Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
A project to update and streamline the look of several directional and street signs received approval from the Los Altos City Council June 11, but only after nearly $300,000 was cut from the original proposal.
The council voted 4-0 – with Councilwoman Jan Pepper abstaining – to approve a slim-downed version of the Wayfinding Sign Program, which calls for the addition and replacement of signs directing motorists to key city destinations, including Los Altos business districts.
In approving only a portion of the two-phase project, the council managed to slice the price tag from $440,500 to approximately $150,000.
Citing a “tight” biennial city budget – slated for council approval Tuesday – Councilwoman Megan Satterlee noted that she could only support aspects such as directional signs on El Camino Real that guide motorists to downtown Los Altos. Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins added that she also favored a scaled-down version that addressed the city’s most immediate needs first.
“I don’t believe we have the financial means to fund everything that is before us,” Bruins summed up during discussion. “I think this must be pared down to a ‘must’ versus ‘want.’ Would it be nice to have beautiful signs? Absolutely. … (But) I don’t see a return on investment.”
The council voted to form the Wayfinding Sign Task Force in May 2012 to develop a concept that would unify the city’s signage. Task force members included Councilwoman Val Carpenter, former Councilman Ron Packard and representatives from the Los Altos Village Association and the Chamber of Commerce.
Prior to the vote, some members of the Wayfinding Sign Task Force and the public urged approval of the complete proposed project, citing the need for the city’s commercial districts to compete with nearby business communities for customers.
“This is a really valuable expenditure in the face of this huge development (The Village at San Antonio Center) that is going on at the edge of our town, where a lot of new people are going to be coming in,” said task force member Phoebe Bressack, chairwoman of the Planning and Transportation Commission. “I’d like to divert some of them to our town.”
Los Altos resident Jim Wing, who did not serve on the task force, told the council “the No. 1 priority is to attract new customers (traveling) on El Camino (Real) and Foothill (Expressway) and give them some guidance to our downtown – period. That is kind of where I think we get bang for the buck.”
Packard noted that ongoing efforts like the city’s downtown streetscape projects have led to the private investments that benefit the city financially. Pointing specifically to Randy Lamb’s development of the former First Street post office site into a 48-unit condominium complex, Packard said the city would likely receive approximately $84,000 in tax revenue annually from that project.
“I hope this council is known as a pro-business council and not an anti-business council,” Packard said.
The council opted for a slimmer version of the project, calling for the installation – and in some cases, replacement – of directional and other signage along areas of San Antonio Road, El Camino Real and Foothill Expressway.
Other proposals, such as replacing and upgrading the city’s civic center and library signs, as well as downtown parking plaza identifier signs, didn’t make the cut.
Pepper said spending $500,000 “on signs is way too much money,” adding that it “morphed into a hugely expensive project. I can’t justify spending Los Altos taxpayer money at this level for this project.” She called for a maximum budget of $50,000-$75,000.
Bruins said that while she supported “making it a bit easier” for motorists to locate the city’s business districts and other destinations, the two-phase project was “overkill.” She noted that 37 of the 63 signs proposed in the first phase related to downtown parking.
“Quite frankly, you go down State or Main (street) and you can’t find (parking) on the street, it forces you to turn down one of our side streets,” she said. “Once you turn down one of our side streets, you can’t help but see the parking plazas. So I don’t think they’re as hidden as we like to think they are.”
According to Los Altos Economic Development Manager Kathy Kleinbaum, the project is scheduled for inclusion in the city’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan, set for council approval Tuesday, after the Town Crier’s press deadline.