City Council Planning

Los Altos Parking Committee – FOLA halts Sorensens Comeback

A Los Altos Parking Committee Report suggests restriping of Parking Plazas be funded out of City Operations.
A Los Altos Parking Committee Report suggests restriping of Downtown Parking Plazas be funded out of City Operations. It could be part of a new Parking-in-lieu program for downtown developers. Price per stall would be very low compared to the $20,000 typical for parking structures.
Written by lalahpolitico

Since October 2015, the Friends of Los Altos (FOLA) group has been signaling their displeasure with the direction of the draft findings of the Ad Hoc City-wide Parking Committee (Los Altos Parking Committee). FOLA believes that those downtown property owners and commercial real estate interests now seated on the Committee have been “shaping” the recommendations through hundreds of hours spent in interlocking, non-public subcommittee meetings. They believe many of the Los Altos Parking Committee recommendations are not consistent with “community values.”

[This subcommittee process…] is a subterfuge of the Brown Act, contrary to open government, and needs to be nipped in the bud.”

Lalahpolitico has read FOLA’s 11 page letter which lays out their view of how the Los Altos Parking Committee ‘s subcommittees evolved to be non-transparent. I also viewed the videos of the full committee meetings referenced in the FOLA letter footnotes.  Yup, it looks like the process was a little loosey goosey.  And though Lalahpolitico likes Jean Mordo  for his “Let’s just do it, get it done,” approach and for his energy, it does seem Mordo may have had a “lax attitude towards the Brown Act,” at least in the instance of this Committee. Let the lawyers duke it out.



Even though on Nov. 19, 2015,  the Planning and Traffic Commission (PTC)  gave the Los Altos Parking Committee’s first presentation about the Committee Reports a rather chilly reception as shown in the minutes, FOLA apparently did not trust the PTC’s and the current City Council’s  review process to eventually reject the most  “concerning” Committee recommendations.

FOLA red flagging the alleged Brown Act Violations of this Parking Committee… is like the FEDS going after Jimmy Hoffa for his tax returns, not for the deeds done…

Los Altos Downtown Buildings Committee want to reduce building height from 45 feet to 30-35 feet

Randy Lambs stylish condominiums at 400 First Street was the first project to benefit from 2010 zoning changes to First Street and the downtown periphery. Orginally planned as a two story, he amended his plan to include a third story. 45 feet plus an additional 8 ft to the parapet means some elements may be 53 feet tall.

Displeasing Recommendations

53 Feet to the parapet buildings on State and Main, not just on the periphery

Even though Building Height codes are outside the scope of this Los Altos Parking Committee, the Parking in Lieu Program (PILP) subcommittee report repeatedly invites Council to make development opportunities “equalized” between the State and Main vs. Rest of the Downtown Triangle.  Page 17 of the PILP Parking Committee document

“We recommend the City also consider the following:

Height considerations. Zoning for properties in the DT Triangle that are not included in the OPD Zone [Main and State] have a zoning advantage which will cause members of the OPD [Main and State] to be considerably less likely to redevelop as those outside the OPD [Main and State] boundaries. Inasmuch as rents for existing properties within the OPD [Main and State} are higher, opportunities for the redevelopment of these properties is already diminished. Zoning could be equalized at 53 feet to the parapet.”

All of the former City Council members now forming FOLA — David Casas, Ron Packard, Val Carpenter, Lou Becker, and some PTC Commissioners, Ken Lorrel, Jon Baer —  have long championed keeping Main and State “pretty much the way they are now” at under 30 feet. Lalahpolitico:  So let’s not act surprised that suggesting a 53 feet building height on Main and State raises FOLA’s hackles!

Measure Floor Area Requiring Parking as NET not GROSS is Ok with PTC

At the Nov. 19, 2015, PTC meeting commissioners actually liked the Committee idea of using Net area not Gross area to set parking requirements. However, they rejected  some details of implementation: possibly ok was excluding the area taken up by elevator lobbies, stair landings, mechanical and electrical rooms and such things required by code… but nixed was excluding up to 250 square feet of an “inviting” front lobby as a “developer incentive”.

Council said 40 Main was NOT a gateway to Los Altos building - because mid block!!!

Council in 2012 said Sorensens’  proposed 40 Main is NOT a gateway building into Los Altos  – because it is mid block!!!

Blocking the Sorensen Building again…

If you are not familiar with the  Sorensen Building backstory, try this post of a Sorensen Letter asking for support. Or just search for Sorensen at to find all my coverage.

