News

City looks to protect merchants during California Avenue construction

Expanded shuttles, increased advertising aim to reduce disruptions during long-awaited streetscape project

With California Avenue's long-awaited renovation set to begin in about a month, city officials are considering ways to support businesses and shuttle customers while construction is in progress.

The streetscape project, which has been in limbo since the City Council approved it nearly three years ago, aims to add vibrancy to the city's second-busiest commercial thoroughfare by reducing lanes from four to two, adding new plazas, expanding sidewalks and replacing streetlights. Since its approval, the council has undergone a series of delays thanks to lawsuits from merchants opposed to the lane reduction and revisions that have pushed the project's cost from $1.8 million at the time of approval in February 2011 to $4.7 million today.

While the city plans to maintain vehicle and pedestrian access to California Avenue during construction, officials are also looking at strategies to reduce the project's anticipated disruptions. According to a report from the office of City Manager James Keene, this will include an advertising campaign to support local businesses and the use of city shuttles to transport customers and employees from off-site parking sites to the commercial strip.

Additional strategies, according to the report, may include changeable message signage along El Camino, advertising and "extensive signage to direct customers to stores and restaurant and drivers to parking lots."

The city will also require the construction firm to provide regular updates about the project to the community and to have a point of contact available to address any concerns. The budget for this "business protection plan" is $30,000, according to the report.

The controversial streetscape project cleared its final legal hurdle in November, when an appeals court threw out a challenge from area businesses. Yet construction is once again being delayed because of a decision by the city to replace an aged water main before proceeding with the streetscape upgrade. This adjustment has pushed the beginning of construction from fall to January 2014, when the water-main replacement is set to take place.

The rest of the project will follow shortly thereafter, according to the report. The project is currently out to bid and the contracts are expected to be awarded next month.

In addition to the lane reduction and widened sidewalks, the streetscape project includes a a replacement of street furniture, including new benches and bicycle corrals, trees and plants, media racks and "seating walls." It also includes a replacement of the fountain at the Park Boulevard Plaza near the Caltrain station and a flexible plaza near Birch Street, which would accommodate civic events.

The Birch Street plaza could also lead to an expansion of the popular farmer's market on California Avenue. According to the new report, the Urban Village Farmers Market has applied for an amendment to its permit to expand its area of operations from Ash Street to Birch, a change that would increase merchants' visibility and accommodate an increase in vendors.

The project is being funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, $750,000 in vehicle-registration fees from Measure B, and $1.1 million in local funds. In the coming month, the council will be asked to make a budget amendment to make up the $1.7 million shortfall that resulted from the project's expanded scope.

Comments

Posted by fedup, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2013 at 10:11 am

Stay tuned--another debacle by our city council and staff is about to begin!! Recall, anyone?


Posted by speed it up, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2013 at 10:17 am

The problem with these projects is that the city uses budget contractors who work slowly and take forever. If they were really worried about protecting businesses, they would use a more efficient contractor even if they charge twice as much.

The street will be much safer after this is finished and we are really looking forward to it.


Posted by Happy it is beginning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2013 at 10:40 am

Other cities, like Los Altos and Mountain View (three times the size of California Avenue) have managed to reconstruct their streets just fine, without abnormal angst. Everyone is happy with the final product, upon completion. That ought to be the same scenario for everyone on this street.

The City knew the water main would need replacement in 2009, when the gas work on the street and sidewalks was done, so it was a wise decision to address it now, 4 years later, and prior to the Streetscape work commencing.

It would be silly to spend all the money to replace the street only to tear it up again, not long after. Throwing good money after bad is often par for the course in the way all cities "think". So this time, Palo Alto officials are being fiscally responsible and using common sense.

Kudos to Jaime Rodrigues and all the other staff that approved the Water Main replacement. I am looking forward to the completion of The Project.


Posted by Not Fed Up, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2013 at 10:51 am

Note to "fedup":

Really not helpful to simply spout off a re-call. Its clearly represents an uninformed opinion.

The California Avenue corridor is important to those of us living in the neighborhood. The proposed plan has been vetted by the neighborhood and addresses all of our short and long term concerns.

To this end, the City did a wonderful job of identifying the current pedestrian/traffic problems, bringing together all of the stakeholders and developing a long term view of creating a more vibrant district.

Will the construction problem be a hassle...sure...all construction projects are a pain. But...at the end of the day we will have a safer, more vibrant and even better business district for both the residents AND merchants. Should be a win-win.


Posted by Brian, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 16, 2013 at 11:29 am

Does anybody no what is going to happen to the farmers market during construction? It brings out a lot of activity on Sunday.


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 16, 2013 at 11:38 am

What a farce. It's based on faulty traffic studies.

Did you see the recent SJ Mercury article about the huge population increase? One can assume most of those people have cars so traffic will be backed up even further while waiting to turn on to Cal Ave.

