Los Altos reimagined its landscape in 2013, with more to come in new year
In Los Altos and Mountain View, “growth” proved the buzzword for 2013 as an improved local economy created more jobs and prompted the need for more housing.
Growth also presented challenges, particularly in the Los Altos School District, where student enrollment at district sites and Bullis Charter School generated much discussion and more than a fair share of tension.
The new year promises more of the same: improving economy, growth and much discussion of what to do about it.
2013 highlights: First Street in downtown Los Altos provided the most obvious evidence that big changes were afoot. What started as a giant hole in the ground in January is now an underground parking structure beneath the three-story frame of Randy Lamb’s 48-unit condominium project at 100 First St., former site of the U.S. Postal Service center.
Safeway’s old grocery store at 160 First St. is a distant memory as well. Crews demolished the 1960s-era structure in May and wasted little time getting to work on a new podium-style store nearly double the size of its predecessor.
The Jeffrey A. Morris Group’s two-story, mixed-use project at the corner of First and Main streets also broke ground in late summer.
Additional projects picked up in a hurry. Abby Ahrens’ 18-room boutique hotel, Enchanté, began to take shape on the corner of San Antonio Road and Main Street.
The city played a prominent role in the area’s development, completing its San Antonio Streetscape project in late June and the second portion of its First Street streetscape project in September. While the latter project closed the State and First streets intersection for more than six weeks, it resulted in a completely new sight for downtown patrons – a pop-up park called the State Street Green.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in the midst of a two-year expansion project, came to town and set up “Project Los Altos: SFMOMA in Silicon Valley” in early October.
At the southern end of town, a multicity feasibility study reviewing Stevens Creek Trail connector routes through parts of south Los Altos drew the ire of Fallen Leaf Lane residents. In addition, the Homestead Road Safety Improvements project – which calls in part for the installation of a traffic signal at the Foothill Crossing Shopping Center entrance – broke ground midsummer.
Looking ahead: The dust will settle on several construction projects in 2014. Lamb’s project – which features one- to three-bedroom units ranging from 800 to 2,700 square feet – is expected to finish by mid-summer 2014. Safeway’s new 45,000-square-foot store is slated for a June finish, while Ahrens’ hotel will begin welcoming visitors no later than May. Morris’ project, meanwhile, may cross the finish line in late 2014.
The new year will also bring a fresh election cycle in the fall, which will result in at least one new member on the Los Altos City Council. Two seats will be up for grabs, with Councilwoman Val Carpenter ending a two-term run and Councilman Jarrett Fishpaw likely to bid for a second go-around.
Los Altos Hills
2013 highlights: Led by Mayor Gary Waldeck, the Los Altos Hills City Council approved the town’s first budget in four years that projects a surplus. The budget heralds a number of new pathway, infrastructure and policy changes aimed at improving the quality of life for residents.
Multiple pathway projects reached completion, including a $1.08 million Safe Route to Los Altos Hills Schools pathway along Fremont Road and the Arastradero Trail Improvement Project near Arastradero Road and Interstate 280. Reinforcing the town’s commitment to preserving its rural character, the council also approved a policy change that requires all nonemergency capital improvement projects to undergo Planning Commission and council review before breaking ground.
The town expanded its geographic area and financial responsibility with the annexation of the previously unincorporated county areas of Mora Drive, Olive Tree Lane and La Loma Drive and the acceptance of 17 private roads into its street system.
Following a 17-month legal battle over violations of the federal Clean Water Act, Lehigh Southwest Cement Co. agreed to a settlement that requires quarry operators to reduce selenium discharge and restore a 3.5-mile stretch of Permanente Creek – a decision that should alleviate some health and environmental concerns if promises are kept.
Looking ahead: Caltrans officials in May unveiled a $3 million plan for new traffic lights at the north- and southbound Interstate 280 exits onto Page Mill Road. Residents can expect more dialogue on the project in 2014. Even if Caltrans approves the plan without any changes, the project would not break ground for a few more years.
