Palo Alto prepares to replace Baylands boardwalk

City looks to sign $440,000 design contract for long-awaited project

For Palo Alto's birdwatchers, few locations offer a more pleasant vista than the timber boardwalk stretching from the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center to the marshy nature preserve.

Constructed in 1969 and widened in 1980, the boardwalk is among the most popular features of the city's extensive Baylands trail network. Even so, the boardwalk has seen better days.

In 2014, the city closed off public access to the boardwalk because of concerns about damage and commissioned an assessment of the structure, as well as options for repairing or replacing it. While a portion of the boardwalk reopened to the public in 2015, the weather-beaten structure by and large remains "structurally unsound," according to the recent review, with some portions more worn and torn than others.

Now the city is on its way to replacing the venerable structure, an effort that is projected to cost about $1.5 million and to be completed in 2020.

On Monday night, the City Council is set to take its first major step in this endeavor by approving a $439,992 design contract agreement with the firm Biggs Cardosa Associates.

The agreement calls for the firm to design the new structure, obtain environmental clearance, shepherd the project through various public hearings and ensure that the new boardwalk is fully compatible with its sensitive Baylands habitat.

Though the item is listed on the council's "consent calendar" (which typically means there will be no discussion or debate), the city's Parks and Recreation Commission and staff from the Public Works and Community Services departments have held numerous meetings on the project to consider the best way to address the damage. In March, the commission concurred with the staff recommendation to replace, rather than repair, the existing structure.

The choice was driven largely by the Boardwalk Feasibility Study, which was conducted last year by Biggs Cardosa. The study concluded that the cost of repairing and replacing the boardwalk would be roughly equal, somewhere in the ballpark of $1 million. Rehabilitating the structure, however, would make it difficult to comply with American Disability Act requirements, reduce the city's flexibility to adjust the boardwalk's elevation and width and lower the life expectancy of the new structure.

The study also proposed two different replacement options, without choosing a preference among the two. The first one would effectively replicate the existing structure by installing new longitudinal timber beams, supported by timber posts. The boardwalk would also be expanded in width from 4 to 5 feet and equipped with new steel-screw anchors and supporting beams and planks.

The second alternative would shorter beams running in a transverse alignment on top of a platform of longitudinal stringers. Because it calls for running beams across -- rather than along -- the boardwalk, this option would rely on smaller deck boards that would be easier to transport and construct, according to Biggs Cardosa.

In its March discussion, the Parks and Recreation Commission generally favored the replacement options, citing the longer design life (estimated at 50 to 75 years).

Commissioners Abbey Knopper said the schedule "feels very fast" considering the number of endangers species in the area, the stringent permitting requirements from environmental agencies and restricted construction periods.

Given the challenges, Knopper wondered whether the schedule proposed by staff is too aggressive.

Commission Chair Ed Lauing countered that most residents wouldn't see things that way. It's important, he said, for the city to communicate to residents the reasons for the long construction period.

"A lot of the citizens will say that we're basically building a deck and construction takes five months. And this is going to take two and a half years," Lauing said. "You say it's going way too fast. Most people will say it's going way too slow."

Related content:

Fixes on the way for popular Baylands attraction


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2016 at 9:10 am

I was out there recently and saw the planning notices around the interpretive center and the boardwalk. It is an embarrassment as I was there with out of town guests who see it as a dilapidated eyesore rather than anything else. The EcoCentre was closed and there are no decent restroom facilities and a café along the lines of Adas at Mitchell Park could all be housed inside the interpretive center.

This article mentions nothing about the interpretive center, just the boardwalk. I don't think a new boardwalk without improving the interpretive center would make any sense at all. In my opinion, this has to be a joint project for both structures. Looking through the windows of the center it looks as if it has just closed the doors for the night and never reopened. The books are still in shelves and the old signs inside are still there.

With out of town guests it occurred to me just how abysmal this area of Palo Alto is. There are lots of offices within walking distance and it must be a pleasant place to walk for a lunchtime break or an after work wind down before returning home. If these offices have shower facilities it can also provide morning joggers a wonderful place to exercise before their day's work.

