News

Hungry for more outdoor dining, Palo Alto to close University Avenue to traffic

Downtown's main strip to shut down this weekend as part of new 'Summer Streets' program

Rooh Palo Alto worked with the city to build a prototype parklet earlier this month. Other restaurants will also be able to apply for similar parklets under rules that the City Council approved on June 23. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

Emboldened by its recent success on California Avenue, the Palo Alto City Council moved Tuesday night to dramatically expand opportunities for outdoor dining elsewhere in the city, including on University Avenue.

In its final action before a monthlong break, the council voted unanimously to approve a package of resolutions and ordinances that collectively relax existing rules pertaining to outdoor alcohol consumption, encourage the creation of parklets and allow the conversions of parking lots into outdoor shops and dining areas. The move comes two weeks after the city closed California Avenue to traffic to facilitate outdoor dining — a decision that has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from businesses and residents.

The most dramatic proposal that the council approved calls for closing University Avenue to traffic to make room for outdoor tables. The experiment will begin this Friday morning and conclude on Sunday night. If successful, it will continue through the shutdown and potentially be expanded to closing downtown's main commercial strip for seven days a week.

Several residents, restaurant owners and council members suggested that University Avenue should immediately be closed seven days per week. But rather than mandating this, the council opted to give City Manager Ed Shikada and staff the authority — and flexibility — to do so, based on community feedback and changes in Santa Clara County's shelter-in-place order.

Palo Alto's new rules allow businesses to use up to 50% of parking lot areas for dining or retail and create guidelines for restaurants anywhere in the city to apply for parklets, which extend the sidewalk into existing parking spaces. While the city has already approved several downtown parklets earlier this month — including in front of Rooh and Peninsula Creamery — those were installed as prototypes. Now, any restaurant can apply for similar additions.

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Public Works Director Brad Eggleston said the city plans to start approving parklet applications on Wednesday. This should particularly help businesses that are not located in the city's two main commercial strips and would not benefit from the street closures.

The council's actions mean that restaurants also now will be allowed to legally serve alcohol in the outdoor dining areas. They also specify that those enjoying alcohol at Cogswell Plaza and Lytton Plaza — where drinking is normally prohibited — can now do so, but only while consuming a meal.

The council enthusiastically supported the measures and lauded staff for collaborating with the business community to create the new Summer Streets program.

"There haven't been very many joys in the last couple of months, but it's been one of them," Councilwoman Alison Cormack said.

Cormack and Councilwoman Liz Kniss each said they supported closing University Avenue to traffic seven days a week, consistent with feedback from many residents who submitted comments and spoke at the June 23 meeting. The closure of California Avenue gives the restaurants in the business district "a leg up," Kniss said, and the city should do the same for downtown establishments.

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Maico Campilongo, co-owner of the California Avenue restaurants Terún and iTalico, said the street closures have been a boon for his businesses. Last week was the busiest week in Terún's history, he said. On Friday and Saturday nights, Terún had a full house at 9:45 p.m. The owners havee been able to hire back 95% of their employees and the restaurant's sales totaled more than $100,000, he said.

"From my point of view, it's been a success," Campilongo said.

City officials reached the same conclusion. Rachael Tanner, the city's assistant planning director, said that so far, "all signs are very positive for that closure." Mayor Adrian Fine, in discussing the new downtown rules, said the city has "really proven it on Cal Avenue."

"I'm really enjoying it and I'm hearing from a lot of people who are as well," Fine said.

But staff is opting for a more incremental approach on University Avenue, where the mix of businesses is more diverse and where the consensus about closure has been more difficult to achieve. Tanner said that staff's approach to the downtown strip recognizes these distinctions.

"It's meant to take advantage of weekend business and it's tailored based on some of the conversations we've had with downtown … both the intrigue of trying to close the street and see what happens, and wanting to do so at a pace that's maybe not as drastic as California Avenue, and recognize the layout and the business composition of downtown, which is different from Cal Avenue."

These differences notwithstanding, several council members said they found the California Avenue example instructive and worth replicating in downtown.

"Cal Avenue looks good," Councilman Eric Filseth said. "There's no way to answer all these questions without trying it on University Avenue."

He said he's willing to give the city manager the authority to expand the University Avenue closure from three to seven days per week.

"Let's try it," he said,

While restaurants will see the biggest impact under the new rules, retailers and personal services businesses are also expected to see some benefits. While gyms remain a prohibited use under Santa Clara County's shelter-in-place order (recreational activities remain restricted to groups of people within the same family), the city's new rules anticipate a time when these restrictions would be relaxed and these businesses are allowed to reopen. They would now be able to use outdoor spaces for fitness classes.

