A new fire station would go up near the Palo Alto Baylands and remain there for about 18 months while the city rebuilds the existing station at Rinconada Park, under a plan the City Council is set to consider Monday night.
If the proposal is approved, the temporary fire station would stand on a site that was previously occupied by the city's waste hauler, GreenWaste of Palo Alto. GreenWaste's lease for the 0.9-acre site was terminated in August and the hauler had relocated to the former Los Altos Treatment Plant site on San Antonio Road. The site includes several small buildings, most of which date back to the late 1950s, according to Public Works staff.
Now, it looks like the land won't be vacant for long. After considering several options, the Palo Alto Fire Department decided that the Geng Road site is most suitable option for a temporary fire station. In reaching this decision, staff eliminated from consideration several sites that were much closer to the existing fire station at Rinconada. These include the Rinconada Library parking lot; the Rinconada Park Tennis Courts; the Art Center Auditorium parking lot, the Art Center Lawn along Embarcadero Road and a city-owned vacant parcel at 1142/1146 Middlefield Road.
Ultimately, the decision came down to three finalists: the tennis courts, the Middlefield Road lot and the Geng Road site. The first two options were eliminated because of real or expected public opposition.
Placing the fire station on the tennis courts would have eliminated the use of two courts, the sandbag station and at least four public parking spaces. Meanwhile, placing it on the Middlefield Road site would require the removal of large mature eucalyptus and cedar trees, decrease public parking and potentially add to existing traffic. Residents near the site have already come out against this option, pointing to the impacts of tree removal, noise and car congestion.
“This section of Middlefield Road can become congested during commute hours and whenever there is a traffic accident on 101, Middlefield becomes backed up for blocks,” a letter from nine nearby property owners states. "This would make it nearly impossible for emergency vehicles to quickly respond to issues.”
The Geng Road location also has the benefit of a much lower construction cost than the other two options. City officials expect it to cost $141,000, compared to $384,000 for the Middlefield Road parcel and $290,000 for the tennis courts.
The one significant drawback to the more distant Geng Road site is the impact to response time. To mitigate this, the city plans to transfer a fire engine from the Rinconada station to Fire Station 1 on Alma Street during the daytime, when the call volume is at its highest levels. A fire engine from the Mitchell Park station will also be expected to respond to the Rinconada area more often to accommodate the relocation, according to a report from the fire department.
The Rinconada fire station, known as Station 3, is the first of two that the city is planning to replace in the next few years. According to Palo Alto's capital budget, the project is set to be completed in spring 2018 and cost about $7.2 million. Once completed, the city looks to shift its focus on replacing the Mitchell Park station, a project that has a $7.9 million price tag and is set to be completed in spring 2021.
The budget characterizes both stations as “operationally and technically deficient.” In each case, the replacement project will provide “a new facility built to essential services standards, having a high likelihood of being fully operational after a major disaster such as a significant earthquake.”