Ruling paves the way for California Avenue renovation

Appeals court rejects arguments that city violated state law

Palo Alto's plan to shrink California Avenue from four lanes to two cleared its final legal hurdle Thursday when a California Court of Appeals judge dismissed a lawsuit from critics.

The four appellants -- attorney Joy Ogawa, Terry Shuchat of the California Avenue store Keeble and Shuchat, the owners of Antonio's Nuthouse and former Vice Mayor Jack Morton -- contended in their lawsuit that the city violated state law by providing insufficient notice about the project to the business owners in the commercial district; by failing to include proper mitigations; and by failing to accurately describe the project in its application for grant funds.

Plaintiffs had also argued that the city effectively locked itself into the controversial two-lane plan by describing the lane reduction in its application for $1.2 million in VTA funds. Dozens of merchants had argued over a series of heated public meetings that the lane reduction would bring traffic congestion and negatively affect customers and businesses. The council approved the lane reduction as part of a broad streetscape project despite the criticisms, arguing that it would create a more pedestrian-friendly environment and bring vitality to the city's "second downtown."

Officials hope to transform California Avenue into a busier and more dynamic thoroughfare, akin to University Avenue and Mountain View's Castro Street.

The streetscape project, which targets the business strip between the Caltrain station and El Camino Real, includes new street furniture, expanded sidewalks, new lighting fixtures and new public plazas. Its original price tag of $1.7 million gradually swelled to $4 million as the council added more amenities over the past two years.

The legal challenge had already delayed the streetscape project, which received unanimous City Council approval in February 2011. In November 2011, a trial court concurred with the plaintiffs' assertion that the city had prematurely committed to the two-lane street alignment in a grant application before analyzing other alternatives. The legal speedbump forced the council to void its prior approval of the project and to approve it again, in a different sequence.

The Superior Court subsequently agreed in February 2012 to drop the complaint and allow the project to go forward. Ogawa's group then appealed this decision in the Sixth Appellate District, arguing that the trial court "erred in discharging the writ" and letting the project proceed. They argued in the appeal that the city failed to comply with the noticing requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act and that the city failed to analyze the project's consistency with the city's Comprehensive Plan, its guiding document concerning how land is used.

In a ruling released on Oct. 31, Associate Justice Miguel Marquez of the Sixth District Court of Appeals rejected these arguments and declared them "without merit." Marquez ruled that the city's actions in 2011 to remedy the sequencing violation were "entirely appropriate" in light of the trial court's order. He also wrote in his ruling that the "improperly omitted portion" of the project "had no direct physical impacts whatsoever" on the project as a whole.

Marquez also rejected the assertion that the city did not offer sufficient outreach to the public before approving the grant application and the environmental documents for the controversial streetscape project. He also found that analyzing economic impact is beyond the purview of the California Environmental Quality Act. He also cited the city's traffic study, which concluded that parking and traffic on California Avenue would "remain at acceptable levels even after the lane reduction," the ruling states.

"As to the economic effects, the city's review concluded the project was expected to generate economic benefits to the city and area businesses as a result of increased vehicle and bicycle parking, enhancing pedestrian-centered features, and overall aesthetic improvements in the environment," Marquez wrote. "To the extent appellants' claims challenge the factual basis for findings, appellants present no evidence to the contrary. Accordingly, we conclude that the city did not abuse its discretion in this matter."

The ruling paves the way for construction on California Avenue to begin in December or in January 2014, according to a press release from the city.

"The courts have confirmed again that the city complied with CEQA," City Attorney Molly Stump said in the press release. "This resolves litigation over the California Avenue Streetscape Project. The city can now begin improvements to this vital street without the threat of ongoing litigation."


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Posted by shopper
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2013 at 7:39 pm

We live in Midtown and walk to California Ave regularly. The current sidewalks on that street are woefully inadequate. Restaurants up and down the street are putting their tables on the sidewalk, leaving so little space for pedestrians that passersby are constantly bumping into each other.

Car traffic is pretty light at all hours since all the parking lots are on the side streets and drivers have long ago learned to use those streets instead of California. Only the intersection with Birch Street gets real busy (because cars are trying to make left turns from all directions) and that can be fixed with a stop light.

Lets get this project done already. It will make California Ave far more inviting to local residents who would shop and dine here more often if it was more pedestrian-friendly.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2013 at 8:18 pm

@ shopper,
I was definitely on the side of our doing something to make California more pedestrian friendly until I realized what they did at Arastradero was sold with the same premise! I remember being really confused that we were losing a lane of traffic and the street is no more walkable than it was before.

I always thought a Castro-street like overhaul would be great there, but now I'm very worried this City Council, it's likely to cost more and deliver less.

Well, the City Attorney is probably still smarting from the last battle she lost in the California Supreme Court, and those she won at the lower levels, too.

