Fri10242014

News

Google co-founder identified as power broker in Los Altos development


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It’s safe to say Google co-founder Sergey Brin likes to keep a low profile. Now word is out that he not only lives in Los Altos Hills, but he may be a big factor in downtown Los Altos’ revitalization.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Brin is the major investor in Passerelle Investment Co., which has become the largest property owner in downtown Los Altos since arriving on the scene in 2009. For months, the Town Crier heard rumors but was unable to find anyone willing to speak on the record to confirm Brin’s involvement in Passerelle. The Journal did not cite sources in asserting that Brin is connected with the company.

Google spokesman Jordan Newman declined to comment on the Journal story.

Passerelle has received predominantly positive feedback from the local community for its property redevelopment, particularly along State and First streets. The company has created outlets for younger visitors, including Bumble, a cafe targeting parents with young children; Skate Works; and an arcade scheduled to open next month. Passerelle also charges below-market rates to enable struggling businesses to remain downtown. Linden Tree Books, for example, benefited not only from lower rent, but also from a new upgraded location on State Street.

Los Altos Mayor Val Carpenter has been skeptical about the company, however. She called Passerelle a “500-pound gorilla” in the Journal article and questioned at last week’s city council meeting whether Passerelle employees were underhandedly seeking to permanently remove parking stalls in front of their stores.

She later told the Town Crier, “Passerelle’s holdings in downtown Los Altos are significant and continue to grow. Their employees take positions on a wide variety of issues and actively advocate in support of them to the city council and staff. Knowing who is funding their acquisitions and programs is a major step forward in transparency that will build greater trust and further strengthen the relationship between our community and their organization.”

The company emphasizes a progressive, green philosophy, participating in events such as the recent Stride & Ride Festival, in which Passerelle employees transformed a portion of the parking lot behind Peet’s Coffee & Tea into a large lawn.

Business Insider blogger Nicholas Carlson observed that Brin is investing in stores he thinks Los Altos families need.

“I can already hear people complaining about this post: ‘Great, a rich guy is making a rich town nicer to live in,’” Carlson wrote. “But Brin is doing a lot of other stuff for the world, and he doesn’t have to be investing in his community like this at all, and it’s just really cool that he is.”

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