Sat11292014

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Downtown pop-up park returns this summer


Town Crier File Photo
While the State Street Green will grace downtown Los Altos again this summer, negotiations continue over its precise location.

The State Street Green pop-up park is making a comeback this summer – though it may need a name change.

The Los Altos City Council last week voted 4-1 in favor of reviving the temporary park in the downtown area after the completion of the annual Arts & Wine Festival this summer.

Mayor Megan Satterlee cast the dissenting vote, questioning its economic advantage and citing a “limited bandwidth” of city staff time required to manage the park and prioritize other city projects as well.

“I think the challenge we have with this concept is a desire – a demand – for a community gathering space, but it doesn’t necessarily generate the economic activity that other downtown users do,” she said.

Satterlee’s colleagues opted to move ahead with a second run of the pop-up park, but in a different location and for a shorter time span of four weeks.

The park debuted mid-July last year as a joint effort between the city, Passerelle Investment Co. and some downtown merchants. It occupied most of the 300 block of State Street for six weeks while streetscape improvement work closed the nearby intersection at State and First streets.

The council directed city staff to relocate the park this summer to a smaller portion of Third Street between Main and State streets. One possible option would extend the park from the edge of the city’s parking plazas to the corner of Main and Third streets, near Satura Cakes. A second option would place the park between the edge of the parking plazas and the corner of State and Third streets, near the Costume Bank. Several councilmembers noted that a Third Street location could minimize the impact on nearby businesses and the loss of on-street parking.

“I don’t know if the feet that were on the street were generating the tax revenue to offset the cost of doing something like this,” Councilman Jarrett Fishpaw said of the inaugural effort in 2013. “But I think that it really was a unique asset that made our downtown stand apart for a while.”

Park survey

The council’s approval came after members of the Stanford Prevention Research Center presented the results of its survey of those who used last year’s park and nearby merchants. The survey indicated that more than 70 percent of the users had positive reactions to the park. In addition, 74 percent of the 147 individuals polled favored a permanent park in the area.

Interviews with 95 individuals at local businesses within an eight-block area around the park found “no discernible overall impact on business sales” – without offering specific data. The group noted that 38 percent of the businesses favored a permanent park, with 24 percent supporting a temporary one. A lack of parking in the downtown area was among the top concerns cited by business representatives.

Public reaction

Los Altos Village Association (LAVA) Executive Director Nancy Dunaway told the council that she received “conflicting comments” from downtown merchants regarding the park’s impact on local business. While acknowledging that merchants generally expressed appreciation for “making lemonade out of lemons” in the construction-heavy area with the park, most of the merchants questioned by the Stanford group were outside the park’s immediate area.

“We’re getting a little pushback. … There are some merchants that would be really unhappy if this were to come up (again),” Dunaway said.

Others sounded a different tone. Los Altos resident Robin Abrams said she supported the park’s return and suggested that city staff work with LAVA and the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce to “find a way and an appropriate place that works for the merchants.”

Former Los Altos Mayor Penny Lave also supported a second trial for the park, adding that it gave the city a unique destination that helped bring nonresidents to the downtown area.

“I think the more people know about it, the more vibrant it’s going to be,” she said.

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