THE NEXT ILLUSION ... It was once a hub of Palo Alto's thriving hippy movement — the place where new-age foodies flocked for "natural foods" and where Jerry Garcia belted out tunes. Since 1970, it has seen one transformation after another, going from The New Age Natural Foods and Deli in 1970 to the Zinzinnati Oom Pah Pah (1973), the Keystone music venue (1977), The Vortex (1986), the Edge nightclub (1990) and the Icon Supper Club (1998). These days, the building at 260 California Ave. houses the Club Illusions, a restaurant and nightclub that set up shop at the site in 2005. Now, the California Avenue building between Birch Street and Park Boulevard is poised for a more dramatic overhaul. The developer Presidio Development Partners is planning to demolish the building and to replace it with one that would be more than twice as big. The proposed structure, which the Architectural Review Board discussed Thursday, would be 40 feet tall and include ground-floor retail and offices on the upper floors. The board didn't vote on the project, though some members expressed a little concern. Board member Clare Malone Prichard thought the building would be too high. "I think in this district, it's too much," she said. Not surprisingly, the project is already garnering opposition from some residents. Bob Moss, a frequent critic of local developments, called it too bulky and "out of context." He also said it contains too much office space, a no-no in a district designated for retail use. Local attorney William Ross said he was concerned about the lack of outreach to California Avenue property owners. "This is a very significant project," Ross told the board. "None of the property owners or businesses had any idea what it would be."
MIXED SIGNALS ... Spotty cell-phone reception is a problem that has long frustrated Palo Alto's technologists and polarized local residents. Dozens have opposed recent efforts by AT&T to build cell towers in residential neighborhoods, calling then unsightly and potentially unsafe. Many others decry the embarrassingly poor cell service in a city that takes such pride at being in the vanguard of technological innovation. Could fake trees and giant flagpoles next to local fire stations solve this problem? That's one of the questions that city officials will ponder Monday night, when they consider changes to the city's policies for allowing cell towers on city property. Such towers already exist at three fire stations and, if the council chooses, could soon occupy other city properties. These "macro" towers are an alternative to the "distributed antenna systems" (DAS), which use smaller towers that can be affixed to existing utility poles. Though far more subtle than macro towers, DAS equipment drew substantial opposition from residents last year, when AT&T proposed bringing about 80 such "micro" towers to neighborhoods. The council approved the first 19 of these towers in December. Now, the city is considering revising its zoning regulations to allow the tall macro towers on city land, an idea that would include raising limits to allow tower heights of 75 feet to 125 feet, according to a report from Margaret Monroe, management specialist in the Planning and Community Environment Department.