We Must Do More to Save Our Commercial Districts

Mayor Matt Mahan
8 min readAug 8, 2020
The Town of Los Gatos quickly and proactively created additional outdoor, pedestrian-safe space for socially-distanced dining and shopping.

Our family has started venturing out of the house this summer for weekend hikes and takeout from local restaurants (masks on and sanitizer in hand, of course). On these weekend forays, I’ve been impressed by the transformation that has taken place in downtown Los Gatos, just a 15-minute drive from our home. It should serve as inspiration for other cities, like our own, that have not moved as aggressively to support key commercial districts.

Two months ago — and just one week after the County relaxed its shelter-in-place order — Los Gatos deployed concrete barriers (known as K-Rail) along both sides of Santa Cruz Avenue and other retail-heavy side streets in the downtown area. Following the lead of a couple of business owners, the City painted all of the barriers a uniform and unobtrusive light brown to give the barriers a cohesive look:

In response, restaurants and other local businesses (even including some apparel and homeware stores) have spilled out into the new space with varying amounts of infrastructure, ranging from sophisticated concrete platforms, shade structures and planter boxes to just a few tables and chairs. Some businesses have spray-painted their logos on the K-Rail in front of their shops.

Businesses were allowed to opt out of the program and keep their on-street parking, but the vast majority chose to participate, creating large continuous spaces for pedestrians and shoppers to maintain social distance while eating, shopping and socializing outdoors.

Businesses in Los Gatos have begun expanding into the expanded outdoor commercial space with varying amounts of infrastructure, from sophisticated platforms and shade structures to just a few relocated tables and chairs.

Los Gatos is not alone in moving quickly and decisively to establish new outdoor space and commercial patterns in support of local businesses and residents who want to safely spend time out in public.

Mountain View, for example, has transformed four blocks of its main commercial corridor along Castro Street by closing them to vehicular traffic and encouraging businesses to expand outward. Take a look at the before and after images of the…

Mayor Matt Mahan

Mayor, San Jose. Former D10 Councilmember, Brigade CEO & Co-founder, SVLG and Joint Venture Silicon Valley Boards, and SJ Clean Energy Commission