Other Voices: Don't look a LACI gift horse in the mouth

The Los Altos City Council directed commissions including Parks and Recreation to provide input on the proposed First Street Green. I attended the Sept. 13 meeting, and the Town Crier captured it well.

One thing I didn’t understand then and I still don’t – a call for a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed First Street Green. At a high level, it breaks down to this: (1) development cost to the city of Los Altos – zero, and (2) benefit to public – millions.

Admittedly, there are issues to work out, including maintenance of the plaza and programming costs. These and others are being addressed by both Los Altos Community Investments and the city as part of the council-approved Phase 2 of the exclusive negotiating agreement.

The analogy to consider here: What if someone offered to replace my 2001 Volkswagen with a new Tesla SUV. At no charge to me. I would own the new SUV, but I would have to maintain it, pay the license fees and supply my own electricity to charge it. Would I take that deal? Yep.

LACI is offering to convert a decades-old concrete and asphalt parking lot with some trees into a multifunction public plaza to build community with our residents today – and for future generations.

It’s important to note that the city is not giving up anything. Parking Plaza 7 land remains the city’s property – but with a fantastic makeover!

Yes, the proposed office building and the plaza are intertwined. The council often mentions the desire for public/private partnerships. Well, that’s what’s on the table. Consider the third word – “partnership.” That means both parties are entrusted and motivated to come up with the best possible outcome for all concerned. Note that the proposed park is not being offered as a public benefit for the proposed office building.

It’s out-of-the-box thinking by LACI, which will dig a big hole to fully park its building to code. LACI wonderfully surmised – “What if we extended the dig to include part of Parking Plaza 7 and built a public plaza on top of the underground parking – at no cost to the city?”

Does the proposed plaza enhance the attractiveness of the LACI building? Yes.

Does the public benefit from the new plaza? Yes.

It’s safe to say that LACI’s First Street Green will add tremendously more value to the community than what the current parking lot is contributing. When is it time to stop looking a gift horse in the mouth?


Larry Baron is a Los Altos resident.

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