While the downtown rules are subject to further adjustments, numerous residents and restaurant owners lauded the city's early moves. Jordan Nari, who represents the downtown restaurants Rangoon Ruby, Burma Ruby and Wahlburgers, was among those who lauded the council's move and encouraged members to go further and keep University Avenue closed to traffic seven days a week.

"I feel like we've been dying slowly for three months," Nari said. "This is something for us to really look forward to."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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Hungry for more outdoor dining, Palo Alto to close University Avenue to traffic

Downtown's main strip to shut down this weekend as part of new 'Summer Streets' program

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jun 24, 2020, 12:28 pm

Emboldened by its recent success on California Avenue, the Palo Alto City Council moved Tuesday night to dramatically expand opportunities for outdoor dining elsewhere in the city, including on University Avenue.

In its final action before a monthlong break, the council voted unanimously to approve a package of resolutions and ordinances that collectively relax existing rules pertaining to outdoor alcohol consumption, encourage the creation of parklets and allow the conversions of parking lots into outdoor shops and dining areas. The move comes two weeks after the city closed California Avenue to traffic to facilitate outdoor dining — a decision that has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from businesses and residents.

The most dramatic proposal that the council approved calls for closing University Avenue to traffic to make room for outdoor tables. The experiment will begin this Friday morning and conclude on Sunday night. If successful, it will continue through the shutdown and potentially be expanded to closing downtown's main commercial strip for seven days a week.

Several residents, restaurant owners and council members suggested that University Avenue should immediately be closed seven days per week. But rather than mandating this, the council opted to give City Manager Ed Shikada and staff the authority — and flexibility — to do so, based on community feedback and changes in Santa Clara County's shelter-in-place order.

Palo Alto's new rules allow businesses to use up to 50% of parking lot areas for dining or retail and create guidelines for restaurants anywhere in the city to apply for parklets, which extend the sidewalk into existing parking spaces. While the city has already approved several downtown parklets earlier this month — including in front of Rooh and Peninsula Creamery — those were installed as prototypes. Now, any restaurant can apply for similar additions.

Public Works Director Brad Eggleston said the city plans to start approving parklet applications on Wednesday. This should particularly help businesses that are not located in the city's two main commercial strips and would not benefit from the street closures.

The council's actions mean that restaurants also now will be allowed to legally serve alcohol in the outdoor dining areas. They also specify that those enjoying alcohol at Cogswell Plaza and Lytton Plaza — where drinking is normally prohibited — can now do so, but only while consuming a meal.

The council enthusiastically supported the measures and lauded staff for collaborating with the business community to create the new Summer Streets program.

"There haven't been very many joys in the last couple of months, but it's been one of them," Councilwoman Alison Cormack said.

Cormack and Councilwoman Liz Kniss each said they supported closing University Avenue to traffic seven days a week, consistent with feedback from many residents who submitted comments and spoke at the June 23 meeting. The closure of California Avenue gives the restaurants in the business district "a leg up," Kniss said, and the city should do the same for downtown establishments.

Maico Campilongo, co-owner of the California Avenue restaurants Terún and iTalico, said the street closures have been a boon for his businesses. Last week was the busiest week in Terún's history, he said. On Friday and Saturday nights, Terún had a full house at 9:45 p.m. The owners havee been able to hire back 95% of their employees and the restaurant's sales totaled more than $100,000, he said.

"From my point of view, it's been a success," Campilongo said.

City officials reached the same conclusion. Rachael Tanner, the city's assistant planning director, said that so far, "all signs are very positive for that closure." Mayor Adrian Fine, in discussing the new downtown rules, said the city has "really proven it on Cal Avenue."

"I'm really enjoying it and I'm hearing from a lot of people who are as well," Fine said.

But staff is opting for a more incremental approach on University Avenue, where the mix of businesses is more diverse and where the consensus about closure has been more difficult to achieve. Tanner said that staff's approach to the downtown strip recognizes these distinctions.

"It's meant to take advantage of weekend business and it's tailored based on some of the conversations we've had with downtown … both the intrigue of trying to close the street and see what happens, and wanting to do so at a pace that's maybe not as drastic as California Avenue, and recognize the layout and the business composition of downtown, which is different from Cal Avenue."

These differences notwithstanding, several council members said they found the California Avenue example instructive and worth replicating in downtown.

"Cal Avenue looks good," Councilman Eric Filseth said. "There's no way to answer all these questions without trying it on University Avenue."

He said he's willing to give the city manager the authority to expand the University Avenue closure from three to seven days per week.

