The Ventura City Council has approved a package of measures designed to help businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic, including closing part of Main Street to allow restaurants and stores to expand into the street and streamlining the process for approving development permits.
Both were part of an “emergency economic development policy,” approved by a 7-0 vote. Because it takes effect immediately, it was classified as an emergency ordinance and required votes from six of the seven council members.
“We’re taking innovative, create, flexible steps to show our business community that we’ll do everything within our power to support this recovery,” Mayor Matt LaVere said after the vote, which was taken at the end of a virtual meeting. The council has been meeting via videoconference since March.
The street closures won’t start unless Ventura County is approved by the state of California for the next stage of reopening, which will allow restaurants and stores to open if they practice social distancing. County and city officials expect that to happen soon, because Ventura County meets the state’s new benchmarks for reopening, based on its number of positive tests over the past two weeks and its rate of tests that come back positive.
The downtown street closure program was developed by Downtown Ventura Partners, the business association for downtown merchants. It will cover four or five blocks of Main Street and will last for one month as a pilot program.
Downtown Ventura Partners will pay for the street closures and put up the barricades, and will open the streets in the mornings for things like trash pickup and commercial deliveries, Clerici said. When the street is closed, there will be designated spots on each side street for curbside pickup from Main Street shops.
Closing the core downtown blocks of Main will eliminate around 150 parking spaces, out of more than 2,000 spaces downtown, said Councilwoman Christy Weir. With vehicle traffic lower during the pandemic, parking should not to be a problem, she said.
The city permit that will cover the downtown street closures is also available to businesses in other areas that want to close a street or a parking lot to expand their operations. But without an organization like Downtown Ventura Partners to coordinate the closures and foot the bill, no one else has asked the city for a permit.
“I see this as an opportunity to throw a lifeline out to businesspeople,” Councilman Jim Friedman said.
Peter Gilli, the city’s director of community development, said streamlining the process doesn’t just help business and property owners; it helps the entire city, because working more efficiently saves the taxpayers’ money and gives city employees time to address everyone’s needs.
“We should want more new businesses and investments, not less,” Gilli said. “We can’t increase the supply of staff hours and we can’t reduce the demand by applicants. The only thing we can do is make the process more efficient.”
One change is to allow the city’s community development director more leeway in deciding which path to approval a permit application will take — whether it can be approved by the director himself, or whether it needs to go before the Design Review Committee or the Planning Commission.