Update: The City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to close Castro Street to traffic through Sept. 30, using the sidewalk and roadway for outdoor dining space.
The Mountain View City Council is expected to approve a plan Tuesday to close off Castro Street to traffic through September, allowing struggling downtown restaurants to use the empty roadway to expand outdoor dining options during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The street closure, set to begin June 22, would come just weeks after Santa Clara County public health officials eased tight rules on restaurants that have been in place since March. Starting June 5, restaurants previously restricted to take-out service are now permitted to offer outdoor dining, provided that the tables are spread out and parties are limited to six people.
While the changes have been welcome news for restaurateurs and brought back some of the usual foot traffic and liveliness to downtown Mountain View, the loss of indoor dining still poses a challenge for many restaurants trying to claw back business lost during the pandemic. Densely packed businesses along Castro Street, in particular, have little room to expand outside while adhering to social distancing requirements, making it difficult to take advantage of the loosened rules.
In an effort to help restaurants that are short on space, Peninsula cities including Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Altos and Redwood City have sought to close down downtown thoroughfares to make more room for tables and chairs on sidewalks and in the roadway. Mountain View's plan specifically calls for street closures spanning from W. Evelyn Avenue to Mercy Street, aimed at helping the smaller restaurants with limited outdoor dining space.
The street closure will remain in effect 24 hours a day, with a "central aisle" for bike and pedestrian travel along Castro Street. Vehicles will still be able to cross Castro at the intersections with California, Dana and Villa streets.
Downtown business owners largely support the idea, and are optimistic that it will attract customers and ease some of the financial straits that they have faced in recent months, said Sarah Astles, owner of the Opal nightclub and president of the city's Downtown Association. Though the closure isn't set to begin until June 22, business owners are eager to start right away, she said.
"The only complaint I have heard is that this plan isn't in place already," Astles said. "The county has allowed outdoor dining beginning (Friday), and many can't take advantage of that."
Each restaurant will still be subject to a laundry list of public safety requirements and must prove that they are disinfecting surfaces and spreading out parties by at least six feet. Astles said her plan, in reopening Opal's wine bar, is to provide QR codes to customers to allow for touchless menus and payment, and to disinfect tables for a full 10 minutes in between customers.
Mountain View city officials say it's unclear how much the street closure will cost, but that the city plans to buy or rent chairs, tables, portable restrooms and handwashing stations to create a full "food court style layout" along Castro Street. Live Nation, which would normally be running its concert season at Shoreline Aphitheatre, will be lending bollards and barricades to close off the street to traffic, according to city staff.
The temporary closure could be seen as a test drive for permanent changes to come. Last year, the city approved a study to close Castro at the Caltrain tracks, cutting off the street from Moffett Boulevard and potentially blocking of a section of the road to traffic. Doing so could create a pedestrian plaza at the downtown transit center and a car-free promenade along the northern stretches of Castro Street.
The same firm hired to do the study, Gehl Studios, is helping city staff figure out the street layout and table placements for the temporary closure set to begin later this month.