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Residents seek more retail, parking at Cal. Ave.

Original post made on Jun 24, 2009

Residents and businesses around California Avenue in Palo Alto have no shortage of ideas when it comes to the future of their neighborhood. Tuesday night, about 40 of them gathered at the Lucie Stern Community Center and used colored cards, glue sticks and zoning maps to illustrate what they want their neighborhood to look like years from now.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, June 24, 2009, 10:58 AM

Comments (19)

Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2009 at 12:37 pm

I think the California Ave. retail area is having a hard time attracting customers because it is cut off from most of the rest of Palo Alto, including the huge nearby customer base in midtown and south Palo Alto. Pedestrians trying to walk from midtown to California Ave. have to cross three barriers: Oregon Expressway, then the Alma Expressway, then the Caltrain tracks. There is a narrow tunnel near the Caltrain station, but that has a well documented crime problem and pedestrians still must take a convoluted route (including walking across Oregon Expressway) to get the tunnel.

A good way to encourage California Ave. customers is to build a new bridge or tunnel from midtown Palo Alto to the California Ave. area. The county is currently building a new sidewalk along the south side of Oregon Expressway. Maybe they can extend that over the train tracks? I would use it all the time.

Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 24, 2009 at 12:46 pm

How about building a large grocery store around the Fry's area?
Isn't that what we need in Palo Alto?

Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2009 at 1:00 pm

There already is a grocery store on California Ave. adjacent to the Caltrain station. Can that area support 2 grocery stores?

Posted by Joy Ogawa
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 24, 2009 at 3:30 pm

I would like to correct the statement attributed to me in the article. My comment about applying zoning to allow only retail at the Fry's site was directed at keeping Fry's there, not "if Fry's were to leave." The point I was trying to make was that, if we want to keep Fry's, then we should zone to keep Fry's, and not provide incentives for the property owners to kick out Fry's and redevelop the property.

This was one of the reasons I argued against applying the PTOD (Pedestrian and Transit Oriented Development) Combining District Overlay to the Fry's site, and, thankfully, City Council decided to leave the Fry's site out of the PTOD Combining District.

Sadly, Palo Alto's zoning code doesn't provide the right zoning options to protect retail such as Fry's. Existing commercial zoning (such as CS, CN) allows for housing even on the ground floor, with the exception of a a couple of zoning districts that have special "overlays," for example, the Midtown shopping area and the Charleston Center. The GM zone no longer permits housing, but requires a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for retail, while permitting Research & Development uses (which includes office uses such as Agilent and software companies).

The "Ground Floor Retail" ordinance, as it is currently worded, does not protect existing ground floor retail from being replaced by housing. This is something that needs to be fixed.

The City of Palo Alto recently completed several years of "updating" the zoning ordinance, where much of the focus was on providing incentives to build more housing, including incorporating housing into commercially-zoned projects. Unfortunately, much less attention was paid to protecting or incentivizing retail.

Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2009 at 4:08 pm

I don't understand the comments about requesting more parking, unless it means bike parking. The large city lots have always had plenty of spaces when I have looked at them. There is a known shortage of decent bike parking, but I understand there are already plans in place to address that shortage.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 24, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Parking - One many separate occasions have spent 20-30 minutes looking for parking off California Ave, including city lots, street spots and residential side streets. Basically drove around until someone left...It doesn't help that in one of the lots the parking spots are so small that cars larger then a Mini can't park next to each other.

Posted by There are limits
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 24, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Retail in that area have some real hurdles to overcome. First of all, Palo Alto's retail code does not allow any stores bigger than 20,000 sq. ft, and Fry's has already indicated they would like a bigger store,

They have also complained that their parking lot is much to small. Unless Palo Alto allows increased store sizes to say 40,000 sq. ft. and larger parking lots Fry's will be moving on.

Also, Mollie Stones is limited to 20,000 sq. ft. so unless our City Council can be persuaded to vote to increase the size of retails stores that's it.

Posted by Irvin Dawid
a resident of University South
on Jun 24, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Gennady captured the meeting well.
Perhaps the most important part was that we broke into groups based on how much housing we wanted for the area: more than comp' plan called for, what the comp' plan called for, and less - so all groups, in a sense, were composed of like-minded folks. That didn't mean we agreed with each other (within same group) though - as was the case with my group of housing advocates.

One thing that definitely needs more investigation - parking.
How can some want MORE parking for an area that is essentially quite dead (except for lunch time during the week)?

Posted by David
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 25, 2009 at 11:14 am

CA ave needs more useful stores -- like a hardware store. The last thing needed is another nail / hair salon.

I wouldn't call CA ave dead. It is active whenever I am there, and has great activities like the Farmer's market. I wouldn't want to turn it into a University avenue, if that is what the former poster means by "dead".

I've used the pedestrian tunnel for decades and have never encountered any crime issue or dogy situations. It is heavily used and a good connector to get across the Alma / train track barrier. Could whoever is claiming it is a "crime problem" provide some evidence?

Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2009 at 11:33 am

I am surprised how quickly people forget about crime waves in Palo Alto. A quick google search found this article saying there were 15 muggings in Palo Alto last summer, most in or near the California Ave. Caltrain tunnel.

Web Link

Here is another article about a suspect being arrested, but he was only charged with 5 robberies.

Web Link

I have lived in midtown for years and I can remember news reports about crime in the California Ave. tunnel long before the latest crime wave. Most victims are commuters heading to the train station or California Ave. businesses, either slightly before the morning rush hour or slightly after the evening rush hour.

Posted by Eva
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 25, 2009 at 1:33 pm

I'm sure there are no lack of ideas about Cal Ave. I'll add mine into the hat too. What about reducing the lanes on Cal Ave to one in each direction. Then increase the sidewalk to allow for al freco dining, like in DT Mt View? That would add a ton of ambiance to the street, especially since this doesn't exist anywhere else in PA.

