Novato’s process was flawed in approval of Finnegan’s ‘parklette’

POSTED: 4/19/18

Publication: Marin Independent Journal: Editorial

People have lunch in the new sidewalk eating area at Finnegan’s Marin on Grant Avenue in Novato, Calif. on Tuesday, Feb 27, 2018. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)


The “parklette” patio in front of Finnegan’s Marin Restaurant and Bar in Novato’s Old Town has drawn rave reviews as a shot in the arm for the area’s entertainment draw.

But the in-house City Hall process used to OK building a dining deck on three Grant Avenue parking spaces is raising some valid questions — and possibly a City Council review of its procedures.

The deck was approved as an encroachment on city property. As such, it doesn’t require public notice or review, according to the city’s procedures.

The parklette was approved as a two-year trial.

That process probably works for most encroachment permits, typically benign easements granted for a residential fence or plantings, or a driveway. The city has used the same process for encroachments for restaurants that want to offer sidewalk dining.

But in this case, Finnegan’s plan was to take up public parking spaces, along a stretch of downtown where shoppers, diners and business owners enjoy the convenience of parking right in front of their destinations.

Grumbling can still be heard about the facelift the city gave Old Town, in which it replaced a lot of on-street parking spaces with trees. So, it isn’t a surprise that City Hall would hear complaints about a “parklette” being planted across three spaces.

For City Hall, the parklette is an example of the ongoing revitalization of downtown — a long-standing city goal.

And the deck has drawn a lot of favorable comments from the public.

But some neighboring businesses hate to lose the parking spaces that they believe are valuable to their customers and viability.

The convenience of Old Town parking has long been one of its assets, especially in having to compete for customers with neighboring cities, with shopping centers or online shopping.

Keeping downtown Novato strong has been a top priority for this City Council and many before it.

City Hall veterans should not have been surprised that some of the raves generated by the parklette have been tempered by some complaints.

The parklette is a good and promising addition, but the city’s process was flawed.

This was not a routine encroachment permit, but a sizable change in city policy. A change that deserved public notice and review.

This is an example of when a one-size-fits-all policy doesn’t work, and city staffers should have seen that.

Finnegan’s clearly followed the process and the rules. But that process needs a clear litmus test regarding the size and scope of the encroachment.

The loss of three parking spaces, even though the improvement would be attracting more diners and shoppers to Old Town stores, deserves greater public discussion and review, not to prolong the bureaucratic process, but to be fair to the applicant, neighboring businesses and the public.

After all, this dustup is all about managing the public’s property.

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