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Plans to transform California Avenue win praise

Original post made on Feb 21, 2013

Palo Alto's quest to transform California Avenue into the city's "second downtown" got off to a rough start in 2011, when dozens of area merchants lambasted a plan to reduce the number of driving lanes from four to two. Now, focus is shifting to all the additions the city plans to make to the commercial strip, including new furniture, art and public plazas.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, February 21, 2013, 4:13 PM

Comments (31)

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm

This beautification project represents the monumental lack of financial priorities that have been pervasive amongst our city leaders and elected officials for many years running. Don't get me wrong, under more favorable fiscal circumstances, I would have no issue and could see the value of upgrading this commercial district. How we can justify under the current circumstances however is absolutely astounding.

For nearly a decade the city has been unable, and perhaps equally unwilling of balancing the budget. We have long overdue and vital essential needs, especially in the areas of infrastructure and public safety that have been dismissed and pushed aside. Our city leaders have described our current financial state as unprecedented and extremely challenging. But yet with all of that, they continued to spend on non-essential, feel good projects such as this one. And what is their response when the public questions how we're going to pay for these essential needs? Why nothing less than floating the idea of yet another bond measure and tax increase. I am offended by their audacity, especially after they frivolously spent our public funds void of any responsibility and logic.

Our city leaders seem incapable of and lack the necessary courage and common sense to say no to the special interest and niche groups that push projects like this one along with many others. The only reasonable way to balance the budget and pay for our essential needs is to cut spending, outsource certain services, and/or eliminate the service altogether wherever reasonably possible. We cannot allow ourselves to be shouted down by these vocal minorities who refuse to consider the big picture and greater good.

Our approach as a city should be no different than a homeowner trying to balance their budget during a tight period. If the plumbing is broken, the roof leaks, and the driveway is cracked, that is not the time to install a new swimming pool, build an addition on the house, or buy a new car. No, we would make sacrifices and not spend frivolously or unwisely. Our priority would be to fund the necessary home repairs. Once that is done, and if we saved enough to pay for the extra "wants", then we could address those issues. By the city leaders coming back to us and asking for a tax increase to pay for our "needs", is no different than someone who can't pay their bills and funding essential home repairs asking their employer for a pay raise in order to maintain their lifestyle.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 21, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Well said , marrol. This is another feel good vanity project our city council loves and it is being pushed by the college terrace crowd and the "cars are evil" clique led by Cedric and others. Who knows how much this will end up costing us, at the expense of needed infrastructure work. Of course the question arises why does PA need a second downtown?. So they can say " we are better, we have two downtowns"? . But I bet you at the end of the year the council members will be patting themselves on the back for another job well done ( they consider the color of palo alto and the homer avenue tunnel as other examples of their well done jobs!)

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Posted by pedestrian
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Crossing California Ave is so scary, especially with the kids. Cars are coming at you from all angles at the intersection crosswalks. We try to use the mid-block crosswalks instead since then you only have to worry about cars coming from 2 directions, but cars too often don't stop for those. Forcing pedestrians to cross 4 lanes of traffic without any stop lights is just stupid. California Ave has some nice restaurants and some nice shops, but we go there a lot less often than we would like because it is so dangerous. If this project ever gets completed, we will be the first to try it again.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 21, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Cars are coming from all angles? How are the 3 street corners on California any different from those at any other location? Dangerous? Sounds like the typical exaggerations that are always introduced into stories dealing with traffic .

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Posted by CA Here I Come
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2013 at 6:10 pm

"Marrol" and "Not an issue" are extremely short sighted in their view of the proposed CA Avenue improvements.

CA Avenue is an important pedestrian-centric shopping and dining district for many Palo Alto residents who shy away from downtown for any number of reasons.

Additionally, the CA Ave. CalTrain station is well used and popular with those of us who live south of Embarcadero.

Given the ongoing downtown Palo Alto parking issues and limited space to provide additional downtown parking, CA Ave. has become the preferred dining out location for many residents. The weekend farmers market is very well attended as it is easy to access and has great support by the street merchants.

Lastly, by making CA Ave. more attractive, easier to park and pedestrian/bike friendly, more people will patronize the businesses resulting in more sales tax income for the City.

Oh yes, not to mention it will be yet another reason to love living in Palo Alto.

