Plan to widen El Camino sidewalks sidelined | April 11, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 11, 2014

Plan to widen El Camino sidewalks sidelined

Palo Alto proposal to have bigger building setbacks fails to win support of Planning and Transportation Commission

by Gennady Sheyner

With pressure mounting against Palo Alto's effort to widen sidewalks on El Camino Real, the city's planning commissioners took a stand Wednesday against a staff proposal to require new developments be built farther back from the curb.

This story contains 673 words.

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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by entitled pedestrians, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2014 at 12:14 am

All those self-entitled pedestrians want to walk safely in Palo Alto? Get real. A wider sidewalk is not going to stop a distracted driver from running you down. If you want to be safe in Palo Alto, get a car and drive.

Posted by Another victory for developers, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 10, 2014 at 8:30 am

You can't have it both ways. Increased density with the vision of a walkable city and then build so close to the sidewalk that residents don't want to walk around. This is a win for developers and a big loss to quality of life in Palo Alto.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2014 at 8:45 am

I don't think the width of the sidewalks is the big problem. The big problem is that instead of putting parking lots in front of buildings they are now being put at the back and the backs of buildings are now right up beside the sidewalks. This makes the streets feel like a tunnel and whether you are walking or driving it is unpleasant. Let's go back to putting the fronts of buildings facing the street with parking in front.

Posted by Alcheck for Mayor (NOT), a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 10, 2014 at 9:11 am

Unbelieveable! This deserves to be posted around town - no wonder we can't get anyone on PTC... with developer ideologues like this poisoning the conversation. Alcheck's attitude is so far at odds with the will of the voters, he should be removed from the Commission immediately. We need both the setbacks AND the FAR reduction.

Alcheck lauded the regional vision of turning El Camino into a "grand boulevard" but soundly rejected proposal to reduce floor-area-ratio on El Camino properties. To the contrary, the city should encourage more density and more redevelopment along the strip, along with greater heights.

"I think we have to articulate an ordinance that considers increasing floor-area ratio," Alcheck said. "Not keeping it the same -- dramatically increasing it. I refuse to support any initiative where we increase sidewalk space and we reduce the developable square footage on these sites without dramatically increasing height."

Posted by Real estate interests, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:15 am

Michael Alcheck's real estate connections are huge. He and his family are deeply invested in real estate. His votes reflect their interests.
Maybe that's why Council members Burt, Espinosa, Klein, Price, Scharff, Shepherd voted for his appointment to the Planning Commission in July 2013.

Posted by Alchedk for Mayor (NOT), a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:36 am

The PTC is clearly not currently a functional body. Perhaps it should be disbanded until after the election to stop wasting people's time. Might save staff some time and enable them to eliminate some consulting dollars too.

Posted by Alchedk for Mayor (NOT), a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:36 am

The PTC is clearly not currently a functional body. Perhaps it should be disbanded until after the election to stop wasting people's time. Might save staff some time and enable them to eliminate some consulting dollars too.

Posted by Scott, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:49 am

Commissioner Alcheck thinks El Camino should be a canyon? Seriously? Who wants that, other than developers who stand to profit handsomely? At least he's not hiding his biases, but a "canyon" is not appropriate for Palo Alto. Sounds more like San Jose to me! How does that make for a "walkable" space? Not on this planet, anyway. Major cities have canyons, and people walk in them, but they don't have any other choice.

Posted by anon , a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:49 am

I agree with the comments that are critical of Alchecks performance and the PTC in general.

Mr. Alchecks job as a planning commissioner is not to push his own ideology, but rather to evaluate projects with regards to their compliance with the comp plan and zoning.

He does indeed have real estate interests as well.
Perhaps his appointment should be reconsidered by council, or at least he should be advised that his actions are improper.

Posted by Debby, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:12 am

Rather than the problem being the width of the sidewalks, I think it is the lack of building setback from the sidewalk particularly if the building is more than one floor. Instead of increasing the width of the sidewalk, we need to require GREEN SPACE between the sidewalk and the building.

Posted by Jon Parsons, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:19 am

All things old are new again. The late 50's return with a development mania that growth is good for business, what is good for business is good for growing government, and whatever is good for a growing government is good for its long-suffering silent citizenry. Council members let slip the mad dogs of development, so they can better wring their hands in mock dismay.

Posted by KP, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:24 am

@ Resident and Debby - EXACTLY! A set back should be required. The sidewalk should be lined with plants, trees, etc., just like it used to be before they started building right on the edge!
How hard is it to figure these thing out?!?
Our city council really sucks when it comes to common sense.
You would think that they are not only getting paid by our tax dollars, but by every contractor and investor that comes to PA with a crappy "plan".
It's simply amazing....*sigh*

Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:25 am

Thoroughfares, regardless of sidewalk width, are far more attraractively "walkable" when there are no curb-cut driveways for patrons of the roadside businesses. Each driveway or service alley I pass on my sidewalk stroll is a miniature cross street, where I have to watch for entering & exiting cars. Cars entering those driveways to park off-street are usually traveling close to the posted ECR speed limit and paying more attention to their rear-view mirrors than to a lone pedestrian sauntering toward the driveway. Parking access for ECR businesses is usually directly from ECR which is counter-intuitive to creating a safe pedestrian boulevard experience.

When I want to walk along a busy road, in this case also a State Highway, I hope to see more interesting storefronts than motel driveways, fast-food, mom & pop convenience stores, or auto repair establishments. I'll stroll University, Santa Cruz Ave, Broadway in Redwood City, Burlingame Ave, Main St in Los Altos, and before the tree savagery, California Avenue. There's really nothing I want to examine more closely along El Camino where I'd also get heavily dosed with auto & bus exhaust fumes. Wider sidewalks won't make it better.

