Oakland city officials have reaffirmed that businesses can continue to set up parklets and outdoor cafes in public rights-of-way for free through July 2023.

Permit processes for putting up parklets and outdoor cafes will also remain unchanged through the same period.

City officials made the announcements as part of the Flex Streets program, which includes opportunities for other businesses and groups to weather the COVID-19 pandemic too.

“Two years ago, we launched Flex Streets to address the urgent need of Oakland businesses to adapt at (a) time when health orders severely restricted or eliminated the ability to operate indoors,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement. “Because of Flex Streets, many businesses were able to stay open and keep their workers employed.”

Schaaf added, “As we emerge from the pandemic, continuing the Flex Streets program gives our business community additional time to recover from the pandemic while their patrons enjoy Oakland’s beautiful climate.”

Besides the opportunity to set up parklets and cafes, community groups may close streets, non-food mobile retailers can enjoy the same streamlined permit process as mobile food vendors, and some restaurants and retailers can use city-owned property when sidewalks, parking lanes and private outdoor areas are unavailable.

The restaurants and retailers that can use city-owned property are those vulnerable to or disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, city officials said. After July of next year, the city will require market rate rents for the use of city-owned land unless the City Council amends that.

“Because of Flex Streets, many businesses were able to stay open and keep their workers employed.”

Mayor Libby Schaaf

The extension of opportunities to weather the pandemic were made available when the City Council passed a series of ordinances at its March 15 meeting.

Groups that close streets will have to reopen them starting in July 2023 or obtain City Council approval and pay fees associated with maintaining the closures. The limit of two street closures per year was lifted.

But the city still requires groups to notify their neighbors and obtain approval from a majority of them.

Mobile vendors who want to sell in city parks must get approval from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission.

Businesses and groups that participate in the Flex Streets program will have to pay application and permit fees starting in July 2023, to cover the cost of processing permits and monitoring. Some businesses will be granted a fee exemption so that the cost of the fees will not be a barrier to participating in the program.

The criteria for exemptions have not been established yet, city officials said. The criteria will be part of amendments to the master fee schedule that the City Council considers next spring.

Businesses that want to apply to the Flex Streets program can do so online.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.