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Downtown 'Pocket' Proposal Brings Out A Wide Range Of Opinions

Many like the plan for aluminum platforms for outdoor dining, but don't like their seasonal nature, or the idea of paying for them.

Over 100 people came to City Hall Thursday to hear the city’s proposal for creating outdoor dining “pockets” along Main Street and other downtown streets. Most people seemed to like what they heard, except for two key concerns: the potential cost of the aluminum platforms to the business owners, and the city’s plans to remove the platforms from November through March to help avoid flooding problems.

The other main point of contention was what to do with the existing pockets on the 500 block.

There were two meetings on Thursday – one in the afternoon and another in the evening. Both were heavily attended by downtown merchants, particularly those from the 500 block of Main Street, where pockets have been in place for the past 11 years, property owners and residents. 

Public Works Director Dave Scola explained the idea to put aluminum platforms in one or two parking places on the street, to create a place for outdoor dining. The platforms could be connected to take as many as two parking spaces. Business owners would have to get insurance for outdoor dining, and there would likely be a cost to the owners for the platforms, though how much is still being determined.

The fate of the present pockets, and the one-way configuration of the 500 block, also remains a point of contention. Several 500 block merchants asked the city to keep the current 500 block configuration in place for a year while the new platforms are tried on the rest of Main Street.

Downtown property owner Earl Dunivan balked at the suggestion, saying that keeping the present pockets on Main Street was “off the table.”

“We’ve lost focus of what’s driving this,” he said. “The city said we need to pave the 500 block, and in order to pave, we have to remove the pockets. The flex pockets were brought into play because the city had to replace the old pockets, but then it was felt it was only fair to let all the restaurants have pockets. The 500 block remaining as it is is off the table.”

Dunivan noted that the 12 years the 500 block has not collected parking meter revenue comes to $183,000, and also said that the merchants should not have to pay more than the lost revenue from parking meters for the platforms, which would come to about $80 per month.

Anne Mobley, owner of White Rabbit Boutique, countered that the city paved Pacheco Boulevard around some newly-planted trees, and didn’t see why it couldn’t do the same on the 500 block.

“I think (the new pockets are) a fabulous idea,” she said. “People love the outdoor dining. Try it out on the other blocks before dismantling what works on our block. Try it a year or so.”

She added that to ask merchants to pay for the pockets is “ridiculous.”  

“I’ve enjoyed our pockets so much,” said Pat English of Haute Stuff. “They create a space, a feel. The pockets you’re proposing sounds hot and reflective to me. It sounds like it’s not a good space to sit on.”

She also questioned where restaurant owners would store the furniture and equipment from the pockets for the four months out of the year that the pockets would be taken away.

And the issue of paying a fee for use of the pockets did not sit well with her.

“This is not an easy town,” she said. “It’s not lucrative to have a business here. To assess more fees to create the ambience diners want just doesn’t pencil out.”

Kelly Neil, owner of Triskelion hair salon, said the aluminum platforms did not fit into the historic ambience of downtown.

“We have beautiful brick downtown sidewalks,” Neil said. “You’re taking something pleasing already, and changing it into an urban, more compact space – your verbiage and your actions are inconsistent.”

Rachael Ford, chair of the Planning Commission and board member and Treasurer of Main Street Martinez, spoke as a private citizen when she said the 500 block should not be characterized as the only part of downtown that’s doing well. She also criticized the businesses now who are using the pockets as outdoor dining without paying for them.

“If I could have had the city subsidize my square footage for 12 years, I would have been thrilled,” she said. “When I had a business, I paid for every single square footage I had.”

Engineer Harlan Strickland urged the city to try the pocket experiment on other blocks before taking down the 500 block pockets.

“No one knows for sure why the 500 block is so successful” he said. “On the 500 block, you can get in touch with your inner jaywalker. There is slow traffic and a narrow roadway. And free parking. Benicia and Pleasant Hill have no meters. Walnut Creek gets written about in New York magazines. They can afford to piss people off. If people come here and get a $40 cup of coffee (because they get a parking ticket), they’re not coming back.”

Dick Duncan, who was the primary driver of the original pockets program, said the one-way configuration of the 500 block was done to keep the same number of parking space available. He urged the city to consider one-way traffic all along Main Street, and to make parking diagonal.

“I’m concerned about the extra cost of putting these up and taking them down,” he said. “You’re creating an ambience on Main Street. To put it away for four months out of the year doesn’t work.” 

City officials will take the comments from Thursday's meeting under consideration as the project continues to make its way through the approval process, said councilwoman Janet Kennedy, one of two members of the Economic Development subcommittee who, with councilwoman Lara DeLaney, chaired the Thursday meetings.

Kennedy said the city hopes to begin using the pockets as early as this summer. 

