VIDEO: Changes coming to California Avenue | News | Palo Alto Online |


VIDEO: Changes coming to California Avenue

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This video about proposed design changes to Palo Alto's California Avenue was produced by Palo Alto resident Roland Vogl -- a graduate of the Citizen Journalist Academy -- as part of a collaboration between Palo Alto Online and the Midpeninsula Community Media Center.

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Posted by Run for your life!
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 27, 2011 at 10:44 am

What time of day was this video done? California Ave. looks sleepy, with few pedestrians and even fewer cars. I often have to either run for my life, or stop dead in the street, to let cars or bicycle riders pass me when I'm in the crosswalks there. I'm often not the only pedestrian in the walk at the time! This video is misleading in terms of its visuals.

Will the producers go back and produce a video during the hours of 11AM-6PM, Monday-Friday, showing what California Ave. is really like?

These merchants are putting their own best interest over the welfare of their customers. California Ave. has a problem and the merchants are ignoring it.

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Posted by It's fine as it is!!
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 27, 2011 at 10:46 am

California Avenue is fine as it is! Reducing the number of lanes will not improve the flow or the amount of business. Why mess around with something that works?? It is obvious that the merchants on CA Ave do not like this plan - why not get their input and follow it, rather than imposing something that was designed by "consultants"? I understand that the potholes need to be fixed, but other than that, CA Avenue is just fine!

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Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:00 am

Roland Vogl's video was one of six finalists chosen by a panel of judges for the Media Center's ZOOMIES! The video will screened tomorrow night (Friday, Oct. 28) at the Media Center at the biannual Zoomie event. The Media Center will honor the community of videomakers with a reception and screening and pitch session for upcoming community video projects. Find out more by emailing

Roland's first video -- which is amazing -- for someone just starting out was created at the Media Center using Media Center equipment and editing facilities with the support of Zoom In staff and volunteers! Congratulations Roland and thank you Palo Alto Online!

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Posted by Mimi Wolf
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:07 am

No interviews with pedestrians or cyclists that risk their lives every day on California Avenue? California Avenue cannot be compared to University Avenue. University is always backed up because it's the only path from Stanford to 101. Many parents, bicyclists, seniors and pedestrians are very satisfied with Charleston/Arastradero; drivers are adjusting to the 2 lanes and it is now safer.
The challenge is for Palo Alto to consider future generations and move up to the 21st century, hopefully a world that is not dominated by automobiles.

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Posted by south Palo Alto Shopper
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:18 am

Lane reduction is a GREAT idea for this street. I shop at Keeble & Shucat, Mollie Stone's (thanks for you Kosher groceries) and European Cobblery (buy all my shoes there) and Leaf & Petal(love your clothes). My favorite date night restaurant is on Cal Ave. I live far enough away that I have to drive there, but I WANT this project. The street is unsafe for pedestrians--and I become a pedestrian as soon as I leave my car in the parking lots (which, by the way are not on Cal Ave.)

Get off your high horses, stop pretending you are traffic engineers and let this excellent project move forward. Listen to your customers. This will work. It has been done successfully on other streets with MUCH higher traffic volumes.

I can't wait for the new streetscape. Just say YES!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:21 am


And many people are not satisfied with the changes at Charleston/Arastradero.

It is not a case of putting less emphasis on car and vehicle traffic, but on increased population in Palo Alto and getting residents and others to where they need to go in an efficient manner.

I was on my bike recently and legally turning left with a handsignal on my turn at a four way stop and almost hit by a bike going straight which did not stop at the stop sign or give way to me making a turn which started before he got to the intersection. The assumption that pedestrians and bikes put their lives in danger everyday because of cars is false. They are often putting their lives in danger everyday because they are not obeying traffic rules.

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Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:26 am

These are the same people who designed the traffic mess at Town & Country. I guess they want Cal Ave to have the same number of empty stores as University and Hamilton.

South Bronx comes to Palo Alto.

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Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:34 am

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, Do NOT screw up California Ave!

WE, the residents of Palo Alto, like it...LOVE it, just the way it is.

Doesn't the City have anything else to do with themselves? Why do they have to drum up things to screw up, and to take out grants to do it!?!?!

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Posted by 2 lanes!
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:41 am

The video has very good production values. Congratulations to the people who made it.

Mayor Espinosa's comments were right on, and one can see that there is some angst about moving from 4 lanes to two lanes. I still don't understand why that is, because one would hope that Terry Shuchat and Jack Morton are both aware of the many urban design studies and implementations that show that two lane byways are superior in commercial districts.

