As Los Altos’ politicians and city officials collectively ponder what to build on approximately 4 acres of parking lots downtown, civic engagement should be at the forefront of the planning process, economic-development expert Ed Everett told a group of business owners, residents and councilmembers last week.
“If you build community, you can build almost anything,” Everett, former city manager of Redwood City, said Aug. 31. “The most important infrastructure you have in a city is community. … It impacts almost every issue you deal with – schools, childhood obesity, building downtown.”
Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard agreed.
“I think there’s a lot of truth in that,” he wrote in an email.
In an effort to breathe new life into downtown, sometime next year Los Altos may solicit proposals to build on the parking plazas located south of the Main Street shops. City officials have said any proposal would likely require parking facilities to replace the lost spaces.
Community could come in the form of public spaces incorporated into the projects or synthesizing consensus among residents prior to going forward, Everett said.
Officials remain open to a wide range of projects, including retail, office and residential. A public input-gathering session is scheduled 5:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at Hillview Community Center, and a website – www.welovelosaltos.wordpress.com – is up and running to accept feedback.
While Everett said that current economic woes could make it more difficult to complete projects due to tumultuous financing conditions, the respite provides time for the Los Altos community to identify exactly what it should do with the plazas.
“This is the best time to plan. You have some breathing room,” he said. “If a year from now the economy just takes off – I don’t think it will – you’re going to be inundated with people wanting to (build) stuff.”
Everett advocated thorough vetting of interested developers to ensure that they have a strong track record of building to city specifications.
“A developer will tell you what they can sell, not what you need,” he said. “That’s not bad – it just is.”
Parking problem? No sweat!
Everett told the group, which met in a vacant store on State Street, that they should actually want a parking problem – a lack of available spaces.
“You don’t want to be able to drive up and get a place,” he said. “That means your (town is) dead.”
Everett stood firm in his position that free parking is “stupid” and that parking spaces that increase in price as they become closer to the town center would increase efficiency.
Mayor Ron Packard, however, wasn’t so sure about that.
“I doubt that is the best way for our village to compete with The Village at San Antonio with its free parking,” he said. “But I could be wrong – maybe people will be dying to come to Los Altos for the experience of sliding their credit cards through the meter.”