For south Palo Alto residents, it's traffic, traffic, traffic | News | Palo Alto Online |


For south Palo Alto residents, it's traffic, traffic, traffic

Neighborhoods warn city of unbearable conditions if it doesn't work with Mountain View

Without collaboration with the City of Mountain View, Palo Alto won't be able to get a handle on the traffic and safety issues plaguing the south portion of the city, residents told Palo Alto officials at a town hall meeting last Thursday night.

The Dec. 3 meeting at Cubberley Community Center was the second in a series of town hall-style meetings that are part of an initiative by the City Council to better engage with neighborhoods.

Residents from Adobe Meadow, Greenmeadow, Monroe Park, Charleston Gardens, Charleston Meadows, The Greenhouse and Fairmeadow met with Mayor Karen Holman, two council members and staff to discuss the city's progress and needed actions in their neighborhoods.

The meeting touched on "single-story overlays" (a ban on two-story homes) in Eichler neighborhoods, the potential conversion of Cubberley Community Center to a middle school or high school, cellular access, teen suicide and the cost of renting city facilities for neighborhood meetings. But traffic was the biggest issue on residents' minds, with many expressing concern about the quantity of vehicles and the growing hazards to pedestrians and bicyclists -- particularly along San Antonio Road and the Charleston-Arastradero corridor.

Monroe Park residents said the traffic is so bad that many cannot get out of their driveways. The increase is due in part to Mountain View's higher-density development, which includes the revamping of San Antonio Shopping Center on El Camino Real into a mixed-use hub, residents said. The second phase of that development, The Village, is slated for completion in late 2017 and will add a hotel, a movie theater and nearly 400,000 square feet of office space, among other amenities.

Councilman Tom Dubois asked residents how they felt about the hotel proposal. Some residents said they are "really scared" about the project, and are worried about how emergency vehicles can get through the traffic snarls.

Converting Cubberley Community Center to a school would also add greater strain -- and danger -- if it becomes a school route with kids biking and walking to school, residents said.

"When I read about Cubberley possibly becoming a junior high school/high school, my blood ran cold. Traffic is already horrible," said Nancy Martin of Greenhouse I, a condominium community along San Antonio near Charleston.

She noted that Palo Alto gave San Antonio a face-lift only a few years ago, with new landscaping, medians, curbs and gutters, repaired sidewalks and repaved streets, which will be worn down by the additional traffic.

Lisa Steinback of Greenmeadow said consultants' algorithms for Charleston/Arastradero did not consider the reactivation of Cubberley as a school. But Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello said the city is beginning the final design for the corridor and will rerun the model to consider that potential traffic impact.

The city is also replacing all of the controllers for traffic timing, which will allow the signals to cycle to where they left off when the sequences are interrupted rather than start from the beginning.

Residents and city leaders also discussed the need for grade separation (an under- or overpass) along the Caltrain right-of-way, both for traffic control and safety. Mello said traffic-calming plans are in the works at intersections along Alma Street, including the rail crossings.

The California Public Utilities Commission rated Churchill Street at Alma as one of the highest priorities for a pre-signal, which coordinates with the rail signaling to stop traffic before it crosses the tracks, Mello said. Currently, vehicles cross at these intersections and stop in a pocket which is only big enough for one vehicle, and some drivers end up on the tracks if traffic suddenly stops.

The city recently received a grant for a pre-signal at Churchill, but other intersections, including Charleston, will require a buy-in from Caltrain, and such signals are quite expensive. But it is possible for pre-signals to be added at those locations, Mello added.

Mayor Holman noted that Palo Alto is cooperating regionally with adjacent cities. It has worked with East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and it is now working toward discussions with Mountain View and Los Altos. Santa Clara County has plans to fix the entrance onto southbound U.S. Highway 101 so that cars will enter from San Antonio rather than on Charleston, Dubois said.

Mello added that an "adaptive" traffic-signal system will be added to San Antonio that adjusts automatically to the flow of traffic rather than set signal times, which currently cause backups.

