California Avenue work now set to stretch until March

City encounters delay in its quest to revamp commercial strip

Palo Alto's reconstruction of California Avenue, which officials had expected to complete by the end of this year, is now expected to stretch until March 2015.

City Manager James Keene informed the City Council of delay at Monday night's meeting. The construction project, he said, is now at about the halfway point and the contractor is "making good progress." But because of complications having to do with the replacement of a water main under the street, work is now expected to take an extra three months to complete.

Keene told the Weekly that the water pipe was 75 years old and was located very close to the gas line, so "plans had to be significantly altered and re-routed."

The $6.9 million project, which commenced in March after almost four years of public hearings and intense opposition from a group of area merchants, entails the widening of sidewalks and reduction of lanes from four to two. The city also plans to replace all street furniture, reconstruct the plaza at Park Boulevard near the Caltrain station and create a "flexible" plaza between Birch and Ash streets. The goal is to make the city's "second downtown" more pedestrian friendly and economically vibrant, similar to University Avenue or Mountain View's Castro Street.

Keene said the replacement of the water main has been completed and the construction of streetscape improvement is now "in full swing." He said city officials will continue to meet with area merchants to discuss the progress of the project. He will also provide more details about the work and the delay at the Sept. 8 council meeting.

This week, jackhammers were blasting through concrete on the south side of California Avenue, between Birch and Park, as workers were installing new curbs, gutters and sidewalks. Various portions of the street and sidewalks were blocked for construction, forcing cars and pedestrians to go around. A similar project was taking place on the north side, between Ash and El Camino Real.

The delay comes just as the city is preparing to conclude another ambitious construction project: the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center. After more than two years of delays, the city's largest library is finally set to open to the public in December. The city will also offer residents docent-led tours of the new library and community center on Sept. 27.

When told about the California Avenue project delay, Ronna Devincenzi, former president of the now defunct California Avenue Area Development Association, said she hopes the streetscape project won't follow a similar pattern of delays and cost increases.

"Hopefully, it won't be like the Mitchell Park Library," Devincenzi said.

The streetscape project work is being performed by Redgwick Construction under a $6.9 million contract the council approved in February.

Related content:

California Avenue: Making a new downtown

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Nothin' but lunch: What brings techies to Cal Ave


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2014 at 8:27 am

Mr Keene seems to be a common element to these poorly planned and long delayed projects. I recommend more bonus.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Quercus
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 20, 2014 at 8:44 am

Construction projects are inherently complicated, and frequently the schedule is stretched when existing conditions are worse than estimated.

I am hopeful the new streetscape will be worth the wait!

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Jon Botelho
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2014 at 9:20 am

Didn't the Utilities Dept check the project plans and comment that there was a 75- year old water line in the street? I recall that the initial delay was so that they could replace the old gas line. It seems as though the plan review process need to be improved, which would not only help prevent delays but save a lot of money as changes once construction is underway is at a premium price. Given that everything on Cal Ave is sacred to someone and it takes years to reach a decision, it's no wonder utilities and pavement are worn out.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by randy albin
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 20, 2014 at 10:23 am

this is quite an old street in palo alto. who thinks up these boondoggles? just dilly-dally around with this. sure wish that palo alto was affordable

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Thanks, City of Palo Alto
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2014 at 11:02 am

I'm glad this project is happening. It was sorely needed. The street needed redesign and repaving. The utilities underneath the street were past their prime. Safe, reliable gas and water has to be periodically updated. It's worth the trouble and the money. Thank you City of Palo Alto.

Having recently done a home remodel I know that construction delays can happen when you open up the ground and discover additional work that needs to be done.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Interested Resident
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 20, 2014 at 11:02 am

@Jon B: Our family has carefully watched this project since September 2009, right after the trees were removed. The 4 year delay was only to get public input on this project as it went forward, and not to do any gas work.

Gas work was completed by mid 2009, before the trees came down. Do you remember the entire district was torn up, including parts of sidewalks, for more than half of 2009? It was a mess for several months that year.

Prior to that, we'd be sitting inside a restaurant, and the gas would go off. We could only order cold meals. Code or insurance companies made restaurants lock their fridges. Even getting cold food was dramatic for everyone then.

After the trees were removed, Calif Ave was going to be resurfaced and striped into two lanes as phase two of the original project. But because phase one came as a shock to us residents, the city stopped everything, and opened up the discussions to the community.

The process lasted four years. A new and improved phase two resumed this past March, with the replacement of the water main first.

New trees were selected quickly, in collaboration with residents. We were invited to plant the trees ourselves, in January 2010. So those trees are now four years old.

It has not been too bad to drive/walk Calif Ave. now. But I hope this is the only delay, and the project will be finished by the time they claim.
It's high time for it to be completed, so everyone can just enjoy it.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Don
a resident of Los Altos
on Aug 20, 2014 at 11:29 am

Watch March come and go with the project unfinished.

