News

The Palo Alto foothills is at risk of a 'catastrophic wildfire.' Here's how the city hopes to reduce the threat.

New plan to explore safer power lines, utility poles in high-risk foothills area

The Palo Alto foothills may be a choice haven for local hikers and birdwatchers, but for the city's utility officials, the verdant open space preserves west of Interstate Highway 280 also represents a potentially catastrophic fire danger.

The land west of the highway was designated last year at "elevated risk" area for wildfire, thanks in large part to the existence of electric power lines and utility equipment. This places the foothills area in "Tier 2" of the three-tiered system established by the California Public Utilities Code, with Tier 3 connoting "extreme danger." (Any area not in Tiers 2 or 3 is considered Tier 1, or "moderate risk.")

In August 2018, the City Council officially declared the foothills area to be "at significant risk of catastrophic wildfire," a designation that prompted utilities department staff to plan new measures to reduce the threat. Now, Palo Alto Utilities is in the midst of putting together the Utilities Wildfire Mitigation Plan, a document that the city needs to adopt to comply with Senate Bill 901.

The bill, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2018 in response to devastating wildfires, requires utilities to develop wildfire management plans that focus on power lines and other utility equipment.

In Palo Alto, about two-thirds of the power lines in the foothills area are positioned on overhead lines, which typically rely on wooden poles. The rest are located underground, according to Tom Ting, electric engineering manager at the utilities department. As part of the new plan, staff is evaluating its practices for undergrounding electric equipment and exploring a possible switch from wooden poles to ones made of composite metal or steel, Ting said.

To date, the city has no reported incidents of wildfires being caused by electrical equipment, Ting told the Utilities Advisory Commission on Wednesday.

"It means that what we've done in the past in mitigation management has helped. But it doesn't mean it will work going forward," Ting said.

Ting pointed to a list of factors that make wildfires increasingly prevalent in California, including higher temperatures, a higher density of vegetation and the recent drought period, which has made conditions drier.

"I don't think it's going to get better. It's going to get, if anything, worse," Ting said.

A key component of the plan is managing the vegetation in the foothills area. The city's Urban Forestry division has been evaluating every tree within the high-risk area to determine which have the potential to fall into an overhead line or have a branch strike a line. These trees then undergo more frequent and detailed inspections.

Ting said the utilities department has also increased its inspection intervals for electric equipment in the high-risk area. In the past, the equipment was inspected every three years; now inspections occur every year. And if inspections identify maintenance requirements in the foothills area, the department has to address them more quickly than it would elsewhere.

While the new plan focuses specifically on utilities, other City Hall departments have already been working on other measures to prepare for potential wildfires. In 2016, the city updated its Foothills Fire Management Plan, a broad document that was initially adopted in 2009.

The 2016 plan, which was crafted by the consultant Wildland Resource Management in collaboration with the Fire Department, Public Works, Community Services and Office of Emergency Services, identified new vegetation areas that should be treated. This includes the creation of "ignition prevention" spaces around barbecues within the parks and the widening of evacuation routes from open space preserves. Other significant actions that the city had undertaken include prescribed fires and mowing vegetation near residential boundaries.

The most important benefit, the Foothills Fire Management Plan states, "has been an increased ease of evacuation and emergency access through the expansion of managed roadside vegetation."

"The roadsides along Arastradero Road, Los Trancos Road and Page Mill Road are all safer for access and egress through increased line of sight, reduced fuel volumes and reduction of ladder fuels," the plan states. "The probability of ignitions has been reduced through a reduction of fuels near barbeques and structures, and along roadsides."

Utilities staff plans to bring the new utilities plan to the council for approval in December.

Related content:

Fire-safe landscaping: Strategies to starve a fire of fuel

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Comments

21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2019 at 10:35 am

Here's how the city "plans" to do something:

-Close the fire station in the most dangerous area
-Spend millions choking off all the roads and arteries with unsafe road furniture so there is no egress or evacuation routes
-Keep safety departments under the planning department's control so that developers come first, safety comes... never
-Ignore that their own safety czar pointed out the perils of density (make absolutely no plans for offsetting the dangers)
-Keep safety as an afterthought in the Comp Plan and keep it general where it can't be avoided
-Remain oblivious to bring all building up to minimum codes -- homeowners with the house not bolted to the foundation? old shake roofs? ho hum


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2019 at 10:49 am

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Here's how the city "plans" to do something:

>> -Close the fire station in the most dangerous area

Agreed-- IMHO, the fire station should be open 24x7x364 (not 365, because, -in some years-, fire danger is extremely low. In other years, it is as Governor Brown said,

"This is the new normal, and this could be something that happens every year or every few years — it happens, to some degree. It's just more intense, more widespread, and we're about ready to have firefighting at Christmas," Brown said."

>> -Spend millions choking off all the roads and arteries with unsafe road furniture so there is no egress or evacuation routes

I go past "road furniture" every day and see nothing unsafe about it. In what location is it blocking disaster evacuation routes?

>> -Remain oblivious to bring all building up to minimum codes -- homeowners with the house not bolted to the foundation? old shake roofs? ho hum

I agree that Palo Alto, along with the rest of California, needs to get serious about building codes requiring much more strict wildfire-resistant buildings. I recently posted informative links to Australian codes.


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2019 at 11:26 am

@Anon,
"I go past "road furniture" every day and see nothing unsafe about it. In what location is it blocking disaster evacuation routes?"

