Think 'Parklets' Would be Embraced in Old Town?

In Fairfax, town officials are looking into turning a parallel parking space into a public space with seating and giving it a temporary try for six months to a year. Do you like the concept of a parklet for Novato?

Fairfax officials are looking into experimenting with a parklet, a small urban park in the space of a parallel parking spot in the downtown area.

Would that be welcomed in the Old Town section of Novato?

Parklets, which are becoming increasingly common in San Francisco and other cities, include seating and sometimes planter-box vegetation, bicycle parking or tables.

“Parklets take a parking space and make public space,” Jim Moore, Fairfax Director of Planning, told the Fairfax Town Council at its Nov. 7 meeting. 

Town officials will work with Fairfax business to determine the exact placement of the parklet and to see if any want to sponsor it or help with the design or implementation.

“We are hoping to get a collaborative relationship from sponsors and to reach out to businesses so there are no feathers ruffled,” Moore said.

In Novato, there has been mixed reaction over the past few years since trees were planted in selected diagonal parking spaces along Grant Avenue. Some people like the aesthetic value of the streetscape makeover, and others have complained that the trees have taken away spots for potential shoppers.

According to the San Francisco Pavement to Parks parklet permit in the attached staff report, parklets are “intended to provide space for people to sit and relax and enjoy the city around them, especially where narrow sidewalks would otherwise preclude such activities. They are intended to be seen as a piece of street furniture, providing aesthetic enhancement to the overall streetscape.”

Some cities that have experimented with parklets have said they attract more foot traffic, leading to a boost in commerce. Another idea being bounced around: shutting down vehicular traffic on Grant once in a while to open it up to pedestrians. Anybody else have ideas that might spark revenue for Old Town businesses?

