BREAKING NEWS:Trump in Palo Alto foothills for fundraiser


Palo Alto launches City Hall makeover

City to create new meeting space, refurbish old rooms in building's lobby

Palo Alto officials won't have to venture far this summer for signs that construction season is now in full bloom.

With the long-delayed construction of the Mitchell Park Library entering its final stretch and the controversial makeover of California Avenue in full swing, the city is embarking on an ambitious, $4.5 million renovation of City Hall, which includes a new glass-walled meeting room, renovated lobby, refurbished conference room, new carpets and upholstering in the Council Chambers and a personnel shuffle that will shift staff from at least four different departments to new locations.

Much like the ongoing revamp of California Avenue, the City Hall renovation started as a modest concept before expanding in ambition and cost. Two years ago, the chief goal was to refurbish the perpetually cramped Council Conference Room, which is located next to the Council Chambers and regularly hosts meetings of council committees and city commissions. The acoustically challenged room with low ceilings, stacked chairs and the dim fluorescent ambiance of a 1970s classroom has been bearing the brunt of council ridicule for years for its spartan accommodations. With the renovation project, the room will be refurbished, enlarged, stripped it of its role as a public-meeting space and turned into a staff-training room, Public Works Director Mike Sartor said.

In addition, the city has been looking at expanding and refurbishing the Human Resources Conference Room, a narrow space next to the Council Chambers. The smaller room is routinely used by the council for closed-session deliberations.

With the Council Conference Room relinquishing its status as the default meeting space outside the Council Chambers, the city is now looking to build a larger and more modern public-meeting room in a corner of the City Hall lobby, a location currently occupied by a portion of the city's People Strategy and Operations Department (commonly known as Human Resources).

The new meeting room will have glass walls, space for 55 chairs and sliding doors so seating can extend into the lobby if needed, Sartor said. It will also be equipped with modern media equipment, including multiple LCD screens, high-definition cameras and wall-mounted speakers, according to a recent report from the Public Works Department.

Sartor said the scope of the project began to change in 2012, after staff held a series of design charettes to consider the best way to transform the first floor of City Hall. That's when the ideas for new meeting spaces and shuffling departments began to take shape.

City Manager James Keene said the focus of the project is to make the ground floor of City Hall "welcoming to the public and also work for the public's business." The Hamilton Avenue building, which was designed by architect Edward Durell Stone in 1967, was built in what Keene called "probably the absolutely worst time in American history for a college town." The atmosphere of civil unrest and turmoil, he said, may have contributed to the fact that the city ended up with an "almost windowless building with glass that can't be broken" and a ground floor that immediately leads a visitor into an empty "dead space." It perhaps doesn't help, he quipped, that the first city employees visitors encounter are in Revenue Collections.

"Nobody was going to build a City Hall, in the era of taking over City Hall and school administrations and everything else, that was going to be welcoming to the public," Keene said.

The renovation project aims to change that, he said.

"The public really comes here to participate in the civic life of the city," he said. "We need to have space that works."

Once the project is complete, visitors to City Hall will be greeted with a giant digital touchscreen that could be divided into numerous smaller screens and will feature art projects, information about city events, videos, photos of local neighborhoods and live broadcasts of public meetings.

The city is also planning to unveil an extensive wayfinding and building-signage program in City Hall — a component that is set to be evaluated by the Architectural Review Board on July 17. The city also plans to replace the carpets and the bench upholstery inside the Council Chambers, the large meeting room where the council holds all of its regular meetings. The work will be concluded in the next month while the council is away on its July recess.

For many city workers, the project will bring more than just aesthetic enhancements. The renovation plans include what Sartor called a "domino effect" of shifting departmental locations. The first-floor offices of People Strategy and Operations, for example, will be consolidated with the rest of the department on the second floor to make room for the expanded meeting areas. Utility Department employees who deal with customer service and currently are on the second floor will be moved down to the lobby, where they will share space with the Revenue Collections staff of the Administrative Services Department. This will allow residents who have questions about their utility bills to get answers and make payments in the same location, Sartor said.