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Posted by hoping
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 1, 2013 at 8:20 pm

We live around the corner and are all for this. Hoping that they will make Cal Ave prettier and more inviting. Now it's dismal and depressing. And get rid of that ugly unused fountain and put something more inviting. Also, abolish that bad art. Palo Alto has some really awful art going on around here and we need to get rid of it and put up something more appealing.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 1, 2013 at 8:34 pm

> The current sidewalks on that street are woefully inadequate.

> Restaurants up and down the street are putting their tables on
> the sidewalk, leaving so little space for pedestrians that
> passersby are constantly bumping into each other.

Yes, this is true. Most of these restaurants have been applied for, and been given, so-called "encroachment rights" by the City. They have paid for (at least once) the right to use the sidewalks for seating their customers outside.

However, it's really not clear how much of the sidewalk each of these restaurants were authorized to use. Attempts to obtain that information via a Public Information Request to the planning department over a year ago has been stone-walled.

Restaurants Encroach On Public Sidewalks On California Avenue (Palo Alto, CA):
Web Link

I wanted to know to whom to complain about these encroachments, and the Planning Department has never responded to this information request.

California Avenue (Palo Alto, CA) Restaurants Hi-Jack Sidewalks For Outdoor Diners:
Web Link

Additionally, inquiries into where the money goes from these encroachments has also been ignored.

> The current sidewalks on that street are woefully inadequate.

If the City is not going to set reasonable use limits for sidewalk encroachments, nor enforce even common sense limits--it's hard to believe that these restaurants will not move into the new sidewalk space, leaving pedestrians with no more space to use in the future than they have now on these sidewalks.

It's sad that people in town don't really understand that the City is responsible for allowing these encroachments, and for not enforcing some, or any, violations of the use of public space by these restaurants.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 1, 2013 at 10:05 pm

By the way, the need for these encroachments goes back to 1997, when Palo Alto was beset with all sorts of people sitting on the sidewalks, pandhandling--

Sit-lie ban comes back to bite Palo Alto restaurants:
Web Link

It turns out well-known panhandler Victor Frost isn't the only person who has been violating Palo Alto's controversial ban on sitting or lying down on its downtown sidewalks. So have the hundreds of customers who grab coffee or dinner each day in the outdoor seating areas of local restaurants.

Now some of the same merchants who pushed for the sit-lie ban are being told by the city they have to cough up $135 to avoid violating it themselves. That's because the 1997 rule was couched in terms of pedestrian safety, so it applies equally to any sort of physical obstacle — homeless or not.
[Assistant City Attorney] Larkin said it's not about money. At $135 per business, he said, the city is barely even recovering the cost of enforcement.

I find it hard to believe than any code enforcement of this ordinance, relating to restaurants, has even been exercised.

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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 2, 2013 at 3:00 am

So ... what about the Farmer's Market? How do they do a Farmer's Market without some space in the street?

> Restaurants up and down the street are putting their tables on the sidewalk, leaving so little space for pedestrians that passersby are constantly bumping into each other.

I've never seen anyone bump into anyone. Ever been to New York ... you walk around people.

But one thing I know for sure is that the parking lots on all the side streets about the stupidest design possible.

If someone drives in the space as sooooo small that just one large car or one car not perfectly parked creates a whole domino effect that removes at least one parking space, and often 2 or 3 from an entire row. If they have been a little less pushy and stingy and made the spaces just a little bit wider they would actually get more use out of them.

I like to pop over to California avenue for some lunch, particularly get a bagel sandwich at Izzy's and every time I do I have to drive down lanes and lanes of the parking lot behind trying to find a space ... and then trying to find a space that my car can actually fit in that allows me to open the doors.

Drive down those lanes and just look and count and you can see that 1 or 2 spaces are being wasted in every lane because all of the spaces are too damn small for anyone to park in so someone always uses more than one.

Then there was the lady in the white Tesla last Thursday at lunch who blatantly just parked right on the line taking up two spaces. Someone even left her a note presumably telling her off, which she just threw on the ground. This is the kind of town Palo Alto has turned into.

The point is that the planners of Palo Alto really need to be supervised or overseen because they cannot seem to do or get anything right - except perhaps occasionally by chance.

California avenue is a real nice resource for Palo Alto ... why don't they try to make it more useable?

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Posted by Could have, but didn't
a resident of another community
on Nov 2, 2013 at 7:19 am

Palo Alto will never be as enjoyable/livable as the surrounding areas simply because there are so many entitled Palo Altans running around everywhere. Palo Alto is destined to eat itself. I'll pass.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 2, 2013 at 7:37 am

@Could... That's what many in the rest of the world say about America.

