Almanac

News - May 28, 2014

Menlo Park: Expanding outdoor dining downtown

by Sandy Brundage

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-feet-by-15-feet 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 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.

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