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Palo Alto takes aim at narrow sidewalks

Original post made on Jul 31, 2013

There are few places in Palo Alto where dreams and reality clash as starkly as on El Camino Real. Envisioned as a "Grand Boulevard" with wide sidewalks and bustling pedestrians, it has instead gained notoriety for big buildings and small sidewalks. Now, Palo Alto hopes to change that.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 11:26 PM

Comments (53)

Posted by Henry
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 31, 2013 at 11:51 pm

The comments by Panelli, Malone and Popp are amazing. The developers don't need incentives for larger setbacks. The ARB, Planning Commission and Council just need to enforce current setback requirements and stop granting huge exceptions.

Compliance with existing zoning will yield larger setbacks. No incentives required. No pontificating about new code provisions to compel change. Just follow the rules and viola! Results!!!

Malone and Popp are couching the need for incentives as a way to give the developers more and more development rights. If you can't build out you must build up. Anyone worried about 100 foot tall buildings lining El Camino?

Posted by Hypo Crites
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 1, 2013 at 4:20 am

Overwhelming? Like allowing zoning exceptions such as 4-story high-rise like at Maybell by single family homes in a residential area? Or allowing 180 units at Burna vista rather than what the RM-15zoning allows on 3 acres?

So the answer seems to be to move the overwhelming off of el camino into the neighborhoods.

I'm with you Henry. They could start by respecting existing so zoning, both in spirit and in fact. Maybe start by studying why we have that zoning. Place a moratorium on granting zoning exceptions as the rule, as they have lately. And maybe actually listen to residents who don't want massive developments with zoning exceptions in their residential neighborhoods, I.e., start by making PC zoning required to get approval from residents first (If there truly is a benefit worth making the exception for, shouldn't the builder have to convince residents first, rather than the city shoving overdevelopment down their throats? I.e. next set aside the rezone of Maybell, start respecting existing zoning, and don't just shove the density back into our neighborhoods.

Posted by Wondering
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 1, 2013 at 8:07 am

All of this makes one wonder if the City Council, Planning Commission, ARB, etc are being bribed by developers, have financial interest in the developments themselves, or are otherwise being dishonest. They ALL flagrantly ignore the existing rules of zoning ( among others).

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 9:37 am

The big problem in Palo Alto is parking ...

No matter what our city council does, it always seems to be unable to prioritize and "get it".

Yes, some of these buildings don't look so great or might be uninviting ...

Yes, and some of them might cause problems in the future if streets need to be widened or changed.

But the thing is ... having all that sidewalk space where no one spends time is a major waste of space. Drive down El Camino and see how many people there are out on its "grand sidewalks" .... very few.

Trees will grow in, there places will be landscaped and they will work.

The problem in Palo Alto was, is and continues to be parking. Houses are not built with enough parking, businesses are not built with enough parking. There are not enough parking structures, and many people are still buying more and bigger cars.

Somehow the city seems to think if they take away all the parking or squeeze everyone we will be forced to use public transit ... when public transit is insufficient and a pain in the neck to have to use. Forcing people to use public transit and trying to market them to think it is cool is just another way to create a classist society. People are more unfriendly and even downright hostile these days. You have no idea who or what you are sitting next to in public transit and - forgetting the discomfort and inconvenience, there are a lot of people who will not put up with that insecurity and risk.

Take a look at the formerly new Miki's store. One problem might be the narrow setback on Alma, but really the problem is going to be parking. First you have to decipher how to get into the parking, and then you have a very small parking lot. If any business there becomes successful its problem will be there is no place to park.

People will get very very tired to find a place they like, and then some large percentage of the time enter the lot and not be able to find a place to park ... which is aggravated by making the parking spaces so small that a large number of people cannot park in them, or get in or out of their cars when they are finally able to.

Posted by Anne
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 1, 2013 at 9:56 am

Excellent analysis, CrescentParkAnon. Can anyone actually do a weekly shopping for 4 on a bicycle? Costco? Find public transit that will deliver you to your workplace in a timely manner?- meaning not spending all morning transferring and walking.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2013 at 9:59 am

As someone who is using the new Safeway at San Antonio, I love the store but the parking is horrendous.

