In downtown San Mateo, two blocks of B St. have been closed to cars since the pandemic started, and restaurants were able to take advantage of the outdoor space. Generally, people loved it, and it gave new life to the area. Fast forwarding a couple years, and following some questionable city decisions, the southern block between 2nd and 3rd is very vibrant with several restaurants taking advantage of the outdoor space. Meanwhile, the northern block between 1st and 2nd has a lot of people pass through, but restaurants haven’t put out tables and chairs. What follows is my public comment to City Council, urging them to keep both blocks pedestrianized and closed to cars. The last couple paragraphs I didn’t get to read aloud because I was short on time, but I kept them here. I added a few links where appropriate.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Jonathan New, and I live just north of downtown, and I visit there everyday.
I’m strongly in favor of keeping B St. pedestrianized and closed to cars.
The decision to re-open the street shouldn’t be made entirely by the businesses. Running a restaurant is really tough; and I have a lot of respect for those who endeavor. But the reality is that half of all restaurants fail in the first year, and of those that survive, 70% don’t make it to year 5. We shouldn’t make policy decisions that may reverberate for decades based on the whims of a few businesses that, if we‘re being honest, probably won’t last that long.
Are we going to reopen these discussions in a couple years when there’s a whole new crop of retail businesses? Of course not. This policy should be determined by the people who live here, and those that patronize these shops and restaurants. And the people want the streets to remain closed. I’m a little disappointed this was excluded from Staff’s presentation, but a recent survey, which is linked from the City of San Mateo’s website, of 738 respondents, 82% wanted the block between 1st and 2nd to remain closed; and 92% of these indicated they would visit more often or the same amount if the streets remain closed.
I mean, these numbers are incredible! What survey shows 80+% of anyone agreeing on anything, let alone closing a street to cars!
I acknowledge that some businesses between 1st and 2nd find the vitality lacking. Short-term gripes shouldn’t affect long-term thinking. Where they see a lack of vitality, I see a lack of investment. The restaurants on the southern block put out tables, chairs, lights, plants, heaters, and even live music. This didn’t just materialize; they made an investment. I mean, who refuses to put out chairs, and then complain that no one is sitting? That doesn’t make any sense.
We’ve seen activated vitality between 1st and 2nd. But, last year the city enforced a policy that removed permanent parklet structures to accommodate festivals. This wasn’t necessarily without merit, if we had regular events like a weekly Farmer’s Market. However, we only had a couple “September Nights” events and nothing since. We sacrificed regularly occurring vibrancy to throw a couple parties and irritate the commercial owners who invested in outdoor spaces. This was not well-thought through. We basically self-sabotaged and now people want to call it a failure. It’s ok to not get things right, but we shouldn’t just throw up our hands and give up when something doesn’t immediately work as intended.
I’d like to conclude by urging you to keep both blocks closed to cars. There are successful closed streets over the country, the bay area, and even on our very next block. Pedestrian-oriented blocks are frequently a city’s most economically productive. Let’s see what we can do to encourage development between 1st and 2nd, for new and existing businesses. Thank you.