Los Altos First Street – Pedestrian Experience north

Grading the Pedestrian Experience

“OLD” SIDE OF STREET (excluding Passarelle’s frontage) – GRADE: C

The “old side” sidewalks, after the City streetscaping, are generally NOT quite wide enough for two people abreast.  Sometimes there is a big setback of the building where there USED TO BE private head-in parking stalls, other times not.  Sometimes there is a fence or wall right at the edge of the sidewalk. In general, these parcels are owned up to the back of the sidewalk.  Sometimes there are street trees blocking walking space; other times not. If you were on Councilmember Megan Satterlee’s downtown walking tours in 2014, you experienced those grade C “OLD”  sidewalks first hand.


new Condo Complex 100 First Street – GRADE: C

existing 1990’s(?) Office/retail building 106-110 First Street – GRADE A-

new Safeway – GRADE B

new 400 Main Street building- GRADE A


The two owners along N. First Street who are subject to  “Downtown Core” zoning — 400 Main and Safeway — were apparently held to a higher standard for the pedestrian experience.  Compared to all the rest of downtown, the pedestrian experience at 400 Main is excellent.  There is a minimum of 6 feet wide thoroughfare, but mostly 9 feet and 12 feet of thoroughfare.  Safeway – a favored property owner – arguably a special case – was allowed to provide effectively 6 – 9 feet (street trees consumed some of the walkability.)

As part of the redevelopment of this area, the City allowed removal of some street parking and did not make bike lanes along N. First Street. Thus, it is not real clear to us pedestrians how much of the new sidewalk is public property and how much is a setback the private owner provides. It is not clear what part of the new sidewalk construction was a City project and what part was paid for and executed by the private property owner.

Looking at the Passerelle owned 106-110 First Street building with its 12-foot sidewalk…it seems that the front setbacks that the City extracted for new development back in the 1990s (?) were larger than those now. How come?

Looking at the two parcels — 106-110 First and 100 First– which are not part of the “Downtown Core” zoning along this side of First Street but rather are zoned CDR3, clearly the setbacks that the City exacted for new development back in the 1990s were larger than were exacted now.  As shown in Figure 4 above the 106-110 First Street building with Retail and Office,  provides at least 9-12 feet of pedestrian passage while, 100 First Street residential building provides only 4 to 6 feet. The condo was also allowed a 3ft high retaining wall  right at its property line at the edge of the sidewalk.

Lalahpolitico: That wall is what contributes to the cramped pedestrian experience alongside the condo complex 100 First Street. In contract, down on the far other end of First street, the new condo complex there at 396 First has a two foot setback from the edge of the sidewalk before its landscape retaining wall rises up.


We can all carp, but  this north end of First Street is much more attractive and walkable for pedestrians than it was before.

Los Alto First Street Safeway before redevelopment
Lalahpolitico will continue to research why developers of buildings from the 1990’s seem to have provided more generous sidewalk setbacks than we are seeing recently. Our next article is a walk down the south section of First Street from Main to San Antonio.

CAVEAT: Walkability – not sun, not views

Lalahpolitico believes shade creation or view blocking is NOT an issue for pedestrian enjoyment downtown. I have walked there for 35 years and can recall seeing no mountain views. As for shade vs.sun on the sidewalks, mostly I seek shade, other times I seek direct sun. Try walking at noon if you absolutely must have sun!

But if particular downtown property owners believe they have valuable “view corridors” or a business dependent on sun that they want the City of Los Altos to protect…they can make that argument.

Lalahpolitico in this article is not considering other downtown issues:  “vibrancy,” interest of shops, quality of restaurants, availability of entertainment, etc.  This has just been about the pedestrian experience, and ONLY on First Street.

About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past couple of years.

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