Downtown property owners simultaneously trying to redevelop their land and meet city-mandated parking requirements may soon have a mechanism to accomplish their goals.
The Los Altos City Council last week voted 4-1 in favor of developing a policy that would give property owners on Main and State streets the ability to fund the reconfiguration of public parking plazas and satisfy minimum parking requirements imposed by the city on developments.
Councilwoman Val Carpenter cast the lone dissenting vote. She cited the need to wait and see how effectively the addition of Safeway’s 129 shared parking spaces would alleviate downtown parking demands before moving ahead with the policy. The new podium-style grocery store on First Street is slated to open mid-June.
“What is the public benefit? This doesn’t necessarily add to the parking supply – it’s really just for developers to meet their parking requirements,” Carpenter later told the Town Crier, noting that she favored the idea of a parking structure built with the cost shared between the city and downtown property owners.
A staff report stated that the city’s 2013 Downtown Parking Management Plan set the approximate cost of reconfiguring all downtown plazas to gain 75 spaces at $8.3 million – an average cost of $111,200 per stall. The plan noted that a stand-alone parking structure on one of the rectangular parking plazas would likely cost $10.3 million and add 276 spaces – an average of $38,000 per stall.
Despite Carpenter’s objections, the council directed staff to develop the policy, which the city’s Planning and Transportation Commission would review before it is submitted to the council for a final decision.
The council specifically directed staff to retain the standard parking space size – 9 feet wide by 18 feet long – but left open the possibility of head-in parking instead of the angled spaces currently used in the nine downtown parking plazas.
The council added that the policy should require owners seeking redevelopment to fully fund all plaza reconfiguration costs – including the undergrounding of utilities and the retention or replacement of mature trees and landscaping. Developers who fund reconfigurations should receive “first come, first served” priority on plaza parking spaces, the council agreed.
Public weighs in with varied reactions
Former city Planning Commissioner Mike Abrams encouraged councilmembers to move forward, calling it a “good phase-zero step” that would allow a potential increase in parking downtown while the city considers long-term solutions like a parking structure.
“I don’t begin to think it is a be-all, end-all solution,” said Abrams, who noted that plaza reconfiguration could offer some relief to motorists parking downtown. “Working with the Chamber (of Commerce), property owners and the community, the longer-term solutions will no doubt get figured out.”
Milverton Road resident Jim Wing, however, told the council not to “give away our competitive parking advantage,” not available in some cities, such as larger, angled parking spaces and trees for shading.
Former Los Altos Councilman Ron Packard said the policy could raise additional “thorny” issues.
“Should a private property owner be entitled to use public land for his own financial benefit?” Packard questioned. “That’s a substantial policy issue that would need to be addressed.”
Council OKs policy
The council voted to develop the policy despite mixed feelings by some members.
Councilman Jarrett Fishpaw said he supported the idea but also questioned whether it was worth the city’s time and effort. He pointed to the high costs of reconfiguring the plazas as potentially prohibitive to property owners.
“I find myself in a place where the parking stalls that could be obtained through this method are going to be so outrageously expensive that going through the process to set up this program – and allow a developer to do this – is going to be a lot of spinning the wheels,” he said.
Councilwoman Jan Pepper added that she was “mixed on this as well” but supported the policy if a potential developer picked up all related costs, including public utility undergrounding.
Mayor Megan Satterlee, on the other hand, called herself arguably the “most enthusiastic” supporter of creating the policy. She noted that while the city allows development in the downtown area, “practically speaking, there is no way to develop anything on Main and State because there’s no possible way to meet the parking requirements.”
Requiring developers to pick up the entire tab – including items like utility undergrounding – would be beneficial to residents as well, she added.
“There is public benefit to having these public plazas reconfigured,” she said. “Is it going to be expensive? Absolutely. Would I support the city paying for it? No. If a developer wants to do it, would I enable them through a policy? Why not?”