Castro Street businesses weigh in on proposal to permanently close the street | New
After more than two years of allowing a few blocks of Castro Street businesses to use the street for outdoor dining, Mountain View City Council is taking steps to turn this temporary program into a permanent pedestrian mall.
The city voted to close part of Castro Street to vehicular traffic in June 2020, similar to other cities like Palo Alto that have implemented similar programs in response to the pandemic. The current Castro StrEATs program allows businesses and the public to use the car-free pavement on the 100 to 300 blocks of the street.
The city has conducted several engagement activities to get feedback on the program over the past two years, and according to a report from city staff, the community indicated strong support for making the street closure permanent.
“I think it’s absolutely fabulous,” said David Gamow, manager of East West Bookshop at 324 Castro Street. “We have a lot of foot traffic, and the cars speeding past are not the same as the people walking down Castro Street. I get people all the time who say, “It’s fantastic, it’s like a European city or something. » »
But before the city can decide to keep Castro Street closed forever, there are a few steps required by the California Pedestrian Mall Law of 1960.
“What you are doing tonight is the first step in establishing a permanent pedestrian mall…which is to pass a resolution of intent to create this mall on the first three blocks of Castro Street,” said public works director Dawn Cameron during a June 28. Council meeting. “This kicks off a public review period of at least 90 days.”
After the review period, a public hearing will be held on October 11, during which the city will collect formal public comments on the creation of a pedestrian mall.
Staff said if the street closure becomes permanent, the city will need to make major infrastructure changes.
“When you look across the country at other pedestrian malls, eventually we’ll have to do a complete street reconstruction so it doesn’t look like a street anymore, everything is on the same level,” Cameron said.
She said any reconstruction would take at least a few years.
“This will be a major capital improvement project, it will take time and effort to design it thoughtfully, work with our community and eventually build it,” Cameron said. “So one of the main considerations that we have is how are we going to deal with this interim period or this transition period between what we see there today and the eventual reconstruction of the street.
Chuck Imerson, CEO of the popular fast-casual restaurant Asian Box at 142 Castro Street, said he supported Castro’s initial closure.
“I think the closure certainly benefits more full-service restaurants that needed outdoor seating during the pandemic,” Imerson said, while Asian Box is more of a take-out type business. “At this point it’s probably a bit neutral for us.”
Imerson said he supports Castro’s permanent closure as long as it continues to increase foot traffic.
“I don’t have the stats on if more people are walking there because it’s a more attractive place to walk,” Imerson said. “If it becomes a more inviting space for weekend traffic to walk around, where people want to get down there and just spend the day, then I would be in favor of keeping it closed long-term.”
He said the shutdown can make it difficult for third-party delivery services to navigate and pick up orders from restaurants like his.
“Those are the things that certainly affect us more directly,” Imerson said.
Juan Origel, owner of Ava’s Downtown Market and Deli at 340 Castro Street, is in a unique position because his business includes both a retail grocery market and an on-site restaurant.
“We have two restaurants inside the store,” Origel said, and the street closure greatly benefits that part of his business. But there are some challenges with retail.
“The way Americans are used to shopping, they will circle a parking lot 10 times just to get to the place closest to the front of the store. That’s the kind of mentality that most Americans have. It affected me,” Origel said. “…Even though there’s a parking structure behind us, there’s something about having that front door that people like to park near.”
During the 90-day review process leading up to the Oct. 11 hearing, Director of Public Works Cameron said the city will continue to educate business owners, landowners and the community about what these key constituencies want a pedestrian mall to look like, and what infrastructural improvements will help businesses thrive through change.
“The entire street does not need to be used for restoration purposes,” Cameron said. “What we’re looking at is how can we bring more public gathering, more public interest, some amount of furniture maybe added to that. Maybe there’s a game structure. There’s a lot of opportunities out there that we want to entertain that create activation and engagement.
Some of the infrastructure changes the city wants to make include improving crosswalks at intersections to make pedestrian traffic safer, as well as accessibility improvements, like adding ramps in the middle of the block. .
Council member Lisa Matichak moved to pass the resolution of intent to establish a pedestrian mall, the first step in the process towards establishing a permanent street closure as required by the 1960 pedestrian malls. Vice Mayor Alison Hicks seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
“I think we need to give time not just to solve the city’s difficult problems, but also to make sure that the community feels fully engaged in things that bring joy to life in the city, and that’s the one I get from comments from members of the public,” Hicks said. “One of the happiest things they say came out of the pandemic.”