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Roger November 17, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Betty, good point about purpose of downtown...shopping or entertaining for nearby businesses & nightlife. San Rafael takes the latter strategy. They have their big shopping mall far from downtown, but their downtown still thrives. The new big bank in the center of downtown Novato seems to look more like downtown San Rafael. Our Bio-Marin moved its HQ to downtown San Rafael because it is more alive, I think.
Kristen McAndrew November 17, 2012 at 06:54 PM
What happened to the horses across the street from Grazies?
Joanne Keenan November 17, 2012 at 07:09 PM
I have a concern about inappropriate loitering at parklets. I agree that some parts of the Grant Ave. sidewalks are narrow and don't invite people to gather and socialize. Merchants need customer access to convenient parking. I'd like to see more public parking designed for Grant Ave. Not necessarliy on the street - but in a parking garage (only garage is way down by Whole Foods) or safe parking lots behind / along side the store fronts.
Mark Burnham November 17, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Betty Boop.. No "heart and soul" was necessary. The city had $15 million of RDA funds burning a hole in their pocket. They wasted it all on city offices that generate zero in tax revs, are occupied 4 days per week and they removed the one spot that the city's own downtown specific plan called for a parking garage. That garage would have cost $3million for 150 parking spots. The city had plenty of options to buy other buildings for under $5 million to suit their needs bur they bought in to the notion that offices "had to be downtown". This despite the offices destroying the revitalization that had gone on for the previous 5 yrs in Old Town. The bottom line in dollars and sense is that the city spent $10 million more than was necessary on one project.. when they could have used the $15 million for any capital improvement projects...like a parking garage, purchasing and existing building for themselves, and then having another $8 million left over for other much needed projects. OR, God forbid, save the money! A novel concept that I am confident your mama and papa would have advised you to do!
Mark Burnham November 17, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Kristen they cracked and the city removed them because they were a liability. Rumor is they "can't find the artist" that made them now.. so they are having issues repairing them. Ahh.. your tax dollars at work. Also note that the art work the city installed at Sherman and Grant Avenue is in need of serious repair.
Mark Burnham November 17, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Ron there IS a net loss of public parking due to the city office complex. The city offices remove ALL (approximately 30 day time spaces) spaces for the public. Additionally, the city offices do not supply enough parking for their own employees or the 30 visitors they expect the four days per week when they are open. During the night time hours the parking that the complex offers will mainly be occupied by police vehicles and an "off duty" city vehicle fleet. The city council has completely demolished the potential downtown had to become something more. In Old Town in particular you will see buildings like the 999 Grant Ave project and the theatre sit vacant for years because new business owners will not be willing to open where there is severe lack of parking. The city council promised that the city office complex would "revitalize" downtown. These offices are closed from 5pm on 5 days per week and closed Fri, Sat & Sun. The city council initially indicated that 60 people per four day work week would visit these offices. This paltry number should have caused alarm for most but it slid by. Amazingly the city came back after the project was approved and quietly restated their anticipated daily visitor number as "around 30". 30 per day!! Bait and switch much?! The city offices have been in business for how many years?! You are telling me they weren't able to give a better estimate of daily office visits by looking at their numbers from the past 30 yrs?
Roger November 17, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Mark, great details on how the Council wasted money. I doubt Betty will have a comeback.
Mark Burnham November 18, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Roger.. thanks but there is really no "comeback" that Betty, Gail Wilhelm, or the city council can possibly have to the argument that they spent far too much money to build city offices or that they have drastically affected parking downtown. The bottom line is the the city council and the city manager have proven that they are inept when it comes to planning downtown and spending our tax dollars wisely. If you are friendly with any city employee, or the ex head city planner, or the ex head economic development officer, any commercial real estate broker, or any city planner involved in developing the downtowns in Petaluma, Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, San Rafael, Lafayette.. the list goes on.. each and every one of these individuals (the ones here from town will whisper it or go off the record) will inform you that our city council has royally screwed up here. It is unfortunate that the people of Novato fell asleep at the wheel when these decisions were made.
Tina McMillan November 18, 2012 at 02:40 AM
Mark: A lot of folks did try to stop the council from putting through the city office building including members of the planning commission. The problem was the way in which they accessed funds to get the work done. If they had had to borrow the money then Measure D would have protected us but since they took it out of the now defunct RDA, they were able to raise close to $20 million without a vote. By the time the tax free RDA funds are paid off the $20 million is closer to $40 million but then the council isn't thinking about that lost tax revenue. They just wanted to build offices downtown without having to ask for a vote of the electorate. If you haven't already, do go back and read through the Patch posts over the past two years. A lot was covered in the news. The council won because we don't have any law on the books that could stop them. Perhaps that is the next step. We need to amend measure D so that people will get to vote on any development or sale of city buildings and property that costs in excess of $1.5 million.
