Automobile and bus traffic may be prohibited on all or part of Main Street this summer in an effort to boost economic recovery efforts.
At the request of Councilmembers Christine Parra and Gleam Davis, Council will consider directing staff to return with a plan that would allow for the implementation of a pilot program that would close the popular retail area to automobiles and bus traffic, according to Tuesday’s Council agenda.
The item on Tuesday’s agenda does not list a staff report but one proposal that will be considered this week would allow through traffic on side streets like Hill and Ashland, which would allow for a better flow of traffic and emergency services while also allowing visitors to enjoy access to plenty of parking.
The most restaurant-dense areas of Main Street would be closed to everything except foot traffic, which proponents say would make the city a much more bike- and pedestrian-friendly place. Supporters also noted outdoor dining has become one of Santa Monica’s dominant recreational activities during the pandemic as new permitting processes allowed restaurants to spill out into parking lots, plazas, sidewalks, and streets.
The al-fresco changes have been so popular that local groups like the Ocean Park Association (OPA) have hosted surveys looking to gather public opinion. But OPA members are far from the only ones who expressed interest in making al-fresco a permanent feature of Santa Monica.
This week’s proposal comes on the heels of residents and restaurant operators voicing concerns about the recent rush to open indoor dining in Los Angeles County, but Francie Stefan, City chief mobility officer told the Daily Press in March that city leaders were already looking to make parklets and other Al-Fresco dining program a part of Santa Monica’s long-term business and public environment.
However, permits to expand outdoor dining into parking spaces, street spaces, parking lots and private property are governed under the City’s emergency ordinance so they will need to be reexamined if they are to become permanent parts of local law. Tuesday’s discussion is expected to be the beginning of the process.
Executive Director of the Main Street Business Improvement District Hunter Hall said this week that he and his peers have a long history of working successfully together with the Ocean Park Association, so he is confident the two organizations can partner again to quickly and easily implement a pilot program.
“Outdoor dining has been a lifeline for all businesses, not just restaurants, and it currently enjoys a 90% approval rating citywide. We’re confident that this pilot program is the next natural iteration of our commitment to a more pedestrian and bicycle oriented commercial district,” Hall said.
“Santa Monica’s quick outdoor dining response on Main Street during COVID has clearly helped keep restaurants there viable through very tough times. Taking the next step toward making the street even more pedestrian friendly, on a pilot basis, for a couple of days at a time, has great promise,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said last week. “But it also has raised concerns from some non-restaurant businesses and some residents.
Opinions are very divided, and it may take some experimentation to generate verifiable facts.”