The exits onto San Antonio have blind spots because the small trees hide the view of approaching traffic and the buildings near the main entrance/exit do the same thing. The parking on the roof is not as much of a problem as I expected except for the bottom of the ramp where it is a visibility problem. Cars can approach from so many angles and pedestrians with carts and children do not seem to be aware that they are walking in the "street" and are very unpredictable. The area in front of the store looks like a plaza and shoppers stand and chat thinking that they are out of the way of cars.

If this is the new norm it is much more than wider sidewalks that are the problem. Landscaping must not hinder drivers' sightlines. Pedestrians must know where the sidewalks end and the street starts.
Striping must reflect where traffic is allowed and brown cobble stones in front of buildings must not give the impression that the area is traffic free and people can stop and chat thinking they are in a plaza.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 10:16 am

Wider sidewalks are not a bad idea in a place like California Ave where there are lots of shops fronting on the streets, restaurants, banks, etc and therefore lots of people walking and crossing the street, or even in come case tables out on the sidewalk for outside dining, but for something like the new San Antonio Safeway complex, people don't really park at Safeway, and then walk all the way over to Rite-Aid (is it?) across the street or kitty-corner to the Vietnamese Pho shop. So there is not really the need for grand wide sidewalks everywhere all up and down El Camino, there are lots of areas where there is just no logical need for it.

The parking at Safeway by the way is a little confusing until you get familiar with it. The best thing is to go up on the roof and park there ... grab a cart, take the elevator down, do your shopping, elevator up and you're on your way. It's actually very convenient. If people drive slow in the parking lot there is no problem.

My major issue with how we are doing parking now is that the spaces are so small they just cause problems. Most people cannot seem to park in them, so inadvertently they make it impossible for someone to use one of the spaces on one side or the other of their car. If you can fit in, unless you are a contortionist, you cannot get out and back into your car.

I just wonder sometimes .... has the whole world gone insane ... things never used to be so cloddishly designed ... what happened?

Posted by Outdoor room
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 10:25 am

I am all for enhanced density along El Camino Real (ECR) as well as enhanced pedestrian amenities.ECR can eventually become a model for other corridors nationwide as it changes over time from a low density auto dominated thouroughfare to a pedestrian oriented urban oasis!

Posted by questioning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2013 at 10:58 am

"Especially the little windows," Keller said. "They look like someone will shoot arrows, as in one of those fortresses that you find in Europe."

I am confused, doesn't each project go through architectural review and city planning review before approval? How can they be surprised at the look and the size of windows. It would be interesting to see the rendering that was submitted to the City and see if what these review boards approved is what is actually built.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 11:18 am

> pedestrian oriented urban oasis!

El Camino Real ? ...... Puh-leaze! El Camino will always be for cars. No one is going to walk from Downtown to Town & Country to California St. to Safeway.

Posted by MVBusRider
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 1, 2013 at 11:26 am

@CrescentParkAnon--Regarding the "risk" of sitting next to people you don't know on a bus: So you don't stand in grocery checkout lines, or lines at the post office, or use airlines, or generally have any contact with anyone you don't previously know?

Kids are taught not to talk to strangers. Adults are supposed to be able to take care of themselves. We've had some delightful conversations with people we've met on buses around here.

Apparently you don't know that many people of all descriptions use public transit frequently--among other reasons because it gets us to where we want to go efficiently and inexpensively. Those of us who own a car, and could use it instead, find it much more relaxing to take the bus, while we read or listen to music or chat, and let someone else deal with up-tight drivers.

Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 1, 2013 at 11:47 am

It took our genius city officials this long to realize how ugly the building was? Didn't they look at the plans? Or are they on the take?

Posted by Incentives for Billionnaires
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 11:59 am

>It took our genius city officials this long to realize how ugly the building was? Didn't they look at the plans? Or are they on the take?

