Animal shelter to move into downtown Palo Alto post office

City's land-swap plan aims to attract business, bring in revenues

Editor's note: This story was part of Palo Alto Online's April Fools' Day Express.

In their latest effort to raise revenues and refresh the city's dilapidating infrastructure, Palo Alto officials approved a land-swap plan Friday that involves moving the city's animal shelter to the current site of the downtown post office, relocating the historic MacArthur Park restaurant to the unoccupied mezzanine at City Hall, building an auto row in the Baylands and constructing a waste-to-energy plant at Gamble Gardens.

The agreement, which the council approved by a 7-2 vote, with Councilwoman Karen Holman and Councilman Greg Schmid dissenting, aims to address a series of recommendations from the specially appointed Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission, a 17-member citizen panel that surveyed the city's infrastructure needs and came up with creative ways to raise revenues. In addition to swapping dozens of public facilities, its recommendations also included putting the city's historic namesake tree, El Palo Alto, on eBay; selling two traffic lanes on California Avenue; and opening city-run marijuana dispensaries.

"Tough times call for tough choices," City Manager James Keene said at a strategic retreat Friday meeting. "With pension costs rising out of control and our General Fund stuck with a structural deficit, we really have to start making serious changes, including taking a hard look at possible revenue generators and the sizes and locations of all our public facilities.

"Sometimes, the only way to save our crumbling infrastructure is to move it," he added. "I'm confident that this game of musical chairs with our buildings will help us save money and get some desperately needed cash."

The building shuffle will significantly change the face of downtown Palo Alto, most notably the area immediately adjacent to the University Avenue Caltrain. The city has allowed philanthropist John Arigato to build a 35-story building near the train station along with a theater. The building is at the site of MacArthur Park restaurant, a historic restaurant that was used as a meeting place for soldiers and their families during World War I.

This would be the second relocation for the restaurant. The building was moved from Menlo Park to its present location in 1919.

"I know it's for the good of the city, but this is not doing wonders for the cottage's self-esteem," said James MacArthur IV, owner of MacArthur Park. "It took us 93 years to settle in here, and now we have to start packing again."

The restaurant won't have to move far. The council has agreed to move it to the City Hall's mezzanine, a dark, cavernous loft above the police station that currently houses dozens of dangling wires, phone lines and an access ladder. Councilman Sid Espinosa said the place will need a little "freshening up" but quickly added that he's confident the restaurant will flourish in its new location.

"I'm extremely excited to welcome MacArthur Park to City Hall," Espinosa said at a press conference in the mezzanine. "The dangling wires will add a dynamic element to the historic restaurant, and the prime downtown location will ensure heavy foot traffic and financial viability.

"This restaurant will put the first-and-a-half floor of City Hall on the map."

The swap will bring the city $220 million in "public benefit" funds from Arigato, whose project will far exceed the site's zoning regulations. Arigato also agreed to fund the relocation of the legendary Hewlett-Packard garage from its current location on Addison Avenue to Lytton Avenue. The move aims to appease Downtown North, a neighborhood where residents have long complained about parking shortages.

The idea of moving MacArthur Park to the mezzanine surfaced just weeks after the council proposed another major downtown change -- bringing the city's animal shelter to the Hamilton Avenue post office. Palo Alto last week completed its purchase of the post office from the United States Postal Service and briefly considered putting the city's permitting operation into the building.

That move, however, was regarded as too onerous.

"They've got a ton of papers, maps, drawings and file folders in the current Development Center -- just TONS," Keene said, shaking his head. "We don't even want to think about having to move those."

Plus, the council decided the time is ripe to relocate the animal shelter from East Bayshore Road to downtown to make space for revenue-generating uses in the Baylands. Because of the severe space constraints in the Birge Clark-designed post office, though, the animal shelter will no longer accept any animal larger than a medium-sized Chihuahua.

Palo Alto also expects to generate $5.3 million annually in sales taxes from its new auto row in the Baylands. The Emily Renzel Wetlands will have to be dredged to allow the development, which will feature four dealerships and three digital billboards. As a "public benefit," the auto dealers have agreed to provide a giant digital billboard with the words, "Welcome to the Baylands!" in blinking, fluorescent lights.

Because of the impact of the new dealerships on the nature preserve, the council decided to abandon its controversial plan to build an anaerobic digester in Byxbee Park. Instead, the digester -- a waste-to-energy facility that converts food waste and yard trimmings into electricity -- will now be built at Gamble Gardens, a nonprofit group whose 2.5 acre estate on Waverley Street is filled with fragrant flowers. Councilman Larry Klein said the goal is to reduce greenhouse gases by placing the new waste facility in a central, pedestrian- and bike-friendly urban setting.

Councilmembers also reasoned that the sweet musk of dahlias, roses and lavender would mask the stench of rotting banana peels and worm-processed yard leafs. Vice Mayor Greg Scharff said the move would further enrich Gamble Garden's collection of local and exotic flora.

"Cherry blossoms, apple cores -- it's all nature, anyway," Scharff said.

