Major Downtown Walnut Creek Utility Project to Last Eighteen MonthsDec 21, 2022 09:15AM ● By Pam Kessler
When the calendar turns to 2023, downtown Walnut Creek is going to look very different. Restaurants and bars on Locust and Bonanza streets are facing eighteen months without outdoor dining in city streets.
The new requirement from the City of Walnut Creek impacts close to 20 businesses operating in the path of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) and Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (Central Sans) pipe and sewer line replacement projects.
Construction begins January 3, 2023 on Locust Street, between Mt. Diablo and Civic, and also impacts Bonanza Street. Street closures will take place Monday-Friday from 7:00am-4:00pm. Toward the summer, work moves down Locust to Giammona Drive.
“These utilities are over 75 years old and in dire need of replacement,” said Assistant Public Works Director Steve Waymire. “Our plan is to get this work done, then pave the road, fix the sidewalks, and have a nice clean slate for future outdoor dining.”
Originally slated for 2020, the pipe replacement projects were delayed to accommodate outdoor dining when health restrictions forced restaurants to close indoors. Since then, dozens of restaurants/bars have transformed Main and Locust streets into a dynamic, alfresco dining destination.
“I know it’s going to be painful for a year and a half, but it’s going to be worth it in the long run,” said Waymire. “On the bright side, businesses are going to have parking in front of them and no disruption to dinner or weekend service.”
The Walnut Creek Downtown Association (WCD) plans to ramp up marketing efforts during construction. “This will be a good investment when it’s completed,” said WCD Executive Director Kathy Hemmenway. “But there is great concern about the impact of such a long, large project. Many businesses are still trying to recover from the pandemic.”
Restaurateurs we spoke to for this story—who asked to remain unnamed—share similar concerns. "It will have a great impact on business," said one. "Customers are to used to sitting outside. I hope we can use the patio outside on weekends to keep the momentum going."
Walnut Creek’s ‘Rebound Program’ originated in 2020 as a temporary strategy for businesses impacted by the pandemic. The program was such a success, the City Council is expected to approve a PODS policy (Permanent Outdoor Dining Structures) in mid-January, codifying design, and safety regulations, as well as parking space fees.
Once approved, implementation will focus on Main Street, requiring removal of existing parklets in the public right of way. It’s unclear how many businesses will participate in the new public/private partnership, given the annual fees and structural investments required.
Under the new guidelines, design and construction of a 22-to-26-foot outdoor dining structure is estimated at $60-120K, with city fees up to $15K per year.
Berkeley architecture firm Sidell Pakravan worked with the city to create permit-ready mix and match parklet designs for the PODS program to fit Walnut Creek’s urban aesthetic.