In its letter to City Council, FOLA lists the Los Altos Parking Committee recommendations it finds most injurious to Los Altos  “village” character.

“…..decreasing parking ratio requirements (office buildings by 32 percent, retail by 25 percent), allowing developers to pay into a Parking in Lieu Program (PILP) fund rather than provide parking at the time of development, … reconfiguring parking plazas to reduce parking space width, reducing on-street parking time limits to 90 minutes and installing parking meters … crediting Main and State properties for a pro-rata share of on-street parking stalls … crediting a property with 1 stall for removing a driveway curb cut that adds a stall…”

Lalahpolitico: There are many good things about the several Committee Reports, including the Parking in Lieu Program report.

However, reducing the parking requirement a bit here, and giving a bit more credit for existing parking there, probably means the Sorensen’s building plan at 40 Main would meet these new different rules and become economically feasible. Is that by design?  Perhaps.

Let’s remember a lot of Los Altans voted in new City Councilpersons in 2014 who promised more fair, consistent and even-handed treatment of developer plans, more downtown vibrancy, and who would respect the community’s alleged preference for a village atmosphere. [Lalahpolitico: Hard to do vibrancy in a village? Tradeoffs?]

Some people consider the Sorensens, with their 2010-2012 building permit application process,  as among the “unfavored” Los Altos downtown developers who did not receive waivers for being “underparked.” Interestingly the Committee PILP report has several pages that lists and discusses the waiver receivers and waiver non-receivers. See the end of this post for a synopsis list of the parking waivers/non-waivers per the report. Also interesting is that Jerry Sorensen videoed about 20 of the full Los Altos Parking Committee meetings and posted them to His video of a Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs meeting has interesting presentations by the Parking Committee.

Los ALtos Downtown Parking Committee. Plaza 8 now.

Hand Drawing of Plaza 8 by a consultant depicting the Plaza now. The Los Altos Parking Committee found that switching to a 6 inch narrower, head-in parking could add 30 spaces.

Los Altos Parking Committee – Restriping on the cheap?

In 2012, when the Sorensens originally proposed restriping Plaza 10 behind 40 Main to meet parking requirements for their development plan, they were going to pay for that project in total out of their pocket. Now this City-wide Parking Committee reports suggests that the City take on restriping as part of a routine Parking Plaza maintenance program. It advises the City to not bother to do any capital improvements on the plazas such as undergrounding of utilities or storm drainage improvements. The report expectation is that the plazas might be dug up for parking structures or a theatre downtown, or whatever very soon.

Los Altos Parking Committee

Excerpt from a Parking Committee findings presentation…does slurry coat seem on the cheap?

Lalahpolitico:  I am going to assume that if the Sorensens’ were to submit a new building application this fall/winter 2016 under the new and different parking rules suggested by the Los Altos Parking Committee, they would pay some amount towards such City sponsored restriping “maintenance” or into a real parking in lieu program (PLIP).  But it is my understanding that the PILP  fee per stall is an unsettled detail of the Committee proceedings.  Initial fees could be set low because of the low cost of restriping, but then rise in a number of years to the$20,000 norm for a parking structure. This pricing does not feel right.  I await further information.

Los Altos Parking Committee

The Parking Committee is suggesting 6 inch narrower, double striped, head-in parking on the Downtown Plazas. The report suggests the City could restripe them gradually out of annual operations maintenance funds without the need for using capital funds.

Downtown as a Food Court

The Los Altos Parking Committee report makes a plausible case that the Los Altos Parking ratios for — Retail, Office, Restaurants — are too high and much higher than those of our neighboring cities. [This is a point downtown property owners have been trying to disseminate through organizations like Los Altos 2020 and Los Altos Forward for almost a decade.]  The Los Altos Parking Committee report says that here in Los Altos, the City staff practice is NOT to apply the floor area ratios when determining parking requirements for restaurants.  Instead the City counts restaurant employees and number of tables — the report said the City formula results in an  average parking ratio equivalent to a ratio of 14 stalls per 1000 square feet of floor in a restaurant.

The report finds the tables/employees formula is applied inconsistently which is unfair of course. It says most cities have restaurant parking ratios of  less than 7 per 1000 square feet. The report recommends that the City stop using the current  employees/tables calculation method for setting restaurant parking requirements and instead use a parking ratio of 7 stalls per 1000.

