Capitola to consider closing Esplanade for Begonia Festival and Monte fireworks

Council members: Idea could work at Begonia Festival, Monte fireworks
By Jondi Gumz
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CAPITOLA >> After seeing the response to the first Open Streets Capitola event May 4 on a car-free Esplanade, City Council members are considering closing the Esplanade for the Begonia Festival on Labor Day weekend and the Monte fireworks show in October.

Discussing options Thursday night, Councilman Dennis Norton said he had spoken with 13 village businesses, all of whom were in favor of bringing Open Streets back.

“We should do it on a regular basis,” he said.

Other council members did not support a frequent closing of the Esplanade for Open Streets.

Mayor Sam Storey called the event “wonderful,” but added, “Some residents are getting event fatigue.”

Councilman Ed Bottorff, who attended Open Streets, said, “Our biggest draw is the beach,” guessing that 4,000 of the 6,500 visitors were at the beach.

Councilman Michael Termini said, “There was a gentler vibe as I walked from my house to village, not 1,000 people looking for a parking space.”

He complimented event coordinator Saskia Lucas for listening to the feedback of the merchants.

“It wasn’t a total win for businesses, it wasn’t a total loss,” Lucas said. “A lot could be done to make it better for village merchants.”

Lucas, who spent 700 hours to organize the event, acknowledged that San Jose Avenue in the village was underutilized because a bicycle chalk activity slated for that area did not happen as planned.

She said in hindsight she would have moved the bike rodeo, which drew a lot of attention, from the Mercantile parking lot to San Jose Avenue.

When the event was held on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, participants used the space like a park, bringing a Frisbee or guitar, she said.

Surveys of participants indicated 50 percent discovered a new business and 75 percent reported spending money at the event.

Dining establishments in the village reported better sales than retailers during Open Streets, according to surveys.

The Capitola Wharf and Village Business Improvement Association suggested scheduling the event for October or November instead of May.

“It was fine — you can do it again,” said Carin Hanna, who owns the Craft Gallery in the village. “I think the event should go on, but not 52 weeks a year.”

Merchants who had a sidewalk sale did well, but not all of the retailers have enough staff to do that, she added.

“I’m excited it’s inspiring this type of discussions,” Lucas said afterward.

Funds to put on Open Streets are not part of the $14.7 million city spending plan for 2014-15.

Much of the cost for Open Streets, such as Lucas’ time, were funded by a grant from the Regional Transportation Commission.

There is no guarantee such a grant would be awarded again, RTC chief George Dondero said, explaining that grants are competitive.

Public Works Director Steve Jesberg said he would return with a report on the possible Esplanade closing for the Begonia Festival and for fireworks show. Community input will be sought on those options.

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