Fairfax parklets provoke discourse in community


Jack Long

Customers dining in front of the Coffee Roastery at one of downtown Fairfax’s controversial parklets on Sept. 23.

Over the last several months, multiple businesses in Fairfax built parklets to increase outdoor seating, providing a safer way to patronize restaurants.
Parklets are outdoor seating arrangements positioned in former parking spaces. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, businesses worldwide are building them as a method to provide outdoor seating to customers. The CDC advises citizens to dine outdoors, in areas like parklets, over indoor options to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Many in the community are strongly opposed to permanent parklets in Fairfax. While the Town Council has determined that all parklets must be deconstructed by Nov. 30, their presence has still sparked significant resistance in the local community and polarized the citizenry.
One of the businesses which have constructed these structures is Stillwater, a local restaurant owned by David Ruiz and his wife Margaret Ruiz. According to David Ruiz, Stillwater has served customers at their parklet for around a month.

“I’d say safely between 40 and 80 people a day for sure,” Ruiz stated regarding the number of customers using their parklet.
While the results of parklets speak for themselves, the cost for a restaurant to build one is daunting. “Ours was thousands of dollars. . . we had a debate if it was going to be worth it,” Ruiz said.

Parklets may have significant long term benefits for businesses, but they have come under fire as a less-than-ideal path to reopening. There are concerns that the seating is not safely distanced, and the parklets will obstruct the roadway.

County regulations and CDC guidelines state that tables must be placed at least six feet apart to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Some citizens, such as Deborah Benson, have serious concerns regarding the spacing of tables at Fairfax parklets.                                                                                                                                                                                      
“. . . I wouldn’t go there. Those tables are way too close together,” Benson said.
David Ruiz maintains that the tables at Stillwater are safely six feet apart.
Community members are also concerned that parklets limit the amount of traffic that can flow through Fairfax, which could prove disastrous during a possible evacuation. 

“. . .Bolinas is a federally mandated evacuation route for 2,500 people who live west of Broadway in the Cascades,” stated Benson.

If a wildfire threatens Fairfax and forces people to flee, all road space must be utilized during evacuation. With parklets on Bolinas St. and Broadway St. taking up space in what are now parking spots, those four evacuation lanes would be reduced and traffic flow could be more congested.
As of Sept. 18, all parklets will be removed by Nov. 30. However, some businesses with parklets are depending on the deadline not being enforced.

“Whether or not that’s enforced, you know, is up for debate. We’re kind of banking on the fact that it will not be,” Ruiz said.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Social distancing restrictions are still in place. Widespread, total reopening has not occurred and may not occur by Nov. 30. While the chaos and the overwhelming sympathy of the early days of the lockdown have subsided, businesses are in no less need of customers.