News

New plan would reopen University Avenue to traffic in July

Businesses split over city manager's proposal, which would also bring cars back to California Avenue in September

Diners eat outside by the strip of restaurants on University Avenue on June 27, 2020. Photo by Lloyd Lee.

Diners may rave about downtown Palo Alto's flourishing outdoor dining scene, but for Elie Monarch the ongoing closure of University Avenue has been anything but a boon.

Like most other retailers throughout downtown, Monarch, who owns Footwear Etc. on University, has seen business dwindle over the course of the pandemic. Many area restaurants have since rebounded, boosted by the city's decision last year to close University and a portion of Ramona Street to car traffic to facilitate outdoor dining. Monarch's stores in Walnut Creek and San Mateo have rebounded nicely and have seen business go up by 10% over prepandemic levels in recent months, he said. The Palo Alto store, by contrast, is at about 50% of its prepandemic business, Monarch told this news organization.

"Most stores recovered very fast once people were coming out," Monarch said. "This one just languished."

He believes the city's decision to close off University Avenue to cars is at last party to blame. He said he supported the city's move toward parklets last summer to facilitate outdoor dining, a program that Rooh and other restaurants on his block have taken advantage of. But as the Uplift Local program evolved and the city moved to close off streets and to allow restaurants to erect large tents for their outdoor operations, Footwear Etc. became obscured by the new structures and its business has continued to suffer.

"We thought, 'OK, things are bad everywhere,' but other towns have similar programs and we recovered much faster when they don't have tents or closed streets," Monarch said.

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Monarch is not alone in calling for the city to reopen University Avenue to cars. Cherry LeBrun, owner of De Novo Contemporary Jewelry, wrote in a letter to the City Council that having University and a portion of Ramona closed to cars has cut access to her business dramatically and has decreased foot traffic by more than 80%.

"This has and continues to have, a very damaging impact on sales in my retail jewelry store," LeBrun wrote.

Gwen Gasque of Letter Perfect suggested that while the closure of University Avenue to cars feels more communal, suggesting that it's good for businesses, the closures create a "fairground atmosphere" that isn't suitable for the type of retail consumption that her business relies on to stay in business. And Hassan Ali, branch manager at Citi Bank at 250 University Ave., wrote that customers are "complaining about not being able to access the branch location and also have shared their concern about not feeling safe in walking … far away to a parking area with money and valuables."

"And this has become a reason why they avoid visiting our branch," Ali wrote.

The criticism from downtown businesses has created a difficult dilemma for the council, which agreed in April to authorize City Manager Ed Shikada to keep of University Avenue and California Avenue closed until Oct. 31. At the April 20 meeting, council members pointed to the results of the recent city survey, which showed 96% of respondents would like keep California Avenue car-free and 97% favoring an extended closure of University Avenue to cars.

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But despite the program's broad popularity, its end may be near. With California now on the path to fully "reopen" on June 15, Shikada last week proposed reopening allowing cars back on University Avenue and California Avenue starting on July 6 and Sept. 7, respectively.

Diners eat lunch on California Avenue in Palo Alto on Nov. 11, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

In an interview, Shikada noted that while many residents and visitors like the convenience of walking and dining in the streets, some businesses have suffered as a result of the closures. A new report cites the experience of the retailer b8ta, which is located in the 300 block of University and which has seen its customer traffic drop 92% from a comparable month pre-COVID-19, even as rest of its stores are recovering by between 5% and 10% on a relative basis per week. The Palo Alto store has "shown a declining recovery month over month," the report states.

Shikada said the proposed dates are far from final. But with health restrictions easing, the "state of emergency" conditions that enabled the city to quickly adopt the street closures last summer no longer apply. Any long-term program, Shikada noted, would require an environmental analysis that considers, among other things, traffic impacts. While

"It is a difficult role for the city to be in — to be picking winners and losers," Shikada said. "On an issue like this, where we know that there's a clear division of perspectives — going through a process, whether it's a consultation process that we're in right now or longer-term planning process, is a prudent next step for us."

