San Carlos extends Laurel St. closure and parklet program

in A&E/Business/Community

San Carlos City Council voted 3-2 Monday to extend the Laurel Street closure and parklet program until Sept. 1, 2021, becoming the latest Peninsula city to continue outdoor programs that aim to support businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council adopted the program in June to allow businesses restricted by public health orders from operating indoors to serve customers outdoors. The program was originally set to expire at the end of 2020.

Among concerns about extending the program were the need for outdoor heaters in the colder months, which poses additional costs to businesses and also safety concerns such as trip and fire hazards.

Chris Davis, owner of Kids Co., said lack of parking is preventing customers from visiting his store.

“It is bad enough to go through Christmas without parking spaces,” Davis said during the council meeting Monday.

Davis was the lone business owner to speak against the program at the council meaning. Several owners and operators of Laurel Street restaurants voiced support for its continuation.

“The street closure and parklet program has been very helpful and I want to ask you to consider continuing the program and eventually make some part of it permanent,” said Chris Templin of Taurus Steakhouse.

Councilmember Mark Olbert, who along with Mayor Ron Collins voted against the extension Monday, noted a need to find ways to help and support non-restaurant businesses “to give them a fighting chance, too.”

City council directed staff to find ways to support those businesses.

“Our vote provides certainty to businesses while city staff will continue to gather ideas and feedback to optimize this program,” Vice Mayor Laura Parmer-Lohan said. “We want to provide a positive downtown experience for business owners and customers.”

Parmer-Lohan joined Councilmembers Sara McDowell and Adam Rak in supporting extending San Carlos’ program through the summer.

Parmer-Lohan highlighted retailers who have adapted to changing safety and customer needs like the Reading Bug children’s bookstore, which now has an outdoor story time, streaming online events, and a touchless in-store customer experience.

“Laurel Street Arts, Ten Toes, Bow Wow Meow, and Graffeo, have all created outdoor merchandise setups,” she added.

San Carlos is among several Peninsula cities extending their outdoor programs to support local businesses at an uncertain time. Programs in Redwood City and Mountain View are extended indefinitely until the end of the COVID-19 emergency declaration. Belmont’s program is currently slated to end March 31, 2021, while San Mateo’s version was recently extended to March 1, 2021.

San Mateo is exploring making its version of the program permanent or seasonal, at least on B Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues.

“San Mateo’s B Street closure has been widely successful,” San Mateo Councilmember Amourence Lee said. “As a resident near downtown for most of my 11 years as a San Matean, I fully support making downtown more outdoor and pedestrian friendly.”

The need to work with businesses and residents is no different in San Mateo. Lee pointed to adjustments needed to short term parking, adding more 10 and 20 minute spots for takeout pickups and other short trip needs.

“We have to be safe and creative,” Lee said, adding her children are taking classes from Core Taekwondo outdoors in Central Park.

In Burlingame, a summer pilot program led to two different solutions for Burlingame Avenue and Broadway. “The pandemic gave us the opportunity to experiment with a European style pedestrian promenade,” said Mayor Emily Beach.

Following an evaluation in August, Burlingame’s council determined to have parklets in front of restaurants on Burlingame Avenue and weekend street closures on Broadway (Saturday 4pm- Sunday 10pm). Mayor Beach added that, with the work of the Economic development subcommittee, council, and city staff, “we continue to be responsive to the needs of businesses and residents.”

Photo credit: City of San Carlos