News

Palo Alto extends Summer Streets program until winter to promote outdoor dining

City also will explore 'COVID surcharge,' come up with strategies to help businesses on side streets

Diners eat at tables on the street along California Avenue in Palo Alto on June 25. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Seeking to provide a lifeline to struggling businesses and further enhance the city's nascent outdoor dining program, Palo Alto agreed on Monday to keep University and California avenues closed to cars until at least the end of the year.

The council voted unanimously to keep its Summer Streets program until at least the end of this year and to allow restaurants that build parklets to support outdoor dining to keep the structures in place until at least Labor Day of 2021. In addition, the council asked staff to consider creating a "COVID surcharge" that restaurants and retailers can tack on to their bills and formulate a plan for dealing with an expected rise in vacancies. This could include expanding the menu of permitted uses at retail locations.

The council's decision was prompted by overwhelming support from residents and patrons for the outdoor dining program, which made its debut on California Avenue in June and which premiered on University Avenue in early July. In a city survey of about 200 residents and diners, about 95% reported that they felt "comfortable and safe" while dining in the two commercial districts and 77% said they would like to see the program extended.

The reviews have been more mixed in the business community. While California Avenue restaurants have been giving the program rave reviews, those in the downtown area have been split over the closure of University. Some have called the new program a badly needed boost at a time when their revenues are plummeting because of COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place orders.

Michael Ekwall, owner of La Bodeguita del Medio on California Avenue, called the program a "lifeline" for his business and others and urged the council to keep the program in place for the duration of the shelter-in-place period. Jordan Nari, who represents the downtown restaurants Burma Ruby, Rangoon Ruby and Wahlburgers, said the restaurants have seen their sales go up by between 30% and 40% since the downtown street closure took effect.

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"The biggest thing for us is, we've been able to give people a great experience," Nari told the council. "I love talking to tables at night and hearing about how they're out finally and they feel good and feel alive."

Rob Fischer, owner of the restaurants Reposado, Peninsula Creamery and Gravity, argued that the program is blatantly unfair. None of his downtown restaurants are on University Avenue, which puts them at a major disadvantage. A fairer approach, he said, is keeping the street open and allowing all restaurants to install parklets.

"We've got to figure out how to level the playing field," Fischer said. "It's crippling for me personally, and I know it is for other retailers and for some other restaurants as well."

Megan Kawkab, co-owner of The Patio, a bar and restaurant on Emerson Street, said her business is down by 25% to 30% since the beginning of the outdoor dining program, before University was closed. She also urged the council to reopen University Avenue and go big on parklets.

"I'm not saying that the city meant to help some and hurt others, but that's kind of what's going on right now," Kawkab said.

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Despite some reservations about the uneven benefits of the street closure, the council agreed that the program is largely successful and warrants continuation. The council also agreed to some recent tweaks to the program, including the closure of a Ramona Avenue block between Hamilton Avenue and the restaurant Nola to traffic and the reopening of a University Avenue block between High and Emerson streets, on the western edge of the strip.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss, an early supporter of the street closures, noted that the pandemic isn't going away any time soon and urged the city to learn from similar examples in downtown Mountain View and Redwood City.

"Without question, when it's working well, it's a great idea," Kniss said. "We got a lemon in the virus, and we're making lemonade by closing our streets, making it appealing."

Mayor Adrian Fine proposed moving beyond street closures and considering broader efforts, such as allowing businesses to place a "COVID surcharge" on their bills.

"Given the tenor and generosity of our community, I think a lot of Palo Altans will be happy to pay an extra 2% or 5% or 10% to local businesses to keep them afloat," Fine said.

Fine called the street-closure program a "tremendous and successful effort in Palo Alto — something new and different and really suited to the challenges we have in this extraordinary year." The city's next step, he said, should be figuring out how to mitigate some of the pain that retail businesses and restaurants on the side streets are feeling.