Putting road furniture on Arastradero which is already traffic at a crawl most of the day to take a lane that could be used by emergency vehicles or cars in an evacuation is just stupidity. They've done that on the edge of the Foothills along the edge of the Stanford (Foothill expwy) and on Arastradero. Cars going at a slow speed are wrecking on the road furniture, imagine an emergency.

The answer seems to be: emergency vehicles can always ... I'm not even going to answer that, because that's the setup for loss of life in a disaster, for example, in Oakland which had different sized hydrant fittings than all the surrounding communities before the firestorm (because one "could always" hand out adaptors in a city that large with a history of multistructure fires, right?)

The City accomplished the lane reduction without the road furniture, they didn't have to make egress impossible or a way for emergency vehicles to get around stopped traffic impossible. I have witnessed times when police have had to drive on sidewalks to get to railroad tracks, and the road furniture here makes access in the in between ways impossible. If there's an emergency and someone's car breaks down or is abandoned, there's no way to keep a flow of traffic so people can evacuate.

(Even speed bumps slow emergency vehicle access, but there's usually some benefit. The road furniture at Arastradero and Coulomb seems designed to kill someone's kid on a bicycle on purpose. The only reason it hasn't is that it hardly seems used at all, maybe all the junk that settles in that well they expect bikes to travel on is the reason? It isn't even leaf falling season...)


2 people like this
Posted by Blarryg
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 5, 2019 at 11:31 am

While increased utility maintenance is good, general fuel reduction is needed. Maybe this takes the form of controlled burns or a lot of pruning and hauling.

For all the McMansions in the hills, they should all be required to come up to code in house and grounds.


5 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 5, 2019 at 11:37 am

Novelera is a registered user.

And by all means listen to Cory Wolbach and open up Foothills Park to everyone so we'll have more cooking fires.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 5, 2019 at 11:40 am

> Agreed-- IMHO, the fire station should be open 24x7x364 (not 365, because, -in some years-, fire danger is extremely low.

For 7 years? ;-)

I believe you meant 24x365.



15 people like this
Posted by voter
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 5, 2019 at 11:54 am

Speaking of Cory Wolbach, he DOES NOT at all represent the interests of PALO ALTO residents as is clear from his record. He has STATEWIDE dreams...would never vote for him


4 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2019 at 11:59 am

What is "road furniture"? Thanks.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2019 at 12:35 pm

In the case of fire, Foothills Park and the surrounding areas are a death trap.

Not only because the fire station is closed, but the road design and the lack of good cell service makes for big problems.

In the case of a fire, nobody in the park would know until or unless they head fire sirens from trucks. If they saw the smoke without knowing where the fire is coming from they would exit the park at the only access point and probably turn left when right might be the most expedient way to turn to get out of the danger zone.

Page Mill can be dangerous at the best of times, but with fire crews as well as numerous bicycles, residents of the hills, plus park users, would all be using one narrow winding road.

Even if the bike riders abandoned their bikes, they would still not be able to outrun a fire. With fire equipment with sirens and lights on Page Mill, it would be dangerous to pass any type of fire on the shoulder of Page Mill and very little opportunity to turn round and go back up the hill.

Without cell signals, no emergency alerts or 911 calls will get through. There are two payphones in the park, but do park users know where they are and getting to them might take precious time for someone hiking who wants to report a fire.

It is not a pleasant discussion, but what to do in a fire emergency while using the park or riding a bike on Page Mill is just as important as helping residents evacuate and replacing wooden utilities poles with something less flammable.


8 people like this
Posted by jean
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Sep 5, 2019 at 12:44 pm

The tall gasses are the biggest fire danger...why not use sheep and goats to manage the land on Arastradero Road? A lot of fires start at road edges and/or by use of equipment which generate sparks. It is important to remove dry crass and shrubbery along roads...Perfect for herds of sheep. (goats climb)


8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2019 at 12:46 pm

"Road furniture" is a pejorative term for concrete medians and barriers put in roads to calm or direct traffic.

People who like to use the term are often "weavers"-- people who enjoy changing lanes all the time. On multi-lane roads, weaving creates a bit of a paradox because weaving actually slows the general flow of traffic, but, on roads where weaving is rampant, everybody gets there slower, but, weavers get there faster than non-weavers. Weavers disdain the traffic-calming "road furniture" on Arastradero. Non-weavers, such as myself, praise it because everybody travels at the same speed. "Traffic calming" works.

Many criticisms of road furniture are quite wrongheaded because they overlook the real reason why it takes a long time to get from point A to point B. If you want to illustrate this to yourself, pick a route from somewhere in south Palo Alto to Stanford Hospital that traverses streets with a lot of road furniture quite early in the morning. You might be surprised to get there in 12-14 minutes. Now, try the same path at rush hour, and, note the locations where you just sat there waiting for multiple lights and it took you 35 minutes. That is because of all the queued vehicles ahead of you at congested intersections. The problem isn't the road furniture. The problem is all the vehicles ahead of you trying to get through the congested intersections. OBTW, I've had call to perform something like this experiment fairly recently.


10 people like this
Posted by Didjaknow
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 5, 2019 at 1:55 pm

"Arastradero which is already traffic at a crawl most of the day"

Traffic at a standstill...but it's the fault of the "road furniture" HAHAHA.
Guess what? Too many cars makes the traffic!
BOOM!


13 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 5, 2019 at 3:09 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Opening up Foothill Park to everybody would not only guarantee catastrophic wildfires, but would also guarantee that if there is one on weekends and holidays, fire crews won't be able to navigate through the heavy traffic on Page Mill Rd. Opening up FHP to everybody is not only a terrible idea, it is a deadly dangerous one.


