Roughly 300 square feet of street-side sit-down space is becoming an issue for Morro Bay city officials.
In December 2014, the city unveiled its plans to build a parklet along Main Street in downtown Morro Bay. In exchange for additional urban lounging space, the parklet ate up three parking spaces. It was constructed under a six-month pilot program, which also includes more than 10 spaces for bicycles, two motorcycle spaces, and a place for patrons of adjacent businesses “to sit down with a book, a cup of coffee, or just to rest.”
- PHOTO BY KAORI FUNAHASHI
And for Top Dog Coffee Owner Pat Bietz, whose business sits adjacent to the new parklet, the addition of sitting space hasn’t seemed to impact his business’ revenue positively or negatively.
“My belief always was that it was a plus for the community,” he told New Times. “And I didn’t see anything wrong with just trying something for six months.”
But just weeks into its introduction, some residents and business owners are already protesting where the parklet was placed, and how it came about.
On Jan. 27, five people raised concerns about the parklet, including Coalesce Bookstore owner Linna Thomas, who presented a petition with signatures she’d gathered from others who weren’t on board with the new space. Again on Feb. 10, Thomas presented a new batch of signatures—about 20 pages’ worth—from more people who weren’t happy with the pilot program.
The most recent petition, with the title “not a bad idea; not a good location,” raises concerns related to the loss of parking, the perceived benefits primarily going to one business, the parklet’s proximity to fast-moving traffic, and the perceived disregard for other potential seating areas on the street.
“I think it’s admirable that Morro Bay is wanting to help businesses, and I think it’s something we all need to get behind and support,” Thomas told New Times. “But I think this is a very unfortunate and too quick of a choice.”
The parklet idea is still a new one, with the most notable examples found throughout San Francisco. Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons said he became intrigued with the idea of parklets when he saw one during a trip to Pacific Grove. The idea gained further traction during discussions of Morro Bay’s Local Economic Action Plan (LEAP), and the pilot program was up and running in six weeks, using existing pieces of city property and an investment of about $500, according to City Manager David Buckingham.
To choose the space, Buckingham said city officials approached one business owner, who said no, then approached Top Dog. City officials contacted surrounding businesses, he said, which resulted in changes to the original design. The parklet is intended to serve the entire community, and isn’t designated for the benefit of one business, financially or otherwise. Currently, at least three other business owners have expressed interest in having a parklet, Buckingham said.
If anything, according to Irons, the speed at which theh parklet was installed may have surprised residents who are more accustomed to the slow pace of government.
“There’s a discomfort with, maybe, the way it happened,” he said.
At the end of the six months, city councilmembers will revisit the item and decide how to proceed, with options that might range from extending the program to adding more parklets to scrapping the project altogether.