Updated June 17: Downtown streets in both Los Altos and Mountain View are going automobile-free, beginning this week, to make room for outdoor dining and shopping.
The Los Altos and Mountain View city councils voted unanimously at their June 9 meetings to temporarily close their main streets as a way of bringing in more business while complying with the current shelter-in-place restrictions. Los Altos’ program begins Thursday, while Mountain View’s starts the following Monday.
In Los Altos’ pilot program scheduled Thursday through Sunday, Main and State streets in downtown Los Altos will be closed to cars from First Street to Fourth Street. The council approved the plan on the condition that city staff and business owners would share their opinions on the program’s successes and failures for presentation at the council’s June 23 meeting.
In Mountain View, Castro Street will close to vehicular traffic every day, between Evelyn Avenue and Mercy Street, through Sept. 30. Side streets will remain open for car and bus travel across Castro.
Designated areas for curbside pickup for takeout are being explored by both cities.
City and business leaders, and city staff, reviewed the pros and cons of temporary closures – what’s been dubbed the “slow streets” movement – to allow visitors to practice social distancing and create more space for restaurants to place tables and chairs outside. Although retail stores were permitted to welcome customers once again beginning June 5, the revised shelter-in-place order allows restaurateurs to seat patrons only outdoors.
“This severely reduces restaurants’ capacity and ability to recover financially over the critical summer season,” Mountain View public works staff members wrote in their report for the council’s June 9 meeting.
Staff from both cities studied “slow streets” enacted in Palo Alto and Redwood City among other Bay Area communities.
Mixed reaction in Los Altos
Proponents lobbied for blocking off local streets to help revive the economy after most shops and restaurants closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some Los Altos merchants, however, were wary of the idea, citing the retail and personal service businesses whose customers rely on nearby parking and easy access.
Khatchig Jingirian of Smythe & Cross Fine Jewelry on Main Street who wrote a letter signed by 25 other downtown merchants opposed to the closures. He cited financial setbacks in 2011 when Main and State streets were closed for construction.
Parklets in the streets to allow restaurants additional space would serve the area better, Jingirian said.
Restaurant owner Vickie Breslin of The Post disagreed.
“The only way to really give back to businesses is by having open areas we can all do business,” Breslin said. “Patrons will go somewhere else if we don’t do something now.”
Signs will be posted in downtown Los Altos to alert visitors to the temporary closures, but no barricades will be erected for the trial run. Restaurants will provide any tables and chairs to accommodate outdoor dining, and the city will provide Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps.
If the pilot program goes well, and Main and State streets remain closed through July and August, as suggested by a few members of the council, barricades will be installed.
Mtn. View goes all in
There was a more united front at the Mountain View City Council meeting. Mountain View Chamber of Commerce president Peter Katz favored closing Castro to cars, as did residents who wrote letters.
“I am thrilled to see (the proposal), to see Castro closed to car traffic … so the community can more safely gather, socialize and support all local restaurants and businesses,” resident April Webster said. “Everyone will be more likely to go downtown if they don’t have to worry about social distancing on the sidewalks, which are already crowded.”
Signs, bollards and barricades located at each end of Castro will alert visitors to the change. The city will provide tables and chairs for shared use in a food-court style layout, as well as garbage and recycling cans, handwashing stations and ADA-compliant portable toilets.
Both Los Altos project head Jim Sandoval and Mountain View counterpart Dawn Cameron acknowledged that some details are still being figured out.
“Some things may not work at first; we may have to switch things up,” Cameron said. “That’s part of what we are asking council to trust staff with.”