City Council

Los Altos City Council Agenda – Sorensen Project’s Last Gasp?

Written by lalahpolitico


The Los Altos City Council agenda tonight includes what could be Sorensen’s last gasp for the 40 Main project. Staff and Planning have executed the process for potential project termination tonight. The Packards retained a traffic engineering firm to refute the finding of Sorensen’s parking engineering firm. You can find both reports in the full item 7 – 40 Main Street –  packet file on the city web site here. It is over 2oMB so it takes a while to load.

Per Packard...Main St. Before and After - Sorensen Project on left, Packard Bldg. on Right

You can see from the pictures that the project will take away their southern view.  But downtown these are all what are called zero lot line lots.  One can build to the line. If you buy one of these parcels, you can’t expect things to stay “pretty much the way they are” forever.

Packards retained a traffic engineering firm to refute the finding of Sorensen’s parking engineering firm

Los Altos Politico liked the most recent Sorensen proposal. Bringing some retail to that first block of Main Street sounded interesting to us.  We liked the architecture too. The proposed Sorensen building was hardly any taller that the plan for the imitation antique French hotel at 1 Main ( no announced plan to break ground yet.)

proposed Sorensen building was hardly any taller that the plan for the imitation antique French hotel

Below we include 2 photos from the Von Packard letter which are probably pretty fair.  We omit some more photos that you can see in the full packet for item 8.  The omitted photos claim to be to scale.  That may be true, but in our opinion the “camera lens” chosen was towards a fish-eye which tends to distort perspective of objects presented at different distances.  In other words, the camera lens makes the closer thing seem bigger than it is with a normal human lens.

We notice that the Packet item tonite includes none of the renderings of Sorensen’s architect.  These  street level rendering were quite attractive and appealing, so if you have not followed this issue, please don’t think that the proposed building really looked and felt as depicted by the Packards.

item tonite includes none of the renderings of Sorensen’s architect

We also OCRed Von Packard’s letter, cleaned it up a little, and present it here in the interest of balance.  We would definitely hire the Packard’s to represent us.  They are fine lawyers and negotiators.  But we just don’t think they have the right to block change – not just next door, but throughout downtown – just to save their view.  The Packards allege a great deal of bull-headedness on the part of the Sorensen’s…read on…


Letter from Von Packard to City Council regarding
the Sorensen 40 Main Street Project

Part of the Agenda Packet June 12.

Von G. Packard

Four Main Street, Suite 200

Los Altos, CA 94022

June 1, 1012

City of Los Altos

One North  San Antonio Road

Los Altos, CA 94022

Re:       40 Main Street, Los Altos


Dear Mayor  Carpenter and Members of the City Council:

Yesterday I received in the mail the notice that the application for a three story development at  40  Main  Street  will  be on  the  agenda  for  June  12,  2012.  For  the reasons stated below,  1 respectfully and urgently  request  that the application be denied.

Only  if, however, a majority of the Council would  otherwise approve  the project, then 1 request that you disapprove the Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) and require a full EIR due to the parking deficiencies, height violations, and non-compatibility issues. Deferring the issue by requiring an EIR is not our preferred  approach since (a) if the project  would otherwise be denied, requiring the applicant to spend the considerable costs for an EIR would be unnecessary, along with the City’s staff  time; (b) requiring an EIR  would  delay  the application for 6-9  months; (c)  the applicant would publicly accuse the City’s procedures as being fraught with delays, bias and abuse, even though delays are really caused  by the applicant’s refusal  to comply  with established zoning requirements; and (d) this application should  not become a campaign issue for the fall elections or be decided by the next Council.



