As the San Mateo City Council is poised to extend temporary downtown street closures to help outdoor dining, the city is considering long-term parklet and street closure programs, which many restaurants support.
The City Council will vote Feb. 1 to possibly extend downtown street closures through Sept. 30 to help restaurants and also provide direction about a long-term parklet program downtown. Many restaurants have installed temporary parklets downtown and have expressed interest in keeping them after the pandemic. A parklet is a sidewalk extension installed on top of parking lanes or spaces that provide seating and can be placed outside restaurants. The city has formed a working group from various departments to develop the program. Questions remain about parking structures, traffic safety, drainage and stormwater flow and accessibility. The long-term parklet installations would not be allowed to have overhead structures that are currently in place. Council direction is needed to decide if parklets should be publicly or privately controlled spaces, if they should be in commercial districts outside downtown, what sort of annual fee should exist and how many parklets should be in any given area.
In June, the City Council temporarily closed parts of South B Street between First and Third avenues and the southbound lane between Baldwin and First avenues to vehicles to accommodate restaurants and businesses. The city wants to extend the temporary closure in preparation for continued restrictions and because the closures have been successful in helping outdoor dining, said Assistant City Manager Kathy Kleinbaum.
Based on the street closures’ success, the city is now considering a permanent or seasonal downtown street closure program after the pandemic to help restaurants and encourage outdoor dining, Kleinbaum said. Any action or direction would appear for direction before the City Council at a later date. The city is evaluating the current temporary street closures as a pilot program. Questions remain about what hours the streets would be closed, if it is seasonal, what specific streets would close and how festivals would be affected.
Kleinbaum said the majority of feedback about the temporary street closures has been positive, although some seniors and people with disabilities have found it harder to navigate downtown. The city completed a study about the potential environmental impacts of the extension of the temporary street closure and did not identify any significant environmental impacts. It has been considering permanent programs for both since before the pandemic.
As restaurants deal with closures, reopening and revenue loss, many hope the city will help. Akash Kapoor, owner and founder of Curry Up Now at 129 S. B St., is reopening on Friday for outside service. His restaurant fits 36 people total at the back of an outdoor bar and service in the front. The city has supported his business and the restaurant area, and he believes an extension of the street closures will help restaurants during the pandemic.
“I’m 100% in support of it,” Kapoor said.
Kapoor expects the restaurant to get through the revenue loss and restrictions. He favors a permanent parklet and street closure program to help restaurants and improve the overall downtown San Mateo area, even with some parking drawbacks.
Steve Kelly, vice president of marketing for Pacific Catch, said its downtown San Mateo restaurant at 243 S. B St. would be in favor of long-term parklet programs and seasonal street closures because guests have enjoyed the outdoor dining experience. This year, he said having the city close the street for outdoor dining has been a lifeline for the restaurant with restricted indoor dining. He described outdoor dining as the most important aspect to generate revenue in the next few months before vaccines are fully rolled out.
“Having more table inventory outdoors is one thing that has keep the business in San Mateo afloat really,” Kelly said.
The restaurant is ready to deal with short-term issues because it has investors committed to growing the business in the future. If the city does decide to permanently install parklets and have seasonal street closures for restaurants, it would allow Pacific Catch to invest in more permanent outdoor seating options for customers.
Manu Tamang, the manager of Urban Momo at 254 S. B St., believes it would help a lot to continue street closures, as the restaurant usually has people dine outside at its eight tables. A few of his neighbors have started putting out tables for dining, and he hopes to begin putting tables out in the coming days. His business was slow around June before picking up in August, with outdoor dining and take-out options important to his restaurant’s success when indoor dining was not allowed. Tamang said the county and city have helped keep restaurants open, and the restaurant will accept any City Council decision on Feb. 1.
“We respect the city’s decision because they have been very cooperative and helpful,” Tamang said.
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Note to readers: This story has been changed. It had previously incorrectly stated Steve Kelly was director of marketing for Pacific Catch. He is Vice President of Marketing.