Temecula will close Old Town streets for restaurant social distancing plan

Temecula Director of Community Development Luke Watson presents a plan to close down some Old Town streets so that restaurants may expand outdoors to maintain social distancing guidelines.

The Temecula City Council at its June 9 meeting approved a plan to shut down Front Street and two other roadways in Old Town temporarily to allow restaurants to move tables outside in an effort to maintain social distancing standards as much as possible as coronavirus-related restrictions on business begin to be lifted.

The plan calls for Front Street, along with Fourth and Fifth streets, to be closed to vehicular traffic beginning Wednesday, June 17. Front will be shut down between Second and Sixth streets, while Fourth and Fifth will be closed between Mercedes Street and the Murrieta Creek.

The plan will allow eateries to move their operations onto the sidewalk and into on-street parking spaces, Temecula Director of Community Development Luke Watson said in a presentation to the council. The portion of each street that in normal times serves as the roadway will instead be opened to pedestrian traffic, according to Watson.

The plan likely won’t return any of the Old Town eateries to full occupancy, but with restaurant sales at their lowest in 35 years, anything helps, Watson said.

“They don’t even think, for the most part, with the sidewalk and the on-street parking they’ll even be able to achieve 100% occupancy, so the more we can give them the better,” Watson said.

While the road closures are designed in a way that will not restrict access to any existing parking lots, the plan will result in the loss of about 150-200 on-street parking spaces, Watson said. That will be partially made up by opening up two vacant lots for parking across Mercedes Street from City Hall. Those two lots altogether will be able to provide around 90 parking spaces.

“It’s not a one-for-one match, but it’s definitely eating into that loss of spaces,” Watson said.

According to Watson, the plan is for the closures to remain in place until all restrictions on gatherings and social distancing are lifted, or until businesses no longer find the street closure plan useful. The plan would also be lifted if some emergency situation warrants it, he said.

Special event and temporary use permits will be required for each business that wishes to participate in the plan, but Watson said staff plan to offer the permits free-of-charge, over-the-counter at City Hall with same-day approval as long as businesses provide completed applications.

“We want to make this as quick and easy as possible,” Watson said.

He said businesses will still be required to get approval for what is essentially a catering permit to participate from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

City staff have been working on the street closure plan for close to three weeks, Watson said, and the Old Town Steering Committee recommended it for approval on May 29.

The City Council unanimously approved the plan, and Watson said city staff could begin processing applications immediately.

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