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Posted by right
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2013 at 9:59 am

@Could - what surrounding areas are you talking about? Menlo Park and Los Altos are dying of boredom. East Palo Alto may no longer be the murder capital of the USA, but it is not exactly an destination city unless you are looking for drugs. Mountain View is concentrating all of its public spending on Castro Street and letting the rest of the city decay. I for one am glad that Palo Alto is trying to maintain a second business district, since University Ave is so congested and uninviting.

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Posted by How sweet it is!
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 2, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Surprise, surprise, the arguments submitted by the 4 appellants who filed the lawsuit are "without merit". How frustrating that their pettifoggery succeeded in delaying the implementation of the unanimous City Council decision by two construction seasons.

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Posted by Finally
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 3, 2013 at 7:24 am

The litigants were grossly misinformed by their selfish and misguided pro bono lawyer. The renovations would be complete now if they hadn't committed their "pettifoggery". They never presented an argument or explanation as to why the project should not proceed. Numerous open meetings were held with the community and businesses to gather input to make this project great. Now it can proceed.

This project is significantly different than Arastradero on many levels. California Avenue is not a through way to any other area. The traffic is also much less on California Avenue that any other comparable road. This project is also about a full streetscape improvement, not just a widening in the road. The intent is to make the neighborhood more inviting on many levels, not just traffic flow.

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Posted by Mike Eager
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 3, 2013 at 8:23 am

I'm happy to see this finally move forward. The entire community has been done a disservice by the protracted litigation against the project.

Palo Alto is not New York and California Ave doesn't have 20-25 foot wide sidewalks. Cal Ave is not Arastradero, a major thoroughfare with no shopping. Claims that the business owners were not consulted are simply absurd. Claims that more on-street parking will have an adverse effect on business, or that people will not patronize stores if the street is two lanes instead of four have been completely without any factual support, save the repeated rejected assertions of Ogawa and Shuchat.

Even the court ruling against the City that required the same approvals to be repeated in a different order changed nothing of substance. It only resulted in a delay in beautifying our city.

I've always been struck by the photos which accompanied each of the newspaper articles about the Cal Ave streetscape project. Each article talked about the contention that Cal Ave would become crowded with traffic. Each photo showed an empty street with no cars.

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Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Well, I guess we will soon find out what will happen to California Ave when the renovation happens. Should
be interesting.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Don’t blame everything on the litigation, which was the only option the merchants had to get Council to hear their concerns. Creeping elegance has also been a factor:

Febrary 2011: Council approved a $1.7M project to cut CA Ave. from 4 lanes to 2. The project would be funded with a $1.2 million grant from the MTC and the city would add $550,000. Council then sent the planners back to the drawing board to add wider sidewalks. Web Link

July 2012: “The sidewalk-expansion plan is expected to add another $700,000 to the $1.7 million project, pushing the price tag to about $2.4 million.” Web Link

December 2012: Palo Alto in final stage of California Avenue redesign
“Jaime Rodriguez … said the streetscape design has just been finalized and is set to go to the Planning and Transportation Commission for approval in January before proceeding to the City Council in February. … the reconstruction … would begin in the fall. ... Officials are … considering whether to replace the lighting structures along California Avenue, which would add $1.2 million to the project's cost.”
Web Link

January 2013: 'Cal Ave' cost overruns may echo past, present and future city projects Costs are now up to an estimated $4.5 M because the city redesigned and added wider sidewalks and new street lights. Web Link (This article exposes cost overruns on many city projects.)

March 5, 2013: "City Council voted unanimously March 4 to add up to $1.2 million to the project's budget for installation of at least 37 streetlights … The number of new streetlights could be raised to 48 if staff decides to decrease spacing between the poles, an option that would add $200,000 to the $1 million project." Web Link

I can't wait to see what the real cost will be. About $10M?

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Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2013 at 10:32 am

Let's move forward and get it done!

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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 4, 2013 at 10:44 am

Great! More traffic backups. Embarcadero's a disaster around Town & Country, Page Mill/Oregon's solidly tied up.

How green are our exhaust fumes.

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Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 4, 2013 at 11:02 am

I assume Pat meant to write "creeping expense" instead of "creeping elegance - and Pat makes a good point about that. Whether you welcome this change or not it I hope all will agree that the timing of the work is important. There's construction on Page Mill now that requires 1 lane to be closed during construction hours and numerous other projects are either underway or planned for the California Avenue area. I hope someone in the Planing Dept is looking at the big picture and preparing a time line that makes sense and that does not unnecessarily compound problems. Call 329-2441 or email the Planning Dept if you share this concern and want to weigh in on sensible timing.

