Council to Weigh Options on G St

Courtesy of City Council Staff Report

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – In the days following the state of emergency in the pandemic, the city closed G Street—utilizing downtown parking spaces and sidewalks for outdoor dining as part of the “Open Air Davis” pandemic response effort “to promptly assist businesses with challenges presented by COVID-19 restrictions and public health protocols.”

By June 2021, many of the business restrictions were lifted, nevertheless, “having outdoor space for dining was still considered important as behavioral change is often slow and many customers were (and perhaps still are) hesitant to dine indoors.”

Three years later, the question is what the city should do, and staff acknowledges that there is no clear community consensus on that issue.

One option would be to simply “[r]e-open the street to automobile traffic. This would restore the street to what existed prior to the closure in 2020 and include two travel lanes and angled parking.”

A second option would be: “Keep the road closed to traffic for outdoor dining and other uses, however with detailed protocols for businesses and the City in terms of physical improvements, maintenance, attractiveness and responsibilities.”

A third option would be to re-open the road, but allow for closures for special events.  Staff writes, “This would include moveable bollards to keep motorized traffic off of the street when it is closed.”

A fourth option would be a hybrid: “Re-open the northbound road vehicle lane only and close the southbound lane, so that this portion becomes a one-way street with parallel parking. The closed part of the road could be used for outdoor dining and other uses.”

Staff notes, “This alternative would allow for the restoration of some automobile access and parking along G Street but additional discussion of what road features would be desired is needed.”

Staff notes that while there is no consensus there are several areas of concern that have been raised with the current state of the closure.

The first concern “is the perception that the program was put in place without clear standards for the appearance of the area, leading to some of the outdoor dining areas using materials that are less attractive or are not as well-kept as others.”

The second concern “is that this portion of G Street is not kept clean and frequently there is trash found in the area and no clear responsibility about who cleans the area.”

The third concern is that the current approach “has led some businesses disproportionately benefiting from increased dining space with little or no additional cost, while potentially negatively affecting others along G Street. This has been expressed as businesses being able to essentially rent the public space for little or no cost, thereby receiving a financial benefit.”

A fourth concern is the issue of access to some of the businesses on the street.

There is also a concern that was raised that “cars using the parking between 2nd and the bollards try to turn around on the street to get out or access the parking on the west side of the street. This results in vehicles making multi-point turns blocking access to the South G Parking Lot.”

My View as a Business That Operates on G Street

There are several points not raised in the city staff report that are important.

The first point is G St. prior to COVID was not a well-utilized road.  It had narrow travel lanes, was often congested and was frequently used as though it were an arterial with traffic filtering to and from I-80, when it really should not have been used in that manner.

In addition, the parking lot and area between the parking lot and the street were often utilized by homeless people seeking temporary refuge.

Often, G St. was blocked during peak hours by delivery vehicles double-parking and the parking situation was bad, with traffic circling around to attempt to find parking (when a usually part-empty parking garage was located just two blocks to the north).

In short, the pre-COVID situation was not ideal.

On the other hand, I know the retail businesses are struggling.  Whether they should be or not, we can debate.  One thing I noticed, however, is that with Woodstock’s moving to the far corner, much of the outdoor dining is gone.  Granted it’s the middle of a wet winter, but it was pretty noticeable that only the Beer Shop had outdoor dining on one side of the street with the exception of the Temple Coffee area at the corner.

I have generally been in favor of some sort of street closure, but I agree that there needs to be a nicely done, permanent structure and I increasingly think that having one travel lane would be better than no travel lanes.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Walter Shwe

    I promise to never to visit any business inside the G Street blockade unless it has completely been removed. That includes the Davis Barber Shop and Woodstock’s Pizza. Parking in Downtown has never been worse!

  2. Todd Edelman

    The street is partly-closed to motor vehicles; it is not “closed”.

    The street is therefore open to – and with new advantages to – other uses.

    OK. It’s a mostly-carfree street.

    The distance from one’s vehicle to the entrance – never mind the far end of the store – at all the supermarkets in town and Target, etc. is FAR greater to most destinations on G St. than the distance from parking in the lot or around the corner.

    OK. Probably all the parking closest to the carfree part of G should be ADA. It would be a huge advantage for safety and conviviality if all motor vehicle access to the parking lot was via H St. The 2nd St part could be an extension of the current design – the BTSSC supports seating etc not directly-connected with a business, somewhat like the situation with E St parking lot in 2020, or perhaps for deliveries early and ADA later?

    I am also completely fine with no bicycle access (walking bikes only….).

    Not mentioned: On Thursday the BTSSC voted for option 2! Hopefully the video of the meeting is available by early Tuesday.

    While they are not “trash”, per se, in the previous incarnation parked motor vehicles take up a lot more space than anything else. Let’s please recognize – with honest grace to history – that till around 100 years ago there were very few motor vehicles used on or parked on G St, and much of historical Downtown was wiped out about 50 years ago in the name of progress, i.e. automobilization. It’s a wound that may never be healed

    When I was appointed to the BTSSC in 2017, I Photoshopped a freeway sign with the message “The Megaregion’s largest carfree area”. Don’t we love carfree areas? I think that a lot of people do. We need better public transportation and safe cycling routes to Downtown. We need more paid parking that subsidizes that as well as various improvements Downtown. To do these things would not make Davis a leader, at least in the global sense.  When people meet in Davis, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could do it in the “town square, by the fountain/oak tree (etc.)”? I don’t mean the little patio next to huge, central parking lot… nor farmers’ market eight hours a week…

    1. David Greenwald

      Although one of the oddities is that the businesses may reside in one council district, most of the business owners aren’t actually voters there. So under the best of circumstances its a strange situation.

