Los Altos Opinions Exchange
Downtown Issues Overview


Updated 11/5/00

The parking plazas downtown were established 40 years ago by the commercial property owners in cooperation with the City of Los Altos. This was a visionary change, to take property set aside for septic leach fields and turn it into parking areas with shade trees. With the installation of sewers, the leach fields were no longer required. The City of Los Altos set up a parking assessment district so that the business owners could pay the cost of the improvements. The property was given to the city, in return for the city's agreement to maintain these paved areas.

It is generally agreed today that more downtown parking is needed, at least during the middle of week days, 10 AM to 2 PM. A parking task force studied parking about six years ago and they recommended adding about 250 parking spaces via a parking garage for business employees. The idea was that employees could leave their cars in a slightly inconvenient parking place, opening more convenient spaces for customers near the stores. There are several solutions to this problem being considered. One is to develop city property on First Street and increase the number of public parking places during midday peak demand.

The city has been considering proposals to improve its 0.78 acres bounded by 1st Street and Foothill Expressway and Main and State Streets. Potential uses have been reduced to two mixed-use developments, both with on-site underground parking:

A. One proposal is for a movie theater, retail stores fronting First Street on a 12 foot wide, tree lined sidewalk, a small cafe on the corner of First and Main, 28 condominiums on upper floors and 144 weekday public parking spaces plus 56 spaces for the condominiums. The 144 spaces is 74 more than are available on the site today.

B. Three proposals are for a hotel and a restaurant or cafe, possibly some retail shops, and 50 to 100 weekday parking spaces. Some offers are for these spaces to be for permit parking.

A movie theater would have up to six screens for handling a variety of films. There would be a total of about 600 seats. With no matinees on weekdays there would be no traffic added at peak activity times. A theater would add vitality to our downtown during the evenings and weekends, benefiting all ages, and increasing sales tax revenue.

The condominiums make the mixed use development with 200 underground parking spaces financially feasible. More downtown housing would increase retail sales with low traffic impact. I would like to have the city consider buying some of the smaller units to rent to employees.

A boutique hotel with 80 to 90 rooms would definitely succeed and improve our downtown. It would also provide hotel tax revenue. However, a hotel could be built elsewhere downtown. Two Los Altos hotels are currently under construction on El Camino Real.

We need to agree publicly on the criteria to use in making a decision. The criteria should include public benefit, parking, traffic, design, and impact on revenue to the city and to downtown business. The city is planning on doing some traffic studies to be sure the impact of either development does not cause traffic backup at the Main Street and Foothill Expressway intersections. An independent economic analysis is also planned to estimate the impacts of each of the above development options on Downtown business, and project the market feasibility for a theater.

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