The school population is up 25% which also means more cars.

Who's the city going the belive: bogus expensive "traffic" studies or their own eyes and our comments. Obviously the former.

Guess Menlo Park's sales tax revenues will rise while ours fall. Look for ANOTHER utility rate hike to offset the losses. FEH.


Posted by Margita, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2013 at 11:55 am

It would be most appreciated if access to the Post Office is protected to serve those that visit there regularly to pick up mail from boxes and use other services....

Perhaps extra early hours prior to construction? Adding more parking slots for very short term use versus one now provided...


Posted by Concerned business owner, a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 16, 2013 at 12:50 pm

For those of us who own businesses on California Avenue, the construction means not just a "hassle," but loss of income for ourselves and those who work for us. Rents and wages in Palo Alto are high, and the thought of making it through a long construction period with diminished business is unsettling. My biggest hope is that the project will be completed quickly, but I experienced another much smaller project at another location in Palo Alto. The project was to take 3 months, but it took almost a year. Business was not good and never really came back.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Even before the great tree disaster/removal, CA Ave needed a huge facelift. There will be short-term PITA issues, but the long-term will provide a much more inviting and friendlier streetscape.


Posted by Wait a minute..., a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 16, 2013 at 1:22 pm

What about businesses such as Molly Stone's, Pure Barre, and Avalon Yoga Studio that people visit every single day??

What about access to the train station?

And, again, what about the Sunday Farmer's Market? Will there be space for the vendors? Attendance there is always high, rain or shine!

And how long is "temporarily". The city has a habit of hiring contractors who do not adhere to their schedule.


Posted by Happy it is beginning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I think the Farmer's Market will just be moved from any construction that is happening. So instead of being butted up to El Camino Real towards Ash, it could be moved up or down the street, towards Birch or even Park Blvd. That would make the most sense, and the Market is valuable on Sundays.

When the gas work was done during the first several months of 2009, city workers made accommodations for the Farmer's Market. It stayed right where it has always been.

But the Market Producer has known the Streetscape was going to happen, since their first day. The California Avenue Streetscape Concept Plan predates the Farmer's Market, having been on the drawing board and on city radar since Fall of 2004. The Streetscape had its nine-year anniversary already, and it is now into its tenth year.


Posted by rebugging, a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 16, 2013 at 2:01 pm

As a resident of Los Altos, but a California Avenue shopper, do not believe that the construction in Los Altos "managed to reconstruct their streets just fine, without abnormal angst." Construction is still going on, and it is a mess. I do hope that Palo Alto will do better. As a 60 year shopper at the Mollie Stones site I shutter at the whole thing.


Posted by 35 year resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Kinda sounds like the Affordable Health Care Act. We were told it would cost X and now it is going to cost a lot more. Government selected contractors have not and cannot deliver the product on time and in workable order. Now, the government is spending millions in a PR campaign to get young people to sign up and the city will spend money to promote the Cal.Ave. businesses that DIDN'T want it in the first place, just like the majority of Americans didn't want government run healthcare !!!!


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2013 at 5:21 pm

$30,000 to help all those merchants, who fear losing money -- if not their businesses -- during construction.

Compare that to the $2.1 million the city manager requested to update just the first floor of City Hall.

Just shows how important those merchants are to the city.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2013 at 5:22 pm

If it is anything like the Mitchell Park library, good luck!


Posted by Betty, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2013 at 5:41 pm

"Additional strategies, according to the report, may include changeable message signage along El Camino, advertising and "extensive signage to direct customers to stores and restaurant and drivers to parking lots."
Isn't anyone going to object to this sign pollution that is being proposed. There was a major outcry over the sign near 101 and the proposed sign at alma village. For the sake of not starting a prescedent, I think we should not allow any additional signage on el camino during the construction period. There is little real retail,on California and most of the restaurants will do just fine.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm

@speed it up - You hit the nail on the head. Whether it is the Jordan construction, Mitchell library, or the roadwork, it is the extremely slow speed that causes the inconvenience. Just step it up and get it done for once. It shouldn't take more than 30 days, but watch for it to take two years. The only things that seem to get built quickly in Palo Alto are developer's pet projects and crappy houses.


Posted by Betty, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2013 at 6:35 pm

"The only things that seem to get built quickly in Palo Alto are developer's pet projects and crappy houses."
Maybe because those are private ventures, that are well planned out. As opposed to city projects that involve endless nitpicking and interference from our city staff. And I did nit know that there were new eichlers being built in the city.


Posted by Sandhill, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 16, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Why not start to do something about the traffic that has to come off Sandhill Road and has to go down to the first traffic lights on El Camino Real and up again to Alma Street. The traffic is backed up most of the time. El Camino Real is SO SO BAD at that point and down to Menlo Park. What is the City of Palo Alto thinking.


