Holiday celebrations on Eucalyptus Avenue in San Carlos have grown in popularity, drawing large crowds and heavy traffic, forcing the city to beef up police presence in the neighborhood and distributing restrooms and garbage for public use.
For years, residents along Eucalyptus Avenue have decorated their homes with lights and displays during the winter holidays. The celebration has drawn larger and larger crowds, peaking last year when the pandemic forced many to be canceled.
“They do want celebrations to continue but the growing footprint has become a real concern,” Assistant City Manager Tara Peterson said during Monday’s City Council meeting.
Having received numerous complaints about the celebration last December, becoming “a victim of its own success,” Councilmember Ron Collins said, the council directed staff to conduct community outreach to gather additional feedback on concerns and potential solutions.
A community survey which received 106 responses from registered residents showed that while a majority of respondents enjoyed the event for its holiday spirit, beauty, sense of community and family-friendly nature, the public had grown concerned with crowd sizes, safety and trash.
“It became a victim of its own success,” Councilmember Ron Collins said.
Similar feedback was provided by participants of two community meetings on May 26 and June 8 of this year. Some solutions raised during the meetings included requiring permits to put up lights, limiting the duration of light displays, supporting trash bins and restroom facilities, increasing police presence and restricting the event to only community members and neighbors.
Ultimately, staff agreed to recommend only a few of the raised solutions in an annual $110,550 plan. The funds would cover police and security guard staffing, traffic control devices and distribution, removal, rental and maintenance of portable restroom facilities and trash bins.
To address traffic concerns, Public Works Director Steven Machida recommended streets near the celebration be made one-way once the lights are up and until taken down. He also recommended the city put out wayfinding signs warning of traffic and offering recommendations for alternative routes.
Addressing some of the other recommendations like making the event foot-traffic only or prohibiting out-of-towners from visiting, City Manager Jeff Maltbie said staff sided against those measures because they would create traffic bottlenecks in other areas and require additional staff time.
“The suggestions came from a good place but the reality was if implemented they would only result in even slower travel times through the area,” Maltbie said.
Still, Councilmember Adam Rak shared strong disappointment in the plan missing any reference to parking solutions, a major concern for neighbors and their holiday guests who often have to compete with celebration visitors for street space.
Peterson said staff was concerned that by offering parking the city could be promoting the event and ultimately drawing crowds. Machida said those unfamiliar with the city could potentially struggle with finding the designated parking areas.
Disagreeing with the assertion, Rak encouraged city staff to reach out to the San Carlos School District and St. Charles Church about using parking lots near the neighborhood for public use during the holiday event.
“I really feel strongly that we missed the mark on the parking,” Rak said. “We’re not tackling the biggest issue that is there and that is the traffic and the amount of people.”
Vice Mayor Sara McDowell and Councilmember John Dugan agreed with Rak’s recommendation though Dugan’s support came with a push for staff to achieve the additional parking without adding cost to the plan.
Putting the contribution into context, McDowell pointed out the city dedicated similar sums to pandemic relief including $112,000 to rental assistance, $112,000 to small businesses and $70,000 to food distributors.
While Maltbie warned that staffing would likely be needed at the parking sites and the city would be liable for any issues that occur on the grounds while in city use, he said city insurance would cover damages. He agreed to contact the district and church, noting they could also turn down the partnership.
The council was ultimately against requiring permitting for holiday lights, though, they supported a staff recommendation to require permits for Halloween events. The council did encourage staff to work with the residents who put up the displays to potentially limit the days the lights are up and the time they are turned on.
Councilmembers also encouraged staff to try to come in under budget, focusing mostly on flexible police staffing levels. The plan would call for four motorcycle officers to be on scene along with community service officers to ticket illegally parked cars.
“We’re hoping everyone that visits this community is behaving and is doing what they’re supposed to and being respectful of the residents in the community that they’re in,” Police Chief Kristina Bell said.
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