The north/west side of the street between Ash and El Camino is now torn up. They're talking about starting on the south/east side of the street next week. Then we'll have a mess and no parking on both sides of the street. My guess is they'll tear it up so they can say they're sticking to the schedule.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 20, 2014 at 11:40 am

And weekly the Sunday Farmers Market goes on unfazed.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Don
a resident of Los Altos
on Aug 20, 2014 at 11:50 am

The sidewalk choice for the California Ave. project looks like a grey concrete parking lot, with some ugly glass pieces mixed in for what appear to be random sections. Contrast it with Castro St. in Mountain View, with its nice diagonally oriented sidewalk treatment:

Web Link

And take a walk down the south side of California Ave., between Birch and the train station. Aside from being ugly, it appears to be incomplete. What's done looks amateurish and unfinished, and some old cracked sections are untouched.

It'll be a shame if it all ends up like this.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by 37 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Wanna bet it'll cost a lot more by then....

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Here is this week's streetscape project update.

***The contractor is scheduled to begin saw cutting/potholing for Phase 3, Ash to El Camino Real (south side) on Aug. 27, 2014. Each business will need to remove all of their furnishings (tables, chairs, potted plants, etc.) before work begins. The contractor will be closing off half of the sidewalk to allow work for this phase of the project. Door to door outreach/flyers will be handed out this week, with more specific details.*****

Streetscape work continues between Park and Birch on the south side of California Avenue, with the installation of the new curb, gutter and sidewalk. Most of the new concrete for the sidewalks will be going in by the end of the week. Electrical and landscaping trenches will be placed crossing Birch on the south side. Single lane traffic control and detours will be in place for this work.
Between Ash and El Camino Real on the north side of California Avenue, work will continue with placement of the new sidewalk, curb and gutter. Streetlight conduit and foundations, as well as work on the irrigation sleeves, will continue to be installed this week prior to the concrete for the sidewalk curb and gutter.
Work affecting vehicular and pedestrian traffic:

Single lane of traffic in both directions between the Plaza and El Camino Real throughout the week.

Bus stops along California Avenue will be temporarily relocated. The contractor is coordinating with Samtrans, VTA and Marguerite.

Parking will be restricted on the block of concrete demolition between Park and Birch (south side) and Ash to El Camino (north side).

Pedestrian traffic from Park to Birch, and Ash to El Camino Real, in the vicinity of concrete demolition, will remain open with some detouring around the work zones. Ramps will be provided to business entrances to span work area.

Pedestrian access to businesses will be maintained at all times.


Jack hammering will take place between Park and Birch (south side), and utility trench crossing at Birch and between El Camino Real and Ash (north side).
Forming for the curb and gutter will include hammering with handheld hammers and the whine of electric saws.

Doweling for new concrete will require impact drills with noise and dust.
Expect general construction equipment noise from dump and trucks, excavators, and concrete delivery vehicles.

Some dust is to be expected in the vicinity of jackhammering and soil compaction operations.

A sweeper truck should be onsite at the end of each day.

Work will generally occur between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. The contractor might start as early as 7 a.m. in order to expedite some of the concrete pours—construction noise will be minimal. A daily quiet period will continue from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day. As a reminder, "quiet time" means no loud construction noise, such as saw cutting, jack hammering, and excavating. The City has asked the contractor to comply with the daily "quiet time." We understand the importance of keeping businesses and patrons happy and appreciate everyone's patience during this time.

If you have any questions regarding the project construction, please call Bill Davis, the construction manager, at (510) 772–9092.

 +   4 people like this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 20, 2014 at 12:27 pm

It will be finished in March of what year??

The poor merchants. What did the city give them to compensate them for lost business? One of the clerks in one of the Cal Ave businesses was complaining months ago about the city's overly zealous attempts to ticket employee cars.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 20, 2014 at 12:42 pm

[Post removed.]

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Cal Ave Pedestrian
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2014 at 12:43 pm

I share Don's concern about the very poor quality of the concrete sidewalks at this stage of construction. Unless the contractor is planning on additional finish work (using some technique with which I am unfamiliar), the completed sidewalks could be very ugly, with large sections of cracked and stained sidewalks not having been replaced, and even new areas that seem uneven and clumsily integrated with existing slabs. It would be much appreciated if the Palo Alto Online staff to look into this -- before it is too late to do anything about it.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Don
a resident of Los Altos
on Aug 20, 2014 at 12:58 pm

> Cal Ave Pedestrian wrote:

> I share Don's concern about the very poor quality of the concrete sidewalks at this stage of construction.

I just talked to Bill Davis, the construction manager. We walked down and looked at the sections in question. The sidewalk on the south side of the street, between Birch and the train station, is complete (from their perspective). He said that for whatever reason, the old/undone sections will not be updated. He didn't know why, except to say that the decisions were made a long time ago, and are set in stone, so to speak.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 20, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Evergreen Park Neighborhood! Please learn from the experience of 4 residential neighborhoods adjacent to the University Avenue commercial core. I guarantee that your residential neighborhood will soon experience more spillover commercial parking and traffic. Thank goodness you have some traffic calming measures already in place. Every time the City Council brags about vibrant California Avenue you must realize that your residential streets will be vibrating from spillover traffic and parking. The City Council will on Nov 17 consider an ordinance to restrict the number of workers and shoppers who can park in your neighborhood. You should take advantage of this ordinance to protect the quality of your neighborhood.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2014 at 1:39 pm

So when does the re-landscaping project begin?

