City Begins Community Engagement Process to Reshape Downtown

On Tuesday, April 18, the City of Los Altos hosted a pop-up workshop at the Veterans Community Plaza on the corner of Main and State Street downtown, launching the community engagement portion of the downtown visioning process. The city hosted the event with their consultant team, comprised of three architectural and engineering firms, in order to ask residents for input on downtown.

The three-month community engagement process seeks to gather the community’s feedback as part downtown visioning to create a long-term master plan for future development.

With data from an estimated turnout of 150 people, the consultant team, composed of firms RRM Design, Plan to Place and Land Econ, will synthesize the feedback and search for any initial trends in how the public wants downtown to develop in the future. After more workshops, the consultants will narrow down priorities even more before creating policy recommendations for City Council.

“The council has recognized that perhaps there are improvements that could be made to the downtown, a lot of which can come from the community,” City Manager Chris Jordan said.
“They’re trying to let the community have an opportunity to engage in [the visioning process] and figure out what legacy they want to leave behind for future generations when it comes to the downtown area.”

At the event, the consultant firms propped up poster boards, some with maps of downtown Los Altos on them. The firms asked passersby to answer questions by placing Post-it notes on the boards to gauge what the community enjoys about downtown and what they would like to change in the future. Los Altos residents answered questions like what downtown location they visited the most and why, how they traveled downtown and how much development they wanted for downtown in the future.

Jon Baer, President of community organization Friends of Los Altos, voiced his support for the event, but he cautioned that the downtown visioning process would be a balancing act between residents’ desires and what they would be willing to sacrifice, like what Baer described as Los Altos’ easygoing ambience.

“It’s great to get the community out, and it’s great to get people’s input,” Baer said. “You can ask people what they want, but the harder question to ask and answer is, ‘what are people willing to trade off, what are they willing to give up in order to get the things they want?’”

For long-term resident Roy Lave, creating an economically viable downtown means more development. Though residents often oppose developing tall buildings because they fear it will destroy the downtown’s village-like atmosphere, Lave believes well-designed buildings can preserve Los Altos’ charm even with increased height.

“People talk about building height but that’s not the issue,” Lave said. “The issue is, can well-designed buildings be built that don’t overwhelm the human scale? People like Main and State Street because everything is small and cozy, but you can accomplish that with well-designed bigger buildings too.”
Future pop-up workshops will take place on Thursday, May 4, at the Farmers Market on State Street from 4 to 8 p.m. and Wednesday, May 17, at the Los Altos Library from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. as well as at the Grant Park Community Center from 1 to 4 p.m.