    2. Dave Hart

      And what a gross mischaracterization of how district elections are supposed to work, Don.  There are four council members representing everyone in Davis.  While I agree we should change back to at-large elections, I really do believe that feeding the idea, in print, that council members elected in any given district are somehow more able to represent “their” district is proselytizing for a balkanized form of city government.  Please don’t do that, Don.  It is a damaging idea if people internalize it and assume it is the way it is “supposed” to be.

    3. Dave Hart

      Sorry if you feel that I singled you out Don when in fact David and Matt and just about everyone in town are feeding the balkanized district narrative when they assume it is a natural outcome.  It is absolutely not in the law that there is some greater level of responsibility to one district over another.  This is the inherent drawback of district elections everywhere, but it seems to be less of a problem in larger cities where there are so many more people on the council that single district concerns do not overshadow the needs of the whole city.  We need to be mindful of this pernicious characteristic of district elections in a small town until we can correct the problem,

  3. Dave Hart

    I do wonder how a small town like Winters could do such a good job of taking advantage of the covid pandemic to transform their tiny downtown.  There’s a story right there, David.  Davis could be just as much of a destination.  Is it because Winters doesn’t have groups of people overthinking and outguessing each other?  Is the city run by a benevolent tyrant?  Have Davis businesses become so dependent on someone else telling them what they can and cannot do that they have no initiative or have come to believe that somebody else is going to do it?  Is our city staff so captivated by overly engineered solutions, that they can’t just use common sense?  I hear all sorts of excuses, but nothing explains why Davis is dead last in this particular phenomena of transforming sidewalk dining and pedestrian experience.  Every. Single. Town. is ahead of us.

    1. Richard_McCann

      Dave H

      Ditto! What is so hard about doing what Winters has done on Main Street? Woodland has taken out a number of parking spaces on its Main Street for dining. Outdoor dining has been a resounding success–it’s been a huge success in Europe for more than a century!

      No, you probably can’t park right in front of where you want to go in Davis. Guess what–that’s true of every other popular place in the world. The businesses that complain of reduced sales need to look at what’s happening elsewhere since the pandemic–most retail brick and mortar sales are down. They are not unique.

      Businesses were already getting free space from the City in the road way parking. Now the allocation of that free space has changed because we are changing policies.

      We should have an open northbound lane just to ease traffic flow, but we should not open up any more parking–sorry, Walter, but you need to walk the distance from the far end of the parking lot at Target to the electronics department inside. We frequently go downtown, usually several times a week when its warm, and never have problems parking if we’re willing to walk two blocks. If we need to put up more blue spots for those who can’t walk that far, then that’s the solution.

      1. Walter Shwe

        The past few years I rarely go to Target, so there’s that. In the distant past when I have patronized Target it’s more like 1 block from the entrance to the back of the store. On weekends when I visit Downtown I see few empty parking spaces. The few empty spaces are almost immediately filled up. There’s that too Richard.

    2. Mark West

      “Davis could be just as much of a destination.”

      Davis has never supported quality restaurants and the downtown is ‘utilitarian ugly,’ so no, we could not be a destination like Winters.

      “but nothing explains why Davis is dead last in this particular phenomena of transforming sidewalk dining and pedestrian experience.”

      This one is easy. Nobody will make a decisions and stick to it. Business owners are told one thing this month, and the complete opposite a few weeks down the road. I know one who made a significant investment in a covered dining area early in the pandemic following the direction of Staff, only to learn that the recommended structure would not be approved (by the same folks who made the original recommendation). If you want to know why Main Street Winters looks nice and G Street in Davis looks like an overflowing dumpster the simple answer is local staff incompetence. It starts at the top, and exactly what you should expect when you hire in-house without bothering to do a competitive search…

  4. Ron Oertel

    A few months ago, I visited Winters, and did not appreciate that some of those businesses essentially took-over the sidewalks, to some degree.  Even though I went there to patronize one of those businesses.

    As I recall, one of those businesses even “reconfigured” the path of the sidewalk toward the street, and made it smaller as a result.

    This “sidewalk takeover” also occurs in San Francisco, with its “parklets”.  Servers and customers constantly walking back-and-forth into the path of pedestrians who are just “passing through”.

    In addition, some businesses actually put some of their “wares” on the sidewalk, itself.  This has been occurring for years.

    It is, of course, a bigger annoyance in San Francisco.

    Of course, this leaves out the bigger issue of allowing select businesses to take-over streets and parking spaces, at the expense of those traveling through (as well as other businesses). Not to mention the impact on surrounding streets and parking.

    When was the last time that a business such as ACE felt a need to take-over public space?

    Why is it that no one advocates for the “biggest users” of streets and sidewalks (those just “passing through”)? Don’t they pay taxes for public space – the same as everyone else?

    If given a choice, wouldn’t EVERYONE elect to close the street in front of their own homes to traffic (other than for themselves, of course)? If allowed, how would that serve society at large?

    Here’s an idea:  Conduct private business on private space.  Why is that concept so difficult, for some?

    Tear down the ramshackle eyesores that were allowed during the pandemic, and open the street back up.

    If some restaurants can’t survive without commandeering public space, maybe they shouldn’t be in business in the first place.

    By the way – it was entirely predictable that there would be an effort to allow “pandemic era” allowances to become permanent. Who didn’t see THAT coming, in advance?

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