Businesses and merchant associations can now apply for a permit to use sidewalk or parking spaces for restaurant and retail service. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

‘Shared Spaces’ program will let restaurants, retail expand into outdoor spaces

City to grant permits for use of sidewalks, parking for business operations

Local businesses will soon be allowed to spill out into public spaces in order to maintain the distance needed to limit the spread of coronavirus, officials said Tuesday.

Sidewalks, streets, parks, and plazas could be used for restaurant pickup and retail sales under the new “Shared Spaces Program,” announced on Tuesday by Mayor London Breed. The program, the product of the Economic Recovery Task Force, is intended to build out the long-term social distancing needed until a coronavirus vaccine is available while loosening health order restrictions.

“It’s an incredibly difficult time for businesses and their employees in San Francisco, and the Economic Recovery Task Force has been hard at work identifying solutions to help businesses and people get back on their feet,” said Assessor Carmen Chu, who co-chairs the task force launched in April. “The Shared Spaces program is one way we’re helping to create flexibility for local businesses so that they can reopen and keep their employees and customers safe.”

Businesses or merchant associations will be able to apply for a free, expedited permit that allows them to use sidewalk space or parking spots for business purposes, once San Francisco allows for such activity. Making space for outdoor seating and curbside pickup could involve repurposing travel lanes, but will take additional planning to mitigate impacts on issues like Muni routes.

In late April, San Francisco launched “Slow Streets,” a program that will eventually limit vehicular traffic on 20 streets, though it’s unclear for how long. Pedestrians and cyclists can take over corridors like the Great Highway, Page Street and 23rd Avenue north of Golden Gate Park to maintain distance between one another safely.

Restaurants and businesses have called for the next step of allowing business use in public spaces and penned a 40-page report earlier this month with “Shared Spaces” in the title. The group, involving voices connected to restaurants like Outerlands and La Cocina, also called for lowered rents to account for reduced capacity and for childcare providers to reopen.

“Making public space available to businesses is a key strategy that will help them reopen safely while mitigating some of the difficulty that is caused by diminished seating and capacity indoors,” said Rodney Fong, president and CEO San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “This is a great use of our sidewalks, streets and public spaces that will help businesses recover, will save jobs, and will create a positive environment for San Franciscans to enjoy and support their favorite restaurants and shops.”

Sacramento, where dine-in service is now allowed for restaurants, offered a vision of the new normal over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Orange block barriers and fencing usually associated with construction were erected on parking or travel lanes for pedestrian use while restaurants set up tables on the sidewalk, Capital Public Radio reported.

Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Aaron Peskin, Catherine Stefani, and Sandra Lee Fewer, and Dean Preston spoke in support of the program Tuesday. An online petition managed by Preston’s office found widespread support, particularly in the Fillmore, Cole Valley, Hayes Valley, Inner Sunset and Haight Ashbury areas.

“I welcome this step forward,” Preston said. “We look forward to getting more clarity on permitting and DPH guidelines and continuing to work with our small businesses, workers, and neighbors to launch shared spaces in our neighborhoods as soon as possible.”

San Francisco’s next stage of reopening indoor retail shopping with modifications could come in the next few weeks depending on incoming data, public health director Dr. Grant Colfax said last week.

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