It's Time for the City of Menlo Park to "Get Off the Dime" And Help Downtown Restaurant Owners - Now! | Creating A More Vibrant Menlo Park | Dana Hendrickson | Almanac Online |

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Creating A More Vibrant Menlo Park

By Dana Hendrickson

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About this blog: My wife and I moved to central Menlo Park in 1985 where we have raised two sons. A retired high-tech executive, I now actively participate in local and national community service programs. I am the founder and director of Rebuil...  (More)

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It's Time for the City of Menlo Park to "Get Off the Dime" And Help Downtown Restaurant Owners - Now!

Uploaded: Jun 8, 2020
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The owners of Menlo Park “dine-in” restaurants are financially suffering from having had their on-premise dining services shutdown by the County of San Mateo for almost three months, and they desperately need help from our city NOW. Take-out business and skeleton crews can only enable them to barely survive.

On June 4, the County revised its shelter in place order “to allow outdoor dining with safety measures and other restrictions to ensure social distancing.” These requirements will continue to severely constrain restaurant operations by reducing the density of table placement. A similar situation will occur when indoor dining is again allowed. So, restaurants need more outdoor dining space as soon as possible.

Like Menlo Park, Palo Alto has recently been considering closing streets for this purpose. However, last week it approved the installation of temporary outside dining areas in parking spaces located in front of ROOH (University Avenue) and the Peninsula Creamery (On Emerson). The one at ROOH is already completed and the other one will be finished this week.

Menlo Park needs to adopt a similar approach now. Publish guidelines, adopt a streamlined permit and inspection process, waive fees, set-up a hotline for restaurant and property owners, and assign city responsibilities to an accountable staff member who is capable of keeping things moving forward rapidly. Anything less will create problems and slow progress.

Adding a substantial number of new outdoor dining areas in downtown Menlo Park represents a HUGE opportunity for the city council and staff to help local business owners and improve our primary retail district.

it would be a damn shame to squander it!






We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?

Comments

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Chuck Chuekavich, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 10:23 am

I was never a fan of eating out. Too expensive for what you get.
No thanks


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Michie, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 11:09 am

downtown menlo has outdoor seating and many restaurants took advantage for the trade of parking for tables outside.

They were all taken in during the strongest part of the quarantining.

I biked through downtown this morning and many have table and chairs out again.

Timing is everything ????


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 1:31 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The City needs to realize that with the increased number of vacancies Santa Cruz risks becoming a wasteland.

The City should act promptly to convert Santa Cruz into an outdoor dining destination with signage reminding people to socially distance and to wear masks when not seated for eating.

A well run and monitored outdoor dining plaza all along Santa Cruz could become a real attraction.

What is there to lose by trying?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by dana hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 1:58 pm

1. Social distancing measures reduce the table capacity of every downtown restaurant far below what they had before - both indoor and outdoors, possibly as much as 40%, and some restaurants have no outdoor dining areas.

2. Also, owners worry that many people will feel uncomfortable sitting inside . That increases the value of outside dining tables.

3. Closing streets for dining and creating pedestrian plazas are complex undertakings that require time-consuming analysis, design, planning and implementation. They are NOT short term solutions. Business owners need immediate help!


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 2:04 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Menlo Park has the resident talent to make a Santa Cruz Dining Out Plaza a real first in the Nation with features like well designed and numerous outdoor hand washing stations, one way pedestrian traffic patterns like are used at the Farmer's Market, monitoring of table spacing within and between restaurants, etc.
.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by danahendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 2:28 pm

@Peter: More than 85% of the city pedestrian malls/promenade built in the US have failed and most have been either partially closed or replaced. I recommend reading the article "Many cities have tried pedestrian malls, but most have failed" and the research that is referenced.

Web Link

Menlo Park is missing the key success factors that the few "winners" were lucky enough to have.

And Menlo Park cannot create them.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 3:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Dana,

We are in a new Covid 19 era - very few of the "lessons" of the past are relevant.

We must create a new future which incorporates the realities of social distancing and reduced densities.