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Posted by sunshine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2013 at 11:19 am

I often shop on CA Ave. Occasionally I ride a bike there. I have learned that it is best to avoid CA Ave when driving as you are forever beset by people jumping out from the side or walking across intersections without checking for traffic first. No matter how careful a driver is someone is bound to get hit if they jump out right in front of a car.
One of the reasons people don't run into each other in NYC is that they stop at corners and wait for lights to change or at least stop and look before jumping into the middle of the street.
Cyclists on CA Ave can also be a problem, and will be a worse problem if the street is narrowed to one lane each way unless there is a separate lane for cyclists.
Narrowing this street will result in worse problems than we already have.
The sidewalks do need to be fixed. The City can also move "Go Mama" to another spot, perhaps right next to the Mayor's residence. The City can also burn the wooden thing that looks light a giant upright screw. Perhaps it can be used as firewood.

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Posted by Cal Ave. shopper
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2013 at 11:25 am

Yes!!! Let's move forward. This is a great project.

Cal Ave. carries less than 10,000 cars per day. It can easily support lane reduction. Get it done already. The naysayers have had their day in court, and they (appropriately, because they were incorrect that the city had done anything illegal) lost.

Cal Ave. needs wider sidewalk because the way people use commercial streets is CHANGING. Even mall developers are starting to recognize this in their designs. People want outdoor seating and public places to congregate. They expect a place on the street to walk and bicycle. This is a change in human behavior that the current auto-focused 1950's Cal Ave. design cannot serve.

Time for progress. I'm totally in support of this forward-thinking design.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2013 at 11:41 am

Annette, I did mean creeping elegance, which inevitably means creeping expense.

It will be interesting to see how many cars/day will be on CA Ave. after all the surrounding projects are completed: Hohbach’s on Park Blvd and another on Birch, the Jay Paul project that may or may not put a police building on Park, the old Illusions nightclub that has just been demolished to be replaced by offices & retail, etc.

The traffic study was seriously flawed.

“According to the City of Palo Alto, there are no pending projects or planned projects in the foreseeable future. Therefore, traffic volumes on California Avenue between El Camino Real and Park Boulevard will remain unchanged with the current land uses.”

The city was well-aware of the huge projects coming down the pike, and it also made the CA Ave business district the city’s only PDA (Priority Development Area).

But we are assured that none of that will impact traffic.

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Posted by Tone Deafness at City Hall
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 4, 2013 at 11:47 am

City Staff and Council are tone deaf and fail to represent city residents. The City approves project after project that enriches developers and special interests at taxpayers expense. Then Staff asserts that citizens have the right to sue if they don't like the results. So, now that the citizens are filing law suits and bringing Council decisions to the ballot box, the citizens are vilified for being obstructionists.

Maybe Staff and Council should represent the interest of all of us, not just a few developers and special interests.

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Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2013 at 11:49 am

Hear! Hear! Well said, Cal Ave. Shopper. I am also eagerly awaiting the "new look" of California Avenue. There are lots of interesting places to shop and eat on that street. My only quibble (sob, sob) is that I STILL miss the Fine Arts movie theater after all these years!

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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 4, 2013 at 11:50 am

Pat's right. Nothing ever impacts traffic.

The dense new developments that add kids to the school system never impact traffic. And the planned office building never ever add a single car to the traffic flow.

We're all hallucinating the gridlock and we didn't even pass the marijuana initiative. Odd, no.

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Posted by Chrisc
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 4, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I HATE Palo Alto City government. They have no regard for small business owners at all. They have proven that time and time again. People visiting me all love cal ave and hate downtown. They say downtown is too trendy, bustling, and shallow whereas cal ave looks like a normal town.

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Posted by PA resident
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2013 at 12:09 pm

California Avenue has not been the same since the old trees were cut down. Sick or not, they were still a vast improvement over what the street has become. Why does everything have to be over-engineered... spending millions of $ on a major project that's going to take months? I'd rather spend the money on putting mature trees back, firing whomever was responsible for their removal, and increasing the permits for sidewalk dining... that's really all we need... not some urban disney pipedream.

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Posted by j99
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm

There is already almost no parking there. Adding congestion so some local idiots that live there can sit outside is wasting Palo Alto's money. This place becomes more like Berkeley every day.
Next the Council will be setting up a couple of hundred tents on the street for the "homeless low cost housing".

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Posted by member
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Why can't they just leave this street to the locals. I rarely go down to University Ave as the restaurants and city planners have pushed out any normal stores that locals would frequent. Now here goes Cal. Ave.
I miss the Old Palo Alto core values and community feeling, now PA is run by self centered opportunists who like to hear themselves talk and pander to development money.
We are thinking of leaving PA for the reasons above after decades of living here.

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Posted by Facts are Facts
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 4, 2013 at 1:10 pm

If you can't change the facts...argue the law.

These guys have lost on the facts and are hoping the City will back down if they bully us. Nope...CPA stuck by its guns and are fully correct in doing so.

There are volumes of studies that traffic calming, well considered street scaping and promoting pedestrian and bike use of commercial centers actually INCREASE foot traffic AND retail sales.

It works because this process makes the area more attractive to get out of your car and hang out...and inevitably spend money. All excellent outcomes!

