Temporary Outdoor Dining Areas - A Critical First Step for Rebuilding Downtown Menlo Park? | 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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Temporary Outdoor Dining Areas - A Critical First Step for Rebuilding Downtown Menlo Park?

Uploaded: Jul 1, 2020
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This is the third post in an on-going series about how Covid-19 social distancing measures, city decisions and human behavior impact the vitality of our downtown businesses and retail district.

On June 24, Menlo Park launched a pilot program that allows approved downtown restaurants and shops to temporarily use public spaces like streets, sidewalks and parking spaces. This action was motivated primarily by the desire to help “dine-in” restaurants, as these local businesses continue to struggle financially with both social distancing measures that limit indoor and outdoor seating capacity by as much as 50% and significant changes in customer preferences that are driven by concerns about COVID-19 health risks. This program will run for 90-days, be reviewed by the city council at the halfway point and could be modified, ended or extended. All eating establishments and shops located within the boundaries of El Camino, University, Oak Grove and Menlo can potentially qualify. They do NOT have to be located on Santa Cruz Avenue.



To encourage access to shops and restaurants and provide safe areas for pedestrians, three sections of downtown Santa Cruz Avenue (SCA) are now closed. To minimize negative impacts on traffic flows, cross-streets remain open. Current city focus is on educating business owners about the requirements of the temporary outdoor permit program and encouraging them to submit an online application. Details for the program are available on the city website. Hopefully, businesses will have their approved public areas in-place within the next two weeks.





Source: City of Menlo Park

Notes:

1. The map does NOT show restaurants that are on side streets and El Camino. Those eligible for temporary outdoor permits include Cafe Del Sol, La Stanza, Carpaccio, The Refuge, Coffeebar, Sultana, Trellis, The Black Pepper and Mountain Mike's Pizza.

2. Businesses labeled "restaurant" on the map include those serving food but are not actually dine-in restaurants, e.g., Cold Stone Creamery, Mr. Bubble, Menlo Cafe, Starbuck's, Bagel Street Cafe, Subway, Baskin Robbins, Posh Bagel, and Peet's.

3. The Chamber of Commerce recommended new outdoor dining areas in the places with green highlights.

Next, the city needs to focus on how to make this experiment successful, i.e., more appealing to residents while minimizing all negative impacts. Residents who visit downtown to run errands will likely find their trips less convenient as about 50 SCA parking spaces have been eliminated. This will increase competition for parking spots in public lots, and convenient curbside access to many businesses has been eliminated.
Traffic flows in downtown have been altered so motorists who normally use Santa Cruz are now diverted to University, Menlo and Oak Grove, and navigating to parking lots has changed.

Fewer shoppers and no vehicles on sections of SCA might make downtown feel somewhat empty and lifeless during the daytime. And poorly designed, street-level dining areas might make SCA look more like an unattractive food court than a welcoming place to enjoy a meal. So, design aesthetics and sanitation will remain important.

What else can the city do to transform downtown to an appealing place to spend time? There is an urgent need to answer that question.



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Dana
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Comments

 +   5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Jul 1, 2020 at 7:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"What else can the city do to transform downtown to an appealing place to spend time?"

They could start by enforcing the conditions in the permits that they issued for expanded outdoor dining!

It is irresponsible to issue permits with conditions and then not enforce those conditions.

The tables on Santa Cruz are much closer than the rules allow and pickups are being directed to the same entrance as diners in disregard for the rules.

If the Santa Cruz Plaza is not managed to be the safest outdoor dining experience patrons will go elsewhere or stay home. And the takeout business will fall way off if we are forced to mingle with others to make our pickups.

Add signage, washing stations and one way pedestrian walks like the Farmers Market.

The City needs to actively manage this space - not be absentee landlord.

Is anybody listening????


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jul 2, 2020 at 2:25 pm

Dana Hendrickson is a registered user.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Beth, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 2, 2020 at 2:44 pm

Add approved (by ?) musical groups, ala Mexico. No charge, no exchange of tips, money. This would have to be an approved, free undertaking. I think.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by RanchGal, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton,
on Jul 2, 2020 at 4:25 pm

RanchGal is a registered user.

Ugly, inconvenient, and uncomfortable for me. I'm no longer shopping on Santa Cruz Ave.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by awatkins, a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda,
on Jul 2, 2020 at 4:37 pm

awatkins is a registered user.

