Two “Other Voices” columns by Kim Cranston recently published in the Town Crier claim supposed “mysteries” that involve city land sold to the Jeffrey A. Morris Group, now under construction at First and Main streets (“Los Altos mysteries explored,” Jan. 29 and Feb. 12).
The first “mystery” involved the differing numbers for the potential parking spaces on that land. The simple answer is that the count of 54 parking spaces was taken before demolition of the buildings at that site in 2010, and the 96 parking spaces were calculated afterward, when most of the new temporary parking was on dirt.
The second “mystery” concerns the 2012 Los Altos City Council and why it did not “respect” the supposed parking purposes for which the land was acquired in 1995. While some city leaders and property owners in 1995 may have expected the land to be used for parking, the 1995 staff report listed two possible uses, one of which is fully consistent with Morris’ current development, which does not include any public parking.
If parking were that important in 1995, one would expect it to be mentioned in the council resolution, minutes or the specific plan for that site. Parking, however, is not mentioned in any of these documents.
Fortunately, we do not have to divine the real intent of the city when the property was purchased 19 years ago. A new council may consider, but is certainly not bound by, the intent of a prior council, because circumstances often change.
Sept. 14, 2010 (not 2012), the city council held a hearing on whether to enter into an agreement granting Morris a binding option to purchase the land without any requirement to provide public parking. The meeting was well attended, with nine speakers, including members of the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, the Los Altos Village Association and Los Altos 2025; three downtown developers; the publisher of the Town Crier; and the closest residential owner, the chairman of Adobe Systems Inc.
Nearly all spoke firmly in favor of entering into the contract. No one said the land needed to be used for public parking or that the sale proceeds should be reserved for public parking. One person did mention that the property had “ostensibly” been purchased for parking, but he too encouraged the council to promptly approve the agreement. (The meeting can be viewed on the city’s website.) A primary concern at that time was increasing the number of “feet on the street.”
Councilmembers approved the contract and the development is now in progress. It will be attractive, a great addition to our downtown and bring many “feet on the street.”
To attempt now to create “mysteries” where none exist and to argue that actions by a prior council 19 years ago must be construed for the financial benefit of certain downtown property owners are not productive efforts. They are divisive.
If parking is a problem, then as one of the largest property owners on Main Street, I propose that I and the other large-property owners along Main and State streets, particularly those who inherited their properties, step forward and agree to be assessed our share of the costs for a parking structure, not to pass the costs on to the tenants. Trying to use supposed “mysteries” to shame the city into spending millions of taxpayer dollars on parking solutions, without any landlord contributions, is not a winning approach. We need to work collaboratively in a positive effort with the city, not against it.
Ron Packard is a Los Altos resident, downtown property owner and former mayor.