It's become more difficult to assume they are honest. The "take" is hidden, it's not bags of cash, it's more subtle. Recent example, Dan Garber left the Planning Commission to go work for Arrillaga.

It wss amazing to hear the Chair of the Architectural Board, Malone-Pritchard, say the developers should receive INCENTIVES for doing setbacks, etc. Right! BRIBE them to obey the law.
We need incentives for Billionnaires to stop the uglying!

Posted by RogueTrader
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Here is an excerpt from a PA Daily article awhile ago that discussed the mistakes the city had acknowledged with "New Urbanism." Apparently, the city has been insisting that developers build right up to the sidewalks...

"City planners define new urbanism ... that translates into retail stores that abut sidewalks. No parking in front of stores, please, only in back.

Soon, the city’s planning department adopted some of the principles and began telling developers this is the way we do it now.

Alma Plaza developer John McNellis told me his retail stores will be right next to the sidewalk because the city insisted on it.

Curtis Williams, the city’s planning director, admitted the new urbanism principles “were not implemented well at Alma Plaza.”

And Judith Wasserman, a member of the city’s Architectural Review Board, acknowledged the design elements for the JCC, Alma Plaza and Arbor Real “didn’t all work out well.” (end quotes from PA Daily article Aug 2012)

Posted by realist
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm

About this comment: "I think ultimately the quality of the experience on El Camino and other thoroughfares is going to be raised to the extent that we transition out of automobiles and to other modalities," Michael said.

I think that says it all. That's the plan and it's idealistic. Our city leaders see this as the solution to reducing traffic: make our streets so inconvenient you will want to bike or bus! Not practical at all.

Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 12:16 pm

It seems every new large development is uglier than the last. I then drive up El Camino to Los Altos & Mountain View and see visually pleasing larger apartment complexes, and wonder why Los Altos & Mt. View have more handsome buildings than Palo Alto. Maybe the Planning Dept. should read the requirements of those two cities and incorporate into Palo Alto's building requirements.

Posted by MadamPresident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2013 at 12:31 pm

1. don't see anything bad with the building that looks like euro fortress; if anything, small windows protect from nose/smell/dust of busy Alma

2. friends, we should all get off our high horses (cars) & walk/take bases - like they do in Europe, how do they survive w/out SUVs/weekly shopping in Costco?? PA-MV area a very walkable, we all be healthier for that

Posted by resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 1, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I lived in European cities without a car, with children, for several months using exclusively public transportation. So, yes, I knoiw it can be done. But it is definitely a different lifestyle. My individual productivity decreased. Much more of my time was spent figuring out how to get where I needed to go, using public transit, and then spent getting there. I used grocery store delivery services to handle shopping for my family of five (so that still put a delivery truck on to the small streets) and still needed to go out to the small market on foot to get additional items. My children were not enrolloed in any after school sports or activities as they are here, because I couldn't manage to get them there in time. At the same time, I noted that their school day was longer and included more music, foreign languages, sport throughout the week. So local families felt less need to add these elements in after school

It was a fine, educational experience. But It is a different way of life, a different pacing to life. More things need to change to accomodate it than just simply building fewer parking spaces so people will own fewer cars. It is simply wishful thinking to imagine the Bay Area with fewer cars without a substantial increased investment in widely available public transit, and to be honest, a tolerance for lower productivity than the current American Way.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 2:03 pm

> MVBusRider
> Regarding the "risk" of sitting next to people you don't know on a bus:

Just do you know ... one night, before the advent of ubiquitous cellphones, at the bus stop, I was attacked by a drunk idiot. He was so drunk it was easy to fend him off and he went running off after I called the police from the pay phone.

When I got on the bus he re-entered the bus at the Palo Alto Train Station. If I had a cellphone I could have called the cops, but I had to talk to the bus driver, and when I did he departed the bus. Though for me it was no life-threatening, at the same time it was not pleasant. A woman alone would not even have been out there.