Chris Kapsalis April 02, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Lets keep an eye on where the people running for office get their political donations.
Chris Kapsalis April 02, 2012 at 05:43 PM
I can't for the life of me see why preformed molds can't be laid out and steel reinforced concrete pored to resemble bricks with brick coloring in sections that can be moved when needed and stacked/stored with fork lifts. A space for drainage between the pocket and curb. It would be easy to do and cheap. Why are we even considering spending 100's of thousands of dollars to have pockets?
Roxanne Cole April 03, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Chris I believe that you are right. We could install a more cost effective product. We could also leave them up all year long and avoid the cost of set-up and removal. I would love to try a different product, at my expense, as a test in front of Roxx.
Chris Kapsalis April 03, 2012 at 02:23 PM
We should work on a plan Roxanne, if it's ok to do. I would volunteer my help if you want. It would be fun.
Linda Meza April 03, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Perhaps someone should call Industrial Lumber on Howe and point them to the video I posted. The idea that wood is unsuitable has been disproved around the country. I've found examples of this in New York, San Francisco, it is the preferred material listed for the historic district of Northville, Michigan. As for costs, businesses could work together and start an online KickStarter campaign. If 800 people felt strongly enough about outdoor dining to sign a petition, I'm betting they'd be willing to help fund a project. Heck, let me be the first to pledge $100. I am not as wedded to the idea of brick being the ultimate material as I am introduction of outdoor dining throughout the downtown. Frankly, and lets face it I am pretty frank, the brick pavers aren't as lovely as everyone makes them out to be. If only this was Main Street USA where they get steam cleaned every morning. Personally, as a potential customer, I like the idea of natural materials more so than metal and agree that the sounds of clicking would be distracting. I also think wood products add a warmth missing in concrete. Here are a few examples I found Sunday: http://pinterest.com/lindameza/creative-outdoor-dining-and-public-space/
Chris Kapsalis April 03, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I was down early this morning taking pictures Linda and getting ideas. Decking is a great option, yet probably more expensive than concrete. But I was thinking the same thing this morning, build it in a semi permanent way or decking. Also the water would run under the deck easy. Price wise, lumber is expensive. I worked at a lumber yard, also built decks. I am just guessing as 2x6 redwood decking prices rise quick.. (All guesses, have not priced it yet) Over a $1 a foot for 2x6 by now?Plus other material, screws, hardware etc. Probably $4 a sq foot to build, not counting railing etc. 7 x 14 = 98 sq foot = $400 a 7 by 14 deck pocket to build. with volunteer labor of course. It would work though. I took pics this morning and will have a photo soon with a deck taking up the parking spot in front of Roxx ( The curve will be a bit tricky) and see what it looks like. I for one never dismissed decking as a possible material to use. With just a few things to work out if used. With four people a deck 7 by 14' could actually be lifted out of the way to pave the road etc.
Linda Meza April 03, 2012 at 04:45 PM
The ease of access for city staff or emergency staff should they need to access that portion of the public thruway is an important consideration. As is storm water flow. For Roxx on Main wood makes the transition from the restaurant to the patio feel a bit more seamless than the initial proposal. Anyway those are my thoughts.
Chris Kapsalis April 03, 2012 at 04:54 PM
I just posted a picture of what a wood deck might look like in frount of Roxx. Very ruff.
Chris Kapsalis April 03, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Frankly, and lets face it I am pretty frank, the brick pavers aren't as lovely as everyone makes them out to be." This is opinion Linda and you have the right to it, as others have the right to theirs that pavers are nice and lovely. And power washers are busy cleaning Main Street every now and then, rain also cleans them a bit. A bit more maintence, care, and they could be kept cleaner. We are not Main Street USA though, and our city is lived in.
Linda Meza April 03, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Every city is lived in. However, if experience shows that certain materials are more prone to staining and showing those stains, like concrete and brick, then perhaps a different material for a dining room floor should also be considered. After all, isn't that what these patios are going to be? A dining room floor?
Chris Kapsalis April 03, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Actually concrete is the easiest to clean, power wash, wood will have to have spaces between boards, traps food stuff, also soak up stains more than concrete would. We recently power washed and retreated a large deck around a house. Also wood, unless painted, turns a gray in no time in the sun. Cracks. Other considerations, but wood is definitely a great option in my opinion. However, concrete is very cleanable, washable and sanitized more so than wood. You can add color, red say, and make brick patterns. Also lasts longer. There are synthetic decking boards, very expensive though. Wood can warp as well, and water damage. It can be treated with seal, but the red color will quickly fade. Pressure treated. Beams joists could be pressure treated wood, which has chemicals in it though, lots to consider. It would have to be off the pavement to prevent water damage, easily done. Despite the draw backs of decking, I am personally leaning towards decking for the rest of Main at least. I do think the concrete sections would be cheaper and look great, and work great, also possibly a movable brick surface in sections.
Anne Mobley April 03, 2012 at 09:37 PM