Another chapter in the town’s efforts to restore Westwind Community Barn to financial solvency continues this month with the evaluation of vendors bidding to assume control of commercial boarding and riding programs. Although town officials will most likely agree to subsidize the barn again this year, citing its importance to Los Altos Hills’ identity, calls to promote the facility’s financial independence continue.
2013 highlights: The year 2013 was one of new beginnings and ongoing turmoil in local public schools.
The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District added 24 new classrooms to accommodate enrollment growth at both Los Altos and Mountain View High schools.
Both MVLA and the Los Altos School District introduced new administrators. Mountain View High School welcomed Principal Dave Grissom and assistant principals William Blair and Lynne Ewald. The Los Altos School District named Nancy Davis its assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Gardner Bullis, Almond and Santa Rita schools opened under new principals: Erika Benadom, Katie Kinnaman and Greg Land, respectively.
Litigation and conflict regarding Bullis Charter School’s facilities continued, with new legal cases and strained relations.
The year began with a back-and-forth over the charter school’s current-year facilities, which are split between Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate schools. The split was not implemented as the charter school had expected and relies heavily on sharing facilities.
In August, the district locked the new facilities at Blach because the charter school had not signed a Facilities Use Agreement, which included limits on student capacity on both campuses and grade-level restrictions at Blach.
Facilities meetings began in September between representatives from the district and Bullis Charter School boards to seek options for the short-term facilities disagreements and to identify a long-term solution.
The year ended with the subcommittee engaging a mediator to discuss plans for collaborating in the future. The district prepared its facilities offer for the 2014-2015 school year, assuming a two- or three-site split for the charter school.
Foothill College debuted its $46 million Physical Sciences & Engineering Center, which houses classrooms and programs that enhance the college’s Science Learning Institute. The SLI explores how best to engage students in the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, resulting in new curriculum and an impetus to use the Foothill campus and community as living laboratories to offer students a meaningful, hands-on experience.
Looking ahead: Will 2014 be the year that Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District resolve their facilities feud?
The situation looks promising, as the subcommittee is scheduled to continue its efforts to solve the long-running problems – whether or not that includes a new campus.
The district will review the feasibility of placing a bond measure on the ballot in 2014 to fund improved and additional facilities. To prepare for enrollment growth, the district spent the better part of the past year monitoring potential opportunities for new sites for a 10th and/or 11th school site, for which it would need bond funds to support a purchase.
The new year will also bring elections for seats on local school boards. Three seats will be open on each district board. The terms of elementary district board trustees Doug Smith, Tammy Logan and Mark Goines expire in 2014, as do those of MVLA board members Judy Hannemann, Joe Mitchner and Debbie Torok.
Will a Bullis Charter School parent once again run for a seat on the Los Altos School District board? Will a bond measure pass? Will the elementary school district bid on a 10th site? Will this be the year that the district and Bullis Charter School drop their litigation and find a solution? Stay tuned.
Living in Los Altos
2013 highlights: Brightly colored storefronts with an emphasis on design popped up around Los Altos last year. The opening of The Makery and Red Racer Hobby Shop on State Street appealed to do-it-yourselfers and craft aficionados. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art became the year’s most prolific tenant, promoting galleries and happenings in storefronts and spaces around downtown.
Longtime Los Altos businesses announced plans to close. Dean’s Designs, Alabasta the Flower Shop and European Cobblery all prepared to say farewell to downtown, and Beausejour shuttered after 26 years of French food. Its empty halls on State Street are slated to house The Alley, a hybrid speakeasy/soda fountain/burger joint in the coming year. Lisa’s Tea Treasures opened at 167 Main St., bringing a dainty dose of doilies to the afternoon caffeine break. Momentum Cycling offers hourlong panaceas to the pastry, with founder Victoria Smith racing at the head of a room of cyclists spinning away on Schwinns at 149 Second St.
Looking ahead: SFMOMA steps up its game in the weeks ahead, staging a month of happenings around Los Altos with the “Let’s Do This!” communitywide performance art project. See pages 12-13 for the first set of instructions.
