On July 25, the Los Banos Downtown Steering Committee and a Mark Thomas Engineering Firm consultant group met for the first time to discuss priorities regarding the City of Los Banos Downtown Master Plan.

The Downtown Master Plan is a project that aims to enhance the downtown Los Banos by promoting areas of development, potentially transforming it into a “retail, cultural, recreational, and entertainment center,” according to city documents.

The steering committee is an invite-based committee consisting of downtown landowners and business owners. Their role is to guide city staff and the consultant team in project development.

To the steering committee, consultant Steven Patchin said, “We need direction as to what are some of the strategies that you prioritize and the general benefits you would like to see come out of this project as far as the physical environment of Downtown.”

The consultant team asked attendees to choose five out of the 10 topics that they considered priorities for downtown Los Banos. Within these topics were goals and strategies designed to achieve those goals. The 10 strategies were plan for new land uses, implement gateways and wayfinding, strengthen businesses, rehabilitate buildings and upgrade infrastructure. Also strategies were improved safety, establish character, develop a food scene, manage parking, and create public spaces.

Among the attendees the two topics with the most votes were strengthening businesses and managing parking. Parking was a big discussion as the business owners that attended the meeting have extensive experience in this area.

“For people here in Los Banos, it’s not like the mall, it’s not some place they’ll walk a long way,” said commission member Sharon Silva, Executive Director of the Los Banos Downtown Association. “If they go around the block three times, and there’s no parking in front of your [business] or somewhere close, they move on.”

Wet utilities, including sewage, storm drains, and water supply, were other important topics. Lack of sewage capacity, according to the city’s Community and Economic Development Director Stacy Elms, is an impediment to growth but, in turn, focusing on upgrading sewage is a huge catalyst for bringing in new businesses. Many businesses look for sewage capacity since they require restroom facilities.

In attention to sewage, business owner David Sousa added that underground grease traps will welcome new restaurants and eateries. The committee noted that bringing in eateries will attract more people and promote foot-traffic.

Los Banos Downtown business owner David Sousa, right, offers suggestions as to how to improve Downtown Los Banos.

Revitalizing the Crest Theater will also be a huge catalyst, making it not only a historical landmark, but also an attraction for entertainment.

Also discussed were transit and active transportation connectivity, which includes integrating bicycle and pedestrian projects.

There was consideration of adding bike lanes that connect to the Los Banos Rail Trail to bring in more customers.

The steering committee discussed increasing walkability by widening sidewalks and making the roads narrower so that they are easier and safer to cross. Another idea was to add parklets. Patchin noted that an important goal of Downtown is to “make it more inviting to walk.”

Patchin also suggested incorporating different types of streets, so that some are more pedestrian-friendly and others are more drivable.

When it comes to streetlights, the consultant team said that the lights in the downtown area are currently mismatched but suggested not using cobra-head streetlights, which are not visually pleasing.

The steering commission decided that more streetlights are needed on H Street, J Street and K Street. Steering Commission member Silva said that J Street is especially dark and unsafe.

“Street lighting goes hand-in-hand with safety and the issue of parking.” Elms said. “There isn’t adequate lighting, there’s gaps.”

This was the first Downtown Master Plan steering commission meeting of five.

The next meeting will be a public forum held Aug. 23, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the grand room at the Los Banos Community Center. Everyone in the community is invited to attend and give their suggestions.

Malina Duran

Malina Duran’s email is malina.duran1999@gmail.com.