Palo Alto Weekly
News - January 13, 2012
Neighbors lobby for new road in research park
With major construction on the horizon, road could ease College Terrace traffic
by Sue Dremann
A new road northwest of Page Mill Road that could divert traffic from the College Terrace neighborhood will be looked at by Palo Alto staff, city planning director Curtis Williams has confirmed.
The idea for a "spine road" to take traffic from El Camino Real through the center of the north end of the Stanford Research Park's ó two blocks between California Avenue and Page Mill Road ó could play a major role when two housing developments get underway in 2014.
It's not a new idea. Discussions of the road emerged nearly a decade ago. The road was proposed by the College Terrace Residents Association as a way to mitigate traffic impacts that have been growing steadily on California Avenue and surrounding residential streets.
In 2005, the city and Stanford University formed the Mayfield Development Agreement, which allowed 250 housing units to be built at two sites adjacent to College Terrace in exchange for a 51-year lease of land at Page Mill Road and El Camino Real for $1 annually. Athletic playing fields have been built there.
One housing development would occupy 1.8 acres at 2450, 2470 and 2500 El Camino, between California and Page Mill. A larger development would be constructed on 17 acres on the 1400 to 1600 blocks of upper California Avenue, adjacent to the Peter Coutts housing on the Stanford campus (the former site of Facebook).
A May 2, 2005, city manager's report recommended exploring a spine road from El Camino to Hanover Street and noted "Stanford is supportive of any future initiative by the city to study this potential circulation option." The report also noted the need to consider options to remove traffic away from California Avenue.
An initial traffic study showed that housing would generate "significantly less traffic" than the commercial buildings it would replace. But at the same time, a new workspace model, adopted by Facebook, tripled the number of employees working in the same space. The model has been a game changer in terms of how future businesses coming into the research park could impact traffic in the surrounding area, residents have said.
With demolition of structures on the sites expected to begin in 2014, College Terrace association members have let university officials know they want the spine road to be part of the university's construction plan. Residents met with city planning staff and Stanford real-estate personnel in June to discuss the issue.
Even before the residences are built, Stanford will have to devise a way to move out demolished buildings and move in construction materials. Most buildings in the research park are aligned to allow a road, residents said.
"We are concerned about having California Avenue become a construction road for 17 acres of concrete and dirt coming out and 17 acres of construction materials coming in," neighborhood association President Brent Barker said.
At the neighborhood association's annual meeting last March, residents asked then-Mayor Sid Espinosa to initiate a study regarding the spine road. In November the city confirmed staff would look into the issue.
Williams, the city planning director, said this week that the city "is not preparing a 'study' as such for the spine road," but will be meeting with the College Terrace group about the spine road concept and how to develop a sketch (or plan line) that will help planners to review future development proposals.
"This is something that would need to be implemented through future development or voluntarily by research park tenants. We expect that the future (2013) development plans for residential on the 1601 California Ave. site will be a good opportunity to initiate the concept and want to be prepared for that or other development possibilities as they arise," he said.
A spine road could depend on research-park leaseholders agreeing to modifications to their buildings. But the city and Stanford did give the idea a nod by requiring two driveway curb cuts when a new building was planned at 2475 Hanover. The south driveway was designed for potential use as part of the spine road, College Terrace association members noted.
Steve Elliott, Stanford's managing director of development, said the university has not yet been in contact with the city regarding details of a potential road.
"Regarding the Mayfield projects, it is too early in the process to know or project the construction schedule. We are still in the preliminary planning stages and will be working with the city and the neighbors as we move forward," he said.
Barker said that given the trend toward intensifying high-tech workspaces that increases the number of employees, a spine road makes sense that could serve as both an inner conduit for employees and as a service road.
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at email@example.com.
Posted by Fred Balin,
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 17, 2012 at 9:36 pm
Fred Balin is a registered user.
Good and timely article.
One addition I would offer for more completeness is that in addition to the soccer fields that Stanford has built on its land, donated to the city for 51 years; and the 250 units of housing that it will build on about 350,000 square feet of current commercial space in two areas within Stanford Research Park (“SRP”); is that the university is also allowed to transfer almost all of that commercial space, 300,000 square feet, for development in other areas within SRP.
This 300,000 square feet of “replacement square footage” is independent of the cap on development within SRP as per the current Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan, while it also affords additional zoning incentives for its use, specifically in the SRP “triangle” bounded by Foothill Expressway, Arastradero Road, and Page Mill Road.
Craig Laughton notes that VMware “was also part of the Mayfield deal,” which is true, although it was not made public at the time. Mayfield allowed immediate use of one-third of the replacement square footage (100,000 square feet), and VMware’s 2005 formal application for its initial SRP development came right on the heels of the city council’s approval of the Mayfield Development Agreement (“Mayfield”).
This Thursday morning, VMware returns to the city planning process with updated plans for a new development, including a request for an additional 90,000 square feet of Mayfield replacement square footage. However, this time, and as per Mayfield, the use of replacement square footage must be preceded by various steps, including the demolition of office space designated for housing.
So plans for the housing on current commercial space within Research Park, including the former Facebook / Agilent / HP site at 1601 California Avenue are coming soon if not already on the drawing board.
Sue Dremann points out that the spine road concept is a decade old. And at least 5 years after it was codified as a College Terrace Residents’ Association (CTRA) “ Issue and Opportunity,” the 2004-2005 Mayfield process unfolded. And so, in early 2005, at a large public meeting in College Terrace featuring panels from both Stanford and the city, the CTRA board made a timely presentation with regard to the spine road concept. This helped lead to the city’s recommendation and Stanford’s willingness for the city to explore the concept, as the article notes.
There is neither any mandate nor guarantee that a spine road will be constructed; all the many and complex parameters of Mayfield are long since signed, sealed, and delivered, within the 100-page Mayfield Development Agreement of May, 2005, and supporting, referenced documents.
All that College Terrace has is a concept that it believes is worthy and the willingness of the city and Stanford to explore it. Time will tell.
In such efforts, timing is always crucial, but in College Terrace time itself has proven to be just as important, if not more so.
It is the willingness of College Terrace to invest significant amounts of time assessing neighborhood needs, formulating potential solutions, and seeking support, and then having the willingness to continue to work on its goals and ideas over the long-term, with new residents in the neighborhood, and among new faces on the CTRA Board that may be its greatest asset in civic matters.
The seeds of the College Terrace Residential Parking Permit Program, now in its third year, lead back to at least the 2000 General Use Permit between Stanford and Santa Clara County. The College Terrace Traffic Calming Program has it roots as a mitigation for impacts of a 2003 office development at Hanover Street and California Avenue.
If the spine road concept becomes a reality, it will be because of patience and perseverance as much as anything else.
College Terrace certainly does not get everything it wants, nor do residents agree on every issue. However, in areas where there is a broad consensus, a pressing need, or an idea that just makes sense, College Terrace has shown its willingness and ability to seriously, productively, and patiently engage in the public process.