News

City celebrates revamped California Avenue

Once controversial streetscape project comes to an end in Palo Alto's 'second downtown'

The brand new fountain sculpture wasn't the only thing making a splash Thursday on California Avenue, where a crowd of merchants, residents and beaming dignitaries congregated to watch a ribbon get snipped and to celebrate the completion of a streetscape project that has been six years in the making.

Gathered in a newly landscaped plaza near the Caltrain station, Mayor Karen Holman, City Manager James Keene and several business owners from Palo Alto's "second downtown" welcomed what they see as a new era for the eclectic neighborhood.

Approved by the council in 2009 in the face of intense merchant opposition, the $7.2-million project included reduction of lanes from four to two, new crosswalks, new street furniture all along the business district, two new plazas, bike lanes, widened sidewalks and new lights.

At the center of the Park Avenue plaza stood "Confluence," a recently installed 14-foot-tall sculpture designed by artist Mike Szabo. A marked departure from the quaint, bowl-shaped "birdbath" fountain that once occupied the site, the sleek and curving sculpture was a fitting sign for an area that is undergoing a period of rapid commercial growth.

With the rare spell of rain giving way to sunshine in the afternoon, Holman welcomed the crowd by alluding to the project's tendentious history.

"It was not an easy process. It was a long process. And to try to get to an agreement and have a successful outcome -- I think congratulations are in order for both the staff and the retailers," Holman said.

Keene got an assist from the Beatles in describing the project. After "Here Comes the Sun" serenaded the crowd through the loudspeakers, Keene alluded to a few other Beatles songs that could apply to the project, including "The Long and Winding Road," and "Come Together," before shouting, "Come on, we finally made it here!"

"We're committed to making sure that what is a really good street is on its way to being an absolutely great street," Keene said.

Among the merchants who attended the ceremony were Jessica Roth of European Cobblery and Terry Shuchat of Keeble and Shuchat Photography. Both had initially opposed the plan to reduce lanes on California Avenue, predicting that it would lead to traffic tie-ups. Roth marked the occasion by thanking the area's neighbors, clients and customers for continuing to patronize the businesses throughout the construction period, which has taken just over a year.

Shuchat, who at one point participated in a lawsuit aimed at stopping the project, acknowledged that the merchants' fears didn't come to pass and that when it comes to traffic, "it's all working out fine."

"I was one of the many many merchants who was 200 percent opposed to this project," Shuchat said. "Now that it's been completed though, I really like it."

Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Casa de Cerveza
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 7, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Casa de Cerveza is a registered user.

Thank you to all who made this beautiful upgrade of California Avenue possible. It looks beautiful, the pavement is smooth, the sidewalks wider, and, the street lights brighter. We now need a live band to play "Dancing in the Street."


16 people like this
Posted by pedestrian
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2015 at 6:28 pm

The street looks great, except that the main pedestrian access is that narrow, dark, steep, smelly tunnel that is full of obstacles that make it even more congested. I wish they had spent the money on improving the pedestrian tunnel instead of building this statue next to the tunnel.


22 people like this
Posted by Oy, Weh
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 7, 2015 at 9:10 pm

I now dislike the new downtown AKA Cal Ave. There is not enough parking, the sidewalks hurt your feet unless you wear platform-thick soles, and the new width of the sidewalks is taken up by chairs, tables, sandwich-board signs, people waiting in line, bicyclists ( the street is now too narrow for bike riding), and even bicycle parking.

I will drop my dollars in Mtn View, thank you very much.


14 people like this
Posted by Why?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2015 at 9:16 pm

Why is there water in the fountain? We're in a severe drought?


7 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2015 at 9:24 pm

To deter high school students from vandalizing the fountain, can we post a small sign that there are surveillance cameras (even though we don't have one for whatever reason)?


24 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2015 at 9:46 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Oy, Weh - there are more parking spots now than before, and while the glass sidewalks are constructed poorly, and inconsistently, they certainly won't hurt anyone wearing shoes.

Where I do agree with you is this. Despite removing two full lanes, we neither ended up with bike lanes, nor substantially wider sidewalks. It seems like a big proportion of the space gained by giving up the lanes was given back to diagonal parking. So it kind of seems like a waste of time and money. It certainly didn't transform the area, and a better plan could have.