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2019 at 3:44 pm

@Paul,
"What is road furniture?”

First, I am going to be @“Resident Too” after this post because someone else used the same online name but the second “Resident” above wasn’t me. I agree with the other @Resident, but it wasn’t me.

Nowadays you can just type "define" [word or phrase] into search and it will come up with the definition for you, you don’t have to overtly go to various online dictionaries anymore first.

The free dictionary brings up "street furniture" which is synonymous with "road furniture” Definition: "(Civil Engineering) pieces of equipment, such as streetlights and pillar boxes, placed in the street for the benefit of the public"

Wikipedia (to quote another public domain source, but you can find others): "Street furniture is a collective term (used in the United Kingdom,[1] Australia[2] and Canada[3][4]) for objects and pieces of equipment installed along streets and roads for various purposes. It includes benches, traffic barriers, bollards, post boxes, phone boxes, streetlamps, traffic lights, traffic signs, bus stops, tram stops, taxi stands, public lavatories, fountains, watering troughs, memorials, public sculptures, and waste receptacles. The design and placement of furniture takes into account aesthetics, visual identity, function, pedestrian mobility and road safety."

“Road furniture” or “street furniture” are merely descriptive, collective terms to indicate the diversity of hardscape on roads. As for @Anon’s contention that it is a “pejorative” term, that’s just nonsense that @Anon made up out of whole cloth, like the idea that somehow the many citizens and neighbors who have apt criticisms for the city installing road furniture with little regard to safety, egress, and emergency vehicle access are somehow all “weavers” (speaking of whole cloth LOL). But reading @Anon’s weird blathering does give you a look at the mindset of people who are the ones compromising everyone else’s safety without logic entering the discussion.



6 people like this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2019 at 3:59 pm

As I noted above, I am now "Resident too" because someone else used the same name.

The 1923 earthquake in Japan killed over 100,000 people, mainly because of post-earthquake fires that people could not escape because of the dense building, lack of egress/planning, and because the infrastructure was destroyed and there was no water to put out the fires. And they didn't have natural gas mains.

We are acknowledging that we are in an area of high risk. Why are we doing stupid stuff that isn't safe because of the twisted ideas of people like @anon above instead of putting the lives of people first? We can get road "calming" without putting in actual immovable road furniture that takes away the option to use the road center for emergency vehicles in a disaster.

Web Link
"Palo Alto's close proximity to eight major faults ...coupled with the age and density of its infrastructure, will likely result in more severe impacts, according to Office of Emergency Services Director Ken Dueker."

"'Palo Alto is different from some other places because we are much more dense and our buildings are older,' Dueker said. "As such, a 7.1 earthquake would be very dangerous in our area and most likely not result in zero injures and deaths."

"The city's Threat and Hazards Identification Risk Assessment states that there are three anticipated consequences of a major earthquake: SEVERE DAMAGE TO CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE, FIRES, and city, hospital and school employees unable to get to work. [emphasis added]

"In the Bay Area, it is more likely that people could be injured or killed from the consequences of an earthquake than the earthquake itself, said Dueker.

When do we get someone putting safety first? I mean, when do we get that without enduring significant loss of life first?


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2019 at 6:22 pm

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> First, I am going to be @“Resident Too” after this post because someone else used the same online name but the second “Resident” above wasn’t me. I agree with the other @Resident, but it wasn’t me.

Sometimes there are several anons in another neighborhood, too. Some of them are me, and some aren't. Arguments stand on their merit, regardless of who you are.

As far as "street furniture" or "road furniture", I see derogatory remarks all the time, including in one of the "resident" posts above, so, I find your "weird" description of my reaction -weird-.

>> the many citizens and neighbors who have apt criticisms for the city installing road furniture with little regard to safety, egress, and emergency vehicle access

There you go again.

In fact, the city installed the road furniture precisely to improve safety. From an old paper (perhaps you can find new references), "Research has revealed a link between changes in mean speeds and changes in accident frequencies, with a 1 mph reduction in mean speed resulting in a 5% reduction in accident frequency.". The traffic calming measures that you refer to negatively on Arastradero seem to me to have reduced speed as well as reduced/eliminated speed differentials-- one lane, everybody has to go the same speed. Would you disagree? I didn't invent the term "weaver" to describe people who like to weave back and forth across lanes. Web Link . A couple of friends of mine are -weavers- BTW and I never ride with them driving. Just saying.

The Arastradero gripes I really don't agree with, however. I think the traffic calming measures have worked as expected, and have made Arastradero safer for cars and bicycles. Do statistics prove me wrong? And have had little effect on the flow of traffic, which is bottlenecked every workday/weekday at Foothill regardless of the barriers.

== The topic that seems to be of most concern in your posts - disaster evacuation ==

I agree with you that disaster evacuation is a serious question. The city/county/state should have a plans and marked evacuation routes, especially in/near foothills/mountains. You are probably thinking of the Paradise fire. One thing about "extra" road capacity will eventually become saturated. Reserve capacity is not easy to maintain. If there are secondary routes that you want to maintain, there has to be some logical way to keep it restricted normally and some fast way to activate it. I appreciate your concern regarding disaster evacuation, but, I think it is misplaced regarding Arastradero.


2 people like this
Posted by different resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2019 at 7:17 pm

Any term can be pejorative if spoken with a sneer. More ambiguous in writing.


