Ruling paves the way for California Avenue renovation
Original post made
on Nov 1, 2013
Palo Alto's plan to shrink California Avenue from four lanes to two cleared its final legal hurdle Thursday when a California Court of Appeals judge dismissed a lawsuit from critics.
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Friday, November 1, 2013, 6:05 PM
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm
Nora: A new fountain is part of the Streetscape plan.
Alan Weller, an attorney with an office on Cal Ave for decades, who loved those trees and who worked passionately to get to the bottom of what happened, and who fought to maintain the soul of California Avenue in the replanting of January 2010 and in a second planting phase to be part of the streetscape design, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly three weeks ago.
Below is a commentary he wrote in the Fall of 2009 about the "theme" of Cal Ave during the community response both outside and within the city process that immediately followed the loss of the canopy.
To the extent that the implementation of the streetscape plan is true to that vision as well as protective of the new trees planted in January, 2010, his spirit will continue to thrive on the avenue.
"Twice now I have seen the Public Works folks being grilled by board or commission members about "design". Apparently, both ARB and the Planning Commission members have some kind of design or architecture background and need to have the project explained to them in their terms.
The question that caught my attention at the Planning and Transportation meeting was one in which the questioner wanted to know what was the "theme" (or something like that) of the design for California Avenue trees. I believe the same fellow stated that he felt that there had been good engineering but no design.
That started me thinking. It is true we have had no real discussion about "design" or "theme".
It occurred to me that the reason for this absence of discussion about design and theme lies in how California Avenue is perceived by us and how Castro Street and University Ave are perceived by their municipalities.
Generic Downtown Look:
Basically, Castro and University are attempts by suburban city-towns to make an urban statement. Those streets are radically different from the adjoining residential neighborhoods. The orderly rows of identical trees on University Avenue are in stark contrast to the mixed nature of the mature tree canopy in the adjoining neighborhoods. It is a "downtown" theme.
Neither Castro nor University bear any resemblance to the municipality in which they are located. In fact, I think both are quite alien to the rest of their respective cities. This was not true of California Avenue.
Palo Alto Look:
There are a few places that I would recognize at a glance. I would be 90% sure I could recognize a scene from San Francisco, or Santa Fe, or Santa Barbara.
Similarly, I think Palo Alto neighborhoods are recognizable, with their mixed canopy of old and young trees, undulating sun dappled sidewalks, etc. There is a distinctive Palo Alto look which is unquestionably not represented by the University Avenue downtown look.
When California Avenue had its trees, it felt and looked like it was in Palo Alto, it had that look. Without the trees, the look is West Texas , Central Valley, or the like. The trees made a huge difference. I think the goal should be to restore the Palo Alto look.
Character of California Avenue:
It has never occurred to me that California Avenue is, can be, or should be a "downtown".
Although a business district, it is far more integral to the nearby neighborhoods. California Avenue's charm is its informality and small town nature, the opposite of "downtown". Where would you go for coffee on a warm weekend day in your sandals, shorts and t-shirt with your dog? Downtown Mountain View? University Ave? How about California Avenue? Definitely the latter.
Brent Barker [College Terrace Residents' Association Board member] wrote: "California Avenue is a throwback to an age of more organic growth -- small businesses, small town casualness, neighborliness -- that grew up without the need for imposing a tailored look. We could describe California Avenue as "organic, eclectic, casual, independent, neighborly, downscale, feisty,comfortable, charming" and as the historic heart of old Mayfield before Leland Stanford created prim and proper University Avenue to keep the kids from drinking in old rough and tough downscale Mayfield.
The buildings are not historic but the street still carries the spirit and casualness of the eclectic small town neighborhoods that surround it. It can still be a vital economic street without becoming another faux downtown designed to be a showpiece to draw regional business or to "reflect Palo Alto's upscale image". We want to retain California Avenue as it has grown up mirroring the independent housing of the neighborhoods surrounding it, not impose a theme borrowed from elsewhere. "
An Answer to the Question: The Theme is "Palo Alto Neighborhood"
The selected trees all have siblings, or at least close cousins, in the nearby neighborhoods. The "design" is to integrate the street as part of Palo Alto's distinctive neighborhood look. The planned gateway trees are all visual repetitions of what one would see when traveling through a Palo Alto neighborhood.
We want a Palo Alto look. We don't want the "theme" to be a faux "downtown".
Brent Barker wrote: "Palo Alto at its best is full of trees, green leafy streets with shaded walks, and with enough variety to make the trees stand out as individuals rather an orchard row".
When they ask the question, what is the "theme", why not answer by saying, "Palo Alto" and that "California Avenue is going to get a look derived from its surrounding neighborhoods and the eclectic mix of tress they have."
-- Alan Weller, Fall 2009