Mayor London Breed recently signed legislation that will make the Shared Spaces Program a permanent feature in San Francisco. The temporary Shared Spaces Program allowed more flexible use of sidewalks, streets, and other public spaces for neighborhood businesses and was implemented through a mayoral proclamation tied to the declaration of a state of emergency due to COVID-19. According to the Mayor’s Office, more than 2,100 curbside and sidewalk Shared Spaces permits have been issued by the City since June 2020. Given the success of the program, the Mayor proposed legislation to make the program permanent in March of this year. Due to the number of City agencies involved and the complex issues this legislation raises, it took months of debate and countless amendments to ultimately gain unanimous approval by the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s signature.
The permanent legislation will continue to allow the same types of shared spaces that have been permitted under the temporary program, including on sidewalks, curbside lanes, and roadways, but with an updated approval process and a new set of operating requirements that are meant to address some concerns with the existing program. The permits will be available for commercial and noncommercial activities, including retail uses, cultural events, arts activities, general recreation, and entertainment uses. Generally, the permits will allow the temporary and reversible installation of physical improvements.
All permits will be routed through the Planning Department to the appropriate agency with authority to approve the permit. Depending on the type of permit and the specific uses proposed, the agencies with jurisdiction over the permit will include the Department of Public Works, Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation (ISCOTT), Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors (SFMTA Board of Directors), Entertainment Commission, and/or Real Estate Division. Additional coordination or approval by other agencies may also be required. According to the Mayor’s Office, the City will require streamlined approval of the permits within 30 days of submittal of the application, in alignment with the requirements of Proposition H, which was passed by the voters in November 2020 (discussed in a previous update). The curbside and sidewalk permits will be effective for up to one year and can be renewed annually. Roadway permits will have a maximum initial term of two years and can be renewed for up to two years at a time. Any person can appeal the decision to approve or deny a Shared Spaces permit.
The permits will generally be subject to fees, except small businesses may be eligible for reduced fees in certain circumstances.
Conversion of Existing Permits
Given the significant number of existing Shared Spaces permits, the legislation allows existing Shared Spaces to continue operating based on the terms of the specific permit. Prior to the expiration of the existing permit, the permittee can apply to convert to a new Shared Spaces permit based on the requirements of the legislation.
Existing permitholders that apply for new curbside permits will be eligible for fee waivers and deferrals. However, the fee waiver and deferral will not apply to formula retail uses.
The 311 system will be utilized to receive complaints, route them to the appropriate agency, and provide complainants updates on the status of the complaint including how the issue was abated or why the complaint was closed. In addition, at least every other month, the City will be required to conduct rolling audits of Shared Spaces in commercial corridors to confirm compliance and take any necessary enforcement actions.
Accessibility was a major topic of discussion during the legislative process. Ultimately, the legislation requires each agency to provide regulations that account for disability and access needs. In addition, sidewalk permits will generally be required to provide an 8-foot wide unimpeded path of travel.
In terms of public accessibility, the legislation limits the number of restricted access events to eight single-day events per year. Parklets in curbside lanes or any other permit that exclusively allows private dining will be required to provide one public bench or another type of seating arrangement that will be accessible to non-patrons for every 20 feet of Shared Space. Although there was some discussion about leaving the parklets open after business hours, the final legislation allows permittees to secure curbside Shared Spaces from midnight to 7am.
Outreach and Notice Requirements
As part of the initial application, the legislation requires documentation of community outreach and support as well as documentation showing that all property owners of any building fronting a proposed sidewalk or curbside Shared Space have been notified of the application. The legislation also mandates a public notice and comment period following submittal of applications for sidewalk and curbside permits.
The Board of Supervisors included requirements for a number of annual reports regarding various issues related to the Shared Spaces Program, including:
- Revocations of permits in order to comply with the City’s Vision Zero, Better Streets, and Transit First Policies, including for purposes of restoring transit lines, to maintain safe access to public rights of way for seniors and people with disabilities, and to facilitate pedestrian safety;
- Opportunity sites for sidewalk extensions on blocks with many sidewalk or curbside Shared Spaces and commercial or mixed-use corridors with narrow sidewalks;
- Impacts on small businesses without Shared Spaces permits, including businesses that rely on consumer vehicle loading and unloading, and recommendations for how to mitigate any negative impact of the Shared Spaces Program on those businesses; and
- Impacts on street cleaning operations and recommendations for how to accommodate any decrease in such services.
We may continue to see the Shared Spaces Program evolve based on the recommendations and findings of these reports.
Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Sabrina Eshaghi.
The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein. Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm. We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law. We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.