Noe Valley Voice September 2010

A parklet being tested on 22nd Street near Bartlett should give Noe Valleyans a hint of what new parklets along 24th Street might look like.    Photo by Sally Smith

P2P: Plaza to Parklets

By Heather World

Faced with fierce opposition from some Noe Valley residents, city officials have scrapped plans for a plaza spanning Noe Street at 24th Street. Instead, they’re opting for “parklets” along 24th Street, which will remove parking spots but not interrupt traffic.

“The goal is to rally people around the project, not to divide them,” said Andres Power, head of San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks (P2P) program, which seeks to turn roadway into pedestrian space at low cost and on a trial basis.

The plaza idea attracted about equal numbers of supporters and detractors, said Power, whose office began shopping the proposal at Noe Valley town halls last April. However, support for the closing of Noe Street never grew. “The city family decided collectively it wasn’t time to move forward,” he said.

Parklets, on the other hand, won approval by about 80 percent of the neighbors who completed an informal survey handed out at a June community meeting, Power said.

These mini seating areas sit on a platform built at the same grade of the sidewalk and extend past the curb six feet. They run the length of two parking spots, about 40 feet total. Design guidelines require they have fixed seating and a perimeter—plants are popular—to shield the area from the street, Power said.

As with other P2P projects, the parklets will be designed by a professional designer working pro bono, using cast-off city materials that can be easily dismantled. Neither a designer nor locations had been chosen at press time, though Power said the parklets, likely two of them, would be on the stretch of 24th Street between Noe and Vicksburg streets. The permits for parklets are similar to those for cafŽ tables and chairs and do not require a public vetting, he said.

Project Needs a Partner

P2P is scouting locations with merchants because parklets require a partner in the community—neighboring businesses or a local benefit district—to maintain the space. Though parklets are designed to allow storm water to flow along the curb, someone needs to sweep and clean beneath the platform.

Last March, the city built its first parklet on Divisadero Street between Hayes and Grove streets in front of Mojo CafŽ. A second, longer parklet sits on 22nd Street at Bartlett. Both projects are in the “trial” phase. As per permitting rules, the Department of Public Works will post notice of a public hearing after six months to find out if the trial has succeeded. If so, the parklets would earn longer permits.

Earlier this year, 24th Street’s community benefit district, the Noe Valley Assoc­iation, secured a $32,000 grant to build a P2P project in the neighborhood, specifically the Noe Street plaza. Now, that money will go to the parklets, said Debra Niemann, the NVA’s executive director.

Both the NVA and the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association have approved the concept of parklets, said Bob Roddick, president of both organizations. But location will be sticking point.

Parking is precious to merchants, and the merchants association planned to address the topic at its August meeting, he said.

Reactions Mixed

Bernadette Melvin, the owner of Bernie’s Coffee next to Whole Foods for three years, thinks the parklets are a great idea and isn’t worried about the loss of parking.

“It’s creating a community seating area without taking very much,” she said.

Longtime Noe Valley resident Mary McFadden is just grateful the city abandoned the plaza.

“It was a bad idea,” McFadden said.

Though she considers the parklets a waste of money and parking spots, she said she had no plans to fight them.

“I don’t get it—they’re not really adding anything,” said McFadden, singling out the parklet on 22nd Street, which she passes frequently.

David Eiland, co-owner of Just for Fun gift store at 24th and Noe streets, hopes any new parklets will adjoin a crosswalk and thus narrow the width of the roadway at the intersection.

“Then I think they make great sense: we get open space for people to enjoy and we make the street safer,” he said.

Every parking spot is precious, Eiland said, but at the same time business has been a little slow in the past few years.

“Right now we’ve got some parking places to spare.”

Eiland, a member of the NVA, said he liked the idea of the plaza but accepted that other neighbors didn’t.

“I thought it was worth a try, but I’m not crying over it,” he said.

ÔLucky to Get Anything’

Some merchants first learned of the proposed plaza last February, when the San Francisco Chronicle quoted the mayor as he opened one P2P project and listed future sites. City planners said they had no chance to schedule and publicize meetings, as they had not known the mayor was going to announce the Noe Valley project.

Neighbors, too, felt caught off guard, and many opponents accused the city and the Noe Valley Association of trying to put in the plaza without public input. The shadow of suspicion cast a pall on the debate.

Michael Norelli, who lives on Jersey Street, was deeply disappointed, both with the jettisoned plan for a trial plaza and with what he saw as a lack of civility on the part of some plaza opponents.

“It left such a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. Still, he looks forward to seeing the parklets.

“It sounds like we’re lucky to get anything,” he said.

Any change creates complications, said John Murphy, a 23rd Street resident who also fought for the trial run of the plaza. He said he was disappointed the plaza was off the table, but excited about the parklets and the possibility of a town square on the site of the parking lot on 24th Street near Vicksburg.

“The more at-bats you take, the more likely you are to get a home run,” he said.