It's not that it happens all the time, but it does happen sometimes, and sometimes without such a nice conclusion - read the papers. I know what I am talking about, and lots and lots of people in Palo Alto could never want to take mass transit for that reason, that is - it is no the one size fits all solution some people want to say it is.

And of course during the bad parts of the year the weather is miserable. Sure there are some interesting people anywhere you can meet and talk to. I've met more interesting people however in foreign countries on buses than I have here. Do you take the bus because you have to get somewhere and cannot get there anywhere else at the time or because you want to meet quality people?

I am not trying to deny or insult your experiences on the bus, just to say that it is never going to be something the majority people want to do unless they are forced to ... like working for minimum wage.

I think you are being very thoughtless to attack me based on your own presumptions.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 2:11 pm

We do not have a phsycial or social infrastructure for a mass transit way of life, and forcing people to be miserable in their cars or not find a place to find them is not helpful, it is just classist, it just clears the roads for the 1% so American can be even more elitist than it is now. Seen in this perspective our city government really becomes a major problem, even if you believe that at some point everyone in Palo Alto will be in the 1% or 0.01%.

At some point the US will evolve a genuine system for people, but until them to try to use it as an excuse to single-townedly redesign our lives is incompetence at best and corruption at the least.

Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 1, 2013 at 3:26 pm

"I am confused, doesn't each project go through architectural review and city planning review before approval? ... It would be interesting to see the rendering that was submitted to the City and see if what these review boards approved is what is actually built."

The city delegates the final review on proposed developments to the Architectural Review Board. Often the ARB members are the only ones who see the actual final renderings. Unfortunately for us, they are more interested in novelty for novelty's sake, and they have never seen an atrocity they didn't love.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Did the architects of that prison building on Alma seriously set out to design the ugliest building on earth? Is there an uglier one? That designer, builder, and everyone in the city who allowed that to get approved really deserves to be in jail right now.

That building is a blight, pure and simple. Nothing less, and nothing more. It needs to be condemned and torn down. The cost of reimbursing the owners should be paid out of the personal bank accounts of the people in the city who allowed that to happen. Can citizens get signatures to get that on the ballot?

Posted by Peter K. Mueller
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Addressing existing side walks, note the many places where fire hydrants and sign poles narrow and skew the gap.
Also note shops placing display racks outside on the side walks dangerously narrowing the already narrow space.
Also note the many eateries placing tables on sidewalks creating movable and moving obstacles to walk between and around.
How about taking care of these transgressions of public space now?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 1, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Looks like we've been promised at least half a dozen 36-foot trees along the 801 Alma sidewalks.

Web Link

Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Eduardo Martinez, who chairs the planning commission, argued that in Palo Alto, as in other cities, "the idea of the importance of the automobile is losing a little bit of its grip."

Is Martinez kidding? Are we going to,trot out the famous " walkable neighborhood " myth soon? El camino is a grand boulevard now-- a grand boulevard important for moving automobile traffic. I doubt the will be much demand for people to be promenading down el camino in this or any other city.

Are kellers comments to be taken seriously? Did he not know that those windows would be in the building? Or is he just paying lip service to,those comparing this building to a prison?
I am sure the are people that think this building is okay-- everyone will have an opinion.

Of course our city thinks that the briones house was a treasure, anything with Eichler associated with it is a gem. And the houses in professorville are actually worth looking at. So go figure....

Posted by MenloDude
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm

I agree the Alma fortress is now unattractive, on Alma, but I think the design is intended to buffer residents from Alma street noise. For the residents, the design may be quite functional, and that matters alot. Ladscaping will help, though the design may always seem a bit brutalist. Reminds me also of old German Expressionist films, eg Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Other sides of the building look interesting and even dramatic, so perhaps the whole will work well over time.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Oh God ... drop the foolish ideas like a building is going to be torn down because some people think it is ugly ... what a waste of time.

The Alma building faces southwest, so the lack of windows is about not allowing heat to enter .... it's called passive solar design.

The other thing to think about is all this anti-auto stuff ... we will not be there until Palo Alto is basically San Francisco ... then people can live a mass-transit lifestyle.

