Petaluma parklets are here to stay, with permanent program in the works

The COVID-era program of letting people dine in designated sidewalk spaces is being extended, the city says.|

Petaluma is planning to extend its program allowing downtown restaurants to use parklets for outdoor dining, according to a city email to local businesses.

The city first implemented its Free Range Program in May 2020, giving local businesses the chance to take over sections of public or private sidewalks and parking spots for outdoor dining in order to circumvent COVID restrictions on indoor dining.

In total the city issued Free Range permits to 58 businesses, from restaurants to nail salons, and eventually began including city-funded tents and traffic barriers. A few downtown restaurants, such as Stockhome and Mi Pueblo, built their own more extravagant parklets to allow for outdoor dining in style.

As in other cities, the outdoor dining program was a hit. On its “Free Range Outdoor Permit” page, the city states that “Free Range's outdoor dining setups have been so popular, many restaurant owners and community members would like to see this continue in some form past the program’s projected end date.”

That end date was originally Oct. 31 of last year, but some business owners worried that it could finally come to an end this year. Not so, said Nancy Sands, the city’s economic development specialist, in a recent email sent to multiple downtown businesses participating in the program.

“Many of you have asked if the City is planning to extend the Free Range program,” Sands wrote, adding that the program “will continue until the City has established a permanent program. Be assured that the permanent program will be developed with community input, so you (and your patrons) will have lots of opportunities to share ideas during the process.”

Creation of a permanent parklet program is now on the City Council’s list of 2020-23 goals, Sands said. But she noted that a permanent program could take a while to finalize and implement. Until then, she said, the Free Range Program will remain in effect.

Contact reporter Rebecca Wolff at rebecca.wolff@sonomanews.com.

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