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Editorial: Ambitions to reduce traffic

Original post made on Sep 20, 2013

With residents expressing increasing frustration with the City Council's approvals of new commercial development projects and delay after delay in addressing the traffic and parking problems they create and exacerbate, the Palo Alto City Council is looking for a way to establish its credentials as good transportation and land use planners.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, September 20, 2013, 9:02 AM

Comments (42)

Posted by Business-Licenses-Not-Needed, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2013 at 9:49 am

> The city does not have a good track record of communicating
> effectively with business owners, in part because there is no
> business license required in Palo Alto and therefore poor data,

Hogwash! The City is the supplier of utilities to every company in Palo Alto. It knows the name and address of each company, and the power/water/gas utilization, from which meaningful inferences can be drawn as to the number of employees. Moreover, the Fire Department maintains data about certain of the businesses that certainly includes information about the number of people on site.

If the City needs more information, it can contact the companies and ask them directly. This continued claim that the City needs a business licences is just more attempts to control the details of our lives.

Shame on you Weekly, for making the claim!


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2013 at 10:38 am

Doesn't quite work that way. The city knows the owners of the buildings, but they don't necessarily know who is renting the floorspace. Most firms rent on a per square foot basis and that cost typically includes utilities...so the renter is not on the utilities record. Same goes for fire inspections - the building owner/landlord is on the hook for all inspections, etc.


Posted by Parking in new buildings, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 20, 2013 at 11:03 am

Is there anything in the proposal to require all construction to fully park its intended occupants?
Does not require more consultants and studies.


Posted by Business-Licenses-Not-Needed, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2013 at 11:39 am

> The city knows the owners of the buildings, but they don't
> necessarily know who is renting the floorspace

Highly unlikely that the owners of the buildings are paying the utilities for their occupants. If an occupant has a utility account, then the City knows.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Just read recently that San Ramon (or somewhere in the Bay Area) just increased its street parking meters to $2 an hour to encourage people to park in the garages which were under utilitized. Why on earth aren't we putting up meters in downtown and continuing to insist that we have free parking. Other communities do, Redwood City is 25c an hour. But no, Palo Alto is different. We have to have studies. We have to have residential permits. We have to take into account the Palo Alto process. We can't possibly try something without every tom, dick and harry having their say.

Do something, for once, rather than talk, talk, talk.


Posted by Newly-minted cynic, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm

"the Palo Alto City Council is looking for a way to establish its credentials as good transportation and land use planners"

There are many thousands of us on my side of town who would ask them to start by reversing the whole Maybell steamroller, start listening to the neighbors instead of shoving whatever they want down our throats — i.e., realize that when a Councilmember's lawfirm represents the seller and doesn't recuse himself from further involvement, Council loans $7.3million for the purchase of the land, and sets in place a complicated and rigid financing scheme long before taking any public input, they're not going to really listen to what the public wants with an open mind — and come up with a plan that lets us keep the considerable affordable housing we're losing from the neighborhood (such as the Buena Vista mobile home park and Terman Apartments, probably more than 600 low-income residents) AND keep the last remnant of heritage orchard in Palo Alto as permanent low-traffic open space (whew!).

As it is, many of us no longer trust ANYTHING they do. I was on board with the CA Ave changes thinking we'd benefit from something like Castro Street, but after the Maybell debacle, realized we're much more likely to get the full-bore idiotic changes we got at Arastradero, with the City once again doing whatever it wants and claiming to take public input because of minor changes here and there, and CYA taking precedence with City staff over getting it right when it comes to solving problems down the road. Now I totally understand why business owners at Cal Ave opposed the City.

"Establish its credentials as good transportation and land use planners"... was this just a good leading line, or are you telling us our City Councilmembers are just that clueless?


Posted by City Council does not get it, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Arastradero they slowed down traffic to a crawl so it makes it hard for anyone to drive down this street in the morning and late afternoon. This has not made the road any safer it just causes the people driving on the road to be frustrated and has caused drivers to resort to driving on the side streets which has now in turn made it more dangerous to walk or ride a bike around the surrounding neighborhood.

Arastradero has not been or will be a safe place to ride a bike. It has always been safer to ride on the sidewalk in this area or ride a bike on neighboring street. Is is safe to ride on Embacadero and Oregon Expressway? If the city council wants to slow down traffic everywhere then they should do the same thing they did to Arastradero.

Arastradero was a complete failure. It was suppose to be a test. I would like to be able to see the traffic flow not set at stand still. The city council approve this failure!


