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A Park and Parking Garage For Downtown? Take The Poll!

Take the Patch Poll at the bottom of the article and tell us whether you think the city should spend money on a parking garage and a park in downtown.

There’s much ado about these days, with proposals that include a parking garage that doesn’t look like one, turning one or two parking plazas into open space, or doing absolutely nothing at all.

At a special Oct. 4 city council study session, a variety of options were laid out, with residents and business people voicing their opinions. While several were adamant that downtown is fine just the way it is, council members made it clear parking spaces will be added downtown in the future.

Council member David Casas pointed out that earlier council decisions had eliminated approximately 100 spaces from downtown, and therefore had a responsibility to at least make up that loss.

Mayor Ron Packard said he had spent time with a San Francisco architect and others trying to figure out a plan for a parking garage, specifically on Parking Plaza 7, just across First Street from Safeway.

The idea came about after representatives from Passerrelle Investment Company, owners of land in downtown, suggested taking a rectangular piece of Parking Plaza 4 behind its offices for open space with restrooms, Packard said. To make up for the loss of spaces, as well as making up for previous lost spaces, a parking garage would be constructed on Plaza 7.

Adding to the idea of a parking garage across the street from Safeway: news from the grocery company that instead of the previously proposed roof-top parking, new plans swap the spaces, with the store above, and parking below. A bridge could then link the store with the second floor of the garage.

Packard took the open space idea further, suggesting all of Plaza 4, and possibly including Plaza 5, both located between Main and State streets, become  space for use as a gathering place and for large city events such as the Art and Wine Festival and Movie Nights.

Some residents, including a representative from Greentown Los Altos, spoke in favor of the idea, even suggesting closing Second Street to traffic, and turning it into a pedestrian paseo.

“On the other hand, there’s a lot of people, including my wife, who think an above-ground parking garage is the worst thing for Los Altos,” he said.

Packard presented photos from the architect he met with, showing 20-foot deep shops lining what was in fact a parking garage. By lining the façade of the garage with shops, it would eliminate the “dead space” along the street created by a typical garage.

One downside to a city-owned parking garage: the cost to build it. Packard gave estimates of $7 million for a two-story garage, and $9 million for three-stories. Each floor would produce about 100 spaces.

Several speakers said they would prefer underground parking, but Packard said the higher cost of digging down, as opposed to building up, could make it prohibitive.

While four of the five council members seemed open to exploring the idea of a multi-story garage, Megan Satterlee said she was opposed to spending millions on downtown parking.

“Seven million is not going to happen—you’re killing me over here,” she said.

Satterlee argued that the city had higher-priority items that needed financing, such as a new community center and improved traffic circulation throughout the city. She also pointed out that the proposed community center on San Antonio Road includes a large plaza area that could be used for events such as Movie Nights.

“The number one issue in town is not downtown, it’s traffic,” she said. “I can’t support putting all of our funds downtown.”

Some speakers criticized the council for being in a “bubble” and not gathering input from the larger Los Altos community. Council members debated whether to commission a survey, or do more outreach, with a special mailing to residents.

Packard asked staff to come back with options for a future council meeting.

The Oct. 4 meeting did not include discussions of all parking plazas, or of the idea of a parking in lieu program, due to a possible conflict of interest for Packard. He owns a building at 4 Main St., near the intersection of Main, Edith Avenue and San Antonio Road. To keep him in the discussion, any parking plazas within 500 feet of the building were excluded from consideration.

Packard said a last-minute letter suggesting he also had a conflict of interest with the idea of parking in lieu—businesses being able to purchase parking spaces elsewhere to meet city parking space requirement. He said he wanted to wait for a decision by the city attorney before participating in any discussions on the topic.

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