The city is also looking to liven up the lobby area by installing a digital media art display on a large wall near the meeting room. The city is now in the final stages of selecting an artist for the display, according to Matt Raschke, the city's project manager for the remodeling effort.

Despite the broad scope and significant expenditures, the project has not faced much scrutiny from the council. On June 16, the council approved more than $4 million in expenditures for the City Hall renovation, which includes a $2.7 million contract with the firm D.L. Falk Construction, Inc., and an addition of $141,565 to its contract with WMB Architects, which brings that total contract to a not-to-exceed amount of $426,256. The council also authorized a budget amendment that allocates another $1.6 million for the project. Some of the costs will be funded by impact fees from developments and by transfers from various utility funds and from the Technology Fund.

The city contracts were signed last week and much of the work on the first floor will take place in the next three months. The next three phases will then commence on the mezzanine level and on the second floor, with each phase expected to take about 45 days, according to a Public Works report.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2014 at 10:13 am

You must be joking.

Mitchell Park and Main Library still unfinished.

Baylands Interpretive Center and Boardwalk closed due to poor state of repair.


Like this comment
Posted by Forks and Plowshares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2014 at 10:35 am

Whoa, whoa. If this is for the public, hold half the meetings on the other side of town because in case you hadn't noticed, it's a nightmare getting to meetings in cross-town traffic.

During the Maybell rezoning, they gave themselves $2 million for this cosmetic surgery and change. Now it's another $2 million?

What of the import of affordable housing that Council said we so desperately needed when the project at issue was really a developer residential zoning busting on over half the property, but now that they could save the real housing of over 400 existing Palo Altans in the same neighborhood, it's all, Let them eat cake?

What of the priority of the safety building, which they said we needed so badly, they were going to let Jay Paul shoehorn in how many hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space on a property already built to the max under law? Oh, that's right, we're so broke, they gave us a tax proposal we can vote on. In the meantime, it's new drapes and a golf course and fake outreach with expensive consultants! (don't get me wrong, I think we should improve the golf course, but it's the kind if thing you first do a drive for corporate sponsorship over).

If they want us to feel more welcome, tools to allow better democratic participation remotely and in real time are far more needed. After all, to many of us, the Council chambers are quite opulent compared to the old fixers more of us live in than the places that make Chambers seem in need of a facelift. I'm guessing that's most of this Let Them Eat Cake Council.

Most of us would feel more welcome if they would actually listen rather than making so much effort to just give the appearance of it. (See Doug Moran's blog and his great posts on this topic.) That they could do for free.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 4, 2014 at 11:04 am

It would be great if the City Auditor would take on the project of verifying that the bids accecpted by the City for all of this construction were actually well-crafted bids.

This whole idea of low-balling the bid process, then driving up the costs with unexpected change orders that could have been detected by top notch plan checking, but wasn't due to any number of The-City-knows-best reasons.

Even if the City Auditor had to outsource the work, it really needs to be done. There is far too much money on the table, and clearly far too little management in the Tower.

Like this comment
Posted by Mary Carlstead
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 4, 2014 at 1:08 pm

First things first!! And FIRST things are the Baylands disintegrating boardwalk and the decrepit Interpretive Center. Please. And please do it now.

Like this comment
Posted by JS
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Renovated City Hall brought to you by the same folks that are responsible for:

The Still Unexplained Mitchell Park Fiasco
The Four Year and Counting Disappearance of the El Camino Softball/Soccer Complex (taken out of commission to use as dirt pile).

Why doesn't our City ever talk about the management of these projects????

Like this comment
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 4, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Don't forget the golf course dirt fiasco. That one is costing us $100K per month and no end it sight.

Like this comment
Posted by Martha Stewart rules
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 4, 2014 at 3:57 pm

$4.5 million renovation of City Hall,...> For starters.
When has the city ever lived up to its estimates?

The Council Chambers was redesigned at the behest of then Councilwoman Kniss. The light color impractical carpets was her choice. Curious whether she is also influential in the current EXPENSIVE makeover. Our own Martha Stewart has lavish and expensive tastes.
Council Chambers is fine, just needs improved public's microphone.