Not everyone is thrilled about the new timeline. For many residents and restauranteurs, the city's dining program has quite literally been a breath of fresh air in a dismal year and they are loathe to see it end prematurely.

Giuseppe Carrubba, owner of Osteria Toscana and Caffe Riace, called the new end dates for the street closures "disquieting news for all of us as restaurant owners." Restaurants, he wrote to the council, have "invested much into this effort and have been able to employ many people that are a part of this community."

"We are just beginning to recoup the benefits of the countless hours of time and thousands of dollars spent by each respective business invested to recreated our operations outdoors," Carrubba wrote.

Pamela Walsh, who owns an art gallery next to Coupa Café on Ramona, also said she was "utterly shocked" to learn about the new timeline. Reopening the downtown streets this summer would be "a tragic change of course for all my neighbors who have fought so hard this past year to stay afloat."

"We are finally getting a steady flow of business as weather has improved and the population is getting vaccinated," Walsh wrote to the council. "As a retailer, I can tell you that this is a vast improvement from the quiet days of December and January."

The debate is somewhat less fierce on California Avenue, where the outdoor dining program has been broadly popular. Shikada noted, however, that the city has heard concerns from restaurants on side streets that have not seen the benefits that their counterparts on the main stretch have experienced. Mike Stone of Mollie Stone's Market has also complained at the April 19 council meeting that his business has suffered as a result of the closure.

The council scheduled to weigh in on June 22. And even if the city were to move to reopen University and California Avenue in July and September, at least some elements of the new outdoor-dining scene will almost certainly outlast the pandemic.

The owners of Rooh Palo Alto quickly built a parklet outside their Indian restaurant at 473 University Ave. after learning outdoor dining would be permissible in Santa Clara County starting on June 5, 2020. The city's outdoor-dining program has since evolved, with the street closed to traffic. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

The parklet program, which allowed outdoor patios to be constructed on the street in front of restaurants, was established on an emergency basis and will likely be extended, with the council scheduled to adopt on June 7 an ordinance that would stretch the program beyond the local state of emergency. City officials are also looking to refine the program to make sure new parklets meet the city's design guidelines and that they do not extend in front of neighboring businesses unless those businesses agree.

While the proposed ordinance would extend the parklet program until Dec. 31, in line with the council's April direction, Palo Alto is also looking ahead for a broader discussion about the future of outdoor dining.

The council set aside $150,000 for urban-design work on street closures, and staff has been floating other ideas, including limiting street closures to weekends and charging rent to restaurants that use public streets as dining areas. Shikada noted that any such plan would require much more outreach to businesses and residents — as well as an environmental analysis — before it's implemented.

"Let's say, if it's a Friday evening to Monday morning closure — does that work? Can people agree that this is the plan that's worth advancing?" Shikada said. "We're going to need some time to work through the design process, conduct outreach to businesses at large and to make a decision."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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New plan would reopen University Avenue to traffic in July

Businesses split over city manager's proposal, which would also bring cars back to California Avenue in September

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Jun 4, 2021, 6:45 am

Diners may rave about downtown Palo Alto's flourishing outdoor dining scene, but for Elie Monarch the ongoing closure of University Avenue has been anything but a boon.

Like most other retailers throughout downtown, Monarch, who owns Footwear Etc. on University, has seen business dwindle over the course of the pandemic. Many area restaurants have since rebounded, boosted by the city's decision last year to close University and a portion of Ramona Street to car traffic to facilitate outdoor dining. Monarch's stores in Walnut Creek and San Mateo have rebounded nicely and have seen business go up by 10% over prepandemic levels in recent months, he said. The Palo Alto store, by contrast, is at about 50% of its prepandemic business, Monarch told this news organization.

"Most stores recovered very fast once people were coming out," Monarch said. "This one just languished."

He believes the city's decision to close off University Avenue to cars is at last party to blame. He said he supported the city's move toward parklets last summer to facilitate outdoor dining, a program that Rooh and other restaurants on his block have taken advantage of. But as the Uplift Local program evolved and the city moved to close off streets and to allow restaurants to erect large tents for their outdoor operations, Footwear Etc. became obscured by the new structures and its business has continued to suffer.