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2013 at 7:48 pm

"good land use and transportation planners"
There is no land use planning and the City's response to the
traffic mess has made everything worse. This two-headed monster
is consuming the City.


Posted by Jill, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2013 at 8:08 pm

This city council is an embarrassment to Palo Alto. We need to elect city council members that understand urban planning, commercial development, etc. Our current city council members are CLUELESS, and are destroying the ambiance and livability of Palo Alto. They should step down and admit they do not have the knowledge to make educated and wise decisions in this current rapid growth environment. The sooner they are booted out, the better.


Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Marie is a registered user.

What is the point of reducing commuter trips by 30% if you double the number of commuters?

Stick to the existing zoning. The only community benefit is if a company adds additional public parking as well as sufficient parking for their employees or enough housing for the number of employees they will cram into their office space.

The reason PA does not charge for parking is so that our retail stores can compete with Stanford Shopping Center. When Stanford Shopping Center adds parking meters, then PA can too. Who goes shopping in downtown RWC? I avoid SF and RWC because parking is difficult and expensive.

Palo Alto is not SF nor do most of its residents want it to be a second SF. Please hire and appoint people who support quality over quantity and make sure their ideal community is NOT SF, unlike many of the current managers in the Planning and Traffic departments, and members of the planning department and ARB.


Posted by Bob , a resident of Community Center
on Sep 20, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Unfortunately, this City Council doesn't listen to anyone and marches to its own ill-fated beat
and in the City staff's band directed by the City Manager.
It is time for prospective new Council members to start getting into gear, but is there a risk we'll get Tweedledee for Tweedledum? The election money is in the hand of the developers, realtors, money-people - and Palo Altans are being run over with the $$$ steamroller. How do we stop this madness and reclaim the city? I am beginning to think the Weekly just may be waking up from a twelve month sleep. And residents are waking up out in the 'hoods'.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2013 at 8:48 pm

I disagree that downtown is competing with Stanford shopping center. They meet different needs.

Stanford has different retail stores and poor restaurants. Downtown has poor retail stores and good restaurants. Good retail is outside Palo Alto. People don't shop in downtown because retail is poor but they do eat there because restaurants are good.

People will pay to park if it is readily available and simple to find near to wherever they want to go.

Make parking reasonably priced and easy to find.


Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2013 at 8:48 pm

How many ways are there into PA? Not that many. Set up automated license plate readers and charge a congestion fee during commute hours to anyone who does not live here and drives solo. Crank up the rate until the congestion goes away.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 20, 2013 at 9:42 pm

@Resident - They definitely compete, and there is a lot of overlap. CPK downtown, CPK mall, Creamery Downtown, Creamery mall, Yogurtland downtown, Pink Berry mall, apple store downtown, apple store mall, Paris baguette downtown, La Baguette mall, Chocolate Garage & Moniques & Alegio downtown, Godiva and Teuscher at the mall. Anthropologie downtown, Urban Outfitters mall. Vans and Keen downtown, Nike mall.

What do meters accomplish but push out shoppers and diners? If there is more available parking because fewer people go downtown, it is not a good thing.


Posted by BUILD BABY BUILD, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 20, 2013 at 9:58 pm

"Palo Alto City Council is looking for a way to establish its credentials as good transportation and land use planners."

Who are they kidding? The Comprehensive Plan Update which is supposed to guide development should have been updated in 2010. It still needs CEQA review so we'll be lucky if it is adopted by 2015 at this rate. The new Housing Element just submitted to the State will expire in 2014 possibly before it is formally adopted as part of the Comprehensive Plan.

"Plan" is NOT part of Council or Staff's vocabulary.

More like BUILD BABY BUILD!


Posted by Emma, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Resources for EVERYONE including the Palo Alto Weekly and the Palo Alto City Council. A list of of over 400 business' in Palo Alto listed online with addresses and phone numbers on the Palo Alto Downtown Business List website!!! "Let your fingers do the walking."
Web Link

AND, Why not hire 'the' best local thinking and doing business in Palo Alto? They say on their website that they are "doubling their size every year" and help their clients by offering ""a suite of software applications for integrating, visualizing and analyzing the world's information. We support many kinds of data including structured, unstructured, relational, temporal and geospatial."" They would just look at Palo Alto's world to remedy the commerce that makes our community strong and sustainable. Web Link

OR ask a computer science Professor at Stanford to give their students the assignment and for FREE, Palo Alto could have the answers delivered Their Advice would WORK and the group could start a business for other communities in the Nation and around the World. LET'S GET CREATIVE!!!