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 21, 2013 at 6:33 pm

What will continue to make Palo Alto a livable and enjoyable place to be is ultimately based on a strong foundation of fiscal stability, sound infrastructure, and effective public safety. Without that, I'm much less concerned at this point about giving a commercial district an expensive make-over. There is nothing short-sighted about these expectations. If that is short-sighted, then proponents of this type of spending would be out right blind then to the reality of our current situation.

I never said that we shouldn't, when our "needs" are taken care of, to entertain "want" projects such as this. Let's take care of our core responsibilities first based on some simple logic and sense of responsibility.

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Posted by pedestrian
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2013 at 6:34 pm

The difference between California Ave intersections and almost every other intersection in town is that pedestrians have to cross 4 lanes of California Ave with no protection from stop lights. You don't have to just worry about cars to your left and right, but cars can come at you from behind as well and then turn across your path. With 4 lanes to cross, the cars come at you from so far away that you cannot make eye contact until you are half way across the street and they are already coming at you. Further, many drivers seem to have a real hard time seeing pedestrians that are 4 lanes away. Almost all other 4 lane crosswalks in town are protected by stop lights. These have to go.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 21, 2013 at 6:54 pm

If you are crossing an intersection at a crosswalk and there are cars to your left and right, how there be cars behind you as well? Also all of the streets on California have stop signs and at two of the intersections the cross streets end at California. Also not sure how. A pedestrian can be 4 lanes away from any driver on California.
Plus given the fact that California is not a through street their tends to be less traffic on it. Also there are plenty of crosswalks on el camino that do not have stop signs or lights and the are 6 lanes at that point.
Marrol is correct Ann-- address the needed repairs and the go for the feel good projects. What good is a revamped california avenue if there are flooding issues, potholes and other majored lens in the rest of the city

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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2013 at 6:56 pm

These improvements will make CA Ave a destination and that will improve business and sales tax revenues.

If you are looking to improve your salary by getting a better job, borrowing the money to buy a suit for interviews is different than borrowing the money for a vanity makeover.

This is one of the most long-overdue investments the city needed to make.

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 21, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Long overdue resident? A balanced budget is long overdue. Funding our vital and essential needs in infrastructure and public safety without a tax increase are long overdue. This project is a want not a need. First things first. Priorities first.

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Posted by Dane Mitchell
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Somehow our elected officials seem to be overlooking the obvious: there is absolutely no reason to visit Calif Ave. Bistro Elan's "downsizing" eliminated any remaining reason for me to even think about Calif Ave. There is no there there, 4 lanes or 2.

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Posted by Palo alto resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 21, 2013 at 7:50 pm

The ca ave renovation project is a great idea and has my full support. Ca ave is a wonderful alternative to downtown and a much better place to go than midtown. The Sunday farmers market shows what can happen when the city makes a family friendly environment that locals love to attend.

This project will bring in additional revenues that can then help fund the infrastructure projects that some of the other comments mention. In addition, this project will help make ca ave more desirable and raise property values - which in turn will generate additional tax revenue.

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Posted by robit noops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm

It is what it is. There are a few good restaurants on Ca Ave, but not much else. I would be happier if the city would finish the library project, fix the broken cement on my road, finish the horrid construction on Junipero Serra, and pay a few more police officers.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2013 at 11:01 pm

For those who argue that the additonal tax revenue justifies this, here's the math:

The city is spending about $3 million (and another $1 million is coming from grants). The city collects 1% of sales from the sales tax, so will take $300 million in additional sales to pay for this. Let's say this is over 20 years, so that means $15 million in additional revenue per year. If each additional visitor spends $20, then there needs to be 750,000 additional visits per year, or about 2,000 additional visitors per day.

Are there enough parking spots to support an additional 2,000 visitors a day? When I go at lunch time, there is not enough parking. And I don't think these additional visitors will be walking. And for most part, it's impractical to take the train to go to lunch.

This project is hard to justify just on the financials alone.

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 22, 2013 at 8:51 am

Well stated Common Sense from Midtown. Additionally, the current projected dollar figure for Palo Alto's essential infrastructure needs exceeds 50-million dollars, and that does not include what needs to be allocated for a new public safety facility. I can guarantee you those numbers will continue to increase as our city leaders and elected officials continue to squander their time and focus on other non-essential, feel good projects like this one.

These vital and essential civic needs will not go away. You can only ignore the leaky roof for so long. Eventually it has to be addressed, and usually when it's at its worst and causing more damage. It also becomes much more difficult and expensive to deal with.

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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:02 am

> Crossing California Ave is so scary, especially with the kids

Yeah! The picture shows all the traffic, making it almost impossible to cross the street, or scary at best!