Downtown Mt View is very nice and really encourages hanging out. We need this is PA too.

Plus, if we're looking at reducing lanes on Arastradero, why not on California Av which is not a thoroughfare and only goes four blocks?

Posted by Jean
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 25, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Great idea, Eva!

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2009 at 9:17 pm

I love California Ave. Much nicer than University. Not sure why anyone would think it's dead.

The farmers' market on Sunday is better than the one downtown IMHO.

Country Sun is a great little store and everything in it is safe/healthy/good to eat. And the staff is terrific. (I don't like to shop for groceries, so I don't like huge supermarkets where they say, "You saved $$$ today Mrs.X.")

European Cobblery is a treasure: shoes, socks, bags, jewelry. Kinko's/Fed Ex is very convenient. California Paints is great. There are lots of outdoor spots to eat and restaurants of all prices. Village Stationers has lots of nice cards and gifts.

Like palo alto mom, I've spent 20 minutes and more looking for a parking place at lunch time.

I fear that whatever is done to "improve" the area might destroy it. It has a nice mom & pop feel -- except for the ubiquitous Starbucks.

Posted by Thoughts for you
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 26, 2009 at 1:49 am

I have lived in this California Avenue area for over 60 years. I remember when Fry's building was the old Sutter Packing Company. I remember the train tracks split, curving off and over Park Blvd. ("Third Street" back then) where they were loaded up at Sutter Packing and headed across El Camino Real towards the Foothill Expressway.....The tracks were pulled up (you wouldn't guess it now.)
I heard a few years back that the water there in the Fry's building was not fit to drink, being contaminated...I assume it noted and taken care of..maybe not! Think it was the run off of other companies in the area who were polluting the ground water, etc, with all the products that were being made.
I also remember hearing that the Palo Alto water works Department (out by the aiarport area) was sifting through the sludge because there was GOLD in them there sewers plant...(AH!) True!

I have a hearing problem. My home was on Park Blvd. The noise from the trains scared me as a youngster. As I got older, I slept on my "good" ear and I rarely ever heard the trains going by and got great sleep. Not so for others who had full hearing. Real Estate people trying to sell housing along the same area had a hard time selling when clients heard the rattling of the freight trains going by.

I would like to suggest that there be no more housing built along the track area so people are not disturbed by the trains, especially if this town is contemplating the fast track trains rolling by.....

I would also like to suggest that the City close off the main street of California Avenue, making it a walking shopping district. Another parking structure needs to be built to accomodate the loss of on street parking on Calif. Ave.

Housing above some business' would be a distractson from the old charm (what's left of it)that has been trying to be kept in that area.

I would love to see that old Movie Theatre make a come back! Bishops Creamery! The old Ben Franklin store ( five and dime store) is now a book store- oh well, what can you buy now days for five- or a dime??????? Was fun while it lasted;)
That's about it. Hope this is good for thought.
Also, the Police Department has it's site on Park Blvd. for their new building, which I think would be a plus because the court house is located in the same area. More parking issues here also, more cars to be underground for the police.

Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2009 at 6:46 am

Eva wished for Cal. Ave to be reduced to one lane in each direction with wider sidewalks. She will get half of her wish soon. A plan was developed to do exactly what she suggested, but the curb and sidewalk work was too expensive to pay for at this time. The road will be re-paved with one very wide lane in each direction but the sidewalks will remain the same for now. The "street furniture" will be updated and more bike racks will be added. It should be an improvement for pedestrians and bicylists even though it does not go as far as Eva and many others wish.

Posted by Irvin Dawid
a resident of University South
on Jun 26, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Give Eva a star. She asked, "Plus, if we're looking at reducing lanes on Arastradero, why not on California Av which is not a thoroughfare and only goes four blocks?"

Brilliant point!

Posted by Participant
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 27, 2009 at 11:15 pm

The "commonality" among the groups was that no one wanted much housing, almost all wanted Fry's to stay, and we need more park land in the area.
Joy Ogawa's remarks above are very much to the point. If you want Fry's to stay, zone it so they can stay and don't create incentives for the land owner who wants to push them out so he can build something more profitable for himself. It's an open secret that that's what the land owner wants. Fry's is good for those who like to shop there and it produces lots of tax revenue.
That's what zoning is for, to get desired development. It isn't supposed to be a big money pit for developers, though you wouldn't know that from what's being built.

I'm still confused about the dividing up of the group into Housing, High, Medium and Low. It's pretty obvious that the neighborhood doesn't want more housing. They say it again and again. Anyone who looks at Charleston or East Meadow knows what they don't want. The city needs to finally Get it, and the consultant who tried to smooth that over, also needs to Get it.

Posted by mj
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 29, 2009 at 11:32 am

One of the things I love about California Avenue is that it is not a tunnel of two and three story buildings. The mix of one and two story buildings is perfect for the width of the street.

If widening the sidewalk is too expensive, how about the cars parked a few feet further away from the sidewalk and then use that strip between the parked cars and the sidewalk for landscaping? Big containers of plants at intervals, benches, overhead trellises, etc. That would free up the sidewalk so it would appear wider, and allow more space for tables and chairs with canopies or umbrellas overhead.

Any other ideas anyone?

Posted by J
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 8, 2009 at 4:41 pm

More bike racks at the train station, with CCTV watching over them.

The existing ones over the tunnel are full to the extent that many people use the fence. Some racks have abandoned bikes with every part that was not locked stolen. This forced me to secure my bike to a traffic sign post yesterday 8:30am as I had to go to Sunnyvale to pickup my car from the mechanic's.

Drove to SF, headed back home for the night and this morning the bike's gone...

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