Holman also said the city is looking at significantly revamping its free shuttle system. Councilman Cory Wolbach, the council's liaison to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), said he is working on transportation issues with that agency, which holds the purse strings to large amounts of federal and state funding for transportation projects. Most of that money has traditionally been earmarked for South County and San Jose; city leaders in the northern part of the county are seeking ways to get a larger share of the pie.

But Holman said it hasn't been easy.

"It's an ongoing battle. It isn't that we just take it lying down," she said.

The council also recently approved two neighborhoods requests for a single-story overlay to preserve the character of their one-story Eichler homes, but while the first one, Los Arboles, had broad resident support, the second one, Greer Park North, was more controversial. Still, the majority rules and the council, although faced with a difficult choice, voted to approve the request.

As additional applications come up, the council hopes to refine the guidelines, broadening perhaps to create conservation districts similar to one created in the City of Cupertino, which developed an R-1 Eichler zoning district, Dubois said. Conservation districts can include characteristics common to a neighborhood that go beyond building height, which residents have expressed a desire to preserved, Holman said.

Wolbach agreed, saying, "What it takes to keep a neighborhood special might be different depending on the part of town."

The council and staff plan to hold additional town hall meetings in other neighborhoods in the coming year to address issues specific to those communities.

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21 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 8, 2015 at 6:23 pm

Technically speaking, Cubberly is a school site that is leased out to the city at this time. The city has chosen to use the site for community center activities and leases out some spaces to non-profits, artists, etc. But make no mistake - it is a school site first.

To bring back a HS or perhaps a middle school would be utilizing the site for its originally intended purpose. Cubberly would be *reverting* back to use as a school site - not converting.

Sorry to those who worry about traffic, but the *school* site has been there for decades and PAUSD has always reserved the right to revert the campus back to a daily operating academic environment.

18 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 8, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

That's weird, the article points out that there increased traffic from the high density development. Could have sworn the local urbanization advocates claim that density is the solution, not the source of the problem.

5 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Woodside
on Dec 8, 2015 at 8:20 pm

The solution to traffic is maximizing the density of BOTH jobs and housing in the same area. It's simple mathematics. With housing located close to jobs, the outbound commute trips to jobs throughout the region are canceled by the regional inbound commute trips. Therefore, regardless of how many trips may occur, the net total commute traffic is always near zero.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 8, 2015 at 8:29 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by tt
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 8, 2015 at 9:18 pm

[Portion removed.]

San Antonio was improved and trees removed is to usher more traffic thru 101 to Mountain View.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Woodside
on Dec 8, 2015 at 9:37 pm

[Post removed.]

19 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 8, 2015 at 9:54 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

"The solution to traffic is maximizing the density of BOTH jobs and housing in the same area."

Which in reality never lies, because people change jobs, have to take their kids to school, drive to shop somewhere. Explain when the corner of San Antonio and El Camino will reach critical mass such that net traffic declines? Never, it will get worse until people complain enough to stop new development.

The miserable reality PAF is pushing Palo Alto towards is the Los Angeles model. A bunch of overdeveloped interconnected small towns with horrible traffic, and overpriced but mediocre public transit.

8 people like this
Posted by Growth
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 8, 2015 at 11:56 pm

Do cities _need_ to grow? (Honest question). What are the benefits (besides to developers, obviously), and what bad things happen to cities that don't grow?

I kind of like how traffic was, say, 5-10 years ago. Not looking forward to 20-30% more traffic in 5-10 years.

Anyone know the pros and cons? Thanks!

11 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2015 at 7:39 am

@Palo Alto

Do you really believe that any majority of people work in the same town that they live in? Do you think any of the startups wanting to be in Palo Alto expect their employees to live here? Do you think any significant amount of people working off of Page Mill, Porter, etc live in Palo Alto? Do you expect Facebook to staff itself from people living in Menlo Park?

The idea of people living and working in the same town is a relic of rural living. Do you think it is relevant today?


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2015 at 8:39 am

Commuters of all types are definitely causing traffic but it isn't just people going from city to city. It is parents driving kids to school, picking them up, taking them to after school activities, etc. It is people who work driving to go to lunch or do other errands on their lunch break. It is people who use Caltrain who are being driven to stations and picked up from stations.