Peter --

Which restaurant(s) have tables too close together?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jul 2, 2020 at 6:29 pm

Dana Hendrickson is a registered user.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:00 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Peter --

Which restaurant(s) have tables too close together?"

Sorry, I don't intend to serve as the City's Enforcer.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 2, 2020 at 8:04 pm

I other words: I was mostly making things up and I don't want to have to explain inconvenient details.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Teresa Beltramo, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 2, 2020 at 9:23 pm

Rather than closing parts of SCA, why not just continue what has been working?

The parking spaces near restaurants provides plenty of room for outdoor seating. Let's let restaurants use as many parking spaces as they need, with attractive safety barriers. But the road itself, and all the other parking spaces, should remain available for use.

Not only have businesses lost their most convenient parking spaces, but the area has become confusing to shoppers. And businesses no longer get the exposure they would get from people driving by.

I appreciate the good intentions behind this idea, but until the street is re-opened, it will be a daily blow to our businesses and frustration for shoppers.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Manlo Punk, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 3, 2020 at 7:17 am

You know it doesn't matter what anyone does, it is never right. You are slammed either way because everyone thinks they have the answer. I don't, and do not pretend to. Just try something and see if it works. If not, re-think and adjust. It's called experimenting.

The bottom line IMHO is, we are in the midst of a pandemic, and no one should be encouraging outdoor/indoor dining etc. Walked down University ave a few evenings ago (in Palo Alto). It was alarming. I could not get out of there fast enough. Of course diners could not wear masks, they were eating, but an easy 50% of the other people around were not either.

Forget Santa Cruz Ave., enforcing permits/parking, etc., and get off our collective behinds and do what we have to do to protect ourselves and the public in general.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 3, 2020 at 7:37 am

Driving path, access to stores, and shopping are now so circuitous, confusing & thereby dangerous that I've abandoned downtown MP entirely. I can much more easily access the Post Office, Trader Joes & Walgreens in San Carlos. My weekly Draeger's run now is to San Mateo, unless I substitute at Bianchini's in San Carlos.
I'm sorry I can no longer support downtown MP retail but it's worth driving out of town not to have to zigzag across the main street, around bollards, dodging other cars, cyclists, pedestrians, and dining tables - all while carrying my groceries & purchases, trying to maintain the recommended social distance from groups clogging sidewalks.
When Santa Cruz becomes a drivable street again, on which I go in a straight line for 4 or 5 (fragmented) blocks, I may return. Or not.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by JJ, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 3, 2020 at 11:04 am


The idea to test and learn is a good one, and should continue. Gathering feedback on safety protocols and ways to enhance the character of the downtown )day or night0 are all valuable. We should learn and adjust and find a way to develop an informed point of view for the longer term. We cannot fill empty stores and make the strip immediately lively but taking small, informed steps to get better for the community is the way to go.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by JJ, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 3, 2020 at 11:04 am

The idea to test and learn is a good one, and should continue. Gathering feedback on safety protocols and ways to enhance the character of the downtown )day or night0 are all valuable. We should learn and adjust and find a way to develop an informed point of view for the longer term. We cannot fill empty stores and make the strip immediately lively but taking small, informed steps to get better for the community is the way to go.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Jul 3, 2020 at 1:39 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Go to Palo Alto's University Ave - it is being properly managed by the city. Signage, proper distancing etc.

A much safer place to dine:

Web Link

These new street spaces are CITY property. Why is the City of Menlo Park being an absentee landlord?


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Lifelong Menlo Parker, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Jul 3, 2020 at 5:53 pm

For some perspective from a nearby community: I visited a friend today who owns a store on State St. in Los Altos. They have shut down parts of LA's Main Street in a similar way (for outdoor dining) and also parts of State Street. She said the shutdown was killing her business, and was poorly planned as the block she's on has NO restaurants on it. So she and fellow retailers on that block petitioned the city to re-open their particular block, and they did. So to echo some other comments here: closing streets to accommodate more dining is great for restaurants, but detrimental to stores and other services.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by JCH, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 3, 2020 at 7:16 pm

"2. Businesses labeled "restaurant" on the map include those serving food but are not actually dine-in restaurants, e.g., Cold Stone Creamery, Mr. Bubble, Menlo Cafe, Starbuck's, Bagel Street Cafe, Subway, Baskin Robbins, Posh Bagel, and Peet's."