Los Altos may surge ahead in the juicing game in 2014, with Nekter Juice Bar scheduled to open at the corner of El Camino Real and San Antonio Road, and Squirt The Juice Bar still in the works on State Street. Forest on First, another new venture from Los Altos resident Mary Heffernan’s H&H Co. slated to open down the street from Bumble, promises seasonal fruit and vegetable-pressed juices, as well as house-made pastries, cured meats and pickles from chef Tyler Morrish. If those options don’t prove cleansing enough, Redberry Coffee looks to be weeks away from opening at 167 Main St.
The new year won’t be strictly restricted to art and eating – LEGOs are setting up shop at the corner of Main and First streets, where Build It Again with Bricks will buy and sell new and used LEGOs and offer classes, parties and a drop-off weekend play area. Smitten Ice Cream, attached to the Whole Foods Market on El Camino Real, doesn’t feature toys per se, but its patented liquid nitrogen ice cream makers put on a smoke-spewing show as employees whip up ice cream to order.
“It definitely is like your grandmother’s ice cream on steroids,” founder Robyn Fisher said of the old-fashioned ingredients plunged into her technological contraptions – software monitors viscosity as the desserts freeze on-demand. “You get to watch your actual ice cream being made. It’s taking homemade to a new level.”
2013 highlights: The bustling economy paid obvious dividends, reflected in the city of Mountain View’s finances and new building all over town.
“Overall, I’d say the city of Mountain View fared well this year,” said City Manager Dan Rich. “The current year’s budget is the first in five years that did not require cutting to be balanced.”
Development at The Village at San Antonio Center continued to progress with the completion of three multistory apartment buildings comprising 330 units, along with the opening of a 65,000-square-foot Safeway and assorted retail businesses. Developers Merlone Geier Partners added a small pedestrian park and dog park, both of which are open to the general public.
The presence of Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and other high-tech businesses influenced city growth, particularly housing, with more than 1,000 units in the pipeline.
The city’s planning department listed more than 70 projects it was evaluating for 2013, including precise plans for the North Bayshore, San Antonio Center and El Camino Real areas and the downtown. The city describes precise plans as tools for coordinating improvements on properties “where special conditions of size, shape, land ownership or existing or desired development require particular attention.”
Mayor John Inks also noted new corporate growth, with Omnicell Inc. and Audience Inc. opening new campuses. Synopsys Inc. is nearing completion on a two-building complex.
The city purchased a 1.2-acre property at 771 N. Rengstroff Ave. for $3 million with the goal of converting it into parkland. The 1880s-era Immigrant House, which a local resident saved from the wrecking ball, will be relocated to the new park at some point. The city also paid for the transfer of two large pieces of the Berlin Wall to be erected at the front of the city library on Franklin Street.
Looking ahead: City officials anticipate completion of precise plans for the North Bayshore, San Antonio Center and El Camino Real areas by the end of 2014. Projects affected by the precise plans include Google’s proposal for a 595,000-square-foot office building at 2000 N. Shoreline Blvd. The coming year might also see work begin on Phase 2 of Merlone Geier Partners’ Village at San Antonio Center plans, which include office and retail space and a hotel on 9.9 acres as well as a six-screen cinema.
City officials anticipate several major projects coming before the Mountain View City Council for approval in 2014, including plans for a 158,000-square-foot, two-story Target building, twice the size of the current one on Showers Drive that Target officials seek to replace; high-density apartments at 801 W. El Camino Real; and a 52-unit condominium development at 1101 W. El Camino.
Approved projects targeted for completion in 2014 include a 193-unit apartment project at 2650 W. El Camino, a 385,000-square-foot office project on Clyde Avenue to be occupied by Samsung, a 65-unit row house project on West Evelyn Avenue, 134 new apartment units at 111 N. Rengstorff Ave. and a four-story, 21,745-square-foot office building at 902 Villa St.
Vice Mayor Chris Clark is expected to take his turn as mayor in 2014, with the mayoral decision scheduled for Tuesday’s council meeting.