I recently heard through the grapevine that Palantir is purchasing most of the vacant commercial spaces in Palo Alto. Not unlike the rest of the Nation, Palo Alto will be run by or may already be run by, large corporations or at least by fast growing profitable companies who are working hand in hand with larger companies.

Ahhh, isn't FREE enterprise wonderful?


Posted by no boundaries, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2013 at 11:02 pm

First of all, the mindset, the culture in City Hall is to serve
developers. The staff works for developers. They are in control. There is no planning. As if that is not bad enough, there also is a vacuum among the Council, ARB and staff as to what constitutes good development, in terms of scale, aesthetics,etc.

So the end result is anything can be approved no matter how bad it is. There are no boundaries. It just depends on what the developer submits. Then the City reacts to resident outrage, grapples with the resulting traffic, congestion,parking overflow and does nothing positive, working on the margin of what is a massive problem, and only makes it worse.




Posted by danny, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2013 at 3:53 am

A couple months ago I spoke with Nancy Shephard (or was it Karen Holman?) about the Vehicle Habitation Ban after a council meeting, and I mentioned to her that excessive traffic in Palo Alto was the major problem, not the vehicle dwellers. But it's true. Just go to El Camino Real and see how many cars there are passing by. And the noise! Evergreen Park had the right idea 30 years ago with their street barriers. Now their neighborhood is liveable. College Terrace more recently kicked out the Stanford commuters, and they're doing better. I don't know if the permit system should be done in Professorville except for homes without driveways. During the day you can't go shopping without coming back without a place to park! But if there is one factor that has ruined the quality of life in Palo Alto it's the traffic.


Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 21, 2013 at 7:44 am

> Is there anything in the proposal to require all construction to fully park its intended occupants?

This thinking is completely backward. More parking encourages driving. Less parking, less driving. Eliminate parking and support public transit and congestion will fall.


Posted by bad outcomes, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2013 at 7:54 am

Besides the traffic and gridlock smothering the City it is the sign
clutter, heavily marked crosswalks, ugly oversized buildings which have completely degraded the City. Lytton Gateway under construction,the Gatehouse project on Lytton, Roxy Rapp's new building at 278 University are all uninteresting massively overbuilt projects.278 University not only is out of scale for the site but
the dark gray along with the tinted windows, across the street from the even darker gray Restoration Hardware has cast a pall over that important intersection and ruined it. The once interesting Jos Bank
Bldg is now just absorbed into what is a huge modern glass/steel monolith on that corner. The Hayes Group which did this is now
involved in the Hamilton/Ramona corner controversial project under appeal. And the roof extension under construction at Ephiphany Hotel
while not done yet appears absolutely bizarre, even grotesque. The list of bad outcomes in Palo Alto is long. It all adds up to a
City, once balanced with unique qualities and character, which is being completely ruined from the commercial areas right through the neighborhoods.





Posted by Mike, a resident of University South
on Sep 21, 2013 at 8:36 am

I wish EPA would close 101 access to/from University so all of the through traffic would divert to Willow and Embarcadero.


Posted by Leaving, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2013 at 8:47 am

Projection: the electorate is fed up, the current council knows it as do their primary constituents, the developers, so the rush to build is accelerating in an effort beat any actions of a new " no more" council. it will be a year more before the new group can be effective trying to stop the tidal wave, assumig they too are not coopted by developer "rights and influence." A new planner will come on board shortly but leave within a year out of frustration, a new city manager will be needed because this one listened to the other council, both events further delaying action. Delays, excuses, the Process.
Bin there, done that. Some residents are calling for immediate adoption of a construction MORATORIUM, immediately. I agree.


Posted by Joon, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2013 at 10:06 am

I have thought that the parking meter solution was a good one for years, now. Income plus parking control! Redwood City does it successfully.


Posted by realist, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2013 at 11:50 am

The new planner looks to have a strong background with a sensitivity
to aesthetic and environmental values. Will it make any difference?
There is growing broad recognition that Palo Alto has been on a
disastrous track for at least the last ten years. Enormous damage
has been done especially in the last few years as market forces
have intensified to take advantage of lax to no controls, to giveaways by the Palo Alto City Council and staff. The pipeline
is still active and there are no real fixes to the intractable parking and traffic problems without creating even more damage.
But hopefully we can move forward at least in a more enlightened way.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Unlike some, I don't mind some higher-density housing and more people living here. As long as they move here without cars.

