Construction upsets College Terrace residents

Disgruntled neighbors submit petition, others cite benefits of work

After enduring eight months of underground construction, some frustrated College Terrace residents have submitted a petition criticizing the city and its contractors for inefficiency and unnecessarily disrupting neighborhood life.

"The primary concern should not be getting work done," resident Christopher Harris, organizer of the petition, said.

"The primary concern should take the needs and comfort of the people in the neighborhood into consideration."

Although approximately 50 residents signed the petition, neighborhood association President Greg Tanaka said he has heard some complaints, but many residents understand that some inconvenience is necessary to get improved sewer and gas connections.

"It's definitely an issue but it doesn't seem to be a burning issue," Tanaka said.

Harris knows construction brings noise and disturbance, yet he said the city should improve its efficiency and minimize discomfort for residents.

The months of construction have constrained already limited parking, workers have accessed residents' yards without notice and sometimes heavy machinery arrives as early as 7 a.m., one hour before city rules allow work to begin, Harris said.

"The constant noise is significantly degrading our quality of life," the petition states.

Harris said the city has taken a "scatter-bomb approach" to the construction.

Harris said workers with contractor Ranger Pipeline drive construction vehicles into the neighborhood before 8 a.m., then sit and talk until work begins, causing disruption.

Princeton Street resident Swathi Rao knew that workers planned to slice into her driveway and readily agreed to pay for part of the repaving and for new water pipes.

Yet her driveway wasn't repaved for three months.

She said one day she arrived home and one of her trees had been cut down without notice, leaving only a stump. In addition, her sprinkler system was damaged.

"We signed the petition because we feel that the whole construction could have been done in a more efficient and conscientious manner and practices could be improved in the future," Rao said in an e-mail.

"We understand that construction must be done, but just want it to be done with minimal inconvenience for city residents."

The current College Terrace construction is part of a citywide effort to update underground utilities and roads in certain areas in a coordinated manner, according to Public Works Director Glenn Roberts. The emphasis on coordination stems from a report in early 2006 by former City Auditor Sharon Erickson that was highly critical of uncoordinated digging up of streets by different departments, such as utilities or pubic works.

In College Terrace, crews began work on the sewage pipes in October 2007, finishing in March. Different crews now are replacing gas lines, a project with an uncertain completion date, Assistant Utilities Director Tomm Marshall said.

To Harris, the separation of the projects seemed "haphazard."

However Marshall said contractors need specific certification for both sewer and gas projects.

"Many times people who do sewer jobs can't do gas work," Marshall said. "Not all contractors are capable of doing that. These things are usually not done at the same time. That doesn't mean it wasn't possible in this situation."

Marshall said department officials may try to hire contractors capable of both gas and sewer work for future work areas.

Marshall said residents were notified several times about the general construction and property owners were told at least 24 hours in advance about work planned near or on their properties.

Marshall said he couldn't prohibit workers from arriving early.

"We get complaints," Marshall said. "We try to tell the contractors not to come before 8 a.m. Although it's not prohibited to move vehicles before that time."

Other residents feel the street repairs are necessary for the neighborhood and that the construction is being handled well.

"They're doing a hell of a job under the circumstances," Oberlin Street resident Phillip Zschokke said. "The street needed repair before they even started talking about it.

"If I can put up with it, they can all put up with it," Zschokke said.

The neighborhood won't be done with construction for quite some time: Roberts said the streets will be repaved in 2009.

Tanaka said he has invited Harris to speak at the next College Terrace Residents Association meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m.

And Harris said he hopes his concerns will be addressed by the City Council.


Like this comment
Posted by Belle
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 19, 2008 at 5:36 pm

I live on Columbia Street and yes there has been a disruption at times on our street. I think we have had spots on our street dug up 4 different times. One morning I was cooking breakfast (8:30ish) and heard voices was surprised to look out the window to see 4 workers digging up an area next to my house. I was startled and wished I had had a notice of someone working right next to my home versus in the street. That would be my only compliant.

The work needs to be done - let's get it done. These folks have been working hard - give them a break people. It amazes me how much the residents of Palo Alto complain about absolutely everything - its tiring.

