SAN JOSE -- A proposal that would add European flair to some San Jose eateries, cafes and bars by widening sidewalks in front of those businesses as a way of encouraging patrons to sit and enjoy their surroundings will be considered by the San Jose City Council at its Tuesday meeting.
Dubbed "curb cafes" or "parklets" by city officials, the council will be asked to allow some public right-of-way parking space to be replaced with planters, trees, tables, chairs or fountains, among other amenities, to create a more inviting atmosphere along certain streets.
The pilot project would allow five such permits to be issued through January of 2014, not only in downtown San Jose but in other neighborhood business districts around the city, said Harry Freitas, the city's assistant director of Public Works.
"We're trying to improve the pedestrian experience and provide more public right of way for things other than parked cars," said Freitas, who has already been contacted by business owners interested in exploring the concept.
One is Jorge Sanchez, a partner in Chacho's Restaurant in downtown San Jose.
"Our customers love the idea, and the neighbors are intrigued and waiting for this to happen," said Sanchez, whose urban Mexican restaurant has already hired an architect to pencil out ideas for such a space in front of his establishment at 87 E. San Fernando St.
While the idea to develop a livable and active street scene meets the
Sanchez estimated the cost would be about $25,000. In Willow Glen, property owner Michael Mulcahy, who also has expressed interest in a similar project for a few of his tenants inside the former Garden Theater, estimated it would cost at least $20,000. Mulcahy -- who noted he was alerted to the program by Pierluigi Oliverio, his district councilman -- said his plans, like Sanchez's, would include a bike rack as well.
"We would love to allow a business to have curbside dining or coffee where people enjoy the sun and outdoors," said Mulcahy. But, he cautioned, only if "the process is not going to be onerous" to accomplish.
To that end, San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo on Monday issued a memo directing the city manager to create a single fee and approval process, including a one-time-only $600 construction permit fee and a $500 sidewalk café permit, which must be updated annually for $75. However, other state or county fees also could be required.
Curb cafes have gained popularity in San Francisco and Mountain View, among other places, and in 2008-09 a handful were built and paid for by San Jose's redevelopment agency and the community arts collaborative 1stACT Silicon Valley along the South First Street area -- but with mixed results.
At Caffé Frascati, at 315 S. First St., owner Roger Springall "loves" the fact that he's got extra space outside to offer his customers a place to relax and enjoy their meals.
"It gives us that European café feeling, which is what we set out to do in the first place," said Springall of the area that is accented by bushes and shrubs, offering patrons an oasis and a natural barrier to the street. "It's like having a little private patio out there," he said.
But next door, the owners of Original Joe's Italian Restaurant, at 301 S. First St., haven't been as impressed with the concept.
According to co-owner Brad Rocca, the restaurant experimented with al fresco dining on the extended sidewalk, only to realize that when it's not sunny and warm, few patrons were interested.
Moreover, unlike Springall's café, where patrons are served at a counter and can opt to eat their food outside, Rocca had to hire extra wait staff to serve the outside customers, which ultimately didn't pan out for the restaurant.
Still, Rocca said, the program may be worthwhile, "but for a different type of business."
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408-275-0140.