As housing edges businesses out, musician vows to rebuild his client base

This is the second in a three-part series on Los Altos business owners who have been – or may soon be – displaced by construction of state-mandated affordable housing units zoned for the commercial areas they once operated from. Part 1 ran Dec. 4. 

In their most recent correspondence to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, city of Los Altos officials revealed that the city is lagging in creating its mandated 477 affordable housing units.

With three years left in the Regional Housing Needs Allocation cycle – implemented to boost the state’s housing supply – city leaders and staff are working with developers to promote construction of either mixed-use projects with both commercial and living quarters or complexes strictly designated for housing.

The city’s most recent Housing Element plan encourages construction of new housing in portions of downtown and along El Camino Real and Foothill Expressway. The majority of the sites proposed for redevelopment are located on either El Camino Real or First Street.

The drive for new housing poses a problem for some local business owners, whose offices space is being redeveloped. Part 1 highlighted Fit Theory owner Candy Smolik’s move from her Los Altos studio on El Camino Real to Mountain View. Her business was displaced by Mircea Voskerician’s impending Altos I housing development.

4898 El Camino Real

Musician Josh Friedman, who taught guitar from office space in Los Altos until August, faces a similar relocation.

Friedman moved into a suite at 4898 El Camino Real in 2005. It’s where Voskerician’s second Los Altos development, Altos II, will rise, after the Los Altos City Council recently approved the project. Altos I will offer 10 below-market-rate housing units, and Altos II will offer six.

Searching for new studio space to teach guitar lessons and lead workshops became “complicated,” Friedman said, because every landlord sought “someone quiet who wanted to work with computers.”

Friedman saw the inevitable coming. While he was building a stage, installing lighting and hosting recitals from his suite to expand his client base, buildings were being demolished along that stretch of El Camino Real.

“I just knew that ours was going to be somewhere down the line,” Friedman said, adding that the building had been sold a few years earlier. “I thought the (sale) was going to be the end, but they just decided to keep the people who were leasing on, and then they sold the building again this year. They had plans for developing.”

Friedman, who attended UC Santa Cruz, moved to the area when his wife got a job in high-tech. After more than a decade operating out of 4898 El Camino Real, he knew his days were numbered when the story-pole flags began waving. Story poles mark the footprint of a soon-to-be constructed building.

“The landlords didn’t exactly tell us this was happening,” he said, noting rumors suggested the building would be torn down in February. “I guess they didn’t need to announce it to the building (tenants), so I actually heard from word of mouth.”

Friedman teaches children in primary school, so he conducts his lessons in line with the academic year. He wanted to avoid moving his business mid-year, choosing to relocate before the council’s final decision on Altos II in October. He moved his services to Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto – a sought-after space he’s been working to land for years – two days a week. He teaches at his home in
Sunnyvale three days a week.

“It’s kind of like starting from scratch,” he said. “Even though Los Altos isn’t that far away, in rush hour it can be. It was such a nice location because some of my students lived four houses down from that spot; it was ideal because it was on the edge of commercial and residential.”

This is the first time Friedman’s had to advertise, because he isn’t known in Sunnyvale.

“These new buildings that are offering retail spaces (are charging) an amount for rent that only corporations can afford,” he said. “I can’t afford it. The reason why I haven’t found another studio is because there’s nothing available at the price I was paying. Residents will be the most affected by not having what I had to offer in that space.”

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