Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 7, 2013

Around Town

CALIFORNIA DREAMING ... Palo Alto's planned transformation of California Avenue has been a turbulent three-year ride — a journey filled with anger, lawsuits, confusion, revision, excitement and expanding ambitions. Now, the city is at last preparing for construction, which is scheduled to begin this fall. On Thursday morning, the Architectural Review Board voted unanimously to endorse the latest changes (adding a long list of conditions, as per board custom) to the streetscape plan. In addition to reduction of lanes from four to two, by far the most controversial aspect of the plan, the project includes wider sidewalks, new plazas and a host of new street furniture along California Avenue, between the Caltrain station and El Camino Real. The plan also calls for removal of five existing street trees, a thorny subject in a neighborhood that remembers all too well the "chainsaw massacre" of September 2009, when the city surprised area residents by chopping down all 50 mature street trees at once. College Terrace Fred Balin alluded to that infamous episode Thursday morning when he urged city officials to tread carefully on tree removal. The city, he said, "has a casual approach to protecting trees on California Avenue." He also noted that there hasn't been any outreach to the community about the new proposal to remove five trees — two valley oaks, one southern live oak and two Shumard oaks. The project is slated to be reviewed by the city's Planning and Transportation Commission and the City Council this summer before construction commences this fall.

STRETCHED THIN ... When a group of stakeholders from all corners of Palo Alto got together a year ago to consider what the city should do about the sprawling and dilapidated Cubberley Community Center, one of the ideas it came up with was a "community needs assessment" for the site. The 35-acre center is co-owned by the Palo Alto Unified School District (which owns 27 acres) and the city (which owns 8 acres). While the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee argued in favor of the assessment, city staff isn't wild about the idea. The reason? Staff has too many other things on its plate. "At this time, there is not sufficient staff capacity to support such a potential wide-ranging effort, especially as there is enough near term critical work that must take place relating to the lease and covenant negotiations," a new report from the office of City Manager James Keene states. "There is more than enough effort required over the next six months relating to the lease negotiations." The report also argues that the "needs assessment" recommendation has a scope far beyond the Cubberley site. Staff recommends discussing this project as part of the next year's budget process, a recommendation that the council's Policy and Services Committee is scheduled to take up next Tuesday.

PARK HERE ... The solution to downtown Palo Alto's famous parking woes may still be far beyond the horizon, but next week city officials will consider one idea that they hope will make things at least marginally better. The council will ponder on Monday night whether the city should partner with developer Charles "Chop" Keenan on building a new garage on High Street, between University and Hamilton avenues. The site, which is currently a city-owned parking lot, is known as Lot P. At prior discussions, some council members (most notably Karen Holman) and downtown residents and merchants expressed concern about going this route and using city-owned land for a parking structure that would benefit a private developer. Under the proposal, the 145-space, five-story garage would accommodate workers from Keenan's proposed new development at 135 Hamilton Ave. Public parking would be limited to the bottom two floors during the day, though all spaces would become public during evenings and weekends. Keenan had offered to pay about $7 million for the new structures, with the city spending another $1.5 million in construction costs and permit fees. While the project is still far from a done deal, planning staff has already endorsed the proposal and is recommending in a new report that the council move forward with a memorandum of understanding with Keenan. "Staff believes that, given the options available, the proposed joint public-private garage makes financial and land use sense at this time," the report states. "The spaces gained will relieve downtown parking regardless of whether they are committed to a private development, and the impact on the city's parking funds is minimal."

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