WATSONVILLE—With the Covid-19 pandemic—and the restrictions on businesses that have come with it—sticking around for the foreseeable future, the City of Watsonville is hoping a new program will allow restaurants and shops to better handle the hurdles currently in front of them.
The Parklet Program in Downtown Watsonville will fund the construction of two parklets in the downtown corridor that would allow nearby businesses to extend their services outdoors—a must for most restaurants trying to survive the Covid-19-era.
The City estimates the parklets will cost $10,000 apiece. In total, the City devoted $65,000 of Community Development Block Grant funding to the program. The remaining funds after the construction of the two pilot parklets could be distributed to interested businesses and property owners via a grant program that has not yet been established, according to Director of Public Works & Utilities Steve Palmisano.
The City Council unanimously approved the program Tuesday and also established an ordinance in the municipal code on parklets that lays out the blueprint of how and where they can be constructed.
A parklet is an outdoor temporary sidewalk extension that includes a small seating and gathering area. They are typically constructed over one or two street parking spaces.
They are not new concepts, Palmisano said. Other cities such as San Francisco have used the outdoor seating as a natural traffic calming measure that also tends to spark an uptick in business, he said.
“While they’re not a new concept, with Covid-19 coming into our lives, there’s a much greater need for outdoor eating and gathering areas,” Palmisano said.
It will return to the council for a final reading next month. If approved, the parklets could be constructed sometime in early 2021.
The council was set to review the program at an Oct. 27 meeting but the item was pushed because that meeting ran too long.
Palmisano said the City has not yet selected where the two pilot parklets will be constructed, but that it has been in contact with the Slice Project pizza shop at the corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue. Its proximity to a large, rounded curb at the intersection would give a proposed parklet natural protection from traffic, Palmisano said.
The City would also like to construct another on the 300 block of Union Street, though Palmisano said it has not yet reached out to other businesses.
Multiple council members said there would be several businesses in the corridor that would be interested in the program, most of which would be on the portion of Main Street under Caltrans control, which runs from the Highway 1 exit to the East Beach Street intersection.
Palmisano said that agency has traditionally been slow to respond to the City on similar issues, but Community Bridges CEO Raymon Cancino said Caltrans has been “responsive” and “supportive” of the nonprofit’s efforts to construct a parklet in front of its location on the 500 block of Main Street.
“I’m so excited to see that the City of Watsonville is getting on board with this because that was always one thing we had issues with: identifying the construction and the construction development portion of the project in order to move forward,” Cancino said.
Cancino said he hoped the City would prioritize low-income business owners in its pilot program, as the funding it used to establish it came from its CDBG funds, which municipalities are supposed to use to fight blight, poverty and homelessness and support low- to moderate-income residents.
Councilman Lowell Hurst said he hoped the parklets would help change the atmosphere downtown and make the area more walkable.
“This might give us an opportunity to showcase what we can do in a novel way, and add some pop to the downtown and give it some vibrancy that doesn’t exist,” Hurst said.
Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker echoed Hurst, and added that parklets could be constructed in unconventional locations such as parking lots.
“Our hope is that the demonstration projects will increase interest and excitement in the community around what the parklet could offer for our businesses that are struggling to serve their customers indoors, and I think there’s a lot of applications and different ways they could be used,” he said. “Our hope is that this will just plant the seed to be able to grow a larger program.”
Council members Trina Coffman-Gomez and Ari Parker both had concerns about the impact the parklets would have on traffic in the heavily-traveled section of the city. Parker also said she was concerned about collisions that could occur during rush hour traffic.
“I think it’s an interesting idea, I just think we need to be judicious about where we place them,” she said.
Those interested in applying for the pilot program should call the Public Works & Utilities Department at 768-3100.