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Palo Alto receives $1.5M grant for California Ave.

Original post made on Jan 4, 2011

Plans to spruce up Palo Alto's California Avenue retail shopping district got a boost after the city received a coveted $1.5 million VTA Community Design and Transportation grant.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 4, 2011, 11:38 AM

Comments (34)

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Posted by badly needed
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2011 at 11:52 am

I don't visit California Ave much because it is not very inviting to pedestrians. Hope they can use some of the money to build what California Ave. most needs: a pedestrian bridge over the Caltrain tracks to the midtown neighborhoods.


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Posted by Bruce
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 4, 2011 at 11:59 am

Badly needed: Are you aware of the underpass BENEATH the Caltrain tracks that leads to the Midtown neighborhoods? Seems like an overkill to have a pedestrian bridge and a pedestrian underpass.


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Posted by ditto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2011 at 12:10 pm

> Are you aware of the underpass BENEATH the Caltrain tracks that
> leads to the Midtown neighborhoods? Seems like an overkill to
> have a pedestrian bridge and a pedestrian underpass.

ditto ..


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Posted by Waste of money
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm

"Streetscape improvements would include a European-style boulevard with two lanes, a park/plaza at the east end near the Caltrain station, additional landscaping, kiosks, bicycle parking and a 20-seat mini-plaza near Ash Street. The plan would redesign diagonal parking."
This exactly what we need now--we are so behind on needed infrastructure repairs but we have money for unneeded sprucing up of this area. I guess it will make College Terrace happy and that all that matters. Couple this with the fact that Facebook will be moving to Menlo Park and it is a banner day for our most favored and demanding neigborhood


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Posted by badly needed
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2011 at 12:12 pm

The existing tunnel is too narrow and dangerous and crime ridden. It is also difficult to access from midtown (south of Oregon Expressway). The crosswalks on Oregon Expressway make you a sitting duck for red light running cars.


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Posted by Jonathan
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm

VTA gives a $1.5 million grant to this not-very-useful project, while Caltrain struggles for funding? Something's very wrong here.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I agree with Jonathon.

Improve Caltrain. Nothing wrong with Cal Ave as it is (except that it is difficult to find parking at lunch time.


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Posted by Ron
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Just like Palo Alto---spending money it doesn't have. but, but, we will get 1.5 m and it only cost us 500k. Where is this 500k coming from? This sounds like going shopping and buying something on sale and then saying "look at how much I saved you" and people buy into that theory.
There is nothing wrong with California Ave and it looks better with the smaller trees.


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm

The community was informed at the December 16 pubic meeting that the project still required final approval via anticipated Metropolitan Transportation Commission rubber stamp. Has this occurred?


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Posted by Mary G
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Why, oh why are we spending taxpayer money on this project at this time? Yes, it would be nice to upgrade California Avenue, but we are in dire financial straights and seem to have our collective heads in the sand. 1.5 mil from VTA and 500,000 from Palo Alto? Let's fund schools, pensions, health care and then think about upgrading California Avenue. Bad idea!


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Posted by Waste of money
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm

The money should be used instead to subsidize JJ&F in college terrace so that they stay in business. They are a beloved institution.


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Posted by Sean
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 4, 2011 at 2:00 pm

PA Folks,

This is a scheme by the "new urbanist" designers to create a high density public transit corridor. It will be followed by demands to create high density housing, with significant BMR reqirements. Palo Alto will, in the end, subsidize all this stuff with monies from our general fund. It will intensify the traffic problems, because high density housing does not prevent high density traffic. The entire thing is a rouse by those who are selling global warming as a pretext to gain political power. Same with HSR.

We deserve what we elect.


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Posted by How/Whom to say NO
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 4, 2011 at 4:10 pm

The number of strings attached with this $1.5 M is too many.

How can we refuse this grant. Is there a place we can write to the city to indicate that we are against accepting this grant.


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Posted by ditto
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 4, 2011 at 6:33 pm

> dangerous and crime ridden.

Does the Palo Alto police know this?

What crime stats can you provide?


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm

"Is there a place we can write to the city to indicate that we are against accepting this grant."

The city doesn't care what you think. Jaime Rodriguez, the planning department, the city council have all decided that Palo Alto will be green, that residents will give up their cars, that high-density "new urbanism" is the future.