Perhaps if we had more tax revenue from say hotels or affordable retail stores then the city could hire a contractor that allows for the road to be torn up once and everything done at the same time instead of piecemeal.

As for all you naysayers welcome to the BMW club - a club for those that $itch, moan and whine.

Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 19, 2008 at 5:47 pm

I love it. The BMW Club- $itch, moan and whine! It fits about 80% of Palo Alto residents.
Also, your right on about our tax base over the last ten years. Who shops in Palo Alto? Very few. Surounding cities are "kicking our butts" when it comes to keeping our money in Palo alto.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 19, 2008 at 8:24 pm

I have lived in College Terrace for over 40 years. My kids were raised here. CT has some speicial issues, because it is sanwiched between Stanford and SRP, such as cut through traffic. However, I am EMBARRASSED at what I am now hearing!

There are some newly-arrived folk who just don't get it. Let me put it straight to ya: The pipes need to get fixed every few decades! Get used to it! Having defended CT, in a variety of ways, I find this current whining very disgusting.

Like this comment
Posted by Let's clean our hands
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 19, 2008 at 10:14 pm

Can the rest of us "civilized" and "practical" citizens of Palo Alto set up our own petition to oust College Terrace from the services of the city?

Let's abandon College Terrace and have it go back to an unincorporated area. Residents like Christopher Harris seem to know all about government efficiency and addressing needs of residents... let's let people like him handle College Terrace from now on.

Like this comment
Posted by Newyankee
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2008 at 11:34 pm

As a long time Palo Alto resident, I am well aware of the need for infrastructure improvement, and quite frankly don’t mind the inconvience. The real issue is…can the city management do the job of getting the work done efficiently and correctly… unfortunately I think not. Some years ago, the gas and sewer system was replaced in Midtown. At my house, the contractors installed the new plastic gas line on top of the water line and only 12” below grade. I complained that I thought it was unsafe, and the official Palo Alto inspector was called in, who approved the work! I did take photos, and later, I discovered that this was a CODE VIOLATION. So Palo Alto crews eventually returned, and completely reinstalled the gas service at a reported cost of $20K to the city. The sewer project was completed, and months later new crews showed up digging around because the Palo Alto inspector didn’t file proper “as built” drawings and no one knew where certain pipes were located. Good luck College Terrace.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 20, 2008 at 6:29 am

Isn't the City supposed to monitor progress on public works in progress?

Maybe the "bargain" contractor the City selected was not such a great choice after all.

Like this comment
Posted by Whiners
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 20, 2008 at 6:31 am

Maybe we need to find a time to do the construction work so that it upsets absolutely no one in College Terrace.

I did not realize that Mr Harris is an expert in utility work, since he seems to know that the work is not being done inefficiently. And poor Ms Rao having her routine disrupted--it is a shame that a College Terrace resident has to have their routine disrupted for the greater good of the city.

I am sure College Terrace will get whatever they want from the city--they always do.

Today there is an article in the Daily Post that residents are not happy with $150000 in traffic calming measures installed 18 months ago. They want changes.

Too bad other city neighborhoods do not get the attention that CT does.

Like this comment
Posted by Infrastructure Needed
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2008 at 11:13 am

Palo Altans are never happy. For months now residents have been complaining about the lack of improvements to infrastructure. Here is a neighborhood that is obviously getting the improvements we've all been asking for and they're complaining!!!!

At this point I feel sorry for the Utility Department who are only doing what we've been asking them to do for months if not years.

If College Terrace doesn't appreciate what they are getting, move the infrastructure improvements to neighborhoods who have been begging for them.

Like this comment
Posted by get over it
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Is there anything that the neighborhood association in College Terrace doesn't moan about? Go LCOHs and start that petition. You'll get my signature.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 27, 2008 at 12:31 am

to "get over it" and "let's clean our hands":
Just for the record, the neighborhood association had nothing to do with Christopher Harris's petition. And your nasty remarks ignore the previous commenters on this list from College Terrace which do not fit your negative stereotype!

Most of us have not been whining, and didn't sign the petition. But the 9 months of heavy equipment and torn up streets does make many residents wonder if it couldn't have been planned and executed better.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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