Castro Street may be closed off to traffic for restaurant seating

Assistant Editor

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, second from left, second row, joined the Castro Merchants Zoom meeting May 21 to discuss reopening in the era of COVID-19. Photo: Screengrab via Zoom
District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, second from left, second row, joined the Castro Merchants Zoom meeting May 21 to discuss reopening in the era of COVID-19. Photo: Screengrab via Zoom  

Castro Street between Market and 19th streets is one location that is being considered for partial closure to vehicular traffic so that dine-in restaurants can reopen, according to Jacob Bintliff, legislative aide to gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.

Bintliff, a gay man, said in a May 21 phone call with the Bay Area Reporter that nothing is set in stone, and the idea is one of many proposals to help the beleaguered restaurant industry.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association has been lobbying the city's economic recovery task force to allow outdoor dining, Bintliff said.

"A recent analysis shows that if restaurants put tables six feet apart inside many could only have 30% of their business occupied," Bintliff said. "This would help them come as close to having 100% of the tables as possible."

Other spaces, such as Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro and the Noe Valley Town Square, are also being considered.

One challenge for such a proposal along Castro Street would be rerouting public transit — the 24 Divisadero bus line is still running even with the reduction in Muni services.

"It would obviously have to go on a detour; it does so for things such as the Castro Street Fair," Bintliff said. "But that may not be applicable every day. Hartford and Collingwood are not very big streets."

Bintliff said that even if Castro Street is closed to vehicular traffic, it wouldn't necessarily be all day or every day.

Mandelman addresses Castro Merchants
Mandelman touched upon the potential of a street closure during a Zoom meeting with the Castro Merchants group the morning of May 21. Masood Samereie, the president of the merchants association, is a proponent of the idea.

"There may be times Castro Street is closed off to traffic," he said.

Solange Darwish of The Cove, located at 434 Castro Street, said he would like to see more outside seating.

"I already had three tables outside and it was very successful," he said. "People like to be outside. If there are more homeless people going up and down the street that can be dealt with. But a business like mine cannot survive without additional seating. Take-out only is a recipe for disaster."

Restaurants have been limited to take-out or delivery since the shelter-in-place order went into effect March 17.

Mandelman said that one of several logistical issues would be homeless people or others harassing diners.

"That'll be the biggest challenge for successful outdoor seating," Mandelman said.

Bintliff, who was on the Zoom meeting, said that people are trying to figure out new state Alcoholic Beverage Control rules that suggest bars may be able to reopen if they partner with a restaurant.

"It looks like, for example, the food would have to go from the Cove to Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks would have to give it with the alcohol," he said. "The ABC is soliciting ideas."

Other issues
Terry Asten Bennett, a straight ally who is the general manager of Cliff's Variety at 479 Castro Street, asked Mandelman when antibody tests for the novel coronavirus will be more widely available.

"Most of us feel like we were exposed in January," she said.

Mandelman said that the antibody tests that exist are not reliable enough.

"Lots of people believe they were exposed in December or January," Mandelman said. "But when they do large scale antibody tests it's less than 5% prevalence in the most impacted areas, so nobody should assume that they have the antibodies. The false positive rate can be as high as 15%."

Asten Bennett also asked about public transit, saying that many people find riding Muni to be the most dangerous part of their day.

"The public transit problem is real," Mandelman said. "As other economies have turned online, people are loathe to put themselves onto a potentially crowded bus or train."

Muni is working on ways to mitigate these concerns; the remaining bus lines come more frequently, Mandelman said, to encourage physical distancing.

Mandelman said he is joining District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin and Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee (D7) on the economic recovery task force to help San Francisco's businesses.

One thing he said he will be doing is advocating for revamping permitting rules that have prevented many would-be businesses from opening their doors.

While the new vacancy tax approved by city voters in March will go on hold, Mandelman said, "the concerns that drove Prop D are even more relevant now."

Update
The memorandum of understanding necessary for a proposed safe sleeping site to begin at Everett Middle School, covered in this week's B.A.R., was signed May 26, Mandelman said.

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