December 5, 2022



Attention, hipsters! Valencia Street to remain car-free through December

Much of San Francisco’s Valencia Street will continue to be off-limits to cars on weekends, an effort by City Hall to help the struggling Mission District commercial hub as it struggles to regain lost business.

Since July, the closure of three blocks between 16th and 21st streets lined with shops and restaurants has allowed nearby businesses to annex parking spaces and traffic lanes in an effort to draw foot traffic to the once-lively scene. The program’s extension through December, announced Friday, will add more daytime hours on weekends and include one new block between 20th and 21st streets.


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Manny Yekutiel, owner of restaurant and political event space Manny’s in the Mission, cheered the extension and said it allows businesses to plan ahead for the coming months.

“We are very excited,” said Yekutiel, who led the initial drive to close the street. “This will allow us to keep spreading the joy through the end of the year.”

The permits for Valencia’s three-month street closure experiment had been due to expire next week. That left many businesses hesitant to invest in structures — such as parking space dining pods known as parklets— necessary for outdoor operations. Those businesses can now build spaces for cooler autumn weather, Yekutiel said.

The Valencia closures are part of the city-wide Shared Spaces program designed to help business districts endure by allowing them to take over sidewalks, parking spaces and even entire blocks. Valencia Street was the second district approved for street closures, after Chinatown’s Grant Avenue.

City officials have shown a willingness to continue the program, perhaps even beyond the coronavirus pandemic. The Economic Recovery Task Force released on Thursday proposes keeping it through 2023 as part of the city’s quest for a post-pandemic economic revival.

The city has issued approximately 1,600 permits through the program so far, said Robin Abad Ocubillo, director of the Shared Spaces program. The response from merchants has been overwhelmingly positive.

In a survey of participating those 1,600 businesses, about 80% of merchants said the use of sidewalk and street space has allowed them to avoid permanent closure, according to Ocubillo. A further 90% said they would continue to operate outdoors year round if Shared Spaces were continued past December.

“That tells us what we already knew: this program is vital for the social and psychological health of our city,” he said.

Yekutiel, who is also a board member of the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association, said the street closures are the only way for businesses to bring in customers — especially people who remain wary of indoor spaces despite the recent resumption of indoor dining at 25% capacity.

“It’s been the difference between life and death for at least a dozen small businesses,” he said.

Dog Eared Book’s Valencia Street outpost is one of the many shops that stand to benefit from the inclusion of the block between 20th to 21st streets. Its owner, Kate Razo, said the bookstore will extend its nighttime hours and put books outside to draw in passing pedestrians.

“Things are coming back,” Razo said in response to news of the extension Friday. “We are still at a fraction of what we were, but people are excited.”

While the Valencia Street closures have been met with support from merchants and community members, some local residents have complained about the noise and increased risk of coronavirus transmission. The program’s organizers have addressed those concerns by limiting loud music and deploying staff to check for mask compliance throughout the closed blocks, Yekutiel said.

Nora Mishanec is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @NMishanec

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