13 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 5, 2019 at 7:34 pm

If you think that bike improvements and traffic calming on Charleston / Arastradero endanger evacuation routes then you're reading the map upside down. The improvements are far, far away from the hills and nowhere near evacuation routes.

Charleston / Arastradero is a neighborhood street with numerous residences, parks, and schools. If it takes you longer to shortcut your way to 101 then the road improvements are working as designed. So thanks for confirming that the project is a success, have fun stuck in traffic while the rest of us ride our bikes past you.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:01 am

@Anon,
FYI, pointing out that I was a different "Resident" was simply for clarity.

You wrote ""Road furniture" is a pejorative term for concrete medians and barriers put in roads to calm or direct traffic. "

You answered someone who asked what road furniture was by saying it is a "pejorative TERM". Now you are backtracking by saying "As far as "street furniture" or "road furniture", I see derogatory REMARKS all the time" [emphasis added]

Criticisms of poorly conceived, unsafe road furniture is not the same as the term "road furniture" being a pejorative, as you first claimed. The "weirdness" of your post then went on with "People who like to use the term are often "weavers"-- people who enjoy changing lanes all the time." [followed by even more kookiness and other things you made up out of whole cloth -- weavers LOL -- please share the study that shows that people who like to use the term "road furniture" are "weavers"...]

Um, no. People who use the term "road furniture" are often civil engineers, or, just people.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:02 am

@JR,
"The improvements are far, far away from the hills and nowhere near evacuation routes."

Umm, Gunn High school (and the neighborhoods adjacent), on Arastradero, is right across Foothill Expressway from Palo Alto Hills. Get it? That''s why it's called FOOTHILL Expressway. Ever driven across it into the ... FOOTHILLS?

You sound like one of those clueless people at city hall making these stupid and unsafe "improvements" to -- as you openly admit -- gleefully cause children's lungs to be filled with fumes, the air pollution levels at several schools along Arastradero and for the bikers to go dramatically up from the congestion, and people's lives to be wasted "stuck in traffic" because you have never been over here and have no idea how stupid and unsafe the changes are. (@Anon - criticizing stupid road furniture is not the same as the term "road furniture" being a pejorative -- it's just a term -- but thanks for making it clear that lots of other people feel the same way about the idiotic and unsafe changes.)

Arastradero is one of the ONLY east-west corridors for evacuation, and since you apparently have never taken the road, I suggest you start at 280 and drive through the winding highly overgrown foothills area to Gunn High School, which is just right across Foothill Expwy from the foothills. Stanford especially is at risk now that Foohill from Page Mill has been turned into an impassable mess with the foothills (which have seen burn areas in recent years) on one side and Stanford and Menlo Park neighborhoods far more vegetated with narrower roads than many areas that burned in the Oakland hills on the other.

As for "nowhere near" -- perhaps you will remember that safety and people's lives are at risk here and not talk out of such ignorance. Fires in major disasters create their own storms and move rapidly, and spread by embers, which can travel miles -- easily threatening major swaths of Menlo Park, Stanford, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Palo Alto Hills, and Palo Alto even areas that are not themselves likely to be places where the fires start. If students from Gunn needed to evacuate up Arastradero at most hours of the day, and anyone's car breaks down or people in other schools start to leave, they will all be dead.

Web Link
“How far can an ember travel? Three to four miles!”

Web Link
Wind-driven glowing embers pose a greater threat to homes than fire itself

I have major experience with California disasters, and you apparently don't even know that fires spread or the side of town you are gleefully happy to make unsafe and unhealthy.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident Too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:22 am

Arastradero did not need road furniture to change traffic patterns or slow traffic, per the city’s own experience. All it does is eliminate a way for emergency vehicles to get past the stopped cars.

What the City has done is once again go off half-cocked and made expensive changes with blinders on.

Deliberately increasing congestion increases local air pollution and health risks to the very same bikers, children in the schools right next to those roads, neighbors, and occupants of the vehicles.

Here’s just one study:
The health effect of air pollution from traffic
Web Link
“In [one European city studied], seven times more people die from these [city traffic] sources of air pollution than from traffic accidents.”
"Decreased pollution would prevent 55-93 premature deaths (2-4% of all cases) each year, 21 new cases of childhood asthma (6% of all cases), 95 cases of childhood bronchitis (10% of all cases), 30 hospitalisations for respiratory diseases (1% of all cases), 87 dementia cases (4% of all cases) and 11 cases of pregnant women with preeclampsia (11% of all cases),” … The researchers have been very cautious in their interpretations, and the effects of decreased air pollution would probably be far greater in reality.”

Web Link

"Traffic congestion increases vehicle emissions and degrades ambient air quality, and recent studies have shown excess morbidity and mortality for drivers, commuters and individuals living near major roadways.”

What is the situation near our schools? No one is bothering to measure it. There is a non-linear curve when it comes to congestion and health effects, too, so what the City is doing on Arastradero is having an exponentially negative effect on the health of citizens (including children) just from the pollution, nevermind the noise, etc.

Oh yay! We stop cars and make it so people can’t get to their urgent medical appointments or take care of their sick kids and elderly parents! Whoo hoo! We could have made things safer for bikes that were not so stupid and unhealthy, but that might mean we couldn’t just overdevelop willy nilly as if the infrastructure were a pipe of infinite capacity! Oh boy!


