Proposed law would streamline creation of temporary public spaces by SF residents

Public spaces for art, relaxation, goofy science projects, music and more are increasingly popular in San Francisco.

But critics allege the process to create those pedestrian spaces is cumbersome for residents and requires knowledge of a byzantine permit process just to plan a little fun on the street.

To that end, the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee voted Monday to send to the full board for approval legislation that would streamline that process.

The “Places for People” program was introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener and coordinates The City’s authorization of “public gatherings and activities” to temporarily reshape public spaces.

Wiener cited Jane Warner Plaza — a public plaza at Market and Castro streets infamous for its nudists, but locally famous as a community hub — as an inspiration.

“We were able to transform a barren and dangerous intersection into a public space integral to the Castro community,” Wiener said. “It’s now a safer area for people.”

Specifically, the legislation amends city code across multiple agencies — Public Works, police and Planning Department determinations regarding environmental reviews, for instance — to make that approval process quicker.

Neil Hrushowy, program director of the Planning Department’s City Design Group, cited South of Market’s Annie Alley, Union Square’s Winter Walk and other public plazas as examples of new temporary public spaces that could sprout up.

Nicole Ferrera, executive director of Walk San Francisco, said other cities have adopted this same type of legislation and said it “removes the barriers” in creating walkable spaces, especially for low-income communities.

“If we want to encourage community experimentation,” she said, “we have to remove the pay to play barrier.”

San Francisco resident Alice Rogers said she tried for more than eight months to spur the creation of a pedestrian space in District 6, which includes the South of Market neighborhood, but had the process completely restarted because she lacked one particular permit.

That, she said, is the exact sort of situation this legislation would streamline.

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