Judy Kleinberg, president of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, suggested that the city add signage and assist with marketing to steer some downtown visitors to the side streets. But while Kleinberg said the chamber is concerned about the viability of businesses on these streets, she urged the council to extend the street closures and the permitting period for parklets.

"The experiment of street closures and pedestrian zones may not be perfect and there are respected business leaders who are strongly in opposition to the closure, of University at least," Kleinberg said, "But so far, we haven't heard any better strategy and the city and resident-created surveys both seem to reinforce the residents' enthusiasm for the program."

"What the city is doing in listening to concerns and making modifications is an acknowledgement of the benefit of boosting the community spirit and building community, as well as business success."

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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Palo Alto extends Summer Streets program until winter to promote outdoor dining

City also will explore 'COVID surcharge,' come up with strategies to help businesses on side streets

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Aug 11, 2020, 9:53 am

Seeking to provide a lifeline to struggling businesses and further enhance the city's nascent outdoor dining program, Palo Alto agreed on Monday to keep University and California avenues closed to cars until at least the end of the year.

The council voted unanimously to keep its Summer Streets program until at least the end of this year and to allow restaurants that build parklets to support outdoor dining to keep the structures in place until at least Labor Day of 2021. In addition, the council asked staff to consider creating a "COVID surcharge" that restaurants and retailers can tack on to their bills and formulate a plan for dealing with an expected rise in vacancies. This could include expanding the menu of permitted uses at retail locations.

The council's decision was prompted by overwhelming support from residents and patrons for the outdoor dining program, which made its debut on California Avenue in June and which premiered on University Avenue in early July. In a city survey of about 200 residents and diners, about 95% reported that they felt "comfortable and safe" while dining in the two commercial districts and 77% said they would like to see the program extended.

The reviews have been more mixed in the business community. While California Avenue restaurants have been giving the program rave reviews, those in the downtown area have been split over the closure of University. Some have called the new program a badly needed boost at a time when their revenues are plummeting because of COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place orders.

Michael Ekwall, owner of La Bodeguita del Medio on California Avenue, called the program a "lifeline" for his business and others and urged the council to keep the program in place for the duration of the shelter-in-place period. Jordan Nari, who represents the downtown restaurants Burma Ruby, Rangoon Ruby and Wahlburgers, said the restaurants have seen their sales go up by between 30% and 40% since the downtown street closure took effect.

"The biggest thing for us is, we've been able to give people a great experience," Nari told the council. "I love talking to tables at night and hearing about how they're out finally and they feel good and feel alive."

Rob Fischer, owner of the restaurants Reposado, Peninsula Creamery and Gravity, argued that the program is blatantly unfair. None of his downtown restaurants are on University Avenue, which puts them at a major disadvantage. A fairer approach, he said, is keeping the street open and allowing all restaurants to install parklets.

"We've got to figure out how to level the playing field," Fischer said. "It's crippling for me personally, and I know it is for other retailers and for some other restaurants as well."

Megan Kawkab, co-owner of The Patio, a bar and restaurant on Emerson Street, said her business is down by 25% to 30% since the beginning of the outdoor dining program, before University was closed. She also urged the council to reopen University Avenue and go big on parklets.

"I'm not saying that the city meant to help some and hurt others, but that's kind of what's going on right now," Kawkab said.

Despite some reservations about the uneven benefits of the street closure, the council agreed that the program is largely successful and warrants continuation. The council also agreed to some recent tweaks to the program, including the closure of a Ramona Avenue block between Hamilton Avenue and the restaurant Nola to traffic and the reopening of a University Avenue block between High and Emerson streets, on the western edge of the strip.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss, an early supporter of the street closures, noted that the pandemic isn't going away any time soon and urged the city to learn from similar examples in downtown Mountain View and Redwood City.

"Without question, when it's working well, it's a great idea," Kniss said. "We got a lemon in the virus, and we're making lemonade by closing our streets, making it appealing."

