Downtown business owners were once again asking the Turlock City Council to keep their economic interests in mind when allowing Main Street closures for special events, following a local organization’s request to hold a parade down the popular thoroughfare on an upcoming Saturday.
The Assyrian American Civic Club submitted a Special Event Permit application to the City of Turlock to close Main Street from Broadway to Canal Drive — along with sections of Florence Street, North Broadway and East Canal Drive — from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 25 to hold an Assyrian New Year parade. This is a first-time event for downtown Turlock.
The application came before the City Council on Tuesday for consideration, at which time two business owners expressed their concerns with the planned street closures.
“First and foremost, our concern is not with the applicant in any way and we recognize the importance of the celebration that they are hosting. Our concern is more that we were under the impression from the City that the businesses would be protected from future road closures that were not already established as community events,” said Candace Gonsalves, co-owner of E. Main Street shop Farm House and member of the Downtown Turlock Business Alliance.
Gonsalves was one of the business owners who complained to the City Council in 2016 about the loss in traffic caused by the weekly street closure of the downtown farmers market on Saturdays. It wasn’t only the farmers market that was of concern to the E. Main Street businesses. According to the business owners, the 300 block of E. Main Street was closed at least 30 times every year for different events.
Following the business owners’ complaints, the Downtown Farmers Market was moved from the 300 block of East Main to Central Park, located on the corner of Main Street and Golden State Boulevard. Also, the City agreed to limit the number of events which involve street closures in the downtown area.
"Over the last few weeks, staff and I held three meetings and several one-on-one conversations with downtown business owners,” said Mayor Gary Soiseth in July 2016. “They expressed a specific concern regarding events that require street closures, including community dinners, bike races and markets. This input is valid and City Hall will take steps over the next few months to guarantee such reoccurring events are limited in scope. While our annual parades and a few one-time events will continue, we will be decreasing the number of downtown events that impede traffic flow or limit parking spaces.”
Limited parking and the ability of customers to reach downtown storefronts through crowds of parade-watchers were the main concerns Gonsalves and Café La Mo owner Hillary Smith expressed to the City Council on Tuesday about the proposed road closure for the Assyrian Club parade on March 25.
Gonsalves also said she was confused on the City’s rules and regulations when asking for roads to be closed for a special event. The Assyrian Club’s road closure application was filed on Feb. 21 — 33 days prior to the event — while the City of Turlock’s Special Event Application states that no applications will be accepted closer than 60 days prior to the event.
Gonsalves also said the downtown businesses were not notified of the potential street closure, as they have been in the past.
Both Gonsalves and Smith said that having downtown events that close streets would be better held on Sundays — when many downtown stores are already closed — rather than Saturdays.
Following the public comments, Soiseth asked Public Facilities Manager Allison Van Guilder to talk with the applicant, Assyrian American Civic Club President Sam David, and the business owners in an impromptu meeting during Tuesday’s City Council meeting to find a compromise solution for the requested parade route.
Later in the City Council meeting, Van Guilder came back to the Council with a revised parade route for March 25 that eliminated the part of the route that went down East Main Street. The revised plan has the parade start on First Street, turning on West Main Street, then heading north on Broadway towards the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. The parade would also start an hour earlier, with street closures from 8 a.m. to noon.
The City Council approved the Special Event application, with the revised route, 5-0. Mayor Soiseth said that following notification of residents on the new parade route, that if complaints were received by the City he would schedule a special council meeting in order to give concerned citizens the opportunity for public comment.