The problem is most Palo Altans find that not what they want, not why they live here, and not why they move here.

Our individual property go up when we do not develop, but developer business and value does down ... so who wins this stuggle ... right now it's the developers because they own the City Council and all the political machines necessary to keep development moving, and the people are not thinking or focused on this issue.

Maybe Palo Alto was chosen to be the focus of development in the area because it is more or less attached to Stanford University and the network of "professionals" that makes big money off of all this. To turn it around the people of Palo Alto would have to realize this and reject it soundly.

Otherwise we just see nice open space after another plowed under for neverending development - taking our property values down while they give the value to the developers.

Posted by Louie Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2013 at 6:07 pm

I often wonder whether our Planning Commission or City Councilors read any of our responses. If they did, they would understand why we believe someone's "on the take" for such developments as the Charleston/El Camino horror. They might even have understood the objections to the redesign of traffic lanes on Charleston.
I don't even live there and I cringe every time I go past.
The Planning Commission should be fired and the Councilors voted out unless their mission is to preserve the quality of life in Palo Alto.
My midtown street has become a raceway due to excessive development in crowded "townhouses."
We Palo Altas (I've been here for more than 37 years) realize that in an upscale community you won't get rid of cars. First of all, cars are a part of upscale prestige. Second, public transport takes time that busy professionals can't afford. Third, our aging population doesn't want the inconvenience of walking, biking, or public transport to do their shopping. The city is just not designed like European city's that have tighter neighborhoods and small shops. We have to understand that we've collectively approved of such massive shopping centers as the new Village at San Antonio and El Camino.
(We live part of each year in a European city, so I'm familiar with the patterns.)
When you boil it all down, our Palo Alto life-style recognized that autos would not go away. We understood that not everyone could live in Palo Alto and go to our schools. (Yes, I know that this sounds elitist, but it's what we came here for.) We knew that we had to accommodate some growth. BUT, we are basically a small town and we don't want our neighborhoods overrun with traffic and parking problems.
The big question is how do you reconcile the two issues.
From my simplistic perspective I would drop out of any plan that "required" us to build certain amounts of "low cost housing." Such plans just do not work.(The first buyer gets a bargain and the second pays market value.)
Second, I would demand that the next highest priority would the accommodation of traffic and parking. That means understanding of what cars mean to the community, and not trying to force some idealistic alternative concept. Simply shifting the traffic from one street to another is ridiculous. For the long term future, we'll have individual transportation in an upscale community like Palo Alto.
I know that most of us in Palo Alto are liberal and to a great extent we are idealistic. However, after more than 37 years here in the high-tech community I think I've earned the right to live a life style that not imposed by a self-righteous city council.
Let's use our democratic option and vote them all out unless they support the life style that we have paid for in our
own time and in our own blood!

Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2013 at 6:55 pm

We had guests from Europe recently. They love California, and have always commented positively about the beauty of much of the architecture. However - 801 Alma Street and Alma Village made them gasp in horror. They said exactly the same as so many Palo Altans - "ghastly, fortress-like buildings, with absolutely no aesthetic value - how on earth could the City of Palo Alto allow such monstrosities to be built ?"
We agree with "Wondering". A lot of bribery, mutual back-scratching and corruption must be in place. There is simply no other explanation for such horrible "architecture". The architects themselves should be sent back to school for refresher courses; they obviously didn't learn much the first time around.

Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 1, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Midtowner-- they actually gasped in horror?????. They also said that they were ghastly, fortress like buildings??? WOW. And Europeans know about architecture !!?!?
Absolutely no aesthetic value??? Good that they spent their vacation critiquing palo alto architecture. At least in europe they do not have vomits inducing eichlers and abominations like the Julia Morgan " designed" hostess house.

As for the claims of bribery and corruption, please provide proof for these claims.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2013 at 7:18 pm

When we start thinking of comparing Palo Alto to a European city, we are not to compare with London or Paris. The word city is a misnomer, we should be thinking of large towns and urban areas. Someone has mentioned Cambridge, or Oxford, or Frankfurt. These places have successfully combined the old and the new, satellite parking and buses, pedestrian streets and bike paths, comprehensive public transport and efficient shopping areas.

