Los Altos is in the process of helping most of its downtown restaurants transform their outdoor seating areas into parklets.
With the Open Streets program ending in September, streets will no longer be closed on weekends. The program had allowed downtown restaurant owners to place additional seating outdoors during the summer months.
But the initiative was meant to be a stopgap solution to assist struggling downtown businesses, and the city was not willing to commit beyond September. Retailers had also previously expressed concerns because they feared the lack of parking spots would lead to a decrease in sales.
The parklet program will run seven days a week. Downtown restaurants will be able to apply for permits to construct their parklets. At least 13 have applied so far and five have been approved, city officials said. As many as 11 applications could be approved by midweek. Because the parklets run into the area outside adjacent to neighboring businesses, restaurants need permission from their next-door shops as part of the process.
Vickie Breslin, owner of The Post, worked to procure approximately 200 wine barrels that restaurant owners downtown can pick up and use as part of their parklet design. As of late last week, several restaurants along Main Street had wine barrels surrounding their outdoor seating area while traffic ran normally through the downtown streets.
In an update to the city council during an early September meeting, Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins said that on average, restaurants will receive close to the same amount of outdoor seating with parklets as they had access to during the Open Streets program.
Even though Santa Clara County – which is currently in the “red” tier in California’s COVID-19 county monitoring system – would be allowed to have restaurants open up indoor dining at 25% capacity per state guidelines, the county has declined to do so, citing the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.
As cooler weather and potential rain approach in the late fall and winter, restaurants are uncertain whether outdoor dining will continue to be a feasible approach. Breslin called the parklet program a “lifeline,” but added that the quick adjustment has been chaotic. The Post was closed for much of last week while construction was ongoing on a wooden structure outside the restaurant.
“The city has tried to be helpful, but this kind of turnaround has been frantic and it’s been very stressful,” Breslin said. “Every day that we’re not open, we’re taking a hit.”
Anthony Carnesecca, the city’s economic development coordinator, said he has been in touch with downtown businesses to ensure they understand the process and is working with them on submitting applications.
“We hope that everyone who enjoyed the Open Streets Los Altos experience will continue to come downtown to dine at one of the beautiful parklets,” Carnesecca said in an email.