Several residents of Los Altos have expressed disappointment about Los Altos Community Investments’ withdrawal of the First Street Green project.
There is a feeling that the city, community and/or council were putting unreasonable obstacles to the project. This is a misunderstanding about what happened that we would like to clear up.
The city processed the application in record time. We agreed to consider a three-story design, exceeding the 30-foot limit by 12 feet. At a study session in the summer, we heard from more than 100 speakers – most supporters, only approximately eight unfavorable. The draft environmental impact report was published with the minimum legal time for comments (20 days). It was due to go to the Planning and Transportation Commission in November, and to the city council no later than January.
So, what happened? Read LACI head Anne Wojcicki’s interview and letter in the Oct. 18 Town Crier.
We met personally with her in the aftermath of LACI’s withdrawal of the application. We understand that the issue was that the project cost had grown excessively for several reasons:
• The parking requirement (parking spaces per thousand square feet) is currently high. The Parking Committee has offered alternatives.
• The maximum zoning height was changed last December, before the application, to 30 feet for commercial buildings and 35 feet for residential. This required the applicant to offer the city a “public benefit” in exchange for allowing the maximum height to be exceeded. LACI offered to provide 40 parking spaces in addition to replacing all of those that disappeared from the surface lot. This forced it to include a third story underground garage, a prohibitively expensive proposition.
• The fact that it was an office building meant that there would be a significant increase in traffic in and out. Although the draft EIR concluded that it was manageable, a well-funded opponent threatened to challenge the project in court. That would have added time and cost to the project, even if, as was likely, LACI would have won.
• Finally, we are sure that the skyrocketing cost of construction (20 percent-plus per year) in the area was a factor.
So even though much of the information in the first three points was known before filing the application, the full cost impact would not have been known at that time.
The good news is that Wojcicki is not discouraged. She fully intends to develop other projects on the properties she owns. She loves Los Altos and is willing to consider a different type of development on First Street. We have a great city, and we are delighted that a well-intentioned and generous property owner is willing to cooperate with the city.
Mary Prochnow is mayor of Los Altos and Jean Mordo is a member of the city council.