Dining In City StreetsMay 20, 2021 03:14PM ● By Harper Klein
When COVID-19 restrictions and precautions created the need for more outdoor dining, restaurateurs and city officials got creative. City streets, previously used for parking, have been converted into European-style piazzas with the aid of market umbrellas, big tents, string lights, metal rails, large potted plants, and overhead lattices.
The City of Walnut Creek’s Rebound Program, which enabled restaurants and bars to operate temporarily in the streets as an emergency measure, expires at the end of August. But many expect an extension into 2022 and beyond. “This will continue for at least another year,” says Mayor Kevin Wilk. “We received over 1400 responses to a recent city survey. Over 80% of the residents and visitors who responded favor keeping the program in place,” said Wilk.
At the May 4 City Council meeting, Assistant City Manager Teri Kilgore presented options for next steps. “Downtowns are complex places,” said Kilgore. “If you use space for one use, then you make it unavailable for other uses. You have to take into consideration the physical environment, the needs of businesses, and the vibe we want to create in our downtown.”
“Safety is a big factor here both for pedestrians and restaurant patrons,” said Wilk. “I would like to explore shutting down Main and Locust streets to vehicular traffic on Friday and Saturday nights after 6:00 pm when the downtown is pumping. It provides more opportunity for pedestrian movement.”
A permanent popup program would most likely come with additional regulations—intended to balance restaurant needs with accessibility to sidewalks, parking, and other businesses. There will also probably be permitting and space fees, which previously did not exist, and stricter guidelines for patio aesthetics.
“We relaxed our standards and in exchange the businesses built their spaces and absorbed the costs. We let them get creative, but we may want more of a look that reflects the downtown landscape going forward,” said Kilgore.
Now that the city is bouncing back, Kilgore said the biggest impact is available parking for other businesses downtown. “Out of the 71 popup patios in the city, 65 are downtown using 114 parking spaces. So far the financial impact to the parking fund, which pays for the Free Trolley, beautification, and events, is a $250,000 loss in revenue.”
Other City Council members agree that creating an experiential downtown is the best path forward, with modifications. “I am not a fan of losing all of this parking downtown. For restaurants that want to take advantage of this, I think there needs to be compensation to the city for use of public parking spaces,” said Mayor Pro Tem Matt Francois. “Keep the best, fix the rest,” said Councilmember Cindy Silva. “I think we need to be strategic about how many parking spaces are used. And I think we need to remember the symbiosis between our residents, downtown businesses, and restaurant district.”