Burlingame Avenue dining

Patrons take advantage of the pleasant weather while dining outside at Limon Restaurant on Burlingame Avenue.

Burlingame diners will have access to outdoor seating for at least another year as city officials deliberate how to make its parklet program beneficial to all merchants, community members and city revenue.

Councilmembers shared support for extending the parklet program by a year, allowing businesses who use the outdoor dining spaces at least four days a week additional time to profit from the city-owned land.

The program was previously slated to end on Sept. 6 but with COVID-19 continuing to mutate and the most recent delta variant causing health concerns, officials agreed the need for the space is still prevalent.

City Manager Lisa Goldman also noted the public has grown fond of the outdoor arrangement which has drawn great foot traffic over the months.

“We’ll see if that changes with the delta variant but, for now, things are open and people are getting out and about more,” Goldman said.

Still, further details on how the city would continue to facilitate the program were needed such as whether businesses should be charged fees for using the public land which has resulted in city revenue hits from lost parking fees and increased cleaning fees.

While councilmembers acknowledged the city has been hit by a variety of revenue losses during the pandemic, some were reluctant to concede that lost parking fee revenue should be collected through parklet permits.

Councilmember Michael Brownrigg disputed the notion that a substantial number of Burlingame visitors were deterred by the lost parking, suggesting drivers are still parking in the area but further away from their destination.

But given that parklets are staged on city-owned property, the council supported enacting an encroachment fee, directing staff to determine a fair rate for renting the public land.

Councilmember Emily Beach said doing so could help the city with another dilemma, weeding out underused parklets and freeing up parking. Vice Mayor Ricardo Ortiz agreed that a large enough fee would dissuade some merchants from using the parking stalls but shared confidence many others would find great value in the extra space.

“I suspect that for a number of these restaurants it is incredibly profitable to be out on the street and so they’ll continue to do it,” Ortiz said.

Councilmembers also widely supported charging businesses for increased cleaning obligations. Public Works Director Syed Murtuza said the city is providing an additional 20 hours of sanitation support a week along areas with parklets, costing between $200 and $300 per parklet.

Councilmember Donna Colson, who frequently walks the downtown area on her way to and from work, said she’s noticed the streets become substantially dirtier, affirming one retail shop owner’s story.

Colson and the shop owner who spoke during public comment suggested the grime caused by spilled food and drinks could become a permanent problem if not treated properly. Furthermore, Colson said the city may need to consider doubling the additional 20 hours of cleaning to keep the area presentable.

“It’s really starting to become a problem,” Colson said. “It seems like the only solution is replacement which is really expensive.”

Staff is slated to return with fee recommendations that account for cleaning and encroachment costs at a later meeting. The council agreed businesses would need time to assess whether the having parklets is worth what the city will ask for but no timeframe has been decided.

As for the look of parklets, some of which businesses have invested thousands of dollars while others have not, the council supported implementing basic design guidelines. While city officials agreed public health and safety would be the priority of the guidelines, they also shared support for requiring businesses to elevate their spaces.

Basic requirements will include covering the orange “apocalyptic” looking barricades and ensuring items like umbrellas are securely fastened. Councilmembers put their trust in city staff to develop fair guidelines that were not overly burdensome.

Use of the public land will also require each merchant to enter into an indemnification agreement with the city, placing liability on business owners, the council decided.

On the schedule of the program, Goldman took a hard stance, telling councilmembers and the public that city staff would only deploy the barriers once. She said a model that required staff to collect and redistribute the barriers would have “a huge impact on our city staff.”

While the council unanimously supported a parklet program extension, they “punted” a fuller discussion on future street closure plans. The city temporarily permitted street closures along Burlingame Avenue but ended it after the public showed too much interest, causing large crowds to gather in the area.

Goldman said representatives from the city’s business groups also discouraged the city from pursuing a permanent street closure, noting the programs have not been mutually beneficial for nonrestaurant merchants.

The council agreed to return to the discussion next spring ahead of warmer weather to consider potentially launching a smaller pilot program or hosting special street closure events.

“We ultimately need to get into a post pandemic world to reevaluate,” Beach said. “I think it’s exciting times ahead and I’m looking forward to the discussion in the spring.”

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