Monday, July 16 was the final meeting of the Los Altos City Council subcommittee studying “amortization” as a way to enhance retail vitality in downtown Los Altos.
Amortization is zoning that would have put a time limit—usually 4 to 8 years—on Main Street and State Street non-conforming businesses like banks, law offices, travel agencies, costume rental shops, fraternal associations, and beauty salons.
After the time limit, the properties could have only been leased for retail businesses, not services. The non-conforming uses would be booted out.
The Ad Hoc Contiguous Retail Subcommittee—Jarrett Fishpaw, Deb Hope, Ron Packard, Scott Ritches, Gabrielle Tiemann—unamimously decided against using this powerful “hammer” of amortization to effect retail change at this time.
They conducted nitty-gritty research into lists of every parcel in the downtown Los Altos core, held in-depth interviews with affected owners, and heard extensive public comment.
All the businesses which have felt most “targeted” by the subcommittee—including the Costume Bank, the Masonic Temple, the law offices, the travel agent, Chase Bank, Bank of the West, Citibank—are breathing a sigh of relief. Their “difficulty with the City” is over with. They are not being “run out of town.”
Some of the expected recommendations of the sub-committee to the full City Council include:
1) Hire an urban planning infill consultant to help owners collaborate in the “Triangular Block” – Main, State and Third. The subcommittee identified this as the block with the highest percentage of nonconforming uses and as least attractive to shoppers.
2) Consider selling or leasing a portion of City-owned Parking Plaza 6 facing State Street, so it can be developed as retail. Make sure the forthcoming Downtown Parking Study includes this factor.
3) The City should ask Bank of the West to sell or lease its drive-through for a pop-up store, open space, or outdoor vending.
Read more about the committe's recommendations and the lively public discussion at the final subcommittee meeting – full of zoning zaniness like business improvement districts, overlays — the frustrating City website — also the City’s sidewalk stickyness standard…at losaltospolitio.com.