Despite its popularity, San Carlos city staff still calling for end to Laurel Street oudoor dining program

in A&E/Community

Two months after the San Carlos City Council requested to study the possibility of making the Laurel Street outdoor dining program permanent, the city’s staff plans on Monday to recommend ending it on Sept. 1.

Despite the pandemic-inspired program’s popularity, city staff says the street closure and parklets are becoming less critical for businesses reopening to full capacity, adding that clearing the street would benefit businesses dependent on storefront parking.

On May 26, however, a dialogue session held with 23 businesses, including 13 from the retail and services sector, found “most reactions were positive” when businesses were asked about how they had been impacted by the outdoor dining program. Some businesses said “they had been significantly negatively impacted, particularly by the street closure aspect of the program.”

A survey conducted in the summer of 2020 found that 71 percent of downtown business were in favor of the program while 29 percent were against it, the city said. A subsequent survey conducted at the beginning of 2021 found 78 percent to be in favor and 22 percent to be against.

City staff also argues that keeping the street closed would disrupt community events such as the Downtown Block Party, Goblin Walk and Night of Holiday Lights and reduce booths for the Farmers’ Market and the Art & Wine Faire, thus reducing their revenues.

“The City intends to begin the process of developing a Downtown Plan at the beginning of 2022, which will likely include the development of a permanent parklet program that aligns with possible changes to the Downtown streetscape that may come out of the plan,” city staff said. “However, this plan is likely to take 12 years to complete.”

In April, City Council rejected a staff proposal to terminate the program on Laurel Street on June 15, when the state will lift most COVID-19 restrictions. At the time, the proposal to end the program stemmed from complaints that it had become too popular, drawing large crowds and COVID rule-breakers. But council voted instead to continue the outdoor program until at least Sept. 1, and then called upon the city to study whether it should become a permanent fixture.