Nothin' but lunch: What brings techies to Cal Ave

Despite city's plans, tech employees question affordability, desirability of California Avenue

A vision of Palo Alto's California Avenue and its environs as a mecca for high-tech employees was met with limited enthusiasm this week by the very type of workers the city hopes to attract.

California Avenue's streetscape renovation, which will begin this month, is part of a broad plan to bring more technology firms, mixed-use buildings and dense housing to Palo Alto's "second downtown."

But tech workers walking along Park Boulevard on their way to lunch on California Avenue have yet to catch that vision.

They said they likely would not live in the housing planned for near their offices, owing to the high costs in Palo Alto.

"Just because (we work in) high tech doesn't mean we have affordable rent or transportation," said Josephine Lee, revenue team lead at Medallia, a Park Boulevard company that creates software to track and improve customer experience.

AOL software engineers Phong Nguyen and Carl Valencia said they would like to see substantially lower rents through increased housing supply. But they doubted that would happen.

To accomplish that goal, said David Friedland, an engineering manager at Groupon, Palo Alto would have to allow massive amounts of high-rise housing, including 50-story apartment buildings.

Zach Steinkamp, a Groupon software-engineering manager, credited mass transportation and job opportunity -- not local amenities -- for bringing him to Palo Alto.

Locating tech companies near mass transit -- in particular Caltrain -- is "a huge part of why I work in Palo Alto," the San Jose resident said. Steinkamp agreed that, because of high rents, he would not move to the California Avenue district even if apartments are built.

What workers do want is convenience, affordability and vibrancy, many said.

If the city wants a thriving California Avenue area, workers want amenities as close as possible. In order to get to California Avenue, many walk or bike along Park from south of the Oregon Expressway underpass -- a trek some said is dangerous due to a lack of crosswalks. They would like to see restaurants and other services nearer where they work, or offices located along the avenue near stores.

The singular, most consistent draw to California Avenue remains food. Like spawning salmon, each day between noon and 1:30 p.m. employees flock to the avenue's eateries and coffee spots.

They want more -- faster, more convenient, affordable and recognizable, they said.

Some want food trucks parked in empty lots; others want good but reasonably priced restaurants to take their dates to. They want meeting places and ethnic cuisine: pho restaurants, other Vietnamese food, tapioca drinks and ice cream. Nothing fancy, they said.

The walk isn't bad, but it isn't convenient. They want restaurants and coffee houses on Park, they said.

"We used to have coffee in the AOL building -- Blue Bottle -- but they left us," said Lisa Hern, client relationship manager at Intapp. She would like to see a Philz Coffee move to Park, she added.

Overall, most employees said they are satisfied with services along California Avenue, but they rarely consider the area for much else other than lunch. Most stores on the avenue are too expensive, they said.

"It's rare to use other stores. Some people go (to California Avenue) for happy hour. But there's not much to do," Lee said.

Some workers said they'd like a Paul Martin's American Grill restaurant to meet at for happy hour, such as the one at The Village at San Antonio Center in Mountain View.

Joey Young, senior revenue accountant at Medallia, said many restaurants along California are too pricey for a dinner date.

Also, California doesn't have the cache of University Avenue, where many workers said they like to meet.

Attracting their interest will also take some sprucing up of California Avenue.

"The exteriors don't make it appealing. It doesn't make me want to come here. We just go to specific (restaurants) we know are good," Lee said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Cal Ave YO!
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 14, 2014 at 9:35 am

These techies may be brilliant at computer codes, but clearly are lacking in their understanding of zoning codes.

Like this comment
Posted by confused
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2014 at 10:15 am

Clearly, they are confusing Palo Alto with San Francisco. San Francisco has no problem intermixing tech office buildings with restaurants, cafes, and other service businesses. Is that why so many tech businesses are fleeing Silicon Valley for San Francisco?

Like this comment
Posted by Euclid V. Amber
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm

'Cal Ave Yo' and 'confused' are certainly entitled to their opinions, but I think they've missed the point in an all-too-Palo Alto sort of way--i.e., by telling people what they SHOULD want rather than listening to what they ACTUALLY want. Perhaps the techies that were interviewed for this article have unrealistic expectations, but it would be a waste of money to design California Ave to be something that the customers don't want.

Like this comment
Posted by steve jobless
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2014 at 2:18 pm

one time steve jobs was sitting with friend ,front of del sol restaurant- he was leaning over table almost in his friends face ,talking intently about some idea ,''THAT"S what i was doing there''...only 6 months before death. he was thin but loud enough and jumpy.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 15, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Can't wait to see one of these Glassholes get sprayed with soda water by the bartender at the Nuthouse.

Like this comment
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 15, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Okay, first of all, let's put to bed the idea that massive amounts of building is going to make Palo Alto affordable.

Is San Francisco an affordable place because it's a denser big city? What makes San Francisco more expensive than, say, San Jose? San Francisco is, if anything, more densely built than San Jose. There is that little factor of desirability, location, location, and location, remember that? Building, building, building does not make things more affordable unless it destroys desirability, and by the time that happens, it's an unfortunate snowball downhill that is impossible to stop.