A concrete contractor friend’s estimate for a 7' X16' X 6” stamped colored concrete slab = $3,700, (less than the $9,000 for a reflective metal platform). What happened to the City's proposal for outside dining up against the business wall with sidewalks around the perimeter much like they had at La Beau's? Pockets or parklets are the way to go and they do help businesses. Each business can do it by permit like the video showed, with volunteers and donations, and the City does not have to be involved in it, as was done on 500 block 11 years ago. We should be favoring year-round outside dining, given California weather and carry on what has worked for the 500 block with brick pockets or whatever is in keeping with the architecture. Granted, our planters may need some help, but the concept works and works well. Why change what works and reinvent the wheel? I favor more pockets downtown like at Pacifica Pizza, Lemongrass, Roxx's, Compass Star, MS Sweets & Ice Cream, and whoever else wants one. For the City to think they need to charge businesses for "space" in the street is absurd. For the new Planning Commissioner, who is also a new Main Street Martinez Board member (conflict?), to favor charging merchants tells me she does not have a clue what it takes to have a business downtown in Martinez. Shame on her and her friends for advocating this and trying to destroy what little profit (if any) businesses make in our downtown.
Anne Mobley April 03, 2012 at 09:45 PM
What happened to Ms. Henderson's comments posted on April 2? Did she remove them herself? If not, are comments being censored? I thought we were granted free speech in the First Amendment.
Lawrence Risner April 06, 2012 at 04:34 PM
If some of the city monies were to be "recaptured" from over paid salaries of some city officials and also the perks for the council members a concrete or paver solution and possibly even removal of the parking meters on main street would be possible without any added expense to the business owners. Need business owners other than politicians making decisions regarding main street!
Withmar April 06, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Regardless of who pays parking needs to be meterless and free.
Patrick O'Connelly April 07, 2012 at 08:36 PM
The issue with paying for parking downtown is related to the parking district which was established for the express purpose of building a parking garage in the downtown. Free parking was exchanged for the desire to build a parking garage through the parking meters fees and many merchants and visitors to downtown have expressed their desire to have a parking facility downtown. The problem is that nothing comes free and if we wantt to revitilize our downtown then there will be a cost associated with it; it seems unreasonable to assume that the entirety of this effort will only be burdened by taxpayers and not the businesses in the downtown core. While I understand that this is a difficult economy for everyone, it is not fair to shift the cost of owning a business off to a city or to its taxpayers. Rather, everyone should have a part in shouldering the cost of a move that will ultmiately benefit us all.
Patrick O'Connelly April 07, 2012 at 08:41 PM
I have been absent from the board for a few days but coming back is a true disappointment. It is disheartening that so much of the commentary on this board seems mean-spirited and like personal attacks on people who may not share a viewpoint. Rather than attacking each other, perhaps it would be better to spend the energy working together for the common good. The tone of the board makes it hard to be sympathetic to the plight of those who consistently seem to assume that people with differing viewpoints are bad people versus people with a different opinion. Although it may seem like a good idea to attack others and whip up discontent, in the end, where does that leave us? Is there any way to compromise and work together or is it an all or nothing scenario? I personally do not find the outdated look of the brick patios appealing. I think the outdoor dining is a very nice option but I think it will be better accomplished through the cohesive design the new pockets seem to offer. The Alhambra Creek revitalization, especially around the Plaza area, look fantastic and I think that overall look will fit nicely with the new outdoor pockets. This is a good move for our downtown and a great boost to the businesses down there. I think in the end, even the critics will be happy with the new look.
Chris Kapsalis April 07, 2012 at 09:34 PM
I didnt see any personal attacks in this thread, only differing opinins and different options and things to consider. I don't like to leave anything off the table and I think decking is a great idea as well. Whatever the outcome or material used, it will/would be a great thing for downtown I believe to have more outside dinning etc. Way cool. I just hope we consider ways to do this inexspensivly before spending a ton of money on it. But like the plaza, sometimes you have to to do it right and have it look nice, spend money. I just think in this case in such a simple thing we cold do this for very little money.
Paul L Wilson April 08, 2012 at 04:14 PM
In the 80s the city and property owner in the downtown core approved a BID business assessment district to put in all the brick pavers we currently have on our city sidewalks and in the 90s city and property owner in the downtown core approved a flood control assessment district to put in flood control thus building the plaza so if there is a need for outdoor dinning than form a special district focuses on the downtown core paid for by those who will be profiting the increase their revenues generated for the increase in foot traffic for their bottom line. I personally like the outdated look of the brick patios appealing it truly matches the rest of or city sidewalks even all the work we just completed on Marina Vista.
Paul L Wilson April 08, 2012 at 04:14 PM
