Editorial: First St. Green demise a lost opportunity

The decision two weeks ago to pull plans for a large office building and adjacent park on First Street made some people glad that another anxious moment had passed – the threat to their “sleepy” downtown village had been averted. For those who favor downtown vibrancy, however, the news came as a big disappointment.

Obviously, there are many reactions in between – still others might have preferred housing or some other use in that area – but the controversial project did draw a line in the sand between those opposed to change and development and those in favor of it.

Count us among the disappointed. We’re still convinced that the project would have brought only good to First Street and the rest of the downtown area. The project offered the gift of permanent green space – a half-acre park – that would have covered up a portion of an old public parking plaza. The parking plan not only would have placed parking underground, but also would have resulted in 40 additional public spaces. The office building would have included public amenities such as a meeting room and restrooms, and designs revealed the third story set back from the first two to avoid the “canyon effect” so many residents have complained about with the construction of 400 Main St. and the Safeway market across the street from the proposed First Street Green and office building.

Opponents cited traffic concerns, claiming that the expected 250 or so employees would add to the rush-hour commute. But the developer, Los Altos Community Investments and principal/founder Anne Wojcicki, saw a need for office space specifically for business people who lived locally and also wanted to work locally. Their presence surely would have meant an uptick in the downtown economy.

There remains the possibility that Wojcicki still would have put a stop to the project given the tremendous costs involved. But the “uphill battle” she cited certainly played a role in her decision.

“In 10 years, what do we want to look like?” That was a question Wojcicki posed, one that city leaders hope to answer with the undertaking of the Downtown Vision project. In our view, keeping the village sleepy, as some would like, guarantees a ghost town. The downtown still offers plenty of potential, but that potential will be realized only by welcoming change – carefully planned, of course.

The demise of the First Street Green and office building was surely a lost opportunity.

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