On Thursday, May 4, dozens of green-clad Los Altos residents packed City Hall to voice their support for First Street Green at a Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) study session. The proposed development, brainchild of property developer Los Altos Community Investments (LACI), consists of a multi-story office building neighbored by a public plaza on a section of First Street across from Safeway.
LACI hopes the plaza will spur more community and family-oriented events. Ideas suggested by LACI include concerts, festivals and farmers’ markets.
The proposal consists of a 77,300 square foot office building which LACI plans to lease to various firms and an adjacent 13,000 square foot grass plaza. While the project encompasses both the office building and park, each development has its own separate proposal and must be approved independently.
The entire project will replace a row of LACI-owned businesses: Los Altos Mail Office, Momentum Cycling Studio, Bumble Restaurant, Area 151 Arcade, and Los Altos Vault and Safe Deposit.
LACI Principal and Founder Anne Wojcicki will fund the project entirely. Her motivations behind the development are purely philanthropic, according to LACI representative Janos Libor.
“[Wojcicki] likes to spend her free time in Los Altos and brings her children here,” Libor said. “The mission of LACI is to maintain Los Altos’ vibrancy and its village charm. [Wojcicki] wants to give back to the community, and this is one way to do it.”
Because the development will displace 67 parking spaces, current plans detail a multi-story underground parking structure which would replace the existing spaces and provide an additional 40 public parking spaces on the first level. The remaining levels would be reserved for tenants of the office building.
LACI hopes to gain special approval for a three-story office building, which is not currently allowed under the zoning code. In order to gain potential exemptions, developers must integrate “public benefits,” which are project features that add value to residents. Under the three-story plan, LACI will grant 7,400 square feet of its office land to the public plaza. However, if LACI is unable to obtain the exemption, they will build a two-story office building instead, reducing the amount of public space for the plaza.
Residents’ opinions of the project have been overwhelmingly positive. In emails to the PTC made available for public access and in citizen remarks delivered at the meeting itself, support for the project dwarfed opposition for it.
Proponents of the office building claim that the increased foot traffic resulting from tenants will boost the local economy. LACI estimates that the development will generate $1.2 million in additional revenue for local businesses annually, according to data extrapolated from a City of Los Altos-commissioned study published in February this year.
While First Street Green encompasses both the office building and public plaza, supporters of the park do not necessarily support the entire project.
Some residents of the area around the proposed development worry that the office building will cause a heavy influx of traffic. In an email to residents of the nearby 100 First Street condominium complex, the 100 First Street Board of Directors expressed their concerns with the project.
“Allowing a 77,300 square foot office building in a residential area where traffic is already an issue, we believe, is simply irresponsible,” the email said. “There are other areas near downtown Los Altos that could accommodate such a large office building without the impact on residents and where traffic could be more easily accommodated.”
LACI representatives say that the plan and development process aim to mitigate the effects of traffic as much as possible. LACI is currently conducting a traffic study to examine the consequences of developing the office building, and has bought land on Shasta Street for a parking exit to mitigate detrimental traffic effects. LACI is also talking to residents who live near the proposed development to understand and address their concerns.
Still, critics say constructing a tall building would detract from Los Altos’ small-town charm.
“I’m concerned about the building heights [on First Street,]” a resident said at the PTC study session. “I think we should stick with our 35-foot height limits downtown… Tall is tall, and you can’t hide it.”
Supporters of the project, however, claim that in light of downtown’s economic decline and residents’ lack of interest in it, action must be taken.
“If we don’t do anything, we are really in a position of gradual decline,” Los Altos Hills resident Kim Cranston said. “If you just keep the status quo, you’re going to keep seeing more vacancies. You’re going to keep seeing interesting tenants unwilling to come here and take a chance.”
“We think First Street Green is going to really bring a lot of vibrancy to downtown Los Altos, which will hopefully attract teens and serve as a community meeting place,” First Street Green Committee Teen Advisor Ramya Krishna said.
The final decision, though heavily influenced by the PTC, rests solely with City Council. Though no dates have been finalized, it may take until 2018 for City Council to make a final decision. If approved, LACI estimates that the grand opening will be in 2020.