Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 18, 2011

News Digest

Palo Alto council backs lane cuts on Cal Ave

Palo Alto's plan to transform California Avenue into a two-lane pedestrian-friendly boulevard sped ahead Monday night (Feb. 14) when the City Council unanimously backed the project despite a mixed reception from area merchants.

Local opinions at Monday's meeting ranged from anticipation and excitement to frustration and skepticism. While a clear majority of area residents and business owners spoke in favor of the streetscape project, some claimed the changes would disrupt traffic flow and hurt California Avenue businesses.

After hearing from both camps, the council approved the environmental study for the California Avenue Streetscape Project — a $1.7 million effort to renovate the popular commercial strip and to add a host of street improvements, including newsracks, benches, bulbouts, large trees and bicycle parking spots. The project would be funded largely with a $1.2 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), with the city contributing an additional $550,000.

"I think this will be a fabulous improvement to California Avenue," said Councilman Greg Scharff, whose office is located near the busy strip and who regularly dines there.

By far the most contentious element of the project is the proposal to reduce the number of lanes from four to two. City officials say the lane reduction would make the street safer and more attractive to pedestrians and bicyclists. The city also hopes to enhance the street's sense of identity and make it more like Castro Street in Mountain View and Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park. Thomas Fehrenbach, Palo Alto's manager for economic development, told the council Monday that the California Avenue improvements would entice shoppers and diners to spend money in the commercial area.

Design plans for Roth Building get approval

Plans to open the Palo Alto History Museum at the historic Roth Building at 300 Homer Ave. ramped up Wednesday (Feb. 16) when the city's Historic Resources Board unanimously approved design plans for the building's rehabilitation.

"Palo Alto History Museum sees this as an opportunity to fulfill a longtime need in Palo Alto for a local history museum," museum president Steve Staiger said, adding that Palo Alto is one of the few cities without such a museum.

The historical rehabilitation planned by San Francisco-based architect Michael Garavaglia will include a 1,462-foot addition to the 19,182-foot building built by Palo Alto architect Birge Clark in 1932.

The Historic Resources Board was the first of two official approvals the project received this week. On Thursday morning, the Architectural Review Board added its own endorsement when it unanimously gave the building's proposed design a green light. Its approval came with a few conditions, including ones relating to building signage and to public access to the building's restroom and cafe.

Among plans described at the Wednesday meeting of the historical board are a pair of two-story additions to the south-facing rear of the building. These upgrades will provide more gallery space and a more pleasing view from adjacent Heritage Park, and will be painted to differentiate new design elements from the building's original features, Garavaglia said.

Staiger projected the Palo Alto History Museum will begin construction this summer and occupy the building next year.

County domestic-violence deaths drop by half

Despite an increase in deaths nationwide due to domestic violence in 2010, the trend in Santa Clara County reversed — with only five deaths in 2010 as compared to 11 deaths in 2009, the District Attorney's office announced Monday (Feb. 14).

County intervention programs, increased reporting of domestic-violence incidents, outreach, mental-health programs and rigorous arrests and prosecution contributed to the decline, Assistant District Attorney Rolanda Pierre Dixon said during a press conference in San Jose.

"It is our belief that Santa Clara County's cutting-edge policies and procedures helped keep the number of domestic-violence-related deaths down this year, especially at a time when the economy is in such poor shape. ... It is very clear that outside stressors such as underemployment can be deadly in a domestic-violence home," she said.

But while the lower numbers are encouraging, county officials say there is still more work to be done.

The number of deaths in 2010 is up from a low of three in 2008 but down from a high of 21 deaths in 2003, according to the committee's annual report. The highest incident rate for the past decade was in 2000, with 15 separate events.

The 2010 deaths occurred in three separate incidents: in Mountain View (one homicide/suicide) and San Jose (one homicide/suicide and one homicide). All of the deaths were by firearm, Dixon said.

A list of warning signs and characteristics of batterers who kill is available online at www.paloaltoonline.com.

— Sue Dremann

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