 +   2 people like this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 20, 2014 at 3:12 pm

ChrisC is a registered user.

Hold up your hand if you are surprised.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Here we go again
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Just one more thing with this project that the city council promised us would NOT happen!

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Aug 21, 2014 at 1:36 pm

> The home of angry, libertarian, government bashing, union hating whiners.

Yes, it's those damnable freedom-lovers again, always wishing for competent governance and value for the taxpayer dollar. How unreasonable is that!

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2014 at 11:21 am

@ Brian: Some unions (well, the union leaders) deserve to be pointed out for their "efforts" that end up hurting (in the long term) both the people in the unions and the people who utilize goods and services. Holding the government "of the people, by the people and for the people" accountable is one of the principles that this nation was founded upon. As far as "libertarian:" What is wrong with adequate individual and collective freedom and liberty?

I do hope that this is finished sooner rather than later.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Typical
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 25, 2014 at 12:31 pm

This is typical for construction projects: over budget and way over the time allotment.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 30, 2014 at 10:48 am

The project will probably turn out hideous, just like all the other recent city projects. When will City Manager Keene be fired for incompetence?

 +   6 people like this
Posted by Ouch!
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 23, 2014 at 1:28 pm

We just got back from eating lunch on Cal Ave. Someone decided to install recycled glass in the sidewalk. I guess I won't be wearing flip-flops on that stretch of sidewalk again. I almost stubbed my toe on glass that got dislodged from the sidewalk. Wow, talk about a potential lawsuit.

 +   5 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2014 at 2:30 pm


I was on Cal Ave this weekend and was wondering how it would take before there was a lawsuit. Some kid (or even an adult) is going to fall, and the glass in the sidewalk is going to shred their skin off to the bone.

It doesn't even look good. I have seen Terrazzo with SMALL pieces of embedded glass that looks very appealing, but the sidewalks on Cal Ave just look like someone dumped out their glass recycling bin into the wet concrete.

 +   5 people like this
Posted by What is the cause?
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 23, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Maybe the sidewalk design was chosen by the same people who chose the new carpet in the council chambers.

Something is very wrong with this administration. They keep spending so much money and the result is not satisfactory. Can it be intentional? Truly hard to figure otherwise.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Sep 23, 2014 at 6:35 pm

Construction projects often take longer than projected --- NOT SHOCKING, no one needs to be fired.

And, it's not the end of the world for the city. SO TIRED of Palo Alto citizens complaining about absolutely everything. Does anyone in PA watch the news and see that there are real problems to deal with?

 +   4 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 23, 2014 at 9:21 pm

@ neighbor

We are just making a point of how incompetent this administration is. Who in the heck
chose the finish for the sidewalk. Really? Broken sharp shrouds of old glass beer bottles embedded in concrete? No one had the competence to at least purchase tumbled recycled glass Web Link. How in the heck are we saving the earth with a decision like this? Who made this decision?

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 23, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Perhaps to obviate the sit/lie ordinance?
Honest, I'm grasping for a reasonable explanation.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by OKB
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Re: the glass shards in sidewalks: I found a status report on the Cal Ave sidewalks with snippet below:

City Council Staff report from 9/15/2014
Web Link

The new decorative sidewalks segments with decorative glass jewels are located at key
pedestrian dwelling areas such as midblock crossing locations, intersection bulb-outs and plaza
areas. The first batch of decorative sidewalk segments built for the project resulted in a 2 week
delay to address supply issues of the decorative glass jewels. The glass jewels supplied during
the material approval process did not match the glass jewels installed at the first field
installation sites near Park Boulevard. Additional decorative sidewalk segments were delayed
while the supplier modified their fabrication process to ensure a more uniform material size.
The initial two installations in front of Kinko's and Baume Restaurant were removed and
replaced in July. With the glass jewel fabrication issues addressed, decorative s

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 14, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I can't wait for the city to enlighten us on their "marketing efforts" and how plans to increase patronage, especially of restaurants like Brioche, Pastis, etc. that are deprived of their sidewalk tables and are now closed to dinner patrons for inside tables as well.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by What is the cause?
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 14, 2014 at 5:43 pm

[Post removed.]

 +   Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2014 at 5:55 pm

[Post removed.]

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Steven Baker
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2014 at 8:01 pm

I am very disappointed in the embedded glass in the concrete. It seems like a well-meaning, "environmental" feature gone awry. I can no longer let my children play on the cal ave sidewalks. On a regular sidewalk, if they fall, they scrape their knees or faces. In two minutes today of running free on the cal ave sidewalks, both of my children fell, and one of them got his knee sliced open by the glass shards embedded in the new sidewalks which stick out with sharp glass edges ready to slice open young faces and knees.

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