customers can feel comfortable and enjoy themselves. In terms of the Shared Spaces Program, we would like to take advantage of a portion of the pedestrian pathway on the north side of the building. We are confident that we could offer some additional outdoor seating in an area that would not interrupt any of the robust pedestrian activity on Terry Francois Boulevard,” said Osborne. 

According to Osborne, Mission Rock Resort’s new menu will feature items it offered prior to the shelter-in-place order.  “We have recognized that in the new era of takeout, certain dishes travel better than others. With that in mind, we’ve made a couple adjustments that will hopefully result in a better takeout experience. The Mission Rock classics will be steady, Dungeness crab roll, blackened salmon with jambalaya, Shrimp Louie salad, and Rock burger. We are excited to introduce a couple new items, including an Ahi tuna poke bowl and a gumbo. Lastly, our 99-cent oyster will be available during our Happy Hour,” said Osborne. 

Osborne said the restaurant is hopeful it’ll be able to mitigate the financial challenges it’s endured during shelter-in-place. “Many of our staff have worked with us for over five years. We are very excited to get our family of employees back together. We want to give the people in the neighborhood a chance to escape the stress of this time and have a little fun. Prior to the lockdown, we introduced live music, including a steel drum musician, into our weekend brunch program. We are excited to reinvigorate this element of the Mission Rock experience,” said Osborne.

Businesses can learn more about how to get a Shared Spaces permit at https://sf.gov/use-sidewalk-or-parking-lane-your-business. Gyms with an interest in offering boot camp and yoga classes in public spaces can sign up at https://fs12.formsite.com/sfrpsurvey/bootyoga/index.html. Residents can learn what summer camps are being held at southeastern neighborhood parks at https://sfdcyf.shinyapps.io/sfsummerprograms