Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 2, 2011

Around Town

THIS IS NOT A THREAT, BUT ... Palo Alto officials are convinced that reducing driving lanes from four to two along California Avenue would usher in a new era of economic prosperity for the commercial strip, bringing it closer in character to University Avenue or Mountain View's Castro Street. Some in the business community aren't so sure. While many bicyclists and residents have praised the proposal, a number of California Avenue merchants, including owners of Cho's Dim Sum, Palo Alto Sol and Keeble & Shuchat have come out against the lane shrinkages. David Bennett, owner of Mollie Stone's Market, also counts himself among the opposition. This week, Bennett wrote a letter to the City Council suggesting that he may convert the supermarket to housing if the city proceeds with the change, which he claims would hurt his business. The site's commercial zoning allows housing but only as long as there is retail on the ground floor. "Bicycle and pedestrian access is wonderful, but unfortunately for us, we are at the end of a one-way street, and access is already VERY limited," he wrote in the letter. He also noted that his store owns the property, which is "targeted as a property for housing." "We are adjacent to the rail and have alternate plans if our store does not succeed," Bennett wrote. "In my career in the grocery business, I have not seen the supermarket survive when access is limited in this situation." "Please do not take this as a threat," he concluded in his letter, "but the supermarket may be in jeopardy if our sales are impacted by reduction in auto access." The non-threat did not, however, keep the council from unanimously reconfirming its commitment to the lane-reduction plan. Councilman Pat Burt said he was "baffled" by the merchants' opposition, given the positive impact of reducing lanes at prominent commercial strips in neighboring cities. Councilman Greg Scharff agreed and pointed to the city's traffic study, which showed that the lane changes would not create the traffic congestion feared by the merchants. "It's fairly obvious that there's no impact, especially when you look at traffic," Scharff said.

JUST DESSERTS ... The world economy may still be in the dumps, but Palo Alto officials found reasons to smile this week when they met to discuss plans to spur on the city's economic development. Palo Alto's property values remain astronomical; its downtown vacancy rate is microscopic; and its reputation as a high-tech giant is as formidable as ever. City Manager James Keene acknowledged at Tuesday's meeting of the City Council's Policy and Services Committee that despite the ongoing gloom of the recent recession, things in Palo Alto are actually "going great." But he and the council agreed that this doesn't mean the city should stay put and enjoy its relative prosperity. Staff has compiled a list of possible ideas for adding revenue to the city's coffers — ideas that include installing a digital billboard, bringing in an auto mall and evaluating the potential for expanding Stanford Shopping Center, a critical source of sales-tax revenue. "We need to not just sit back and just keep everything static but to act to try to keep our revenue base and grow it where we can," Keene said. The committee did not vote on Keene's proposed economic-development policy and recommended a host of minor wording changes. The committee's biggest disagreement was over how much the council should be involved in the staff plan. Councilwoman Karen Holman noted that the council hadn't discussed the proposed billboard and auto mall and suggested that members should have a chance to offer ideas. Councilman Larry Klein disagreed and warned against too much involvement from the council. Klein said he wished staff hadn't brought forward its economic-development plan because it creates a temptation for individual council members to micromanage staff's work. "You put before us a high-calorie dessert," Klein said, referring to the action plan. "Even though council members know it's not good for them, I don't think we can avoid putting our forks and spoons into that dessert."

SEASON'S GREETINGS ... Palo Alto will officially kick off the holiday season on Friday, Dec. 9, with a tree-lighting and dedication ceremony at Lytton Plaza. City officials, downtown merchants and festive residents plan to gather at the University Avenue at Emerson Street plaza at 5 p.m. The tree lighting will take place at about 5:30 p.m.

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