The City Council will get to walk a very tricky line this month and next, as the 500 block becomes the focus of two significant and public controversies.
Long the ignored stepchild of Main Street, the 500 block has become the beacon of commerce and success downtown. It is home to some of the most successful restaurants in the city (, , and ), , , and .
It is also the proposed home of . Two women want to open what is becoming a burgeoning business venture right in the middle of the 500 block. The Planning Commission approved the matter earlier this month, but Friday that approval was appealed to the City Council by four 500 block merchants and a developer, according to the Martinez News Gazette.
Given the other issue coming up this week regarding the 500 block – - it’s a good bet the council would have preferred dodging this particular matter. That’s because one of the issues on the table will be the removal of the current 500 block pockets, which most people see as the reason for that block’s success. Since the block was revamped in 1998 and meant to be a one-year experiment, the pockets are in need of an upgrade, and the block can’t be paved until the current pockets are removed.
But here’s the rub: 500 block merchants are happy with the way things are now, and don’t want to see changes in the way the pockets are used. Also, there is talk of charging merchants $2,000 per temporary ‘pocket,’ which would allow outdoor dining during good weather, and additional parking during the winter months when it’s removed. Each pocket takes up a parking space; for popular eateries, this could translate into two parking spaces, or $4,000. Hardly a small sum for a business struggling through a tough economy.
For some restaurants on the 500 block, removing what’s there now will eliminate a substantial portion of their outdoor dining business, which is brisk in nice weather. These businesses don’t pay extra for this outdoor seating presently, and are no doubt less than happy about the prospect of paying for it now.
And the often-discussed plan to change the 500 block back to a two-way street is also less than popular with the merchants there.
There is a petition signed by 800 people asking the council to keep the pockets in place and the block one-way.
These will be subjects of much controversy in the coming weeks and months, as successful business owners demand to know why the city seems intent on taking away the very elements of their success.
Add to that already-heated environment the prospect of one or more public hearings in which the council must then decide whether to allow a new and potentially quite profitable business to locate on this same block, despite the objections of the very same merchants, and you have the makings of a classic Martinez conundrum.
Even though the council refuses (so far) to weigh in personally on the Patch, tell us what you think: should the council uphold the Planning Commission’s decision to allow Ladybugs to operate on the 500 block of Main Street? Take our poll, and explain your answer in the comments.