Jack Morton is NOT correct when he says that Cal Ave merchants are against the lane reduction. They're not! I know several who are. Morton has never even shown up at a CAADA meeting, according to two friends of mine who are CAADA members. Morton doesn't have a retail business on Cal Ave.; he has an attorney office. Why is Morton suddenly interjecting himself in this in a way that makes him come off looking like an expert, or someone who is in touch with what merchants want. He's anything but that.

Also, it's a long-known fact that Mr. Shuchat has opposed ANY change to ANYTHING that comes anywhere near his store. He runs a good business, but he is only interested in HIS business. He has not actively been involved in *inclusive* collaboration with other merchants on Clifornia Ave. He certainly doesn't represent me, or other merchants here. In fact, he is not even accessible, in spite of the fact that he is supposed to be one of the officers in CAADA. What's up with that?

Also, comparing University Avenue with California Ave. is patently absurd! University has MANY MORE feeder streets. It's also many, many blocks longer than California Avenue. There is a choke point where El Camino merges with Palm Drive traffic, and traffic coming from BOTH directions on El Camino. Add up the feeder streets downtown and you get congestion. This is NOTHING like the small, three-block length of California Ave.

One thing for sure is that cars on Cal Ave get up a real head of steam from stop sign to stop sign. Pedestrians have been STRUCK in the crosswalks because of speed. Two lanes will slow things down, and BETTER control traffic flow at the same time. As things stand there are often delays CAUSED by the 4 lane configuration because one of them is almost always taken up by a delivery truck. With the 2 lane configuration, there is a separate spot for loading (in addition to the alley behind the stores), so drivers won't get stuck. Two lanes actually IMPROVE traffic flow AND pedestrian safety. It will also give Cal Ave. more of a promenade feel and INVITE shoppers and others who want to linger.

Lighting definitely needs to be improved, and for heaven's sake fix the fountain! Also, the Council needs to get rid of the mess on Park Blvd. I don't know why that land (near Park and El Camino, across from what used to be the Agilent building, has been permitted to fester in the way it has. It's disgraceful! I heard that a local resident is suing the developer and city (probably costing us tax money, because the City is involved - thanks, whoever you are...NOT!). Clean up that mess and get something built! It impacts Cal Ave.

I KNOW the merchants on Cal Ave. I'm one of them. Most of my friends say that they want two lanes and beautification; they want more flowers; they want wider walks and the street repaired; they want way better lighting, especially as Cal Ave approaches the train station. They want more frequent train service. And so on.

We need to ask the pedestrians and bikers what they want, too. It's about time that we change from one or two large retailers controlling everything on Cal Ave. and listening to what pedestrians, shoppers, bikers and most other businesses want.

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Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:48 am

Jo Ann- you wrote "These are the same people who designed the traffic mess at Town & Country."

What is your source for that statement? I ask because I served as President of CAADA (the California Ave. Area Development Association) from 1989-Jan. 2010, and chaired the Board meetings for those 20 years.

Among the questions not asked in this video was precisely how the design came about, and who approved of it.

How the design came about:

1- Yoriko Kishimoto, when council rep to CAADA, was able to get $50K put towards improvements to the avenue, in a collegues's memo to council.

2- A condition for getting that start-up money was that CAADA had to design a "Concept Plan" for council, indicating what vision we had.

3- I organized a meeting between the CAADA board members and every department head in the City, to tell us what the timeline would be for utility work that was needed on the avenue, and it would culminate with the street resurfacing. A representative from Canopy (trees) was at that meeting, Susan Rosenberg, and she suggested CAADA hold a "charette", where ALL stakeholders could have input about what the Concept Plan would look like.

4- I arranged for two well known local architects to facilitate the charette (Tony Carrasco and Judith Wasserman, helped by former Chamber of Commerce CEO Sandra Lonnquist).

5- I had to cancel my charette plans when Terry Shuchat and Elizabeth "Feeta" Bishop formed the CAADA Streetscape Committee, coming up with their own Concept Plan for the district, an effort that was done in close collaboration with the City of Palo Alto Public Works Dept. (Bob Morris as the point person for the design portion).

6- The Streetscape Committee proposed a wonderful Concept Plan to the rest of us CAADA Board members, after they went to other communities (like University Ave and Castro Street in Mtn. View), and they were convinced that their plan would work. That plan INCLUDED the lane reduction. I went to a seminar in Redwood City and I personally went to not only University Ave and MV, but also to Los Altos, Saratoga, Los Gatos and Menlo Park, studying the traffic flow and how it affected pedestrian safety, before I voted FOR the lane reduction.