People work here for high tech, and live here for the schools. We have Stanford here, and we have great schools. And we have something different than the massive urban environments of San Jose and San Francisco, that is, open space, grass, trees, and a less hectic, college-town feel. Or, we did until our City Council started selling off our town willy nilly for the short-term benefit of their developer friends.

Building massive amounts of apartments is only going to make developers rich, and require the rest of us to foot the bill for the City services the apartments won't pay for, we know that most will move here for the schools and the cost of the services is more than they will put back into the tax rolls or local economy. Massive urban-blight building will hurt the desirability of our town, i.e., hurt the future property values for the rest of us who have sacrificed long-term to be here already. We can't compete with SF as a City and we don't want to.

Stop selling Palo Alto to the developers for their short-term profits. There is no scenario under which more building creates affordability here. It only destroys the character of our town when we sell out to developers to be a San Jose wannabe.

Like this comment
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 15, 2014 at 3:43 pm

P.S. The answer is a good and energy efficient public transportation system. Period. We should be making developers pay much higher impact fees in order to afford better transportation systems. Or we should sue the state to pay for it after making us build all this housing in what is essentially an unfunded mandate.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Last time I had a lunch appointment in Cal Ave I parked beside the little park on Alma (the one with the car running with legs) and used the tunnel to get to Cal Ave. I was the only one to arrive on time.

Like this comment
Posted by What'cha-Smoking-Pal?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2014 at 5:44 pm

> The answer is a good and energy efficient public
> transportation system. Period.

More delusional poppycock! Period!

Like this comment
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 15, 2014 at 11:56 pm

>"More delusional poppycock! Period!"

Really? You think it's better to make permanent land use decisions that require tens of millions of dollars for each plot of land instead? We're paving over paradise, blotting out the sun and views of the hills, destroying the desirability of the area on which our property values rest, and what happens when riderless cars become a reality? Rideshare takes on a whole other meaning.

Transportation is where the disruptive technologies will take place in the next 20 years. Transportation and energy.

If we're going to spend the money, the better option is the more flexible one over time, which is transportation, not turning Palo Alto into a small and ugly version of San Jose.

Back at'cha, delusional.

Like this comment
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 15, 2014 at 11:59 pm

Oh, and by the way -- I've been here long enough to know what comes up must come down. There will be another bust cycle. Another reason we should be focusing on transportation.

Like this comment
Posted by If you build it they will continue to come
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 16, 2014 at 10:58 pm

The techies will want to live here when it is built out - they just don't know that yet.

Also in regards to restaurants being too expensive - did they only interview unpaid/underpaid high tech interns for this article? I though all you techies were making the big bucks? What gives?

If you really think Cal Ave restaurants are too expensive Jack in the box is right around the corner on El Camino Real and I believe they still have 2 tacos for 99 cents.

Like this comment
Posted by Jug head
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2014 at 5:07 pm

The techies on. Park Ave do not work for Google, Facebook, Zynga, or LInkedIn--therefore they are not overpaid enough to afford to live shop, or eat in Palo Alto.

The rents charged in even the least expensive PA neighborhoods are still too costly to allow affordable living,,shopping, or dining here--especially on a daily basis.

Think about it: how much money did YOU make as a recent college grad, even with an advanced degree?

Like this comment
Posted by Backpacks not briefcases
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2014 at 9:26 pm

I agree with Jug head, the techies are not overpaid enough.

Not everyone is a techie either.

And they would not be able to afford the expensive housing that will go up for sale.

People justify Palo Alto housing prices for the schools, and these young people are too young still.

The housing will be marketed in offshore markets which have enough rich people happy to plunk millions for nothing.

Like this comment
Posted by Andrew Kloak
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 27, 2014 at 9:07 am

The world is shifting and tech is moving away from the Valley. The comments in the article are telling. Exponential change is on the rise and the area is still thinking it is incremental. They've already missed the boat.

Plus, the Bay is rising and will inundate the low lying Valley floor in 20 years.

Like this comment
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 27, 2014 at 9:56 am

I miss The Palo Alto of 20 years ago. Before the greedy city council, the Mc Mansions on tiny lots [portion removed] and heavy traffic 7 days a week. It really was so much nicer back then and a lot quieter.

Like this comment
Posted by Vrubel nachman
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 27, 2014 at 10:05 am

Not sure which palo alto hutch is referring to from 20 years ago. We still have the wonderful parks, great schools. However times change, people change and places change. The city council is not greedy ( but has become a joke how disgruntled people throw around the term " greedy" these days when things do not go their way). The " McMansions" are peoples homes- they chose to build them that way-- how about some consideration for what the actual homeowner wants? At least they look better than those dumps on Tennyson avenue![Portion removed.] There is no heavy traffic "7 days a week"-- another myth pushed by those that expect no traffic anytime they are on the road.

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

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