South San Francisco restaurants that want to continue some form of outdoor dining will have to get a $500 permit to retain their parklet or sidewalk extension once the pilot program ends Dec. 31, the City Council decided.

In response to the pandemic, in July 2020, the South San Francisco City Council approved an outdoor pilot program. The program had participation from 11 restaurants located downtown, and another 10 to 12 restaurants within private property.

The most common feedback from the businesses was that outdoor dining was vital in helping maintain business activity during the height of the pandemic and afterwards. The most common challenge was that wind and weather greatly determine the success of outdoor dining in any given week, senior planner Christopher Espiritu said.

The participants in the outdoor dining program also communicated a hesitation about removing the spaces in case there is another shutdown, given the variant of the coronavirus, he said.

“I think that there needs to be some flexibility with this because obviously I don’t want to put added pressure, financial pressure on businesses who think this is a great option, but can’t use it because it’s too expensive for them,” said Vice Mayor Mark Nagales.

Councilmember James Coleman agreed and suggested looking into a potential middle ground such as reinvesting into the businesses to create better outdoor dining spaces, as he does believe there should be some sort of buy-in that would encourage restaurants to effectively the outdoor space if they were to set it up and take that space from the street.

“I share concerns with my colleagues that I wouldn’t want the cost of a permit to disincentivize restaurants who would otherwise be willing to continue with outdoor dining,” Coleman said.

Other reasons besides the price of the permit include having enough staff to maintain the outdoor space. The applicant would need to make adjustments to their parklet to conform to new standards and meter revenue recovery costs.

“The June 15th reopening of the state and the economy changed the operational landscape for restaurants,” Espiritu said. “More specifically, there has been a tremendous increase in the cost to operate businesses, specifically food prices. There is a staffing shortage and other factors, such as having to balance the demands for majority pickup and take-out business and the indoor dining space being open and an outdoor dining space with fewer staff to manage them.”

Since the reopening of June 15, there has been a large drop in usage on these outdoor dining areas and the staff is recommending that underused spaces should be removed by the end of the pilot program, if not earlier.

The staff is planning to work internally on identifying specific requirements for future outdoor dining spaces, and between August and December, it would then reach out to businesses who have underused or underutilized outdoor dining areas and instruct them to begin removal of those platforms and decks and return them to parking spaces.

It is also recommending that it adheres to the removal process of on-street structures and platforms as described in the permit conditions, and that any structures placed on the public right away by the participating business must be removed by the business.

In October 2020 and March of this year, the City Council approved two extensions of the pilot program to account for a complete shutdown and the prohibition of onsite dining at times during the pandemic. It also approved a broadening of the pilot program to include several other types of businesses, including salons, barbers and small retail uses but received no applications from those types of businesses.

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