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Council Approves Main Street Pilot Program

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By Jorge Casuso

June 10, 2021 -- Assuring neighboring residents that it is only a test, the City Council on Tuesday greenlighted a plan to close two blocks of Main Street to traffic on select weekends.

The street would be blocked off between Hill and Kinney streets on four Saturdays and Sundays over four months, although the hours the street would be closed have yet to be determined.

If the pilot plan approved on a 4 to 1 vote fails, it can be halted at once or changed, City officials said.

"I believe that it's important to try this," said Mayor Sue Himmelrich. "Main Street until three weeks ago was a barren desert. Stores were empty. You couldn't go in.

"I think that this will activate it," Himmelrich said. "I think that it's a great time to try it."

The pilot program has deeply divided the neighborhood, pitting the Ocean Park Association (OPA) and Main Street merchants aganist residents who live in the historic district close to the closure.

Jones of the Bay

Proponents argue that the program provides a sorely needed shot in the arm for a street that was until recently lined with boarded stores.

Opponents fear the closures will snarl the small residential streets with traffic, create a parking shortage and make it difficult for emergency vehicles to service the blocked area.

City staff, prompted by Councilmember Gleam Davis, sought to allay those fears. They noted that left turns would be limited on Hill Street and traffic diverted to Neilsen Way.

They also said that only a dozen on-street parking spaces would be lost and that a center lane will allow emergency vehicles to access the closed stretch.

Council members stressed that the pilot program could be halted at any time.

"Whether we go to a second weekend will be determined by how the first weekend goes," said Councilmember Kristin McCowan.

"If it proves problematic, it does not automatically go to a second, third or fourth weekend."

Councilmember Phil Brock, who shared the opposing residents' concerns, tried to reduce the program to one night a week, a move staff said was not cost effective.

"I'm concerned about the people who live on 2nd Street," he said. "I think the neighborhood would be calmer if we had definitive hours.

"Residents are concerned about people stumbling back to their cars at midnight."

Brock cast the only dissenting vote, while de la Torre abstained from voting with no explanation.

The pilot program is part of broader plan to kick-start local businesses that were shut down or forced to operate under severe restrictions over the past 15 months.

The plan includes extending the temporary use of private outdoor spaces for commercial activity set to expire in 30 days and waive fees for outdoor dining permits through the end of the year.

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