There is just no more room in the city for more cars. It takes 35-40 minutes to go 5 miles around here at the evening rush hour in almost any direction.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 21, 2013 at 2:46 pm

My firm does not pay a direct CPAU bill and we are in a University Ave. building (3 floors occupancy). We pay rent and that's it.


Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I know this sounds like anachronism, but Palo Alto has been allowed to be grossly overdeveloped, unnaturally to the area's natural size, boundaries, character and ecosystem, that no further growth should be allowed. Contemplating any further growth and development is like asking how much more sun tanning a melanoma patient should be allowed.


Posted by bru, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 21, 2013 at 7:40 pm

bru is a registered user.

Any further growth in Palo Alto will result in the degradation of life for existing residents, just so some corporations can have a Palo Alto address. If they want that so bad they can compete with each other for those addresses and pay the taxes necessary to maintain the city under this level of development.

I think stopping any more development right now is a great idea - and would like to here a list of the reasons that cannot happen.

Just to fit some more non-Palo Altans in here the non-billionaires among us are support to stop driving our cars and take our lives in our hands riding bicycles between the remaining drivers wealthy enough to afford to stay on the road and park. The whole city will be filled with parking meters and every cent will be wrung out of us as well as every convenience will be charged for.

Palo Alto should be a nice town to reside in, not a industrial park.


Posted by Newly-minted cynic, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 22, 2013 at 12:45 am

@bad outcome
"The list of bad outcomes in Palo Alto is long. It all adds up to a
City, once balanced with unique qualities and character, which is being completely ruined from the commercial areas right through the neighborhoods."

You think it's bad now. Most of the City is unaware of what the real issue is underlying Measure D at Maybell. If people vote for Measure D thinking they're helping affordable housing, the City will take it as green light to keep doing the same thing all over town.

At some point in the city meetings leading to the Maybell rezoning, the Mayor made a point of apologizing, saying, it's the first time they're doing this (meaning, this financing scheme that relies on densifying a residential area with market-rate high-density housing, in order to build higher-density low-income rental units more cheaply on a portion of the property), but that they'll be better at it next time. Maybell is practice for doing more of this. The City is who told PAHC to go after that property, but less than half the land is going for affordable housing, which is shoehorned in there in a 50-foot building. More than half the land is going for upzoned high-density market-rate housing like at Alma Plaza that could never otherwise be built in the middle of a residential area like that.

Anytime any lot of a halfway decent size comes on the market, they can do this anywhere in town. Alma-plaza-like homes in the middle of R-1 neighborhoods -- and guess what? If you try to complain, you'll be called overprivileged NIMBYs. City Council cherry picks through the general plan to support whatever they want, so you'll have no defense there. Just look at Greenacres, which already has more affordable developments than just about any other residential part of Palo Alto, even a PAHC development right next do the rezoned property, and still the neighbors are having trouble defending themselves against NIMBY name-calling. What hope has anyone in the rest of Palo Alto in neighborhoods that really don't have much affordable housing to defend if someone comes in with a poor land use proposal violating all zoning laws (such as at Maybell)? If there is an "affordable" housing component, even if it's less than half the development, you can't ever say anything is a bad plan, or warn of bad outcomes, or ask that existing zoning be respected or even approximated, or that high-density projects be for areas already zoned for higher-density or along main streets and arteries. You'll just be accused of being secretly against affordable housing or worried about your housing prices.

City Council just found a way to completely set aside all zoning laws, and nullify even strong neighborhood opposition. Referenda? Who cares -- in the end, the City Attorney writes the ballot! Let's see, how do they win that election? Make the question sound like a false choice between housing granny or not.

This bunch not only has no respect for zoning laws, they are scheming to ensure they don't have to. They think PC zoning lets them be so "creative". Like Alma Plaza - that was pretty creative, how they got away with such massive developer giveaways and still manage to blame the neighbors for opposing something even worse.

They just want an excuse to be able to build denser buildings, not to reduce the traffic problem.


Posted by no mas, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2013 at 9:56 pm

I went Downtown today. The current batch of office projects,the Lytton Gateway under construction, the recently completed 278 University at Bryant, the Gatehouse project on Lytton, the office building behind and above the Birge Clark facade at the old Medallion gallery, and then the extraordinary 12 foot "roof extension" on the 75 foot tall Casa Olga, the new Epiphany Hotel, tells you that a "cease fire", an immediate building moratorium needs to be imposed in Downtown Palo Alto. These projects all have one thing in common- they are all bad.


Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 23, 2013 at 6:37 am

The only thing that save Palo Alto from becoming an industrial park and a tacky, traffic chocked imitation of Los Angeles is a complete moratorium on growth and development, not just ion downtown, but everywhere. The p[politicians must admit publically that this city has been grossly and unnaturally overdeveloped. We must put an immediate end to the charade of "affordable housing" which increases the population density and adds more traffic and pressure on our resources-no one seems to want to talk about water shortage in an area that seems destined for serious water supply problems due to changes in rainfall. We must limit the size of house remodels which allows a few families to live in one house and continuously increase the city's population.


Posted by AMess, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 23, 2013 at 8:40 am

The downtown is a complete mess! Too crowded and the scummy benches, sidewalks, and alleys smell bad! Since when did Palo Alto want to become a huge city with lots of problems? It's not a cute quaint town anymore where I'm proud to bring family or friends to visit. Whoever voted this council in, I hope you can see what negative impacts they have produced.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2013 at 10:50 am

Yes, I am embarrassed to bring visitors/friends to Palo Alto. The City looks awful- tacky, low-grade,clogged with traffic, sign clutter, massive out of place buildings.The image and reputation of the City lags behind the reality, but not for long as more people come here and see what is happening. A prominent techie from NYC here for a conference, when he saw The Cheesecake Factory on University Ave was surprised and said to me "I thought a place like Palo Alto would have design control". CAKE on University now at its
ten year anniversary is unique in its impact on the streetscape but also is symbolic of the City's approval process and the mega-projects which followed it with all the parking and traffic impacts as well. It was just the beginning.



Posted by Robert, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2013 at 11:10 am

The PA City Council is worthless except as a rubber stamp for developer projects. It does NOT take residential concerns about traffic and parking seriously. Such a mundane consideration compared to approving another piece of garbage like Lytton Gateway with more in the pipeline. It is PALPABLY OBVIOUS that traffic is getting worse by the month and yet the City Council cares only about approving big buildings for their tax contributions, supposedly to be used to ameliorate the negative side effects of the buildings they approve. There will come a time when people will finally realize that Palo Alto is seriously diluting its quality of life. Luckily for PA moguls, the presence of Stanford and of software companies means that there will be enough rich people to buy the inflated real estate and get away for vacations to places that are beautiful, tranquil, and unclogged. We are witnessing the killing of the goose that laid the golden egg. The Palo Alto City Council is a joke of major proportions. We need some people on the Council that have humane values and that care about the quality of everyday life in this city.
That is unlikely to happen. Look how much cash it takes to run a serious campaign for a place on the Council, so one can rubberstamp the tsunami of big and bigger projects of developers. We have now reached a point at which CONGESTION, NOISE, PARKING, GREATER AND GREATER DENSITY, CROWDED EVERYTHING, AND MEDIOCRE BUILDING ARCHITECTURE HAVE BECOME THE NORM in Palo Alto. It's really a damned shame. Step back a moment and take a look at what is happening to this city. It will make you cringe.


Posted by Debbie, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 23, 2013 at 4:52 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by Ronald, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 23, 2013 at 4:59 pm

In order to,reduce traffic you need VIABLE alternatives. Read Diana diamonds column in last weeks Daily [News]-- she talks about her journeys to SF and San Jose using public transportation, which illustrate the problem of using public transportation in this area.

I do find amusing the constant complaining about how terrible downtown is-- the ability of some residents to exaggerate the facts makes me thinks they should be writing best selling fiction. All the better-- do not bring visitors to palo alto-- more parking for me. Anyway, the claim there is no parking is an urban myth that people who hate change love to bandy about


Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 23, 2013 at 5:01 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced post.]


Posted by Transportation Expertise., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2013 at 11:12 am

Seriously? You are pointing to Diana Diamond as an expert on transportation? The woman who once, not so long ago, said publicly that bicycling isn't an option for women because they have to wear heels and hose to work? Really?

As a woman who bikes (in heels) and who actually rides transit (unlike Ms. Diamond), I can state with firsthand knowledge, Diana Diamond is NOT an authority on this subject. She is a master of sensationalist editorial writing and is notoriously loose with her facts. She has always been a writer in need of a fastidious editor. Sadly, she doesn't have one.


Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Mr expertise-- did you actually read the article I was referring to?
I am not saying diamond is an expert. I am just saying her article pointed out how time consuming taking public transportation in palo alto is.
You sound like a bitter newspaper publisher In town who bad mouths their former employees when they leave for a much better position at a real newspaper


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Diana Diamond is a treasure. Her criticisms and analyses are usually right on.

Thanks for the pointer.


Posted by Midtown resident, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2013 at 11:20 pm

[Post removed.]


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