7- The city had cords all over the avenue in 2010, monitoring how many cars were on the avenue - how can Jack Morton say that he thought the city didn't even go to Cal Ave? Did he not drive on the avenue in all that time? That statement stumped me.

8- ALL the work would have been done in Nov. 2009, including the lane reduction, had the work not been stopped due to the trees.

The city blew it bigtime by not notifying the public about the trees. But the city has done a FABULOUS job of this phase of the project, and pedestrian safety in crosswalks must come first. 2 lanes are needed and the sooner, the better. The streetscape commmittee was correct in designing the flow that way.

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Posted by Judith
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:51 am

"Most old-time Palo Altans" don't like it, Jack? Oh, really? You mean, the ones who talk to you. I've been in this town since 1968, and I think this is a terrific upgrade. You can't compare a 4-block street that dead ends in the train tracks with either Arastradero or University. I am amazed at how many posters on this site think that their personal experience is the same as everyone else in town.

I, this one resident of Palo Alto, can't wait to see it.

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Posted by Garry Wyndham
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:57 am

I understand Cal Ave merchant's concern about disruptions to business during construction, and the reluctance to change something that's 'not broken'.

Nevertheless I love the new 2-lane concept and applaud the City of PA for their daring and vision.

Cal Ave is much better placed than either Castro St, Mountain View or University Avenue for this configuration. Both of those streets are connectors between major arterials. Yet they are today attractive, pedestrian-friendly and commercially successful spaces. Cal Ave will be too.

We've moved on from the day when traffic flow was the primary consideration in street design.

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Posted by Eva
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I also love the idea of making California Av more pedestrian friendly. For goodness sakes it's only 4 blocks. Yes, we do need more parking, but wouldn't it be lovely to have more al fresco dining and atmosphere? It's really an ugly street, if functional. It's the downtown area I use most and it would make me want to be there and hang out.

Jack Morton may speak for some old time residents, but I've lived in Palo Alto for 15 years and would welcome the change.

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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I agree that this video doesn't show the typical traffic congestion on California Ave. Most of the work day (or during peak restaurant hours), it is difficult to find a parking spot.

So, what about an alternative?

Instead of converting FOUR lanes down to TWO lanes, why not simply remove the existing slanted parking altogether?

This way, you could still significantly extend the sidewalks (about 10-12 feet). This would more than double the size of the existing sidewalks and allow for the current sidewalks to serve as seating or outdoor exhibits/vending.

Parking could be confined to existing parking lots adjacent and behind to California Ave.

Just a thought.

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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2011 at 12:43 pm

BTW, there could still be some handicap spaces available for individuals with disabilities.

This way, we could keep FOUR repaved lanes and still extend the sidewalks.

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Posted by College Terrace Mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Rolland, thanks for making the video and bringing public awareness to this issue.
My vote is for leaving the street four lanes. I do not shop University Ave. anymore, and don't want my neighborhood stores impacted in the same way.

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Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Nayeli- I like your attempt at a compromise. It's forward thinking outside the box. That was suggested before between 2004 & 2007, when the Streetscape was being designed.

Studies show customers choose street parking *first*, right in front of where they want to shop; *second choice* is a surface parking lot, *third* choice is a parking gargage.

The configuration of parking right now on Cal Ave is *ideal*. All that is needed is the lane reduction from four to two, and for safety for pedestrians in *crosswalks*.

While there may sometimes be a problem finding a parking space on the street, right in front of where people want to shop, or even a block or two away, there is *always* at least some parking in the surface lots behind businesses on either side of Cal Ave, or in the two parking garages on Cambridge Ave, if not on the first floor, then on the upper level. Garages are 3 hour parking instead of just two.

Cal Ave is only 3 blocks long. There are many places to exit, if one wanted to get to Cambridge Ave, or to the Sherman area.

Cal Ave is best compared with the Los Altos downtown area, or even with Saratoga, and both of those districts have one lane in each direction, and neither have any on-going problems with traffic flow.
University Ave. is three or four times as long as Cal Ave., and one is stuck in traffic for blocks, without having an exit opportunity.

As for opening up sidewalks for better pedestrian flow - the owner of Joanie's Cafe made the MOST WISE suggestion about newsracks!

