Permanent street closures are coming to two segments of B Street in downtown San Mateo, creating space for outdoor dining and public events even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
The San Mateo City Council on Monday voted unanimously to permanently close sections of B Street to vehicular traffic between 1st and 2nd avenues and between 2nd and 3rd avenues.
Since June 2020, the council has considered extending the street closures that allowed for outdoor dining and parklets outside businesses during the pandemic.
Councilmembers all supported the move to permanently close the two streets segments to vehicular traffic, thus creating “pedestrian malls”, saying that more public spaces would benefit the city, create community and help the economy.
“A decision like this requires vision and bold action and I truly believe that future generations are going to be very happy that we took these actions in 2021,” Mayor Eric Rodriguez said, adding that it will take patience to see how the downtown area evolves.
“It’s not going to be absolutely amazing from day one. I think it’s going to take a while to evolve but I think it’s going to be worth the wait,” he said.
The ordinance would limit all vehicular access on the closed streets, except for emergency and utility maintenance vehicles as needed. Garbage collection and delivery vehicles will have access from 1a.m. to 10 a.m.
To facilitate the permanent street closures, the city aims to replace the water-filled barricades with retractable bollards. These improvements, plus traffic signal changes and additional signage, would cost about $400,000.
Long-term, the city plans to further improve the streets by raising the street to the level of the sidewalk and creating special landscaping. This would cost around $4 million, which the council would have to approve at a later time.
To make the change, the city had to follow the state’s Pedestrian Mall Law of 1960, which required the city to inform property owners and tenants on the affected streets at least 90 days before having a public hearing. This would allow affected tenants to submit claims of damages or objections which the city would have to clear up before approving an ordinance.
While the city received no claims of damages, two tenants objected to the proposal, one of which was Cinemark, which operates the Century 12 San Mateo theatre. In a letter to the city, the theatre’s representatives worried that the closures would reduce parking near the theatre and push customers away.
However, since the objections did not represent the majority of tenants, the council was able to move forward with the ordinance.
Some written commenters expressed concerns about the loss of street parking, which could make it difficult for people with disabilities to find parking near the stores they visit. One public commenter suggested adding more handicap spaces to a nearby parking garage to address this concern, which some councilmembers agreed with.
Other written comments and all the people who called into Monday’s meeting expressed support for the street closures, saying that they enjoyed outdoor dining.
The street closures will also create a space for hosting public events. Businesses on the closed streets would need a permit to use the outdoor space for dining or displaying merchandise. And unlike the temporary street closures, the parklets and outdoor structures would need to be removable to create space for public events.
Councilmembers were excited about Monday’s vote, saying that the decision had been a long time coming.
“When I moved here so many years ago, 12 years ago, I remember lamenting, ‘Why don’t we have more outdoor seating downtown?'” Councilmember Amourence Lee said. “And it’s taken a long, windy road to get here but here we are.”
The ordinance goes into effect in October, 30 days after its adoption on Monday.
A video recording of Monday night’s meeting is available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCyAiLMtBaA. The agenda and staff reports for the meeting are available at https://sanmateo.primegov.com/Portal/Meeting?compiledMeetingDocumentFileId=15677.