Council redirects City Hall's proposed sign program

Palo Alto officials reject proposal to change names of garage levels, build 'podium sign' in front of Hamilton Avenue building

Is A,B,C really as easy as 1, 2, 3?

When it comes to labeling the three levels of the City Hall underground parking garage, Palo Alto officials aren't so sure. And in lieu of certainty, the City Council balked on Monday night at spending about $100,000 to make the shift from letters to numbers, as city staff had recommended.

By overriding city staff's recommendation to rename the three parking garage levels, the council slashed about a third of the cost from the proposed $327,000 "wayfinding program" at City Hall, which is one of the final components of a somewhat controversial $4.3-million effort to refresh the monolithic building on Hamilton Avenue. The council agreed, however, to fund the rest of the proposed sign program, including a new podium sign near the entrance to the Palo Alto Police Department and a monument sign at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Bryant Street.

The council's scrutiny of the sign program also signaled a marked departure from its past considerations of the City Hall renovation. The project's largest components – which include two new meeting rooms near the lobby, a refurbished Council Chambers and a new Civic Technology Center to house the Information Technology department – were approved last year on the council's consent calendar, without a word of discussion or debate. The quick approval of the project became a political flashpoint during last year's City Council campaign, with critics questioning the council's commitment to transparency and fiscal prudence.

The sign program that was proposed by staff and approved by the Architectural Review Board included 331 signs, 231 of them in the garage. The main goal was to make it easier for a first-time visitor to find his or her way around City Hall and its parking garage. The sign program included new directories inside the building and in the garage, where the three levels would be renamed to P1, P2 and P3. According to city staff, this would entail updating more than 200 columns within the garage with new name designation and enhanced graphics.

Unlike the rest of the renovation project, the sign program spurred plenty of discussion and significant revisions from the council. Last month, the council voted to remove the item from its consent calendar and hold a full hearing. And on Monday night, Councilmen Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth, both of whom were elected last fall, made a pitch for downsizing the sign program and saving some money.

DuBois noted that the council has heard "quite a lot from the public" about the City Hall remodel and argued that sometimes good quality simply means "good enough."

"The proposed signage is beautiful. The question is, 'Do we need all of it?'" DuBois said. "If we saved $125,000, we can spend it on a lot of other projects that the community wants from us."

Filseth agreed.

"Do we want to make City Hall prettier? Of course. But it's a third of a million dollar for signs," he said. "I think the real question is, 'Is City Hall where Palo Alto residents want us to splurge?'"

DuBois proposed a series of modifications to the sign program, including an elimination of the podium signs in front of the police department's entrance on Forest Avenue and near City Hall. The motion to remove the police sign failed by a 3-5 vote, with DuBois, Filseth and Vice Mayor Greg Schmid supporting the proposal and Councilman Greg Scharff absent. After DuBois and Filseth agreed that it would be appropriate to attach the new City Hall sign to the building (rather than include it on a separate podium), the design change passed 6-2, with Mayor Karen Holman and Councilwoman Liz Kniss dissenting.

There was little appetite on the council, however, for renaming the garage levels, as proposed by staff. City Manager James Keene said the existing system confuses some visitors, who aren't sure whether the A level (which is the uppermost garage level) is the ground floor or not. It's one of the reasons people often find it difficult to navigate their way out of the garage, he said.

"The panic sets in when they realize they're actually stuck in City Hall, rather than getting to the restaurants," Keene quipped.

He noted that the 1970 building went up during a period of civil disobedience and that the goal was to "keep the public out of the building." The goal of the remodel, he said, is to make City Hall more welcoming.

"I think sometimes those last touches can make all the difference in a project being complete and fully working," Keene said.

Despite numerous quibbles over details, the council generally agreed that new signs would be a welcome addition to City Hall. Councilwoman Liz Kniss concurred that the present system is confusing and that the existing signs are "pretty terrible."

"It's puzzling and it's hard for people to figure out," she said.

Councilman Marc Berman was the only member who supported changing the garage levels from letters to numbers. He cited the differences between the Palo Alto City Hall and the one in Mountain View, which he called "open and inviting."

"What we're trying to do is put lipstick on a pig and our City Hall is the pig," Berman said. "And we're trying to make it a little bit less intimidating and a little less confusing."

The motion to not rename the three parking garage levels and saving about $100,000, then carried by a 7-1 vote, with Berman dissenting and Scharff absent.

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11 people like this
Posted by Craig
a resident of Downtown North
on May 19, 2015 at 2:53 pm

When you refer to "the staff"', who are you talking about. It would be helpful to know who is pushing these kookie ideas.

11 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 19, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Glad that the City Council is finally pushing back at this ridiculously expensive project. Maybe they'll also push back at the fact that this small city has two of the three most expensive bureaucrats in the state as per the recent SJ Mercury article.