Betty Pancakes November 18, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Dagnabbit (had to Google that one, I always thought it was dang nabbit, but I digress) ... I'm not a big fan of all the math I'm being pressed into doing ... but if you're telling me a big 'ol hunkin' parking garage would've solved yee woes, I can't quite compute. Tina McDoggy Dog claims her Odyssey of Unicorns and Leprechauns book store went out of business because people had to park too far away to quickly sprint in and out with the latest edition of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Apparently, I'm told by you fine folks via your wickedly insightful comments that people are pressed for time to the point that they can't park two blocks away. Somebody please whip out your finest graphic calculator and a run of the mill tape measurer and tell me if there was to be a parking garage on every street corner? How would our beloved pressed for time brethren have the time to take the trip, trip, trip Fantasia to Odyssey-land if they park in a parking garage?
Betty Pancakes November 18, 2012 at 04:37 AM
Mr. Bbbbbburnham, if the city is inept when it comes to planning downtown and spending our tax dollars wisely, might I oh so delicately suggest that the voting public is equally inept to elect such inept peeps to lead the charge? P.S., if the people of Novato have fallen asleep at the wheel, I don't think they should be driving and looking for parking spaces on Grant Ave. anyway. That sounds dangerous.
Tina McMillan November 18, 2012 at 05:09 AM
I am not sure if I am talking to BP or perhaps JG? The bitter humor is a turn off. Even if you have lost your taste for local issues please stop demeaning them for those folks that still care. Or as they say in the old country, Troll, troll go away please find somewhere else to play…
Gail Wilhelm November 18, 2012 at 06:17 AM
Mark, you are the new Betty Machado. You criticize everything the City Council does served up with a healthy dollop of misinformation. For instance you misquote the Downtown Plan. The plan says "IF THE SITE IS NOT NEEDED FOR CITY OFFICES, a parking structure should be considered.
Betty Pancakes November 18, 2012 at 04:19 PM
That hurts. That really, truly, deeply down to the core of my inner being hurts. I don't care? I.DON'T.CARE? Psh. Back to the 'ol drawing board (chalkboard or the fancy new white board they use in school houses these days). We just be carin' 'bout different things, T-Bozz McD. Ain't there somethin' to be said about good 'ol quality of life and municipal aesthetics? I care about a pretty and relaxin' downtown. I'd take a zen-like parklet over a "thriving book store" (say that with a straight face) any day of the week and twice on Sundays. I love that Target be a-puttin' plenty 'o tax revenue in the 'ol city coffers. I don't need the city to be a-waitin' on pins and needles for the tax revenue of itty bitty stores to keep m'city afloat. Numero Dos - ain't no way for locally elected leaders to be a-pleasin' everybody when they be spendin' the money. I assure you they made some peeps mighty pleased when creatin' them city offices. You don't like it. I will give you my handkerchief (on loan, you will have to give it back. or I will barter for somethin')
Craig Belfor November 18, 2012 at 05:25 PM
I was talking to the Mayor on Friday at Dr Insomniacs, and Brent mentioned that people need more reasons to come downtown. I fell that parklets won't do it. If people want to visit Plywood Ave we need a compelling reason that isn't another nail salon. I don't know why any landlord would let a building go fallow for long, and the old Pini building with it's great parking needs to be filled, even if it's at low revenue, barley covering the property taxes and insurance. The city could threaten eminent domain to get the parking lot opened up to the public, even if the city paid for the insurance on the lot. I hate to stick a fork in Pancakes' souffle, but it's always the math. If 999 Grant was built for 3 million, and the new Taj Mahal city offices cost 15.5 million, we could have hired the 999 builder with no kickback, and then bought the Pini property with the savings.
Craig Belfor November 18, 2012 at 05:42 PM
I've been told that Brent is not really the mayor, and Tina is not the minister of research and information, but in a de facto world, where one listens and responds to the will of the people, these two don't need a $15.5 million crib to get the job done. PS- the Pini building has more parking than the new city hall.
John Sammons November 18, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Craig Wouldn't it have been refreshing for the City to recognize that the 'heart' of the shopping in Novato is on the East Side of Redwood and had purchased the old Pini Building and built a reasonable office building there Oh forgive me, that would not have fit into the Vision for Novato which I have been hearing about since we moved here some 27 years ago but no one has ever been able to articulate. By the way, and this is not directed at you, cutesy comment do not contribute to what was developing into a great debate nor does misdirection.
Gail Wilhelm November 18, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Roger, I never thought understanding the basics of land use planning was so difficult. The Firemen's Fund site is the single largest site in town that could experience the highest concentration of jobs in North Marin. Transit is used primarily for home to work travel - not so much shopping travel trips. The San Marin Site is the logical site for a SMART station. The economy will recover and the FF site should fill up with jobs once again, hopefully with spin off from the work of the Buck Center.