Posted by Palo Altan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Palo Alto is becoming overrated. The city council, ARB and planning department are ruining the livability of this town. The citizens of Palo Alto need to turn up the heat at city hall, and stage a revolt. Our city leaders are an embarrassment and incompetent.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2013 at 7:51 pm

@Betty: "There is little real retail, on California Ö" Really?

How about Country Sun, European Cobblery, Palo Alto Eyeworks, Norge Village dry cleaners, Leaf & Petal, Accent Arts, Keeble & Shuchat, Legar Salon, California Paint, Avalon Yoga, Zombie Runner to name a few.

The European Cobblery also had a store in downtown Los Altos. Two years ago, when Los Altos was doing streetscaping, the owner said his business was down approximately 30 percent since construction started midway. Web Link

We sure wouldn't want any sign pollution on El Camino just to help these small businesses survive in what we know will be a long and messy construction period.


Posted by Betty, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2013 at 8:10 pm


"How about Country Sun, European Cobblery, Palo Alto Eyeworks, Norge Village dry cleaners, Leaf & Petal, Accent Arts, Keeble & Shuchat, Legar Salon, California Paint, Avalon Yoga, Zombie Runner to name a few. "
They will not all be effected at the same time. What do you suggest? Not doing the project? Do you have any constructive suggestions?

"The European Cobblery also had a store in downtown Los Altos. Two years ago, when Los Altos was doing streetscaping, the owner said his business was down approximately 30 percent since construction started midway. Web Link"

So it is not just Palo Alto that has issues with public projects

"We sure wouldn't want any sign pollution on El Camino just to help these small businesses survive in what we know will be a long and messy construction period."
Sign pollution is sign pollution-- people are very sensitive to sign pollution in Palo Alto. The argument against the proposed sign at alma village is the it will set a precedent. Same here. And yes we do not want any sign pollution-- just because you think that these businesses will need help does not mean we have to turn Palo Alto into Las Vegas. The businesses will survive-- those that don't do not have a loyal base of shoppers.


Posted by What-A-Mess, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2013 at 8:27 pm

> The businesses will survive-- those that don't do not have a loyal
> base of shoppers.

What an unbelievably naÔve thing to say. Or maybe it's just typical of those who think that they know better than the rest of us! Most stores in a retail district survive because of walk-in traffic. If people can't get to the stores, they will take their business elsewhere.

Sadly, businesses that suffer will not be able to sue the City. Nor will anyone responsible for false information be held accountable.

What a mess!


Posted by Betty, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2013 at 8:33 pm

What a mess-- what do you suggest be done? Abandon the project?
The idea would be to minimize the inconvenience to the stores. Sounds like the city has a plan, but polluting el camino with signs should not be part of the solution.
And the parking lots that serve the shopping district are accessed from streets other than California avenue-- entry to those lots will not be impacted. Only California avenue will be worked on, correct ? So how will walk in traffic be prevented from parking and accessing the shopping district?


Posted by wondering, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 16, 2013 at 10:38 pm

I'm glad that this much-needed renovation will finally begin. Does anyone know approximately how long it will take?


Posted by litebug, a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:38 am

As long time former resident and very frequent visitor to Calif. Ave. I am curious about the plans for it. Are there any published drawings of how it's supposed to look once all the changes have been made?


Posted by ChrisC, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Palo Alto city government will be quite happy if the small business on Cal Ave all go bankrupt and then City Hall can court more big developers. Hey, how about another Cheesecake factory or a second Starbucks up by the train station? And, when the "improvements" are done, the landlords can raise the rents and drive out the few tiny businesses, like Town & Country owners did.


Posted by Concerned Business Owner, a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Unfortunately this is going to happen.
The City needs to insist that this be done a quickly as possible. Night work is just fine, as most businesses are closed, except the restaurants. Start night work at 11pm.

NO DAYS OFF for any reason!

And give the affected businesses (ALL) special attention. Example: city sponsored (paid for) advertising encouraging residents to shop and ignore the construction mess, etc.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2013 at 7:32 am

@bug: just Google "Palo Alto California Avenue Plans" and you'll get plenty of links


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 20, 2013 at 2:12 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

The official project website is Web Link, where you can find the concept plans, both as an overview of the whole street and block by block drawings.

The post office is not on Cal Ave so won't be directly affected. Similarly, Molly Stones and the Caltrain station are reachable from other streets.

Regarding access to businesses, pretty much all the parking lots are accessible from the parallel streets, and there are many alleys from them to the businesses. I expect shoppers to be deterred by the construction, which is why an effective information campaign will be so important, including signage, to direct patrons to their businesses. Something along the lines of "your shop is still open during construction, here's how you get there, and support your shop to help it through this rough patch."

Regarding construction schedule, the city was considering two options. One option is to work on the whole street all at once, and the other option is to work on it block by block. The second option would take more time over all, but each block would be affected for a shorter time. The city met with merchants to help choose which option would be least impactful to their business. I don't know which one was chosen.


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