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Morro Bay: To parklet, or not to parklet 

After just seven months, the little parklet that created a lot of controversy in Morro Bay will be taken down.

The parklet, or a sidewalk extension that is installed in a couple of parking spaces and hosts plants and benches—or in this case, patio chairs—was built in the city’s downtown core on Main Street. It was a pilot to test the idea, part of Morro Bay’s Local Economic Action Plan (LEAP), and to see if it would bring benefits like increased foot traffic, retail activity, and social activity, and to calm traffic.

While the six-month study period didn’t yield much in the way of conclusive results, it did bring an earful for city officials. From the onset, a few downtown business owners weren’t pleased with the parklet, especially Coalesce Bookstore owner Linna Thomas.

Thomas said that the parklet, which was built in front of her store, negatively impacted her business. As soon as it was built, Thomas began circulating a petition advocating for the parklet’s removal.

“I think it’s admirable that Morro Bay is wanting to help businesses, and I think it’s something we all need to get behind and support,” Thomas told New Times in February. “But I think this is a very unfortunate and too quick of a choice.”

By Aug. 11, when the Morro Bay City Council heard a report on how the parklet fared and decided on its fate, Thomas’ petition had 1,800 signatures.

“I’m urging you to decide that it is not in the best interest in Morro Bay to have parklets at this point in time,” Thomas told the council. “Parklets are rapidly becoming a fad, but they were designed for major urban areas.”

Bottom line for Thomas and other long-time residents who opposed the parket—it’s unnecessary.

“We are blessed with lots of high quality public space in the form of gardens, patios, and courtyards,” Thomas said. “Why not dismantle it? It’s fairly easy to do. It would allow all of us to relax and get back to business as usual.”

Morro Bay Community Development Manager Scot Graham told the council that a survey of residents showed that 25 percent of respondents didn’t like the parklet, 35 percent liked it, and about 40 percent didn’t care. The area, which consisted of a seating area bordered by concrete planter boxes, cost less then $1,000 to construct.

A handful of residents spoke during public comment, with most expressing an annoyance with the parklet. A few residents spoke in favor of either that parklet in particular, or the idea of parklets in the city.

Jane Heath, an attorney who recently relocated her practice to downtown Morro Bay, said that she thought the parklet was a good idea, and that there was no better place for it than between a coffee shop and a bookstore.

“I certainly respect the business owners, I understand what it is like to feel that government is negatively impacting a business,” Heath said. “But it was courageous, it was initiative, it was the kind of thing that we want to see in government, and I would be very sad to see this process put a strain on that ingenuity.”

After hearing so much blowback from residents during the parklet’s short life, the council unanimously decided to take out that parklet and to consider installing other parklets elsewhere in the future.

“In my mind that’s one of the successes of an experiment, is being able to experience an idea,” said Councilmember Noah Smukler. “I’m going to miss that parklet, but we should remove that and clear the air.”

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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