2017 Festival of Lights Parade - Santa Claus

Santa rides by during a past Los Altos Festival of Lights parade.

Note: This story was updated Saturday to include new information from police.

A lot has changed since the last downtown Los Altos Festival of Lights Parade in 2018. The COVID pandemic over the past 18 months had people fighting for their lives and businesses fighting to stay open. The introduction of parklets and outdoor dining proved a lifeline for local restaurants.

The parklets downtown, however, pose a challenge, as the parade is scheduled to return Sunday for the first time in two years. It was rained out in 2019 and canceled in 2020. Will hundreds, if not thousands, of parade spectators mix with numerous parklets occupying portions of Main and State streets, located in front of the sidewalks where the parade viewing takes place?

“We understand the challenge of the parklets,” said Scott Hunter, executive director of the Los Altos Village Association.

Hunter said the restaurants have been asked not to sell spectator space for the parade. The bulk of viewing will be from the sidewalks and intersections.

“Absolutely no viewing in front of the parklets,” urge members of the Los Altos Festival of Lights Parade Association.

The association published a list of viewing guidelines on its website at losaltosparade.org and in the Town Crier (see page 24). They include the usual pleas for people not to reserve space with furniture, tape, rope, signs or chalk.

“We are encouraging viewers to mark areas with chairs and small blankets,” said Los Altos Police Capt. Katie Krauss. “The viewing guidelines also emphasize that no personal items will be allowed in the roadway while the roads are still open to traffic.”

Krauss, in a later email, described the rationale in limiting spectator space to the sidewalks.

"We have reached out to LAVA and the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce regarding seating IN the parklets," she said. "They are in communication with the business owners who have parklets regarding proper signage if the parklet is open for public seating (if the restaurant is not operating during the parade hours). For safety reasons, we are not permitting individuals to sit in the parking areas up to the edge of the parklets.  The parklets had to follow specific planning/design guidelines in order to address safety concerns with customers in close proximity to vehicles in the roadway.

"Parklets have wine barrels with weight minimums to protect parklet occupants from vehicle intrusion, as well as ropes or other barriers to prevent individuals from walking into traffic from the parklet area.  We do not feel that it would be safe for people to sit in the parking areas up to the edge where parklets are constructed to view the parade ... The parking spaces provide an 8-10 foot spacing between viewers and the floats/vehicles."

Police Chief Andy Galea said organizers and volunteers are ready to help.

“We are not sure which businesses with parklets will be open, but in any circumstance, the space will be available for viewing and will most likely limit viewing from the sidewalk,” he said. “Families arrive early to save their spots that they have had had, going back many years, so the event organizers and volunteers are prepared to help the best they can. No doubt we will see some creativity to get a better look at the parade.”

Nancy Schneider, a member of the all-volunteer, 30-member Festival of Lights Parade Association, acknowledged a tighter squeeze with the parklets for the floats, marching bands and costumed performers, but the widths – 19 feet for State Street, 22 feet for Main – are workable.

The parade – in its 44th year with the perennial theme “A Child’s Holiday Fantasy” – will feature 55 entries, including 21 floats and eight marching bands, involving as many as 1,200 participants. A new Santa float and a fully automated, newly renovated “Shredders” float will be part of the lineup.

The parade is scheduled for a 6 p.m. start at First and State streets and will travel down State, then up Main Street and along First before ending at Whitney Street.