If one crosses at the cross-walks, all have stop signs. There have been virtually no reported vehicle/pedestrian accidents on this three-block dead-end street segment.

There has been no evidence presented that a majority of the vehicles fail to stop for stop signs--leaving one to wonder whether people posting this sort of silliness have any idea what they are saying, or have any idea how to prove their points?

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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:19 am

> not justified on sales tax revenue

The poster uses 1% as the local “cut” for sales taxes, but the Wikipedia page suggests that the local “cut” is actually only .75%--

CA Sales/Use Taxes:
Web Link

So, the calculation is a little bit low, in terms of years.

However, there is a flaw in this specific calculation, since the poster is trying to compute additional/new sales tax revenue, and not the total which has been paid to the City over the years by the Sales District, as a whole. Unfortunately, this is not an easy number of get—but it’s possible that the City might be able to get it from the CA Franchise Tax Board.

We have to look at just how much money has been generated by sales taxes over the decades, and how much money the City has returned in terms of infrastructure maintenance/repairs/upgrades, before we can come to any conclusion about whether the taxes justify the expenditures.

At a minimum, most people would likely agree that the street should have been resurfaced years ago. And maybe an on-demand traffic light that allowed people to cross at the California/Birch crossing—which is clear the heaviest—with a little more protection. Such a light would have cost something in the $150K to $250K range.

At any rate, most people should agree that the management of the infrastructure by every City Manager has been atrocious, and shows absolutely no idea about how to manager/report assets that a municipal corporation might own.

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Posted by Another point of view
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:40 am

>For those who argue that the additional tax revenue justifies this, here's the math:

Common sense my problem with your math is it assume that the area won't go to 0 revenue if you do not invest in refreshing an obviously aging and uninteresting area to shop or operate a business. The investment decision is not as simple as your math suggests. I would like to see us supporting our business community and support options for people to buy and shop locally. Another point of view.

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Posted by Love this plan.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:00 am

I'm an occasional customer of Cal. Ave. I will go there MORE when the improvements are made. I am excited about these changes. Go! Get it done. Make this a viable shopping area that I WANT to visit so it will start increasing sales tax revenues for the city.

Four lanes at this location is absolutely ridiculous. This road carries LESS than 9,000 cars each day. East Meadow Drive (two lanes plus turning lanes) carries more car traffic than that...and California Avenue doesn't have to worry about a morning traffic rush of school traffic. This is a no-brainer. The road needs repaving. You can make the retail environment MUCH more appealing.

Just do it.

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Posted by Expose poor journalism
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:39 am

"The project has undergone a substantial evolution since 2011, when the City Council first proposed reducing the number of lanes --"

The above statement in this article is false. Palo Alto Weekly staff knows when the lane reduction and the finished Streetscape Concept Plan was first completed by the CAADA Board of Directors - California Avenue Area Development Association - and then brought to council when Yoriko Kishimoto was there.

Columnists reporting otherwise are choosing to purposely mislead the public about this project. Why?

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Posted by Julian
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Why is anyone still falling for the BS that the plan will improve parking? CA Ave already stinks for parking during mealtimes. The plan will take away existing parking without adding replacements, increase density, and increase demand, both of which will introduce more traffic. Less parking, more cars. I'll be able to experience congestion without having to go to San Francisco - what a win!

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Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:39 pm

The improvements sound wonderful. I have always preferred going to restaurants on California Avenue to going downtown. The quality is there and it's SO much easier to park.

I agree with "Love this Plan". It's never seemed to me that four lanes are needed on California Avenue. The traffic flow there is always good and fewer lanes won't hurt a thing.

The wider sidewalks, I assume, are for sidewalk dining. This sounds more and more like Castro Street, which gets tons of patrons.

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Posted by MadamPresisdent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Why should we care about cars & drivers? what we should care about is vibrant, safe, attractive public transit-rich area with city and neighborhood mixed-use centers that provide walkable, pedestrian and bicycle-friendly places that serve the community and beyond

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Posted by Follow-The-Money
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm

> what we should care about is vibrant, safe, attractive
> public transit-rich area with city and neighborhood
> mixed-use centers that provide walkable, pedestrian
> and bicycle-friendly places that serve the community and beyond

Another pie-in-the-sky Liberal weighs in .. and what happens when it turns out that the drivers who have been told: "you don't matter" decide to take their business elsewhere..where they do matter?