The 1998 Comprehensive Plan had a vision statement: "It is hoped that individuals will reduce their automobile trips by 10 percent by 2010, as alternative transportation methods are implemented."


We are at the end of 2010. Has that "hope" been realized? I have tried, unsuccessfully to get an answer from Curtis Williams and Jaime Rodriguez.

If people have not reduced their automobile trips by 10% since 1998, what will that mean to future transportation planning?

Meanwhile, a new Comprehensive Plan is being written. Meanwhile, traffic is backing up all over the city.

Meanwhile, the city has a $500M infrastructure backlog, which includes redoing the Municipal Service Center building for $93 million, improving Civic Center Plaza deck for $16 million, $14 million on two fire station upgrades, $10 million for the Charleston and Arastradero road corridors (to "calm" traffic), $7 million for the animal shelter, $3.6 million for Byxbee Park, and $1.5 million for San Antonio median and roadway improvements.

Oh, yes, and $50M for a new police building. Remember that?

The "Blue Ribbon" Infrastructure Committee is supposed to be figuring out how the city, i.e., taxpayers, can fund all this work.

There's no way any committee--blue ribbon or otherwise--will find $500M to pay for all these infrastructure needs. I'm betting there will be a bond issue down the road, asking us to pay for all the stuff our tax dollars should already have paid for. In fact, there's already a subcommittee slot for marketing outreach for a bond measure.

Meanwhile, the city will subsidize the Children's Theatre ($1.28M this year), the Jr. Museum & Zoo ($1M+), pay a consultant $547,000 to compare your utility rates with your neighbors', support a golf course, and now an airport.

Is California Ave. "broken"? Is the California Ave. project a higher priority than any of the essential projects on the infrastructure backlog? Absolutely not!

But Rodriguez and the other folks at City Hall like to apply for grants, even though those grants are still paid for with our tax dollars. And they like the idea of turning Palo Alto into a European city, practical or not.

Please pay attention to the new comprehensive plan.

PLANNING & TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION (PTC)
JANUARY 8. Commission will conduct a retreat from 9:15 AM to 1:15 PM at the Palo Alto Art Center. The Commission will discuss procedural items and its work program for the coming year.


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Posted by Judy
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Ah, just imagine the traffic backing up onto El Camino and cars waiting in line when a car backs out of a parking place! Why of why does this town spend money so unwisely and actually diminish the retail prospects of this busy street?


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Posted by Louise
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Let's get real. This section of Cal Ave is a 4 lane street which was built that way when the Oregon Expressway underpass did not exist and the only way to get from Alma to El Camino in this part of town was via the 4 blocks of former Mayfield downtown. There has been no need for 4 lanes for motor vehicles for 40+ years, and there is no credible possibility of needing this allocation of space in the future.

In fact, many other cities with aging retail shopping streets like Cal Ave have had been revitalized by converting 4 lane to two lane with turning lanes at intersections. This is true even where the traffic volumes are much higher than current or predicted volumes on Cal Ave. In these cities, local merchants and residents strongly support the results of "streetscape" changes similar to what is proposed for this section of California Avenue.

@ Judy
FYI, your "imagining" that traffic would back up onto El Camino or that there will be "cars waiting in line" when a car backs out of a parking place is unfounded! Just because you heard someone raise this fear at a public meeting doesn't mean that there's any basis to assume that your imagination has a basis in reality.

Luckily, the current set of PA traffic engineers actually look at data instead of basing their recommendations on uninformed fears. Check out the traffic study that was done to provide an informed basis for decision making. There's a summary on the Cal Ave page on the city's web site.

It is time for our city's leaders to stop listening to the fearmongers and strongly endorse the efforts to revitalize neighborhood-serving retail in this long neglected "shopping district".


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Posted by Just shopped sad, old California Ave. today
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Many projects like have this have been done with GREAT success. I'm very glad to hear that the city got the grant money. Well done! California Avenue badly needs this facelift. It will be good for business and city sales tax revenues.

Given the auto traffic volume on this street, it is a slam dunk. Dear City Council, please carefully read the data. There is no question that this project WILL work. That's why they got the grant!California carries a lower volume of traffic than Stanford Avenue and the new California design will have the additional capacity of turning lanes.

Just say yes. This is a great project.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm

My post -- which simply contained actual ideas for the renovation, including a seating area and better handicapped parking --- was removed.