To his suggestion for the city, I offer:

1- Re-think *how many* newsracks are really needed on California Ave. Right now there are 300, *competing with pedestrians* in choice sidewalk locations. This is FREE office space for newspapers. I am a news junkie, and want even MORE daily news availble. But MOST publications there are not even newspapers, but school catalogs and magazines with shelf-lives of 3 months or longer. Ought newsracks COMPETE with pedestrians for sidewalk space? I say no.

2 - Move most racks to the many alley ways along California Ave. That's what Mountain View's Castro Street did. It works well.

3- Prioritize the racks so citizens have NEWSPAPERS in newsracks. Daily News (and even Weeklies) = *Priority ONE*, give them MORE space, so plenty is available. Monthly publications & those published even fewer times a year are a lower priority.

4- Allow *only pedestal mount* newsracks, eliminating free-standing racks that are often abandoned. Last summer, I took a photograph of an abandoned newsrack that had an empty can of pork and beans in it, along with a bunch of other garbage-empty coffee cups, napkins, paper bags. With all the money the city spent on "Destination Palo Alto", the Pork and Beans sat in that newsrack for 4 solid months for everyone to see. I couldn't resist taking a photo, since I don't clean things up anymore.

5- Ensure citizen reports about abandoned newsracks to the city (like that Pork and Bean's box) will be taken seriously, so newspaper distributors will be encouraged to accept their part in the responsibility to make the Cal Ave district look tidy, or have their priviledges reconsidered.

Even new pedestal mount newsracks will get ratty, when the cat's away, allowing the mice to play. All the distributors OF NEWSPAPERS I met were very reasonable. And the best was from the Weekly! If it were in his capable hands, the newsrack situation would have been resolved successfully, in 2007. Then, most of the other distributors saw the merit in cleaning up the Cal Ave racks too.

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Posted by Kim S.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I completely agree with Nayeli's alternative. By losing lanes it will only divert traffic to residential streets as has happened with Arastradero. Nayeli's alternative would still allow wider sidewalks, more flowers and al fresco dining and still keep traffic moving. I'd hate to lose Cal Ave as I've lost University Avenue and Downtown Los Altos. As a person who used to frequent downtown Los Altos I saw firsthand how the businesses were suffering due to street closures during construction. If the city insists on ramming this down our throats they should at the very least do a true environmental impact test to see the results and not just take the word of the city "experts".

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Posted by Los Altos Resident
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm

My family loves how Los Altos looks now. It was less convenient with Main Street torn up. But there was plenty of access to downtown from San Antonio Road and State Street, good "Apricot Annie" signage + parking was always available in the lots. We were downtown almost daily, the whole time during construction. It wasn't that bad. We live within walking distance but it's time consuming, so we mostly drive to Main Street. A small area of First Street is still torn up right now. But it should be finished soon. We do almost everything in LA - dining, banking, shopping, shoe repair, children's activities, the library. We take advantage of all the city and village association has to offer. It's a great place for pedestrians. New larger corners are ideal for coffee/visiting, as are the new benches. It's easy to get there by car. Downtown Los Altos is not at all like University Avenue. Los Altos is easiest for us, but we also like shops on California Avenue, and before we moved to LA, we lived in PA. California Avenue will benefit from improvements such as those that were just done in Los Altos. Congratulations to your mayor. His comments were great in the video. It's good for cities to finally see a need for infrastructure improvements for our downtowns. Mountain View led the way in their downtown years ago. It's always packed with people over there. Business is booming.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2011 at 3:42 pm

> “Roland Vogl's video was one of six finalists chosen by a panel of judges for the Media Center's ZOOMIES!”

1. Who is Roland Vogl? What was the purpose of the class he taught at the Midpeninsula Community Media Center that produced this video?

2. What is it about this video that qualifies for an award? Production value? Content? Journalism?

IMHO, anyone with a video camera could have made this. It’s simply a bunch of interviews. Which of the interviewees is telling the truth? Obviously, all are biased.

Searching for truth isn’t easy. For example, the 2010 traffic analysis was done according to the city’s planning regulations, which only allow for CURRENT data on traffic flow to be taken into account.

It claims -“…no major projects are expected in the area in the near future, so the volume of traffic should not change.”

This is clearly not true. High density housing and office space for the California Avenue area is the stated goal of the Planning Department. They are actively working on changing the area's zoning to encourage high density housing and office space. Several projects have already been approved.

> “Cal Ave is best compared with the Los Altos downtown area, or even with Saratoga, and both of those districts have one lane in each direction, and neither have any on-going problems with traffic flow.”