For these reasons, we need to improve public transportation for regular trips and also improve amenities near to where people work.

Every time someone is taken to a Caltrain station and then picked up, that is four car trips. If we could improve shuttles to the stations, it would eliminate some of the need for that.

Every time a kid is driven to school and picked up, that's potentially another 4 car trips. Getting shuttles to get kids to secondary schools, particularly those in the south of Oregon get to Paly, it would help.

Every time someone working on Bayshore/Fabian/Charleston/E.Meadow circle, needs to get in a car to go to lunch, that's two car trips. There are no walkable lunch places, coffee shops in that strange area of town.

Also a couple of dinner places near where people live so that they can walk to dinner and if they have wine or beer with dinner they don't need to drive home. Better dining options in Midtown, Charleston Plaza, and other neighborhood shopping areas would help also.

Also, as the article says, stop treating San Antonio as a Berlin Wall. People cross from Palo Alto to Mountain View all the time, sometimes a couple of times a day. Get shuttles to cross this artery.

Get more coffee shops, lunch places, near where people work.

4 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2015 at 10:57 am

@Resident "...People cross from Palo Alto to Mountain View all the time..."

How can that be? The general attitude is that Palo Alto is an island. We don't want anyone coming into our community and residents surely don't leave to go to Mountain View and other declasse environments.

We are totally self contained. We expect everyone to be born here, grow up here, work here, shop here and die here. Every child that grows up here is expected to buy a home here, work here and retire here. The only time anyone leaves Palo Alto is to go to school at Stanford or (heaven forbid) cross the bay to UCB.



16 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 9, 2015 at 11:08 am

Palo Alto is a small town, at most, a very small city. Do small towns/cities need to grow? Woodside, Los Altos Hills, Atherton, Portola Valley, Mill Valley, Hillsborough, Bolinas. Just a short list of small towns/cities in the SF area that curb, sometime don't allow any growth. What is common to these places is that they all enjoy an incredibly high level of quality of life, livability and also a low crime rate. The reality is that density and urbanism in small towns/cities, benefits only developers, their investors and their lobbyists, the rest suffer.

4 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2015 at 6:15 pm

@mauricio The difference between the cities you mention and Palo Alto is that they are not as hypocritical as Palo Alto.

I have no problem with the decision to limit or ban growth in Palo Alto if that is what people want. Just be honest about it. Don't claim that we need more/affordable housing and then ban any attempt to build it or try to build high density ghettos along El Camino Real.

Don't claim we need more stores and then never shop at them because their prices are too high and then complain when they go out of business.

Many years ago I lived in a town in Massachusetts that banned all fast food restaurants. If was fine, all the chains build their restaurants right on the edge of town and they were busy but the town could claim no fast food. Just be upfront and honest that Palo Alto really doesn't want to grow.


2 people like this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2015 at 12:33 pm

It's kind of made me wonder why Palo Alto doesnt put out a proposal to "adopt" a sister town somewhere that wants to develop, along with Stanford University (with a satellite campus plan). There could be really nice comminications set up, and reasonable standard of living, at a place where kids can roam the streets on their bokes and employees can walk to work. I'd go.

Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 11, 2015 at 12:49 pm

"Just be honest about it. Don't claim that we need more/affordable housing and then ban any attempt to build it or try to build high density ghettos along El Camino Real."

Hear, hear.

Like this comment
Posted by Cubberley
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 11, 2015 at 3:11 pm

Cubberley is owned by the City and the School district w payments currently from the city to the district to maintain it. Future plans for the site need to include new buildings that support both uses. So many great community services happen at Cubberley today. We must find a way to preserve that while building a new school on that site. Ideally, some of the new buildings will be shared use acting as both school and community areas, as many progressive communities are doing.

Like this comment
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 11, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@ Marc - Absolutely, but the urbanists need to be honest too. More housing and density will mean more traffic, more people, more pollution, more crime. And if it is awesome as they claim, it isn't going to make living here more affordable, because people will want to live here.

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