19 people like this
Posted by Barron Park walker
a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2015 at 12:18 am

Hate, hate, hate the new sidewalks. Nice idea but extremely poor execution. Why we couldn't just have freshly poured new concrete sidewalks is beyond me! We are left with such a hodge podge of various hard scapes now, and the final result is just awful.

Thumbs DOWN.


6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 8, 2015 at 5:14 am

Curious about the new six-pack of newsracks installed way behind the fountain, at the back of the "plaza". They face the tracks rather than anyone coming up from the tunnel or coming toward the plaza from California Avenue. You need to walk all the way around to see whether there is anything in them. I guess there must have been some logic to facing that direction, like maybe people stopping their cars to get out and grab a paper as they drive around the back part of that circular lane. I doubt it was for the convenience of delivery persons loading the racks. Any ideas?


8 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2015 at 9:02 am

The newspaper racks are probably facing the tracks so they are visible from train riders getting on/off.

Remember that the population of Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View swell up considerably during weekday work hours due to the large influx of workers commuting from other cities.

Residents have more opportunities/places to pick up a newspaper around town.


25 people like this
Posted by 5th Generation
a resident of Mayfield
on May 8, 2015 at 9:15 am

Sorry, but I think this was a complete failure and did not "improve" anything.

Thanks for wasting my tax dollars.


7 people like this
Posted by Terrace Antelope
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2015 at 9:51 am

Terrace Antelope is a registered user.

How much to put it back to the way it was? Just kidding, I love it! Well done all those who helped make it happen.


10 people like this
Posted by Jeanie Smith
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 8, 2015 at 10:49 am

I've lived close to Calif. Ave. most of my life, and have to say I LOVE the new look-- every day as I drive through, or as I park and enjoy one of my favorite spots, I am enjoying the brick paths, the wider sidewalks, the easier flow of traffic-- even the new fountain! It's all quite lovely, and I applaud the City Council for pushing past all the animosity and making this happen for our "other" downtown... Very pedestrian friendly, and makes all our restaurants and businesses look so enticing now.
Thanks!


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Southgate
on May 8, 2015 at 11:30 am

Love it! I will go there at least twice a week.


5 people like this
Posted by Garry Wyndham
a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2015 at 12:09 pm

I salute the PA planning folks and all others involved in getting this mammoth effort to completion. I'm sure there are things that may not be perfect, but overall it's looking pretty good. I even like the new fountain.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 8, 2015 at 12:39 pm

@Reader, I don't think these racks are visible at all from the Caltrain platform. I'll look.

I have another minor point, about the diagonal parking, which is a frequent inconvenience. The leftmost space often results in the driver stepping out into the landscaping rather than a paved margin. Even just 18 or 12 inches would be helpful.

Haven't checked this week whether the LED streetlights still burn all day.

We'll see how arguments go about putting a new Public Safety Building nearby.


2 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2015 at 12:53 pm

@musical:

It's just a guess, nothing more. You only need to walk by the rack once or twice to know that it's there, especially if you're a regular train commuter. Whether or not the racks are visible from the platform isn't important.

In any case the newspaper racks don't generate much revenue for the city, nor the newspapers themselves. They make money selling advertising which is why many local papers are free.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Newspaper racks! The street is practically littered with newspaper racks! Old and lots of them unused. Freedom of speech? Ok, but every 50 feet or less?


3 people like this
Posted by sea reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2015 at 2:08 pm

It is done.
Thanks.
All the infrastructure is upgraded.

Two lanes or four lanes could later be argued.

Like the Mitchell park library, it looks well done!

So many to thank. Let us enjoy!
Current and former leaders
Jim Keene and staff

Respectfully


3 people like this
Posted by sea reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2015 at 2:08 pm

It is done.
Thanks.
All the infrastructure is upgraded.

Two lanes or four lanes could later be argued.

Like the Mitchell park library, it looks well done!

So many to thank. Let us enjoy!
Current and former leaders
Jim Keene and staff

Respectfully


Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto

on May 8, 2015 at 3:06 pm


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6 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 8, 2015 at 6:30 pm

It cracks me up to see all the whiners with nothing but negative comments. I really wonder any of them have ever taken responsibility for any challenging project; I suspect that they are full-time professional monday morning quarterbacks?I

The makeover is somewhat modest but it's good. The avenue has improved significantly in the last several years; it is a nice complement to the University Avenue downtown, and the Farmer's Market is a real treasure.


