Solvang City Council members unanimously voted Monday evening to extend the closure of parts of Copenhagen Drive through Oct. 31, 2021, and directed staff to develop recommendations in alignment with the pending general plan update for a potential permanent closure.
The council also directed staff to work with the council’s newly appointed Branding and Design Committee on design guidelines for the area, and to develop a partnership program that would be available not just to Copenhagen businesses, but businesses throughout the community.
Mayor Pro Tem Robert Clarke said it seemed “funny and arbitrary to put a time limit on it because obviously everything’s so fluid and changes so often” since COVID-19 closures were mandated by the state.
In March, the state, county and subsequently the city of Solvang declared the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. The city of Solvang also declared an economic cessation emergency as a result of state and county mandated closures of retail and tourism businesses.
The city also developed a micro-loan program for businesses throughout the city to help them stay afloat until state and federal funding mechanisms were put into place. According to City Manager Xenia Bradford, two-thirds of those loans have been repaid in full.
“It’s showing that by us providing that opportunity and creating that partnership with that community it’s allowing people a fighting chance to get through that, bridge them through ’til they can get to the next step of whatever’s to happen here as we take it day by day,” Mayor Ryan Toussaint said.
In June, as the state relaxed the closure mandate, Solvang City Council approved the temporary closure of Copenhagen Drive between Alisal Road and First Street and between First Street and Second Street to vehicular traffic. The closure allowed businesses to expand outdoors to comply with social distancing requirements and to increase the number of visitors Solvang could “safely accommodate,” according to a staff report.
The resolution extends that closure through autumn 2021 to provide stability in a time of ever-changing mandates, allow businesses to plan for a timeline certain rather than continue awaiting short-term decisions by lawmakers, and to learn how the closures will impact businesses, visitors and residents during winter months.
Two members of the public spoke out at Monday’s meeting. One asked the council to seek merchants' input on any decision related to the closure and design plans. The other, David Rasmussen, commended the council for its quick action in closing Copenhagen early on.
“I think that was a good move for social distancing. It was especially good for restaurants so they can stay open,” he said. “But we also need to pay attention to what we may be losing if we do this permanently.”
“I don’t know that we have other options in this state. California, we’re going to be the last state to open and do anything to help out the rest of us. I think we can always go back and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to open it back up,’” Councilman Daniel Johnson said.
Councilman Chris Djernaes said he would like the city to consider a permanent closure of the street with upgrades being developed in stages, starting with analysis of the impact the temporary closure has on businesses, local citizens and the tourism trade.
Clarke added he’d like to see businesses immediately impacted by the closure to have a “weighted say” on the issue.
“It seems like they’re for it because we really have only one merchant here that’s talking about it,” Johnson said. “It’s on the agenda. I’m kind of like, ‘Why are they not here talking about it if this is an issue that generally affects them?’ I kind of feel like they should be here talking about it, and I’m not saying it’s a ‘yes’ vote or a ‘no’ vote, but I would appreciate, if they were passionate about it, to speak up.”
The Branding and Design Committee’s first public workshop is slated for Sept. 23.
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