"We thought, 'OK, things are bad everywhere,' but other towns have similar programs and we recovered much faster when they don't have tents or closed streets," Monarch said.

Monarch is not alone in calling for the city to reopen University Avenue to cars. Cherry LeBrun, owner of De Novo Contemporary Jewelry, wrote in a letter to the City Council that having University and a portion of Ramona closed to cars has cut access to her business dramatically and has decreased foot traffic by more than 80%.

"This has and continues to have, a very damaging impact on sales in my retail jewelry store," LeBrun wrote.

Gwen Gasque of Letter Perfect suggested that while the closure of University Avenue to cars feels more communal, suggesting that it's good for businesses, the closures create a "fairground atmosphere" that isn't suitable for the type of retail consumption that her business relies on to stay in business. And Hassan Ali, branch manager at Citi Bank at 250 University Ave., wrote that customers are "complaining about not being able to access the branch location and also have shared their concern about not feeling safe in walking … far away to a parking area with money and valuables."

"And this has become a reason why they avoid visiting our branch," Ali wrote.

The criticism from downtown businesses has created a difficult dilemma for the council, which agreed in April to authorize City Manager Ed Shikada to keep of University Avenue and California Avenue closed until Oct. 31. At the April 20 meeting, council members pointed to the results of the recent city survey, which showed 96% of respondents would like keep California Avenue car-free and 97% favoring an extended closure of University Avenue to cars.

But despite the program's broad popularity, its end may be near. With California now on the path to fully "reopen" on June 15, Shikada last week proposed reopening allowing cars back on University Avenue and California Avenue starting on July 6 and Sept. 7, respectively.

In an interview, Shikada noted that while many residents and visitors like the convenience of walking and dining in the streets, some businesses have suffered as a result of the closures. A new report cites the experience of the retailer b8ta, which is located in the 300 block of University and which has seen its customer traffic drop 92% from a comparable month pre-COVID-19, even as rest of its stores are recovering by between 5% and 10% on a relative basis per week. The Palo Alto store has "shown a declining recovery month over month," the report states.

Shikada said the proposed dates are far from final. But with health restrictions easing, the "state of emergency" conditions that enabled the city to quickly adopt the street closures last summer no longer apply. Any long-term program, Shikada noted, would require an environmental analysis that considers, among other things, traffic impacts. While

"It is a difficult role for the city to be in — to be picking winners and losers," Shikada said. "On an issue like this, where we know that there's a clear division of perspectives — going through a process, whether it's a consultation process that we're in right now or longer-term planning process, is a prudent next step for us."

Not everyone is thrilled about the new timeline. For many residents and restauranteurs, the city's dining program has quite literally been a breath of fresh air in a dismal year and they are loathe to see it end prematurely.

Giuseppe Carrubba, owner of Osteria Toscana and Caffe Riace, called the new end dates for the street closures "disquieting news for all of us as restaurant owners." Restaurants, he wrote to the council, have "invested much into this effort and have been able to employ many people that are a part of this community."

"We are just beginning to recoup the benefits of the countless hours of time and thousands of dollars spent by each respective business invested to recreated our operations outdoors," Carrubba wrote.

Pamela Walsh, who owns an art gallery next to Coupa Café on Ramona, also said she was "utterly shocked" to learn about the new timeline. Reopening the downtown streets this summer would be "a tragic change of course for all my neighbors who have fought so hard this past year to stay afloat."

"We are finally getting a steady flow of business as weather has improved and the population is getting vaccinated," Walsh wrote to the council. "As a retailer, I can tell you that this is a vast improvement from the quiet days of December and January."

The debate is somewhat less fierce on California Avenue, where the outdoor dining program has been broadly popular. Shikada noted, however, that the city has heard concerns from restaurants on side streets that have not seen the benefits that their counterparts on the main stretch have experienced. Mike Stone of Mollie Stone's Market has also complained at the April 19 council meeting that his business has suffered as a result of the closure.

