Laurel Street to Remain Closed for Another Year.

June 17, 2021


on-Street Dining continues.

Aside from the decision to outsource the police and fire departments years ago, there is probably not a more prickly topic in San Carlos right now than the closure of Laurel Street in the main dining row. For those of you not familiar, to battle the negative effects of the prolonged shutdown due to COVID, the City moved quickly to shut down parts of Laurel Street to allow restaurants to seat patrons outside, thus allowing them to attempt to stay in business while adhering to the state and county guidelines to ensure social distancing.

The “experiment” proved to be wildly popular. Diners loved being able to sit outdoors — at least on those nights when the fog-driven wind didn't make it too unbearable. The ability to stroll down the middle of the street and choose from nearly a dozen bars and restaurants harkens to a European-style pedestrian plaza, and it resonated well with most of the residents that frequent Laurel Street. On the flip side, the non-restaurant business owners on Laurel Street who rely on drive-up customers have resisted the push to close Laurel in fear of losing business. It's a tough balance to strike, and there are certainly valid arguments on both sides of this issue.

Now that the State and County have opened back up largely to business as usual, the City Council has been tasked to decide what to do with the closure of Laurel Street — remove the parklets and tables and allow through traffic again on Laurel, extend the closure for a finite period of time, or make the closure permanent, thus making those blocks of Laurel a true pedestrian plaza.

This past Monday, the San Carlos City Council chose the second option and voted to extend the existing closure of Laurel Street for another full year until September 1 of 2022. The vote itself was very interesting because it contradicted two different recommendations by City Staff to terminate the program, and because the vote narrowly passed by a 3:2 margin. There's a good article in Climate Online that discusses the vote in more detail.

Personally, having lived on this area for over 50 years, I enjoy seeing progressive and intelligent change to downtown San Carlos. It wasn't long ago that the downtown literally shut down at 6PM when Woolworth's closed for the night. Now, it's a vibrant shopping and dining area that draws people (and tax revenue) in from different communities. The ability to dine outside is a fun and refreshing change to Laurel Street — especially on nights like this week when the weather is balmy.

If this ultimately turns out to be a permanent change, San Carlos has the ability to do this the right way if they choose to spend the funds. By dramatically improving the landscaping, flow, and access for everyone (that means significantly improving handicapped access too), Laurel Street could become the future model for other communities along the Peninsula that are looking to jump start their downtown districts.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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  1. Kelly H on June 17, 2021 at 5:54 pm

    100% agree with the concept of a closed street, though I am uninformed and empathetic to retailers that might rely more on parking access to their storefronts. Perhaps additional foot traffic offsets more direct vehicle access.

  2. Daniel on June 17, 2021 at 8:12 pm

    Completely agree we should keep that part of Laurel 100% pedestrian. I’m sure most businesses will be benefited and the city itself will have a massive differentiator from other cities in the peninsula. Thus, making our city even more beautiful than it already is and more valuable. There are very few businesses that NEED cars to be able to park right at the door, and I can’t think of a single one on that part of Laurel. It’s in the best interest of the city and its people.

  3. David Arbeláez on May 28, 2022 at 10:51 pm

    Just a thought experiment: Let’s say Covid never happened and closing off this portion of Laurel, and adding outdoor dining was presented on a ballot with the rationale that it would help the community. I wonder how many people would vote Yes.

  4. Chuck Gillooley on May 30, 2022 at 8:19 pm

    That’s a very good question, and hard to predict what that answer would be. The same question applies to working from home — if Covid never happened, would there have been the push that we had toward remote work?

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