A vote for development: Other Voices

When I read the recent column “The death of a village” (“Other Voices,” Feb. 1), I hesitated writing a response given how emotional I believe this issue is for many longtime residents. But while the sentiment here is genuine, the recommendation is too far out of line with what I believe Los Altos needs.

For background, I grew up in the area, moving to Los Altos Hills in 1985 at the age of 10. So I have some long-term perspective on life in Los Altos, particularly from the point of view of someone who grew up here and is now trying to raise a family here.

I fear that our town is dying.

There are a few flaws that have shown themselves on the Peninsula over the past few decades. The lack of development has meant that the rents are so high, only extremely premium or grandfathered businesses can survive for long. The lack of development means that no one under 35 can afford to live here, and even then it’s only with an exceptional financial windfall.

As we’ve seen the rest of the Peninsula develop, we can see that the old, highly segmented model of development – separate commercial, residential and retail – was a mistake. Integrated development, with a walkable lifestyle, is what people both old and young value.

We know the path that can lead us there. In fact, a number of communities are already revitalizing their downtowns. The key: mixed development.

• Residential units, of different sizes, so that young couples, married families, empty-nesters and even singles can live in walking distance from downtown.

• Tasteful retail that brings a wide variety of goods and services to our community, and can draw in visitors looking for a curated set of what Peninsula life has to offer.

• Commercial development, so the myriad small businesses that thrive in Silicon Valley can find a home here. Last year I moved my 130-person company from Palo Alto to Redwood City. I wish Los Altos had been a viable option. Companies, appropriately sized, provide a wide range of visitors who shop during lunch, grab drinks and dinner after-hours and add vibrancy to the town. Development is what brings rents down. Supply and demand. We have no supply. The teachers from our local schools should be able to live here.

Imagine a town where parking is placed on the outside perimeter of town, making the entire downtown walkable. Imagine green space where parents with kids can have them playing in a park while shopping or enjoying food, without having to drive a car.

In the past 10 years, we have made phenomenal progress. We’ve tasted the benefit of new establishments. We’ve seen new units open up on First Street that are home to newly married and retiring couples alike.

Villages have people of all ages. Villages have companies that provide jobs for the villagers. Villages have farmers’ markets and unique shops. Villages have gathering points. Villages are full of life.

Our town is beautiful at night. It is a crime that it is so unwelcoming and vacant. And it’s sad to look around midday and see few people between the ages of 18 and 30. That’s not a village.

No one is advocating for 10-story buildings, or a clone of Palo Alto. But tasteful, three-story development, especially with retail below and commercial or residential above, could be the key to vibrancy in our village through the middle of this century.

I’m just one vote. But I vote for life. I vote for family. I vote for development.

Adam Nash is a Los Altos resident.

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