Coronavirus

Watsonville Businesses Embrace Outdoor Operations

Free city permits allow businesses to move outdoors amid the pandemic

Integrity Wines of Watsonville is now offering outdoor wine tasting, by appointment only, at their Aviation Way location. PHOTO: Johanna Miller

As many shelter-in-place restrictions remain in place due to Covid-19, state, county and city officials have looked for ways to allow businesses to open safely.

This has included moving outdoors: onto sidewalks, into parking lots and even streets. Watsonville businesses have slowly been making the move, from beauty parlors to restaurants.

Integrity Wines, at 135 Aviation Way #16, had its Temporary Encroachment Agreement approved the Friday before Labor Day Weekend. Within 24 hours they had moved their tasting room out into the parking lot.

The winery had been waiting for the right moment to do so since shelter-in-place began. At first, they were focusing on virtual wine tastings and online sales.

“With sunny weather, and permission to be outside … that was the right indicator,” said Mark Hoover, who owns the winery along with his wife, Gail, and business partners Eric and Luciana Silverman. “And the city of Watsonville has been fabulous to work with … they’ve been bending over backwards to help.”

Added Eric Silverman: “We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for how gracious the city has been. For me, going into this was a bit intimidating. But they were intent on making sure we could open.”

Integrity Wines is one of 14 businesses who have been granted Temporary Encroachment Agreements since June. The permits allow businesses to move out onto areas of private property and public spaces such as city parking lots. Suzi Merriam, Community Development Department director for the city, said that it took awhile for the program to come together.

“At the start it was time consuming for both staff and applicants,” Merriam said. “But our team did a great job of tweaking the requirements … it’s now a lot easier for everyone.”

The permits are free. The application includes a list of requirements, such as technical standards for canopies and other coverings. ADA compliance and current Covid-19 guidelines are required.

“We just want our businesses set up to succeed and thrive,” Merriam said. “If you have moved outside without getting a permit. Please, reach out and we can help. Our main goal is getting businesses to operate smoothly.”

As more Watsonville businesses have applied for the permits, the city is now looking to use public areas. This month they kicked off a program allowing “parklets,” which typically extend out from sidewalks into parking spots.

Santa Cruz has recently closed off portions of its downtown to allow for more parklets. Even prior to Covid-19, cities such as San Jose used them along their busy shopping sectors.

“Parklets are not a new concept,” said Maria Esther Rodriguez, assistant director/city engineer of the Public Works Department. “They are used for dining, seating, bike parking … they allow businesses to be more inviting, for people to feel comfortable.”

But the concept is new for Watsonville. Rodriguez said that opening up sidewalks and public parking is complicated—especially since Main Street is part of Route 152, bringing Caltrans into the equation.

“We have to be mindful of many things,” Rodriguez said. “Businesses need to work together, and be sensitive to their neighbors, who share the street with them.”

If a business is interested in installing a parklet, they should contact Public Works directly at 831-768-3100. Business owners can purchase a pre-fabricated parklet or build their own. Rodriguez says that while the parklets are meant to be temporary, there is a possibility to extend their use.

“We recognize this is a substantial investment,” she said. “Parklets are good for at least a year … then we might be able to expand it from there.”

For Mark Hoover, reopening the tasting room has been a positive move during a challenging season. The pandemic and the recent wildfires have had an impact on Integrity Wines; between 30-35% of its premium product has been impacted by smoke taint and heat.

“This was the toughest season we’ve ever had to deal with,” Hoover said. “So opening up here, it’s been great … for us, but also for the community. It gives people somewhere to go.”

To apply for a Temporary Encroachment Agreement and for information on the city’s parklet program, visit cityofwatsonville.org.

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