The Ventura City Council has again extended a program in which five blocks of downtown Main Street are closed to motor traffic to allow small businesses hammered by COVID-19 restrictions to expand their operations outside.
The Temporary Outdoor Business Expansion Program, also known as “Main Street Moves,” launched June 16 for 30 days and was initially extended by the council until Sept. 15. The latest extension is until Feb. 15, or until the county’s coronavirus pandemic emergency health order expires, whichever comes first.
Under the program developed by Downtown Ventura Partners, the business association for downtown merchants, Main Street from the San Buenaventura Mission to Fir Street is only open to pedestrians and cyclists.
Also closed under the program to motor traffic is one block of South California Street between Main and Santa Clara streets.
The goal of the program is to permit small businesses struggling under state and Ventura County COVID-19 restrictions to expand their service areas to the sidewalks and streets, according to the association. That allows more room for dining and shopping while maintaining social distancing rules aimed at stopping the spread of the deadly virus, according to the association.
Related: Ventura closes four blocks of Main Street to cars so businesses can expand outdoors
The program also enables the public to safely stroll in the traffic-free streets with the option of easily patronizing the businesses there in a promenade setting, said Kevin Clerici, the association’s executive director.
A recent poll conducted by the association found overwhelming support by businesses to extend the program, according to a report from the Ventura City Manager’s Office.
A lifeline for businesses
“‘Main Street Moves’ has literally saved businesses from closing in these unprecedented times,” Clerici said Thursday. “This extension through the holidays is a clear and important vote of confidence. The city’s support is critical to us.”
When launched in June, the program closed four blocks of Main Street between Palm and Fir streets. Since then, a fifth block between the mission and Palm Street has been added, Clerici said.
Ventura Mayor Matt LaVere said Friday he supported the program’s latest extension.
“Given the pandemic and the current restrictions being put in place by the state, it is more important than ever that Ventura do whatever it can to support its small businesses,” he said.
“Closing Main Street to allow outdoor operations has provided a lifeline to many of our downtown businesses, and we will continue to work with businesses across the city to provide them whatever help they need,” he said.
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Clerici said the association might be asking the city for a further extension prior to Feb. 15 depending on the state of the pandemic.
“Time will tell,” he said.
Side effects of program
Meanwhile, some Ventura residents who live on or near Poli Street, which runs parallel to Main Street, have complained to the city about what they say is a dangerous increase in motor traffic on Poli Street as a result of the Main Street blocks being closed.
One of them, Jessica Militello, said Friday that while she realizes the “Main Street Moves” program is beneficial to businesses, it has resulted in Poli Street “becoming a main thoroughfare, exacerbating the ongoing issue of speeds there – an extremely dangerous situation” that has resulted in several crashes.
There are similar concerns about Santa Clara Street, which also runs parallel to Main Street, she said.
In response to the complaints, LaVere posted on Facebook that the city’s traffic department “agrees with the community sentiment about needing to make some changes on Poli.”
One of those already made, Militello said, was the installation on Thursday of a raised pylon and a crosswalk at Poli and Ann streets.
Mike Harris covers the East County cities of Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, as well as transportation countywide. You can contact him at [email protected] or 805-437-0323.
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This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Ventura again extends small business program closing downtown Main Street to cars