Off Deadline: Palo Alto senior center expansion faces parking challenge


Avenidas, the downtown Palo Alto senior-services center, has announced plans for a major expansion of its historic building at 450 Bryant St., once home to Palo Alto's police and fire departments.

The plan is to add a three-story structure right behind it, toward Ramona Street.

But parking in the highly sensitized "Downtown North" neighborhood is a big issue, namely because the large residential area between the commercial downtown and San Francisquito Creek is flooded each weekday with parked cars from businesses, mainly employees unable to find other free parking nearby.

The expansion/remodeling plan is being spearheaded by Lisa Hendrickson, the respected former president and CEO of Avenidas who stepped down in May 2014 to lead a fundraising effort to modernize and expand the center. During Hendrickson's 15-year leadership tenure, itself a bit historic, Avenidas created the Rose Kleiner Center for senior health in Mountain View and the Avenidas Village program to enable seniors to remain in their own homes as long as possible.

Her replacement was named last August: Amy Andonian, who more than a decade earlier switched her undergraduate focus at Stanford University from pre-med to geriatrics and public health after attending an inspiring class on aging.

The expansion/remodeling plan, well outlined in the Palo Alto Weekly recently (Major renovation planned for Avenidas senior center) would cost about $18 million and would include major remodeling inside the existing building, according to Hendrickson. It would add about 11,000 square feet to the existing building, which dates from the 1920s with a major remodel in the 1970s.

Avenidas has committed to raising $12 million and is asking the city to come up with another $5 million, leaving about $1 million to finance.

The City Council is expected to consider the matter after its summer break, in late August or early September.

But if fundraising isn't a big enough challenge, consider parking.

"From the get-go, we knew parking would be a serious issue," Hendrickson said. But the large parking structure right across the street has only a limited number of spaces available for seniors heading for the Avenidas building.

Hendrickson said they've studied the parking issue hard and even investigated the cost of putting mechanical parking lifts on the roof of the garage -- still a possibility at least for staff and non-senior visitors. The estimated cost of a new parking space, based on in-lieu fees the city charges, is $68,000. But adding lifts would cost only between $45,000 and $50,000 per space, she said.

Adding parking is tangled in the political governance of the parking structures, owned by the city but funded by the Downtown Palo Alto Parking Assessment District, chiefly landowners.

One positive aspect of the parking dilemma is an early endorsement, with some strings, by Neilson Buchanan, the primary leader in recent years of the effort to raise awareness and protest overflow parking. Buchanan lives just three blocks north of the Avenidas building.

"I hope that rational planning for parking-space supply and demand will evolve quickly for Avenidas," he said in a July 18 email to council members. "There is no reason for confusion to cloud this badly needed renovation and expansion." He urged "early involvement and guidance" by the council.

Buchanan noted that officials have a deadline of January 2016 to determine how many nonresident vehicles will be allowed to park in residential neighborhoods as a permanent policy. He said he anticipates that about half the available curbside spaces (about 700 in Downtown North) will be allocated for nonresident vehicles.

Avenidas employees and visitors, he said, should be "fully eligible" to park in any city parking structure and should not be allowed to buy curbside-parking permits in the neighborhood.

Another positive for the project is that a survey shows that about 40 percent of the seniors who regularly come to Avenidas for services, lunch, social contact or education programs already do so by means other than a car. Expansion of shuttles or other means -- including bicycle racks -- might help expand that percentage.

Under the plan, the exterior of the building maintains its historic facade, while the proposed new addition behind it would have a modern look.

The existing building dates from 1927, and until the 1950s and 1960s it housed both the police and fire departments. It even had a brass pole that firemen could slide down to get to the trucks from their dormitory upstairs.

Even after the firefighters moved out, the police department remained until the new Civic Center was completed in 1968.

The city was then faced with what to do with the vacant building.

One proposal was to create a high-end Mexican restaurant, Casa de Luz del Oro (House of the Golden Lights, for the building's ornate light fixtures on its front).

But another factor entered the picture, due to the growing number of seniors residing in Palo Alto (now about a third of the city's residents). The city in the 1960s created a half-time senior-services coordinator position, originally housed in the Downtown Library building. The first coordinator was the late Diana Steeples, who stayed involved.

A group of citizens, led by Palo Alto Medical Clinic physician Sid Mitchell and former lumber company owner Bud Hubbard, spearheaded the creation of the Senior Coordinating Council of the Midpeninsula, Inc. -- later dubbed Avenidas.

As a reporter for the Palo Alto Times, I covered the early days of the program, initially a group discussing senior needs, and served on the "SCC" board during the 1980s after I left the paper.

The group put in a request for the old building, and the City Council as a condition set an "impossible" goal of raising $1 million to fix up and remodel (and get rid of the brass pole). They succeeded.

