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'Grand' vision for El Camino clashes with reality in Palo Alto

Original post made on May 1, 2014

The Planning and Transportation Commission heard Wednesday a presentation on the regional initiative to transform El Camino Real, a former state highway, into a vibrant chain of neighborhood centers where drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians can safely intermingle.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 1, 2014, 8:35 AM

Comments (33)

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Posted by HereWeGoAgain
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 1, 2014 at 10:55 am

Here we go again! There is that word "Vibrant" again! More grants for more studies and research. Hey, isn't that just Grand! I believe we have other issues in Palo Alto to deal with first - runaway development, traffic, and a crumbling infrastructure.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 1, 2014 at 11:04 am

Too bad that the article didn't mention that Menlo Park wants to WIDEN El Camino to cut traffic congestion.

Meanwhile, Palo Alto continues to delude itself -- and we're paying for this lunacy.


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Posted by Palo Alto Citizen
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 1, 2014 at 11:05 am

Why is your reporting always focused on the negative comments from folks? Is that really all there is? Stop fostering the whinny folks like "land use watch dog" Bob.


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Posted by Jon Parsons
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2014 at 11:17 am

May the Gods continue to smile down upon those stalwart souls such as Bob Moss (who I read as being criticized above) who stand unthanked their vigilant guard and spend endless hours sweeping back the tide of overwhelming development and urbanization.


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Posted by Kevin
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 1, 2014 at 11:26 am

Kevin is a registered user.

El Camino Real is not a "former" state highway. It is state highway 82.


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Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on May 1, 2014 at 11:35 am

El Camino was and must remain a working traffic artery. Can what exist be made more attractive? Surely. Reasonable setbacks will help aesthetically. Enough studying already.


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Posted by Floyd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2014 at 11:54 am

To Palo Alto Citizen:
In the 30 plus years that I've known and worked with with Bob Moss I've come to appreciate his hard work and dedication to keeping Palo Alto a great place to live.
He should have a plaque dedicated to him and installed at City Hall, not be denigrated for his effort.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 1, 2014 at 11:58 am

I find the MP consideration of widening ECR somewhat amusing. Any long-term resident would observe that ECR was a 6-lane road through MP until about 20 years ago. Nice use of tax money - let's make it 4 lanes, now let's make it 5 or 6 lanes again.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2014 at 12:05 pm

People need sunshine, views, space, and things like convenience and control of their time for quality of life. We went to the airport on Monday and it took twice as long to get from El Camino/Arastradero to 101 across Palo Alto as it did to get to the airport, where it used to be the opposite.

The ease of getting around and the small town feel were what drew us to Palo Alto, as opposed to the rest of the Bay Area. This incarnation of City Hall is destroying all that, making Palo Alto an unpleasant place to live.

Quality of life is not a side effect of density, and the recent boom is no reason to throw out decades of understanding about what contributes to and detracts from quality of life that informed zoning rules.

I think the goal was laudable, but assuming density bonuses and giveaways to developers will improve things is flawed and what is making the Grand Boulevard Initiative into the El Camino Tunnel Project: a big, long, sunless mass of buildings that abut the street but face inward and cut off all views of the hills and sense of natural environment. GBI actually stands for Giveaway to Builders Initiative.


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Posted by ECR = 1950 Autopia
a resident of Mayfield
on May 1, 2014 at 12:20 pm

The enhanced density has to go somewhere. Residents don't want it in their single family neighborhoods so I say El Camino Real is an excellent place for it. Also El Camino Real does not exist only in Palo Alto. The segment that runs through Palo Alto is longer than in most cities so we have a great opportunity to lead the transformation. Or shall we keep it exactly how it is now - a snap shot of 1950-60's Autopia - or transform it into a modern conduit of mobility?


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Posted by JerryL
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 1, 2014 at 12:43 pm

"a place for residents to work, live, shop and play," indeed.

I was amused by not seeing "travel", "get around town", "movement
of cars and delivery trucks" or any other recognized purpose of a highway being mentioned by Mr. Garvey.
If Menlo Park is planning to go back to 6 lanes on their section, then there
may be some hope---somebody has the right idea.


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Posted by No Sidewalks needed
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 1, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Why stop at 6 lanes? Why not 8 or 10? If nobody walks on El Camino Real why do we need sidewalks? Shouldn't we really be planning for double decker with 12 lanes? Now that would be progress!


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "I sense that some creative parcel accumulation by creative developers will alleviate that issue," Alcheck said.

Yet again Commissioner Alcheck demonstrates that he won't let experience interfere with his opinions. Over the past 15 years (or more), several of Palo Alto's top and most "creative" developers -- Jim Baer most notably -- have attempted to do just and failed.

For people new to his problem, you might want to look at my blog entry "El Camino Sidewalk Width and the Grand Boulevard Delusion" (Web Link). Footnote 1 contains links to two previous PA Online stories that have significant useful comments (poking out from the inevitable trash).


