Morro Bay parklet to be discussed amid controversy

Two parking places have been turned into a sitting area in front of Top Dog Coffee Bar in Morro Bay.
Two parking places have been turned into a sitting area in front of Top Dog Coffee Bar in Morro Bay. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The addition of a streetside parklet in a Morro Bay downtown business corridor has created controversy among local businesses about whether it’s in the right spot.

In January, the city installed a demonstration parklet, an outdoor, streetside seating and gathering hub located in front of Top Dog Coffee Bar at 875 Main St.

The Morro Bay City Council will weigh its pros and cons at Tuesday's meeting as part of a broader parklet program. But a neighboring bookshop owner has already spearheaded a petition opposing the pilot project, collecting nearly 900 signatures.

The petition, titled “Not a Bad Idea — Not a Good Location,” has garnered signatures from Morro Bay residents, some neighboring business owners, and out-of-town residents and customers.

Linna Thomas, the owner of Coalesce Bookstore, argues that the demonstration parklet has removed valuable parking spots and created a safety hazard, and benefits only the coffee shop.

“It takes away parking and creates a significant hazard for people driving down the street on a dark night and for those who may dart out in front of traffic on foot,” said Thomas, who started the petition. “It’s the council’s job to do it right and carefully consider the location. We’d like to consider parklets as part of a planning process.”

Meanwhile, the owner of Top Dog Coffee Bar, Pat Bietz, has defended himself against what he called misperceptions about how the parklet was created and his involvement in that process.

Bietz said in public comment at a council meeting last month that he didn’t request the city-initiated parklet or its location, nor does he own the city street. He also noted that he lost two parking spaces in front of his business,But Bietz wants to give the project a chance.

“I don’t see the harm waiting the six-month trial period to see if it’s successful or not and then make a decision based on those results,” he said.

Morro Bay’s demonstration parklet follows a trend of community gathering spaces along city streets in places such as San Francisco and New York.

The Morro Bay hub consists of about 300 square feet of seating, as well as bike and motorcycle parking.

Tuesday’s meeting, which starts at 6 p.m., will mark the first time the council has put up the parklet for discussion on its agenda, though it’s part of a broader discussion of LEAP (Local Economic Action Plan) economic improvement initiatives.

City Manager Dave Buckingham expects to complete a report assessing the pilot parklet in May, which could help the council to decide whether to pursue more parklets through a formal planning process.

“We’ll conduct a good analysis of that petition and of all of the other input we’ve received,” Buckingham said. “We’ll be dispassionate and make sure we’re rigorous and looking at all of the sides.”

A 2008 city study on parking showed the downtown area doesn’t have any significant parking problems, and available parking can be found within a block during infrequent peak parking times.

Before the demonstration parklet’s installation, Buckingham said that he spent a total of about 10 hours meeting individually with business owners on that block of Main Street — including an hour with Thomas — to discuss the pilot parklet before it went in. He also passed out fliers to business owners seeking their feedback.

Thomas has suggested the city move the parklet to outside 307 Morro Bay Blvd., near Grandma’s Frozen Yogurt and Waffle Shop, saying that spot doesn’t pose safety hazards and has a nearby public restroom.

Mayor Jamie Irons said public input will be an important factor in how the city proceeds.

“This is a trial,” Irons said. “We do understand that out of concern and respect, you want to have a public process. Maybe we didn’t do that enough initially. We’ll look at it as a learning moment.”

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