10 people like this
Posted by Someone's Pet Topic
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 6, 2019 at 6:07 am

And when they're done getting rid of all the barriers, and traffic is still locked up, they will realize it was too many cars all along.
You know what it exponentially more healthy than driving a car in traffic? Noodle on that for a while. There is an answer, but you might not like it.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2019 at 7:32 am

I would much prefer this discussion to be about Page Mill rather than Charleston/Arastradero traffic (which is a good discussion to have, but not on a thread about fire dangers in the foothills).

Page Mill is a very busy two lane road that winds up hills to many homes and a large, popular, hiking and nature reserve. This road is not only used by residents and park visitors, but also by many bikes. In fact, I have even seen bike "events" with large numbers of bikes all riding uphill without road closure.

I once was overtaken at the bottom of the hill by a fire truck, lights and sirens enacted and later saw this fire truck at an emergency in Foothills Park.

The fact that cell signals are non-existent in parts of these hills including the Park, should be of concern to all residents, Park users and even those on bikes on Page Mill. Additionally, Foothills Park only has one access point. The fire station in the Park is non-operative. In an emergency Page Mill would be chaotic with those evacuating the fire downhill from the Park and fire crews racing uphill from the Park, at least on the lower part of the road from the Park. What it would be like on the uphill stretch of Page Mill from the Park is anybody's guess.

If we are talking about the dangers of fire in the hills, then this potential death trap at the times of potential highest level of fire danger is essential.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2019 at 4:27 pm

Yeah, safety is a priority issue for me -- ever heard of "safety first"? It ought to be a priority for the City, too, regardless of how little some of its residents care about safety over their pet projects (e.g. blocking traffic from a petty and snooty belief that everyone can ride a bike, and filling the lungs of the bicyclists and school children walking with pollution).

The topic here is that the Foothills face catastrophic wildfire. The foothills begin just across Foothill Expwy -- on part of Arastradero. And, as I pointed out already, the embers don't care where the Foothills end and Stanford wooded neighborhoods begin, they can travel MILES and are a major way fire spreads. It is the height of unsafe foolishness if you think congested Arastradero on the Foothill side by Gunn and Terman is not part of this issue. That's how things go wrong in catastrophes, that kind of ignorant hubris.

If people try to flee, using just about the only corridor in that direction, they are now blocked, there is no egress because the City's idiotic "design". If, as @Pet says, it doesn't matter whether the barriers are there or not, then we should remove them for safety's sake. The companies that wanted to profit from the City made their money, let's care about people lives now.

So @Resident, with all due respect, while I am in complete agreement with you that not nearly enough is being done in the hills, it's just wrong to thing there's an imaginary line that prevents fire in the foothills from endangering town within miles, and that block off egress won't endanger anyone if first responders can't get through.

This isn't only about fire, there are several schools along Arastradero, and if first responders cannot get access because of the road furniture, then it's just not worth endangering our students. The school district is going whole hog on safety for shootings, when fire and post-earthquake fire are far more likely and dangerous, but in the event of any of them, having a clear shot for first responders to get there as fast as possible will be critical.

@Pet
"You know what it exponentially more healthy than driving a car in traffic?"
Tell me. It's not bicycling in traffic that has deliberately been made more congested, I just gave studies that discussed how the traffic pollution actually results in more deaths than traffic fatalities by a factor of seven, and this goes for bicyclists whose health is negatively impacted by the extra pollution from the deliberate congestion -- which is exponentially worse with the extra cars and deliberate congestion ("calming"). School kids along the roads, residents, people using the parks along the roads -- all negatively impacted by the deliberately created extra pollution, not just the drivers.

There are any number of schools on that


3 people like this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2019 at 4:34 pm

Yeah, safety is a priority issue for me -- ever heard of "safety first"? It ought to be a priority for the City, too, regardless of how little some of its residents care about safety over their pet projects (e.g. blocking traffic from a petty and snooty belief that everyone can ride a bike, and filling the lungs of the bicyclists and school children walking with pollution).

The topic here is that the Foothills face catastrophic wildfire. The foothills begin just across Foothill Expwy -- on part of Arastradero. And, as I pointed out already, the embers don't care where the Foothills end and Stanford wooded neighborhoods begin, they can travel MILES and are a major way fire spreads. It is the height of unsafe foolishness if you think congested Arastradero on the Foothill side by Gunn and Terman is not part of this issue. That's how things go wrong in catastrophes, that kind of ignorant hubris.

If people try to flee, using just about the only corridor in that direction, they are now blocked, there is no egress because the City's idiotic "design". If, as @Pet says, it doesn't matter whether the barriers are there or not, then we should remove them for safety's sake. The companies that wanted to profit from the City made their money, let's care about people lives now.

So @Resident, with all due respect, while I am in complete agreement with you that not nearly enough is being done in the hills, it's just wrong to thing there's an imaginary line that prevents fire in the foothills from endangering town within miles, and that block off egress won't endanger anyone if first responders can't get through.

This isn't only about fire, there are several schools along Arastradero, and if first responders cannot get access because of the road furniture, then it's just not worth endangering our students. The school district is going whole hog on safety for shootings, when fire and post-earthquake fire are far more likely and dangerous, but in the event of any of them, having a clear shot for first responders to get there as fast as possible will be critical.

@Pet
"You know what it exponentially more healthy than driving a car in traffic?"

Tell me. It's not bicycling in traffic that has deliberately been made more congested, I just gave studies that discussed how the traffic pollution actually results in more deaths than traffic fatalities by a factor of seven, and this goes for bicyclists whose health is negatively impacted by the extra pollution from the deliberate congestion -- which is exponentially worse with the extra cars and deliberate congestion ("calming"). School kids along the roads, residents, people using the parks along the roads -- all negatively impacted by the deliberately created congestion.

