Update: Santa Clara County issued an updated health order on June 1 that allows restaurants to host diners on-site and outside of their establishments starting June 5. Read more here. Due to a 10-day curfew the city of Palo Alto announced on June 2, plans for street closures have been put on hold until the weekend of June 12.
Palo Alto's two main thoroughfares, University and California avenues, could be closed to traffic four days a week as soon as Thursday, June 4, allowing restaurants to use the streets to serve diners once Santa Clara County allows for on-site and outdoor dining.
In a Friday message to owners of businesses on the two streets, City Manager Ed Shikada said that the city is anticipating "hopefully soon" an updated health order that will allow such activity.
"As soon as next weekend, we could be ready to implement street closures to support your business recovery and active customer enjoyment," Shikada wrote.
Local restaurant owners up and down the Peninsula have been advocating for street closures to help sustain their businesses as they gradually reopen with restrictions. Cities including Palo Alto, Mountain View, Redwood City, Los Altos, San Carlos and San Mateo are considering closing streets to traffic and giving restaurants more outdoor space to operate.
Palo Alto is looking at closing University Avenue between Waverley and Emerson streets, and California Avenue between El Camino Real and Birch Street. The pilot closures would initially run from Thursday mornings through Sunday evenings, starting June 4 after on-site dining is allowed by the Santa Clara County Health Officer.
The City Council allocated $300,000 on May 26 to help with "business support" efforts, including outdoor dining. Palo Alto is exploring full- and part-time street closures, expanding outdoor seating through parklets and temporary closures of parking lots and offering businesses signage so customers know they are open, according to a city blog post.
The city is holding virtual meetings on Monday with business owners on California and University avenues to discuss the pilot closures.
In an online survey conducted by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, local business owners -- including restaurants, retail stores, hotels and professional offices -- expressed support for the street closures. Of 36 University Avenue business owners who responded to the survey, 61% said they were "strongly in favor" and 22% "in favor with reservations," while 16% were against closing the street. Of 63 California Avenue businesses, 81% were" strongly in favor" and 12% "in favor with reservations" while 8% were "opposed" to the closures.
Sixty three percent of the University Avenue respondents and 79% of California Avenue respondents said that the street closures should run seven days a week.
In a letter to the City Council, Chamber of Commerce CEO Charlie Weidanz and President Judy Kleinberg urged council members to "expedite" approval of the program.
"Restaurateurs have warned that when reopening is permitted, safe table distancing rules will render them financially unable to succeed with only inside dining unless they are able to add outdoor seating," they wrote. "We believe the survey results strongly reinforce the calls by both residents and businesses for the city to help commercial districts recover from the COVID-19 closures by partially closing these two commercial streets to cars and allowing businesses to safely serve customers outdoors."
The Chamber of Commerce is working with city staff on the pilot street closure programs, as well as a new city fund to support restaurants with reopening expenses, such as outdoor tables and personal protective equipment. The Chamber is also advocating for changes to address business owners' concerns about adequate parking and access for trash pickup and delivery trucks, including extending street and garage parking limits and creating designated short-term parking zones at side streets for pickup and delivery.
"Our goal is to help our businesses reopen safely and for Palo Alto to be ready to go just as soon as the County gives us the green light,” Kleinberg said in a press release.