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Perplexing Parking Plazas: Council Seeks More Input

The Los Altos City Council entertains comments about developing parking plazas; second meeting scheduled for next week.

What to do with downtown’s parking plazas? The Los Altos City Council invited a packed chamber of residents and business owners to sound off about Plazas 1, 2, and 3 on Tuesday night and will host another meeting next Tuesday, Oct. 4, that focuses on more plazas.

Differing opinions were expressed at the meeting, from leaving the plazas alone, to moving forward with city plans for a public/private partnership to construct underground parking topped with three-story office buildings.

Mayor Ron Packard opened the special study session in the Council Chambers by ticking off various plans proffered by committees and commissions in the past. 

“I love history,” Packard said, as he outlined the various proposals, including an original plan from 1953-54 that envisioned downtown as, “the central business district of the future conceived as the heart of Los Altos.” The district would “enable downtown businesses to compete with regional shopping centers scheduled to be built in Palo Alto and San Jose.”

Over the years there have been several plans, Packard said, including the most recent plan of underground parking combined with Class A office space to bring 500-800 more people downtown for work and shopping.

“Is now a good time to consider this?” Packard asked the crowd. “If we do move forward, how should we do it?”

One response echoed by several speakers was that the city hasn’t received enough input from residents.

“I don’t think we are operating on a vision that the entire community has participated in,” one man told the council.

Several speakers suggested the city put out a call to developers for more ideas on how to develop the plazas in a way that would make the downtown more of a gathering spot, without creating more congestion.

Traffic congestion came up multiple times, as residents complained about backups on Main Street and San Antonio Road.

Some of the ideas about how to create a better downtown included these:

  • Taking a holistic view of the mix of housing, retail and office into consideration.
  • Creating a central gathering space for young families and other generations.
  • Build storefronts on the backs of buildings facing the plazas.
  • Increase the connection between the Civic Center and downtown by building either a pedestrian bridge, or depress San Antonio and have an at-grade plaza area connecting the two areas.
  • Leave downtown just as it is.

Packard questioned how much the city should continue to study an issue that has been looked at over and over again. One speaker urged the council to create a definitive time line for making decisions.

The next study session is at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4, in the Council Chambers, 1 N. San Antonio Rd.

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