"Let's try it," he said,

While restaurants will see the biggest impact under the new rules, retailers and personal services businesses are also expected to see some benefits. While gyms remain a prohibited use under Santa Clara County's shelter-in-place order (recreational activities remain restricted to groups of people within the same family), the city's new rules anticipate a time when these restrictions would be relaxed and these businesses are allowed to reopen. They would now be able to use outdoor spaces for fitness classes.

While the downtown rules are subject to further adjustments, numerous residents and restaurant owners lauded the city's early moves. Jordan Nari, who represents the downtown restaurants Rangoon Ruby, Burma Ruby and Wahlburgers, was among those who lauded the council's move and encouraged members to go further and keep University Avenue closed to traffic seven days a week.

"I feel like we've been dying slowly for three months," Nari said. "This is something for us to really look forward to."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Comments

Ross Mayfield
Community Center
on Jun 24, 2020 at 1:54 pm
Ross Mayfield, Community Center
on Jun 24, 2020 at 1:54 pm
3 people like this

Palo Alto City Council voted last night to proceed with Summer Streets for University Ave starting this Friday. Gives broad powers to the city manager to implement. They didn’t go as far as codifying 7 days a week, but encouraged doing so quickly.

Encouraging, but not decisive enough to help the crisis. Cal Ave open streets is positive by every measure. Merchant and restaurant revenue up, citizens enjoy the community feel. One restaurant hired back 95% of their staff. 3 days a week will not accomplish this demand pattern.

The reasonable issue is what happens when office workers come back. How will open streets effect traffic and parking for downtown and residential, and commercial property values.

Commercial and residential property owners need assurance of their interests amidst uncertainty.

Putting aside that Office worker volume and density will not be the same, and there is no returning to the prior state — we need to measure business revenue, traffic and parking as @GregTanaka suggested. During the Summer Streets program and as we do the dance of opening.

But 3 days a week does not allow the needed data to be collected. 7 days a week in this temporary program, with the option of pulling back to 3 or even full shutdown if public health requires it, will. @adrianfine suggested to start with 7, and 6/7 councilors said do 7.

I believe if @EdShikada uses the authority granted and the intent from the Council’s comments to start open streets with 7 days a week starting Friday, puts a focus on collecting revenue, traffic and parking data, expands engagement beyond business round table it will:

Provide meaningful impact to small businesses just as PPP expires, yield better consumer demand, support a governable framework with full data and reveal that open streets is in every stakeholder’s interest and make our community more desirable to live and work.


SGB
University South
on Jun 24, 2020 at 2:35 pm
SGB, University South
on Jun 24, 2020 at 2:35 pm
8 people like this

Excited to hear this. I'm so looking forward to Summer Streets on University Ave.

I live right near downtown, and I was worried about the long-term health of our restaurants and retailers. We've already lost Dan Gordon's, La Strada, Joya, Walgreens, West Elm, and others, with more right on the brink of closing permanently. We do need to do everything we can to support all our downtown businesses.


Professorville
Professorville
on Jun 24, 2020 at 3:10 pm
Professorville, Professorville
on Jun 24, 2020 at 3:10 pm
7 people like this

Cal Ave has been amazing. I was so missing eating out of the house. Just seeing people from a distance is nice.

Before Cal Ave, I personally didn’t feel safe eating on the sidewalk, especially in a place with a lot of sidewalk traffic on University.

Having the tables widely spaced in the street is a game changer— I could certainly see a lot more people coming back to University once people see what it looks like.

I’m not sure why it shouldn’t start right now as a 24 / 7 option for businesses? There’s plenty of parking in garages right now and not a lot of traffic.

Certainly I think people would want to eat out as safely as possible during the week too. I do.


wonderful!
Stanford
on Jun 24, 2020 at 5:31 pm
wonderful!, Stanford
on Jun 24, 2020 at 5:31 pm
13 people like this

This is terrific and I hope it's successful.

I was downtown the other day and saw many teens without masks on, not social distancing. I understand it's particularly hard for kids of this developmental age to fully absorb the consequences of their actions. Having said that, what should we as a community do about this? I see some kids with masks on their wrists or dangling from their pockets, so it's not a matter of them not having masks. I would like to see downtown thrive and be a model for other communities. I don't feel comfortable speaking to these kids, I'm older and not always steady on my feet, they don't want to hear an old fart like me telling them what to do, but it would help us all if we could get buy in from the teens.

ideas?


Palo Alto
Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2020 at 6:58 am
Palo Alto, Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2020 at 6:58 am
Like this comment

Terun had people packed in, also back by their dumpsters......


The virus is sneaky
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2020 at 10:58 am
The virus is sneaky, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2020 at 10:58 am
16 people like this

Enjoy it while you can. Sara Cody plans to take us back to square one soon.


