After getting consensus from business owners, the San Juan Bautista City Council unanimously approved making part of Third Street into a one-lane, one-way street at its May 19 meeting. The change to the main thoroughfare will last for at least six months to allow businesses to expand their operations outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the meeting agenda packet, here is the time frame for launching the project:
- May 29: Redesign begins
- June 12: Design standards expected to be completed and physical changes to Third Street begin
- June 19: Businesses begin using encroachment areas
The city will issue free encroachment permits to businesses interested in using the street space to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Merchants can also expand into private property such as parking lots.
City Manager Don Reynolds said the city has already approved 30-day encroachment permits for Doña Esther’s and Mission Cafe. He also said the city will work on a design standard for outside operations for businesses interested in applying for an encroachment permit. Resident Cara Vonk suggested that the Historic Resources Board review the designs. The board is composed of the same five members who make up the San Juan Bautista Planning Commission.
“This is our historic district and they are supposed to review issues of that nature,“ Vonk said. “We want to make sure it looks classy and not just disjointed.”
While the permit is free, Reynolds said there are other costs to businesses utilizing Third Street as an outdoor area, such as fencing for shops serving alcohol, as well as chairs, tables and umbrellas.
Though narrowing Third Street raised concerns of emergency vehicle accessibility, Reynolds said the city placed a fire engine in the center of the street to calculate the width required for the vehicle to pass safely. As a result, businesses will gain 12 feet of outdoor space. He also said the city could designate angled parking between Franklin and Muckelemi Streets where the public right-of-way is not being used.
To make the transition safe for pedestrians and motorists, council members also discussed reducing the current speed limit of 15 mph down to five mph. Though members of the public supported the idea, City Attorney Deborah Mall said that motorists could fight a speeding ticket in court if a traffic study was not conducted. The city will continue to look at methods to slow down traffic.
When it comes to paying for re-engineering of traffic flow and promotion of the outdoor program, San Juan Bautista will use about $20,000 from its reserve fund. Third Street will be re-striped and embellished with signs, barricades and planters.
Reynolds said the city will continue to work with business owners to safely reopen while following state guidelines. Earlier this month, San Benito County submitted a variance attestation to the state that allows the county to open additional businesses at a faster pace as part of Stage Two of the four-stage Resilience Roadmap. As of May 20, 63 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in San Benito County since February. Seven of these are active, 54 have recovered and two have died.
Reynolds said the city and business owners still need to discuss who will be responsible for keeping the encroachment area clean and helping with the planters.
While Councilman Dan De Vries said the city should reach out to local companies to sponsor plants, a member of the public suggested some in the community might be willing to adopt plants for a period of time, or perhaps donate money to help maintain them.
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