Los Altos downtown has no traffic flow because there’s no traffic. It’s a sleepy area and the city is trying to figure out how to bring more business down town. Have you not noticed the “Apricot Annie” signs directing people to the downtown area, and then thanking them for coming? Truly a sign of desperation!

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Posted by Bear
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 27, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Let's just close California so only pedestrians can go there.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2011 at 5:10 pm

An excellent idea Bear. I’m sure all the businesses will be happy to reduce traffic – and customers.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I have heard from the Media Center that Roland Vogl is a private citizen who took a class there and made this video because he is interested in the topic.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 27, 2011 at 5:43 pm

As a local merchant on California Avenue it is refreshing and inspiring to see that so many people care about the community and California Avenue. There are many different opinions about what should or should not happen with Cal Ave, but it does seem that most people can agree that some sort improvement is needed. It may be good to note that the variety of opinions exist within the local groups of residents, merchants, business owners and city officials. With that said, we should try to find some common ground and work together to find a solution with the expectation that not everyone will agree, and that is ok. However, if we can collaborate and effectively communicate with each other without the adversarial and confrontational discourse that can entangle controversial issues like this we can build on that common ground and find an effective solution.

With that said, it seems that not all, but most of the controversy centers on the possible lane reduction. There are issues with finding a valid ‘apples to apples’ comparison to Cal Ave, but there are some good observations about other relatively similar downtown streets. The traffic study seems to be in question, so perhaps conducting a new study with broader agreement on the parameters would help. In addition, it seems that many more regularly scheduled and well attended community meetings should take place to help facilitate the communication and collaboration we need.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 5:47 pm

If I was about to frequent a business on Cal Ave, I would not drive down Cal Ave, I would enter through the backstreets and go straight to a parking lot.

It would seem ridiculous to me to expect to park outside the business I was planning to visit. Therefore, the quickest thing to do would be to avoid the main street and find parking first then walk. I am not disabled, I can walk 100 yards very easily, it is obvious to me to park then walk.

Am I the only sensible person around?

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Posted by Hey..I'm parking Here!
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2011 at 7:58 pm

"Am I the only sensible person around?"

I thought it was common sense to find the most desirable parking spot?
I would assume that would be the closest to your destination as possible, therefore,
right out front seems to me to be pretty close to sensible.

Myself, I usually go to Calif Avenue during the early afternoon, and usually find 1 or 2 spots available.

As far as what I'd like as a customer of many of the shops along California Avenue :

1. That the restaurants don't impose on the sidewalk with tables until this issue is resolved. Especially in my view, Joannie's Cafe seats a few tables outside too many - leaving room for only 1 pedestrian to pass at a time.

2. Aesthetically I would think the area has so much potential -- the shops and restaurants seem to put a lot of effort into the interiors of their establishments, I'd hope some nice trees and flowers could be put in.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Interesting that no one has mentioned the cost of all the proposed improvements and where the money will come from.

The city says it will get grants, but grants come from our pockets.

Will the city assess merchants to help pay for all the changes?

Without answers to the money questions, it's all wishful thinking.

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Posted by Julian
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 27, 2011 at 10:10 pm

I was living in Mtn View when they throttled Castro from four to two lanes. It turned into a major PITA, and eventually disincentivized me from from going to the business on Castro. To this day I'll try to find a restaurant somewhere else than have to deal with Castro. If California goes to two lanes I foresee the same happening there. I would bet there are many people who agree.

Side note: there was supposed to be a lot of street parking on Castro after the change. Eventually the city ended up licensing many of those spaces to restaurants for outdoor seating.

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Posted by Julian
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 27, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Akk - typos:

...from going to businesses on Castro.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Hey I'm Parking here.

Let's see.

Say I am going to the Counter, always a line for tables. I can't honestly believe that anyone planning to eat there would expect to park right outside on the street. Therefore don't bother, go straight to a parking lot then walk.

It seems rather arrogant to expect to be able to find the prime space outside the very business you plan to visit. The only way that may happen is if you are the only customer in that time frame. Pretty unrealistic really.

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Posted by L.S
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:51 pm

RONNA, please stop your angry words. Get over it and get a life. You are way too angry. You are the reason why the trees were cut. There is much to say about your TRUE involvement.

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Posted by Louise
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 28, 2011 at 12:29 am

Thanks, Roland, for showing the actual traffic situation on California Avenue in the background as Terry Schuchat kept making unfounded comparisons between California Avenue -- where total traffic counts are less than 6000 vehicles per day in the block nearest El Camino, down to 2,500 by Birch St.-- and arterial streets like University Avenue or Arastradero with 15,000-20,000 cars per day!

