An experiment introducing outdoor dining to downtown Half Moon Bay drew a small crowd among somewhat reduced traffic following fire evacuations and calls to keep away from the coast.
The city manager’s office piloted an outdoor seating area from Friday through Sunday to encourage dining and retail months after residents raised the idea as a way to support local businesses financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. But the pilot came on the heels of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire.
“When we planned it, we didn’t anticipate having all the chaos happening in Half Moon Bay and the surrounding area,” said Eddie Behle, the city’s recreation coordinator who helped with the plan. “That was reflected in the amount that came.”
The city closed a section of Kelly Avenue at Main Street large enough to accommodate 50 people seated at tables arranged 10 feet apart.
City staff and local businesses discussed possibly rescheduling the three-day event, but decided to continue as planned, with safe air quality forecast and anticipation that evacuees in nearby Half Moon Bay High School and hotels would want a place to eat, said Krystlyn Giedt, president of the Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau, which partnered on the pilot.
“In that sense, it might be considered a nice thing,” said Giedt, “that people going through an extremely hard time had the stress taken off by eating food in a place that felt safe.”
Reduced activity in downtown complicated the ability of city staff to assess the pilot’s success.
“Initially, we planned being able to quantify the success of the event based on the traffic we saw,” Behle said.
Early this week, city staff and Giedt walked door-to-door, distributing feedback forms to businesses. Together, they plan to review the responses and discuss in upcoming meetings whether to attempt a similar program again.
“Participation from businesses has informed our approach and will continue to be a guiding light,” said Karen Decker, a senior management analyst who oversees the survey analysis.
From the beginning, the city was careful about opening outdoor dining and street retail, despite encouragement from residents who wanted to ensure local businesses survived, Giedt said.
“The love and care citizens have is really amazing,” she said. “But the city wanted to be careful that they didn’t create something that the businesses did not want.”
City officials were also cautious after surrounding Bay Area cities closed off side streets and main downtown thoroughfares as soon as revised shelter-in-place orders allowed outdoor dining, only to see them close down again.
So, in late June and early July, city staff issued a survey and began talks with individual businesses, the Downtown Association and the Chamber of Commerce. The results showed that there was “not one collective push from businesses strongly for or against new or additional outdoor space,” said Decker.