California Avenue Business District Observer Report

Ann Balin reported on Wednesday, May 18, 2022:

City Council approves California Avenue and Ramona Street closures through December 2023

Monday night’s city council meeting was mainly focused on whether or not to add two bike lanes down the avenue’s corridor. The city staff’s transportation professional, Philip Kamhi, presented this directive policy which Mayor Pat Burt firmly embraced. The mayor and fellow council member Greer Stone advocated for the bike lanes as they would conform to the Comprehensive Plan. Council member Greg Tanaka followed their lead and all three voted for the corridor to include these bike lanes. Central to their argument was proximity to Stanford’s research park allowing for access to the train station. 

Three opponents to this proposal were Tom DuBois, Lydia Kou and Alison Cormack. Eric Filseth was absent. With the 3-3 vote the issue did not pass.

The owner of the Pakistani Indian restaurant Zareen’s, Zareen Khan lead the speakers stating that she wants to keep California Avenue a peaceful pedestrian promenade free of cyclists whizzing by. She was firmly opposed to having vehicles including cars and cyclists riding on the avenue.

Another merchant, Lisa Robins, the owner of Vin Vino Wine said, “Now just when it seems like we ought to be making a thoughtful transition to permanent parklets and a return to relatively gentle traffic patterns and open access that we used to have, you have decided to extend what was an emergency closure to infinity, run a bicycle superhighway down the middle of California Avenue and risk the continued decline of the retail environment of the whole district.”

Mike Stone of Mollie Stones is fervently against the closure of California Avenue. Stone said, “You are shutting off the main artery.” Please, for the life of the street, open it. It’s hurting more businesses than it is helping.”

In the city’s survey only 43 percent said they would dine next to a road open to vehicles.

Tom DuBois responded to Cormack’s view that cyclists can use alternative streets including Sherman and Cambridge. She stated that including bike lanes would go against the original plan in keeping with a pedestrian friendly avenue. DuBois supported keeping the corridor free of bicycle lanes remaining faithful to the original dining area concept.

The council did agree on other specific elements including the banning of tents and instructing staff to to work with restaurants regarding future parklets. They also were in accord that planters and barriers will be required to separate structures from the street. Sidewalks will need to be designated eight feet.

All guidelines were embraced by the majority except for Greg Tanaka voting no. The vote was 5-1.

Tanaka did join Cormack and voted against directing staff to work on a marketing plan to support retail businesses. The vote was 4-2.

The council respected the residents in keeping the avenue closed to traffic be it cars, trucks or cyclists. The regulation right now is that cyclists must walk their bikes on California Avenue.