Two lanes plus turning pockets at intersections is more than ample vehicle capacity for this street, from now until the oil runs out -- there is simply no "controversy" about this design from the traffic management standpoint, except from extremely fact-challenged commenters.

The truth is that the only reason Cal Ave has four lanes is that in the 1950's, it was a major connector between Alma and El Camino Real. With the construction of Oregon Expressway, it became a 4 block dead end street. It's time to notice the many, many pedestrians and bicyclists who are already using this street, and to create the kind of street that includes all users. It's win for everyone in this case.

Mayor Espinosa has got it right -- there's a well-studied proposal on the table, tweaked through multiple community meetings, to revitalize this long neglected area. Let's hope that reason and vision do not fail our City Council as they review the proposed design on November 7th.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2011 at 9:25 am

Does anyone know if CAADA still a live organization? I’m trying to determine if Ronna speaks for the merchants on CA Ave. or just for herself.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2011 at 9:32 am

> “Mayor Espinosa has got it right -- there's a well-studied proposal on the table,…”

Not quite. The proposal was approved by Council in February and THEN council members asked staff to go back and look at wider sidewalks and bike lanes. So those things have not been well-studied.

> “…there was supposed to be a lot of street parking on Castro after the change. Eventually the city ended up licensing many of those spaces to restaurants for outdoor seating.”

This is an interesting point. Who are wider sidewalks for: pedestrians or restaurants? Castro and University restaurants have a lot of outdoor seating that squeezes pedestrians. Personally, I don’t mind. But if I owned a restaurant, I’d want to know (1) would wider sidewalks provide me with more outdoor seating and (2) how much would I have to pay for it.

Why doesn't anyone seem to care about the money? We're all going to end up paying for whatever is done!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2011 at 9:43 am


You raise a good point.

If Cal Ave (or anywhere else for that matter) has restaurant outdoor seating, do the restaurants pay rent for that.

I remember using Subway in Midtown for many years and not able to find a seat to eat my sandwich, 10 minutes, may not be a long time but it is awkward trying to eat and stand. I asked the manager for years to get outside seating and was told the City wouldn't let him put a couple of tables outside and the sidewalk there is huge. They now have some tables, they are not in the way, and they are well used by customers.

However, are these wide sidewalks a revenue source?

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Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2011 at 11:17 am

This is to Pat, from Midtown, who asked about CAADA & me:

My response:
I speak only for myself, as a citizen. I resigned from CAADA in January 2010. I'm just a customer at Cal Ave stores now.

Last I heard, there was only one CAADA meeting in the past 20 months, and it was not publicized to all merchants.

So I do not understand how anyone can speak for anyone else from CAADA, including Jack Morton who spoke for "the merchants" in the interview.

If publicized Board meetings have been going on regularly for the past 20 months, it's news to me. I'd ask to see the agendas and what was discussed. When I resigned, I suggested the board hold an election. From what I understand, that was never done. If it was, it was never publicized and the merchants I know are not aware of it.

Further, Pat, when I was President, I spoke in public on behalf of the "CAADA Board" only, & only after formal Board Meetings, where documented decisons was made about issues by the Board as a body. That is expected of anyone in a position of leadership.

Meetings were open to the public, and I announced it via email to 80+ merchants. There was little interest in attending CAADA Board meetings until the issue with the fountain happened. It was then that I arranged for the day of the Board meeting to be changed from Wednesday to Thursday, in order to accomodate more merchants that said Thursday was good for them. But not one more person came, so the Board went back to meeting on Wednesdays.

While I did not always get my way on each issue, I was the spokesperson for "The CAADA Board" as a body. Who fills that role now, Pat? I don't know.

Also to Pat: a few posts above, you wrote: "Searching for truth isn’t easy."

I respectfully disagree with you. It really IS easy to get the truth.
All one has to do is ask questions to people that have DOCUMENTED & PROVABLE FACTS.

Further, trusted journalist Walter Cronkite, who was known as "The Most Trusted Man in America" in his day, asked questions such as: Who, What, Why, When, Where and How, in order to get the truth, to provide accurate and objective background to a story on which he reported. Most of us were taught in grade school to ask those questions, to prepare a report.

That's just not done anymore. Guessing, speculating & getting opinions from people that have no proof for what they claim will NOT give the truth.