13 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Los Altos
on May 8, 2015 at 8:28 pm

"It cracks me up to see all the whiners with nothing but negative comments"

Some of us are business owners, who have a vested interest in the (less than stellar, to put it mildly) project.

Also, the farmer's market is not part of the streetscape project.


Like this comment
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on May 8, 2015 at 9:15 pm

Love the sidewalks. It's sad they had to be "leveled," but that seems typical, to remove the most beautiful aspect of something. As a paralell-challenged parker, I miss the slanted spots on the street. Now for some real trees again.


4 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 9, 2015 at 7:35 am

I like the plaza and the steet a lot - glass sidewalk included. Fountain is good too with its recycled water. But why is the chamber of commerce cutting the ribbon instead of the mayor - lobbyist rather than our elected official? We have a mayor for a reason- one of them is ceremonial. The chambers head lobbyist should not have usurped the mayors role.


13 people like this
Posted by glass lover
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2015 at 10:07 am

The glass and sidewalks need to be TOTALLY redone, the pour is jagged and unevenly dispersed. I guess when someone cuts themelves on the glass shards the city will respond when there is a lawsuit. The sidewalks are a mix of old a new different cement colors, levels and quality. There is a hodgepodge of materials and colors nothing matches.
Whoever was managing this project from the city should be fired.


3 people like this
Posted by AlexDeLarge
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2015 at 11:59 am

I like it, no complaints here.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2015 at 12:02 pm

@Don
All of us will continue to support the wonderful neighborhood serving,
and service businesses with the friendly atmosphere along California Ave. Just the completion of the project is a big plus here- we needed to just get it behind us, past the disruption. The level of business should not
be affected, if anything the publicity should bring in some new people
who are curious about the project. From a business standpoint it should work out.


3 people like this
Posted by Cal Ave Love
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 9, 2015 at 1:32 pm

I like it. Cal Ave has always been a favorite destination for me...and now I love it MORE!!!!


Like this comment
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Sparty is a registered user.

Speaking of the farmers market---there used to be a vendor who would pour their greeeezy grey water into the tree ring- over by the BotW. Sometimes it would have food scraps. I wonder if they still do it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2015 at 6:52 pm

Sparty,

Why don't you go to the farmers market tomorrow and report back to us?

Note that you can always report these sort of incidents to the farmers market management.


3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2015 at 9:15 pm

Actually when you think about it, these glass shard sidewalks are so unusual that they have the potential to go viral which could really increase business on the street. Seeing the sidewalks could be added to tours along with the HP Garage and the reopened Varsity Theatre with the workspace and Blue Bottle, unusual and unexpected, just like the sidewalks on California Ave, and the Barbie Doll Museum Downtown which we unfortunately lost about 20 years ago, the unusual and unexpected in Palo Alto. We have it again.


6 people like this
Posted by Not impressed at all
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2015 at 11:27 pm

Went there today to see the completed project. Have seen the in progress work many times but was somehow hoping having everything complete would enhance the overall experience. I came away very unimpressed for the following reasons:
- as others have mentioned the execution of the glass sidewalks is extremely poor. In some places the glass is barely visible above the concrete and in others it seems to be stick out too much. And there seems to be no consistency as to where the glass sections were placed, kind of looks like the started at one end and then ran out of money.

- the brick crosswalks are boring, there is no visual interest to the brick pattern. Los Alto put similar sidewalks in their downtown recently but they have much nicer visual appeal.

- I actually feel less safe biking on the street now. At least when it was 2 lanes each way bikes could usually stay in the right most lane and cars would be on the left. Now both cars and bikes have to share one lane.

I'm glad that some infrastructure work got done as part of this project but all the aesthetic and car/pedestrian/bike flow improvements look like a waste of money to me.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2015 at 5:17 am

We won't know how well the drainage design works until we get a good rain. There are a couple gutter areas along the curb where I expect we'll see standing water, but nothing too serious.

Blueberries are in season again at the Farmers Market. Terrible addiction.


2 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on May 10, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@musical - do you mean the areas where there literally is no curb, like around the Starbucks? I was wondering if that was a construction error, because most the street still has a curb. If there ends up being standing water, it now has the potential to cover the sidewalk. Either bad design, or bad construction.


6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2015 at 6:25 pm

Congratulations on the LED streetlights now switching off in the daytime.