Gail Wilhelm November 18, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Thinking is hard work, but give it a try. If the goal of the downtown businesses is to promote foot traffic on East Grant Ave, then a parking lot at the depot is the pefect place. A shopper could park there and stroll to their destination and/or the length of Grant to Redwood and return to their car by walking down the opposite side of the street. It's called window shopping and well understood in European cities and even most enlightened American cities. Like the Berkeley 4th Street shopping district. West Grant Ave is well served by parking, with most businesses providing parking in the rear of the building. No extra parking needed.
Betty Pancakes November 18, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Oh, snap! So you don't have an appetite for the cute. Well, shiver me timbers and color me purple. Message received loud and clear. Still doesn't change the fact that you have one vision for downtown and I have another. Why MUST Grant Ave. be flooded with a bunch of shops and parking spaces? What in Sam Hill's name (oopsy daisy, cutesy wootsey againy wainy) is wrong with some patches of grass, otherwise known as parklets, and trees sprinkled in the parking spaces? Seriously, homies, think outside of the small business box. The sales tax revenue generatin' machine is Vintage Oaks, my one stop shop for groceries, sundries and the like so let's make Grant Ave. a place to party like it's 1999.
Gail Wilhelm November 18, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Roger. I don't think "buying" is the operable word. The City owns the San Marin site and SMART wants to put it station there. SMART owns the depot site and the City wants to put parking there. I think the operable word would be "swaping" sites.
Betty Pancakes November 18, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Oh, wait, one more thing before I'm 10-4, over and out ... why the huff over the council's new office building? It's $15 mil, peeps, not a billion bucks. What did you want them to do with the money, eh? Can't please everybody, duh. The goose is cooked. Water under the bridge. If you don't like something, change it. How many of y'all stepped up and ran for city council after feeling shafted by Novato Majal? Peace.
Gail Wilhelm November 18, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Betty Pancakes, I love your way of thinking.
Mark Burnham November 18, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Gail you honestly aren't even worth responding to because your posts completely avoid addressing anyone's valid points or concerns or you just outright lie. Here is exactly what the Downtown Specifc Plan states: "The Downtown Specific Plan Steering Committee recommends development of a parking structure on the City parking lot" Here is the link to the Downtown Specific Plan so the readers here can see through your baloney. Section 3.12 (third paragraph) to be specific http://www.ci.novato.ca.us/cd/dsp/DSPRECOM.HTML
henry November 18, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Nice to see people still concerned about these city hall offices. A little too late though.
Gail Wilhelm November 18, 2012 at 09:05 PM
$15,000,000 for improvements to Grant Ave. is not enough? Now you begrudge $15,000,000 for desparately needed new city offices on city own property? If the downtown merchants want to tax themselves to pay for a parking structure, I'm all for it. It not, then just be happy that if city successfuly negotiates with SMART for the depot there will be 101 new parking slots to serve East Grant Ave. So tired of the whining and selfishness of some of the commentary here.
Tina McMillan November 18, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Gail That $15 million is actually $40 million once the bonds are repaid. Your Machado remark is telling. Measure's D and F were put in place to keep the council in check. No one thought that the council would generate revenue up to $17 million by charging the RDA for a loan at 10% and thus getting a sudden influx of cash that would make it possible to legally bypass Measure's D and F. The worst part was that the council made the RDA bonds tax free so that every penny had to be used on a major construction project within three years. The city was so focused on the AH issue that by the time the bonds were passed it was too late for any one person or group to get the momentum to turn it around. Henry, Dennis, Harry and other concerned residents did the very best they could but here we are stuck with a tribute to your ilk. When Novato voters get a chance to determine how money is spent they are consistently frugal. This project does not even rehabilitate the community center or the remaining structures. Compared to MacDonald's plan it is far more expensive with far less in return. We must ask ourselves why the council turned down Bennett and Stroeh's offer of a public/private partnership that could have gotten us parking and offices in exchange for land that would create sales tax revenue. We must ask ourselves why MacLeamy sandbagged the MacDonald plan after all the months of public workshops. It looks like you win and Novato loses. Congratulations.
henry November 19, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Chester, I don't agree that any of what they say is garbage. In fact every thing that Tina, Mark, Craig, and Roger say is right on the money. It is just too late as the city has broken ground on their wasteful and ill-conceived project. H
Roger November 19, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Gail, perhaps in 2030 the Council then will add a third SMART station in Novato (on Grant like where the train stopped 50 years ago) after many riders gradually say as looking out the window as the train slows to pass Grant, "Wow, what a funny looking main street, why didn't the dumb Council decide back in 2010 to make the train stop here at the old historic Depot?"
Brent Ainsworth (Editor) November 20, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Reader named Kay emailed this comment: Novato parklets are a waste of space! All the trees take up space already. Something to add seats might work. There isn't enough parking along Grant at this time. PLEASE do NOT take away more!


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