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Palo Alto breaks ground on California Avenue

Mayor Nancy Shepherd, others celebrated streetscape project at ceremony

Palo Alto Mayor Nancy Shepherd joined other council members, local residents and dignitaries Monday, March 17, in celebrating the launch of a dramatic and long-awaited streetscape project on California Avenue.

The groundbreaking ceremony took place at 4 p.m. on the 361-71 block of California Avenue, just south of Birch Street.

The project, which will stretch at least until the end of the year, includes the widening of sidewalks, creation of two new plazas near Park Avenue and Birch Street, a new fountain near the Caltrain station, new street furniture, new streetlights and landscape elements and a reduction of lanes from four to two.

The city also plans to replace an old water main under California Avenue.

The City Council approved a $6.9 million contract with Redgwick Construction Company on Feb. 24.

Read more about the streetscape project:

California Avenue: Making a new downtown

California Avenue project's costs grow

Nothin' but lunch: What brings techies to Cal Ave

Around California Avenue: Here comes construction

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2 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2014 at 10:32 am

As usual the City council postures at listening to the public and then goes ahead with their own egotistical visions that please only themselves.

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Posted by 35 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2014 at 10:40 am

6.9 million....wanna bet it'll cost a whole lot more?

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Posted by Midtown mom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2014 at 10:59 am

"Dignitaries?" Please, there's nothing "dignified" about strong-arming a community into something it doesn't want.

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Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2014 at 11:08 am

Of course they pump this up like the people that live in the community are happy! Obviously they are working off plans and info out of their a$$ instead of common sense.
Has any one of these people driven down University and had to wait FOR EVER for a car to pull out while another holds traffic to pull in???? This is what they want to do with Cal Ave??! Just plain stupid - I don't have any issues with fixing the fountain doing a little landscaping and sprucing. But to mess with traffic is a move without thought!

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Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2014 at 11:11 am

BTW @ 35 year... I concur.
It will cost more and take longer! LOL! Maybe they might even have to fire the contractor!
Just a few of the REAL SMART things this city (so called) management has done with OUR town!

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Posted by Old Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2014 at 11:28 am

Elizabeth, the vision about which you write is not the city's. The vision originated with a business group that represented that district for over 50 years, people that worked in collaboration with Public Works on the design, when Civic Engagement was a city council priority.

That was before Yoriko Kishemoto was even mayor. It was Kishemoto that got The Plan going, and started people working together, from city council on down. All the facts are readily available at the City, if you search the correct wording. It is in city council archives and in the Weekly archives.

The Plan for that district was put into the citywide Comprehensive Plan 5 years ago by stakeholders representing an even larger group of people, people as far away as Barron Park had their say.

The whole Plan was stopped when the city cut down the trees without doing proper public notification. The street work is now just resuming. Only when the trees were cut did the design draw attention and public interest, and it has been vetted ever since. The City did a good job, making up for how it handled the trees.

The Plan always had a lane reduction from 4 lanes to 2 lanes. Look it up, as did the rest of us who care enough to have learned the history of the project. I am happy the work is finally resuming. The outcome will be good.

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Posted by Paul
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2014 at 11:28 am

I like the plan, and look forward to the finished result.

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Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2014 at 11:52 am

I see there is a lot of comments about California Ave. project from people who don't live even close to it. I say, don't like it then don't come.

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Posted by wow
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 17, 2014 at 12:01 pm

@ Old Observer

Thanks for the research. What struck me was your comment that
"people as far away as Barron Park had their say".

A couple of follow-up questions if you know the answer

As Barron Park is singled out in your post, curious what other distant neighborhood groups had input?

Is input normally restricted on city projects(particularly when a business district is involved) as it arguably affects all city residents who would have occasion to frequent or patronize that area.

Thanks in ad vance if you have some info on the above.

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Posted by Concerned Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2014 at 1:32 pm

A revamping of California Avenue is way overdue. But to entrust any kind of design and management of a construction project to our city manager, staff and city council members is foolish. These people have proven themselves to be incompetent and in over their heads. Never in the history of Palo Alto have we had such incompetents. It's a pity that they are in control during a time of such growth and development in Palo Alto. Mayor Shepard is totally unprepared to lead this city.

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Posted by southgate resident
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Will this impact the Sunday Farmers Market?

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Posted by Eva_PA
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 17, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Eva_PA is a registered user.

I like the project and I am in the neighborhood. I bike to Cal Av all of the time and look forward to the improvements. If driving, I never bother with trying to park on Cal Ave anyway. The street parking is often full so I always enter from another direction and find parking in one of the lots. The same goes for University. Unless you want to get stuck in traffic you don't travel all the way down University. And Cal Ave is only 3 blocks. I think people will figure it out.

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Posted by JF
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 17, 2014 at 9:48 pm

The California Ave and all around this business district is very out-of-date, and really needs this long awaited improvements. Many people actually have already started using California Ave as one lane in both directions although still marked as two lanes in each direction, and I found this really gives me safer and more smooth feeling while driving through it or walking across it. I'm looking forward to embracing the new business district. Thank you the city for the great job.

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Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 18, 2014 at 1:32 am

ChrisC is a registered user.