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Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:05 pm

These plans are almost 7 years old. Anyone interested in the district knows "The Project" (Cal Ave Streetscape) was designed as a Concept Plan in 2006, made part of the City Master Plan over the next two years, and done as a collaboration between CAADA & Public Works. For documentation about its progression, see: Web Link

The CAADA "Streetscape Committee" designed the plan, including the lane reduction. They then brought it to the rest of the CAADA Board, where it was given unanimous support and sent to council.

Terry Shuchat was the Streetscape chairman, Elizabeth "Feeta" Bishop was also on the CAADA Streetscape Committee, helping with trees by working with Canopy as the Plan was being designed, and a local architect spent many hours (pro bono for the Streetscape Committee) to supply a working design to Public Works that was given to council.

Phase 1 (trees) and Phase 2 (lane reductions & resurface) were to be completed by Thanksgiving 2009. New benches, bike racks, etc. were to be done by Spring 2010.

While the basic Concept Plan grew in the past 2 years to include another plaza & wider sidewalks, the Streetscape remains essentially the same as it did in 2006. That's almost 7 years. Even the lighting is not new.

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Posted by DC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Re cars coming at all angles debate, yes there are cars to your L & R, AND vehicles coming from behind you from cross streets at some crossings. And with larger vehicles parked at the curbs it's sometimes dicey seeing - as a driver or a pedestrian - each other. Glad to know that most of those frequenting the area seem to know this if one contributor was correct re no significant injury accidents. I walk to Mollie Stones, to get the local paper, pick up a Lox Bagel at Izy's...but it isn't the most welcoming area. Especially the lack of large shade trees. If modernizing/landscaping the area will bring in more needed money, and provide a more beautiful place to walk and shop and dine, wonderful. The money appears to be already spent, so make the best of it.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:15 pm

How exactly at only some crossings are cars coming behind you? Are they driving on the sidewalk? There are only 3 crossings total and at two of them cars from the cross street must turn either left or right.
Madame president-- cars are the life blood of palo alto. Ignore cars totally in this remodel and California avenue will wither and die.

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Posted by Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2013 at 12:49 am

@Ronna, it was so nice and quiet for some months. Ronna, please drop it. Your memory of this is WRONG!

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Posted by Chrisc
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Protests by ordinary citizenry and small business is always ignored by PA city council. California ave was a charming, rather sleepy street until they chopped all the trees. I still wonder if they did It to expose the hodge-podge of mismatched buildings in order to rationalize re-development. Ah ha! Here we are. Although there are lots of restaurants, it was pleasant to linger on the tree-lined street, sipping coffe and chatting, that is mostly for weekends and the retired. Businesses such as the copy center, opticians, village stationers, Montoya Jewelers, country sun, hair salons, dry cleaners, need people to get on and out and find parking. Right now, it's easy to wait in the right lane for a car to pull out while cars can go around on the left. Are we to hold up traffic until it's bAcked up on el camino, or will the waiting drivers roar around into oncoming traffic? How does this sound to the person worrie about pedestrian crossings now? It will be worse when frustrated drivers are zooming down there. Btw..I spend a lot of time on cal ave, and I've seldom had trouble crossing.
This project is folly! Go all the way with pedestrian-only!

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Posted by Janet L
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 25, 2013 at 10:39 am

@Not an Issue Do you walk around in urban areas much? When you cross at a corner you need to look behind you for cars turning right and straight for cars turning left in addition to the ones coming from the left or right.

Yes, they're supposed to yield, but that doesn't mean they will. I've had more than one close call with drivers who were only looking for cars, not people on foot. And my former co-worker was hit crossing Birch and Cal Ave.

The #1 reason to reduce the number of lanes is to make the district more pleasant for people on foot, which means more shoppers and diners, which means more $$ for merchants and the city and more fun for the residents.

Why Palo Alto needs two business districts, it's so people can shop, dine and relax near their homes, not have to all drive to University Avenue. Every neighborhood used to have some sort of business district and we'd be better off if they all still did.

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Posted by Greg H
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 25, 2013 at 11:45 am

Those who don't believe California Avenue is dangerous to pedestrians just haven't spent enough time here. My office is just across from Country Sun, and I've almost been hit in the crosswalk several times. Some motorists just gun their engines and barrel down Cal Ave like it was a dragstrip. It's a miracle that someone hasn't been killed or seriously injured by now, especially the children and seniors who cross on a regular basis. I hope that luck stays with us until we get down to one lane each way. The sense of relief that would bring justifies the project all by itself.

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