The San Mateo City Council on Monday unanimously agreed to extend downtown street closures for outdoor dining as well as the parklet program through at least March of 2021 and likely longer.

The street closures, which include portions of B Street, will remain the same for the next six months and staff will study those areas for longer term or seasonal closures even after the pandemic has passed.

Councilmembers also expressed interest in having the parklet program remain in place, though likely with changes, after the pandemic. Restaurants and other businesses have set up a total of 55 parklets throughout the city, with most being downtown.

“I think [outdoor dining] enhances the downtown and an overwhelming majority of the people of San Mateo absolutely love the experience of walking around downtown San Mateo,” Mayor Joe Goethals said during a meeting Monday. “We need to keep it. We need to enhance it.”

The city has been providing barricades for the parklets and doing so through March of next year will cost a total of $200,000. Goethals during the meeting defended the large investment.    

“This keeps people employed. This saves jobs,” he said. “We support all our restaurants and all of our businesses downtown. We want them to stay in business.”

Several downtown business owners corroborated the point, including Gabe Lucas, co-owner of Redwood Coast Cider.

“Me and my family are seeing a significant economic benefit [from street closures] that has allowed me to hire back four employees,” he said.

Adam Simpson, owner of Wursthall, described parklets as a “lifeline” that have allowed his business to “get through another day and hopefully get through COVID.”

City officials during the meeting also said a recent survey found a “vast majority” of restaurants in the city are interested in continuing outdoor dining.

The temporary street closures are being extended to March because after that month the closures are no longer considered temporary and environmental impact evaluations will be necessary, said Assistant City Manager Kathy Kleinbaum.

Staff is currently drafting guidelines for longer term parklets based on standards in other cities. Permits will also have to be obtained to ensure parklets are safer and more attractive than some of the existing temporary ones.

Kleinbaum noted most parklet programs in other cities charge an annual fee to offset a portion of the loss of metered parking, which can amount to $15 to $20 a day. But a fee will not be charged during the pandemic, she said.  

To enhance safety after several cars collided with parklets in the city — there were no injuries — staff is replacing the metal barriers around them with water-filled ones.

Deputy Mayor Eric Rodriguez during the meeting reiterated the popularity of the street closures and parklets and stressed the importance of making both efforts long term.

“If there’s going to be one thing good that’s come from this COVID epidemic, I think it’ll be this is the year we became empowered to activate public space previously reserved for cars,” he said. “I really feel we cannot waste this opportunity. We have to think longer term and when we look back on this it’ll be the one good memory of this close-down.”

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