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Council to debate future of Palo Alto Bowl
Original post made
on Dec 14, 2009
Palo Alto Bowl would make way for a new Hilton-operated hotel if the City Council votes to approve the project tonight.
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posted Monday, December 14, 2009, 9:25 AM
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Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 15, 2009 at 2:01 am
A lot of amenities have bitten the dust during the over two decades that our family has lived in Palo Alto. Neighborhood stores and restaurants have been replaced with chains, boutiques, and expensive fine-dining establishments. The bookstore count on University Avenue is down to one and it's a chain. Little houses are razed and replaced with mansions (not much of a loss as most of the small homes were ticky-tacky tract homes to start with), or with multiple homes on ever-smaller lots (which is a loss). Giant fields of condos with narrow streets and insufficient parking built on busy streets are cramming new residents into our town cheek-by-jowl, crowding our schools with students and our streets with extra traffic.
Why? Because Palo Alto is still a more desirable place to live than most of the surrounding communities, at least for those people crowding into the condos. And why is that? It used to be at least partly for the ambience, but now that that's mostly gone, it's all about the schools, which as a parent, I understand. Palo Alto's parents are a very determined bunch, and have been hanging onto the quality of the schools with their fingernails (and their financial support), while most other school districts around the state have been sinking under the burdens placed on them by Prop. 13, where they are continually being asked to serve more students with fewer resources.
I think that the reason people are reacting more viscerally to the loss of the Palo Alto Bowl is that it's not one of many restaurants, small shops, or bookstores it's the only one of its kind for miles around, and it's not likely to be replaced because it requires a lot of land, which is increasingly unaffordable for a business whose model cannot be changed to turn over more and more customers in less and less time, or extract ever-increasing amounts of money from those customers it does serve. A bowling alley is what it is, and it's not going to find a way to increase its income commensurate with the increase in the value of the land it sits on. (I remember similar angst as drive-in movie theaters went out of business one by one as land costs priced them out of existence.)
Although we have not been regular users of the bowling alley, our kids did have birthday parties there. As teenagers, they took advantage of cheap late-night bowling sessions for group fun (and/or as a place to cool off on hot summer nights, though they said the air-conditioning never was great). One of them even took the bowling P.E. class at Foothill, which I'm sure will also be eliminated. It is all so normal, so middle-class, so suburban, and probably reminds us baby-boomer parents of our own childhoods. (Where are all the roller rinks we used to skate in? All gone now as far as I can tell.)
I think the bowling alley's a goner the economics of land values in this town just work too much against it. What's going to happen to Palo Alto is that as it loses such amenities, as the streets choke with traffic and the schools burst with kids, as "normal" shopping is replaced with chi-chi stores none of us need and few of us can afford, we're going to start comparing Palo Alto to other communities (even outside the Bay Area, maybe) and notice that our quality of life is no longer so superior to other towns. We'll see larger houses on larger lots for the same price there, the nice big grocery stores, the movie theaters, the midprice department stores, and yes, even the bowling alleys, and we'll say, hey, I think I'd rather live in that place now, and we'll start migrating out of Palo Alto and into those towns, even if we have to send the kids to private schools. And although Palo Alto's people may still be richer, the town will be poorer. But it will all just be a natural progression, a movement through the life cycle, and a small sadness rather than a great tragedy. But a sadness nonetheless.