Some business owners say Palo Alto’s street closures are unfair

The City of Palo Alto has plans to close another downtown street for outdoor dining and retail. However, not all businesses think closing streets to traffic is a win. Some business owners said it’s economically unfair.

Traffic is moving along Ramona Street in Palo Alto but not for long. On Friday, from Hamilton Avenue to Nola, the street will be shut down for outdoor tables.

“I like it a lot,” said Steven Costell of Palo Alto. “It’s cool and unique. It’s almost got this European kind of flair to it.”

Ramona Street joins two others. Parts of University and California Avenues are already cut off to vehicle traffic. It’s part of the city’s “Summer Streets” pilot program, transforming downtown into a pedestrian promenade.

“We have 350 restaurants in Palo Alto, eight right now are getting an economic advantage so who gets to pick and choose who lives and who dies,” said Robert Fischer of Palo Alto Creamery.

Fischer is upset with the closure of University Avenue. He owns three businesses on nearby streets.

“We were just starting to get some traction at two out of three restaurants and as soon as they closed University Avenue, our business shut down,” said Fischer.

He spent $35,000 on a new patio. He said others have been given patios for free.

“We are about 25 percent loss I would say because of the street closure,” said The Patio owner Megan Kawkab.

Kawkab said street shutdowns make it harder for cars to get around and pedestrians are going straight to the city’s main thoroughfare and not stopping.

“I think because they closed down University,” said Kawkab. “Everyone feels like that’s the draw and that’s what they are supposed to go do.”

Palo Alto’s Chamber of Commerce understands the concerns.

“I think with all programs, there are success stories and there are some areas where it can be improved but I think overall it's been successful,” said Charlie Weidanz, CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce.

A city spokeswoman echoed that sentiment stating business input continues to be positive though they'd love to see more visitors and patrons.

Fischer said he’s submitting a petition to the city on Thursday. 30 businesses have signed it.

“We all have to get through this pandemic,” said Fischer. “All of us want to survive.”

The city said on Friday, University Avenue from High to Emerson Streets will reopen to traffic. City leaders will consider extending the program at their next meeting on Monday.