Nothing controversial or combative, so the PA Online staff removed it.


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Posted by Millie
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 5, 2011 at 7:42 pm

) We no longer try to go to lunch on Cal. Ave because there's no parking.

2) And how would a car backing out of a parking place NOT back up traffic when it goes to 2 lanes?? It's not hearsay; it's simple logic.

3) Why are we spending $500,000 to study this AFTER accepting the money?

4) If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The city, however, is broke. Cal Ave. isn't.


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Posted by Louise
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 5, 2011 at 11:06 pm

@ Millie
In response to your question # 2:
The reason there won't be a backup is that the traffic counts show that PEAK hourly volumes on California Avenue around Ash Street (midday) are 321 westbound (291 going straight + 31 turning left) and 297 eastbound (205 going straight and 92 turning right). Think about it -- that's an average of 5.7 cars a minute in one direction and 4.8 in the other -- at the busiest time of day!

All the other measurements (other blocks, and the usual morning and afternoon peak commute periods) are LOWER. Check out the data yourself, and you will see there is nothing logical in your position.
Web Link


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Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 5, 2011 at 11:19 pm

"I guess it will make College Terrace happy and that all that matters. "
Waste of Money: I live in College Terrace and I'm not for this project. I'm all for beautification and public art when there is money to do it, but this? Why is there a grant from VTA when they cut back on buses and light rail needed by many people for transit to work. And, I'd rather see all the potholes and uneven pavement fixed. I don't know anymore if I have a problem with my tires or it's just the street.


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Posted by Barb
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2011 at 7:59 am

We're all aware of the pedestrian underpass at the north end of California Avenue. Imagine for a moment that you are an older citizen, walking slowly and alone through this dark, narrow passage. If you are hit by a bicyclist or skateboarder, suffer a heart attack, or simply fall, or are robbed and/or beaten, you don't have a prayer of being rescued unless someone happens by.

We need the overpass, or a simple light on Alma and a walk-thru.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2011 at 8:15 am

The tunnel is well used. I know that many people park east of the tunnel and use the tunnel for Caltrain or lunchtime parking.


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Posted by Waste of money
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 6, 2011 at 8:32 am

"magine for a moment that you are an older citizen, walking slowly and alone through this dark, narrow passage. If you are hit by a bicyclist or skateboarder, suffer a heart attack, or simply fall, or are robbed and/or beaten, you don't have a prayer of being rescued unless someone happens by.
We need the overpass, or a simple light on Alma and a walk-thru."

How often has that scenario happened?
An overpass would be another waste of money.


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Posted by Barb
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2011 at 8:45 am

@Waste: "How often has that scenario happened?" Twice, to me personally. Once, I tripped over a crack and fell. There are no handrails to drag yourself up and I had to crawl out. Once I was knocked down by a skateboarder - a youngster who ran rather than returning to assist. The first time it happens to someone you love, you'll be screaming along with the rest of us who are older and/or crippled that Palo Alto desperately needs brighter lights and longer pedestrian timers.

What would *you* spend the money on? High-volume free WiFi? Oh - I know - recycling centers where seniors can turn themselves in once you consider them useless and stupid!


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Posted by Waste of money
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 6, 2011 at 8:56 am

Barb--no need to be snide and nasty.
I am not sure if these events actually happened to you or you are just trying to be dramatic.

But anyway, regarding your comment:
"he first time it happens to someone you love, you'll be screaming along with the rest of us who are older and/or crippled that Palo Alto desperately needs brighter lights and longer pedestrian timers."
My comment was directed at the cost of an overpass--not about brighter lights and longer pedestrian timers--you should read comments before you lash out at the writer.

"What would *you* spend the money on? "
There is a $500 million backlog on infrastructure repair in the city--I am sure we can put the money to good use for that

'Oh - I know - recycling centers where seniors can turn themselves in once you consider them useless and stupid!"
i will not dignify the above comment witha response--it speaks for itself.


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Posted by Millie
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 6, 2011 at 9:38 am

Louise, California around Ash is probably the least traveled part of Cal. Ave. if that even matters. I'm thinking of the traffic on Cal. Ave closer to El Camino.

Just imagine you're in one of those diagonal spots backing up, trying to see around one of the monster SUV's. You back up into traffic What does the car on your side of Cal Ave do???

