The Menlo Park City Council will decide the future of these important community assets on January 25. I encourage residents to express their support for making both the temporary downtown dining areas and central plaza PERMANENT. Email our city council (firstname.lastname@example.org) and voice your support during this council meeting (available on Zoom).
In June 2020 the Menlo Park City Council authorized new outdoor dining on some Santa Cruz Avenue lanes, on suitable sidewalk areas and in about a dozen street parking spaces. The primary objective was to support local restaurants that even now struggle with the negative impacts and uncertainties from COVID-19. The benefits of the Council decision are clear and impressive. Many restaurants invested huge sums in new outdoor facilities, adjusted their business models, overcame major obstacles, survived, and rebounded. These include Camper, Amici’s, Carpaccio, Left Bank, La Stanza, Café Mediterranean, and Bistro Vida. I expect even more customers will return with warmer spring evenings. The city initially closed lanes on many Santa Cruz Avenue blocks because these areas could immediately support outdoor dining. However, some residents and retailers opposed these closures, so the City Council began to roll them back once restaurants had built suitable dining facilities in designated parking spaces. Today only one closure remains – the eastbound lane between Curtis and Doyle.
There are several reasons the last lane closure should remain.
First, the outdoor dining areas are successful and greatly improve the vitality of our downtown.
Next, the remaining lane closure has created a large temporary community space in front of Walgreens and Starbucks, and it attracts large numbers of residents, especially during the daytime. Students gather after school and on weekends, a regular specialty food market attracts adults on Wednesday afternoons, and many residents simply enjoy sitting outside with either friends, a newspaper, or a cup of coffee. Some even use the plaza as a remote workplace. Community groups are also using the plaza, e.g., the M-A jazz band performs Sunday afternoon concerts. Bistro Vida occasionally sponsors BBQs and holiday celebrations. These are examples of the new types of activities that should be expected. This spring Elevate Art Menlo Park intends to stage pop-up exhibits that display outstanding works of local artists, especially students at Menlo Park high schools.
And finally, both the temporary outdoor dining and central community plaza have demonstrated how city government, the chamber of commerce, business owners and residents can successfully work together on community-led and driven public projects. These do NOT need to depend on city government.
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