But $1 million then went a lot farther than it does today.

Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be emailed at and/or He also writes periodic blogs at

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7 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2015 at 8:44 am

Why not expand to a central location with parking rather than remodel the Bryant Street building?

Have you considered the reason that people either don't go or don't drive to Avenidas is because of the parking situation?

1 person likes this
Posted by Agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2015 at 2:49 pm

I agree - it just seems like the services would be better centrally located in town.

Also, hate to say it but statistically the elderly are the most wealthy in this area and efforts to finance it shouldn't count on asking the City for $$. I applaud the effort to improve services but think the fundraising shouldn't need to ask for City funding.

6 people like this
Posted by Cliff
a resident of University South
on Aug 1, 2015 at 7:22 pm

This looks like another example of a development that will be approved without any additional parking. Developers have been allowed to pay parking in-lieu fees instead of providing parking on site, and that's a major factor why parking has become such a problem. It's a loophole in the City code that needs to be closed. But there won't be any pushback because this is for the seniors -- a special interest group that votes -- and the City is essentially a partner in this project. And Buchanan has already caved. It's interesting to see how every project that comes down the pipeline finds a way to get out of parking requirements. When the permit program starts, things will only get worse. I thought we elected council members last fall who promised to enforce the parking requirements. We need a development moratorium so that we can eliminate these parking loopholes from the Code.

1 person likes this
Posted by Flash
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2015 at 10:30 am

I agree about the importance of obeying the rules for parking; click on the citation link for more discussion on that, as well as the unpopularity of marring Birge Clark’s architecture.

2 people like this
Posted by rhody
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 3, 2015 at 10:12 am

Limited parking already limits my participation in Avenidas activities. Please don't make it worse. Allocate some part of the the new structure (perhaps a basement?) for parking.

5 people like this
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 3, 2015 at 10:42 am

REthink this ugly addition to a beautiful downtown building, and then maybe you can make decisions re additional parking. What could Lisa Hendrickson be thinking? A legacy, perhaps? Good grief!

7 people like this
Posted by Anciana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 3, 2015 at 10:45 am

Adding parking beneath the new structure sounds like a pretty good idea. Parking is critical! I also like a previous comment, which suggested that Avenidas build in South Palo Alto, where senior services would be very useful, and where it would probably be easier to provide the necessary parking. I'm currently a member of Avenidas, and am quite active there, and I intended to offer what limited financial support I can afford for the remodel, but I'm not giving one dime for that hideous new structure. Period.

13 people like this
Posted by ellie
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 3, 2015 at 11:07 am

What would make more sense is to NOT keep all the services centrally located downtown. There is only 1 senior program for all of S. Palo Alto - a lunch program at Cubberly. Otherwise, once again, services are located in N. Palo Alto, and I assume serve a disproportionate number of residents in N. Palo Alto. Particularly if transportation is an issue for users. Avinidas should consider building in S. Palo Alto so all town residents may be better served and not cram services (and buildings) into the already crowded downtown area.

8 people like this
Posted by 6Djockey
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 3, 2015 at 11:19 am

I agree with Ellie. Many seniors in my neighborhood do not use Avenidas because it is too far away and the traffic and parking is a nightmare. Building in South Palo Alto would make more sense. Perhaps move all of Avenidas South would make even more sense. It would be more centrally located and we wouldn't have to live with the vastly different, and unattractive, mix of architecture between the current building and the new wing.

3 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 3, 2015 at 11:51 am


If you feel, as many do, that South Palo Alto is deficient in city services, if you feel seniors in the South are not being served by the city, and if you would like Palo Alto to establish goals, policies and programs that would result in equitable GEOGRAPHIC distribution of community services and facilities, please email using the link below.

The Comprehensive Plan Citizen's Advisory Committee is updating the Community Services and Facilities Element RIGHT NOW.

And the next public meeting where changes to this element of the Plan will be discussed is scheduled for
Tuesday Aug 11 at 5 PM in the Mitchell Park Community Center

Please note that anonymous posts will not be read by the committee.

Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 3, 2015 at 7:44 pm

ANOTHER OBJECTION TO THE PROPOSED REMODEL: The existing Avenidas building has a charming enclosed outdoor patio, replete with a Spanish tiled fountain, flowers, vines, and wrought iron furniture. It is a relatively protected area where Seniors can relax and visit with one another. HOWEVER, most or all of the patio will no longer exist after the remodel - it will become part of the proposed modern addition!

Baby Boomers appreciate all kinds of beautiful architecture. A tasteful remodel of Avenidas, consistent with the existing Spanish design elements, would help preserve the heritage of Palo Alto and would attract Seniors of all ages. We have plenty of modern buildings in town already!

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

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