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Making a new downtown

Original post made on Mar 14, 2014

On Aug. 19, 1904, a grocer named Frank Backus joined dozens of merchants and fellow Mayfield residents in asking the Board of Trustees to ban alcohol sales.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, March 14, 2014, 12:00 AM

Comments (30)

Posted by Cal Ave YO!, a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 14, 2014 at 9:46 am

First off get it straight Mayfield was the original downtown by several decades before the city of Palo Alto was even a glimer in Leland Stanford's eye.

Second it seems that the we are seeing the answer to Palo Alto's own chicken and egg question that is the infrastructure came first before the enhanced density and vibrancy that comes with it.

This project truely will serve as a catalist for the transformation of the area and i predict with time will lead to Cal Ave retaking the crown from university avenue as the premier "downtown."


Posted by Excited to see this, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 14, 2014 at 9:49 am

This is a great project which will really help this neighborhood significantly. I'm glad to see it finally off the ground. Some many other projects like this have been a huge benefit to all stakeholder and especially businesses who benefited from increased foot traffic in front of their stores.

Also, this is a great write up on the story. The other paper made the project sound completely negative.


Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2014 at 10:02 am

University Ave is overcrowded. There is no parking and even if you can get there, the sidewalks and businesses are too crowded to be useful.

I'm glad that the city is refurbishing our second downtown area. That will give businesses more room to flourish and attract more customers.

I just hope that the city improves pedestrian access to California Ave from the neighborhoods across the train tracks. That decrepit tunnel near the train station badly needs widening and brightening, or maybe replace it with a bridge.


Posted by Casa de Cerveza, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 14, 2014 at 10:26 am

I'm excited to see the plans for California Avenue re-development finally become reality. I've spoken to many neighbors who feel the same way. Once the project is complete and we experience improved lighting, wider sidewalks, and a more pedestrian-friendly ambiance, we will all look back and ask "What was the fuss all about?" As for businesses which can no longer compete in this increasingly expensive community, that is the nature of American capitalism. Either adapt or move on. We're adults and must accept this as a fact of economic life in this country. Likewise, if local consumers don't like the businesses taking root, new owners will also adapt or move on. And, so it goes.


Posted by Sure But, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 14, 2014 at 11:09 am

Great to see a project to update California Ave moving forward. Long overdue upgrade of the area. But I have to say the fancy drawings look pretty much like California Ave does now, just with trees. Oh, that's right it used to have trees. Really hope Palo Alto City Government gets this right. They seem to shoot themselves in the foot more often than not.


Posted by Are there really issues?, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 14, 2014 at 11:16 am

Finally. Glad to see this happening.

So many people have made and will continue to post comments that need explanation in advance.

For example, the comment "University Avenue is overcrowded" is an opinion more than a fact. Some might not like the volume of people there at times when it's more crowded. However, others might like the vibrancy offered by a crowd of people.

When a poster says a comment like "if you can get there" in reference to traffic, it usually means that the extra time necessary to get to your destination is more than you're willing to accept. So this is a relatively subjective statement about one's patience more than anything. If a place is vibrant, many are willing to wait through a little extra traffic at peak hours.

When a poster mentions that parking is limited, it typically means that they won't suffer the challenge of taking more time to find parking that may not be in their desired location. I have never found the city hall lot, for example, to have ever been full. Not once.

So for all of you who comment that you're unwilling to take an extra 2-3 minutes to sit in traffic to wait an extra 5-10 minutes to park further away, there are many fine chains and strip malls around to fulfill your requirements. The rest of us will suffer through a few extra minutes to dine at an award winning, locally owned restaurant in a vibrant setting with others who choose similarly.


Posted by love it!, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2014 at 11:26 am

For so long I've been waiting for this -- will love to see it finally happen. I fully expect all will be happy with the wider sidewalks once they're in. Two lanes will also be so much nicer for pedestrians trying to cross the street. For people travelling in cars it will also be an improvement; driving in the right lane on either side was never a speedy option anyway.

Not a moment too soon!


Posted by concerned resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2014 at 11:28 am

It does concern me that the city originally gave a price tag of $1.7 million dollars and some how the price has ballooned to over $7 million dollars. What's up with that? The project hasn't even started yet, oh except for the rush 4 years ago to cut all the mature trees down (for no real reason). That's 400% over budget before the project starts. $7 million to just reduce 4 lanes to 2 lanes.


Posted by 35 year resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2014 at 11:33 am

Wanna bet there will be significant cost overruns? Think library project.


Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 14, 2014 at 11:41 am

I have lived in CT for over 30 years and California Ave. had changes over the years. Five and Dime, Big Pharmacy anyone? Things do change with times. I am looking forward to nicer, people friendlier street.


Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2014 at 11:55 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by Eva_PA, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 14, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Eva_PA is a registered user.

Finally in process! Like everything, construction prices increase every year. So the delay over the past few years has raised the project cost. But less expensive this year than next! Looking forward to seeing the final product.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm

The "Go Mama" sculpture needs to be removed as part of the street
beautification.I am surprised it has not been mentioned. It is
grotesque. Think of it like graffitti which we usually paint out as
quickly as possible. Even if you consider it art, it's time to rotate
it out. Sell it to somebody for their backyard. Don't force it on the
public anymore in such a prominent location. If you want to give California
Ave a new look, a new image, this "piece" has to go. It's past its time.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 14, 2014 at 1:04 pm

@Casa... "As for businesses which can no longer compete in this increasingly expensive community, that is the nature of American capitalism. Either adapt or move on."

If so, then we need to apply same to residents as well. Otherwise the ever-increasing subsidies for the below-marketers will become untenable.


Posted by mj, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 14, 2014 at 2:20 pm

As Todd Burke observed, property owners like him are the real winners.

Once the city awarded Cal Ave high density zoning a couple of years ago, what one or two story property owner in their right mind hasn't been planning to tear down and replace their existing building with a 4 story high end development? Or sell their property to a developer that will.

As Casa de Cerveza so aptly put it, "businesses which can no longer compete in this increasingly expensive community" can "either adapt or move on."


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2014 at 2:39 pm

@musical

A good place to start would be fixing Prop 13, or are those not the "below-marketers" you're referring to?


Posted by Facts Please?, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 14, 2014 at 2:51 pm

"Cal Ave YO!" correctly points out that the historic town of Mayfield predated University Ave, by many years. He/she is providing documented FACTS that everyone knows, but FACTS the Weekly chose to ignore.

Since this project is reported here in the Weekly as only being 4 years in the making, and the article indicates that "merchants have good reason to feel neglected" by the design process, they also ignored these FACTS that were provided by others in the Weekly Letters to the Editor:

* The Streetscape design was first completed in 2006, eight years ago, including the 2 lanes. The lion's share of that plan remains intact.

* The original Concept Plan came from the business organization at that time, a group that had represented the district for 50 years. Their Streetscape Plan was incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan for the district, in 2009. It included the street lanes reduced from four to two.

* The Project was a successful collaboration with the City, when "Civic Engagement" was City Council priority Number One.

Jack Morton should have taken an interest in the Calif. Ave. area when he was on council, instead of waiting until he was termed out. Morton was a sitting member of that body, when the Bruce Beasley fountain proposed by the Art Commission was voted down. Morton was also on council when it approved of the "tree replacement" via clear-cut, in 2009.

Perhaps memory enhancement exercises are in order, all the way around? For the Weekly, how about classes in Investigative Journalism and how to do FACT checks?

Some of us residents have been watching this story for five years, doing our own investigations and interviewing people that were involved first-hand, because conflicting information was being written in the Weekly.
We are not easily fooled as are others.

It is high time this project resumed, and time for the City to address all the long-neglected infrastructure work and improvements that were on hold.


Posted by rebugging, a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 14, 2014 at 3:11 pm

I have shopped on California Avenue for 60 years, and the present gentrification effort looks familiar. I remember fondly the charming shops, and the computer shore, long gone. Keeble and Shuchat has been my local camera store, and I shop at Mollie Stones, and previously the Co-op. I also frequent Maximart Pharmacy. Somehow I shudder at the expansive dreams of the builders who want to make this into a 4-story magnet district.


Posted by Justin, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2014 at 3:26 pm

I'm 100% sure that there will be a perpetual parking problem without meters. And a garage that will inevitably be expensive to build and maintain and will be still be underutilized isn't the answer.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 14, 2014 at 5:17 pm

@Robert, I was pointing out the consequences of the "adapt or move on" approach, not agreeing with it. Looks like everything is on the table with ABAG and the comprehensive plan. Hard to tell who will be permitted to remain in Palo Alto, maybe just the lottery winners in one sense or another. And so we have these discussions and we have campaigns and we have votes. It remains to be seen whether the greater good is served, or whether the greater good is redefined.


Posted by Kathy, a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Thank you very much for this very well-researched article. I was very impressed by that.................
Again, thank you.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2014 at 12:55 pm

> the comment "University Avenue is overcrowded" is an
> opinion more than a fact.

Maybe. Opinions are not necessarily fact free--they are thoughts that might not necessarily be the group consensus.

When there is a queue of traffic as far as the eye can see, and there is no parking without driving about for twenty minutes, and the rents are sky high, this might be the beginning of creating a consensus that downtown is overcrowded.