Happy April Fools' Day!


Like this comment
Posted by Eileen Stolee
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 1, 2012 at 10:31 am

Ha, Ha, and happy April Fools to you too! :-)

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 1, 2012 at 10:32 am

Has the city investigated the possibility of barking dogs and filed an environmental impact study report on having animals at the site.
Since I live in the southern part of Palo Alto this isn't a big deal but for downtown residence-the noise problem could create a problem.

Like this comment
Posted by Floyd
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 1, 2012 at 10:53 am

Does anyone remember Inside at the Outside at Hamilton and High? or was it the other way around?

Like this comment
Posted by Marlene Prendergast
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 1, 2012 at 11:00 am

This story had me for two seconds until I got to the moving of MacArthur Park to the City Hall mezzanine! Good set of stories!

Like this comment
Posted by Laughing!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2012 at 11:14 am

They set this up well with the article yesterday regarding the animal shelter and car dealerships. They had me going (though shocked) until I got to "selling El Palo Alto" on eBay. "Member," read the article! Very funny, and great satire on all the major issues in the news lately! Great job, April Fuller! Happy April Fools Day everyone!

Like this comment
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 1, 2012 at 11:19 am

What good news! Palo Alto has chosen a great place for the Animal Shelter!! And a building site for the theatre. YES!

Like this comment
Posted by Annie J
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 1, 2012 at 11:33 am

Oh my gosh! It had me till the ebay thing, too.... but not fully - I was like, what the heck? Has everyone gone mad ... and things don't move that fast in city government! Good one! Happy April Fool's Day to you to!

Like this comment
Posted by LaNell Mimmack
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 1, 2012 at 11:42 am

All these things - including selling El Palo Alto on Ebay - seem
par for the course at city hall.

Like this comment
Posted by Fool
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 1, 2012 at 11:48 am

We never get Express on weekends--so before even reading the headlines, I knew it was gonna be a spoof. Thanks Weekly for a good laff. Too bad our local gov takes itself soo seriously . . . do they realize how ridiculous some of their everyday decisions and "process" really are?

Like this comment
Posted by Winter
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Oh, we'll done online weekly! I ran into read this to my husband, aghast, and got to the waste plant bit before the light went on!
So funny. So very funny. You all know the town of which you write.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm

You got us, although I must say that I was scratching my head wondering how so much could be passed by the council in such record speed! A great April fool's article! VERY funny.

Like this comment
Posted by Ray
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I could hardly believe what I was reading! You really got me.
And then I read:
"As a 'public benefit,' the auto dealers have agreed to provide a giant digital billboard with the words, "Welcome to the Baylands!" in blinking, fluorescent lights. "

And I realized what the date is.

Nice job. :-)

Like this comment
Posted by Grumpy Granny
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 1, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Golly, are you absolutely certain that all these plans are not part of an April Fool joke??? Or, perhaps, some of these plans....

Like this comment
Posted by diana
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Wow, you got me really good! I was reading and saying "what?!" out loud over and over again...i thought wow, im moving out of town for sure with these choices! LoL. Good, funny read! :-))

Like this comment
Posted by Anne K.
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Apr 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm

LOL!!! But wait; the idea of building the digester in Gamble Gardens makes sense. Why does it have to be in the Baylands?

Like this comment
Posted by Lynn
a resident of University South
on Apr 2, 2012 at 12:35 am

It was all believable, until I got to where you misspelled Arillaga's name. Arigato is a Japanese word. . . . Can't fool all the people all of the time.

Like this comment
Posted by Leonor Delgado
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 2, 2012 at 8:38 am

I hate to be, as we say in Mexico, "un aguafiestas" (throw water on the parade), but... as someone who is extremely concerned about the future of PAAS (the animal shelter) and the impact on this community and surrounding communities should PAAS services be lost, this mock piece of news is no laughing matter... it creates false hopes. I'm very disappointed that such a serious issue was presented as something to be laughed at.

Like this comment
Posted by Jeromy
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 2, 2012 at 9:52 am

My favorite part was:

"Councilman Larry Klein said the goal is to reduce greenhouse gases by placing the new waste facility in a central, pedestrian- and bike-friendly urban setting."

If such a move of the waste facility to Gamble Gardens did not upset his influential friends, he probably would think it was a good idea. The Weekly's staff knows the local political actors quite well.

Thanks for a good laugh! I read the article to my wife this morning, and we laughed 'till we cried!

Like this comment
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 2, 2012 at 9:58 am

Hook, Line and Sinker.

Like this comment
Posted by Dennis
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 2, 2012 at 9:59 am

Nicely done. April Foolery masked as the Palo Alto Way had me grinding my molars while harrumphing and sputtering at the exasperating tone-deafness of our elected officials and their appointed minions.

Like this comment
Posted by Richard C. Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 2, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Sounds like business as usual to me!

Like this comment
Posted by Heather A.
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Floyd, The Inside At The Outside was my father's night club. I would love to hear any memories you have of the place! Or if anyone on here remembers the place I would love to hear about it!

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