A downtown street in Los Gatos
Los Gatos residents are heading into the heat of summer and bracing for cars cutting through the town to Highway 17 for Santa Cruz beaches. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

It’s the most infamous time of year for Los Gatos residents — peak beach traffic season exacerbated by a scorching Fourth of July. The West Valley town is still trying to figure out how to calm traffic down.

The Los Gatos Town Council unanimously decided not to place a 1/8-cent general sales tax on the November ballot Monday, going back on its previous decision to place a specific tax on the ballot in May that could address beach traffic cutting through town. Officials voted down the tax largely because the town, which has a balanced budget, found it unlikely another government agency would impose its own tax that would cause the town to reach its sales tax cap.

Locals will have to contend with the familiar summer sight of gridlocked streets, caused by cars using the town as a cut through to Highway 17 on the way to Santa Cruz beaches.

Los Gatos has implemented some short-term solutions to beach traffic, including enforcing no right turns into the Almond Grove neighborhood on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It has also stopped implementing measures that weren’t successful, including closing South Santa Cruz Avenue at Wood Road and enforcing one way traffic on North Santa Cruz Avenue.

A Los Gatos resident for roughly 25 years, Cathy Marrufo, 56, knows the traffic situation all too well. She and her husband have learned to work around it and her husband rides his e-bike to the market rather than driving, but she said it’s still a “major drain.”

“It’s gotten to the point where we can predict it and we know the windows when it happens,” she told San José Spotlight. “It doesn’t make it any easier, (but) we know when to avoid all that.”

Vice Mayor Matthew Hudes lives half a block away from a major gridlock in town. He said he’s in conversation with the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce about a potential survey asking residents for solutions they’d like to see without the potential funding from the sales tax. He believes it must be addressed.

“It creates an unsafe situation on exactly the highest risk fire hazard days,” he told San José Spotlight. “It’s not acceptable for us to not do anything.”

A man sits at a coffee shop table doing a crossword puzzle
Los Gatos resident Kern Corrigan, 52, said he’d like to see mitigation measures for beach traffic, but is OK with planning his days around peak traffic times in exchange for the proximity to the beach. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

The town is working toward longer-term solutions, including a collaboration with Caltrans and VTA on the State Route 17 Corridor Congestion Relief project. It aims to reduce congestion and cars cutting through Los Gatos by modifying the on and off-ramps at the interchange between State Route 9 and Highway 17, and adjusting lanes and shoulder on Highway 17 to avoid bottlenecking from Lark Avenue to the interchange.

The project, which began in 2020, is expected to start construction in 2027 and be completed in 2029, according to VTA. It is estimated to cost between $102 million and $111 million, partly funded by Measure B, VTA’s 30-year, half-cent sales tax passed by voters in 2016. Los Gatos will match 10% of the total cost.

Councilmember Rob Rennie has supported the project since its beginning. He said as a resident of the Almond Grove area, he’s had people urinate on his lawn because they were waiting so long in traffic. He hopes the road work will ease some of the traffic concerns, which he said have gotten slightly better with the restricted turns.

“I don’t know if it’s going to completely solve it, because there’s just an endless number of cars that come through,” he told San José Spotlight. “It may help. If I had my way, I’d spend money to widen the highway down to Bear Creek so you get the clog past Los Gatos, but the first step is, let’s get it to Route 9.”

Kern Corrigan, 52, who’s lived in Los Gatos for more than two years, said the town’s proximity to the beach is what drew him to live there. He plans his days around the traffic and said he’d be supportive of the congestion project, but has learned to see the silver lining in it.

“It’s a big funnel for the (beach) so I think it’ll be difficult to solve that,” he told San José Spotlight. “I’d like to think it’s hopefully bringing people into downtown and contributing to the economy. Hopefully, they can stop for lunch if it gets too bad.”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply