Palo Alto City Council unanimously voted on Sept. 13 to reopen University Avenue to vehicle traffic by Oct. 15 but keep California Avenue and Ramona Street closed to traffic for the foreseeable future.
At the start of the pandemic, many restaurants moved dining outside in accordance with state mandates and CDC recommendations. In an effort to support these restaurants, City Council closed parts of downtown in the spring of 2020, including University Avenue, California Avenue and Ramona Street, allowing restaurants to expand their outdoor seating into the street.
City Council member Greer Stone said though it successfully helped restaurants operate during pandemic lockdown, this decision upset many retail store owners with shops on the closed streets, as they felt it reduced the amount of business they received.
“Some retail shops downtown that also have locations in Stanford Shopping Center — just down the street — are doing far better in sales than the ones on University Avenue that were subjected to the closure,” Stone said. “Opening the streets back up to traffic in time for the upcoming holiday season will hopefully give a nice boost to the retail businesses.”
Pizza My Heart supervisor Samantha Gauzman said Pizza My Heart, located on University Avenue, will not be drastically affected by this change since it has pre-existing outdoor seating areas that do not occupy the street. Gauzman said, however, that many of its neighboring restaurants will be negatively affected by the decision.
“I think cars coming onto the road is ineffective for a lot of the businesses around us,” Gauzman said. “They like it with the streets closed because outdoor dining is great for business. One of the restaurants right across from us, Steam, wanted to start a petition to not open the streets again.”
Stone said City Council was divided on whether or not to open the downtown streets, with some members pushing for the immediate reopening of downtown and others, like Stone, seeking to extend the closure for a few more months.
“Council member (Alison) Cormack and I wished to have the streets open until November, but we lost that motion,” Stone said. “It would have allowed us to extend the outdoor closure for our restaurants and for the community and also help us get through the Delta (Variant).”
Stone said to accommodate both sides, City Council decided on a compromise of reopening only University Avenue to vehicle traffic while keeping other downtown streets like California Avenue and Ramona Street blocked off to cars.
“It was an appropriate compromise,” Stone said. “It allows us to balance the needs and interests of our retail stores and restaurants on University Avenue.”