Parklets proliferate from dozens to more than 2,000 in San Francisco

The director of the San Francisco Shared Spaces Program says a lot of the red tape has been eliminated, streamlining the process for applying for outdoor dining. The city has seen a massive proliferation from a few dozen parklets, to more than 2,000 with a thousand more in the pipeline.

The city's restaurants and bars are fighting to survive the pandemic, and now city and state leaders say they're pushing for rule changes aimed at keeping their doors open.

"We want to make this a permanent part of our tool box, and indeed, Mayor [London] Breed remains very committed to transitioning the Shared Spaces Program from an emergency response into a permanent part of the city's toolbox for helping our neighborhood commercial corridors," said Robin Abad Ocubillo, director of the Shared Spaces Program.

It's not hard to see the impact the pandemic has had on San Francisco's restaurants and bars. Many closed their doors for good. Those that have survived have had to adapt. And for many that has meant taking what had once been indoor service, out onto the street.

"We have more seats out front right now than we've had inside," said Brian Dwyer from Swan Oyster Depot. The destination seafood spot says they'd like to keep their outdoor dining for as long as they can.

"We built this parklet back in August, and ever since we had 'em open, business has, not returned to normal, but it's helped us out tremendously," said Dwyer.

 Work to change how restaurants and bars operate is also underway at the state level, with state Senator Scott Wiener introducing Senate Bill 314 earlier this month that would allow for expanded outdoor seating at restaurants and bars. The bill also looks to amend state alcohol laws, in some cases written decades ago.

"We need to do everything in our power as we come out of this pandemic to make sure that these small businesses can succeed," said Sen. Wiener. "And to make sure that the ones that have closed permanently, that other businesses can quickly come into those spaces so we don't have mass vacancies in our neighborhoods."

Ben Bleiman from San Francisco's Bar Owners Alliance says the bar and nightlife industry pumps more than $7 billion into the local economy and employs tens of thousands of workers. He says the bars that are still open are just barely hanging on, and permanent changes to alcohol regulations and creating more outside spaces are necessary steps to keep help them survive.

"We need to give our hospitality businesses every chance to recover, and recover quickly and get back on their feet, and this does exactly that," said Bleiman.

Economic experts have said healthy small businesses, including bars and restaurants, will be one of the keys to determining just how quickly San Francisco, the Bay Area and the state emerges from the economic impacts of COVID-19.