 Parking is a major  issue. As indicated  in Mr. Kornfield’s January  19, 1012, Memorandum to the PlanningCommission (Kornfield’s Memo), Parking Plaza 10 “is one of the most heavily used plazas  downtown,” and during  the peak  hours of noon  to 2 PM, it “is at or above  the 85 percent capacity, which is considered full. ..”(pp.2-3) The Pang Engineers, Inc. study of February 25, 2008, concludes:


“Thus, the parking survey confirms that Parking Lot # 10 has a higher parking occupancy than the average parking occupancies for the overall  average of Plaza  1 thru 10, and in fact exceeds not only the 85% ‘full ‘ theoretical capacity, but also over 100% with several illegally parked  vehicles.” (p. 4)


These studies were done under the current conditions of 40 Main Street being a building with only 2,127 squarefeet and 4-5 on-sjte parking spaces.1 Using the City’s standard of I  parking space required for every 300 squarefeet of office space, 40 Main Street currently requires 7 parking spaces. After accounting for the on-site parkffig1 the net burden it currently places on Plaza 10 is 2-3 cars. The proposed building at 40 Main Street is claimed to be 12,900 for parking purposes (ignoring the fact that square footage not counted by an internal  mezzanine  is merely a camouflage  for future development).  Using the same required 1 parking space for every 300 square feet, there would be a burden of 43 parking spaces. Plaza LOis only 88 parking stalls in total (per the Pang Report). These numbers make it clear that this type of additional  burden on an already fully utilized parking plaza would be enormous. Parking on neighboring residential streets would be inevitable and resented by local residents.


Ignoring the practical aspects of the burden the proposed building would have on Plaza l 0, the applicant is entitled to 26 parking spaces due to being part of the Parking Plaza District.2 Those

26 additional parking spaces, with the loss of the already on-site parking for 4-5 cars, would indeed place a likely impossible, but allowed, burden on Plaza 10 and its neighboring areas. The proposed building, however, would go well beyond this extreme burden, and require an additional 17 parking spaces, without providing any on-site parking.

The Planning Commission, in its January 19, 2012 meeting, recommended  that the on-site parking required by the City be reduced from 28 spaces3  to 15 spaces, as a potential award for the proposed paseo. The proposed paseo, however, falls far short of the type ofpaseo described in the

1992 Downtown Urban Design Plan and the 2009 Downtown Design Guidelines.4 Thus, using it as

a basis for the trade-off: would not only be grossly inappropriate, but  would be reckless and fail to take into account the negative impact on Parking Plaza 10, the neighborhood, and the very improper precedent it would set for the rest of the village.


The description of the 1992 Downtown  Urban Design Plan begins on page 29, as follows:


Pedestrian Paseo and Circulation System

Pedestrian  paseos  can  be  a  vital  part  of  a  pedestrian  environment.  These  narrow walkways are intended  to provide  a sense  of mystery and discovery away  from the





1  The Komfield’s Memo indicates that there are 4 on-site parking spaces, but I have often seen 5 cars parked on-site at 40 Main Street.


2 This is obtained by dividing the parcel squarefootage by 300 (i.e., 7,841/300 = 26).


3 The recommendation was made when the proposed square footage was larger, without the recent reduction due to the mezzanine.


4  The proposed paseo also fails to satisfy the explanation and examples provided in the 2009


Per Packard...Back View from Parking lot by Wells Fargo. Packard left, Sorensen right


Downtown Design Guidelines, page 1 8, a copy of which is attached. The minimum width should be I 0 feet, as shown in two exemplary photographs. The proposal for 40 Main is so substandard to these Guidelines, that it is not a fair exchange for a substantial increase in parking congestion and height violations.


A common occurrence in European cities, the paseo is designed as a retail­ lined walkway with small scale colorful planting, pots, seating, lighting and signing. The design of these walkways should encourage activities typical to a small town, village, environment:  people-watching.resting, waiting, meeting, etc.


A drawing  is provided   , on page 29 of the 1992 Urban Design Plan for a typical paseo,

as indicated on the side. below. The  passageway  proposed   by the applicant is not a”retail-lined walkway” with display windows and seating. Indeed, it is substantially  different  from the   drawing.    Instead,   it    is mere l y     another    narrow passageway between Plaza 10 and  Main  Street,  with  the second  story  overhanging  part of the walkway.


