More outdoor dining in the Castro means closing off area to more cars

More outdoor dining may be coming to San Francisco's Castro district, but not everyone supports the plan to make it happen.

The proposal, spearheaded by the neighborhood group, Castro Merchants, involves closing off a designated area to vehicles.

It could be a big benefit for restaurants in the area, but some argue the plan could backfire for merchants.

The targeted area is where 18th street crosses Castro.

The proposal would ban vehicles along 18th from Collingwood Street to Hartford Street, Friday through Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. 

A 14-foot lane would remain for emergency vehicles.

The additional space would allow restaurants to create or expand outdoor dining. 

“This allows a number of businesses to reopen in a way that is safe and in a way that will allow them to get much-needed revenue,” said Tom Temprano, legislative aide to County Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who supports the plan.

 Poesía restaurant would be one of the beneficiaries.

Covid-19 forced a reduction in staff from 16 to 2, but when outdoor dining was allowed, the restaurant rehired some and is now at 12.  Owner Francesco Dippolito, who has owned the place for a dozen years, says he could hire more if he is allowed additional outdoor seating.

“With the closing of the street hopefully for the weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I'll be able to add 4, 5 more employees because we'll have pretty much another 20-25 customers, potentially,” said Dippolito.

But additional space for restaurants comes at a loss of parking.

Patrick Batt, the owner of Auto Erotic, says the street closure may cost retailers business if people are dissuaded from visiting, due to a lack of parking.

Batt worries his already struggling shop could eventually be forced to close its doors for good if the street closure further reduces business.

“That's exactly what my concern is. I'm hanging on tenuously at the moment and any removal of parking or any barriers that are set up for people coming into the neighborhood are going to affect all of us.”

Masood Samereie, President of Castro Merchants, says he understands that concern but believes the street closure could boost foot traffic and help all businesses better survive the pandemic.

“We're trying to be fair and we're trying to give everyone a chance to make some money and get back on their feet, at least try to stay afloat.”

San Francisco’s transit agency is expected to approve the permit for this plan at a meeting Monday.

The permit would run through the end of the year, and the street closure could start as soon as Friday.