Friends of Los Altos’ most recent article on the Downtown Vision plan apparently got lots of people talking. Interestingly, we also got the attention of the Town Crier, which published an editorial that generally praised FOLA but questioned our view that parking is an issue that needs to be addressed before implementing elements of the Downtown Vision plan. Bruce Barton, the Town Crier’s editor-in-chief, suggests that the reason no new parking is required is that he, personally, can always find parking, and in a future Los Altos, Lyft, Uber and residents using bicycles will solve any additional needs.
We have a lot of respect for Bruce and the staff at the Town Crier. We need to remember, however, that there are dynamics that may change his current experience with parking availability. Los Altos Community Investments’ massive two-story office building on State Street near the Town Crier offices has been vacant for many years but is currently being remodeled. How many parking stalls will those future businesses and employees require? The Downtown Parking Management Plan adopted by the city said that while the downtown does not currently have a shortage of parking, as more and more retail stores convert to restaurants, more parking is required, and the current parking supply will become insufficient.
Certainly, the Town Crier is not suggesting that that trend will stop. In addition, that plan did not anticipate that the retail zoning along Main and State streets would be changed and allow, for the first time, that the tenants on the ground floor can be service providers as opposed to retailers, which likely has different parking demands. There has been no study by a third party engaged by the city to consider what impact that would have on parking. Finally, converting some of the parking plazas into outdoor dining will both eliminate parking spaces while potentially adding to the number of cars in the downtown area.
The conclusion that there are now no parking problems and in the future there will be no parking problems in our downtown simply because one person has always been able to find parking, while ignoring the changing dynamics, is too slim of an analysis to justify major permanent changes.
FOLA has been a longtime supporter of implementing change in downtown Los Altos in a rational way. Competing against regional retailers and office buildings with more than enough parking, or other downtowns with ample parking garages, our downtown cannot afford to make irreversible mistakes causing users of our downtown to go elsewhere.
FOLA’s position is simply that permanent changes should not be made without a critical analysis of costs, funding and timing. The $300,000 Downtown Vision plan provided no such analysis. Instead, it assumed out of hand that the city would add new parking garages. The only discussion about funding was buried in an appendix (Land Econ Group, page 12), that states “sufficient funds could be made available for the improvement of downtown” by capitalizing (i.e., selling?) portions of the “19-acre campus at Civic Center.” Should we begin with the soccer fields, or perhaps the baseball area?
We fully respect Bruce and others who, with the best of intentions, “hope” that Lyft, Uber and bicycles will remove all parking shortages in our downtown. We join in his “hope.” Our disagreement is that we should not allow irrevocable changes to be based merely on a “hope” without critical analysis, even though there are plenty of developers and others eager to do so.
Ron Packard is a former Los Altos mayor and serves on the board of directors of Friends of Los Altos.