Craig's right. Please let us know what "staff" is pushing this.

4 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on May 19, 2015 at 3:54 pm

"City Manager James Keene said the existing system confuses some visitors, who aren't sure whether the A level (which is the uppermost garage level) is the ground floor or not."

If people are confused with ABC, what makes Mr. Keene think 123 would be any more clear? It's exactly the same difference.

If City staff or the Sign company had contacted any designer worth their salt, they would have proposed a solution that actually addresses the problem as described, for example, showing all three levels on the signs in their actual spacial position while highlighting the level you are actually on:

For Level A or 1

A or 1 < Large font, Dark color
B or 2 < Small font, Light color
C or 3 < Small font, Light color

For Level B or 2

A or 1 < Small font, Light color
B or 2 < Large font, Dark color
C or 3 < Small font, Light color

For Level C or 3

A or 1 < Small font, Light color
B or 2 < Small font, Light color
C or 3 < Large font, Dark color

Well, that's just a first pass, surely there are better alternatives. The point is that the money spenders (City staff) and the money collectors (Sign company) clearly did not do any research or expert consultation.

Thank you Mr. Filseth and Mr. DuBois for saving us $100K on a "solution" that wouldn't have solved anything.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2015 at 5:02 pm

What really confuses visitors are the coral zones and time limits. There are no instructions on how to park all day and how to pay for all day parking.

It would make much more sense putting in some pay per hour machines and allowing people to park for several hours. Two (or three) hours is not always long enough for a business meeting and lunch.

I have never heard anyone complain about the signs for the various levels, but I have heard many complaints about where to pay for 1/2 day parking.

6 people like this
Posted by The Shadow knows....
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 19, 2015 at 5:16 pm

Well, at least they "saved" enough to pay for almost two years worth of City Manager Keene's additional deferred compensation perk!

13 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Signage at city hall is more important than repairing the baylands center? than improving the traffic lights at Embarcadero? than getting El Camino Park operational again?

The city manager has all the wrong priorities, and the council needs to put him and staff on notice that if they don't start focusing on the residents, they need to find some place else to work.

6 people like this
Posted by Annie's Biped
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2015 at 10:34 am

Good grief! Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed & left the ABC signage alone. What an incredibly wasteful suggestion. Judging from the number of cars in the garage all the way down at level C at 6:45pm last night, not many people are confused about using City Hall's garage.

3 people like this
Posted by Oldman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2015 at 10:44 am

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2015 at 11:02 am

As I recall, the Jackson Five had a song called "ABC" with the following line "Simple as 1,2,3." Maybe they can pipe this into the garage.

6 people like this
Posted by Jennie
a resident of Community Center
on May 20, 2015 at 11:49 am

What do we have to do to get the Baylands cleaned up??? WEEDS, WEEDS, WEEDS. It's a depressing mess. Shoreline in Mt. View is beautiful....then there is our neglected Palo Alto Baylands. What high paying department manager is responsible for all of this? Then there is the Embarcadero-101 overpass. This is a mess-squared. Warn Caltrans to clean up its portion now or do it and send it the bill. Every day city employees drive from the City Municipal lot on East Bayshore - they must have to see this mess. But the odds are they don't even live here and couldn't care less. The City Manager is getting an enormous amount of pay. If only we could 'dock it' until HE gets on the ball.
Gennady - where are you you when we need you!!

2 people like this
Posted by Oldman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2015 at 12:06 pm

I still smell rat and paint

Like this comment
Posted by Gg
a resident of Green Acres
on May 20, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Oldman do you omitted the Old Enginner?

7 people like this
Posted by action needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2015 at 12:57 pm

What the City should be spending money on is reducing the number of worthless, redundant, ugly signs which been spreading all over the city, like the string of "no parking" signs on Embarcadero just past St Francis which were called out by Holman and Burt four months ago, and sandblast out the hideous bright yellow zebra crosswalks all over the neighborhoods and replace them with more appropriate attractive crosswalks like other cities
use, just as safe or safer in most cases according to traffic engineering guidelines, what other cities do. The new Council majority knows what to do-do it. No more half-steps, no more pussey-footing. Change the direction of this City, and stop the drastic downward spiral.

Like this comment
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on May 20, 2015 at 1:11 pm

Speaking of signs, I'd like to see the City invest in some No Smoking signs for the downtown business district and other areas where smoking is supposedly prohibited.

Every day I see people smoking on University and neighboring streets. But I have never seen a smoker getting cited and I have never seen a No Smoking sign.

5 people like this
Posted by Confused
a resident of Green Acres
on May 20, 2015 at 1:14 pm

"Action needed"
Wow, remove the traffic engineer heritage and the sign and paint company ""GREAT work?
Ask the city staff whoever may be and still recommending more paint and signs stop fooling around with outsourcing!!!

