Sat10252014

News

City responds to frustrated First Street merchants


Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier Merchants along First Street in downtown Los Altos express frustration with ongoing construction in front of their businesses.

Sometime in the near future, the First Street streetscape project in downtown Los Altos will be completed and existing businesses should benefit from the improvements. But conducting business during the construction phase is a hardship and a source of endless frustration for some merchants.

Ongoing work on the project has longstanding businesses like California Automotive and Silicon Valley Mediation Group struggling to get by, with the restricted or no-access conditions shooing away potential customers. The project, which includes rebuilding the sidewalks, has left trenches in front of the businesses.

“California Automotive is directly next door, and although they are suffering terribly from the disruption and customer inability to get their cars in, at least they have been given a metal ramp for access,” wrote Carol Millie of Silicon Valley Mediation Group in a June 12 letter to Los Altos City Manager Marcia Somers. “It is our building alone that has been completely inaccessible from the street for nearly one month, in spite of the fact that we mediate ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) cases. … I also have tenants who offer professional services (law and financial consulting) who are finding the conditions deplorable.”

Millie’s letter last week received an immediate response from Somers, who directed Public Works Director Jim Gustafson to visit Millie’s offices at 141 First St. to assess the problem. By Friday, the driveways in front of both businesses had been paved.

“We are very sorry for the inconvenience,” Somers said. “Construction is disruptive. We understand it can be frustrating. … There was no intent to help some and not others.”

“They were very responsive,” Millie said Monday.

The work addressed concerns the businesses had about how the city was prioritizing the project.

“The sidewalk project was started so as to give first completion to open space between the driveways on the plaza where no one is disturbed,” Millie said. “We have asked ourselves, is this a considerate way to prioritize?”

“I’m the only one on First Street who requires automobile access in order to operate,” said Al Pickett, owner of California Automotive at 139 First St. for 20 years.

Dependent on drive-by traffic, Pickett said construction has been “absolutely murder – it’s killing me.” He estimated that business has been down 30 to 40 percent since work began.

Further, Pickett said the city promised multiple signs pointing to businesses that remain open during construction. He was also told work in front of his shop would stop at 10 a.m. but said that has not been the case.

“Although access to his driveway has generally been open at 10 a.m., it seems that occasionally it’s been delayed,” Somers said. “The contractor (Redgwick Construction of Newark) is trying very hard to accommodate everyone’s individual concerns and constraints and still stay on target with the schedule.”

As for signs, Somers said three are currently posted that say “Welcome – Pardon our dust – Downtown open for business,” two on Foothill Expressway and a third at the intersection of First and Main streets.

“We anticipate a fourth sign to go up at Second and State when the street/block closure occurs (at State and First),” she said.

The current work is part of Phase 1B of the city’s streetscape project, which extends along First from the State Street intersection to Shasta Street across from the old Safeway site. The work involves narrowing the street, replacing and expanding sidewalks and adding new streetside adornments such as streetlights, trees and landscaping. Somers said the current phase is on schedule for completion prior to the Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival July 13 and 14.

Work will then commence on the intersection of First and State streets, which city officials expect to be closed for up to six weeks and reopen by Labor Day.

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