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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 4, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Nonsense, Facts are Facts.

People are going out less because of the traffic mess. People are shopping online. And I'm tired of having to drive miles out of my way to get home because the Embarcadero/El Camino intersection is such a mess.

A friend who hadn't visited in a while couldn't believe how congested it was.

You're claiming that all the new office buildings and dense developments aren't contributing to traffic? That cutting traffic lanes won't cause backups? Got a nice bridge to sell?

Lawdy, lawdy. Must be a miracle that people don't arrive or leave in cars.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Where do you park your car before you get out of it to hang out?

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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Palo Alto is far below norms in the Bay Area and elsewhere in terms of attention to streetscapes, urban design. This disregard of aesthetics combined with over-development is putting Palo Alto into an horrendous downward spiral. The new Cheesecake Factory restaurant about to open on
Harbor Dr in Downtown San Diego in the new Headquarters Seaport District
development is toned down and unobtrusive. Compare that to the unfettered
mall design prototype Cheesecake Factory on University Ave approved by
our staff and ARB ten years ago which we now know was not a one-off but symptomatic of a breakdown of land use and design control in Palo Alto
which was exploited by developers more and more as market conditions
improved. Now, as Simon and Garfunkel might say - Time, time, time... see
what's become of "Palo Alto".

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Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2013 at 2:01 pm

I lived across from the courthouse for years. The sidewalks aren't that bad...there are only really two spots where restaurants take up the sidewalk, and they are right next to each other...and one of the owners (Joanies) is a real jerk anyway, so I never eat there to begin with.

What is the draw down there now anyway? We lost the Rite Aid...which was really nice to have right there... everything gets replaced by nail salons many are needed in that area??

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Posted by la de da
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Thank you Palo Alto city government and council for dividing our community and discouraging small business with your bullying and nonsense. Where exactly are all the pedestrians and bicyclists going to ride to when even more California Ave. established business' join the exodus from this once self sufficient and independent area. Oh well, right is right, and I guess the city showed us who is boss. Having an inept city manager and a dysfunctional city council is what makes Palo Alto so unique. I guess California Ave. will be the next University Ave. with Pizza restaurants every 100' and vacant business fronts in-between. What a great city!

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Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm

The tree massacre pretty much ruined visuals for Cal Ave. There isn't anything on the street now which is especially attractive to me as a pedestrian. Most things look rundown. I agree that the number of nail salons appears excessive. Bistro Elan's closure was a huge loss to the dining crowd.

The farmers market is pretty obstructive and maybe it's time to move it to a city parking lot. It's very hard to cross Cal Ave during FM because the crosswalks are rarely clear. This just adds to overall congestion in the area.

Maybe it's time to restrain the most encroaching sidewalk dining areas to encourage sidewalk use. I can't get by a couple of them when I meet oncoming double-wide stroller couples with other kids & dogs. I end up on the curb or in a doorway because no strolling group should ever go single file or give way to a solo pedestrian moving in the opposite direction, right? I admit that I eat at Palo Alto Sol only when I can snag an outside table, because inside it's too dark to read the menu & it can also induce claustrophobia.

Will changing the street to single lane really help anything? Beware of 2 way left turn lanes. Most people don't use them correctly & will succeed in blocking traffic on the main lane anyway, just as they do on Santa Cruz in Menlo Park.

@ right - have you walked around downtown Los Altos or Menlo Park in the last few years? Hardly boring. By comparison, Calif Ave looks shabby.

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Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 4, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I still miss the beautiful mature trees; that was beautification enough. And why not repair or construct a new fountain near the station? That is just pathetic. I don't mind the sidewalk tables and chairs, and don't recall bumping into anyone. What I do remember is waiting behind cars who are waiting for cars to back out. One lane will make this worse.

Love the comment about putting Go Momma by the mayor's house. Or perhaps somewhere where her, ahem, uniqueness might be better appreciated.

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Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2013 at 4:58 pm

As a lifelong resident of Palo Alto, I can tell you that California Avenue has always been ugly and unappealing. Even 45 years ago it was run down, dated and cold. Of course the Architectural Review Board and the incompetents in city hall will do a ghastly job of designing the new California Avenue. Nevertheless, I'm still hopeful that anything will be better than what it looks like now.

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Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2013 at 5:10 pm

The residents of Old Palo Alto.....beware. With all the proposed massive development on tap for the California Avenue corridor, your neighborhood will be inundated with workers parking their cars in your neighborhood each day. The city council boot lickers at city hall are not requiring that the developers of the new commercial buildings build adequate parking for their commercial office parks. The workers will park their cars in Old Palo Alto, and then walk under the Alma underpass to their jobs each day. It's going to be a big problem and the neighbors of Old Palo Alto need to get ahead of this problem and write letters to city hall, expressing their concern about the looming, impending parking problems.