This is an opportunity to think creatively and not be bound by the past.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 4:45 pm

@Peter

The plaza concept you propose has been and could again be considered in the future.

However, some additional thoughts:


1. Creating an APPEALING dining street plaza is not a simple undertaking, not a solution that could be implemented well and quickly.

2. It is unlikely a super majority of residents would support it as there are significant trade-offs.

3. Given the extremely difficult city budget crisis I cannot imagine residents supporting spending for a plaza. Nor, does the City Council and staff have the bandwidth to even evaluate one.

4. A city that FAILED to create a small downtown parklet over three years does not inspire much confidence.

5. How would such a plaza create a SUSTAINABLE competitive position versus Palo Alto, Redwood City, Mountain View, San Carlos, the Stanford Shopping Mall and Palo Alto Town and Country?

Perhaps if you did all the legwork and provided a plan, design, budget and sources of funding the City would consider in 2021.

Downtown Menlo Park will remain an errand-oriented retail district because that is what it is and most residents are content with it. One cannot make a race horse out of a plow horse.

:)


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Old Bill, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 5:29 pm

It might help a few places survive.

But longer term, we should do as much as possible like Palo Alto has over the past 40 years. Parking garages, taller buildings so you can have multi-use buildings including apartments. Downtown is a bore. No movie theaters (we once had 3), few affordable restaurants.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Brian, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 8:26 pm

Brian is a registered user.

Closing Santa Cruz Avenue is not the right move. The restaurants need help but not at the expense other businesses on Santa Cruz. There is space behind the restaurants, in the parking lots, that could be set aside for the restaurants to use for seating without impacting people who use Santa Cruz to get between East and West Menlo Park. It would also have much less impact on the other businesses on Santa Cruz. Alternately there could be closure of Santa Cruz Avenue only during the evening dining times (5:30 PM to 11:00 PM). This would help restaurants while not having as much impact on the residents and other businesses.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by dana Hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 9:11 pm

@Brian. Based on an onsite audit of each restaurant's options for either adding new dining areas or expanding existing ones, it appears closing streets at ANY time is NOT necessary for all but two restaurant, and evening closings might work well for them. I believe we should proceed with this assumption, monitor outcomes and make necessary adjustments once we have sufficient experience. There are lotsa unknowns at this point.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Stu soffer , a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 9:49 pm

Check out how Hobees Palo Alto reconfigured their parking lot to create a conforming distanced outdoor space b


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Mark, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 9, 2020 at 10:44 pm

There are still many of us that wouldn't feel safe even eating outdoors. Tables are too close and you've got numerous employees touching plates, cups, silverware, etc. And people walking by on the sidewalk.s Unfortunately, for the restaurants... but I have no plans to eat at a restaurant, indoors or outdoors, for quite a long time.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by dana hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 10, 2020 at 6:22 am

@Mark I expect a wide range of responses to the re-opening of downtown restaurants. Some people are already sitting outdoors. Others might prefer outdoors to indoors. Still others might take a wait-and-see approach and become more comfortable with the idea over time. Human behavior and risk perceptions are tough to gauge ahead of time. That said, many of us are ready to try it and think health and safety concerns can be addressed in ways that reassure us.

Thanks for your comment. Many residents likely share your concern.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by c'mon, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 10, 2020 at 9:27 am

I agree with Dana's point of view here. time to make a statement. I don't think it disadvantages the bulk of other businesses, as long as parking it sufficient and close enough to assist those who need to be particularly close, such as the elderly.

I am a huge supporter of a new parking garage, as that will ease some of the pain visitors now experience, and opens up lots of possibilities with existing lot space. Palo Alto and Burlingame are great examples.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by JCH, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 10, 2020 at 1:13 pm

This is a strange op-ed as the author is advocating for something MP has already done. The city has built outdoor dining areas for many restaurants on SC?!! So is this op-ed meant to get them to do more??

Yet, in the comments you bash the idea of temporarily closing SC in favor of more outdoor dining?

It seems the author just needs to rant about MP doing nothing while PA has? Yet in reality, MP has already done what you advocate?? And you oppose doing the obvious for the short term?