After the purchase of the property across from the train depot for 11 million give to the city by County and State Dept of Transportation for over flow parking for 275 cars. Now this area has become 2 sports facilities and when in full operation will use up what over flow parking would have been left. There were other city lots that could have been developed for these parking purposes but were not developed witch could have served these two purposes. As far as the downtown is related to the parking district which was established for the express purpose of building a parking garage in the downtown. I will check the cities books and see where these revenues are going. I will not want to pay for bonding any structure for parking in downtown or anywhere else for that matter.
Linda Meza April 08, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Tactical Urbanism - what those involved in the project 11 years ago accomplished, albeit before IT had a name. http://www.scribd.com/khawarzad/d/51354266-Tactical-Urbanism-Volume-1 "Improving the livability of our towns and cities commonly starts at the street, block, or building scale. While larger scale efforts do have their place, incremental, small-scale improvements are increasingly seen as a way to stage more substantial investments. This approach allows a host of local actors to test new concepts before making substantial political and financial commitments. Sometimes sanctioned, sometimes not, these actions are commonly referred to as “guerilla urbanism,” “Pop-up Urbanism,””Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper,” “City Repair,” “Changescaping,” or “D.I.Y. urbanism.”"
Linda Meza April 08, 2012 at 04:34 PM
the point is the test has been proven and now it's time to incorporate lessons learned, adopt best practices and move forward. Maybe a special screening of Hook with Robin Williams to set the mood. Sometimes even I forget how to let go, imagine the possibilities and adopt a playful attitude.
Linda Meza April 08, 2012 at 05:08 PM
I think many people are aware of TEDx - here is a link to a YouTube video on Building Better Blocks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ntwqVDzdqAU
Anne Mobley April 08, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Love this guy Jason. He is what we need in Martinez. What great ideas. But where did they get the money to do what they did? How did he get what they did done?
Linda Meza April 08, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Here you go, a link to Jason's The Better Block blog http://betterblock.org/?page_id=46
Anne Mobley April 09, 2012 at 03:25 AM
The video showed that they "slowed the street down" by making it one-way, made a bike lane buffer, and success followed! Why can't we incorporate bike lanes down Main Street too with one-way to the court house? Jason is the consultant we should have hired!
Linda Meza April 09, 2012 at 05:26 AM
Anne, while I appreciate the passion I believe it's missing the underlying message of How to Build a Better Block which was anyone committed to making a change - can. The examples were built on the cheap, were intended to last no longer than a weekend and the only point hoped to be made was to offer residents, stakeholders and City Hall an experiential frame of reference of what could work. In the video Jason speaks about planners and consultants crafting visual aides where people are photoshopped into the scene. In the weekend projects constructed, there are real people interacting in these spaces. As for no vehicular traffic; if the businesses facing Main Street abutted an alleyway then blocking the roads to vehicular traffic would not negatively impact deliveries. Similarly if there were only one natural entry into the downtown; but I think people are forgetting the exit at Marina Vista and Hwy 680. If Main Street were one-way traveling from Alhambra to Court then the only traffic I can foresee businesses capturing would be those vehicles coming into the downtown from Hwy 4 and Alhambra. Visitors into our town, be they coming from Hwy 4 or 680, should be carefully considered when businesses start trying to compel a pattern of travel that may not feel comfortable or natural to someone not familiar with our streets. But those are merely my thoughts.
Chris Kapsalis April 09, 2012 at 06:55 AM
Linda, I forget who but someone suggested one way from Court to Ferry, then one way from Alhambra to Ferry. I think that could work. I personally do not like one way streets , however for our Main Street I do. It is narrow. With two way traffic it could not handle the size street pockets on the 500 block But the way our Mains Street is, thin, you have to have one way to have the type of pockets we have on the 500 block, which people really like. so sacrificing two way for big street pockets might be a good idea for business after observing what they did for the 500 block, at least for restaurants . More spread out, the restaurants would not be so concentrated and foot traffic would increase the length of Main, especially off County peek hours, and maybe more business would open on off streets. I see so many people now on the 500 block, if this was spread out the length of Main? We can't have a city with nothing but restaurants though. But what worked on the 500 I think needs to spread out, With two way traffic it would mean we could not have pockets like the 500 block has, with such a thin Main Street.
Chris Kapsalis April 09, 2012 at 07:07 AM
I should add I would hate to have Main Street one way all the way, living here, doing so much stuff downtown I do, but there is no way to have big street pockets without one way. So I guess I am, in the middle. This is a working town, and whatever happens I hope we consider "everyone" before deciding how our main street should be.
Linda Meza April 09, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Since I mentioned KickStarter as an online crowdscourced fund raising mechanism, here's a campaign to fund an Oakland parklet that successfully reached its goal (funds aren't transferred unless this threshold is met) one day ago. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/missmackay/the-40th-street-parklet

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