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Posted by Residents are not the enemy!
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 4, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Whether or not one likes the proposed improvements for Cal Ave, this thread is yet one more shredding of the fabric that makes Palo Alto a community. Our City government is hostile to the residents. The sooner this changes, the better!

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Posted by Non-representatives
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm

I love to walk to California Avenue for the yoga studio and Spice Kit afterward. It has become the hidden jewel for the locals.
However, the city gov't, Planning Commission and ARB simply do,not think that they are supposed to represent the citizens of Palo Alto, or care about the needs, wants, likes and dislikes of the locals. They forget that this is a democracy, not a plutocracy.

Then they wonder why the middle and upper-middle classes are leaving,

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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Any street beautification project would have to include the removal of
"Go Mama". It is an obscenity. The fact that the City is not removing
it, despite universal criticism, tells you everything you need to know
about how this City operates. The grotesque and hideous "Go Mama" will
ruin and offset anything the City does to "beautify" the streetscape.
It is very prominent and centrally located. The street is and will remain ugly. Our City government is out of control, arrogant, unresponsive,

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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Nora: A new fountain is part of the Streetscape plan.


Alan Weller, an attorney with an office on Cal Ave for decades, who loved those trees and who worked passionately to get to the bottom of what happened, and who fought to maintain the soul of California Avenue in the replanting of January 2010 and in a second planting phase to be part of the streetscape design, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly three weeks ago.

Below is a commentary he wrote in the Fall of 2009 about the "theme" of Cal Ave during the community response both outside and within the city process that immediately followed the loss of the canopy.

To the extent that the implementation of the streetscape plan is true to that vision as well as protective of the new trees planted in January, 2010, his spirit will continue to thrive on the avenue.


"Twice now I have seen the Public Works folks being grilled by board or commission members about “design”. Apparently, both ARB and the Planning Commission members have some kind of design or architecture background and need to have the project explained to them in their terms.

The question that caught my attention at the Planning and Transportation meeting was one in which the questioner wanted to know what was the “theme” (or something like that) of the design for California Avenue trees. I believe the same fellow stated that he felt that there had been good engineering but no design.

That started me thinking. It is true we have had no real discussion about “design” or “theme”.

It occurred to me that the reason for this absence of discussion about design and theme lies in how California Avenue is perceived by us and how Castro Street and University Ave are perceived by their municipalities.

Generic Downtown Look:
Basically, Castro and University are attempts by suburban city-towns to make an urban statement. Those streets are radically different from the adjoining residential neighborhoods. The orderly rows of identical trees on University Avenue are in stark contrast to the mixed nature of the mature tree canopy in the adjoining neighborhoods. It is a “downtown” theme.

Neither Castro nor University bear any resemblance to the municipality in which they are located. In fact, I think both are quite alien to the rest of their respective cities. This was not true of California Avenue.

Palo Alto Look:
There are a few places that I would recognize at a glance. I would be 90% sure I could recognize a scene from San Francisco, or Santa Fe, or Santa Barbara.

Similarly, I think Palo Alto neighborhoods are recognizable, with their mixed canopy of old and young trees, undulating sun dappled sidewalks, etc. There is a distinctive Palo Alto look which is unquestionably not represented by the University Avenue downtown look.

When California Avenue had its trees, it felt and looked like it was in Palo Alto, it had that look. Without the trees, the look is West Texas , Central Valley, or the like. The trees made a huge difference. I think the goal should be to restore the Palo Alto look.

Character of California Avenue:
It has never occurred to me that California Avenue is, can be, or should be a “downtown”.

Although a business district, it is far more integral to the nearby neighborhoods. California Avenue’s charm is its informality and small town nature, the opposite of “downtown”. Where would you go for coffee on a warm weekend day in your sandals, shorts and t-shirt with your dog? Downtown Mountain View? University Ave? How about California Avenue? Definitely the latter.

Brent Barker [College Terrace Residents' Association Board member] wrote: “California Avenue is a throwback to an age of more organic growth -- small businesses, small town casualness, neighborliness -- that grew up without the need for imposing a tailored look. We could describe California Avenue as "organic, eclectic, casual, independent, neighborly, downscale, feisty,comfortable, charming" and as the historic heart of old Mayfield before Leland Stanford created prim and proper University Avenue to keep the kids from drinking in old rough and tough downscale Mayfield.

The buildings are not historic but the street still carries the spirit and casualness of the eclectic small town neighborhoods that surround it. It can still be a vital economic street without becoming another faux downtown designed to be a showpiece to draw regional business or to "reflect Palo Alto's upscale image". We want to retain California Avenue as it has grown up mirroring the independent housing of the neighborhoods surrounding it, not impose a theme borrowed from elsewhere. “

An Answer to the Question: The Theme is “Palo Alto Neighborhood”

The selected trees all have siblings, or at least close cousins, in the nearby neighborhoods. The “design” is to integrate the street as part of Palo Alto’s distinctive neighborhood look. The planned gateway trees are all visual repetitions of what one would see when traveling through a Palo Alto neighborhood.

