City Council

Los Altos City Council Agenda – Sept. 25 Meeting – Morris Project Showdown

Written by lalahpolitico

Morris Project, 400 Main as seen from First Street, aerial view

Update – Project Approved 5-0

The project was approved 5-0 on Sept. 25 by City Council. Lalahpolitico reccommends the LATC synopsis here. Clearly most public opinion has moved toward Voltaire’s sentiment – Don’t let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good.

As Chuck Geschke (Adobe founder) put it,

“I’ve lived for 15 years now across the street from nothing,” he said. “It’s time to fix downtown.”


Timing – Tune in Early

Tune in early to Granicus TV.  There isn’t much on the Los Altos City Council agenda to delay the start of the 400 Main Street (9) discussion item.  [Just before the Morris item… is the Pedestrian Master Plan (8) item. It looks straightforward – it’s just to approve $75K, rather than $25K, for the broader scope of the project.]

But maybe someone from the public will want to pull the City Council Term Limits item from the Consent Calendar – City Attorney Jolie Houston has found that 1999 Measure G does allow more than 2 terms…after an absence of two years. Ron Packard expects to be back on the slate in 2014.

[Full meeting binder here with short version of 400 Main Staff report. Still a 32MB file.  The long version of the staff report on the city website has all the prior PTC documents.]


Sept. 17 – A Last Ditch Morris Project Decision Delay Tactic?
Or Religious Tolerance?

Last Tuesday, Sept 18 there was a special session of City Council at Hillview where Megan Satterlee raised the possibility of delaying or cancelling the regular Sept. 25 meeting.  She said that Yom Kippur started at sundown Sept. 25 and could make it impossible for some citizens to attend and comment on the 400 Main Street project.

Val Carpenter made the point that if enough public commenters showed up – as with the Terraces Project on Pine Lane – the Morris Project item might have to be continued over several meetings

Ron Labetich, realtor for the 400 Main Street project, who was there, explained that Jeff Morris was Jewish himself, and would not have a problem appearing on Sept. 25 as scheduled. In fact he’d prefer it.  Dave Price, Chamber Of Commerce Los Altos, but speaking for himself [sic I believe] reminded council members that the Chamber endorsed the project.  He also explained that he too was Jewish, but that most locals were used to their high holy day holidays being ignored by all levels of government and commerce and would do what they had to. Lalahpolitico commented that delay might be ok, but the item should be scheduled for a REGULAR council meeting date, NOT a SPECIAL meeting date, as the public tends to not hear about special meetings in time to participate. Council member Val Carpenter made the point that if enough public commenters showed up – as with the Terraces Project on Pine Lane – the Morris Project item might have to be continued over several meetings. Obviously, council decided not to cancel the scheduled Sept. 25 meeting.


Morris Project 400 Main - seen from Main and First, aerial view

Morris Project 400 Main - seen from Main and First, aerial view

Sept. 25 Consent Items run down

Confirmation that 2-term council members can run for a 3rd term after a 2 year absence. A letter to complain about Post Office noise.  A letter to urge reduction in bus pass rates affecting St. Joseph School. $60K of street painting is officially completed, and invoices can be paid.  The $1M Trader Joes traffic light project on Homestead Road moves ahead – the shopping center who originally objected,  now believes (correctly) it will reduce congestion – all expenses paid by grants. Pinewood School residential parcels are rezoned as “school.”


Morris Project, 400 Main, View from Foothill, Chamber of Commerce, aerial view

The Featured Presentation – 400 Main, the Morris Project

Notice that the surface treatments have been tweaked to look more traditional.  The prior contemporary skin that coordinated with Safeway is gone. The  13 page staff report urges approval with conditions. See short staff report here.

This is the first application of the City’s new photosimulation requirement.  You can get an idea of how it helps  John and Jane Doe visualize the project from the small fotos in this article.  However, we urge you to use a normal PC monitor and open up the file of renderings on a nice big screen.  Open photosimulations .   Pretty helpful, eh? But we wish they ALL were at street level.


Morris Project, 400 Main foot traffic view from First and State, Cobblery on left, Safeway arch on right

What will happen at the meeting?

A big turnout of commenters will certainly help to cause a continuation of the item to another regular council meeting.  Let’s count the minutes: staff may take 15 minutes. The applicant may take 15 minutes. Fifty commenters could use up 2 hours.  Is that 11 o’clock yet? But it might be hard to round up the troops for yet another sortie in support of the respective causes.

A big turnout of commenters will certainly help to cause a continuation of the item to another regular council meeting. It is 11 o’clock yet?

There may be a majority of council members who have reservations. Megan Satterlee and Ron Packard seem to be among them.  Packard apparently likes the very first Morris design – the one with a rounded façade on Main Street – but these newer ones…not so much.  Apparently quite a few members of the community still don’t like the way it looks from Main and Foothill – calling it “retail warehouse” styling [council candidate Jeannie Bruins, for example].

Then there are the utilitarian members of the community –  Jerry Sorensen, Kent Nelson, Lalahpolitico – who think it is a shame there couldn’t be a 2nd level of underground parking.  After all, an unwritten understanding in the downtown merchant community was that that parcel would contribute to parking solutions. At the Sept. 17 candidates forum, Jerry pointed out that in 2008  the parcel had been zoned for 3 story for a few months (like most of First Street still is) but then it was rezoned for 2 story. He says this  move erased millions of dollars in foregone capital gains for the City.  Furthermore, if Morris had been allowed his third story (as in some early versions of the Morris plan), he probably would have been economically able to provide that second level of underground parking as a public benefit.


Morris Project, 400 Main, foot traffic view from First Street, key public benefit is plaza access

What could/should happen? – Punt, Redo as 3 story, Kill, Approve

The current council could conspire to punt and delay it to the new council.  But better they should just OWN the situation and decide it one way or another.

One possibility is … asking Mr. Morris to redesign it, AGAIN, at least from the Main and Foothill perspectives, giving him 45 feet, and asking for a 2nd floor of underground parking as a public benefit.  If necessary, change the zoning of the parcel, or change the applicable zoning law.

If the council just tells Mr. Morris, “thumbs down, it’s not pretty, go back to the Planning Commission,”  and causes his application to  “time out” like happened with the Sorensen project at 4 Main, I fear the City will eventually be sued for breach of contract.  I know there is supposed to be a “safely clause” in that contract that lets the City just change its mind willy nilly, and without penalty. But I suspect a judge and jury will have a lot of sympathy for Mr. Morris.

Or the other possibility is that Council could approve it per the PTC and staff’s recommendations. The fancy 2-story retail warehouse is still a lot better than the Kentucky Fried that was there before.

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.