About 100 citizens showed up for Mayor Satterlee’s Los Altos Walking Tour of Downtown Development Projects on Saturday morning (9am, Saturday, September 6). During the tour and later at the City Hall public comment session, it became clear that the crowd who showed up was mostly folks with gripes, not praise. Polite lamentations about First Street projects dominated; the “canyon effect,” lack of sunlight in the winter, and the Safeway “wall” along First Street.
The top suggestion for future change in First Street zoning was — the taller the buildings, the greater the setback for the second and third stories.
And please, more architectural “articulation.” Nothing like the uninteresting sameness of the Safeway ground floor parking ever again! Break up a long wall with materials detailing, small undulating setbacks or even varying colors of paint!
The tour stopped at the following locations:
- 100 First Street, condos
- 160 First Street, Safeway
- 400 Main Street, Morris building, retail/office
- 396 First Street, condos
- 343 Second Street, Packard Foundation Building, office
- 240 Third Street, office with 2 penthouse condos
- 1 Main Street
The Mayor informed the crowd that all of First Street lots are zoned as zero-feet setback lots. That means owners are entitled to build to the line. The Safeway, the 400 Main Street mixed retail office building (Morris building), and the 100 First Street condos (Lamb building) are all built with zero setback from the back of the sidewalk.
Ironically, the least popular building, the 400 First Street condos (old Adobe Animal Hospital site), was built with a five-foot setback. Nonetheless, it felt the most bulky and looming to tour participants. The reason? Perhaps because its surroundings are still all the old one-story ticky-tackies, and also because the tour participants stood next to the building rather than across the street from the building.
The City’s Process Improvements – Website, Truer Images
1) The city has added a useful website page where folks can find a list of Commercial Projects (Planned, Approved, Under Construction) with a quick link to an image of the project. http://www.losaltosca.gov/communitydevelopment/page/development-projects. Most of the images there are still the bad old, deceptive architectural drawings.
2) But very recently the city has started requiring accurate, realistic, pedestrian views of 3-D photo simulation of the proposed design surrounded by the existing buildings. Lalahpolitico expects that going forward new projects on the city webpage will link to photosimulations, not the deceptive drawings. But for now, almost all of the projects listed on the city page were initiated well before this new 3-D photosimulation requirement. The city cannot require the new type of renderings retroactively!
476 First Street at Cuesta – Truthiness vs. Truth
It is necessary to crop out the excess sky. A pedestrian does not see that much sky while looking straight ahead walking down the street.
Lalahpolitico went to the corner to photograph what it actually looked like. See below. That meant a camera with a “normal” not wide-angle lens. And merging a few shots to create a panorama to simulate human stereo vision.
The office building will look noticeably taller than the two story Intero building, not about the same height as alleged in the original drawing.
476 First Street at Hawthorne – Truthiness vs. Truth
The above drawing purports to imagine the view when one is heading south on San Antonio Road. The vantage point for this view is standing in the median strip at Hawthorne and the Republic Bank. As usual there is way too much BIG sky in this drawing, intended to make the project look “lite.”
Lalahpolitico’s first step is to crop out all the excess sky in the drawing to get more of a true pedestrian’s view of the scene. I’m not staring at the sky when I walk down the street.
I used a normal lens (around 35 mm) and can easily see the existing 2-story Intero building in the distance down by the red traffic lights. Clearly the artist doing the drawing is using a wide-angle perspective which is making everything smaller and further away, especially those things that are further away. This is deceptive.
476 First Street seen from across First Street at Intero – The New Requirements
Fortunately, the city recently upped its planning documents requirements. It now requires project images that place an accurate 3-d model of the building (with proposed exterior treatments) on a realistic, pedestrian level, panorama photo of the building site, set among its existing neighbors. 3-D photo simulation is a great improvement!
But there’s more good news. The city also requires that BIG PHOTO SIGNS of one of these 3-D photo simulations be posted at several points around the site. Presumably, in the future, this signage will be required BEFORE a commercial project marches through the Planning & Transportation Commission approval process. Here’s what on the fence at 476 First Street. (It’s not what is on the city’s web site page though. As of Sept. 6, it was still showing the deceptive photos. Doesn’t matter as this project is approved all the way through city council. A done deal. )
Miss the Walking Tour? Email and Read up!
If you missed the Los Altos Downtown Projects Walking Tour, you can still send email comments to the collective Los Altos City Council. The council urges you to become familiar with its key planning documents. Some of them are in line for an update.
For those unable to attend the Walking Tour in person who wish to provide comments to the City Council, you may do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, completing an online feedback form or writing a letter which can be mailed to the City Clerk’s Office at 1 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos CA 94022.
Conclusion – Make the Developer help update City Website
I assume the city staff is working to gradually update the city website’s Private Development Projects page, so that the links for future projects go to the 3-d photosimulations, not deceptive drawings. Right now those photosims for each project are being delivered by the developer inside a huge 100M .pdf file – which is the project planning application packet. I believe this is printed out on a high resolution, very large format paper printer, so it needs to be a huge file. (36 inches or even 60 inches wide.) Planners and architects traditionally look at really, really big pieces of paper. Remember rolls of blueprints?
Unfortunately, it took me almost 5 minutes to download the 99M .pdf packet for 897 N. San Antonio. Please have each developer’s architect extract the 3d-photosims from the planning packet and resize them for the City web site and the general public. I wouldn’t want staff time to be consumed by that chore. Or citizen time. Or my time.