Like this comment
Posted by I'm pissed off
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 4, 2014 at 4:28 pm

So we have affordable housing in the guise of a mobile home park, but it's being bulldozed because the residents there need a few more million to be able to buy it from the owner. And the baylands infrastructure is falling apart. And lots of other pressing issues, but NO! Millions need to be spent on upgrading city hall! THAT's what's more important!

We need a city council who can prioritize things better than this one does!

Like this comment
Posted by Forks and Plowshares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2014 at 4:37 pm

@ IPO,

I got even more PO'd when I realized the City co-owns a luxury home with our former City manager, someone who doesn't even work for the City anymore, and sees that as a worthwhile expense, but not co-owning a multi-acre community of low-income Palo Altans.

There's always money for what they want but never any money when it comes to priorities of the people.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2014 at 11:12 pm

The Council and staff are on their own power trip. Unmet needs important
to the character and livability of the City and neighborhoods are ignored and the Council spends money on its own projects and then congratulates itself for good government. The Nov elections are approaching.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2014 at 6:36 am

This City Council has tin ears. Rearranging the deck chairs before they are voted out of office.

Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2014 at 7:51 am

Marie is a registered user.

$4.5M when we still don't have a new police station? What are they thinking? They are thinking that no one would ever vote for a bond or tax hike for redoing city hall but they will for a police station. We need new council members!

Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2014 at 4:35 pm

This is just another Jim Keene project to make him feel more like a tech CEO with a new cool space to hold secret meetings with developers. He already spent a fortune on redecorating the 7th floor of city hall, took a big raise for himself and accepted another $50,000 in his 401k this year all while he continues to make cuts in police officer staffing and salaries. What a waste of money as crime continues to grow in our neighborhoods. Transparency is open meetings and inclusion not glass conference rooms with the doors still closed to the public.

Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 5, 2014 at 6:37 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Are these people on a SPEND OPM kick?

City Hall is NOT falling down around their ears (that don't even listen).

If City Hall is crowded, it is because of bureaucratic bloat. The city limits are stable. Have been for decades.

Finish the ongoing projects. Repair the infrastructure that has been ignored/postponed too long.

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2014 at 9:17 pm

3-5-12 Price tag was $1.289M Web Link

5-14-13 "During the initial project meetings with WMB, it became apparent that the first floor renovation would need to be even broader in scope to achieve a more open government atmosphere to encourage public participation and convey transparency."
Web Link

What a crock! I guess they think glass walls is what the law means by transparency. They better read the Grand Jury report again. Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by where's the sunshine?
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2014 at 11:28 am

Can the Council 2014.

The Planning Dept too.

Like this comment
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2014 at 6:38 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:27 am

Any idea when the two libraries will be finished? I want a tax rebate for denial of services.

Any idea when the traffic light study of the timing of the light at Paly and Town & Country will be done? It's only been 8.5 years. No need to rush. The exhaust fumes are oh-so-green.

And we really need to give a bonus to the Transportation Dept. genius who came up with the sign "New Traffic Pattern" at the Middlefield/Oregon intersection.

Like this comment
Posted by Priorities
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:37 am

The city council and the planning commission have their priorities totally screwed up! [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Commonsense
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:54 am

4.5mm but only 2.7mm in construction? Does not make sense

Like this comment
Posted by Recall
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 7, 2014 at 11:04 am

I'd say a management "makeover" is in order.

Like this comment
Posted by Polly Wanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 7, 2014 at 11:53 am

"...with a digital media art display on a large wall..."

Ga-ga over gew-gaws again.

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 7, 2014 at 12:52 pm

There's nothing wrong with the existing facilities. In fact they are quite nice. Change some lighting, buy some flowers... otherwise this is a huge waste of taxpayer $$$!

Like this comment
Posted by Disguisted
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 7, 2014 at 1:07 pm

City manager, Keene, thinks that Palo Alto City Hall was built at the very worst time in Palo Alto's history.....NO, the worst time in history for the city of Palo Alto is now, with a totally incompetent city manager, planning department and city council. Vote the bums out in November! Keene and the Planning Department need to be fired, too. It's time for the citizens of Palo Alto to demand a clean sweep at city hall.

