Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
North B Street in San Mateo is the focus of a new effort to revitalize the area at the northern end of downtown.
Tucked away on the northern end of downtown San Mateo is a bustling stretch of road with a diverse array of neighborhood-serving businesses.
Taquerias, thrift stores, small retail shops, a Laundromat and Latino-themed markets dot the stretch of North B Street from the Caltrain station to Tilton Avenue at the northern end. In the middle of it is the active Peninsula Italian American Social Club and a vacant laundry building and adjacent lot.
A group of city officials, merchants and property owners say the street has potential and are organizing to explore ways to address concerns about loitering, unkempt buildings, poor lighting and why the street has become segregated from the downtown hub.
Last week, the North B Street Improvement Initiative kicked off with a focus group for councilmembers and city staff, police, merchants, property owners, residents and various community associations. The effort originated in a plan to construct a new market on the vacant property and rolled into an organized initiative to make larger improvements.
“It’s an impetus for us all to come together on the street and see how we want to move forward,” said Marcus Clarke, the city’s economic development manager. “How can we step up and connect [North] B Street to the rest of downtown better, create a place where people want to come and to address some of those challenges that would not bring people down there.”
But the area is uninviting and people outside of the community don’t frequent it often because it’s considered unsafe, dirty and a majority of the properties have not been adequately maintained for years, said Ben Toy, president of the San Mateo United Homeowners Association.
“The city’s only going to be as good as its worst spot,” Toy said.
There’s no easy solution to restore a community; but they’ll take it one step at a time, building momentum and start with aesthetic improvements, Toy said.
The collaborative initiative was inspired when Minerva Pulido bought the long-vacant Blu-White Laundry building and a neighboring vacant lot at 33 N. B St. Pulido plans to relocate her successful Mi Rancho Market from across the street to a new 14,000-square-foot grocery store, Pulido said.
She’s moved by the support from the mayor, city manager and staff who have joined in bolstering her desire to improve the area, Pulido said.
“We all are hopeful that this will bring a lot of people down these streets and I know it will not only benefit me, it’ll benefit the rest of the businesses as well and it’ll make a difference. And the support, we’re definitely happy and thankful for the support and all of the city employees that are helping with this process,” Pulido said.
Laurie Watanuki’s family owned the Blu-White Laundry and has seen previous projects proposed and abandoned due to turns of the real estate market. She is president of the Central Neighborhood Association southeast of downtown and has disappointedly watched as the quality of North B Street deteriorated. She hopes the initiative will help create an inviting walkway for people go to and from the train station, Watanuki said.
“I think it’s especially going to be an improvement to the pedestrian experience. It’s important that they have a good experience and a pleasant experience going to the transit area,” Watanuki said. “The beautification of [North] B Street is very positive.”
Toy said he agrees improvements will help people become less car-centric and walk or bike instead. San Mateo is diverse but there seems to be an artificial border between North B Street and the hub of downtown, Toy said.
“We’re multicultural and this is one of the cultures, that’s the Latino community, that’s kind of pushed to the side. And why? It shouldn’t be,” Toy said.
The Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center has been tasked with facilitating all of the different organizations involved to come together and talk about their ideas, business strategies and ways to gain support, Mayor Robert Ross said. He wants to make sure they incorporate as many businesses and community members as possible and he’s looking at reaching out to potential investors and Caltrain representatives, Ross said.
“I’m really excited about it. It’d be really neat to see that area just get revitalized over the next few years and only get better,” Ross said.
The Peninsula Italian American Social Club is active on North B Street and board member Alfred Pucci knows of the street’s struggles.
“The feeling is it’s not pedestrian friendly, it’s not well lit. We have some loitering and I think the [initiative] is going to go a long way to curing it,” Pucci said.
This movement can do wonders for the diverse area and Pulido’s redevelopment will hopefully encourage other property owners and organizations to join her, Pucci said.
“I think [the initiative] will be a stimulus for everyone else to clean up the front of their buildings and bring them up to the current time and make it a real nice area,” Pucci said.
The North B Street Improvement Initiative is gaining traction and it will continue to host focus groups and work on vetting recommendations out in April, Clarke said. But with the high interest and diverse support the initiative is building, Clarke said he’s confident San Mateo will see a revitalized North B Street.
“With a community process like this, the sky’s the limit,” Clarke said. “The community will be able to voice their ideas and see what we can get done. With the participation of city staff, the community, stakeholders, property owners, merchants, this is the way to get something great done together.”
For more information about the North B Street Improvement Initiative visit NorthBStreetImprovementInitiative.wordpress.com.
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