Los Altos Parking Commitee

Could relaxed parking requirements tilt downtown Los Altos towards becoming less of a retail destination and more of a restaurant hub.?

Lalahpolitico:  Will a change like this mean many more storefronts on Main and State will convert to a restaurant? As the Committee report points out, most people get their retail from big box stores, Amazon and other ship-to-your-door retailers. Perhaps it is inevitable and even desirable for Peninsula downtowns like ours to become restaurant hubs?  IF… the restaurants have a higher turnover than the departing retailers, and they collect more sales tax, there will be more sales tax revenue  going to our schools and cites. But it would be a change of ambience.

Where is our Downtown Parking Plaza Tax Assessment District?

Let’s recall that the Original Parking District (OPD) property owners [Main and State] here in downtown Los Altos donated the parking land behind their shops to the City and pulled together a pot of money to have it paved in the 1950’s. How nice, how sensible. However, unlike the California Avenue property owners, who did the same thing with the City of Palo Alto in the 1950’s, our OPD did not form a Parking Assessment District to pay for ongoing maintenance and improvements of the parking plazas.  Hmmmm. Did they just forget?

Los Altos Parking Committee

A shot of California Ave, Palo Alto, an area which has had a parking plaza tax assessment district for financing maintenance and improvements to parking since the 50’s. Here Irene Au captured it before the reduction of 4 lanes to two, the sidewalk widening, and the tree replanting.

Lalahpolitico: All of us unwitting, property-tax-paying home-owners have been paying for this downtown parking plaza maintenance for 6 decades. Add insult to injury: now the PILP program subcommittee seems to expect that the City will pay out of its operations budget for on-the-cheap plaza restriping that allows more redevelopment downtown. Am I missing something, or are downtown property owners getting a free ride?  I believe all the recent downtown streetscaping that makes their shop fronts allegedly more attractive and appealing was also paid for by us residential property owners.

Lalahpolitico: It’s all the more galling, if you think about Prop 13 and how LOW the property taxes are on the property in the downtown triangle.  Since 1972, few parcels have turned over to new owners… so like your granny, the downtown triangle owners enjoy the 1.5% limit in annual assessment increases.  And like Los Altos grannies, when they die the relatives inherit the low property tax basis.

A City-wide Parking Committe meeting in 2015. Left to Right...Kim Cranston, David Rock, Jeannie Bruins, Jean Mordo, Marcia Sommer, Ronit Bodner, Mike McTighe, ?, ?

A City-wide Parking Committe meeting in 2015. Left to Right…Kim Cranston, David Rock, Jeannie Bruins, Jean Mordo, Marcia Sommer, Ronit Bodner, Mike McTighe, ?, ?

LALAHPOLITICO CONCLUSION: FOLA not wrong about the Los Altos Parking Committee

FOLA is not wrong when it characterizes the Ad Hoc Parking Committee as developer leaning and the Ad Hoc Building Committee as resident leaning. FOLA is correct that the two committees have arrived at quite a few contrary recommendations: eg., the Buildings Committee wanted the Main and State 30 feet height limit extended to the entire downtown triangle, while the Parking Committee wanted the 53 feet high limit enjoyed outside Main and State extended to Main and State!

It feels like public opinion is divided in half. One half would be ok with a height of 53 feet to the parapet, more parking, more traffic and more vibrancy throughout the entire downtown triangle. The other half says “over my dead body.”

Lalahpolitico thinks downtown Main and State property owners should be able to redevelop their land more intensively some day. Property rights, yeah!

But maybe that day has not arrived. Why? Because the homeowners who bought homes right on top of downtown apparently have had the expectation the downtown would stay “pretty much the same”.  They expect the City to protect them from “bad choices” by their neighbors—their residential neighbors AND especially their commercial neighbors. Negative externalities, oh no way!

But is “no change in land use intensity” a reasonable expectation for Los Altans in 2050?  Think of your children’s children. Think of job growth at Google, Apple etc., think of ABAG’s housing supply demands. What does our City Master Plan say?  For example —that the north side of West Edith will remain zoned for large-lot, single-family homes forever? Is forever reasonable? Is there such a thing as using a Master Plan to signal future expected zoning? How about a 30 year plan?


As requested by FOLA, the City Attorney has almost immediately put the Parking Committee proceedings on hold. The CIty Council will not start to receive and review the recommendations.

