It’s only been two months since San Francisco officials announced the Shared Spaces program, an initiative intended to allow restaurants and bars to serve patrons on sidewalks and in parking spaces, plazas, and other public areas. Since then, diners seated on the street have become ubiquitous, with picnic tables placed next to parking meters, just inches from passing traffic. While on-the-street-dining launched as soon as outdoor seating did (June 12, for those keeping track), one aspect of Shared Spaces — full street closures to allow bars and restaurants to really spread out — has come more slowly.
As of late June, SF bars and restaurants had requested the closure of about 42 streets across the city. So far, the SF Examiner reports, many of those are mired in bureaucracy. After a two month process of meetings and intra-agency approvals, only a couple small stretches of roadway have been closed to vehicles, the SFMTA confirms.
In the Mission, Valencia Street between 16th and 17th and 18th and 19th streets is closed from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays, with 17th and 18th Streets still open to local traffic and deliveries. In Chinatown, Grant Avenue is closed between California and Washington Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, as is Commercial Street between Kearny Street and Grant Avenue.
Last weekend marked the first closure for the Mission, while Chinatown first shut down on July 18-19. Thus far, the SFMTA has not given any outward indication that additional streets will be shuttered or that the slew of other requests will be approved.
According to the SFMTA, all street closure applications must run a gauntlet that includes “a city committee with representatives from SF Planning, SFMTA, Public Works, the Fire Department and SFPD,” all of whom will evaluate the proposed closure “to ensure it does not interfere with emergency operations, meets accessibility requirements and has a solid operation plan.”
It likely helps if one of the merchants pushing the closure is politically connected. In the Mission, that would be Manny Yekutiel: The owner of Mission District cafe Manny’s is also a member of San Francisco’s Small Business Commission, and is known for his public chats with high-profile SF figures, including Jeffrey Tumlin, the head of street closure gatekeeper the SFMTA.
There’s a similarly connected person behind the Chinatown closure, SF Weekly reports. Harlan Wong’s one of the chief organizers of the Grant and Commercial shutdowns, which the area has branded the SF Chinatown Walkway Weekends. Wong’s also a known figure at City Hall, as the director of the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade, one of the city’s biggest annual events.
Both Yekutiel and Wong agree that the primary goal of the closures is to help support outdoor dining, especially as California’s indoor dining plans are on hold until the coronavirus crisis stabilizes. “This is about helping us to survive,” Yekutiel tells the Chron. “I wish I didn’t have to say that, but it’s about survival now. And all we have to work with is outdoor space.” Wong’s sentiments are similar, telling SF Weekly “The main goal of this is to help the restaurants. The restaurants are really hurting...We want to make sure the restaurants can get all the real estate they can.”
And already, it seems to be helping. Speaking with KPIX, Yekutiel said that “Just from last night and tonight, there are restaurants that are having their best night ever already,” with one spot boasting a wait for the first time since March.