We want a Palo Alto look. We don’t want the “theme” to be a faux “downtown”.

Brent Barker wrote: “Palo Alto at its best is full of trees, green leafy streets with shaded walks, and with enough variety to make the trees stand out as individuals rather an orchard row”.

When they ask the question, what is the “theme”, why not answer by saying, “Palo Alto” and that “California Avenue is going to get a look derived from its surrounding neighborhoods and the eclectic mix of tress they have."

-- Alan Weller, Fall 2009

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2013 at 6:19 pm

> Cal Ave. carries less than 10,000 cars per day.
> It can easily support lane reduction.

No matter what the real number of vehicles/day that are currently using Cal. Ave., there are three big projects that are going up on the periphery of the Cal. Ave. Business District: 1) Stanford Housing, Jay Paul, and the Hohbach Complex. If memory serves, none of the traffic from these projects was factored into the so-called Traffic Analysis that was used to justify, in part, the lane downsizing.

In fact, the Planning Department Head stood before the Council, and claimed: "there are no other projects planned in this area" (or words to that effect) as he encouraged the Council to accept the Traffic Analysis, and to approve the downsizing.

Got to wonder just how many vehicle trips will be generated by these new projects, as well as other growth in the next fifty years?

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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Downtown Palo Alto did have it's own identity as a unique blend of
historic and new structures for the most part in scale and balance
and respectful of each other. That has all changed now with the massive
new buildings transforminmg the area in scale and in style as the
former interesting eclectic mix and fragile balance is completely overtaken by the the new monoliths,punctuated by a Cheesecake Factory as a dagger in
the heart of the University Ave streetscape,along with sign clutter and street markings and congestion.

As this destructive process continues, the former Downtown, full of character will soon be reduced to just fragments. Thank you staff, Council, ARB. And the parking overflow and cut-through traffic in the neighborhoods? It's just collateral damage. As a defensive move, the Council is now looking into what mitigation measures can be taken.

Let's hope that California Ave in the short and long-run can be successful
for the residents, not just the developers.

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Posted by Stan Hutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2013 at 12:28 am

Personally I would like a vehicle-free zone between El Camino Real and Park Ave, if only during the day and evening, such as 9 am to 10 pm. Many European and Asian cities have pedestrian only areas that are a pleasure to stroll. If the free shuttle and Marguerite shuttle routes were made more efficient parking would be less an issue. Drop off at ECR and the train station would make sense.

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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2013 at 3:47 am

Fred Balin, when I moved to Palo Alto in 1970, it did have a character or theme all its own. It was kind of small town feeling, but that is long gone. The place that displays that the most might be "Town and Country Village" which used to be full of old oak trees, same with Paly and Embarcadero and the neighborhoods surrounding.

Then the oak trees began to have problems, die, be replaced by Palm trees, in fact, it began to resemble parts of Stanford. Maybe Palo Alto has been invaded by Stanford transplants. Instead of going off the the city or other parts of the world Stanford professionals have colonized Palo Alto and changed it in incoherent ways.

It's all more or less of a feeling anyway. I'm pretty used to University Ave. by now, having known it before it was changed ... I think the change was for the better ... and there is no doubt that Castro St. in Mtn. View is better. If you ever got a look at that featureless desert before it was "revitalized" it was pretty terrible and no one went there. Both sides of the street had one lane of traffic and diagonal parking, with barely any landscaping. But it did have a nice theater back then, instead of an annoying restaurant/club or whatever that has turned into now.

Same with California St., I remember going to the movies at the Fine Arts theater. That is something that has changed the nature of the streets. It's nice that Palo Alto/University still has the Stanford theater. That far end of University always seemed to be a problem, with bars and troublemakers, even way back, the Paris theater, an adult movie theater, at one time.

I don't see how streets such as Unversity, or Castro, or even California Ave. can or should look like the streets around them though, at least the neighborhood streets. The put in the barriers in University because there was so much traffic it was getting dangerous to walk there, same with Castro.

I don't really get the vision for California, I'm just guessing it will be something similar.

I don't think California St. has that many problems now, when I am there I can walk around and between people without much of an issue,despite the many tables, chairs and diners on the sidewalk.

Restaurants in Palo Alto are ALL problematic though. I remember when your used to go somewhere to eat almost every restaurant had booths ... comfortable booths and eating was no an exercise in physical discomfort. Not you go to a restaurant and they are almost all the same - one side is a padded seat, then the table and then a loose chair .... usually the females sitting in the padded seat and the men on the hard loose chairs. If this is not covert discrimination I don't know what is!? ;-) Or, they are all loose chairs that are mostly uncomfortable.

