Concrete k-rails started going up Thursday morning along portions of Mission Street between Meridian and Fair Oaks Aves. as the city rolled out Phase 2 of its Al Fresco Dining and Retail Program. The barriers are expected to stay in place until 90 days after the City Council declares an end to the Proclamation of a Local Emergency it adopted in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The large k-rails are being utilized as a traffic safety measure to abate the possibility of an accident; specifically, a car swerving into people who are dining or shopping in the allocated parking spaces.
The k-rails are being placed to enable dining and retail establishments to use parking lanes to carry on business even as COVID-19 rules prevent certain in-door commercial activity. Phase 1 allowed establishments with private patio or parking areas to make use of these, an option two business availed themselves of, including Mamma’s Brick Oven Pizza on Fair Oaks.
Margaret Lin, South Pasadena Manager of Long-Range Planning and Economic Development, told the South Pasadenan News in an email that a number of businesses have submitted applications to use the parking lane spaces, including Aro, Jones Coffee, Shiro and Mike and Anne’s. Other businesses interested in utilizing the spaces can submit an applications here.
The rented k-rails are being supplied for up to one year by San Dimas-based Right-of-Way, Inc., under an “on-call contract.” Lin said the city allocated $50,000 from Proposition C Local Return funds for the traffic control devices, a traffic control plan, month-to-month barricade rentals, installation, and removal.
The city wants to expand the program into traffic lanes. It is looking for funds to complete two studies, one to examine removal of one travel lane in each direction on Mission Street between Fair Oaks Ave. and Orange Grove Blvd; and a second to consider closing Meridian Ave. between Mission St. and El Centro Ave.
Lin noted the locations of the k-rails were approved by the City Council Aug. 19 and that notices were posted along the parking lane closures 48 hours ahead of installation. She said that ahead of the program, the Chamber of Commerce conducted considerable outreach to local businesses through social media, press releases and door-to-door engagement.
She said the Chamber was present for Thursday’s implementation, adding that “some adjustments” to the barricades were made in response to “feedback from adjacent businesses.”
On Thursday, The South Pasadenan received several calls from business owners very concerned and upset that the loss of parking will make doing business even more difficult, not better. They all expressed that the concept of the ‘al fresco’ dining and shopping was fine, but the barricades close their shops off to would-be customers – no parking is a big problem already. Many expressed there was no notice of the install today.
One analogy explained the business situation like this: “It’s like I’m drowning, and I get handed a huge chunk of concrete.” Another issue pointed out by one business owner was the use of a street parking space for retail sales. “It’s impractical and expensive to move merchandise and displays in and out every day…This isn’t Venice beach boardwalk.” None of the business owners who contact The South Pasadenan felt comfortable going on-record with their business name for fear of negative blowback from the city and the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce.
From the city’s side, the idea of the program is to relax temporary use permit, encroachment permit and parking requirements to enable outdoor space for dining and retail purposes while maintaining social distancing protocols.
The rules, adopted Aug. 5, address hours of operation, lighting, sales of alcohol, operating requirements, design compatibility and other standards, as well as a set of rules for outdoor displays. They also authorize specified city officials to relocate ADA parking spaces and other public rights-of-way to allow the use of street frontage for qualified establishments.
The relaxation comes principally in the form of fee waivers, said Michelle Hammond, the District 2 city council candidate and Mobility and Transportation Infrastructure Commission member who, along with MTIC chair Sam Zneimer and the Chamber of Commerce helped promote and recruit businesses for program. She said initially, “the city didn’t think there was that much of a need” for the program which came to fruition at a “slower pace” than in surrounding cities, but nonetheless commended Lin and City Planning Director Joanna Hankamer for moving it along.
“Depending on the success, the hope is to build it out further or extend it longer,” allowing businesses to hire more staff, Hammond added. She said the program may fail “unless there is overwhelming demand” from the public.
At its Sept. 2 meeting, the Council decided against using a portion of the city’s $73,528 in covid-related Community Development Block Grant Funds to support the Al Fresco program after staff reported the funds can only be used for permanent improvements, not “temporary outdoor or on-street dinging changes such as barricades or right-of-way improvement.” The money was instead given over to rental assistance.