Rather, it gives us "Group Think", where facts don't matter. It's a bunch of opinions based on nothing substantial. Ideas are gathered together by a group that comes to a conclusion based on something easy that just works for them. No facts, no truth. I miss Walter Cronkite.

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Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2011 at 11:45 am

Re: sidewalk seating for restaurants for Cal Ave only:

Several years ago, Susan Barnes, former Economic Development manager for the City, came up with a wonderful idea to assist about a dozen CAADA restaurants to get a "Blanket Permit".

It streamlined the process for getting an encroachment permit, allowing everyone to split the cost, reducing the fees from about $1,200 per business (even if it was one or two small tables) to around $85. each.

Participating merchants met with the City in one time period; it was considered like it was one permit. It was a dream! A huge success. These restaurants were thrilled to get proper permits that would allow their customers to dine comfortably (and legally!).

Even then, not all merchants wanted to participate; enforcement was then, and is now, based on complaints. So newer businesses may not now be in compliance, as there was a specific time period to take advantage of the blanket permit. Formerly permitted businesses may have since changed the footprint that was approved by the city when the encroachment issue was broached.

It was a one-time fee, just to comply with the encroachment ordinance. The idea was not for the city to make money. It was around the time that gas was turned off at the drop of a hat due to city utility problems, rendering diners incapable of getting hot food, and then due to state law, requiring restaurants to bolt their refrigerators closed. All those utility failures cost merchants $$$.

So the blanket permit was a business-friendly, consumer-friendly plan that worked. They tried to do the same thing downtown on University Ave. when Sherry Bijan was there, but I don't know if it ever happened. Cal Ave restraunts welcomed the idea from the get-go. But there was reluctance on the part of merchants downtown, last I heard a few years ago.

The items that occupy the sidewalks that should be addressed are the 300 newsracks, many of them freestanding, and often abandoned- and the pedestal mounts that contain magazines with 3 month shelf-lives.
If pedestrians must compete for sidewalk space, at least make it *daily newspapers*.

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Posted by CalLover
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Calif. Ave. is my first choice to shop and eat because it is handy and has diagonal parking. I just can't parallel park unless I have two parking spaces to use! Also, I think you need two lanes each direction because one lane should be open for pulling in and out of parking spaces and slow traffic, the other lane for through traffic. My home town in Texas narrowed their streets and put in more plantings to beautify it, took out most of the parking, and it is now a ghost street with second hand stores and boarded up stores. We don't need narrow streets like Europe.

The grant that is funding this should be used where it is really needed, not wasted on an area that does not need "improving."

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Posted by Hey I'm Parking here
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm

"Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, 18 hours ago

"Hey I'm Parking here.

Say I am going to the Counter, always a line for tables. I can't honestly believe that anyone planning to eat there would expect to park right outside on the street. Therefore don't bother, go straight to a parking lot then walk.

It seems rather arrogant to expect to be able to find the prime space outside the very business you plan to visit. The only way that may happen is if you are the only customer in that time frame.<snip>


What is your issue? I do this ALL the time! LOL sounds like you are not able to see available, I can see them, then I park !

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Posted by long-time resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Very strange arguments about Castro above. Before the new streetscape (which came from narrowing), Castro was a scary ghost town at night, had a lot of vacant and rundown businesses, and was not the city center it is today. It was like that forever. Maybe Julian above didn't like the changes, but luckily a lot of people did and Castro thrived.

Having lots of parking doesn't drive business, as the old San Antonio center demonstrated.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 30, 2011 at 9:52 am

Narrowing is not necessary to improve a streetscape or attract new businesses. Starbucks, the Counter, yogurt shop and others have located on CA Ave in the last few years. It's already a thriving area, unlike the dead zone Castro used to be.

The city wants ground floor businesses with housing above in the CA Ave corridor because it’s near a train station.

From Web Link
“Cupertino-based developer Sobrato Organization has purchased a 15-acre property in Palo Alto that includes Fry's Electronics -- a site that city officials eye as a potential location for major land-use changes.

“…the site is one of several that city officials say could support new housing because of its proximity to the transit-oriented district on California Avenue….

"’Sobrato is generally a high-density residential developer, so we expect that's what they have in mind down the line,’ Palo Alto’s planning director, Curtis Williams said.”

A development on Birch Street (just off California Ave.) was approved on November 22, 2010: mixed use project with first floor office space and 8 residential units above on the second and third levels.

And there’s the Hohbach project. Ultimately, something will be built on that large parcel.

