Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Deja Vu Development Loop: Again

Downtown Los Altos, California. Strict height limitations and zoning codes have kept its village character intact, thus far. This is a photo from the city's web site.

Greed is not good, in spite of what Gordon Gekko so famously said in the movie Wall Street. Bernie Madoff and the truly creepy underbelly of the "mortgage crisis" should be a lesson in that--if nothing else. But it certainly is ubiquitous.

In charming little towns across America where the real estate gets pricey, you can bet there will be a sudden symbiosis of developers-realtors-business property owners-Chambers of Commerce, and, ta-dah, politicians to "redevelop" the "downtown core" to get "more feet on the street," while, supposedly "preserving our village character." 

That's the Los Altos City Hall. Somebody back in the 1960s wanted it low impact and it really is. 

When I returned to the little town where I was raised, I was so pleased to see it had not fallen victim to this horrible trend. "Typical Californians," I said to myself with pride. "Ahead of the curve, as usual."

I spoke too soon. In the middle of this really bad recession (which may be when broke developers have more time to sit around and think up their schemes) the "village character" of my hometown's downtown is under severe pressure from those who want the usual:  "More feet on the street" and blah, blah, blah.

In Los Altos, California, this latest gambit involves "redeveloping" what is now several tree-lined, sunlit, low impact parking areas behind our Main Street and State Streets. These plazas give us shade, open air, and easy access to the shops and businesses downtown. Do they plan to do something lovely with it, like put our library there?

Not exactly. In the very core of our little downtown with its one and two-story buildings, they propose using this city land in a "public private partnership" to build a three story building of "Class A office space."

Los Altos' downtown.

Thus, where sunlight now dances in the trees, and you can stand and look out toward the mountains, a big, bulky three-story building (or buildings--they're talking about quite a big project) will stand. Throwing a bone to the taxpayers, the development will include underground parking for residents.

I just went to a meeting last night and spoke about these things to our city council, and as I did, I recalled many other meetings like it in the last charming place I lived--Winter Park, Florida--where I saw the city power structure cave in time and time again to greedy developers.

I know the pressure from business interests is enormous. It must be really tough for those in power.

In this case, I hope those who can make a difference will align themselves with a future that does not involve covering every inch of a beautiful place with concrete and steel. If they have the courage to take this stand, they will be well-remembered for it: long after the developers have moved on.

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Anonymous said...

It reminds me of the line of that Joni Mitchell song: "don't it always seem to know you don't know what you've got til it's gone." Hopefully the citizens of your community will stand up to their elected officials and rally in opposition of this proposed development. In my town, we lost out to the hard ball tactics and fast talking song and dance of developers. The end result was that the once thriving, independent shops and businesses in our charming downtown were forced out of business by a new WalMart. That's not progress, in my book.

Robin Chapman said...

I don't know why, but the developers hardly ever lose. Residents of a city, like taxpayers in Washington, don't seem to have an effective lobby.

Don Meuler said...

In my little town, the city leaders have methodically annexed outlying areas experiencing rapid growth into the city, making it now the fourth-largest in the state. Lack of a proper downtown has developers and leaders experiencing "skyscraper envy," and new erections are sprouting willy-nilly. So to speak.

Robin Chapman said...

I guess money is a powerful persuader. Very few cities have been able to resist this trend in favor of quality of life and beauty.

Don Meuler said...

I guess. We sure don't need any of it, being neighbors with a major metropolitan city.

Devon C. said...

Doesn't Los Altos already have a gold mine with the way their city is set up? Why is the city trying to ruin a good thing? People actually use it and shop there. City Commissioners here are desperately trying to do something like that and can't seem to get it going.

Robin Chapman said...

I agree with you, but the desire for "more" seems to know no bounds.