Traffic in San Pedro Square may become a distant memory.
On Wednesday, San Jose’s Rules and Open Government Committee unanimously voted to move forward with plans to close off streets from cars permanently in San Pedro Square and temporarily on Post Street. The City Council is expected to consider the closures next week.
The San Pedro and Post Street closures were part of an outdoor dining and business program started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-down orders. The city approved the Al Fresco program in May 2020, and extended it again until June, to allow businesses to take advantage of sidewalks, parking lots and closed public streets.
The council and community members agreed closing San Pedro Square to travel is the right move, after an unexpected test-run during the pandemic.
“For years, the restaurants on San Pedro Street, as well as some city officials, have thought about closing it even before the pandemic,” Randy Musterer, owner of Sushi Confidential in San Pedro Square, told San José Spotlight. “Now is a perfect opportunity after 2+ years of having it closed and seeing the positive benefits.”
Musterer said the street closure helped draw more patrons to the square than during pre-pandemic times. The businesses were able to expand customer capacity and create a vibrant atmosphere where residents wanted to linger.
“San Pedro Street is one of the most lively and active streets currently in downtown San Jose and a lot of that is attributed to the street being closed and al fresco dining,” Musterer said. “And if it is permanent, that would allow us businesses to then invest and build and create even more unique spaces.”
This sentiment is echoed by Councilmembers Raul Peralez and Dev Davis, who emphasized such closures are an important tool in the city’s goal to create a thriving downtown core.
Peralez, who introduced the idea to the committee, said he’s been working on changing San Pedro Square to a pedestrian-only space since 2015. Making it permanent means the city will need to invest in shoring up the infrastructure, with the outdoor dining program set to expire on June 30. This includes some preliminary fire and safety analysis, as well as permanent structures to prevent cars from turning onto the street.
“It’s important for us to have this discussion now because I don’t want to open San Pedro and then close it again,” Davis said, noting it would be hard for businesses to adjust. “There are areas of our downtown that have just been devastated by COVID and we want the areas that are vibrant to remain vibrant. So I think this is a really important step in that direction.”
Not all on board
The closure proposal for Post Street, however, is more complicated because the area is dominated by retail. These businesses do not benefit like San Pedro Square, which is mostly restaurants and bars.
Businesses such as Angel’s Cleaners & Alterations and Acapulco Jewelers said they lost a lot of business when the city originally closed the street, prompting San Jose to reopen it for drivers. But that reopening was unpopular among residents.
“We saw a really strong community reaction, calling and demanding that we close Post Street back down, and that’s exciting. That’s what we wanted, right?” Peralez said. “We’ve wanted to create these vibrant spaces and I think there’s no greater streets that make more sense, then San Pedro and Post Street.”
Blair Carson, co-owner of PAGEBOY, said the closures didn’t help her hair salon either. But she’s seen how it has helped revitalize downtown and neighboring businesses and thus supports a street closure on Post. However, she wants to see more support from the city.
“A lot of us on the street are banking on the future of San Jose and where it’s going, but we’re literally out here in the Thunderdome,” Carson said. “San Pedro Square is beautiful and they have all the money and all the finances, but we’re over here with the scraps. I think our street has the potential to be just as beautiful, just as cool. And I think it’s just as important.”
Carson added a street closure would also be safer because cars often drive the wrong way.
Peralez is suggesting a phased pilot program that would close Post Street from Thursday evening to Sunday for a year. Once the year is up, the city can reassess the success or failures of the program. The San Jose Downtown Association also offered to help businesses that may struggle with a street closure.
“We know this is a difficult issue for some people, but we believe in the vision and we’re going to try to help make it a reality,” said Nate LeBlanc, business development manager for SJDA. “And we are here to try to find a solution that works for as many people as possible.”
The proposal will go before the full City Council on April 26. Learn how to watch and participate.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.