As requested by FOLA, at the upcoming Tuesday, March 8 City Council meeting, it could be announced that outside consultants will be hired to review the Parking Committee processes for Brown Act violations and to assess the accuracy of the report findings. If the findings/recommendations are “suspect,” FOLA says “discard” the reports and “start the process over, if Council so desires.”

Corrections Feb. 23: Lalahpoltico mistook the building moratorium at Loyola Corners as one for Downtown. My mistaken remarks about that have been retracted.


Los Altos Parking Committee Report Appendix C  

(Source PILP draft report, November 2016, Appendix C – Lists of Parking Waivers)

This is a synopsis of the report’s much longer, nuanced discussion.

First Street pedestrian experience. Los Altos Downtown Buildings Committee

Along the Downtown Safeway…For about 60 feet, the 5-6 foot wide sidewalk is narrowed by a fire hydrant and light pole, which allows 3 spots for street parking

Parking Waiver Receivers

129 First,  Stylers appliances.  7 spaces where 14 were required

240 Third Street, Schwab, 56 spaces where 82 were required

One Main Street, Enchante Hotel, 10 spaces were required at the time. (The report notes that with today’s practice, there is no shortfall.)

400 Main Street, with the Cetrella  restaurant going in instead of retail, the report says today’s code requires 98 stalls, while 30 were provided. The reports argues that the City lost almost $5 million on the sale of that City land to Jeff Morris.

Safeway, did not build 73 stalls, and instead paid $500,000 and provides 34 spaces shared with the public.

342 First, Draegers, granted a variance this past July 2015 for 35 parking spaces.

145 First, Bumble, parking was waived when it was converted from retail to restaurant. It would have been short 39 stalls. This is a Passerelle property.

288 First, Voyageur Du Temps, granted a waiver when converted from retail to restaurant. It is short 15 parking stalls.

The report says if the City had had a PILP program in place with a common fee of $20,000 a stall the city could have received $5,700,000 from these waivers.

No Waivers Received

40 Main Street, Sorensens: The City did not offer to “waive” parking requirements in 2010-2012 for a proposed development at 40 Main Street. (July 8, 2015 conversation with Ted Sorensen)

467 First Street (Offices): The City did not provide a variance to parking requirements in 2013 for a proposed development at 467 First Street (Minutes of November 21, 2013 Planning and Transportation Commission Meeting)

129 First Street (Forest on First restaurant (2014)): The City did not offer to “waive” parking requirements in 2014 for a proposed development at 129 First Street (January 29, 2015 conversation with Taylor Robinson). This is a Passerelle property.

295 Main Street (Turn restaurant): The City did not offer to “waive” parking requirements in 2015 for a proposed development at 295 Main Street (July 8, 2015 conversation with Bart Nelson)

129 First Street (formerly Forest on First (2015)): The City did not offer to “waive” parking requirements in 2015 for a proposed development at 129 First Street. Further, although the City states it has an unwritten policy to not count outdoor seating in calculating parking requirements for restaurants, in 2015 the City did count outdoor seating in calculating parking requirements for the proposed restaurant at 129 First Street (September 3, 2015 Planning and Transportation Commission Hearing, Subject:  15-D-06 -110 and 129 First Street).

Lalahpolitico: I constantly hear downtown owners and current and former City staff and elected officials bicker about the cumulative size of the parking stalls not built because of waivers.  I don’t know if it was a “dime or a dollar.” I can attest that parking waivers were granted, and the relatively size of them varied a lot.  It would be good to switch to a system that is more even-handed.


Research references. Los Altos Parking Committee

Research references. Los Altos Parking Committee


  1. A copy of his David Casas’ three-minute presentation to City Council and his detailed letter, with numerous exhibits and references to both written and oral statements by Parking Committee members, totaling over 150 pages,  is now available on the city’s website, at the following location: (could take a minute or two to download or open)


2. Link to the PTC Nov. 19. 2015 agenda on the City website.  Here you will find links to attachments which are the first draft Ad hoc City-wide Parking Committee findings as presented to the PTC in a public study session. There is no City video.  There are reports and presentation files based on the reports. Reading the thicket of rules is a bit like trying to figure out what is going on with your state and federal tax forms…hard to tell what the rules mean unless you have some cases and numbers to plug in. Remember that the Committee and subcommittees have not had the opportunity to revise any of the findings and recommendations. Here are the chilly PTC Minutes.



3. Just for fun. Interesting Palo Alto online 2014 interview with UCLA Donald Shoup. He does not like free parking…


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.

Leave a Comment