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LA council reviews smoking ban, El Camino project

A proposal for an outdoor dining smoking ban and the approval of a height increase to accommodate an elevator tower on the 4880 El Camino Real project were among the agenda items discussed at last week’s Los Altos City Council meeting.

The city originally placed the smoking-ban proposal on the consent calendar at the Oct. 24 meeting. However, during a public comment section at the beginning of the meeting, Los Altos resident Roberta Phillips requested that the item be pulled for discussion.

The council also reviewed a design change by the developer of 4880 El Camino Real to amend a previous rooftop height waiver. In 2016, the council approved the 21-unit multifamily residential project. But after selecting an elevator to transport residents to the rooftop garden, the developer returned to the council last week to ask for an extension of the elevator tower’s height.

City behind on limiting smoke

Councilwoman Jan Pepper led discussion of the proposed smoking ban by imparting her knowledge of a recent city association board meeting at which members reviewed the Santa Clara County Healthy Cities Initiative. Pepper said that of all the cities in the county, Los Altos has done the least to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke.

“I find that appalling that here we are in a city that’s so concerned about health and fitness … that we are way behind all the other cities ... in reducing exposure to smoke,” she said.

Pepper read the six policy areas recommended by the initiative to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke. Los Altos received a checkmark for fulfilling only one of the policy areas – parks, trails and recreation. It did not receive checkmarks for outdoor dining areas/bars, entryways, service lines and areas, multiunit housing and public events.

Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins suggested that the city include those five policy areas in the ordinance.

Bruins also asked to modify the ordinance title from an outdoor dining area smoking ban to smoke-free and tobacco-free environments in Los Altos. City Manager Chris Jordan said staff would rewrite the ordinance and return in approximately four weeks for review.

Tensions rise over elevator tower

Under the state’s density-bonus law, which provides developers incentives to build affordable housing, councilmembers last year approved an incentive for a rooftop structure at 4880 El Camino Real, allowing the structure to rise 11 feet above the structural roof deck. Last week, however, the developer requested that the elevator tower extend an additional 5 feet, to 16 feet, 8 inches above the roof.

City staff recommended approval of the extension, but the council didn’t seem so sure. Councilwoman Lynette Lee Eng expressed concern about the impact the height increase would have on Los Altos residents.

“When council voted for this project, they voted to allow the garden on the premise that it would be served by a tower of 11 feet,” she said. “That was 3 feet taller than the code at that time. ... The public trusts us.”

Mayor Mary Prochnow urged fellow councilmembers to move on from the lengthy discussion of the modified waiver.

“We need to get going and build some housing,” she said. “The idea of stopping a project over 5 feet, whether we think it was their mistake, our mistake … I believe it’s almost ludicrous that the conversation is being held.”

The council voted 3-2 to approve the developer’s request, with Eng and Bruins dissenting.

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