The Los Altos City Council last week declined to sign off on $88,000 in additional funding for the first phase of the city’s Wayfinding Sign Program.
The request came after the council originally approved the first portion of the two-phase project last summer with a slimmer $165,000 budget – cutting nearly $300,000 from its proposal. The project calls for the replacement and, in several cases, the addition of more streamlined-looking signs that direct motorists to the downtown triangle and other business districts.
The request specifically sought funding for gateway signs downtown at Foothill Expressway and San Antonio Road, as well as pole signage in the Woodland business district and directional signs along the San Antonio corridor. The project task force – which included Councilwoman Val Carpenter – sought to reintroduce previously eliminated signage for more funding “to have as comprehensive and consistent a design theme as we can on our major corridors,” according to Assistant City Manager James Walgren.
The council ultimately stuck to its original budget by a 3-1 vote instead of granting the request, agreeing to only minor aesthetic changes to the project’s plans to replace or enhance signage along San Antonio, El Camino Real and Foothill Expressway. The council also directed staff to discuss the addition of signage with merchants in the Woodland shopping district and reduced signage planned for the nine public parking plazas downtown from 17 to nine. Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins cast the lone dissenting vote. Councilman Jarrett Fishpaw was absent from the meeting.
“Our original recommendation last fall was to spend $150,000 on this project. It went up to $165,000 with the contingency (funds) – I was happy to give (the project) $100,000,” Councilwoman Jan Pepper said. “I don’t support adding another 50 percent to this project and bringing it up to $253,000.”
The decision came after Alotta’s Deli & Catering owner Mike Mansch told the council that the Woodland business district suffered from an “identity issue.” He noted that motorists trying to find the area are often confused by Grant Road, taking it down to El Camino Hospital instead of turning onto the frontage-road portion of Grant that runs parallel to Foothill Expressway. Signage directing motorists onto the frontage road toward the south Los Altos shopping area, he added, would provide a boost to businesses there.
“For that area to thrive, I think it’s really important (to add signage) if we want to maintain those shopping districts in town,” he said.
Mayor Megan Satterlee, however, noted that directing motorists to use the frontage road instead of Foothill Expressway might lead to unintended negative traffic impacts.
“I personally have a concern with anything that directs traffic from Homestead (Road) to the Grant Road frontage. … I think that invites traffic to start cutting through that neighborhood, and that’s not what I think anyone wants,” she said.
Pepper added that she favored directing city staff to work with merchants there to develop appropriate signage – which has not been funded – while squeezing the extra costs associated with them into the project’s $165,000 budget.
“I think the designers here can figure it out,” she said. “They can work out what the funding is. … I think they have to look at the numbers again, and maybe there’s enough money for it to do it, maybe there isn’t. I’m not concerned with that. I think there’s sufficient budget and they can figure it out.”
That direction, however, prompted Bruins to tell her colleagues that she was voting against the item – pointing to the lack of funds earmarked for Woodland in the project’s established budget.
“I will not put a priority on everything else at the expense of Woodland,” she said, “so I’m still going to vote against the motion.”