Something else new for me this weekend was the displayed plans for fenced outdoor seating at Joanie's. (Tied with Hobee's as my favorite breakfast spot.) Conditional Use Permit application dated May 6.

Speaking of seating, plenty more people are using the base of the Go Mama sculpture as a circular bench now that there is paving all the way around it.

@Slow Down, regarding drainage -- the continuous grating gutters along the sidewalks look pretty good. I haven't tried the car-key drop test yet, but the wavy slots appear sufficiently narrow to allow only loose change through. About standing water, I didn't want to get too specific, but after a rain some months ago I vaguely recall a 1/2-inch puddle along a part of new curbing on the north side towards El Camino. Like I said, no big deal there, and far be it from me to critique professional concrete formworkers. More important is the coupling into the major stormdrain system and where any potential bottlenecks might be. At least we won't have to worry about excessive tree leaves for quite awhile.


10 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2015 at 9:46 pm

Palo Alto celebrates another successful real-estate scam.

Razzle-dazzle camouflage was developed during World War I. While most camouflage is typically designed to make something blend into its surroundings, Razzle-dazzle camouflage is "flashy" and designed to disrupt cognition.

The "gems" in the sidewalks, the sparkly cross walks, the Nouveau-Kitch street art, and the broken circulation pattern are all razzle-dazzle camouflage designed to conceal the real scandal behind the redevelopment of California Avenue.

A handful of people, who own most of the commercial real-estate on California Avenue, were able to conscript millions of dollars of taxpayer money to convert one full lane of PUBLIC roadway to largely PRIVATE use as additional restaurant seating.


Dazzle camouflage: Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on May 10, 2015 at 10:14 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Ahem - it is a pretty mediocre scam - the sidewalk space is only improved for a handful of the restaurants. In a lot of the places the sidewalk was widened, the placement of the granite blocks prevent any extra seating. I wish that every restaurant got more outside space, it would have helped make it a more vibrant destination.


3 people like this
Posted by Teddie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 10, 2015 at 10:30 pm

For all those people wanting to complain about the end results perhaps you should have attended some of the community input meetings about the project. There are a lot of factors involved with why things were done the way they were done, one of them being budget.

I have lived in Palo Alto for over 45 years and I am happy to see at least a fresh look on Cal Ave. I have to say I don't love all of it but it does make me happy to see it finally upgraded. And why anybody would complain about wider sidewalks, and the fact that it is now one lane as University Avenue has "survived" with all these years is beyond me.

Glad it's done looking forward to enjoying for many years to come.



4 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2015 at 10:42 pm

@Slowdawn,

Ehh... the granite blocks (etc) ARE extra seating. Looks like the camouflage is working.


10 people like this
Posted by Average PA Online Comment
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2015 at 10:57 pm

I hate it!

(Not that there is anything paticularly wrong with it, I just like to complain about things. It makes me feel like I matter)


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2015 at 7:26 am

The new crosswalks are getting dirty, black from tire tracks rather quickly. With the glitter will they hold up under powerwashing? The glitter crosswalks detract from the glass shard sidewalks just from an aesthetic standpoint, too similar in effect, rather than having one offset the other and highlight it, and the crosswalks in addition to the glass sidewalks seem to raise serious maintenance issues.There seems to be an information vacuum about this project or am I just missing something. Was there a landscape architect for this project, or did the City staff just wing it? Who designed this project from a conceptual standpoint? I do think the new fountain is quite nice.


2 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on May 11, 2015 at 9:54 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Ahem - I thought the granite blocks were bollards to keep the nose in parking cars from driving up the sidewalk. I guess I could put my plate on the block and my drink on the hood.

@Teddie - the plan sounded good at the planning phase. The problem is accumulation of errors in execution has undermined it. I'll bring up the glass sidewalk yet again, the inconsistency from square to square is so great, it creates a huge visual distraction. Walking down California right now is like driving a shiny new car with a cracked windshield - it is all you notice.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2015 at 10:01 am

My main thoughts are that it still looks unfinished!

If this is the "finished" look, then I am disappointed. There seems to be a mismatch rather than a coordinated feel and I get the impression I am walking through a building site where the contractors have just stopped work and removed their equipment.


9 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Slow Down,

Interesting that you use the developer's discredited, vacuous, term "vibrancy" to justify the taxpayer funded transfer of public property to private use. The term "vibrancy" itself is nothing more than razzle-dazzle camouflage.