10 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on May 20, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Does the city hall project include cleaning the garage? Maybe spend the $125,000 savings on steam cleaning the garage floors and stairwells. They are a disgrace.

2 people like this
Posted by Sweep out City Hall
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 20, 2015 at 2:20 pm

[Post removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by Sweep out City Hall
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 20, 2015 at 2:25 pm

Rose is correct. The garage is disgustingly filthy. I think the citizens of PA would have been happier with a thorough cleaning of the garage instead of an interactive foyer in City Hall. The staff wastes our money.

9 people like this
Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2015 at 2:51 pm

To Action Needed: We have the recently departed Transportation Director, Jaime Rodriguez, to thank for all the hideous, inappropriate, commercial in nature signage and street markings that have appeared all over town. Citizens need to be vigilant and investigate the proposed street markings the Transportation Dept has planned for their neighborhood. Otherwise you might come home one afternoon and discover bright green 4' x 7' rectangles painted on your roads, new roundabouts, no parking signs on BOTH sides of your block and lots of unnecessary signage. The items I just mentioned were almost done in my neighborhood. We fought the city to block the blight. Citizens should write the Transportation Dept and City Council to express their disapproval. Ask to see the redesign proposals coming to your neighborhood. The City has big plans for street reconfigurations in many PA neighborhoods. The city staff is counting on the neighbors to be uninformed about the proposed changes. The staff hopes the neighborhoods are not paying attention. The staff doesn't want input from the citizens. But this a particularly important time for neighborhoods to investigate the new proposals for their streets. Trust me, ugly street markings are coming your way.

8 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Barron Park
on May 20, 2015 at 3:55 pm

What is the status of the Town market light system modification? Did the city, staff outsourced the design, and who is responsible? What is our departed traffic Engineer''s paint a sign company involvement
Town Square Moderator , before removing this post, we need the answer!!

8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 20, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Having just returned from Town & Country, I can assure you that the lights still have not been synchronized. We're approaching the decade mark.

Mr. Rodriquez is supposed to be supervising a $3,000,000 contract to synchronize traffic lights and add video cameras to catch people rushing through yellow lights (which only last a few seconds). Could we get a status report on that project as well as on the Town & Country lights??

We all know that Mr. Rodriquez's priorities are bikes, not cars.

Reviewing the Town Plan based on the city's latest newsletter, I discovered that:

"The City is aggressively funding the implementation of the Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation Plan. The City has committed $1.2M each year through 2018 to fund the planning, design, and implementation of projects. A total of $25M in projects is currently active and the City is pursuing regional grant funds to help implementation of projects as designs are completed."

Web Link

Whoever designed the maps and the community outreach sections of the City's report, I hope they don't have a contract to do "wayfinding" work for the city because it's absolutely impossible to comment as requested.

7 people like this
Posted by Mike-Crescent Park
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 20, 2015 at 11:11 pm

Mike-Crescent Park is a registered user.

Regarding signs of any type or size, the last few years seem to suggest that there's someone in City Hall with a sign catalog and orders to spend a large amount on them monthly. We have close to sign blight in a number of city locations with new ones constantly being installed.

Take away that catalog!

2 people like this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 22, 2015 at 7:40 am

While the city government is preoccupied with rebuilding the palace and signage, the staff at the Valley Transportation Authority has a plan that will divide the city deeply at El Camino: establishing "dedicated" VTA express bus lanes. If a fuss is raised, watch for VTA staff to propose bus lanes only through Mountain View (in the next phase). SamTrans is pushing for widening El Camino from Menlo Park north to three lanes each way - taking back a lane for VTA buses only. If we dodge the bullet of bus-only lanes this fall, we will be "set up" for the lanes in the near future. Driving on and even crossing El Camino (even on foot) will become a painfully slow process - especially during rush hours. Some commuters will use adjacent residential streets. But never mind. Go back to whether parking lot signs at the new palace should read A,B,C or 1,2,3.

2 people like this
Posted by elevator watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2015 at 1:27 pm

It's not the A, B, C labels that are confusing to newbies parking under City Hall. The problem is that the elevator buttons show the star on level A of garage, instead of level 1 which is actual street level !!

Put the star at street level and the majority of visitors will exit via the entrance/lobby that is being spiffed up. Leave the star on A, and people will continue to be confused and continue to exit via the dirty garage with unclear guidance for pedestrians and non-ADA compliant walkways. Surely the six buttons can be changed for less than $100,000!

2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 22, 2015 at 1:39 pm

Elevator Watcher,

That's a riot and way too sensible for PA. Surely we must need a few more assistant managers to figure out how to change the stars and to decide whether the stars should be replaced with triangles or other symbols.

How much staff and council time has been spent on this nonsense -- and at what cost?? We must need a few more assistant managers to decide whether the stars should be replaced with triangles or other symbols.

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

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