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "I sense that some creative parcel accumulation by creative developers will alleviate that issue," Alcheck said.

Yet again Commissioner Alcheck demonstrates that he won't let experience interfere with his opinions. Over the past 15 years (or more), several of Palo Alto's top and most "creative" developers -- Jim Baer most notably -- have attempted to do just and failed.

For people new to his problem, you might want to look at my blog entry "El Camino Sidewalk Width and the Grand Boulevard Delusion" (Web Link). Footnote 1 contains links to two previous PA Online stories that have significant useful comments (poking out from the inevitable trash).


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "I find the MP consideration of widening ECR somewhat amusing. Any long-term resident would observe that ECR was a 6-lane road through MP until about 20 years ago. Nice use of tax money - let's make it 4 lanes, now let's make it 5 or 6 lanes again."

I am not aware that the 4-lane section of El Camino in Menlo Park was ever 6 lanes. It was 4-lanes when I moved to the area 30+ years ago (and was traveling that section of ECR). Also, look at the age of the buildings along that segment.

I was told that Menlo Park refused to widen ECR to 6 lanes in its downtown area because such would have required tearing down all those buildings and leaving lots too small to accommodate viable replacements -- the lots were too shallow (similar to the situation in southern Palo Alto).


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Posted by Concerned Resident
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 1, 2014 at 2:06 pm

The residents in towns all over the Bay area are readying to vote their respective councilman from office who have drunken MTA's, ABAG's and the Grand Boulevard's Task Force's "Smart Development" Koolaid. There is a difference between "smart development" and "wise development". The utopian "smart development" concept is "wise development" when a supporting infrastructure exists. When a supporting infrastructure does not exist, it is called "dangerous development". Dangerous development is where traffic, safety, utility and educational resources cannot sustain increased compact high-density development.

Ask your respective towns along this 43 mile high-density Grand Boulevard for it's emergency evac plan. How can a road structure that can barely handle rush hour traffic handle a natural emergency? The peninsula is wedged between a bay and a mountain range with few major arteries. We live in an area prone to earthquakes, floods, drought, landslides, tsunamis, and liquafraction. The Bay area is 4th on the national list of terriorist targets. The entire Eastern side of the pennisula has a flood elevation barely above sea level. It does not take a genius to understand the safety risks associated with 43 miles of contiguous high-density development. If you live in Palo Alto, for example, and think that a shift of 13 active police will save Palo Alto's population in a natural disaster, no less one made up of 50% seniors, you haven't really thought this out.

While our cities and towns are telling us to conserve and count every drop of water used in our current 4 year drought, they are handing out high-density building permits like pez candy. Utility concerns need to step-in and intercede. I am confident by the many recent news articles that Bay area residents are waking up. If the news articles do not wake people up, the massive yellow Tyvek high-density buildings encroaching on sunlight on El Camino and elsewhere will soon be noticed by all.

There will be a historic uprising of residents from Daly City to San Jose. Little by little, people are beginning to understand these valid concerns. It is only a matter of time.

This is not about quality of life. This is about additional City and County revenues plain and simple.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 1, 2014 at 4:06 pm

"This is about additional City and County revenues plain and simple."

No, it is about City and County egos. The revenue goes to the developers living in Woodside, Portola Valley, Los Altos Hills, etc.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 1, 2014 at 5:25 pm

@ Doug Moran: The right hand turn lanes that currently exist on ECR in MP are the former traffic lanes from before. Plus MP installed the islands running down the center of the road with the "London Plane" trees as well.

And let's not forget that MP did not allow CalTrans to sync the signals in an effort to force commuters to use other ways to travel the Peninsula.

And of course the other MP anti-traffic, anti-commute effort was decided not to fulfill their commitment to building the Willow Expressway - which would have connected 101 to 280 from Willow through Sand Hill.


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Posted by Native Palo Altain
a resident of College Terrace
on May 1, 2014 at 7:15 pm

I very much agree with Concerned Citizens remarks. As an owner of 4 homes in Palo Alto, I want no further development. Undermining the quality of life for me and my tenants. Freeze all future office space and dense housing. We are done. This is now an executive community. New grad students and startups need to start their lives elsewhere. Besides, spread the wealth of this information economy to EPA , the East Bay or other areas beyond the Bay Area (and CA) that can use new wealth to rebuild those communities. With respect to El Camino, no reduction in lanes or increases in sidewalks. However, special commercial loans (or mandates) to upgrade the collection of 50s an 60s buildings would be an excellent improvement.


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Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2014 at 6:14 am

I couldn't agree more. Palo Alto is saturated, overdeveloped, excessively over populated and out traffic is many folds what our infrastructure can tolerate. Cities and towns have a character for a reason, and destroying it as a betrayal of our values, history and tradition. There is enough wealth in Palo Alto to support many developing countries. Other areas are in dire economic need and need office buildings, start ups, etc. We needs to spread the wealth to those who need it. Now it's time to preserve our character and quality of life.