4 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Slow Down said:

"I guess I could put my plate on the block and my drink on the hood"

Or you could just sit on the block, with your fast-food on your lap, like everybody else?


6 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Los Altos
on May 11, 2015 at 3:36 pm

I just took a walk from El Camino to the train station.

Trash/recycling bins: There are 2 per full block, which is absurdly inadequate. 6 or 8 might do the trick. Some of these new bins are full to overflowing by mid-morning.

Sidewalk widening: The only block that got meaningful widening is the south/east side of the 400 block. The Country Sun, Terun, Jin Sho side got nothing, not even newly poured sidewalk. Who knows why...

Newspaper boxes: Here's a photo of one set of boxes (they all look pretty much like this). Web Link Nice.


Like this comment
Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2015 at 4:58 pm

It's my understanding that the rest of the newsracks are on back order. There is one new set at the fountain/plaza area as a sample of what to expect for the rest of the street. Simple grey boxes made in America. I like them. They're functional.

By comparison, downtown Saratoga got new racks a few years ago, even opening it up to the public to choose the style, like a contest. But the winning boxes look like large coffins. Expensive & bulky taking a large section of the sidewalk. I think the boxes on Cal Ave will look good, when the rest of them are installed.


1 person likes this
Posted by Don
a resident of Los Altos
on May 11, 2015 at 5:26 pm

"I think the boxes on Cal Ave will look good, when the rest of them are installed."

Fingers crossed.

(I hope the rest of the trash/recycling bins are on back order.)


9 people like this
Posted by Excuuuuuuse Me!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Just who is it that is celebrating the new Cal Ave? No one I know, for sure.


5 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on May 11, 2015 at 5:53 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@ahem - I wish there was a transfer of public property to private use - that might have made the project more successful. As Don points out above, there is one small stretch of one block that got enough widened enough to add a table. The project was a wasted opportunity because the net change is basically zero, and it will be another 20 years before the city gets to try again. You only have to look to Mountain View to see how a similar project can make a massive improvement to a neighborhood. Castro is quite a bit more vibrant than California.


Like this comment
Posted by Adrienne
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 26, 2015 at 11:30 am

Questions about the odd logistics of the area around the fountain/Caltrain Station/Pedestrian Tunnel.
1. Did anyone think about the choke point in which bicycles and pedestrians entering and leaving tunnel are funneled onto a narrow sidewalk painted with large white arrows? I notice many bicycles emerging onto Cal St go left onto the street the wrong way in order to avoid people walking into the tunnel.
2. At the back of the square abutting the RR tracks, the newspaper boxes face the blank one way street. And what is the point of the wide sidewalk "entrance" to the square with a sign announcing California St-- coming from Nowhere? Who is supposed to approach or depart from that dead end? No one can see the newspaper boxes and passengers debarking from the train cannot walk in the street along the tracks to this peculiar "entrance" to the square.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 26, 2015 at 12:46 pm

@Adrienne, I pointed out your #2 on May 8 above. Maybe someday we'll have longer trains and the platform will be extended a couple car-lengths northward and it will all make sense.

And regarding #1, that bike/ped tunnel is entirely obsolete, but I doubt we'll see any priority put on replacing or widening it anytime soon. What I don't want to see is an elevated bike/ped bridge.


2 people like this
Posted by TimH
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 27, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Hmmm. If the goal was to get as far away from old "Calif. Ave." and Mayfield roots as was possible, then yes, our government team did just that. I hate to be negative, but won't be surprised when all business hub neighborhoods in town (Downtown, Midtown, Barron Park, California Ave.) all look alike in a well-scrubbed, sleek and sterile manner - or is that what "looking forward" means?


5 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 27, 2015 at 6:31 pm

What people don't realize is these gentrification projects are not undertaken to improve the lives of the residents, they are done to increase the profitability of the commercial properties in the gentrified area. Redevelopment grants are just giant gifts of public taxpayer money, from local governments, to commercial real-estate landowners.

This particularly odious form of gentrification is called "disneyfication". Why is Disneyland the model? Because Disneyland is the most profitable commercial real-estate on earth.

To Palo Alto's commercial real-estate owners, Palo Alto is a plantation, the residents are the "live stock", the retailers are the farmhands, and California Avenue is where the sheep go to get sheared.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 27, 2015 at 9:50 pm

I'll be out there on Saturday to see the vintage cars.
(And Sunday morning for the farmers market.)


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

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