Posted by Neilson Buchanan, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:25 am

Since impasse, confusion and delay have arrived. Let's have a contest for design of a half mile segment of El Camino Real. On one side, have leading architects submit sketches of Grand Blvd. schemes. Some canyonized to 6 stories; other schemes moderated, withundulating heights, setbacks, etc.

On the other side of ECR, show how El Camino Real will evolve with current zoning during the next 20 years. Palo Altans could easily see the best, most practical features of these two schemes.

Posted by Brian, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:26 am

It's fitting the picture of the pedestrian on the side walk was near the Olive Garden restaurant. Every time I walk be there I am reminded of how poorly the sidewalk is designed. It is littered with sign posts, light post, fire hydrants and other stuff. It is nearly impossible to walk side by side or have a conversation while you are walking. What fun is that!

Posted by Longtime Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:26 am

I like Debby's suggestion. Why is it we never had all these issues before now? Large buildings were not built right next to the sidewalk. Everything was pleasant for everyone, the architecture, user-friendly for drivers, easy to negotiate for the few pedestrians that walked parts of this Highway that expands from San Jose to San Francisco. It is just common sense. How about Debby for Mayor? She seems to have her finger on the pulse of what most residents want to see, and her idea would be good for business too. Developers? Not so much.

Posted by 35 year resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:27 am

Struck by a bolt of common sense or fear of citizen outrage, the PTC did something sensible for a change. I bet it killed them to push this off to Our Palo Alto. Maybe they're finally getting the message.

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:36 am

Can't they take part of the street and turn that into a wider sidewalk instead? It seems to me that parking on El Camino is mostly unnecessary given the amount of large parking lots near businesses in the area. Or maybe they can narrow each lane by an few inches, especially the far right lane and widen the sidewalks without taking land. The lanes really are wider than they need to be, especially given the speed at which you can actually drive on El Camino during rush hour.

Posted by Anciana, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:40 am

I'm with Debby and KP. Something green between the sidewalk and the buildings would really be nice! What walker wants to look at a bunch of parked cars in front of every building?

Posted by musical, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:58 am

"parked cars in front of every building" sounds like Midtown. Haven't heard much complaining about design in that shopping area, except that everyone would drive faster than 25 mph if there weren't so many traffic lights.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 10, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Gee, does that mean the idiotic Grand Boulevard concept is dead and we're not going to build a $25 million Eiffel Tower?

Posted by NotADeveloper, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 10, 2014 at 2:40 pm

@ another victory for developer,

Why are you assume they are "devlopers"? Are you a developer for your home?
If you were at the meeting, you will see that they were mostly local business and propterty owners. Do you think they would rather have a vibrant street or a dead one?
The problem is that the vision is not substantiated by a good study of reality and overall zoning to support both the vision and benefit to the business or owners.
Don't you think these business owners would rather see more people coming around to their shops?

Posted by Tracy May, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 10, 2014 at 2:40 pm

The EL Camino Real has little "mom and pop" businesses that don't have deep pockets, but, the city government wants to take over the free use of their land, to widen sidewalks that no one really wants to walk on in the first place! The city wants to make "canyons" of stacked residential. Who wants to live or walk on a 6 lane highway, breathing fumes? It is not just an El Camino Real property owners problem, the city document re. ECR sidewalk widening, dated 2/20/2014, bottom of pg. 9 states: "Consultant use anticipated for further study of increasing sidewalk width requirements throughout Palo Alto." The city government wants to have free use of everyone's land, for their sidewalks...residents are next!!!

Posted by registered user, Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 10, 2014 at 7:53 pm

I agree with those who recommend more greenery. As we learned with the California Ave. tree debacle, trees--or lack thereof--make a remarkable difference. Without them we're left with a whole lotta ugly.

Posted by jayson barden, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 11, 2014 at 9:07 am

way to much traffic on elcamino real for a leisurely walk it,s a highway.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2014 at 9:36 am

Why not first clean up the clutter, standards for street signs,lighting and most sidewalk fixtures.

Not all of Europe is about wide Blvds, more human scale function. I think it should be property by property but maybe having parking where parking curbside when needed. Larger the lot, the sife can be widen towards the streets if they own a parking lot.

Buildings owners can also make store fronts more interesting,maybe sitting them back will create space for tables, displays or landscaping. Small designed urban spaces with tables, well lit and well placed.

El Camino Real is a.highway but a commercial strip for neighborhoods, and their visitors.

Posted by Hermia, a resident of Triple El
on Apr 11, 2014 at 11:02 am

I just don't get why the businessmen/developers have failed to do their homework,
Unless this is just knee-jerk anti regulation behavior.

I can't see the businesses that are flush to the street. I can see that there's an ugly block beside me as I drive, but it just forces my attention back to the corridor ahead. Only the businesses that are set back give your eye a chance to find them.
I've lived here 17 years and I've never gone into any of the shops that are flush with ECR. They just look like a whole lotta cheap. I go where it looks interesting, and that's always where the building is set back.

Posted by Hermia, a resident of Triple El
on Apr 11, 2014 at 11:05 am

I also think it's pretty disingenuous to claim that the city is "taking" and "forcing" small businesses to change when the regs only apply if you're changing the property up already. It's not like they're planning to bulldoze some little shop if the owner doesn't pick it up and move it back.

I hate it when they lie to manipulate people.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2014 at 9:01 am

Start with removing clutter and making standards for signs, poles and other street/sidewalk fixtures.

Maybe if the building has their own parking lot, widen the sidewal in front, if the building doesn't leave the parking in front. Why not allow building owners the option of placing their storefronts further back to create outside space

Signs on buildings, well designed lit signs.

12 foot is not that narrow but not every business will have tables, benches or other outdoor features.

Creative shop front design, see roll up garage doors or sliding glass walls