I know people who take a bus to the shopping area and a taxi home with their weekly groceries. I know of bus lanes going into town centers where no cars are allowed and the trip to town is faster than by car because the buses keep moving and have their own light. These lanes are typically the only lane in a direction where the cars are going the opposite way. I know of families who share cars with neighbors.

No this is not Europe, but Europeans live just as busy lives as we do, have just as long commutes and manage to do their grocery shopping and recreation in Costco type stores with movie theaters and sport facilities next door. They are just not chained to the mentality that their car takes them everywhere they want to go.

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Although I wasn't against a development on Alma near East Meadow, I just scratch my head when I look at it. It is the most poorly designed layout for a development that I have ever seen.

Posted by action needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2013 at 7:59 pm

We have no integrated comprehensive public transit system here
in any sense. This is not France. You cannot force people into a system which doesn't exist. Second, our local govt is broken and dysfunctional. This is obvious. The ARB has not functioned for over 10 years and never will for a variety of reasons. The only option to restore control is to outsource design review to a recognized design professional/firm hired by a citizen committee and responsible
to that committee. This will break the linkages which determine the outcomes now. All major projects, including public projects and
actions, would need approval as to scale, compatibility, and aesthetics. This review function would be established by the initiative process. It's the eleventh hour in Palo Alto, and strong, dramatic action is needed.

Posted by Pat
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2013 at 8:03 pm

I agree there has to be major corruption and sophisticated, difficult to detect, payoffs going on at city hall. I wish someone would conduct an in-depth investigative report on the connections between the city council, the ARB, and the big developers in Palo Alto. I suspect they include lucrative jobs given to the spouses of city workers, lucrative PA city contracts given to the companies owned by or employed by city employees (i.e. architectural firms, law firms, accounting firms, etc.) and college recommendations (especially to Stanford University) to the children of city employees. Some of Palo Alto's biggest developers have strong, financial ties to Stanford University, and Stanford is therefore beholden to them. Why else would these massive commercial projects be allowed to be built, that break all of the building codes and regulations, for height, density, etc.
Palo Altans need to take a stand against the out-of-control development destroying our quality of life in PA. City officials need to be held accountable, fired, voted out of office, and investigated for fraud, corruption or worse.

Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 1, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Pat-- please provide proof for your claims of playoffs, corruption and all the other charges you are making.

Posted by Ralph
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2013 at 8:07 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Montelena
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I think it is established fact that Liz Kniss had had some conflicts of interest-- that is financial interest-- in some of these ugly developments. he really should disqualify herself from being on the City Council.

BTW--I was at the council meeting when the Maybell development was first proposed, and most of the city council seemed to question the logistics of it. Then, a few months later, they all changed their minds nd the project got the seal of approval-- how so?

Makes you wonder who was bribed or had a financial interest in this thing!

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2013 at 10:06 pm

When you try to explain what has happened to Palo Alto, you have
the players- the Council, P&TC, ARB, staff. You see the results.
We need to connect the dots in a sense, to understand this
matrix of government failure at a level which is shocking.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 1, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Not an issue - the proof apparently must be standing on Alma, because there could be no other logical explanation for that miserable eye sore to have been approved.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Folks, let me just tell you, without getting into the details, that
in my personal experience I saw first hand and was victimized by
everything we know is wrong in City Hall. It doesn't just play
out in the grand debacles we tend to focus on.

Posted by Please investigate
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 2, 2013 at 5:46 am

Hi Genady,

Can you investigate the 801 property in your photo? Please name names - ARB, planning commission, city staff, etc. Who approved, and what votes if any were recorded. Until there is accountability for bad decisions, we will continue to suffer from them.


Posted by Revolted
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2013 at 8:48 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 9:35 am

Revolted ... yeah, I caught that ugly remark from parent too. I reported it and wonder why it still stands. Some people do not know how to behave in public. The idea of a train going off tracks in Palo Alto would cause untold damage and death - and hoping that would happen to demolish a building someone doesn't like is indeed revolting.

