Sometimes it's hard to keep track of what actually has been completed, especially when a project drags on for months, if not years. Here's a quick guide to what's new in the city this year and what will soon be finished.
CONSIDER IT 'DONE'
Mitchell Park Library and Community Center: The reconstruction of Palo Alto's flagship library did not go by the book, but the sad story finally reached a happy ending on Dec. 6, when thousands of residents flocked to Mitchell Park to celebrate the facility's grand opening. Nine days after the community event came the happy epilogue a comprehensive settlement between the city and its fired contractor, Flintco Pacific. By averting years of litigation, the city bought itself some closure and ended the busy year on a high note.
Bike projects: New bike lanes and road markings popped up all over the city this year, including green bike lanes on West Meadow Drive between El Camino Way and Wilkie Way. The city's bicycling program is in high gear, with new projects now planned for Bryant Street, Churchill Avenue and Maybell Avenue. In addition, the city is moving ahead with two major east-west bike connections: a bike boulevard along Matadero and Margerita avenues and a bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek. About 25 bike projects are in progress as of December.
City Hall renovation: A $4 million renovation of City Hall blazed forward so quickly this year that almost no one outside 250 Hamilton Ave. saw it coming the antithesis of the "Palo Alto process" that usually entails thorough, inclusive and painfully methodical review of proposals. Whatever one's opinion is of this hastily approved project, the new glass-walled meeting room, renovated lobby, refurbished conference room and new carpets and upholstering in the Council Chambers are largely completed, with a new digital billboard in the lobby scheduled for installation in spring 2015.
Digital tools: Residents and visitors can now bring their tablets, laptops and other tech gizmos to City Hall's King Plaza, where the city installed free public Wi-Fi this year. It's part of a continuing city effort to enable over-the-air Internet access in the city's parks and plazas. Though Palo Alto's fiber-optic dream of bringing high-speed Internet service to every household remained elusive in 2014, the city still managed to move the digital needle, launching new apps and services online. These include BuildingEye, which allows residents to track planning projects, and PulsePoint, which shows real-time activities of emergency responders.
NEARING THE FINISH LINE
California Avenue: It took a while to get to the starting line, but Palo Alto's push to transform the eclectic and long-neglected commercial hub along California Avenue into a vibrant strip more akin to University Avenue surged ahead this year. The makeover, which includes wider (and shinier) sidewalks, two new public plazas, a replaced waterline, new newsracks and benches, a freshly paved road and a reduction of traffic lanes from four to two, stretched through much of the year. To the relief of merchants who have weathered the jack-hammering and other construction distractions, the work is set to conclude in the spring of 2015.
Magical Bridge: In one of the feel-good stories of the year, the group Friends of the Magical Bridge broke ground on construction of a new "universal playground" in Palo Alto in June. For group founder Olenka Villarreal, who was looking for a playground that could accommodate children with disabilities, the project has been a steep challenge and labor of love. This year, the Friends secured close to $4 million in funding, earned the city's enthusiastic blessing and began building the Magical Bridge Playground, which is now set to be completed in late January or early February 2015.
Main ... I mean ... Rinconada Library: The old library near the Palo Alto Art Center will have a new wing and a new name when it opens to the public in early 2015. Formerly known as the Main Library, the Newell Road facility will be rechristened as Rinconada Library once it's back in operation. It will feature a new program room, entrance lobby, four glass-walled study rooms, upgraded ventilation systems and fresh landscaping. The $22 million project will also mark the conclusion of the ambitious library-system overhaul that voters approved when they passed Measure N in 2008.
Business registry: It's a critical question nobody seems to be able to answer: How many workers come to Palo Alto every day? The question has stumped council members, city planners and even a consultant who was hired to explore it but who ultimately conceded that there's not enough information to draw any firm conclusions. Palo Alto's new business registry, which will debut in 2015 and require businesses to disclose employment information, should finally shed some light on the biggest mystery of the startup world, with significant ramifications for planning and parking initiatives.
El Camino Park: The petite but bustling park on the edge of downtown has been closed since October 2011, when the city began building an underground water reservoir at the site. That project was completed in January of this year, but the various improvements that were supposed to accompany the reservoir project have been in planning limbo for years, with designs constantly changing. In December, the council finally approved a construction contract for the park improvements, which will cost more than $5 million and include new athletic fields, synthetic turf, field lighting, an expanded parking lot, new pathways, landscaping and benches. Construction is set to commence in January and be completed in October 2015.
Parking program: Downtown residents rejoiced, exhaled and, in many cases, gritted their teeth when the council finally approved in December the Residential Parking Permit Program. Set to start around April, the program aims to move commuters' cars out of residential streets and into public garages. That's great news for downtown residents who have long complained about the inability to find parking on their own blocks. Less thrilled are those who don't want to purchase permits to park in front of their homes. Whether or not you're down with RPPP, it's a game changer, as well as one of the city's most promising tools in its battle against parking congestion.
IMPORTANT, BUT NOT QUITE URGENT
Downtown garage: Every council member in Palo Alto agrees that the city needs a new downtown garage. In 2014, they took a few actions to expedite the construction of a new facility. This includes approving an infrastructure plan that lists a garage as one of the priority items, passing a hotel-tax increase that would help pay for these costs and identifying a downtown site for the new facility: a public lot on the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Waverley Street.
Anaerobic digester: Palo Alto's heated debate over the future of organic waste reached an impasse of sorts in May when the city approved a four-stage plan that begins with retiring the sludge-burning incinerators and proceeds to building a waste-to-energy plant that will turn local sewage and food scraps into energy. The city also tried to find a way to bring a composting operation to the Measure E site in Byxbee Park, though by December everyone agreed that there are no cost-effective options for doing so at this time.
Public-safety building: Every year, the city seems to get closer to its goal of building a new police headquarters, only to see the latest plan fizzle for some reason or other. When 2014 ended, the new public-safety building remained atop the city's priority list, but there was one big reason for optimism: The city now has the funds. With the infrastructure funding plan in place, staff has been evaluating potential sites for the new building and is expected to report its findings in early 2015.
101 bike bridge: Of the two dozen bike projects that Palo Alto is now pursuing, none is as ambitious or expensive as the planned bridge over U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek. In December, the city concluded a design competition for the "iconic" structure that will connect south Palo Alto to the Baylands. The jury in the competition chose the boldest of the three designs on the table, one that features a prominent arch. In February, the council will make the final decision on the bridge, and design work should begin shortly thereafter.
Golf course: Palo Alto's plan to revamp its golf course in the Baylands and to make a portion of it available for a flood-control project near the San Francisquito Creek ran into a severe setback this year, when the flood-control effort stalled amid a dispute over permits. With the two projects closely connected, the delay in the latter led to a corresponding delay in the former. That dispute appeared to be resolved by the end of the year, when the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board finally agreed to sign off on the flood-control project. If the rest of the permitting process goes as planned (admittedly, a huge "if"), construction on one or both long-awaited projects could begin in 2015.