A sign with neon green text reads "OPEN" outside of a parking garage. Behind that sign is another one that is blue with white text that reads, "Franklin Plaza Public Parking."
Franklin Plaza Parking Garage seen on Nov. 9, 2023, in downtown Oakland. Mayor Sheng Thao launched the “Five After Five” pilot program in late October, allowing parking for a flat rate of $5 after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. Credit: Amir Aziz

Last month, Mayor Sheng Thao’s administration launched Five After Five, a pilot program that allows visitors and workers to park for a flat rate of $5 after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends at the Franklin Plaza Parking Garage in downtown Oakland.

First announced during the mayor’s State of the City address on Oct. 17, Five After Five is part of a broader initiative to increase foot traffic, improve public safety, and attract more visitors to bars, restaurants, and businesses in Uptown and downtown Oakland.

The city-owned parking structure, located on 19th and Franklin streets near the Fox Theater, has also expanded its hours to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to 3 a.m. Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. Before the program’s implementation, the parking garage was open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and closed on weekends.

Franklin Plaza Parking Garage seen on Nov. 9, 2023, in downtown Oakland. Credit: Amir Aziz

“This was a collaborative effort based on numerous discussions between downtown business owners, workers, the Mayor’s office, Councilmembers [Carroll] Fife and [Rebecca] Kaplan’s office, and city administration about how to make downtown more secure and welcoming,” wrote Jean Walsh, the public information officer for the city administrator’s office, in an email to The Oaklandside.

With reports of car break-ins increasing in Oakland in recent years, the city is also funding additional security personnel at the garage. “Without providing specifics, we can say that the staffing plan for both the ambassadors and security guards is designed to meet the challenges of operating a safe and secure facility,” Walsh wrote.

In mid-to-late December, the city will evaluate the program and recommend improvements. According to Walsh, the initiative is scheduled to last “through the holiday season,” or for approximately three months.

How do downtown business owners feel about the pilot program?

Downtown Oakland shops and restaurants near Franklin Plaza Parking Garage seen on Nov. 9, 2023. Credit: Amir Aziz

Most owners of businesses near the parking garage told The Oaklandside they see the Five After Five program as a good starting point but want the city to do more to prevent “bippings,” the regional slang term for car break-ins.

C. Y. Chia, the co-owner of Lion Dance Cafe, a vegan restaurant on 17th Street that pulls from Singaporean, Chinese, and Italian recipes, said they like how the program provides an alternative to street parking, which can be “expensive and unsafe,” they said.

“We have a lot of issues with customers’ and employees’ cars getting broken into every single day, so it’s a good alternative option for people who drive downtown and park,” Chia said.

With downtown parking garage rates being much higher than $5 an hour (for example, the Oakland City Center parking garage charges $16 per hour), some of Chia’s employees have relied on street parking to get to work. But that poses other risks—availability is not guaranteed, and several employees’ vehicles have been ticketed for parking for too long.

“We wish more could be done for the people who work in the area since this program is after 5 o’clock only,” said Chia. “It’s not helping us reassure our team and retain our employees, especially since there’s never enough street parking.”

Kyle Itani, who owns Itani Ramen and other restaurants in downtown and Uptown Oakland, said he supports the initiative but worries it hasn’t had enough exposure.

“I think it’s great that [the city is] trying something, but I’m an Oakland resident and business owner that hasn’t heard about it,” Itani said. “It’s also just at one garage, and there are many other vacant lots, so it would be great to expand it.”

Other business owners said the problem goes much deeper. Linda Bradford, co-owner of Italian eatery Parlour on 19th Street, said the public’s perception of the city also needs to change, particularly with bippings being so common.

“I think it’s great that they’re doing this, but we need more people to come downtown, and I don’t know how fast you can just turn this back around,” Bradford said. “Our customers come from all over the area, and unless Oakland does something, they will have other options in Contra Costa, Alameda, and other parts of the Bay.”

Roselyn Romero covers small businesses for The Oaklandside as a 2023-24 Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellow. Previously, she was an investigative intern at NBC Bay Area and the inaugural intern for the global investigations team of The Associated Press through a partnership with the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. Roselyn graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 2022 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and minors in Spanish, ethnic studies, and women's and gender studies. She is a proud daughter of Filipino immigrants and was born and raised in Oxnard, California.