Parklets will be popping up in front of eateries along Broadway, as officials allowed dining establishments struggling amid the pandemic to establish temporary outdoor areas to serve customers.

The Burlingame City Council unanimously agreed Monday, Dec. 7, to terminate the weekend street closure program through the independent business district in favor of replicating the popular outdoor dining scene established downtown.

Officials previously agreed to close Broadway to cars from Saturday afternoon through Sunday evening to make way for diners patronizing local eateries. But at the request of merchants who felt interest in the program waning, councilmembers looked for a different way to support local businesses.

Under the most recent decision, eateries on Broadway will be allowed to convert parking spaces into temporary outdoor dining areas where diners can eat while the safety of indoor dining remains in question. Officials first launched the program along Burlingame Avenue, where it has proven popular following an unsuccessful downtown street closure attempt.

Councilman Ricardo Ortiz said he was at first uncertain whether the parklet program would be popular, but has since been convinced it is a useful way to help merchants who otherwise may be struggling to keep their doors open.

“My initial concern about parklets was that they were taking up parking spaces and I was afraid they weren’t going to be used — I have been proven wrong, very handily,” he said.

City Manager Lisa Goldman estimated that as many as 47 parking spaces could be lost along Broadway if each eatery opts into the program. But projections are that only a few businesses will join the effort at first, and more may join later if it proves successful.

To incentivize businesses making the investment in establishing attractive outdoor eating spaces, officials agreed the parklet program throughout Burlingame would be allowed at least until next summer.

“It signals to them that you will have at least nine months to amortize the cost of these improvements,” said Councilwoman Donna Colson.

For her part, Goldman said she has been impressed with the outdoor dining amenities and expects they will remain a popular option even after the most serious health hazards posed by the pandemic pass.

“It’s a pretty nice ambiance, considering you might be freezing out there,” said Goldman.

While officials agreed the program is worth supporting, Colson encouraged police and business owners to step up surveillance and assure the outdoor dining areas do not become popular haunts for the local homeless community.

Citing two recent incidents in which she said people have been caught sleeping in the parklets, Colson said a round of maintenance reminders may be needed for local businesses.

“It could be startling for someone to come out to their parklet and there is an encampment going on,” she said.

In other business, councilmembers also agreed to suspend downtown parking fees to attract shoppers to Burlingame Avenue during the holiday season. Beginning Saturday, Dec. 12, and spanning through the first weekend of January, parking will be free throughout the city’s central shopping district.

For his part, Ortiz supported the decision as a means of making the holidays a little brighter.

“I think this makes sense for holiday shopping, so I’m all for it,” he said.

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