There is even more and more research connecting air pollution with depression Web Link
many recommendations that schools not be sited along busy roads with lots of traffic congestion, yet we have been busy making worse.

I just wonder why it is that supposedly smart people in this area are unable to think about any issue as complex and holistic?


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2019 at 4:59 pm

@Res too.

I am in complete agreement with you.

In fact, I see it as two separate issues that are indelibly connected.

In the case of fire we will have problems on Page Mill, up near Foothills Park, I agree.

We will also have problems in the "lower foothills" along the lines you mention. Not only will there be problems on Arastradero, but also on 280, Foothills Expressway, Stanford lands, All the office complexes off Page Mill and of course Sand Hill is not too far away either.

Page Mill, Sand Hill, and Arastradero are roughly parallel. Part of Arastradero will be affected by those residents of LAH trying to escape. The obstructions on Arastradero bayside from Foothills, will affect traffic.

Whether bikes are coming down from Foothills Park or whether they are riding on Arastradero beside Gunn, they will be in the way of those escaping fire and those trying to fight the fires.

We are not prepared for fire evacuation of the hills around Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills and Portola Valley. The roads are just not built for evacuation and fire fighting.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2019 at 1:28 am

@Resident
I am totally in agreement with you there. But what do we do about this? I feel very strongly that safety departments should not be subordinate to planning, it should be the other way around, for one. Even then, how to force the City to be more safety responsible?


3 people like this
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2019 at 2:45 am

I'm sorry to say this, but it is doubtful that a fire station up there could stop a raging wildfire which would just cross many city boundaries and whip right through.

Look at Santa Rosa and Paradise. The fire crews had no control - it was simply impossible.

People who chose to live up there have put themselves at risk.
We looked at a home to buy in Portola Valley 12 years ago, and decided that the access road to it was simply too risky. Yes, the view to the open space was great, but the reality is - things burn. We haven't had a real raging burn up there which I can remember, and the climate has definitely changed.
Your best bet is to befriend one of the neighbors who has a new deep basement with a fire door and ventilation, and hope that helicopters can use the water from that old mine pool pond, and Foothill Parks fake lake, to help douse some of the flames.
But homes will definitely burn.
I would consider moving down to the flat lands if you are worried.
One fire station will have no impact.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2019 at 8:45 am

Long Time Resident, I agree about one fire station not helping put out a large fire, but it might do something if some idiot let their grill get out of hand or similar.

Res too, I can't see any ideas for a major plan, but I think there are a lot of smaller things that could be done.

No cell signal - get a cell tower. Warning sirens that are loud. In the North Bay they have put in some two tone sirens specifically for fire. They are loud and distinctive, called nee naws as replicating the sounds. A directional emergency signal at the Foothills gate directing traffic to either go uphill or downhill (turn left or right) in an emergency.

These are the first that cross my mind. We could brainstorm others.


10 people like this
Posted by merry
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 7, 2019 at 9:02 am

merry is a registered user.

On foothill expressway, between page mill and sand hill,what purpose does that furniture serve? Looks like trucks
Are already hitting each one. Such an eyesore and for what?
Looks very expensive!!!! Is it an escape route?


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Sep 7, 2019 at 9:25 am

Have you taken a look at the new (few years old) Stanford erected on Old Page Rd. There is no way to pull off the road and park anymore. If there is a fire the road will be clogged with emergency vehicles. What the county allowed Stanford to do is dangerous.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2019 at 10:12 am

Posted by merry, a resident of Palo Alto Hills

>> On foothill expressway, between page mill and sand hill,what purpose does that furniture serve?

On Junipero Serra near Santa Maria? I've never seen an announcement, but, it is pretty obvious that the two chicanes are there to encourage drivers to slow traffic down and pay attention because of the residential area with tight driveways in a limited visibility area.

Posted by Peter, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards

>> Have you taken a look at the new (few years old) Stanford erected on Old Page Rd. There is no way to pull off the road and park anymore. If there is a fire the road will be clogged with emergency vehicles. What the county allowed Stanford to do is dangerous.

The new -what- located -where-? What is it? Coordinates? e.g. 37°24'22.81"N 122° 9'21.12"W


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2019 at 10:21 am

Posted by Long Time Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> I'm sorry to say this, but it is doubtful that a fire station up there could stop a raging wildfire which would just cross many city boundaries and whip right through.

As has been stated previously, at rush hour the time to get up Page Mill from the Fire Station 2 on Hanover could be significantly longer. The purpose of having a nearby operational 24x7 fire station would be to suppress a small fire before it became a big fire. And, while you are correct that you can't stop a raging firestorm, in many conditions fires won't spread too far too fast to suppress.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 7, 2019 at 2:15 pm

About 1985 a fire occurred by 280 and Page Mill Rd. Large homes on a street above 280 were seriously affected (some portion burned). I think far better weed eradication, tilling, fire breaks should be done. This applies to those of us by 101 and see the dry, overgrown weeds and thistles , brush there. Not very attractive or safe as a gateway to our city. I get it’s a circular responsibility denial - not us, not us (County, cities, CalTrans)


5 people like this
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 8, 2019 at 11:51 pm

How are the real estate prices holding up in Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto Hills?
The people who sold us our home in Palo Alto 12 years ago lost their home in the Santa Rosa fire, and another friend lost her home in the Paradise fire.
Collectively, all the cities and counties and individuals who live up in the hills need to act fast, and so something about the overgrown trees and shrubbery in our hills.
The fires in Southern California around Thousand Oaks are mainly brush fires.
Their hills do not have large clusters of trees and dense woods, but are mainly grasses dotted with occasional native oaks.