There is not a desperate need for such a narrow passageway at this location. Some 70 feet away there is already a nicely landscaped passageway  between  Plaza  l 0 and  Main  Street  between  the  Christian    Science   Reading  Room and the dental office. While this may not be a dedicated  walkway, it has existed  for  years. In addition there is a very wide driveway between the dental office and Wells Fargo Bank that also connects Plaza 10 to Main Street, and is regularly used by pedestrians. Wells Fargo Bank is a conforming use, and there is no indication that it will be moving. For all of these reasons, this passageway is not of high benefit to the downtown as a whole, let alone for this small half-block area.


Even if the applicant were willing to upgrade the paseo to a higher level, the trade-off of one more passageway between  Plaza 10 and Main Street  is grossly disproportionate to the burdens caused by proposed waiver of 17 (= 43-26) parking spaces on Plaza 10, which begins with a capacity of only 88 spaces, is already at full capacity with the 40 Main Street building at a mere 2,127 square feet, and is going to be burdened  with substantial  additional  parking due to the normal parking entitlements of the proposal. It should be remembered  that, in any event, we are  talking about an additional43 cars parking in Plaza 10, if the applicant is granted a waiver of the 1 7 parking spaces.


Some have suggested  that it is unfair for 4 Main Street  to use disproportionate parking, supposedly at the expense of 40 Main Street. This argument fails for at least two reasons. First, the current owners of these two buildings both purchased theirrespectiveproperties long after they were developed with their current uses. As such, the purchase prices of each reflected the current parking situation  and parking requirements. Second, since 40  Main Street  is part of the Parking Plaza District, it is entitled to a certain number of parking spaces irrespective of the parking use by 4 Main Street. The unfairness of the requested trade-off is not due to the 26 parking spaces to which 40 Main is entitled, but to the additional parking waivers requested by the applicant.


In response to the applicant’s prior request to waive its parking requirements  by restriping Plaza 10, I submitted a letter pointing out the deficiencies of that plan. If it comes up again, I am attaching a copy of that letter for your reference. It also addresses applicant’s frequent statement that other comparable properties are receiving parking waivers that they should also receive.




The proposed  project does not comply with the required  height  limitations  by five feet. Exceeding the 30′ code height limit would create a precedent for additional similar-height buildings in the Main corridor, each using the same parapet justification.5   Increased rental space should not be justification for code violations.


Any comparison of the height of 40 Main Street with the existing building at 4 Main Street, and the approved  hotel at 1 Main Street, can be extremely misleading.  The perceived height  is primarily the eve line, which is at 2-stories  for both 4 Main  and  L  Main. The eve line for the proposed 40 Main Street is at the top of the 3rd story. As a result, not only is the actual height of the proposed 40 Main Street building in violation of the city codes, but the perception of the height will be substantially greater.


The increased height cannot be justified by any claim that 40 Main Street is a needed “gateway” to the village. The building at 4 Main Street already provides a welcoming gateway, with considerable land in its front to provide an open ambience to the village. There is no need for a second ..gateway,” that is higher, and therefore architecturally imbalanced.


Compatibility and Perceived Bulk


The proposed building is not compatible with the downtown, and has a perceived bulk that is out of place. The applicant has continuously refused to reduce the bulk. Review of the long list of plans the applicant  has submitted to the City over several years painfully demonstrates that the applicant has restricted the architect to merely make variations of the same plan, retaining the same …. 5 This 30′ code measurement is to the interior ceiling height.  By way of comparison, the interior ceiling height for 4 Main Street is 25 to 26 feet.  This means that just going to code limits would already put 40 Main Street at 4 to 5 feet taller, and an additional 5 feet would put it 9 to 10 feet taller than 4 Main Street.


size  and  bulk.  Even  the  new  plan  fails  to comply  with  the Planning Commission’s request  to “Reduce the bulk and mass of the third floor appreciably, .. .”Inorder to preserve the ability to later add substantially all the square footage  originally requested, the applicant insists  on keeping the outside bulk of the building and making one floor a mezzanine. The slight set-backofthe third floor is not·’appreciable,” and fails to be more compatible with the buildings at 1 Main Street (proposed hotel) and 4 Main Street This  lack of consistency is due to the fact that once again the eve line is incompatible with the other two buildings, and instead jumps up substantially. The result is that the appearance of  the  proposed  40  Main  Street  building continues to give  an  appearance of  being incompatible and bulky.


