By Tim Hunt
City Council will consider getting Main Street back to normal tonightUploaded: Jul 20, 2021
The City Council tonight will consider several changes to activities that became common during the pandemic as it meets in person for the first time since March 2020.
City Manager Nelson Fialho, speaking to the GraceWay Church retired men’s group Monday, outlined the city staff’s recommendation that will go to the council this evening. The council will have to approve the return to more normal operations.
Among them are reducing the weekend Main Street closures when the current season ends Labor Day weekend. As I have noted, the restauranteurs love them, but they have not been good for many retailers, particularly those whose customers are used to parking nearby.
The compromise the city staff is suggesting is for closures one weekend a month, building a program similar to First Wednesdays that closed Main Street for a few hours those evenings. This approach will allow the Friday night Concerts in the Park to return in 2022.
The other major change is reclaiming parking spaces on Main Street and other streets by eliminating the parklets. In the haste of the pandemic and plunging revenues, the city established no guidelines and it shows. Some, like Strizzi’s constructed nice parklets, while others simply put up temporary tents. Fialho said “It looks like Cabo out there,” obviously not the look that is desired for the historic heart of the city.
The restauranteurs who have expanded their space rent-free likely will lose it come September. The closure has had mixed results If the weather is good, plenty of people are downtown dining alfresco, but when the temperatures soar, people are looking for air conditioning, not eating outside in 90-plus degree heat.
Removing the parklets also will allow the city to get back into the parade business for Veteran’s Day and the Holiday tree lighting events as well as provide the opportunity for Foothill to hold its annual band review in October.
Looking back on the pandemic and how the city adapted on the fly, Fialho emphasized the importance of partnership. He cited Rick Shumway, CEO of ValleyCare, as an example. They’d chatted a networking events, but really didn’t know each other. Now, after working closely together, they are good friends as well as colleagues serving Pleasanton. Fialho said Stanford ValleyCare’s connection to the main Palo Alto facility was critical in providing services locally.
It was the partnership with Stanford ValleyCare along with the cities of Dublin and Livermore that established the drive-through testing site at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. More than 1.2 million people were tested. What the partners learned helped when they set up a vaccination center in another parking lot at the fairgrounds. He noted that about 80% of adults in Pleasanton are vaccinated and that number was four weeks old.
For smaller communities working together plus pulling in non-profits, businesses and others to work together is a lasting takeaway from the pandemic.
When the shutdown hit March 17, 2020 (two days after his talk to this same group was postponed) the city established priorities and knew it would take a revenue hit. The budget was cut by more than $9 million that went into a “rainy day fund.” That would come in handy because the overall financial hit turned out to be about $20 million over the last 17 months. The rainy day fund backfilled quite a bit and the federal government is chipping in another $8.5 million.
The pandemic required other adaptions. The building inspectors did virtual tours by sending links to people’s cell phones that allow the inspector to view the job remotely (more than 1,000 inspections were completed). In some form, that may continue as will allowing public comment via Zoom at City Council and other city meetings. The library pivoted to curbside delivery and lent more than 225,000 books.
The city helped 207 families with $5,000 grants to help them pay back rent or mortgages as well as distributing more than $2.2 million to suffering non-profits. It also gave grants to help struggling businesses stay alive.