New library? Check. Free Wi-Fi? Check. | News | Palo Alto Online |


New library? Check. Free Wi-Fi? Check.

The Weekly takes a look at the city's to-do list for 2014

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.


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.


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.


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.

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2 people like this
Posted by grand jury? check.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Unfortunately, this was overall a disappointing if not shocking year for the city to-do list.

1 person likes this
Posted by check again
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Umm .. small point there: the Mitchell Park Library was really a 2012 checklist item. Oh well, just redefine, I guess, like Microsoft renamed Windows 93 to Windows 95.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2014 at 8:55 pm

The Mitchell Park Library has been crowded every time I have visited. How about expanding its hours?

1 person likes this
Posted by Olenka Villarreal
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 29, 2014 at 10:52 am

Thank you for recognizing the Magical Bridge project as a "feel good story." We agree!

We are thrilled to remind Palo Altans that over 90% of all the money raised for this soon-to-open community space was all privately raised.

Our contractor, Barry Swenson Builder, has been truly exceptional and we are thankful this team is on target and on budget. Come by the site and say "hello"!

All around magical, and we look forward to sharing this inclusive playground with everyone in our community and beyond.! See you there in about a month!

4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 29, 2014 at 11:47 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Great about the bridge but PA Weekly quoted some city official bragging that the nearby playground was completed on time and under budget a few MONTHS ago when the playground is still under construction.

It's no wonder people have a tough time knowing which projects have been completed.

By the way, how's that Town & Country traffic light coming? We were told in August that it was "imminent."

3 people like this
Posted by Laughable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Free WiFi? Maybe worth a couple of hundred bucks per month, but definitely not the millions poured into this fiasco. Palo Alto is a community where everyone thinks they are above average, but issues in the school and community indicate the opposite.

Like this comment
Posted by Olenka Villarreal
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 29, 2014 at 9:56 pm

A quick question for "Online Name:"

Curious which park you'd be referring to? As a member of Friends of the Palo Alto Parks board, we try to stay current of PA park projects and I can't recall one where a city official would call a park clearly under construction "complete?" Are you referring to the Magical Bridge?

Like this comment
Posted by grand
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2014 at 11:52 pm

one park that was under construction and now may be complete is maybe Eleanor Pardee park

they should however clarify which are privately funded as that gives credit where credit is due

Like this comment
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 30, 2014 at 12:16 am

Olenka, I'm referring to the playground adjacent to the Magical Bridge and clearly visible from the Mitchell Park dog park.

I'll see if I can do a search and find the citation here. I do remember that I posted something about how the PA Weekly reporters should check out the pronouncements before declaring something complete.

Technically, I don't know if a playground is a park but the area to the left of the bridge looking from the Mitchell Park side has had workmen and big machinery and piles of dirt for months aftter the report appeared.

Like this comment
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 30, 2014 at 12:48 am

Here's the article link and the relevant quote:

September 12, 2014 MAGIC AT MITCHELL ...

Web Link

MAGIC AT MITCHELL ... It took big dreams and even bigger wallets, but Palo Alto is now well on its way to completing a long-awaited construction project at Mitchell Park, on time and within budget. No, we're not talking about the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, which is set to open on Dec. 6 after more than two-and-a-half years of delays and much finger pointing between the city and its contractors. The excitement this week swirled around the Magical Bridge Playground, a brainchild of local parents looking to create the city's first "inclusive" playground that is capable of accommodating children with disabilities. The city officially broke ground on the playground in June. Olenka Villareal, who founded the group Friends of the Magical Bridge, announced Monday that the group now has the funding — all from private donors — in place to complete the project, which will feature seven distinct play zones (swinging, spinning, sliding, etc.). Joined by her daughter Ava, Villareal thanked the city for its support and encouragement as she contributed the final check for the project. "We've raised the money necessary, the construction has begun and the most innovative, inclusive playground is coming to, not only the country, but right here to Palo Alto," Villareal said.

-----For months after the article appeared, folks at the dog park wondered what was happening and when someone would realize no work was being done on the playground. Around December the workers finally moved around the bulldozers, piles of branches etc. and we joked they must be pushing for their year-end bonuses by getting something done.

Looking forward to seeing the playground become a reality. The kids will enjoy watching the dogs across the canal bed.

1 person likes this
Posted by Olenka
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 30, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Hi "Online Name," thank you for taking the time to reply and even find that article. What they wrote was that our construction was under way and, unlike the library, was running on time. When they wrote about the Dec. 6th opening, they were referring to the opening of the community center. As with all good construction projects, it's often hard to know exact completion dates. The rain set us back a bit but we will likely open early Feb which would put Magical Bridge behind about 2 months. We have waited a lifetime for a park which includes everyone's abilities so what's another 2 months? 😀

Hope you'll join us for the ribbon-cutting. Online Name, and happy 2015 to all!!

Like this comment
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 30, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Thanks, Olenka. I'm not criticizing your project, just the over-optimistic reporting by the PA Weekly which I read as saying the playground going to be completed on time months ago. No wonder the community's confused!

I'm still amazed that I got censored for pointing out that the playground wasn't finished and suggesting the reporting staff take a look at what was -- and still is -- an unfinished project.

Looking forward to your ribbon-cutting ceremony!

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