Town Crier File Photo
Families used last year’s Third Street pop-up park to gather and play in the shade.
Residents and merchants weighed the pros and cons of turning a downtown Los Altos parking plaza into a turf-covered pop-up park during a Feb. 21 public input meeting.
The proposed Downtown Green, which would host a range of activities in July and August, was up for consideration at Tuesday’s Los Altos City Council meeting, after the Town Crier’s press deadline.
The Downtown Green would feature programming such as movie nights and fitness classes as well as play space for children and space for merchants. It would cover the 71 parking spots in Plaza 6, the wedge-shaped lot on State Street that sits behind the Masonic Lodge. The city of Los Altos would be on the hook for the $71,500 cost of the park.
According to Jennifer Quinn, the city’s economic development manager, the park would take place during downtown’s quietest two months and would be similar to the popular Third Street Green and State Street Green pop-up parks installed in the past. Quinn plans to tie in Veterans Community Plaza and the long-standing Los Altos Farmers’ Market into the event space.
“We haven’t done anything of this scale before. This is pretty unique,” Quinn said. “It will draw attention from throughout the region. I think it will be a huge draw.
Skeptics weigh in
Many downtown merchants at the meeting expressed concern that the pop-up park would mean losing parking they felt was sorely needed.
Sylvia Koenig, owner of Outrage Salon on Main Street, said replacing parking slots with a green space would disproportionately affect certain customers.
“This will impact older and handicapped clients,” she said. “I need access to my private driveway.”
Del Owen, who runs Fina Lifestyle on State Street, expressed skepticism that there were any dramatic economic benefits that would outweigh the loss of parking. She said Los Altos is not able to draw people in with a simple green.
“There isn’t that attraction in Los Altos,” Owen said. “We have to face that. It’s a nice idea, but it’s really hard to get people to use it. We are losing more and more parking. We just don’t have parking.”
Dozens of local residents and merchants attended one of the two meetings held Feb. 21, and a lively discussion occurred on Nextdoor, the online neighborhood website. Roberta Phillips, Los Altos resident and campaign manager for Councilwoman Lynette Lee Eng’s successful council bid in 2016, said she opposed the pop-up park because it would push cars into the Hillview Community Center lot and onto neighboring streets.
“There is no doubt that many out-of-town visitors would park their cars in front of residential houses along Hillview Avenue,” she said. “The (money) could be used to refurbish the kitchen at Grant Park that was closed citing safety issues.”
Gary Anderson, member of the Senior Commission that requested a refurbished kitchen at Grant Park Community Center, said there was enough money to go around.
“When someone suggests a way of attracting people downtown and testing the idea of a centrally located park over a temporary period with no fuss or bother, they’re all opposed to it,” Anderson wrote. “Keep in mind this is a city with over $60 million in reserve and yet people begrudge the expenditure of even the smallest amount of money on something that might, just possibly, make a positive difference in our ‘Village’s’ quality of life.”
Budgeting money and parking
The city has estimated that the project would cost $110,000. Of that, $50,000 will go toward purchasing the green plastic turf and $60,000 will support an operating budget that maintains the space and ensures a full slate of activities. According to Quinn’s proposal, Los Altos Community Investments is donating approximately $25,000 to the Downtown Green, and other sponsors are contributing an estimated $15,000.
To compensate for the lost parking spots – approximately 10 percent of the city’s downtown inventory – Los Altos plans to expand bike racks, subsidize ride-share apps and allow for more parking in lots outside the downtown core. In addition, Quinn is proposing a pedicab service to shuttle people to event space and shopping areas.
This would mean more people walking through downtown Los Altos and past retail shops and restaurants on their way to their cars or bicycles.
Gary Hedden of GreenTown Los Altos was excited at the opportunity to get people out of their gas-guzzlers.
“This gives us a way to tackle the parking problem,” he said, suggesting that employees might get used to cycling or riding a scooter to work in the summer months.
For Quinn, a green space, however temporary, gives people the opportunity to envision what Los Altos could be.
“How do we take this and turn it into sales? Parking problems mean vibrancy,” she said, suggesting that if people can’t find a spot right in front of their favorite stores, it may mean that store already has customers inside. “We need to think about what a good downtown feels like.”