Like this comment
Posted by Pearl
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 7, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Pearl is a registered user.

Just what the City of Palo Alto needs, a "...renovation of the lobby, with a digital media art display on a large wall near a new glass-walled meeting room." Yes, definitely, can't get along without that!!!

So glad I don't live in Palo Alto! If I lived there, I would be camped out on the City Hall steps, protesting this wasteful, frivilous upgrade.

This does not speak at all well of the City. Again, so glad I don't live in Palo Alto!!!


Like this comment
Posted by Outraged!
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 7, 2014 at 3:53 pm

It's time to clean house and install true representatives. The sole purpose of these public servants is to be good stewards of our Palo Alto, with "responsible overseeing and protection of what's considered worth caring for and preserving" .... and certainly not masking it to appear that way. As importantly, the unfocused leadership needs to find their way back when making such grandiose decisions, especially when not adhering to the essence of preserving the unique character of this town, taking us further off course towards what they think is being done in all other typical big cities. We don't need big thinkers....bigger hasn't necessarily been better in our case (look at zoning and its unwelcomed creations). To take back our city, it requires sensible leadership, capable of acknowledging our past to better formulate the future regarding 'modernizing' of this unique and priceless community. Our city is unlike any other on the map, so why wouldn't it require unique attention for solutions. It's out of control with each misfit decision paving the way for the next one, making it even more difficult to get back on track. Hopefully, residents will recognize the long term consequences and come around to change that in November!

Like this comment
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 7, 2014 at 4:16 pm

I hate to rain on your parade, but Main Library is still on schedule. It had an 18 month time frame and only 12 months have passed. The landscaping between the library and art center has been completed before the Clay and Glass Festival. The Children's Library was finished on time and on budget. I can't say about the Downtown and College Terrace libraries, but I didn't hear anything negative about them.

Like this comment
Posted by Forks and Plowshares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Maybe you need to read the article, you seem to be commenting on something else. The outrage above is mostly in regards to this Let Them Eat Cake City Council's priorites for spending, in particular, the ever increasing millions they want to spend on making City Hall even nicer, when the Baylands Interpretive Center is falling apart, etc. Per your points, the Children's library renovation, for example, came from a budget many years ago long before this Council. (And didnt we citizens tax ourselves extra to pay for that with a special measure?)

Like this comment
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 8, 2014 at 11:35 am

I fully support a different and resident-centered city council this November.
While I agree with most of the comments above about misplaced priorities,
if such money is spent for the sake of transparency and inclusion, I'd like to see these improvements:

A real-time comments board (large enough to read) on the wall in the city council chambers so citizens (present and remote) can participate during council meetings. It would be interesting if these could be mapped.


Seating flexibility with ergonomic design (and electric plugs) so the public is not physically punished with back pain for attending city council meetings, and can get some work done while waiting for an item to emerge from the agenda...

Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 9, 2014 at 9:16 am

While they're at it, why not replace that 1920s-era timer on the lectern with something more befitting the "head/heart/soul of silicon valley" and actually informative?

Like this comment
Posted by Peninsula Commuter
a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2014 at 5:17 pm

As a former City employee, I think the City Hall lobby and council chambers are perfectly adequate. Sure, as others have said the council chambers could use some audio/visual equipment upgrades but certainly not a wholesale makeover. I suspect the main purpose of this project is to satisfy the City Manager's ego.

Like this comment
Posted by confused
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 23, 2014 at 8:52 am

No Prevailing Wage requirement again?! This ought to be lovely. The city only received one bid. We're just attracting the best contractors by not requiring it......Right?

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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Su Hong Palo Alto's last day of business will be Sept. 29
By Elena Kadvany | 15 comments | 5,380 views

Troubling safety issues in our fair city
By Diana Diamond | 16 comments | 1,614 views

Premarital, Women Over 50 Do Get Married
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,506 views

Natural Wines?
By Laura Stec | 1 comment | 1,426 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 1,252 views


Register now!

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

More Info