Please readers, if you have the time report objectionable content on that post. Parent can repost without the insane hopes for death if he or she actually has to say something.

Posted by JoAnn
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:15 am

I ride a scooter and can't go out in traffic on El Camino. The sidewalks are very hostile to scooters, wheelchairs etc. Along with light poles, bus stops, newspaper boxes, traffic-light control boxes, fire hydrants, and random junk blocking the already narrow sidewalks, the sidewalks turn into driveways and have a nasty slope to accomodate the cars that pop out without looking to check traffic. What pedestrians?

I would gladly take back streets, and can navigate Park Blvd, for instance. But even there, sidewalks are blocked by peoples' trash carts and phone and light poles. I have to ride in the street with the cars and the bikes. And a lot of streets just end. To get to Mountain View, I have to go to El Camino. Crossing the tracks is a pain, and the overpasses or underpasses on San Antonio and Page Mill are impossible. This is still car-town. Nice wide, flat, uncluttered sidewalks would be a blessing.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:46 am

Interesting post by JoAnn.

I tend to think that these electric scooters are not suitable for sidewalks and should be in the bike lanes. As yet, I don't think there are rules, but as they increase in popularity, that may change.

Our sidewalks are often blocked by trash cans (3 per house) as well as overgrown shrubbery and if you are pushing a stroller or have a child on a tricycle and meet anyone going in the opposite direction it is polite to move into a driveway to let them pass. These scooters tend to travel faster than a pedestrian and take up as much space, or even more, than a stroller. What happens if one of these meets one in the opposite direction? Strollers are hard to deal with when two meet in the opposite direction but they are easier to get into a driveway than a scooter. Does the fact that the scooter is bigger and more of a hindrance give them priority over pedestrians and the pedestrians with strollers or children in tow have to get out their way?

I think it is time that these scooters were treated as vehicles which they are and had to go on roadways. I also think they should have lights and reflectors by law.

I understand the convenience and am pleased to see seniors or those with mobility problems having a convenient mode of transport. I hopefully will be able to use one if the need arises. But it is time to have some rules to govern how they are used on public streets.

They are too big and not maneuverable enough for our residential street sidewalks.

Posted by R Evans
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Glad that the city is responding to citizen reactions against the fortress-like developments with minimum setbacks and narrow sidewalks which the city has been approving. Check out the narrow sidewalk the city just approved as part of the high density Maybell market rate and senior housing project. Even narrower than the "too narrow" El Camino sidewalks despite the very large number of students who walk to Juana Briones, Terman, Bowman, and Gunn along Maybell.

Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

We see again that a peninsula city's homeowners apparently want to enjoy the shopping and other amenities of an urbanized area while being completely isolated from the effects. They want Southern California suburban sprawl organized around cars without regard to the geographic impossibility of that on our peninsula.

But above all they want to enjoy the astronomical house prices that are a consequence of Silicon Valley's success while insisting that those people in the next town over there have the necessary effects of density and so on. This is a cynical view but seems appropriate.

That said, the Grand Boulevard plan is disgraceful. In the US we like to devolve government functions to be as low as possible for the sake of democracy but in this case that is just allowing a few cities to game that system to take their neighbors to the cleaners. An historic route like El Camino should be controlled by at least the county or even the state. Essentially closing it to most of the traffic on it now just moves the arguments to Foothill, Stevens Creek, and so on. Changing the use of such a major route without planning by the region should not be on the table and will likely be shut down with law suits for years.

ps - Los Angeles style suburbs are an artificial, subsidized creation anyway. For decades the price of gasoline was actually subsidized in the US out of general revenues or even US debt. Nearly all the money spent in the Middle East Sandtrap after the Cold War was a subsidy for oil and amounted to dollars a barrel. Ditto before that with geopolitics as an additional justification. The Interstates and Freeways were built with Washington money and were originally called in the bills national defense highways. It was way beyond the post-WWII idea of subsidized housing for vets. Now we look for tech fixes to cope with the results.

Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Mike Alexander is a registered user.

Two local examples of things done well:
-- Marguerite bus system. Part of Stanford's solution to tough traffic restrictions, forced by city and county planners, in response to vigorous citizen pushback against Stanford development ambitions. Marguerite gets lots of people where they need go on campus and around town, on frequent schedules, essentially for free.
-- Los Altos. Commercial development there, including on El Camino, is simply gorgeous. How do they do make it happen? Let's ask them.

Posted by bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 2:45 pm

bru is a registered user.

> -- Los Altos. Commercial development there, including on El Camino, is simply gorgeous.

HUH, can I ask where?

Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Mike Alexander is a registered user.

@bru: In my opinion, everything built in the last 10-15 years ... Marriott Hotel, Residence Inn, Adobe Animal Hospital, Whole Foods, new mixed used buildings on San Antonio just southwest of El Camino, and the Packard Foundation building downtown come quickly to mind. There's a clear effort to put up buildings that function well, physically and aesthetically. There seems to be a strong civic force in play. (There are also older buildings, probably not long for this world, that don't work very well -- the tangle around Armadillo Willy's and Peet's, for example.)

Posted by bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 7:10 pm

bru is a registered user.

Mike, the building you cite are OK, and I agree they look like Frank Lloyd Wright compared to the recent Palo Alto buildings.

I've gotten the thought that Palo Alto is the right-wing economic test-bed of Stanford University in some cases for having development and market solutions pushed on us. It just seems like everything that happens in Palo Alto now is done in secret, driven behind the scenes by money ... Palo Alto is the most for-sale city in the area. What is going on has ruined the character of a city that used to be really cool. Right down to things like ... are we seeing suicides in the schools of neighboring cities like we do in Palo Alto. The airport that serves just a few elite somehow has precedence over the entire city. Parks have gone to disrepair for decades.

Palo Alto was the place all the snooty cities decided to make their "bitch" and dump their crap on and force development in.

Services just keep getting more expensive when the whole point of Palo Alto used to be to own it's own utilities and keep the prices reasonable. Then the contracting nutcases came on and started talking about market solutions and we see things flying out of control. Comparing most Palo Alto businesses with neighboring towns as well ... Palo Alto Safeway and Whole Foods are significantly inferior to Menlo Park and Redwood City.

It would be interesting for someone to investigate why it is that Palo Alto's decisions seems to give short shrift to the quality of life and all the power and maximized profit to developers.

Posted by JoAnn
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 3, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Resident sez: I think it is time that these scooters were treated as vehicles which they are and had to go on roadways. I also think they should have lights and reflectors by law.

I don't know if you understand the type of vehicle I am talking about. This is not a 2-wheel Vespa, Honda etc, which I would call a moped. It is a 3-wheel scooter with a top speed (when all is going well) of maybe 5 mi/hr. This is too slow to ride on all but a quiet side street. Streets like El Camino, Alma or even downtown University Ave are out of the question.

I try to stay out of the bike lanes because they slope toward the curb and I have to fight the tiller to keep from being pulled down. If I do have to be in the bike lane, bikes pass me, and sometimes they need to leave the lane to do so. This is not optimal but if the sidewalk is impassable there is no choice.

I looked through the state vehicle code when I first acquired it. It isn't really defined. Scooters are defined as the 2-wheel kind. A wheelchair turns in its own footprint. It is however permitted to be on the sidewalk. I always defer to people with strollers, etc, in fact to pedestrians unless they wave me through. It also has lights, reflectors and an obnoxious horn. I think "excuse me" or "behind you" are better ways to get peoples' attention.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 3, 2013 at 6:11 pm

JoAnn, it just stands to reason that you don't want moving people on sidewalks with enough speed and momentum to bump into other people and knock them over. They don't want bicycles on sidewalks, or motorized scooters ... why would it make sense to have lots of people on scooters in the sidewalk when other people are trying to walk, wheelchair, whatever?

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