San Carlos to consider ending Laurel St. outdoor dining program

in Business/Community

San Carlos is considering ending its outdoor dining program on Laurel Street in two months due to “rising safety concerns and an anticipated statewide reopening order from the Governor.”

“Residents have expressed feeling unsafe while visiting the Downtown due to the lack of social distancing and congestion from pedestrian overcrowding,” according to city staff.

At its meeting tonight, City Council is set to review the proposal to end the street closure and parklet program on June 15, when Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to lift most statewide COVID-19 restrictions.

While the program was launched in summer 2020 to provide a safe, socially-distanced alternative amid indoor dining restrictions, city staff says it may have become too popular. Local residents have complained to the city about nighttime activities and overcrowded parklets in the 600 and 700 blocks of Laurel Street.

“While originally designed to encourage social distancing, the program has proven immensely popular and has drawn large crowds to the Downtown, making proper social distancing and enforcement extremely difficult,” according to staff documents. “The City has received reports of Downtown patrons and restaurants failing to adhere to proper mask and social distancing protocols throughout the pandemic, and these issues have been growing.”

The city is concerned foot traffic on the corridor will further increase as COVID-19 restrictions continue to be lifted.

Sources in the local business community tell Climate that some, but not all, eateries are failing to follow safety rules and are ruining it for businesses that need the program to recover from the pandemic’s impacts. The program has been successful economically and is supported by many downtown businesses, according to city staff, adding it “has allowed business to expand their operations and promote social distancing.”

Ending the program would return 150 parking spaces in the downtown area and open up the roads to vehicular traffic, and would allow for the return of downtown community events such as the farmers’ market, San Carlos Block Party and Goblin Walk, the city said. Council could decide to only eliminate the program on the three blocks of Laurel Street, where the majority of complaints are coming from, the city added.

Tonight’s City Council meeting is set to start at 7 p.m. Click here for the agenda and related information.