I recommend that people start cutting all the overgrown brush and trees up and down this corridor, no matter how much we all love it. It is a matter of life and death.

Trees can be replanted, whereas peoples lives can not be replaced.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2019 at 9:35 am

"On foothill expressway, between page mill and sand hill,what purpose does that furniture serve?"
"... to encourage drivers to slow traffic down and pay attention because of the residential area with tight driveways in a limited visibility area."

There must be another reason. The road furniture makes it so necessary to keep one's eyes peeled on the road surface that it's difficult to keep them peeled for cyclists, including at the several points where the road furniture actually forces drivers to turn their cars toward the bike paths in close proximity to them.

I am finding the same problem on Arastradero. They have a bike crossing with flashing lights above the road, but I have to keep my eyes fixed ON the road to keep avoiding the road furniture (which apparently lots of drivers don't see, given how covered they are with black tire marks), so it's harder to keep track of erratic young cyclists and flashing well above the ground. At some points, given the poorly conceived design, drivers are going to be turning away from the road furniture and toward the bikes and pedestrians (not that I've seen very many since the City made the changes, it seems like there are even fewer than usual -- Arastradero is just a bad street to cycle on. Increasing driver fatigue, frustration, anger, and distraction, is likely to create more safety problems than it solves. A driver trying to make sure they don't hit oncoming cars because of an impossible turn radius (such as at Arastradero and Coulomb), is less able to keep their eyes peeled on the right-hook-machine-bike lane that is in their car's blind spot for the entire turn. (Not that I've seen even a single bicycle on that lane since the City made the changes, but I have been honked at and nearly rear-ended a half dozen times with a child in the car no less, trying to slow down to a near stop enough to make that turn.)

The fundamental plan to "encourage" biking by making driving even more painful and difficult than it already is, will not get the 10% of the population with mobility problems out of their cars, will not get the majority of people who have business that cannot be reached by bike or car out of their cars, will not get the majority people with babies and very young children (who have business that cannot be reached, etc) out of their cars, will not get most of the elderly people out of their cars, etc. If you want change, you have to make a path. (See "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard"). This rigid and dumb idea that making things easier for bikes must include ruining healthy traffic circulation isn't even being examined for its stupidity and how it's making things less safe -- and not really encouraging biking.

Ruining healthy traffic circulation just wastes productivity, creates pollution for bikes and pedestrians (which kills more of them than the small differential in speed), creates a distraction for young drivers who may end up LESS safe, creates barriers for safety and first responders who then cannot go around congested traffic to get to schools and any other sites in need of emergency response.

The City should make a commitment to making a network of separated bikeways and pedestrianways across the entire city, with SIGNALING to allow both bikes and cars to have reasonable circulation with safety and confidence. Placing the bike path behind parking so that it's not even clear there's a path there if someone isn't very familiar with the City's idiotic planning, so that bikes can come up and blast through the intersection when a car is making a right turn (with the exact location of the path always in the car's blind spot for the entire turn no less), is a recipe for killing someone at some point, it's not going to change the biking picture in this town at all. For the expense, the City could have just underwritten purchases of little tiny electric commuter vehicles and called it a day. Oh, but I guess that wouldn't have given them cover to continue adding more ginormous developments as if the streets aren't already clogged and the infrastructure generally overstressed.


6 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 9, 2019 at 10:30 am

OMG! Look at how much was written on a totally off topic comment! HAHAHA!


12 people like this
Posted by Clear some space
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 9, 2019 at 10:38 am

Defend-able space between your house and vegetation is so important, but in our oak woodlands I see houses with trees and bushes growing literally onto the houses. The fire dpt won't even try to save your house if they have to choose between one that is defend-able and one that's over grown.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2019 at 1:19 pm

Posted by Clear some space, a resident of Adobe-Meadow

>> Defend-able space between your house and vegetation is so important, but in our oak woodlands I see houses with trees and bushes growing literally onto the houses. The fire dpt won't even try to save your house if they have to choose between one that is defend-able and one that's over grown.

Fuel reduction next to/near a house is obviously a good idea, but, not sufficient to protect against ember attack in high winds/firestorms. In Australia, bushfire-resistant construction has been demonstrated, and building codes have been developed. In the US, sprinkler-based systems have generally done very well.

Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Right
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 9, 2019 at 1:56 pm

Construction practices also need to be considered: Overhanging eves, vents that embers can blow into, roofing materials...lots of stuff to consider.

You can look up photos of neighborhoods in Paradise where the houses were burned to the ground, but the immediate surrounding trees were not burned.
That's because in some areas the houses themselves were fueling the fire, not the vegetation.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2019 at 3:52 pm

@Wow,
The article is about catastrophic wildfire risk from the Foothills. As such, it is germane and important to discuss the City is ignoring that and creating barriers to emergency egress and evacuation along the edge of the Foothills. The whole reason they are ignoring emergency egress in that sphere is precisely because of what you are doing: claiming any of the broad issues related to the problem are off topic.