Mayor Adrian Fine proposed moving beyond street closures and considering broader efforts, such as allowing businesses to place a "COVID surcharge" on their bills.

"Given the tenor and generosity of our community, I think a lot of Palo Altans will be happy to pay an extra 2% or 5% or 10% to local businesses to keep them afloat," Fine said.

Fine called the street-closure program a "tremendous and successful effort in Palo Alto — something new and different and really suited to the challenges we have in this extraordinary year." The city's next step, he said, should be figuring out how to mitigate some of the pain that retail businesses and restaurants on the side streets are feeling.

Judy Kleinberg, president of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, suggested that the city add signage and assist with marketing to steer some downtown visitors to the side streets. But while Kleinberg said the chamber is concerned about the viability of businesses on these streets, she urged the council to extend the street closures and the permitting period for parklets.

"The experiment of street closures and pedestrian zones may not be perfect and there are respected business leaders who are strongly in opposition to the closure, of University at least," Kleinberg said, "But so far, we haven't heard any better strategy and the city and resident-created surveys both seem to reinforce the residents' enthusiasm for the program."

"What the city is doing in listening to concerns and making modifications is an acknowledgement of the benefit of boosting the community spirit and building community, as well as business success."

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

Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 11, 2020 at 1:15 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2020 at 1:15 pm
11 people like this

"Mayor Adrian Fine proposed moving beyond street closures and considering broader efforts, such as allowing businesses to place a "COVID surcharge" on their bills.

"Given the tenor and generosity of our community, I think a lot of Palo Altans will be happy to pay an extra 2% or 5% or 10% to local businesses to keep them afloat," Fine said."

So glad Mr. Fine's still here, spending our money! As if we don't already know how to tip directly and be generous without his help since it's not clear WHERE that surcharge will go.

"In addition, the council asked staff to consider creating a "COVID surcharge" that restaurants and retailers can tack on to their bills and formulate a plan for dealing with an expected rise in vacancies. This could include expanding the menu of permitted uses at retail locations."

What type of other uses are envisioned?


Restaurant owner
Registered user
Downtown North
on Aug 11, 2020 at 4:18 pm
Restaurant owner, Downtown North
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2020 at 4:18 pm
2 people like this

Tips go directly to the employees.

This COVID surcharge would go to the operating restaurants. Believe it, the operating costs of running any service business during the pandemic have increased, not to mention the cost of some foods and supplies. The distribution channels are heavily impacted as well, making certain services more scare, and more expensive.

The health department recommends one person to be dedicated to make sure all the new rules are followed by the staff and patrons. All employees also have a lot more to do during these times.

Some restaurants have resorted to increasing pricing; but others could do with a COVID charge, if it's a temporary. It makes sense.


chris
Registered user
University South
on Aug 11, 2020 at 6:43 pm
chris, University South
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2020 at 6:43 pm
5 people like this

A COVID surcharge is a silly gimmick. Sophisticated Palo Altans can see right through that. Restaurants can charge whatever they want, whiteout adding an extraneous line.


CGPA
Registered user
Downtown North
on Aug 12, 2020 at 2:25 pm
CGPA, Downtown North
Registered user
on Aug 12, 2020 at 2:25 pm
1 person likes this

Think of a Covid Surcharge as a delightful surprise, like a free dessert at the end of your meal. Except instead of getting something for free, you get an unexpected surprise additional charge. I can think of nothing I'd like more than to see a price on a menu, only to be told that it was a ruse to get me to dine there and the real price was higher, only after the bill comes. I'd never go to another downtown restaurant if this lame idea was implemented.

Not that many are going. Restaurants with 30 tables indoors barely fill up 4 tables on any given night. They are not going to survive on this. Note the clever wording of the article: business is "up 30% from before," when it was only 10% of what they needed to survive, so now it's 13%. These business owners are losing their shirts. No one should think this program is doing much of anything. It was a nice try but it's barely made a difference.


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