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CAPITOLA >> The Capitola City Council on Thursday took a step toward removing parking spaces in front of village restaurants to replace them with socially-distanced outdoor dining areas. 

City staff presented two concepts with different parking and traffic options. The council voted unanimously in favor of a concept that would still allow driving on the Esplanade past new outdoor dining areas.

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Several city, county and state hurdles still must be cleared for the outdoor dining to start.

Capitola Mayor Kristen Petersen said the plan would support restaurants that have been closed beyond take-out since March. “That being said, I am very concerned about social distancing guidelines,” Petersen said. 

Petersen and Capitola Police Chief Terry McManus worried about potential COVID-19 spread among people gathered on sidewalks. “Full closure of the village will create a wonderful experience, but it’s probably going to have a higher level of gathering,” McManus said at Thursday’s council meeting. 

The Capitola City Council agreed in concept Thursday to remove some parking spaces on one side of the Esplanade to make way for outdoor dining. Members of the Capitola Business Improvement Association recommended the plan. (City of Capitola)

The pilot program would last four months. It also would include more areas to pick up food. Members of the Capitola Business Improvement Association brought the idea to city leaders. 

Council members and business leaders at the meeting said that shoppers in Capitola mainly have been following social-distance rules in stores and walking on sidewalks. Police said the distancing doesn’t work when people stop and chat. As part of the plan, people on Capitola Village sidewalks would be required to wear masks outdoors as well as indoors except while eating. 

The outdoor dining concept still has several obstacles to clear:

  • An emergency order must be developed by the city’s director of emergency services.
  • Business owners need to apply for city encroachment permits to use the street. The city council agreed to waive the fees Thursday.
  • The state must approve Santa Cruz County’s variance to reach late stage 2 in the state’s reopening plan to allow dining in restaurants. That variance could be approved any time after Friday when the county is expected to submit its variance attestation.  
  • Capitola city workers have to install street barriers to protect diners from drivers.
A slide presented at Thursday’s Capitola City Council meeting outlines the Capitola Business Improvement Association’s outdoor dining plan. (City of Capitola)

The city council also agreed to open the city’s three parking lots to 3-hour parking. 

The vehicle-free concept for the Esplanade has been discussed for years, Capitola Councilmember Ed Bottorff said at Thursday’s meeting. One problem is that shops and restaurant employees need access for deliveries. Central Fire Chief Steve Hall also said firefighters need vehicle access to respond to emergencies. 

In stating her support for the program, Mayor Kristen Petersen said, “I want us to open safely and productively, but if we can’t do it safely, then it won’t be productive.”

Also Thursday, the council voted unanimously to allow the city’s temporary moratorium on evictions to lapse Sunday. The state’s eviction ban is expected to stand until 90 days after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifts the state of emergency prompted by the coronavirus. 

Other cities such as Watsonville also have allowed their eviction moratoriums to lapse.

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Stephen Baxter is a co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. He covers Santa Cruz County government.