Busy Palo Alto street will finally reopen, two others staying closed, despite objections

Busy Palo Alto street will finally reopen, two others staying closed, despite objections
Photo Credit: City of Palo Alto
By Wesley Severson - Published on September 20, 2021.

A few choice streets in Palo Alto have been closed for more than a year, and now one of them is about to reopen much to the dismay of some business owners who have enjoyed the walk-up traffic the closure has provided. Last week, the Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously to reopen University Avenue on October 15th. But the council stopped short of reopening California Avenue, which is now expected to reopen in the summer of 2022 and Ramona Street which could stay closed forever.

The closed-streets program encouraged restaurant owners to build pricey parklets so they could stay in business during the coronavirus pandemic. Ending the program on University Avenue means business owners will have to figure out what to do with their outdoor seating areas. But retailers all over the Bay Area who operate during the daytime have complained that these street closures keep their customers away while prioritizing restaurants.

Mistie Boulton told Mercury News she spent more than $30,000 to construct her parklet at Oren’s Hummus. “I’m absolutely beyond disappointed and feel this is a step backward. Palo Alto just feels like a dying town. Other areas are doing a lot to bring life back to town, but Palo Alto is moving in the opposite direction,” Boulton said.

A petition to stop the reopening of University Avenue to cars has more than 5,000 signatures.

Some business owners are even threatening to close up shop and leave Palo Alto. “But if things go like this and the public is not heard and people make these random decisions then in the future we don’t know if we’ll stay in Palo Alto,” Anu Bhambri, owner of the Indian restaurant ROOH told Mercury News. But the Mayor and city officials say that there are also many business owners who have struggled with the closure and say they would get much more business with traffic back on the road.

"I think we should let our retailers have a good holiday season and be ready like on Oct. 1," Mayor Tom DuBois told Palo Alto Online. “University is much more of a major almost residential arterial road than some of the other streets you’re pointing out. One of the main differences is the volume of traffic that University Avenue typically handles. The closures were impacting a lot of businesses, some of which have been there 20 or 30 years. It was a question of fairness and I think the council tried to accommodate everyone with some streets staying closed,” Dubois said.

There was much less contention regarding the delayed closures of California Avenue and Ramona Street between Hamilton and University avenues. Some business owners who are upset about the University Avenue reopening are still hoping the Palo Alto City Council hears their concerns and changes their mind but so far that does not appear likely.