I agree with Peter. Let's close SC for the time being so people and dinners can be spread out. I was very uncomfortable yesterday going by ROMA as they had tables on both sides of the sidewalk, so there was no way for me to safely pass. Getting rid of parking and traffic can allow for restaurants to have more tables which they need and room for pedestrains.

There is plenty of room to park in back of all building in MP.

The examples of failed malls are all from cities much larger than MP. I think now is a good time to experiment, it won't be perfect, but what is these days. I know I am more likely to patronize these places if they had more room outside.

What could be the downside to temporarily closing SC given current circumstances??


 +  Like this comment
Posted by danahendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 10, 2020 at 3:25 pm

@JCH

Yes, Menlo Park allowed and subsidized six permanent downtown dining areas several years ago after a three-year trial period.. Other restaurant owners declined to participate because they were required to make an investment they either could not afford or did not wish to make. So they elected to rely primarily on indoor dining and perhaps a few sidewalk table. That worked for them until the pandemic. Now they will not be able to use many of their existing tables.

NOW all restaurants need more outdoor dining areas and I am proposing that the City permit temporary dining areas on more sidewalks and parking spaces. The cost of the platforms would be much less than the existing ones - affordable - and could be installed in less tha a week

FYI. I did not BASH the concept of closing SCA. Rather, there are many issues including potential negative impacts on parking, traffic flow on neighboring streets and pedestrian access to shops. No one, including Peter, has made a compelling argument for building one that would actually improve downtown Menlo Park. Simply putting tables in the street is not enough to attract customers. The entire dining environment must be appealing. And a majority of Menlo Park residents will have to accept th negative impacts.

I encourage you and Peter to make such an argument so others can discuss it.

It should include an evaluation of (a) how it will be competitive in regards to neighboring cities and (b) a sound understanding of all the major trade-offs.

And then if it is compelling, submit your analysis to the City.

By the way, none of the restaurant owners I have talked to the past three weeks thinks closing SCA is a great idea. So go talk to them..


 +  Like this comment
Posted by C'mon, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 10, 2020 at 5:04 pm

I do believe that the idea of "closing' SC is a testable proposition and that any first step should be an organized test of closures -- not just for a night or a weekend, but it increments over a couple of months, at least.

In terms of ample parking in back, my view would be that it is not adequate, particularly if you take into account future growth. It is adequate for residents who know the ins and outs of the lots and the peak availability times, etc. But, to entice others to shop on our streets, I believe parking needs to be seen as an advantage of going to MP, given that the perceived lack of good parking is a negative for coming to our city. PA has the reputation of having a lot of garages and therefore parking perceptions don't stop anyone from going. Not so for out city, in my view.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by JCH, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 10, 2020 at 8:11 pm

Dana
Happy to provide more detail and rigor to closing SC temporarily, when you provide anything but your opinion to the conversation.

Thanks I can have my opinion with out a huge amount of data as well


 +  Like this comment
Posted by danahendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 10, 2020 at 8:51 pm

@jch Since closing SCA is your IDEA, not mine, you are the one who needs to persuade others to support it.

If you believe in it, I encourage you to make it happen. It won't be easy but you might succeed. Go for it!




 +   1 person likes this
Posted by JCH , a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 10, 2020 at 10:36 pm

Dana -- you are too funny. thanks for making me laugh a little ;)


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by JCH, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 16, 2020 at 12:15 pm

Santa Cruz "open streets" proposal. Tonight, Menlo Park City Council will be considering a proposal to close parts of Santa Cruz Avenue to cars and provide space for outdoor dining. R

Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by JCH, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 17, 2020 at 10:50 am

@Dana -- ""Since closing SCA is your IDEA, not mine, you are the one who needs to persuade others to support it.

----If you believe in it, I encourage you to make it happen. It won't be easy but you might succeed. Go for it!""

Done and Done. Actually, I don't take any credit. Many others had the same idea....

Last night the City Council unanimously gave direction to City Staff to proceed with the closure plan that won the Chamber of Commerce's endorsement. We will be approving the final details this Friday.

This will be a temporary closure that will evaluated after 45 days.


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