The Hollister City Council unanimously approved a parklet program that will assist businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic. The city provided an example of what the parklets could look like. (contributed)

San Benito Street in downtown Hollister is undergoing some major construction this week and city officials are hoping it’ll pave a new road to reopening the economy.

The Hollister City Council unanimously approved a parklet program on Oct. 19 that will assist businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, while transforming most of the main strip into a one-way traffic flow.

Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said it’s the first part in the process of giving the downtown strip a major facelift.

“It’s a big step and I think within a few years you can really see that change,” he said.

The project, which began Oct. 26, is estimated to be finished by Nov. 3, according to City Manager Brett Miller.   

The city authorized $80,000 to come from the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, while San Benito County committed another $150,000 from its own CARES Act funds. The total cost of the program will not exceed $230,000, according to Miller.

The parklet program will allow qualifying businesses to receive $7,500 for a parklet of less than 15 linear feet and up to $15,000 for a parklet that is greater than 15 linear feet. 

Business owners that participate in the Pilot Program will have fees waived, including an encroachment permit fee of $285, a non-refundable application fee of $150 and a building permit fee of $400.

In July, business owners will need to pay an annual parking spot fee of $425 per spot and an annual renewal/inspection fee of $125. For those unable or uninterested in constructing a parklet, they can apply to have table service on the sidewalk for an annual fee of $100. 

Miller said some of the bigger cities such as Oakland make businesses pay $14,000 for an annual parking spot fee.

“Our fee is pretty reasonable,” he said. “It works out to $35 per month and that’s nothing.” 

Miller said the parklet program also received $150,000 from the Transportation Development Act fund that was used to repave the road for traffic calming and beautification.

Several changes to San Benito Street include northbound traffic will be detoured to the east and west at South Street. An existing lane going northbound between Fourth and South streets will be closed to allow for parklets, while the southbound lane will be turned into a one-way street.

A set of new stop signs will be installed at the intersections of San Benito and Sixth streets, as well as San Benito and Seventh streets.

San Benito Street between South and Hawkins streets will be designed for two-way traffic with a parklet. Northbound traffic on San Benito Street will be detoured to the east and west onto South Street.

Miller said that business owners will construct their own parklets using designs approved by the city. He added that the parklets need to be completed by Nov. 15 in order for them to receive reimbursements.

Peter Lago, owner of Johnny’s Bar & Grill on San Benito Street, said he’s all in agreement for the new parklet project taking place in front of his place. He mentioned that he’s tired of seeing nearby businesses closing down.

“I’m no good if I don’t have any neighbors,” he said. “What’s good for downtown needs to be good for all of downtown and I’m really hoping that this works really well for all the bars, restaurants and businesses.” 

Lago said he liked the fact that the city council reached out to the business owners and asked what works best for them. He said the city presented a survey to downtown businesses and they agreed to move forward with a parklet program.

San Benito Street will be transformed from a two-way street to one-way southbound route from Fourth Street to South Street, which will also include a bike lane. Lago said he’s optimistic that the parklet project will create a walk-friendly environment.

“I’m hoping that we’re still able to do parades, gatherings, the beer and wine stroll,” he said. “Those things that make it more like a neighborhood where everybody’s kind of trick or treating for booze.”

However, Lago is a little concerned if the new layout will affect the Independence Rally, which is scheduled to return in July next year. He’s afraid the event’s promoter will say it’s too congested and he can’t utilize the space to his liking.

Other restaurant owners in downtown have grumbled over the fact that the city isn’t assisting them with funds. Miller said that one of the reasons is because they’re operating on private property; the city owns San Benito Street. 

“The Parklet Program, being on our streets, we have some control,” he said. “If somebody is mismanaging the parklet or it becomes dangerous then we’re able to stop the program for that individual.”

Velazquez said in the past it was hard to convince people to visualize the outdoor space, noting that they were afraid of several factors such as poor weather conditions or taking away parking spaces. He said it’s not what the community wanted to see and there was a lot of fear of the unknown. 

However, Covid-19 forced a lot of restaurants to switch things around in order for them to follow certain guidelines so they can continue to operate. Velazquez said several businesses have shown they’ve been able to bounce back and having the new space could be more social friendly, attracting restaurants to take advantage of the outdoor dining experience. 

“I think the public is really excited seeing it finally happening and it’s something more permanent now,” he said. “It’s good.”

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