Los Altans say downtown is too sleepy

Daily Post Staff Writer

Most Los Altans find the downtown area too sleepy, according to a questionnaire initiated by a team of consultants working on the city’s “downtown vision.”

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, RRM Design consultants Debbie Rudd, Scott Martin and Dave Javid presented feedback collected at 22 meetings and in a survey of 1,544 Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents, 90.6% of whom were over the age of 40.

Comparing downtowns

More than 77% said they wanted a livelier downtown, with 37.3% opting for an amount of activity similar to the downtown areas in Los Gatos, Burlingame or Carmel-by-the-Sea. Almost one-fourth wanted a downtown like that of Menlo Park, and 15.5% wanted to go as busy as Palo Alto or Mountain View.

And 71.1% of respondents supported buildings taller than one story. More than 36% would welcome buildings that are mostly two stories, up to 35 feet, 27.3% said they would support mostly three-story buildings, or 45 feet. Almost 8% of respondents said they wanted the city to allow buildings taller than three stories.

More than 55% of respondents said they would like to see housing above stores and restaurants, 52.7% said they wanted offices above stores and restaurants and 20.9% said they supported the addition of standalone apartments or condos downtown.

Movie theater

The consultants’ suggestion of a new movie theater and a new live theater was shot down by several council members and members of the public who worried about economic viability, and Mayor Pro Tem Jean Mordo pushed for the consideration of an affordable housing complex.

Several residents and council members expressed concerns at the slow pace of the consultants’ work.

“I don’t see any vision in the ‘visioning’ project,” Los Altos resident Pat Marriott said, complaining that the consultants’ presentation of three “scenarios” for the future of downtown felt like a rehash of ideas the city has long been considering. “If this is what we’ve got so far, I want my money back.”

Changes for drivers

The scenarios included ideas like pedestrian-oriented “woonerf” streets, with sidewalks at the same level as cars, devices to slow down traffic and plazas taking the place of parking lots.

Next steps in the consulting project include more outreach and an economic analysis, though at this stage in the process, it won’t be highly specific.

“We’ll make some judgments about what the overall picture might look like,” project economist Bill Lee said.