The council scheduled to weigh in on June 22. And even if the city were to move to reopen University and California Avenue in July and September, at least some elements of the new outdoor-dining scene will almost certainly outlast the pandemic.

The parklet program, which allowed outdoor patios to be constructed on the street in front of restaurants, was established on an emergency basis and will likely be extended, with the council scheduled to adopt on June 7 an ordinance that would stretch the program beyond the local state of emergency. City officials are also looking to refine the program to make sure new parklets meet the city's design guidelines and that they do not extend in front of neighboring businesses unless those businesses agree.

While the proposed ordinance would extend the parklet program until Dec. 31, in line with the council's April direction, Palo Alto is also looking ahead for a broader discussion about the future of outdoor dining.

The council set aside $150,000 for urban-design work on street closures, and staff has been floating other ideas, including limiting street closures to weekends and charging rent to restaurants that use public streets as dining areas. Shikada noted that any such plan would require much more outreach to businesses and residents — as well as an environmental analysis — before it's implemented.

"Let's say, if it's a Friday evening to Monday morning closure — does that work? Can people agree that this is the plan that's worth advancing?" Shikada said. "We're going to need some time to work through the design process, conduct outreach to businesses at large and to make a decision."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Comments

DTN Paul
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2021 at 7:55 am
DTN Paul, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 7:55 am

I wonder if there's a way to make adjustments to the program to help the businesses that are struggling, instead of simply reverting to the sad, car-centric way things were, especially if it's true that 97% of people prefer it the way it is now...


Abcd
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 4, 2021 at 8:35 am
Abcd, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 8:35 am

It’s important to tease out the difference between businesses have not been doing well since before the pandemic because of online sales and not matching the changing demographics of the area and street closures. Both landlords and out of date merchants seem to hold City Hall captive to their threats. This is both bizarre and contrary to how street closures benefit families with children and will attract people from further away for dining and leisure. Palantir workers may or may not return but Palo Alto can finally build a coherent sense of a downtown (which has been on an upswing the last 5 years) thanks to some restaurants vs. fading and out of date retail business which has long gone to Amazon or the Stanford mall.

The obvious advantages of walkable streets have led to changes across the world and Palo Alto empties out every summer as its residents find walkable communities in Europe and college towns to spend their dollars in.

Web Link


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2021 at 8:38 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 8:38 am

I do think this would be a step backwards. The State is actually allowing the parklets in some places to stay. I think University and Cal Ave restaurants would lose customers as many people are not likely to want to eat inside yet and will instead go to Castro Street or other places where they can eat outside.

From anyone I have spoken with, the idea of going to park outside the store they plan to visit was not happening before the streets were closed.

How about putting more disabled spots on the cross streets to enable disabled drivers to park closer to the closed streets.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 4, 2021 at 10:13 am
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 10:13 am

The way I read the Staff Report, it seems likely parklets will remain in some form (there are still problems to be solved -- contention for space, need for utilities maintenance access, and so on).

The street closures are another matter. Not only is there the issue of the City picking winners and losers, there's the problem of where to reroute the traffic once it returns to pre-pandemic levels. (California is lagging behind, but nationwide traffic has already done so.) There are legal issues about giving away public property for private benefit, so even if closures continue, some kind of fee structure would have to be established, and it's unclear whether the businesses would be able to afford that. Dealing with sanitation and public safety issues presents more challenges.

None of these problems seem unsolvable to me, but that doesn't mean people would be willing to accept the costs involved, especially if those costs aren't distributed equitably. I don't envy the City Manager on this.


Daniel Lilienstein
Registered user
Barron Park
on Jun 4, 2021 at 10:54 am
Daniel Lilienstein, Barron Park
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 10:54 am

It would be a shame to open the streets to cars again. Can't we put that on hold and get creative about more permanent pedestrian streets? It has been a huge improvement in livability for the people in our town (and neighboring towns which have done the same).


mkrause3
Registered user
Southgate
on Jun 4, 2021 at 10:59 am
mkrause3, Southgate
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 10:59 am

This is very disappointing to hear. Can't we have pedestrian only areas from say 4:00pm - 10:00pm like so many European cities do? It has been so lovely to not have cars on either University Ave. or Cal Ave. these many months. Most of the businesses on these streets have parking behind their stores or restaurants for cars and for trucks to make deliveries. Let's think outside the box!


