Menlo Park expanding outdoor dining downtown

Not everything to do with Menlo Park's downtown/El Camino Real specific plan leads to months of debate, vitriol and battles at the ballot box: Take outdoor dining, for example.

An enthusiastic City Council on May 13 unanimously approved dedicating $30,000 to test an expanded outdoor dining program downtown.

Temporary planters will be erected to create a barrier around the parking area in front of Left Bank Brasserie at 635 Santa Cruz Ave. The approximately 56-foot-by-15-foot space will leave room for chairs and tables, while temporarily eliminating a 15-minute, a one-hour, and a motorcycle parking space, according to the staff report.

Economic Development Manager Jim Cogan said the effect will be similar to that seen along Castro Street in Mountain View.

Left Bank was selected because the restaurant already has an outdoor seating permit as well as a great track record for compliance, he said.

The city will provide planters, soil and some trees; the restaurant will contribute additional landscaping, tables and chairs. At the end of the program, the planters and landscaping will pass into the city's custody for use elsewhere.

"It's great to see some things from the specific plan finally coming to fruition," Councilwoman Kirsten Keith said, echoing comments by other council members.

She thanked Left Bank and LB Steak for complying with the permits. Ms. Keith described watching a blind woman attempt to get around a downtown restaurant that did not have a permit, yet had outdoor seating.

Mayor Ray Mueller said the city staff worked hard to launch the trial this year, noting that while the specific plan allows the city to try new concepts, it takes staff to implement the ideas. An advocate for installing a carousel downtown, he suggested testing out temporary pocket parks next.

"I can't wait for that to happen because I want to have my carousel in a pocket park," he said, laughing.

Mr. Cogan estimated that the pilot program could launch in July, with some coordination with the Chamber of Commerce to avoid interfering with planned downtown events.

Councilman Peter Ohtaki asked for an assessment of the trial at year's end, which he said would make it feasible to expand the pilot to a second location in early 2015.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 28, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Well done Jim Cogan and city council and staff.

And "while the specific plan allows the city to try new concepts" note that the Lanza/Fry initiative will preclude many such innovations.

Posted by Elsie Floriani, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 28, 2014 at 12:31 pm

I'm not certain what a "pocket park" is, but I absolutely love the idea of a carousel in our little downtown park. I can already hear the sound of children's laughter. What fun!!!

Posted by randy albin, a resident of another community
on May 28, 2014 at 12:32 pm

can anybody remember when there was a middle-class? how about dining around the fosters freeze or mcdonald's? people are so cool and groovy to be seen eating outside the restaurants. who cares? go to the local churches and live some kind of life that way.

Posted by unbelievable, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 28, 2014 at 12:41 pm

One restaurant in all of 2014 and maybe a second in 2015?? This is considered innovative? its so frustrating to read this as progress. We are too slow to move and as a consequence we have a sad, sleepy downtown. I can't tell you how many times i hear families complaining about our downtown. Most agree that we don't even bother going most evenings since there are so few options and very little life. Families go to Palo Alto or i've even heard San Carlos of late, they seem to be dong a fine job bringing in many new restaurants and more outdoor seating, as well as family friend shops. Something besides furniture and interior design.


Posted by whatever, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 28, 2014 at 1:14 pm

So were the authorities contacted regarding the transgressing restaurant without the required sidewalk seating permit?

As to the carousel downtown - when Nativity did their annual fair in the 1950s and 1960s all the rides were on Santa Cruz Ave including, I believe, a carousel.

Posted by Billyboy, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on May 28, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Here is a thought to rejuvenate Menlo Park......
Close tSanta Crus to all vehicular traffic from 10.00 am to 10.00pm and allow the restaurants to use the entire street for outdoor dining.
Make Menlo Avenue one way up or down andOak Grove one way up or down (the other way)
Try a walking street....

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 28, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


sounds kind of like Pearl St. Plaza in Boulder, CO. A very vibrant space.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on May 28, 2014 at 10:59 pm

Al lot takes is one old fogey or a drunk to hit the gas instead of he break et voila...there goes this "innovative" idea.

Posted by Matt H., a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 28, 2014 at 11:02 pm

That's the right direction, but not far enough in my opinion. I feel the better long term plan for downtown would be the following:

1. Make Santa Cruz a one way street from El Camino to University Ave. with traffic flowing North to South (El Camino to University).

2. Take the other half of the street, now closed off, and extend the "sidewalk" out to the center median so that the restaurants can have fenced off, outdoor seating spaces. You can no longer access Santa Cruz by car from the Menlo Ave. side of the street.

3. Install a bocce court somewhere in this newly reclaimed space outlined in #2. People can come use it and hang out.

4. After 5 PM, completely close off Santa Cruz to vehicle traffic and reopen at 5 AM. Use the electronic, cylindrical medians that rise out of the ground to block off the street to vehicles

5. Block off vehicle traffic to Santa Cruz on weekends

6. Promote more casual dining spots: Gastropubs, caf├ęs, wine bars, pubs, family friendly restaurants

7. Install more benches and gardens.

Posted by Mary, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 29, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Like Pearl Street - yes! And how about a charming trolley going from one end to the other. And a parking structure please. parking now id getting to be impossible!

Posted by MOE, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 29, 2014 at 4:05 pm

How refreshing to see a positive step - small as it may be - to reclaim our downtown for people. Even more enjoyable are the mostly positive posts on this issue. (With some "unbelievable" exceptions).
Billyboy must be a frequent traveler because his suggestion of pedestrian zones that allow nighttime delivery traffic but restrict daytime use to pedestrians is working successfully in many cities all over Europe.
I also like some of Matt H's ideas. This is all going in the right direction.
Thank you City Council for exercising leadership here. Keep up the momentum and really Save Menlo.

Posted by Dagwood, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm

For those who would like more pedestrian areas dowtown, the Specific Plan includes options for closing off parts of Chestnut near the Farmer's Market (the 'Paseo') and a chunk of Santa Cruz between Chestnut and Crane on planned days or times. There was opposition to these options from some old-guard merchants, but today they would likely have great popular support. Tell your city council if you want these pedestrian friendly areas for downtown developed sooner rather than later.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 29, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Tell your city council if you want these pedestrian friendly areas for downtown developed sooner rather than later."

But be aware that the supporters of the Lanza/Fry initiative believe that everything in the Specific Plan should be spread evenly over 30 years.

Posted by Aaron, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:45 pm

I like Billyboy's comment, above. Perhaps if Santa Cruz Ave. was made into a pedestrian-only area, it might increase retail viability downtown. You could close it off from Crane St. to El Camino Real, thus allowing vehicular through-way routing via Oak Grove or Menlo Ave. There's plenty of back-door parking lot access for customers who prefer to access retailers via car/truck to be minimally impacted.

If anybody believes that closing off the street permanently to vehicles is a recipe for poor business, take a look at what they did in Burlington, Vermont: Web Link)

Posted by Aaron, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Sorry, here's the correct link for the Church St. Marketplace in my previous post:

Web Link)

Posted by Aaron, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 2, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Grrr...Since Town Square won't allow html coding in posts, and we cannot preview or edit posts on this forum, just use the above link and add a closing ) to it. Sorry for the multiple posts!

Posted by Roger Knopf, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 6, 2014 at 9:34 am

Roger Knopf is a registered user.

This is very good news, and I love many of the suggestions. Pedestrian-friendly + outdoor dining + some good moderately priced restaurants would really perk Santa Cruz Ave up! We love to eat outdoors at Amici's and Galata and wish there were more options like that around here.

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