A) Stops and lets you out because PA drivers are so polite?
B) Keeps driving, forcing you to wait to pull out?
C) You both do what you want, citing the traffic counts to your insurance companies, saying there shouldn't have been a car there in YOUR lane?
D) Palo Alto commissions $500,000 traffic study.

Extra credit: What happens to your insurance rates after a collision?


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Posted by MJ
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm

At the City's public presentation last December for improving California Avenue, we were told that the City's planning regulations only allow for CURRENT DATA on traffic flows to be taken into account.

The City's director of planning, Curtis Williams, who was also present, made a point of emphasing that the planning department cannot take into account what may or may not happen to California Avenue in the future.

This is despite the City Council's stated goal of changing the zoning designation for the entire California Avenue asap to allow for high density housing and office space.

Although the traffic data presented for the busier segment of California Avenue showed that the traffic flow would be downgraded from an "A" to a "B" we were also given a convincing argument that we would notice no difference in the flow of traffic. This is because so few cars use California Avenue. The argument that was made to support this appeared to compare California Avenue to a fictional busier street so that, no matter what happens, we will be better off than this fictional busier street.

Yet the current planning does not take into account any of the future traffic that will be generated by high density housing and offices around California Avenue. We are asked to take it on faith that because the current California Avenue traffic numbers are so low, any increase will not impact the traffic flow negatively. In fact, we will be no worse off than the busier streets California Avenue was compared to.

I'm curious to know if anyone can tell me what happens to the $500,000 that was set aside in Palo Alto's budget some years ago for the repaving of California Avenue?

Is this $500,000 going to be used by the city for the $500,000 the city has to put up to get the grant?

Or does the city have to pay $500,000 for the paving plus another $500,000 to get the grant?


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Posted by Millie
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Maybe the city could use that money to fix the water mains. This is the second day in a week that our neighborhood has been without water for more than 5 hours.

The crew working in front of the house at 7AM left without telling anyone about the outage. Telephone tag around the utilities department revealed that no there even knew the was an outage. When I asked why we weren't told, I got nonsense about "we don't have the manpower or the money."


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm

"Yet the current planning does not take into account any of the future traffic that will be generated by high density housing and offices around California Avenue. We are asked to take it on faith that because the current California Avenue traffic numbers are so low, any increase will not impact the traffic flow negatively."

That's because everyone who lives in high density housing will take the train, walk or bike.


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Posted by Waste of Money
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 14, 2011 at 11:23 pm

I agree with Millie. If it ain't broke, don't "fix" it.

I frequently shop on California Avenue and it is just fine as is. With our current fiscal constraints, money should go to necessary repairs and not asthetic ideals.

I also agree that public comment fall on deaf ears. I never saw an accident on Charleston even though I have driven that road every week day. But after that road "improvement"' accidents happening. Way too much "cleverness" and not enough common sense.

And don't do anything that will certainly have a negative impact on small businesses (many of whom do not support this) for a theoretical notion that shoppers will bear with inconvenience for someone else's idea of pretty.


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Posted by Lessru
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 22, 2011 at 12:14 pm

What an odd coincidence. Last year, for no apparent reason, all the trees along California Ave were cut down. And now we find out there is a project to reduce the number of car lanes.... so we can widen the pedestrian area along California Ave.

So, were the trees cut down to accommodate this project? It seems like the obvious conclusion. But, given the uproar caused by the tree cutting, I doubt anyone would admit it.

Moral: Be careful what you ask for. You may get more than you bargined for


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Posted by Cal Ave is Clearly Broken
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 22, 2011 at 5:43 pm

The vast majority of neighbors and community members want the street to be improved. This grant allows for some great improvements. These improvements are because existing parts of the street in great disrepair. For example:

- Garbage cans are at least 25 years old and badly cracked, broken, stained and just plain ugly.
- The bike racks are also quite old, inconveniently placed and not remotely aesthetically pleasing.
- Benches are also 25+ years old and just plain ugly.
- The fountain area at the end of the street is rather useless with the bike lockers in their current location. The new plan includes moving those and making that area much nicer.
- The street also has old and awful signage and there's no signage design anywhere else in the street.
- Not all crosswalks are convenient for those in wheelchairs. Those will be fixed.

Basically, most things about the street are broken and have been for a long time. The tree removal made things unbearable. Now the street needs these upgrades to help it thrive.


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