Looking at the potential of the Baylands use in the future is part of this discussion as far as I am concerned. Yes, we desperately need to improve the boardwalk, but it must be done as part of the whole equation, not a piecemeal stop gap solution.

23 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 14, 2016 at 10:30 am

Annette is a registered user.

This is most welcome news! I have missed the boardwalk tremendously and I am certain others have as well. Thank you, City Council. As for the time question, 2020 seems a long way off but we have managed 2+ years without it and I think there will be broad support for getting the job done correctly and with as little disruption as possible to the ecosystem. Thanks again for deciding to replace this wonderful resource.

13 people like this
Posted by @Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 14, 2016 at 10:31 am

Take your put of town guests west instead of east. The area is beautiful, but you need a knowledgeable guide to avoid the areas without much "Wow" factor. You also need a positive attitude though.
Wait, did you just call for a restaurant to be put out there?!?! Hahaha. Nevermind.

24 people like this
Posted by Brad Eggleston
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2016 at 12:45 pm

I am an Assistant Director of Public Works and I manage the City of Palo Alto's Capital Improvement Program. I noticed the comments about the condition of the Baylands Interpretive Center and wanted to point out that next Monday's Council agenda also includes approval of a $586,000 renovation of the Baylands Interpretive Center, which will begin in the next several weeks. The renovation includes the following improvements:

decking, siding and guardrail replacement, fascia repairs, structural framing repairs, interior flooring refinishing, exterior lighting replacement, electrical panel upgrades, ADA and restroom accessibility upgrades, fire sprinkler heads replacement, and piping and conduit repairs.

This project is being coordinated with the upcoming design of a replacement Baylands Boardwalk, as well as renewed exhibits and interpretive panels for the Center.

12 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 14, 2016 at 3:11 pm

As a nearby (Palo Alto) resident to the Palo Alto Baylands, I consider this area fun for exercise and reasonably attractive. I very much appreciate the rehab of the boardwalk - it is great to walk out there in different conditions, tides, etc. A LOT of people make great use of the Baylands, including out of area bird watchers - schoolchildren learn here and some years ago middle school students did volunteer work (I was a parent chaperone!) leading to understanding of the value of San Francisco a poster above: please do not run this area down in your commentary for gratuitous reasons.
Look into the history of Save the Bay, etc.
In summary, I do thank the City of PA staff for taking steps -albeit slow steps - to improve the area.

8 people like this
Posted by LaNell
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 14, 2016 at 3:43 pm

LaNell is a registered user.

I do not understand why there is not a plan to do continuous preventive maintenance on our city properties.

6 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 14, 2016 at 4:12 pm

I just don't get why there wasn't sufficient maintenance on the boardwalk to keep it from falling halfway down. Surely that would have been cheaper and more efficient than the new plan. Now we're suppose to wait years for something that should never have fallen apart like that in the first place?

2 people like this
Posted by MarkW
a resident of University South
on Sep 14, 2016 at 9:12 pm

MarkW is a registered user.

The 50-75 year structural lifespan estimate is ludicrous; *nothing* man made lasts that long in a salt water environment by itself. The estimate smells of pure salesmanship to win the contact. The only way to have any faith in the lifespan is to require the builder to contractually guarantee the life of the structure and to provide sound, long term financial backing sufficient to replace/repair the structure when it inevitably fails in 15-20 years.

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 14, 2016 at 10:43 pm

@Mark, materials have improved. E.g. see this Web Link for 100+ years.

We'll see what Biggs Cardosa suggests, and whether we want to make the investment.