Bike Parking?
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2020 at 11:11 am
Bike Parking?, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2020 at 11:11 am
6 people like this

If you eliminate on-street auto parking, it would be very helpful to add bicycle parking so people can who choose to bike can securely lock their bikes while they enjoy restaurants and shops. Adding bike parking was key to increasing bicycling at PAUSD secondary schools. Adult bicyclists need secure parking as well. Build it, and we will come.

For folks who may not know, it takes only 20 minutes to bike at a leisurely pace from the Mountain View border to downtown. If you take the Bryant Street bike boulevard, it is a lovely shady ride--a nice precursor to an evening out. My husband and I (creaky seniors) do this often. It takes 18 minutes to bike to California Avenue on Park bicycle boulevard for the MV border. These streets are quiet routes with many other people walking and biking, so you will be in good company.

Happy trails!


William Hitchens
Mountain View
on Jun 25, 2020 at 12:11 pm
William Hitchens, Mountain View
on Jun 25, 2020 at 12:11 pm
7 people like this

Has anyone on the City Council noticed that just as they move to expand public gatherings without masks, SCC Covid cases have been exploding exponentially ever since limited Stage II reopening (or is it Level or Phase II?) was implemented on June 5???? After all, you can't eat and wear a mask at the same time, can you??? Still, you could always throw your food in a blender and drink it through a straw. Also, didn't CA just impose a rule that everyone should wear a mask even while outside??? And doesn't the State trump (I hate that word) counties and cities?

Just wear your surgical masks like responsible citizens and don't infect the rest of us.


DJN
Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2020 at 2:10 pm
DJN, Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2020 at 2:10 pm
3 people like this

I think this is great overall, and certainly will benefit all... But there is one significant difference between University Ave and California Ave - Univ Ave is a major thoroughfare.. California Ave is not a thru street.. So taking the closure of Univ Ave in stages makes a lot of sense practically for all in the community.


Carolyn
Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2020 at 2:27 pm
Carolyn, Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2020 at 2:27 pm
7 people like this

Make this 7 days a week ASAP. Why mess around, 3 days is just stupid. Come on PA. Be bold and creative. We are better than this. Our businesses and budget depend on the retail and restaurant success!


commonsense
Professorville
on Jun 26, 2020 at 8:31 am
commonsense, Professorville
on Jun 26, 2020 at 8:31 am
4 people like this

Block Univeristy. Lytton one way Middlefield to Alma. Hamilton one way Alma to Middlefield. Traffic pros figure out the transition at the end of each street. Change parking to 90 degrees on side streets that run into University. Make PA University Ave a destination that attracts many to the restaurants and retail. Apparently most love the idea. Let's go staff and council! This has been discussed for decades. Act now! It could be like this:
Web Link

Web Link


Concerned Pedestrian
Downtown North
on Jun 26, 2020 at 8:57 am
Concerned Pedestrian, Downtown North
on Jun 26, 2020 at 8:57 am
8 people like this

With U Ave closed, going to see a lot of cars zooming through the surrounding residential streets. Will there be any sort of increased protection against reckless drivers?


Allen Akin
Professorville
on Jun 26, 2020 at 10:01 am
Allen Akin, Professorville
on Jun 26, 2020 at 10:01 am
2 people like this

Until the COVID-19 danger has passed, traffic is artificially low, and we can close University pretty much whenever we want.

The situation is different in the long run. Between Alma and Middlefield, University normally carries 12000 cars/day, Hamilton 8000, and Lytton 11000 (Web Link). If University stays closed under those conditions, drivers won't politely divert to Hamilton and Lytton. They'll cut through parallel streets in the neighborhoods.

We know this because it happens already. As University grew more congested, the traffic through Crescent Park reached levels that finally forced the City to act last year. Volume on Lincoln Ave in Professorville is up 85% since 2013 because it's a traffic-light-free path that runs nearly all the way from the 101 interchange to Alma. Many other cases exist, but aren't as well-documented because the City doesn't do regular traffic surveys in residential areas. And all these cases happened with University *open*.

So far, the only way I've seen to close University permanently without destroying the surrounding neighborhoods is to create partial street closures. We have these in a lot of places around town -- College Terrace, Bryant Street, Palo Alto Ave at Middlefield, etc., and they seem to be effective. So if you want to argue for closing University in the long run, please also argue for the changes that are needed to help the surrounding neighborhoods survive.


Kait
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 26, 2020 at 10:05 am
Kait, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 26, 2020 at 10:05 am
8 people like this

This is going to be a disaster for residential neighborhoods on Hamilton and Lytton, not to mention others. You can't compare University to Califonia--one is a major thoroughfare, one is not.


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