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Believing in B Street: Revitalization gains traction, merchants worry about unintended consequences
May 15, 2014, 05:00 AM By Samantha Weigel Daily Journal

Kerry Chan/Daily Journal
Salvadore and Juanita Barrera, owners of Paleteria La Barca serves ice cream to Carolina Jimenez and her son Cristian Camacho Tuesday afternoon.

As a neglected strip of downtown San Mateo is becoming revitalized through a collaborative effort between city staff, merchants, community members and a nonprofit, some tenants say they’re thrilled with the help, yet fear beautifying the area may unintentionally drive up rents.

North B Street stretches from the Caltrain station to Tilton Avenue and is lined with taquerias, thrift stores, small retail shops, a Laundromat, Latino-themed markets and the active Peninsula Italian American Social Club.

Regardless of the proximity, many businesses owners say they feel disconnected from the downtown core, prompting the city to create the North B Street Initiative with goals of making the area safer and more attractive.

Just a few short months after the Initiative was started, some property owners have said they already see a difference; police are patrolling the area more, the streets look cleaner, flowers have been planted and the area will host this year’s SummerFest.

Pedro Zerpa, owner of the Peruvian restaurant Fusion, said some tenants are concerned as they work to fix up the area, landlords will begin to raise rents and they’ll be squeezed out of their businesses.

“If my lease increased a lot I’m going to have to look for other cities to move my business. And I really don’t want to do that because I really like the people on the block and I really like San Mateo. But if my lease goes up, I may have to do that,” Zerpa said, adding he is happy with the progress.

“It’s a lot of changing, it’s slowly, but I think now the people on the block realize if we can fix our business, if we work together, we’re going to have the block more clean and we can have more customers and we can bring more people from the downtown as well as be able to say we are downtown San Mateo too,” Zerpa said.

Zerpa said the police starting to regularly patrol North B Street helped to prevent people from drinking and loitering on the streets and he’s noticed people are driving safer now too.

Marcus Clarke, the city’s economic development director, said the number of police calls in the area have dramatically decreased and North B Street is on its way to becoming more vibrant.

“I think it’s going great. For any healthy corridor, it needs to be clean and safe. That’s the baseline, so we’ve been working on those measures,” Clarke said.

A meeting was held last Friday with North B Street property owners, business owners and community members to discuss and generate recommendations the city can help fulfill, said Thomassina Russaw, a director with the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, who is assisting to mediate the project.

Creating an identity for the area, ramping up police presence to discourage public drunkenness and illegal U-turns, installing more suitable trash cans for businesses and the public, planting flowers and cleaning the streets were goals generated through the meeting, Russaw said.

Initially, many North B Street merchants and neighbors were hesitant to get involved for fear of being in trouble or were suspicious of the city’s intentions because they had never been paid much attention, Russaw said.

“I think the most important part of the project has been accomplished, which was bringing the merchants to the table and having them talk about what they wanted to see and talk about the challenges and to be able to express themselves and their experience with being on North B and the city has been great in their response to them. They haven’t withheld anything and they’ve been very transparent,” Russaw said.

The city’s intentions are not for this to be a gentrification project, but more of a business retention program, Clarke said. The city has also begun to offer a business development package to support the tenants with their leases, Clarke said.

Zerpa said many North B Street tenants are on a month-to-month lease and he’s afraid of what happened to Ristorante Capellini just south of the North B Street area.

Capellini was an Italian restaurant that had been on the corner of B Street and Baldwin Avenue for 24 years before closing two months ago after the rent was allegedly increased.

Russaw said that was brought up at the last meeting and city officials share those concerns.

“If there was any inclination that gentrification would take place, the project wouldn’t go forward,” Russaw said.

A cleanup day will take place June 7, which could include washing the streets and any painting that may need to be done, Russaw said. It’s especially important to continue with the momentum as for the first time, North B Street will host SummerFest on June 21 and 22, she added.

Salvador Barrera and his wife own Paleteria La Barca, a specialty store and ice cream parlor on North B Street.

Barrera said the streets are cleaner, safer, more family friendly and he’s thankful the city has shown an interest. Barrera said he hopes North B Street will begin to feel more connected to downtown.

“What we want, is all the white people, the Chinese people, all kinds of people to come to North B Street,” Barrera said. “Right now it’s Hispanic people, but we want everybody. We want to be a family with everybody.”

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Tags: street, north, people, russaw, streets, zerpa,

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