But how would you go about creating a test to determine whether or not a business district is overcrowded?


Posted by Hey-Greg--Answer-Me-This, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Greg Scharff is quoted:

> "If we do nothing and don't build a California Avenue garage,
> that's on us,"

Is this the same Greg Scharff that voted to take two lanes out of California Ave—because there wasn't enough traffic to justify four lanes? So, why do we need another garage? Where is the traffic to justify another garage? And isn't everyone in Palo Alto going to be riding bicycles, and walking, within a couple of years?


Posted by Facts Please?, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 15, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Cars driving into Calif Ave come in at a regular pace. There is no back-up of cars on the street. 2 lanes will be ideal, for pedestrians and autos. But more parking is needed, once motorists arrive.

It is El Camino Real, that city councils have been wanting to turn into a residential street, thinking people will want to walk and bicycle through a highway. It's not just in Palo Alto. That is a county-wide issue that should be addressed by everyone that is concerned, most especially, drivers.


Posted by walking distance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2014 at 4:19 pm

I was all for this upgrade until I saw how the promised Arastradero changes - that were supposed to make it more walkable and bikable -- were realized. The sidewalk is still mostly single file walking, and the bike lane isn't really any wider. We lost a lane of traffic -- why didn't we get a full lane for bikes and a wider sidewalk? Our City planners have a very different view of what makes something walkable. In the end, their idea on Arastradero seemed to have been to just slow down the traffic, thinking the actual making of the sidewalks and bike lanes better was immaterial.

So, I am much more skeptical about the the changes now to Cal Ave and more inclined to worry it will be more urban and off-putting.


Posted by CABA, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 15, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Nice to see all this happening, but the real winners are going to be property owners and developers. It's been a long time coming that City Council FINALLY got the message that a CalTrain transit stop at Cal Ave was a dormant gold mine.

Predictions:
1. We are definitely going to see the area densify; nearly property values are going to rise.

2. Cal Ave will go upscale. Local businesses that are marginal will fade out during the new construction, leaving room for landlords to sock it to the next round of pricey, precious shops that cater to the upper middle class crowd.

3. All the wrong people will take credit for the development - mostly latecomer politicians and ex-politicians who fought against the idea when it first came up. What's new. Would lobe to see who ends up cutting the ribbon when it's finished. It might make for a good laugh.

4. The entire area, from Cal Ave down through Park is going to be "construction-intense" for the next several years. Add to that Stanford's construction in upper California Ave., and additional construction on El Camino between Wells Fargo and Page Mill. It's gonna get real noisy and dusty
around there.

5. When all is finally finished, years from now (my estimate is 5-7 years, to absolutely full completion) nobody will recognize the place. It's getting a full facelift. the quaintness will be completely gone; shops and restaurants will be pricy (to keep up with enormous rents charged by developers and landlords who have no interest in quaintness).

6. Parking won't be a problem, because mass transit will continue to improve. It will be safer for pedestrians with narrower lanes.

7. Housing will be completely outside the average middle class buyer, or renter. We're talking upscale, guaranteed.

It's altogether going to be an interesting development. Cost overruns? What do you expect?


Posted by Too many single occupant vehicles = Overcrowded roads., a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 16, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Joe writes:

"When there is a queue of traffic as far as the eye can see, and there is no parking without driving about for twenty minutes, and the rents are sky high, this might be the beginning of creating a consensus that downtown is overcrowded."

I would say that if rents are still sky high and climbing then the area is not overcrowded. When rents start to go down and vacant spaces take longer and longer to lease then that would be a good indication that something is wrong or "overcrowded" to a fault.


Posted by uptown/downtown, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2014 at 11:22 pm

Cal Ave Yo

"This project truely will serve as a catalist for the transformation of the area and i predict with time will lead to Cal Ave retaking the crown from university avenue as the premier "downtown."

Yes, and you will know when a Restoration Hardware store opens at a corner near you.


Posted by Resident5, a resident of University South
on Mar 21, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Castro Street in Mountain View, not California Avenue, is the next University Avenue. Palo Alto really dropped the ball on this one.


Posted by Resident5, a resident of University South
on Mar 21, 2014 at 1:20 pm

@Too many single occupant vehicles = Overcrowded roads wrote:

"I would say that if rents are still sky high and climbing then the area is not overcrowded. When rents start to go down and vacant spaces take longer and longer to lease then that would be a good indication that something is wrong or "overcrowded" to a fault."

Skyrocketing rents are one indication of a housing shortage. Given that Palo Alto refuses to allow high-rise housing to be built, it seems that this shortage is intentional.


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