Let’s Make the Shared Spaces Program Permanent

The pandemic fundamentally changed almost every aspect of our daily lives. It forced us to respond quickly, and here in San Francisco it also forced our local government to make quick decisions and implement them, instead of relying on the seemingly endless process of bureaucracy and appeals. Finally, we learned what we can do for the people of the City when we move fast.

Our Shared Spaces program is a perfect example of this. San Francisco kicked off its parklet program in 2010. Businesses could apply for a permit and it would typically take around a year for design, funding, and permitting. The program resulted in about sixty parklets all around San Francisco, but it was difficult to grow.

Then COVID-19 hit, our city shut down, and our businesses were in trouble. People were out of work and we had to adapt. With this virus, we knew being outdoors was safer and we needed to find a way for these businesses to operate safely in our new reality. We needed to act quickly to find a way to allow businesses, arts and culture organizations, and others to operate outdoors or for pick-up, so in a matter of weeks we created a streamlined permit process allowing them to use curbsides, sidewalks, street spaces, and open lots.

And as you’ve probably seen throughout San Francisco, these Shared Spaces are a wonderful addition to our city. They’ve brought magic to our streets.

Our streets are now more vibrant, businesses and organizations that are still struggling to this day have a lifeline to operate in a more appealing way, and as we emerge from this pandemic and try to re-activate our commercial corridors and attract tourism, these Shared Spaces are bringing life and excitement to our neighborhoods. They are working, and it’s on all of us to make sure our Shared Spaces are a part of San Francisco’s future.

That’s why I’m introducing legislation to implement the new Shared Spaces program for the long-term in San Francisco. And this legislation is not going to be bureaucracy as usual. I refuse to let the City just revert to its old ways, because the way the City operated before wasn’t effective for our residents or businesses. Why would we ever go back to months and years of permit processing and endless appeals?

I introduced Proposition H on the November 2020 ballot to streamline a number of business permits and require responses from City Departments in just 30 days. The voters overwhelmingly supported it. We should take the same spirit of that legislation and apply it to the Shared Spaces program. My legislation will require that all applications for a Shared Space receive the same 30 day response, while also creating clear, transparent guidelines for what is required to receive approval and how the public engagement process works.

Why is this program so important and what will the impact be moving forward? Since June 2020, more than 2,100 curbside and sidewalk permits have been issued by the City and businesses have credited the program with helping them stay open and survive during the pandemic.

A recent survey found that of the Shared Space operators:

  • 50% are women-owned enterprises,
  • 33% are immigrant-owned small businesses,
  • 33% identify as minority owned,
  • 84% of operators said that the Shared Spaces Program allowed them to reopen under public health directives,
  • 80% said the program allowed them to avoid permanent closure, and
  • 94% of operators said they would continue to operate an outdoor Shared Space even once allowed to operate indoors.

This is going to be a critical part of our economic recovery. We have a lot of work to do to rebuild our economy, restore tourism, get our employees back to work, and finally provide our small businesses with the help that they have frankly needed for years before the pandemic.

Not everything about the program over the last year has been perfect and there are legitimate issues that are being worked out around ensuring clear paths for people to walk and especially around ensuring access for people with disabilities. This is an important issue, and the guidelines we issue will also be accompanied by coordinated enforcement between City agencies to make compliance easy for businesses and ensure that the rules are followed. We want to build a program that is accessible for everyone, not just those who can read the complicated language of bureaucracy.

San Francisco is a diverse and beautiful city. We’ve now seen that when we showcase that diversity in public, allow our residents and visitors to experience everything that we have to offer, and make our public spaces more appealing by designing them for people, we can make our city an even more vibrant place.

For more information about the future of the Shared Spaces program, go to: sf.gov/shared-spaces-future

45th Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco