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City Council Moves Forward With Main Street Closures

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By Jorge Casuso

April 29, 2021 -- A pilot program to close a stretch of Main Street to cars and buses on weekend nights got an intitial nod from the City Council shortly after midnight Tuesday.

The plan -- intended to boost businesses closed during the coronavirus shutdown -- has the staunch backing of the area's merchants' association and neighborhood group.

But it is meeting stiff opposition from neighboring residents who fear it will drive traffic into their steep and narrow streets.

"Some people think this is an absolute disaster," said Councilmember Kevin McKeown, "and others think it's going to be the best thing since sex.

"And the reality is it's probably going to be something in between," McKeown said, adding that if "the experiment" doesn't work, the Council can "always pull the plug."

Approved unanimously, the motion by Gleam Davis and Christine Parra directs staff to explore the pilot program pushed by the Main Street Merchants Association and the Ocean Park Association.

The program would close a three block stretch of the street on Saturday and Sunday nights to traffic, although cross streets would remain open.

The two Council sponsors said the pilot program would provide a much-needed a shot in the arm for crippled businesses recovering from the shutdown.

"Businesses were literally closed for months and months and months," Davis said. The program, she said, "would help them come back."

Davis noted that a similar program on a comparable street in Munich, Germany boosted revenues for retail by 200 percent and for restaurants by 300 percent.

"The main goal is to stimulate the economy," Parra said. "A lot of people are still concerned about going in doors.

"This is an opportunity to pilot kind of an outdoor environment," she said.

Councilmember Phil Brock countered that some restaurants on Main Street are already filled to the mandated capacity, with waiting customers spilling out in front of neighboring stores.

"Are we really going to add to the businesses?" said Brock, who questioned who would pay for installing and removing "the closure apparatus."

He noted that some people are driving instead of taking long walks in crowded areas "because they are afraid of close contact with other people."

Brock also echoed the concerns expressed by neighbors who fear cars will snarl their streets and take up parking spaces used by residents.

Those concerns were aired by Roger Genser, a former Planning Commissioner who chairs the Landmarks Commission.

"Where are cars going to be diverted to," said Genser, who worked on the original Main Street Plan.

"Most neighbors have no idea this has been proposed," he said. "This cannot become the Promenade number two."

Deputy City Manager Anuj Gupta said the program could be incorporated into the "Life Outside" plan that will be presented to the Council on June 8.

It also could be delayed until after the peak summer crowds are gone, Gupta said.

City Manager Lane Dilg acknowledged the plan won't please everyone.

"We won't be able to make everyone happy, but we can make a whole lot of people happy and mitigate neighborhood impacts to the best of our ability," she said.

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