Los Altos Community Investment (LACI) Proposal

We are sharing our Friends of Los Altos members a copy of the letter sent to the City Council providing our input on the Los Altos Community Investment (LACI) proposal for redevelopment of their First Street property across from Safeway.

We would like to hear from you about this proposal and would encourage you to speak at the City Council meeting on Tuesday December 13, 2016 at 7 pm in Council chambers.

The agenda for the meeting can be found here:
http://www.losaltosca.gov/sites/default/files/fileattachments/city_council/meeting/5700/12.13.16.pdf

Support documents for the LACI proposal can be found here:
http://los-altos.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=4&event_id=287&meta_id=48578  and
http://los-altos.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=4&event_id=287&meta_id=48580

friends-of-los-altos

Mayor, City Council and members of the Planning and Transportation Commission:

I am Jon Baer, incoming President of Friends of Los Altos. Several months ago the leadership of LACI presented to our Board their proposal for the redevelopment of their properties along First Street  and there are many aspects of it we like. If the zoning for 45 feet were still allowed on First Street, this is the type of development that would be desired. The zoning, however, was recently changed, and so you face a challenge of not granting exceptions or being accused of favoritism. Apart from that, we would like to raise a few items of concern:

  • Regarding parking, we need to recognize that many people, both office workers and particularly shoppers, prefer the convenience of street level parking over underground parking. As a result, a one-to-one replacement is not fair to Los Altos. Instead, there needs to be a greater number of available underground parking spaces provided than those being eliminated on the parking plaza. We do not know the correct ratio, but leave that determination to the professional judgment of staff. The spaces made available to the public should be the most convenient, namely on the first floor without any reserved spaces. The goal is to provide enough parking so that shoppers as well as some all-day parkers use the underground space, opening spots in the remaining parking plazas for short-term parkers.
  • Regarding the park, we think a family oriented public park inside the triangle, preferably within the CRS zone, would be very positive. While there are two adjacent parks, they are not within the triangle and separated by arterial roads. It is clear that to be most useful, location of a park is critical. It would also be ideal to have seating within the park, nearby food, and possibly a water feature for children. There are 15-20 trees in and immediately adjacent to the plaza that should be saved and replanted in the park or along its perimeter when the project is completed. We are supportive of a park, it is important however to acknowledge that the main public benefit of this project is more parking. While the park does provide benefits to the community it also provides significant benefits to the applicant’s project. Separating out a decision on the park could allow the City time to complete its visioning process, although it would impact the project design, particularly the portion facing the current parking plaza.
  • More class A office space is desirable, but we believe there to be some false notions as to the need and benefits of additional offices in downtown. There are some figures bantered about regarding the current ratio of office/residential/retail of our downtown which may be inaccurate. The amount of office space in downtown is already considerable, and while more is desirable, we want to maintain the “village” aspects of our town. There were 3-4 retail businesses at the project location and we think that they need to be replaced in kind to the extent possible. First Street needs to be a vibrant part of the downtown all the time, not just during weekday office hours.
  • The proposed three-story building has significant setbacks along First Street; it does not on the back side along residential properties. The concerns of those residents need to be taken into account. We also note that the designs of the two alternative proposals are presented with a clear bias in favor of the three-story project. Regardless, there certainly needs to be 3D photo realistic renderings so that an informed decision can be made by the PTC and Council.
  • The entrance and egress to the parking garage – for both building tenants, visitors as well as the general public – need to be carefully developed. The existing alleyway needs to be wider if the parking access is behind the building. If access to the parking garage is behind the building, it may not be readily apparent or used by the public and visitors without obvious signage. Traffic circulation and possible gridlock needs to be evaluated, as well as the impact on the residential properties behind the proposed building. We think additional or alternative entrances and egresses to parking need to be considered.

There are two remaining issues apart from the merits of this project. The first is that this applicant has some unfinished business in town. Five years ago it acquired 170 State Street, evicted the tenants, developed plans, but those have apparently been abandoned with the property largely boarded up. This ongoing blight is deplorable. Part of any negotiations regarding their proposed development on First Street should have a requirement that they take meaningful steps, if not first complete the redevelopment of 170 State Street. We certainly do not want to encourage a large downtown property owner to propose grandiose plans, only to abandon those, leaving scars, which hurt all businesses in the downtown.

The second issue involves the process of authorizing private negotiations between the owner and the city staff. The last time this occurred was with Jeff Morris, the developer of 400 Main Street. There were, and continued to be criticism leveled by many –-including LACI’s predecessor Passerelle Investments, numerous of their supports, and indeed several current council members, that those discussions were not open and transparent. We are not opposed to the process and have confidence in the abilities of our city staff, but cannot help but see a double standard when the process is proposed for the LACI project.

 

Friends of Los Altos, Inc. (FOLA) is a non-profit, non-partisan, volunteer-run organization comprised of City of Los Altos residents.  Founded in 2013, FOLA was created to ensure that issues of critical importance and decisions with long-lasting impact reflect the values of the broader community of Los Altans.  In 2014, Friends of Los Altos (FOLA) consolidated with Los Altos Neighborhood Network (LANN).  Visit www.FriendsOfLosAltos.org for more information and to sign up to receive the organization’s periodic emails on topics of vital concern to City of Los Altos residents, or write to Friends of Los Altos, P. O. Box 3314, Los Altos, CA 94024.