10 people like this
Posted by Alice Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 14, 2016 at 11:54 pm

This fragile marshland needs special care during the construction period and the program done very quietly and non=intrusively to the extent possible. The Rails and other birds nesting in the area should be protected at all costs. There are several birding experts on your adult education program (Matt Dodder inter alia) who should be consulted as well as the SF Bay birding association to ensure these endangered species are not harmed particularly during their breeding periods as well as taking note of the King Tides during construction. I know this is like telling you how to suck eggs but our baylands are truly precious and should be cared for during this reconstruction. Delighted that the Interpretative Center will be redone and reopened. I love that area and welcome the City's investment in this outstanding asset.

15 people like this
Posted by Alice Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 15, 2016 at 12:00 am

Resident: there is a "restaurant" if fact 2 restaurants near the baylands: one at the golf course and one at the airport within 1/2 mile of the interpretative centre. DO NOT ruin the interpretative center with food. That is not what is needed. I agree that the toilets could remain open but of course there are toilets at the Byxbee Park area which should be adequate for the purpose during reconstruction as well as a portopotty at the duck pond.
You may not be familiar with these amenities so I thought I would point them out.

12 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 15, 2016 at 4:19 am

I completely agree with Alice that food would ruin the nature area. It's remarkably clean of litter.

Two food establishments are close enough: The golf course Bay Cafe, website says open daily 6:30am to 3:00pm for breakfast and lunch, and their bar is open til sunset. The course is closed, but the practice putting greens and driving range are open. The Abundant Air Cafe is adjacent, just on the airport side of the golf course parking lot, open weekdays only, 7:30am to 4:00pm. I don't know how these places manage to eke out enough for payroll, utilities and lease payments.

Thanks, Brad, for the Interpretive Center renovation info. A city document dated June 28, 2016 with all the details is at this link: Web Link

Apparently the go-ahead is on this Monday's consent calendar. Scheduled completion March 2017. Really? Meanwhile I've heard that some Interpretive Center activities will be held over at the recently constructed Cooley Landing Education Center, end of Bay Road in East Palo Alto. I haven't been over there yet; looks like a nice building. Further improvements planned.

7 people like this
Posted by I love Baylands
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2016 at 5:43 am

Please speed up the new walkway, maybe even offer extra $$ to get job done quickly. This walkway is one of the jewels of Palo Alto. I always take guests out there to see the Bay. I remember as a child walking through the mudflats---such fun. My kids took the Baylands summer class withe the Ranger 5 years ago. My only suggestion on improving the Baylands would be to close PA Airport so the wildlife and those of us who go there can have a peaceful,quiet, relaxing experience with Nature.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2016 at 7:31 am

Thanks for the comments about the two restaurants. I didn't know they existed and I am sure many others didn't either.

The comments came from out of town guests who see things differently. We have taken our guests all over the Bay Area including Foothill Park to the west, but a trip to our local piece of nature they had seen several times from the car driving along the highway seemed like a pleasant 1 hour outing on a more lazy day. I think it is definitely worth looking at something through the eyes of visitors. It is bad to point elderly visitors to a portapotty before getting back in the car when they then ask why flush toilets and a coffee isn't available in a derelict building. The ecocenter was closed mid afternoon also.

3 people like this
Posted by MarkW
a resident of University South
on Sep 15, 2016 at 12:01 pm

MarkW is a registered user.

@musical, thank you for the link regarding fiberglass composite pilings. Composite pilings are worth investigating; they typically [increase construction costs][1] (but reduce maintenance costs) and must use [special UV resistant dyes, resins, and/or coatings][2] to slow down sunlight and marine deterioration (further raising material costs).

Palo Alto needs to evaluate the [full life-cycle costs][3] of whichever construction technology gets selected. Builders, on the other hand, typically focus more closely on short term profitability. Contractually involving the builder in the full life-cycle cost of the construction might help to align the interests of both parties.

[1]: Web Link
[2]: Web Link
[3]: Web Link

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

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

If you do nothing else, do These Three Things
By Sherry Listgarten | 43 comments | 2,230 views

Lentil Brownies
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 663 views

Finding Balance
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 338 views

Reflections on Pal0 Alto's Centennial -- now it's the city's 125th birthday!
By Diana Diamond | 2 comments | 100 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.