California Avenue's streetscape renovation, which will begin this month, is part of a broad plan to bring more technology firms, mixed-use buildings and dense housing to Palo Alto's "second downtown."
But tech workers walking along Park Boulevard on their way to lunch on California Avenue have yet to catch that vision.
They said they likely would not live in the housing planned for near their offices, owing to the high costs in Palo Alto.
"Just because (we work in) high tech doesn't mean we have affordable rent or transportation," said Josephine Lee, revenue team lead at Medallia, a Park Boulevard company that creates software to track and improve customer experience.
AOL software engineers Phong Nguyen and Carl Valencia said they would like to see substantially lower rents through increased housing supply. But they doubted that would happen.
To accomplish that goal, said David Friedland, an engineering manager at Groupon, Palo Alto would have to allow massive amounts of high-rise housing, including 50-story apartment buildings.
Zach Steinkamp, a Groupon software-engineering manager, credited mass transportation and job opportunity — not local amenities — for bringing him to Palo Alto.
Locating tech companies near mass transit — in particular Caltrain — is "a huge part of why I work in Palo Alto," the San Jose resident said. Steinkamp agreed that, because of high rents, he would not move to the California Avenue district even if apartments are built.
What workers do want is convenience, affordability and vibrancy, many said.
If the city wants a thriving California Avenue area, workers want amenities as close as possible. In order to get to California Avenue, many walk or bike along Park from south of the Oregon Expressway underpass — a trek some said is dangerous due to a lack of crosswalks. They would like to see restaurants and other services nearer where they work, or offices located along the avenue near stores.
The singular, most consistent draw to California Avenue remains food. Like spawning salmon, each day between noon and 1:30 p.m. employees flock to the avenue's eateries and coffee spots.
They want more — faster, more convenient, affordable and recognizable, they said.
Some want food trucks parked in empty lots; others want good but reasonably priced restaurants to take their dates to. They want meeting places and ethnic cuisine: pho restaurants, other Vietnamese food, tapioca drinks and ice cream. Nothing fancy, they said.
The walk isn't bad, but it isn't convenient. They want restaurants and coffee houses on Park, they said.
"We used to have coffee in the AOL building — Blue Bottle — but they left us," said Lisa Hern, client relationship manager at Intapp. She would like to see a Philz Coffee move to Park, she added.
Overall, most employees said they are satisfied with services along California Avenue, but they rarely consider the area for much else other than lunch. Most stores on the avenue are too expensive, they said.
"It's rare to use other stores. Some people go (to California Avenue) for happy hour. But there's not much to do," Lee said.
Some workers said they'd like a Paul Martin's American Grill restaurant to meet at for happy hour, such as the one at The Village at San Antonio Center in Mountain View.
Joey Young, senior revenue accountant at Medallia, said many restaurants along California are too pricey for a dinner date.
Also, California doesn't have the cache of University Avenue, where many workers said they like to meet.
Attracting their interest will also take some sprucing up of California Avenue.
"The exteriors don't make it appealing. It doesn't make me want to come here. We just go to specific (restaurants) we know are good," Lee said.