All these business serve food and beverages AND have had indoor seating for customers. IMO they would count as dine-in and should have outdoor seating if they need it.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Manlo Punk, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 4, 2020 at 7:30 am

To Mr. Carpenter;
"Go to Palo Alto's University Ave - it is being properly managed by the city. Signage, proper distancing etc."

No it is not. We saw several people not dining, without masks, several groups of younger people milling around, again not masked. At some restaurants there was not enough space between tables.

In short, it was/is a disorganized mess.

Oh, and not a city cop or other "officials" around.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Jul 4, 2020 at 5:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Punk - Thanks for the report on University Ave. I will now avoid both Univ Ave in PA and Santa Cruz in Menlo Park as dining options.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Keith QUiggins, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jul 6, 2020 at 11:43 am

The closure of Santa Cruz has been a DISASTER that the city needs to change immediately. Very few of the restaurants have expanded into the street ... and certainly could just as easily expand in the parking immediately next to their spaces... however, there is ZERO reason for the rest of the retail businesses to suffer with the complete closure of Santa Cruz Ave. We are not California Ave in Palo Alto or Castro in Mountain View where 95% of the businesses are restaurants.

If you like the already 13 empty store fronts... great! because there are more coming if the city doesn't reopen Santa Cruz Ave! MENLO PARK CITY.... OPEN SANTA CRUZ NOW!


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Lifelong Menlo Parker, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Jul 6, 2020 at 1:39 pm

@Keith QUiggins, yeah, that's what I was afraid of. See my earlier post on how the street closures are killing retail in Los Altos. The block between Crane & Chestnut (Wells Fargo side of the street) is in dire straights... besides all the current vacancies, The Pet Place just went under, and I heard (though have not confirmed yet) that even before the shutdown Penzey's Spices was planning to close/move. The Shop (Junior League store) on that block is also moving, so add that to list of vacant storefronts as well.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by JR, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 6, 2020 at 5:09 pm

The closure is the right test at this time and hopefully we are tracking impact and feedback as we go. Doing it properly and adjusting as needed is wise and better than doing nothing, As to other retail, the general opinion is that we have ample parking off of Santa Cruz and most retail patrons park there. Not all, but most. The amount of parking on SC, is minimal so this pilot would not seem to be the primary driver of decline in non restaurant business. The whole idea is to see if we can create even more foot traffic with the Learnings from this temporary closure " if not, we move on. If so, then that should be useful too all.

The empty storefronts on SC do create activity gaps for sure and unless we fill that space with something engaging, it will continue to feel like a real gap. those are the result of market forces and until building owners and rent payers can get to a level that optimizes, we will have empty storefronts.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Jul 8, 2020 at 3:17 pm

If the restaurants are not effectively using the space, the streets should be reopened. Is the city gathering information on how many tables are used daily in each closed block? Could the demand be met by sidewalk / parking space tables without closing the streets?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by dana hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 8, 2020 at 9:15 pm

@Joseph E. Davis

I presented such a plan to the city council before it decided to close Santa Cruz Avenue but it chose the simplest path, i.e., mimic what other cities are doing since this is the FASTEST and CHEAPEST way to create new outdoor dining areas for restaurants on main street. Why? Because our city requires that diners sitting in former parking paces be protected by costly concrete safety barriers.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jul 8, 2020 at 9:17 pm

Dana Hendrickson is a registered user.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Jul 9, 2020 at 11:12 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Things are looking much better!

Just had a lovely breakfast at Ann's Cafe.
Tables well spaced.
Excellent food and service as usual.

Two MP Parking Enforcement people clearly reviewing the situation.

Very nice to see.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by JR, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 9, 2020 at 6:23 pm

Joseph. I don't know what is being tracked but that would be on the list of data that should be collected. Business at the restaurants and nearby stores, total foot traffic, parking in city lots, and experience questions from surveys. The test is bigger than just restaurants in that it helps answer the question about benefit/costs of such a set up.

As we have seen in other comments, it appears that some lessons are being learned and applied. Its a different experience to go downtown and walk around versus going for one thing and then going home.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jul 10, 2020 at 1:36 pm

Peter, I am glad you had a great outdoor dining experience at Ann's!


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