Make Palo Alto prettier than just its parklets, please | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Palo Alto Online |

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An Alternative View

By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Make Palo Alto prettier than just its parklets, please

Uploaded: Sep 14, 2023
Cheers to the PA City Council for acknowledging that its two downtowns (University and California Avenues) need some sprucing up – at least their new “parklets” do (those areas where restaurants expand their dining areas onto the public sidewalks and parts of the streets).

Autos are prevented from entering all or part of these streets. At the two ends of California Avenue, sit ugly street barricades, in the midst of which are a muddled mishmash of multi-colored-restaurant umbrellas and assorted bushes, which certainly do not serve to visually attract shoppers.

At the Sept. 11 council meeting, the agenda topic was what to do about these parklets – should they be more regulated?

Council member Greg Tanaka opened the discussion with his view that "Right now, you go there, whether it's Cal Avenue or University Avenue, and you see all these temporary barriers.” He likened it to a "temporary carnival" and suggested that the aesthetic chaos puts Palo Alto's downtown districts at a distinct disadvantage when compared to commercial strips in surrounding cities.

I couldn’t agree more.

At the end of the discussion, the council unanimously agreed to adopt a group of new parklet rules and to introduce fees for restaurants with parklets on University Avenue and along portions of California. These include limiting parklet sizes to 350 square feet, requiring that barriers next to parklets be anchored to concrete foundations; requiring enclosure railings to provide visual cues for drivers; and increasing the height of the enclosures around parklets from 38 to 42 inches, according to the Weekly story.

For me, those seem more like structural changes rather than changes to improve the attractiveness of the area.

I suggest that we need council attention on more than just parklets. I want council to think bigger and better: Beautify the entire two shopping areas. I am talking about planters with evergreen bushes uniformly placed in front of store fronts; filling street corner sidewalks with new blossom-filled gardens, and planting lots of perennial long-blooming flowers throughout these downtowns.

We could also give a garden facelift to King Plaza in front of City Hall, the centerpiece of our town, but lacking visual splendor. The city could also put little white lights in the trees along Lytton and Hamilton Avenues, to echo those on University Avenue. Those twinkling lights figuratively warm up the downtown and make the area sparkle.

As for those fees for parklets? Yes, of course, I say facetiously, because the city wants to make money wherever it can. But this city has almost a $1 billion budget, and if you look at the council’s weekly consent agenda where, without discussion you will find the council approves typically tens of thousands of dollars for consultants, contractors, for city works, and maintenance.

I can only wonder why a hundred thousand of that money can’t be saved for beautifying the city once in a decade or so. How much do flowers, containers and bushes cost? And don’t we already have Public Works staff who job is keeping up the parks and streets in our town? They could devote a couple of days spring and fall to spruce up our downtowns.

Perhaps this is a gender issue – well, I really mean a male problem. Most men have more interest in machines and equipment and making things work, and less n plantings and flowers and the ambience of the community.

I’ll use my husband as an example, with his permission.
Last spring, I had spent one day filling the blue ceramic planters in our front yard with annuals – lots of impatiens lobelia and alyssum, and adding three new azaleas into the rectangular planter on our front porch.

When he came home from work, I asked him how he liked the front yard.

“Front yard?” he queried. “What about it? Something new? I didn’t notice it. Why do you ask?”

Because it’s full of new plants, I responded. “Oh, I’ll go out and look. New plants in our front yard?” Yes, I replied.

He liked the plants!

Another planting tale from about 10 years back: I had just returned from my annual love trek to NYC, and had taken a number of photos of how well-landscaped the city was. I showed those photos to two Public Works landscapers, to inspire them. NYC had flowers and greenery around many street trees, ivy and impatiens, protected by low 5” open-aired fences. It had plantings all around the streets and parks in the city, which brought a lot of greenery some of which was placed in front of the tall buildings lining the street. Central Park was a spectacular array of gardens.

The men looked at the photos, nodded and smiled.
“We can do something like that,” they said. And indeed they did.

They stated with the University ‘Avenue entryway to the city at El. Camino, and put in lush foot-high grasses in the median, and then in that triangular garden near the train track, they filled it with red roses and perennial day lilies. I’m not sure those two plants belong together, but they grew well, and provided a nice flower bed entryway to the downtown. They groomed the greenery around City Hall, and added flowers here and there.

We don’t have to look far for examples of street landscaping. Menlo Park does a nice job, and Los Altos downtown is filled with flowers and small landscaped gardens. and she streets are attractive and well-groomed, suggesting people care about their town.

Palo Altans do care too, I am sure. Council members also do as indicted by their discussion on parklets. We don’t need a consultant agency – Stanford Shopping Center hired Katsy Swan years ago and she planted all those year-long flowering pots that makes the center a very special kind of garden exhibit

So, let’s get prettied up!

Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Loren Chase, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on Sep 15, 2023 at 9:21 am

Loren Chase is a registered user.

Why not simply build a central walkway in between California Avenue and charge the restaurant property owners for redrsigning and converting the existing sidewalks and former parking stalls to standardized outdoor dining sites?

Just remove all of those center-lane islands for the walkway. Then you won't need any plants or sprinkler systems.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 15, 2023 at 9:34 am

Bystander is a registered user.

European outside dining takes place on wide sidewalks or plazas. They are very attractive and don't hinder vehicle or passenger traffic.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 15, 2023 at 2:00 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

One has to laugh at the miniature golf setup at the El Camino end of Cal Ave that the city's charging $10 to play and $4 for a souvenir ball since it resembles dog agility gear.

Thanks for noting the attractive landscaping in Los Altos and Menlo Park. Maybe our staff can take some field trips for inspiration which is so sadly lacking.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 16, 2023 at 7:00 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Last night, Friday evening, San Francisco had its first Night Market. It was an idea that came from Asian evening street markets which are very popular in many countries in Asia. Food, handcrafts, music, entertainment (I saw ballet on the tv report) and lots of families walking the 3 blocks enjoying the atmosphere, eating, and spending money

I think Cal Ave could do similar. It could be a monthly event. Being innovative with what we have and making Cal Ave a destination for residents of other towns along the Peninsula.

Let's think about it now, before one of our neighbors gets the idea ahead of us and takes something that could help to make Cal Ave vibrant on a regular basis.

Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Sep 16, 2023 at 10:15 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

Perhaps we could just hire the cities of Los Altos and Menlo Park to run the California and University street districts - decor, regulations, enforcement, the whole works.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 16, 2023 at 11:47 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Really. It only took how many years for Palo Alto to copy Los Altos' very successful First Friday with the bands all playing for free and organized by a Palo Alto resident, the former owner of The Nature Gallery???

After years and years of contemplation, reflection and discussion, it finally dawned on them to have said PA resident organize PA's Third Thursday.

Posted by marc665, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 18, 2023 at 4:32 pm

marc665 is a registered user.

We recently visited downtown Burlingame. It was very inviting with no road closures. Why is it that so many other communities can actually have inviting downtowns and all Palo Alto does it talk and talk and talk.


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