A lot of Palo Altans complain about the CheeseCake Factory, but at least it is fairly comfortable to dine there, and you don't have to sit on a small cheap hard chair.

No one made the choice to completely change the mode of dining in restaurants to stress physical discomfort, I guess it was just done through economic necessity and the fact that rents have gotten so high. Every time Palo Altans sit down uncomfortably at a restaurant with torturous chairs, just think of the landlord getting a few dollars more at your physical expense.

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Posted by Hilarious
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 5, 2013 at 7:18 am

"Restaurants in Palo Alto are ALL problematic though. I remember when your used to go somewhere to eat almost every restaurant had booths ... comfortable booths and eating was no an exercise in physical discomfort. Not you go to a restaurant and they are almost all the same - one side is a padded seat, then the table and then a loose chair .... usually the females sitting in the padded seat and the men on the hard loose chairs. If this is not covert discrimination I don't know what is!? ;-) Or, they are all loose chairs that are mostly uncomfortable."

The above is one of the funniest diatribes I have ever read on this forum. Every restaraunt in Palo Alto? Have you actually eaten in EVERY one?

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Posted by shorty
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 5, 2013 at 8:24 am

This is a ridiculous way the thread is going.

But, I prefer a chair I can move as close to the table as I like rather than a padded couch which makes me lean back or sit without having anything to lean against. When I have to sit on a couch if I am wearing shorts, I stick to the plastic, and since it is such a long reach from the table to my mouth, I usually end up with food on my lap.

I would much rather have a nice table and chair.

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Posted by Theater
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2013 at 11:26 am

"Castro St. in Mtn. View ... it did have a nice theater back then"

A nice theater with nice prices: adults $1, children $2.

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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Hey Shorty, glad you like the chair, if we ever eat together I'll be happy to let you have the chair side. ;-)

Hilarious, I probably have not eaten in every restaurant in Palo Alto, have you read every diatribe on this forum? So what?

We're talking about personal preferences and and quality of life issues, can I please post my opinion without being ridiculed. Why is it so funny ... anyway glad you're amused. Maybe you will be further amused when things get to the point where you are eating standing up ... but I'm sure you'll chime in and say you enjoy that better as well.

What is the problem on California Ave. that is so bad that it requires a lot of money to change, a lot of disruption to people, and what is the gain in outcome.

As I mentioned one quick and easy thing to do would be to go look at the parking spaces in the back of California Ave. and remove one space that can never be used anyway out of each row so people can actually park their cars and get out of them. When you look at these spaces there are invariably several where someone has parked taking two spaces to protect their car, or could not park in the middle and begins a whole line of cars that eventually take out one space for usage. Want to save everyone aggravation and damage to their car - to increase their quality of life - remove one space and allow people to park. That would hardly cost anything.

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Posted by Hilarious
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 5, 2013 at 1:07 pm

"Hilarious, I probably have not eaten in every restaurant in Palo Alto, have you read every diatribe on this forum? So what?"
Just your diatribes.

"We're talking about personal preferences and and quality of life issues, can I please post my opinion without being ridiculed. Why is it so funny ... anyway glad you're amused. Maybe you will be further amused when things get to the point where you are eating standing up ... but I'm sure you'll chime in and say you enjoy that better as well."
You made the point of emphasizing "ALL" restaurants in the city being problematic. Questioning your comments is not the same as being ridiculed (unless you are very thin skinned).

It still was a phony problem

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Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2013 at 7:32 pm

The Palo Alto city council SUCKS!

Is there anyway we call recall these Bozo's? Maybe then will the take us taxpayers seriously.

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Posted by Thea
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Sounds like the decision is a done dea. What upsets me is that the design to to reflect that of University Avenue in Palo Alto and Castro Street in Mountain View. I'd love to see it remain as much of its character as is possible -- a "mom and pop shop" area. Cobblestone streets, old fashion lamp posts, removal of the fountain near the Caltrain Station (it is too costly to maintain) and .... no more removal of trees! When is the construction to begin .... and how long is the construction to take?

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Posted by Ed
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 25, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Time will tell that this is a great project!

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Posted by greg hargrove
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 19, 2014 at 8:05 pm

I'm delighted with the plan to shrink Cal Ave to one lane each way. Since traffic is never "heavy", it encourages some drivers to race up and down the avenue like it was the Indianapolis Speedway. It's a miracle that no one has been struck and injured. Police enforcement is spotty to non-existant. (Although parking tickets are plentiful enough.) Slowing the traffic on Cal Ave is the best thing that could happen. It will make the crosswalks safer, encourage people to park and walk the sidewalks, and I believe, increase business over time. Cal Ave has always been a "destination" business corridor. People from outside the area have no idea that we're here since there's absolutely no reason to be driving on Cal Ave unless you intend to shop, eat, visit your therapist, or get on CalTrain. I can't wait for the improvements to begin!

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

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