Temecula again modifies Old Town street closure plan, will reopen roadway to traffic

Restaurants and other businesses will still be allowed to utilize street parking spaces to expand operations outside

Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

The Temecula City Council on July 14 agreed to modify its Old Town Front Street closure plan to open up the main roadway to traffic while still allowing businesses to move their operations into street parking areas.

Front Street can be reopened to vehicular traffic “in a matter of days,” Temecula Community Services Director Luke Watson told the City Council, though he said he couldn’t give a specific date when the road may be reopened because it was difficult to estimate how long it would take to move barricades and allow businesses to move tables.

At any rate, it was a victory for Old Town business owners who have decried the street closure plan.

The Temecula City Council first approved the plan on June 9. Originally, the plan called for Front Street to be closed between Second and Sixth streets beginning Wednesday, June 17. Fourth and Fifth streets were also intended to be closed between Mercedes Street and the Murrieta Creek. Restaurants in the street closure area were to be able to utilize street parking and the sidewalk for seating, and the main roadway would serve as a pedestrian paseo.

However, facing negative feedback from some business owners in the northern area of Old Town, city staff did not move forward with the closure on the original date, and revised the street closure plan to a smaller area.

But even that first revised plan went too far for some business owners, who claim they have seen declines in revenue since the street closure has gone into effect, coming just after the lifting of some public health orders allowed them to reopen their businesses.

Opposition to the plan was not universal, though — according to Watson, eight Old Town businesses were already participating by moving tables into the public right-of-way, and a total of 14 applications had been submitted. One business owner Valley News interviewed said he was happy with the street closure plan and was even depending on it to keep his restaurant open after new restrictions on indoor dining came down from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office earlier this month amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

Still, in light of the criticism, Watson presented two plans to the city council: continuing with the street closure as-is while improving signage and working to beautify the closure by doing things like creating ‘parklets’ in unused parking spaces and using decorative bollards instead of unsightly road barricades; or simply reopen the street to through traffic, allow businesses to use only street parking for seating and retain the sidewalk for pedestrian use.

The second option does reduce the amount of seating available for restaurants, but after lengthy discussion, the council decided it struck the best balance between businesses’ stated concerns and the necessary work that will need to be done to help them survive amid pandemic-related restrictions.

Councilman Mike Naggar did initially express reluctance to, once again, second-guess the council’s earlier decision on the street closure plan, especially in light of the ever-changing coronavirus restrictions — when the plan was first approved by the council, indoor dining had just been allowed to resume.

“I don’t want to minimize anyone’s troubles, I really don’t want to do that, but I think option one is good, I think we stay the course,” Naggar initially said.

The council acknowledged that it was impossible to know whether the street closure was the main factor in the declines in revenue that some business owners were reporting, as coronavirus cases have surged regionally in the exact same time frame as the street closure, with Councilman Maryann Edwards making that point in Latin.

“Post hoc ergo propter hoc — after, therefore, because of it, Edwards said. “Well, because something happens after something else is implemented, is that the cause?”

Councilman Zak Schwank noted there have been more than 12,000 new coronavirus cases in Riverside County since the city council’s last discussion of the Old Town street closure plan.

“We can’t ignore that that is part of the reason we are seeing the decline in business,” Schwank said. “Not just in Old Town but in general.”

All ultimately came to the conclusion that the second option was the best compromise.

“If we find a nice happy medium in this, let’s stick to that,” Councilman Matt Rahn said. “Everybody’s gonna sacrifice a little bit here because we’re not gonna have the parking … everybody’s gonna take a little bit of a hit, but it at least keeps the through traffic going and it doesn’t have that closed-down feel.”

While street parking along Front Street will remain unavailable, the city has allocated two dirt lots across Mercedes Street from City Hall for use as temporary parking lots.

Two restaurants in Old Town are currently utilizing sidewalk space for seating, and the council’s decision included a stipulation that those businesses’ operations be grandfathered into the new plan, with pedestrians being able to use the sidewalks across the street from those businesses.

The revised street closure plan was approved unanimously by the council.

Watson noted that while the actual street closure plan applies only to Old Town, other restaurants and other businesses throughout the city that are now barred from indoor operations are welcome to apply for permits to move their operations outside onto privately-owned spaces like patios and parking lots to remain open.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.