Concord’s downtown getting a fresh look with a human touch

Concord’s downtown getting a fresh look with a human touch

Concord’s downtown getting a fresh look with a human touch
The new expanded sidewalk on Salvio Street in front of Salvio Pacheco Square is part of the bright new dawn for Downtown Concord. (Pete Cruz photo)

CONCORD, CA (Oct. 24, 2023) — Like the majority of cities in America, Concord and its business community were rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic and struggled to regain footing in its aftermath.

For the small business owners in the historic downtown area around Todos Santos Plaza there were extra challenges in getting customers to return once restaurants and other “non-essential” businesses were able to reopen on a regular basis as they had concerns about the area’s cleanliness and security.

The Todos Santos Business Association is in its 25th year serving the downtown business district. The board took those concerns and ideas for solutions from their members to the City of Concord to see if there were some things that could be implemented.

From that original outreach has spawned the public-private pilot Downtown Welcome and Cleanliness Program. If early indications are any indication, this is something that is bearing fruit.

Walter Eichinger is the long-time manager of the Brenden Theatre and is current TSBA president. His board includes small business owners and community leaders with many years’ experience in the downtown corridor.

On the post pandemic challenges Eichinger has “put his money where his mouth is” and secured a $50,000 grant from the Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation to go along with $458,494 from the City to get the pilot program underway in May for a projected 18-24 months.

The City’s financial contribution comes from the $6.5 million Concord received from the American Rescue Plan Act passed in 2021. Concord also budgeted $304,399 of ARPA funds for new trash receptacles downtown that prevent wind-blown litter and content removal to improve cleanliness.

3-pronged program

The Welcome and Cleanliness program managed by TSBA has a three-pronged approach.

It began in early May with a day porter program which features a person picking up trash from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily circulating over three focused routes in the downtown.

The porter also tries to eliminate graffiti as soon as it appears using chemical supplies. They have found that by having garbage cans clean and not overflowing, citizens seem more apt to deposit trash properly.

A month later a uniformed, unarmed security person began a daily 1-9 p.m. shift in the downtown. Since June 9 the security person, with a large focus on the two free public parking garages on Salvio Street, is proving to be a visual deterrent.

The security person has no weapon or handcuffs and has yet to resort to any physical confrontations or making 911 calls to Concord PD.

The final part of the cleanliness program is utilizing Welcome Building Maintenance on an on-call basis for any power washing needs in the area.

Eichinger is quick to point out that all three companies contracted for these services are located in Concord.

Israel Leiva is the Thursday to Monday security person who has already established a rapport with downtown business and community members in the past few months. He uses a friendly, non-confrontational approach on his rounds.

One day he was walking by a restaurant and the manager came out to say there were some ongoing issues in their parking lot. Leiva looked into the situation, and it has been resolved to the great satisfaction of the restaurant owner and staff.

Concord Connect ­mobile app plays key role

Leiva uses the Concord Connect mobile app to send out notices of graffiti or other issues he forwards to the City, which monitors incoming notices daily. Eichinger is also a big fan of the app and will post to it as he walks around the downtown and reports quick responses from the appropriate city department.

Marie Suvansin is the city’s Economic Development Manager and speaks on a nearly daily basis with Eichinger. She says the city will get its first six-month report from the TSBA at a January City Council meeting.

Suvansin attends the monthly TSBA meetings and has noticed more small business owners attending the meetings for the first time to join the board members and representatives of other groups and business who are regular attendees. Eichinger gives a full report on the past month’s work.

Suvansin says a mark of progress is that Leiva’s first monthly report included 82 contacts and his September report was 40. Eichinger says that a majority of those contacts were with two unhoused people in the downtown and Leiva said last week he hasn’t seen one of the two individuals recently.

Councilmember Carlyn Obringer, whose District encompasses the downtown area, and Mayor Laura Hoffmeister are frequent attendees at the TSBA monthly meetings.

Concord PD’s Community Impact Unit is made aware of any issues rising to the level of potential police action.

Looking ahead for ­extended program

The optimistic Eichinger is already looking ahead to see how the program can be extended beyond this pilot phase with funding projected to last until the end of 2024. He says “we’re vested” and the company’s foundation may be open to another grant should the program continue to bear visible results.

Eichinger proclaims ”the tide is changing” and one group in the community who have been especially positive are the residents of the senior tower adjacent to the parking garage at Salvio and Grant Streets.

Eichinger also lauded city staff for being “absolutely fantastic and supportive.”

Jay Bedecarré
Jay Bedecarré
Sports and Schools Editor at The Concord Clayton Pioneer | | Website

Jay Bedecarré is a long-time resident and writer in Concord and Clayton. He began his newspaper writing career while still a senior at Mt. Diablo High School and he has been part of The Pioneer since its inception in 2003. Jay also operates Bay Area Festivals, presenting events around the San Francisco Bay Area including Bay Area KidFest annually in Downtown Concord.