Yet, “Curtis Williams, the city's planning director, said … that the city doesn't assume that everyone in the new transit-oriented developments will use transit, but it assumes that some will….Palo Alto has not performed any studies on whether transit-oriented development really reduces congestion because the city's supply of such developments is too small, Williams said. But evidence from elsewhere in the U.S. suggests cars will continue to be the preferred mode of transportation in these developments, though to a much smaller extent than in other parts of the city.” Web Link

The ONLY reason Palo Alto wants to reduce lanes from four to two is so that it can get a $1.2 million beautification grant from the VTA/MTC, which requires lane reduction. And that $1.2M comes from our pockets.

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Posted by JO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2011 at 10:32 am

One fact the City seems to downplay is that the $1.175 million dollar grant from the VTA (still not approved for allocation by the MTC) will NOT pay for resurfacing the street. Palo Alto will have to come up with the $500,000 to pay for the street resurfacing after the VTA grant money is used to reduce the lanes and change the traffic lights.

So the touted VTA grant money will not even pay for resurfacing the street!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2011 at 1:33 pm

This grant money is not coming from our pockets, it has already left our pockets and is sitting somewhere waiting to be spent.

I don't like paying taxes to benefit other places when our own town looks a shambles. Since this money is going to be spent somewhere, I think spending it on Palo Alto is great. Too often we miss out on money and end up paying for something that won't benefit us, the retrofit of a hospital in South San Jose, is one thing that comes to mind.

So yes, let this grant money be spent in Palo Alto. However, careful thought into how it should be spent is a different question.

I really don't see the benefit of the arguments about parking on Cal Ave as I never use street parking when I know it is much easier to park in one of the lots - apart from the fact that the lots get full at lunch time when it makes sense to park on the Alma side of Cal Ave and use the tunnel to walk to Cal Ave.

The only people who seem to make a fuss about street parking are those that have grown up thinking that they can park right outside the business they are frequenting and then get back into the car and drive 30 yards to the next business they want to visit. Those days are over and we have to realise that 21st century parking habits are not the same as 20th century parking habits. We will all have to walk from parking lots to businesses and from one business to the next, just like at a shopping mall. The exercise is good for us and the environment and it keeps traffic moving.

I don't care whether we have two lanes or one lane, I like the sidestreets, I just don't like the obstacles that prevent me from using them in Southgate and other areas. Allow the cars to get to the parking without using Cal Ave makes sense to me.

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Posted by JO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm

For the curious, here is a link to a profile of Roland Vogl:

Web Link

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Posted by Julian
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm

long-time resident:

If you read my post, it says nothing about Castro thriving. My post talks only about what a PITA it is to deal with Castro St.

You're also mistaking the street realignment with causing the thriving. It didn't. The city decided to change Castro from a small town main street to one full of trendy restaurants.

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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2011 at 11:27 am


I have selected this thread from among the half dozen Cal Ave related news items posted on PA Online since October 21st and all of which you have followed up on, in order to ask you a few questions. That is because your response to Pat from Midtown relates to material I intend to cover as part of a new Town Square topic and wanted you to have an opportunity to provide information prior to publication.

Since mid-September 2009, I have been dedicated to collecting, understanding, and distilling the history that led up to the sad and painful events of that month. That is so relevant and verifiable information can be quickly disseminated to the community as needed, and so we can learn from our experience and prevent a recurrence of the circumstances that led to those events.

We have now entered a critical period where verifiable knowledge is crucial. My goal is to complete my writing by end of the day on Monday, so kindly respond via this forum before then.

Here are the questions:

1. As part of my research, I collected dozens of emails that you sent to merchants during 2009. Within that series of communications, you did send out brief reminders of upcoming bi-mionthly CAADA board meetings. But in all the emails that I have seen from that year, not one lists an agenda for an upcoming meeting, nor minutes or summaries of Board meetings that had occurred. How were the list of 80+ merchants that you wrote to informed about what was about to be discussed or had already been discussed and/or acted upon at the bi-monthy CAADA Board meetings?

2. As per the bylaws who was officially a member of CAADA? What were the qualifications and requirements for membership? Were the 80+ merchants on your email distribution list all members as per the bylaws. If not, what was their status within the organization.

3. How were elections for board positions conducted within CAADA? What was the process for nominations? Who was eligible to vote? How were the elections publicized to the 80+ merchants on your list?

Thank you for your attention to these questions.

-Fred Balin

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Posted by Former Vice Mayor Palo Alto
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 15, 2014 at 1:01 pm

[Post removed due to unverifiable claims and potential defamatory statements. Poster is encouraged to contact with additional information.]

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