I live close and I hate it. When they cut down all the trees, I didn't want to be a wacky conspiracy theorist, but I thought the city had a longer range plan by exposing the hodge-podge of "architecture." and the resulting ugly street. It was a lovely, shady street before, but once exposed it was poised for redevelopment. And, bingo. I don't think anybody minds making it prettier; we mind driving out small business and replacing with office/tech bldgs. There is very little left in Palo alto of services, other than restaurants and hair salons. Yuk. Yuk. Yuk.

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Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2014 at 9:40 am

Let's calm the traffic on Embarcadero by taking out a lane in both directions. Then the traffic would not be so bad at T and C. They tried it in Midtown a few years ago on Middlefield and it really calmed the traffic. El Camino is supposed to have a lane removed for the busses. We are going to have really clam traffic.

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Posted by Casa de Cerveza
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 18, 2014 at 10:17 am

The City of Palo Alto has done a great job doing outreach to residents of the area immediately around California Avenue. For those armchair project managers who assert City staff and leadership are incompetent or act only in accordance with their "own egotistical vision," I suggest you get involved in the civic process. Go to City Council meetings, participate in community outreach sessions, become a leader in your neighborhood association, and stay involved in change management in your community. You may not get your way on every issue, but at least you will be an informed participant in the civic process.

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Posted by xSIpar
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 18, 2014 at 10:31 am

@ Old Observer
Since this Cal. Ave. issue has divided our community and the surrounding neighborhoods in particular and was never put to a public vote, it is the vision of the select view of those that run our City (old and new).

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Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2014 at 5:32 pm

My guess is this won't affect the California Avenue farmers market too much. I'd assume the booths will be able to position themselves on the new sidewalk, and tax revenue would be lost if the market had to shut down because of this redesign.

On another topic, and in light of last night's City Council vote to support a major bicycling infrastructure project, I am hoping the artists' renderings are not representative of bicycle lanes support. The drawings on PA Weekly look like bicyclists and motorists will be forced to "share the lane." In my experience, "sharing the lane" doesn't work very well. It'd be much better to have separate lanes dedicated to motor vehicles and to bicycles, with curb separators in between, as they do in Amsterdam and other cities serious about supporting bicycling.

Here's what they're doing in Austin, New York, Seattle, and Chicago:
Web Link

This quick-assembly curb solution keeps bikes separate from the car lane, yet lets ambulances drive over and cars bump up against them without damaging their vehicles:
Web Link

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Posted by A hahahahaha
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 18, 2014 at 6:53 pm

The current estimate is laughably modest. I would be amazed if they could complete this project for less than 15 million.

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Posted by Fact Checker
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2014 at 1:05 pm

It looks like the first set of negative comments were written by the same person. Regardless, here’s some fact checking to round out the discussion.

Elizabeth and wow state that the council doesn’t listen to the public. Regarding the California Avenue Streetscape project, the council and city staff performed an admirable outreach to collect ideas and opinions on this project from business owners and concerned citizens through a large number of meetings where the public was invited and residents from here to Timbuktu were allowed to attend.

35 yr and Aha indicate that the cost is likely past $6.9M. The project scope before the tree removal was laughably modest and the resulting improvements would have left the neighborhood in a similarly undesirable state replete with unrepaired street amenities and a nice black top with new strips. The current project includes a complete redevelopment of nearly all visible features as well as not visible infrastructure improvements. After the trees fell and the project developed, many active and constructive council members, business owners and neighbors requested additional investment to make the neighborhood a showcase for Palo Alto.

KP indicates that delays from cars backing out on California Avenue will make the neighborhood like University Avenue. We can only hope we have another vibrant neighborhood in Palo Alto. By the way, you have to wait for the back out now since the lanes are so narrow.

Chris is worried about driving out business. No one entity bears responsibility for a failed business, especially the city. Thus there isn’t one thing in particular driving out businesses. They’re simply evolving according to a free market.

xSIpar indicates that this wasn’t put to a vote. Infrastructure improvements are not required to go to a general vote. We elect representatives who act as stewards for projects like this. All elected officials in this case voiced enthusiastic support for the project. When motions regarding the California Avenue Streetscape were presented they passed 9-0 every time. Not every project and investment can go to a public vote. Had it gone to a public vote it would have passed any way.

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Posted by Forest
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 19, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Nice, maybe they will cut the rest of those pesky trees down.

Why, so often, these downtown revitalization projects, in the end, look like some architectural firm ripped off a city. See downtown San Jose revitalization disaster.

I liked the street better how it was before they tore down the trees, dug up everything and will eventually cover it all in colored concrete. It is going to look like a poor mix of Walmart and a Corporate office park when they are done. The 'spirit' of the space and the locality 'flavor' will be gone.

The spirit and flavor are what every architect excels to reproduce in their plans, and as everyone knows, replicating reality artificially, always looks, well, artificial.

1 person likes this
Posted by Roland
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2015 at 5:51 pm

I'm very pleased to see the progress of the Cal Avenue upgrade. The make-over is making this a destination for pedestrians and cyclists -- and with plenty of parking remaining for cars. Kudos to the planners and construction crews too!

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