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Posted by Bill Kelly
a resident of Barron Park
on May 2, 2014 at 8:05 am

If we don't rezone the single family homes behind el camino, and we want wide sidewalks with high density, doesn't that lead to making El Camino a canyon with huge multistory high density housing built to the sidewalk? If you look at ECR in mountainview or los altos, is the future a wide road, with 5+ story high density housing on each side? Is this am improvement or will we look back at this and think ourselves as idiots?


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Posted by To Native Palo Altan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2014 at 11:24 am

Dear Native Palo Altan,

How long have you held your FOUR properties? Are you renting them to families with children in our public schools? Are you benefitting from Prop 13? Did you vote for Prop 13? If so, I am prepared to discount any self-absorbed opinion you may have on this matter.

I am tired of listening to the long-term, welfare home owners, subsidized by the most recent residents of the community--families who are struggling to pay exorbitant mortgages and a much higher tax rate. When you are ready to pay your fair share, your opinion will matter more to those of us who are subsidizing your comfy lifestyle.

Repeal Prop 13.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2014 at 1:05 pm

You fail to recognize how P13 works for residents (in all of CA). 30 years ago we bought our first place and paid market rate property taxes. This happened again several times. Now we are in a home that we will stay in for some time now.

You will have the same set of benefits of a stable and predictable property tax program. I don't know how long you have lived here...I am 5th generation. If you've been here long enough, then you would know that the state abused property tax rates and was essentially forcing seniors and retired individuals out of their homes due to the taxes being higher than their fixed income.

As a young person, I saw the good reasoning in P13. At mid-age, I see it. And when I'm a senior I will see it.

Do the math and you might get it. Unless it's all about you instead everyone else.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2014 at 1:10 pm

@Crescent Park Dad

As someone who's property taxes are being subsidized by others, I'd watch where you point that "it's all about you" accusation.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Let me try again...

You pay in early and over time the tax burden lessens as a percentage of your growing income over time. Using your term (certainly not mine), I subsidized the older residents back when we were young homeowners. The process works.

And I'll state the obvious...if the initial mortgage and property tax bill is too high, then why are you buying the house? Whose fault is that? You don't have to live in this town. Cupertino has great schools. So does San Carlos, Los Altos and Menlo Park.

I don't understand the, "I bought a house and property that i can't afford - but it's your fault that the bills are too high" argument. You know what your mortgage is going to be, you know what the property tax is going to be...and you still buy the house even when you know you can't possibly cover all of your financial obligations? Sorry, P13 or not, the only person to blame is yourself.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2014 at 1:58 pm

@Crescent Park Dad

Your line of reasoning would be understandable and sound if (its a big IF) supply wasn't being artificially constrained, and the increases in housing prices were at least somewhat based on an increase in wages or inflation. We all know this isn't the case, and not all of us were given the opportunity to buy in at 70's prices.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 2, 2014 at 2:06 pm

And people in the 70's didn't have the opportunity to buy at 30's prices. Forward another 40-year increment and people in the 2050's will wish they could be paying today's prices.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2014 at 2:11 pm

@musical

You're purposely ignoring the first part of my statement, are you saying that Palo Alto is just as expensive today, relative to incomes, as it was in the 70s or 30s?


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2014 at 2:11 pm

I bought my first place in the mid-80's (San Jose). But the reality is that Palo Alto has always been more expensive than other mid-Pen towns (except for Atherton of course). In 72 my folks bought in west MP for $68K. A similar house in PA was going near $100K.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I knew an elderly man who was fond of telling people that everyone thought he was crazy to spend $5,000 on a house in what is now Crescent Park. I think that was in the '20s or '30s. This has never been a cheap place to live even when it was Mayfield.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2014 at 4:26 pm

The "problem" is self-correcting. Think of Detroit, on top of the world in 1950 and certain to stay that way. Who could compete -- the newly totally defeated Germans and Japanese? Ha, ha.

Palo alto's mainstay industry is far more portable. You couldn't make a Chevy on a kitchen table, but you can write an app there.


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Posted by Wondering why?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2014 at 11:08 am

The article describes El Camino Real as a "former highway". But as a Bay Area native that keeps up with local news, this stretch of road expanding from San Jose to San Francisco, is still a highway. El Camino Real is Highway 82.

Please provide FACTS if anything happened to change it. Did anything happen secretly? Is someone from the historical society reading this, if not the reporters?


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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 3, 2014 at 2:27 pm

El Camino Real is still State Route 82, sometimes referred to as a state highway. That "highway" designation is rather meaningless, however. The definition of highway in the California Vehicle Code is (Web Link) :

" "Highway" is a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. Highway includes street."


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