After grassroots outcry, Gilroy city council has a change of heart on restaurant parklets

After grassroots outcry, Gilroy city council has a change of heart on restaurant parklets

After a month of controversy around downtown parklets in Gilroy, supporters of the downtown restaurant scene — who had rallied in support of local business owners seeking to hold on to their pandemic-era outside spaces — celebrated this week as the city council admitted the outcry had prompted them to have a change of heart. At their meeting on Monday, councilmembers voted unanimously to create a parklet program for downtown Gilroy and to allow current parklets to stay standing.

The council had voted 4-3 in December to let the permit for the parklet in front of local restaurant Station 55 expire, requesting that the owner take the structure down by Jan.12 while the city decided whether to craft a parklet program. But on Monday, councilmembers who had originally voted against the renewal said they had reconsidered their positions and would support parklets going forward.

“I wrestled with this problem. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about this problem,” said council member Carol Marques about her deliberations. “It’s been a rough month, but I think we’ve finally crested that hill.”

“After the last meeting, I started thinking and as a business owner, times are tough,” said council member Dion Bracco. “I think a lot of this problem was brought on by the city. We gave a short extension then made them do some improvements on it and then to come back and say ‘no,’ I don’t think that’s right.”

After the council’s December vote, Teodomira Castillo, the owner of Station 55, refused to take the parklet down, arguing that the decision was unfair since another parklet in front of the nearby bar and restaurant Tempo was allowed to remain standing.

Although the two parklets were built years apart under separate programs, the perceived injustice led local citizens to a rally in support of the parklet, making claims of discrimination towards the owner of Station 55, a Latina woman. Supporters of the restaurant and the parklets then appeared en masse at subsequent city council meetings.

At the meeting this week, councilmembers discussed a city survey showing mixed public support and limited interest in parklets from downtown businesses. But public speakers spoke unanimously in support of a parklet program, some of whom vouched for the current parklets.

Tim Miller, who owns the building that houses Tempo, brought the architectural plans for the parklet to the meeting, explaining that he worked closely with the city under the understanding that the parklet would be permanent. “This (parklet) wasn’t a fly-by-night operation. It’s built like Fort Knox,” said Miller while waving the rolled-up plans in his hand. “It helps Tempo, and I strongly believe it helps downtown.”

“The decision you all make today on parklets, especially mine, will decide whether my business remains or falls apart,” said Teodomira Castillo, owner of Station 55, in Spanish. “This is for my family and the families of my employees as well. This parklet is our only hope for moving forward.”

Later, Councilmember Tom Cline stressed the need for fair and uniform standards that did not detract from the architecture of downtown.

Following the unanimous vote, supporters expressed their excitement about the decision.

“I’m happy — it was what we were hoping for,” said Castillo in Spanish. “We worked a lot for this, and I think we earned it. Thanks to the council who reconsidered and thought hard about everything.”

“I’m glad that they’re looking out for the benefit of the citizenship of Gilroy,” said Miller. “I think it’s vital to the liveliness of downtown.”

Moving forward, the city council directed that the city’s downtown committee come forward with recommendations for a parklet program to be considered by the city council at an upcoming meeting.