The proposed  project also fails to comply  with one of the most  important elements of the Design  Guideline Criteria, which  is …..[e]xtemalizing  the character of  the downtown…” The proposed building is quite different in both actual size, bulk and feel, and therefore it does not reflect or externalize that same “small-town village” character.


Another aspect of the Design Guideline criteria is to not be detrimental to existing properties. Placing  the walkway so as to exclude light to the light-wells of 4 Main Street (by construction of a flat 3-story wall against them) is a significant detriment to an existing property.


At my request, Scott  Atkinson, who is the property manager for 4 Main Street, engaged  a professional to take photo-simulations of the proposed building at 40 Main Street. The instructions were  to make  them  as accurate as possible to be representative of overall size;  scale,  look  and relationships. Several   of  these  were  presented at  the  January 2012  meeting  of  the  Planning Commission. At that meeting, the applicant’s architect complained that they were misleading. Since then, I had Scott Atkinson contact applicant’s architect, request that they providephoto-simulations, or that  they explain  if ours  are misleading so that  they can be corrected. To  my knowledge, the applicant and its architect have failed to do either.We have not incurred the expense of having new photo-simulations produced  since the outside  of the new building, with the minor set-backs on the third floor  in the front only, has not materially changed.




I have personally attended most of the meetings for the processing of this application. What has struck me most is that time and again the staff, A&S and finally the Planrung Commission have made various requests to reduce the bulk and make the property  more compatible, and the refusal of theapplicant to comply. My understanding is that generally an applicant works with the City staff to make sure a project  meets the various zoning  requirements, and then the project is submitted to A&S. During that initial stage,  the applicant’s designs were so out of line with the zoning requirements that the applicant could not get staff’s approval. Prior to the first application, the City had a traffic study completed for downtown. That study considered various alternatives, including three stories along downtown. The conclusion was that three stories would  cause havoc, and that even second stories should not be allowed unless the second story wereresidential (with no required on-site parking  required), or was office (which would require full on-site  parking for that second floor).It is also my understanding that the applicants often attended the downtown zoning committee meetings, and knew or should have known  this.


Knowing that three stories were out of the question, that a second story of office would require full on-site parking, and that the City staff could not support their proposed three-story office building for various reasons, the applicant nevertheless charged ahead with their non-conforming application. Then they came back to the A&S again and again with minor variations of their plan, but substantially maintaining the same bulk and design. At the same time, they began complaining to the press that they were being treated unfairly. They have also claimed that the staff’s opposition to their non-conforming project was due to bias because my brother has been on the City Council. This seems odd since an extremely important issue for us has been that any walkway/paseo be on our side of the property, thereby allowing some light into the long-existing light-wells on that side of our 4 Main Street property.6   This demonstrates that City staff is not beholden to the Packard’s concerns, but are making independent recommendations.


To gain further support for their non-conforming application, the applicant bas also rallied its investors and other property owners, architects and developers to claim that the City is biased and causes undue delays. These delays, however, have been caused by the applicant. No other applicant bas made such demands as made by this applicant, which are contrary to the zoning regulations. Indeed,other applicants for projects downtown that comply with the zoning regulations have sailed through the process.




For all the above reasons,Irespectfully suggest that the preferred and most appropriateaction by this Council would be an outright denial of this non-conforming project, along with an iteration of the reasons: (1) need to provide all the required parking; (2) need to conform to the height limitations; (3) need to substantially reduce the bulk of the building, have the eve lines conform to the neighboring property, and (4) any walkway should be on the side adjacent to 4 Main Street. At the same time, this would render any required EIR actions, with its associated time and costs, unnecessary at this time, and send a clear message to the applicant that it needs to start over, and not merely come up with a new variation of the same plan.


Very truly yours,

Von Packard



6 Although the walkway was originally proposed to face 4 Main, and the existing light-wells to the north, applicant  planned only a  3-story flat  wall facing  the village  on  their south  property  line. Staff rec{)mmended that the viJlage-facing aesthetics be modified and somehow improved. Among several solutions, staff discussed  that the walkway “could” be flipped to the south of 40 Main.



About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.

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