If the post is too long for you, you are free to simply not read it, no skin off your nose. But if you feel threatened because your pet project created dangerous conditions for all the people who live and work in proximity to the areas of high fire risk mentioned in the article, including all the schools along Arastradero near the foothills, your post is a chilling discouragement of the holistic discussion we should be having about safety.

If a bad fire get going in the Foothills around here, most of Palo Alto (including all the neighborhoods that don't seem like they would be at risk, just as happened in Santa Rose), all of Stanford, much of Menlo Park, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Palo Alto Hills, etc, are well within the 3 miles that embers can fly on the wind and catch other things on fire. In the event of a major disaster, no one will be pouring water on any of those structures. City Council is oblivious to how they are putting even their own families at risk.

Thus, it is worth discussing the reasons they think it's necessary to compromise safety -- some of them just don't even pan out and have created more, not less, dangerous traffic conditions for bikes.


9 people like this
Posted by Agreed
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2019 at 4:07 pm

There should absolutely be more stringent building codes with mandated retrofits in some instances. Eliminating wood roofs should be 1st priority.


3 people like this
Posted by Doug
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 10, 2019 at 9:05 am

"with mandated retrofits in some instances."

Uh, who pays for this part? You can't force people to re-roof. Some have very fixed incomes and don't have the funds.
Strong encouragement? Yes. Mandated? No.


Like this comment
Posted by Chaos
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 10, 2019 at 10:42 am

In the event of a catastrophic wildfire, vacuation routes will be widely varied depending on where you live, where the fire is and where it's going.

The best route might be over the hills then up or down the coast, or it might be heading to 280 or heading to 101, or even making use of the bay frontage roads of the bay itself, which is a frightening thing to think about.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2019 at 4:54 pm

Posted by Doug, a resident of Adobe-Meadow

>> "with mandated retrofits in some instances."

>> Uh, who pays for this part? You can't force people to re-roof. Some have very fixed incomes and don't have the funds. Strong encouragement? Yes. Mandated? No.

Well, to the extent that your untreated wood shakes/shingles are endangering other people, then, a mandate is justified. People get all up in arms about somebody mandating that they do something on their private property, but, as has been seen in a number of instances, shingle/shake roofs can in fact be a menace to other people. In firestorm conditions, fires can spread quickly roof-to-roof. So, yes, in some instances, mandates are justified.


3 people like this
Posted by sunnypa
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 11, 2019 at 3:01 pm

sunnypa is a registered user.

I am a resident of the hills and worry about the lack of a fire station nearby. As @Anon above commented, the purpose is to contain a fire quickly before it can spread. Traffic on Page MIll or Arastradero from El Camino to 280 or the hills can get very congested at rush hour. We have an urgent need for a fire station near Arastradero Preserve or Foothill Park and I hope the city will act on it fast.

Last summer I happened to be driving back from Tahoe on 580 when I noticed smoke at a distance. As I was getting closer and traffic was getting backed up, I assessed the situation and immediately became extremely concerned as I had no escape route. The other direction had already been closed and I passed by the fire 10 min before the entire highway was closed. People were stranded in their cars. I remember it took a long time before I was able to see firetrucks responding to the fire.

Fires spread tremendously quickly. We need a fire station in the hills NOW.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2019 at 3:05 pm

Posted by Chaos, a resident of Greenmeadow:

>> In the event of a catastrophic wildfire, vacuation routes will be widely varied depending on where you live, where the fire is and where it's going.

>> The best route might be

According to the research paper "Anatomy of a catastrophic wildfire: The Black Saturday Kilmore East
fire in Victoria, Australia", M.G. Cruz, et al, the rate at which such fires can spread is:

"crown fire propagation in eucalypt forest allowed for exceedingly fast rates of spread, typically higher than
70 m/min and peaking at 150 m/min"

That is, higher than normal walking speed of 2.8 mph, peaking at jogging speed of 5.6 mph. People traveling at a walking speed of mph can easily get surprised by "spotting" ahead and get surrounded. On "Black Saturday", 121 people were killed. About 24 people died in the Sonoma fires, and about 85 in the Paradise fire. From what I have been able to understand from news reports, people sometimes feel they can basically stroll ahead of the fire front, only to be trapped because of "spotting" up to 33 km (20 mi) ahead.

Cities need to figure all this out and develop credible evacuation plans appropriate for their particular situations.



2 people like this
Posted by sunnypa
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 12, 2019 at 4:49 pm

sunnypa is a registered user.

It is happening folks:

"PALO ALTO, CA — A grass fire and downed power lines have closed State Route 35 in both directions south of Alpine Road in San Mateo County, Cal Fire reported.

A crew is out on the scene of the fire, which is located near Page Mill Road in San Mateo County. It appears to amount to less than an acre by 4:15 p.m.

The closure called in at about 3:30 p.m. is expected to last for hours, the California Highway Patrol reported."

From: Palo Alto Patch News Alert


3 people like this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2019 at 4:54 pm

"Cities need to"

Yeah, they do. But unless citizens demand it, in a sustained and loud way, development dollars come first. The Weekly even did a report about how citizens were paying for the big developers in the planning process, i.e., paying to have big developers ruin the area and make it unsafe.

Safety has no constituency, and usually it's very difficult to get anything done until lots of people die. That never has to happen, but here, it probably will and all the big companies and developers, and their lackeys in City Council like Liz Kniss will have blood on their hands, but they will have every excuse in the book for why they couldn't have known.

I drove through Paradise a few years ago, and commented on how the whole area was vulnerable to exactly what happened. It wasn't that hard to see. People just don't want to think about safety until it's too late.


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