Mark Dinan
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Jun 4, 2021 at 11:12 am
Mark Dinan, East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 11:12 am

I'm betting that if they open up the streets again, these businesses will continue to do poorly and realize that their lack of success is due to things other than creating a pedestrian friendly environment.


Eva_PA
Registered user
Ventura
on Jun 4, 2021 at 11:16 am
Eva_PA, Ventura
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 11:16 am

Now is the time to get creative instead of just going back to the way things were. Remember the huge debate about reducing Cal Av from 4 lanes down to 2? There was so much resistance to this move that set the project back for a couple of years.

There could be a way to Spotlight businesses that are not restaurants on the pedestrian walkway. There are parking garage and side streets that can be used for parking. We can get creative with disabled parking. And making the pedestrian zones permanent could allow for things we haven’t even thought of yet.

The pandemic brought us the most significant change to our cit’s design in decades. Let’s not waste this and go back to the way things were.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2021 at 11:16 am
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 11:16 am

I can understand reopening University--or parts of it. Auto traffic from 101, between Stanford and downtown will increase as Stanford faculty and students return to in-person learning and work.

Continued use of this public space could become a city revenue generator going forward(which could help pay for the multi-million dollar parking guidance systems drivers and businesses demand).

But why should we discontinue open streets on California Avenue which dead ends at the train station? Mollie Stone's still has excellent vehicle access via Cambridge and Sherman. The part of Cal Ave that connects these streets to Mollie Stones has not been closed. Perhaps, before abandoning the current lively open street on Cal Ave, the city might try better wayfinding and robust publicity that incorporates wayfinding info for businesses that need this support. The city's Communications person, sadly, is not very good. (I say this as marketing communications professional.) Mollie Stones and the businesses could also be more active about publicizing wayfinding to their customer bases. I shop at Mollie Stones, and I easily access their parking lot from El Camino via Cambridge. People who drive need to know that is possible. TELL them. Ditto for other nearby Cal Ave businesses.

Bike access on Cal Ave, connecting from the train station to Stanford needs to be more separated from pedestrian areas to minimize conflicts. I spent a little time watching activity there last weekend. It would make sense to create a more intentional bike-dedicated travel zone on Cal Ave. People who walk have a nicely widened new sidewalk space. Drivers have just been given a $57million parking garage in this area with easy access via Sherman. It would be nice to dedicate space for people who bike in the center lanes between canopied dining areas.

Let's creatively think through Cal Ave systemically, using communications and street design tools. An open street works on Cal Ave.


MattR
Registered user
Woodside
on Jun 4, 2021 at 12:22 pm
MattR, Woodside
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 12:22 pm

Sad indeed. University Ave, California Ave and Santa Cruz Ave in Menlo Park should all be closed to cars. Do some planning, figure out how to improve the things that are problems, and create better spaces for the future.
I wonder if Footwear Inc would see an increase in traffic if they had outdoor space for people to try on shoes?

One thing I love about a lot of the places I've traveled to is the car free streets one can walk through for not just eating but shopping.

Let's evolve to a better, less car-centric, way.

Matt


Alex B
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2021 at 12:25 pm
Alex B, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 12:25 pm

The plan to re-open the streets, while keeping the parklets, is good.

There are lots of businesses on the closed streets that have multiple locations. Other than some restaurants and art galleries, they all say that their locations on open streets have been doing well, while their locations on the closed streets have been doing terrible. Combine that with the hazard, annoyance, and confusion caused by downtown detours, and it's clear that the time to re-open the streets has come.



Alice Smith
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2021 at 12:53 pm
Alice Smith, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 12:53 pm

I love walking down University Avenue with no cars. It’s not that convenient for parking and I am 82 years young but I think the benefits outweigh the objections. Perhaps there should be parking on the street for perhaps only one hour and have to go to a parking lot if you’re going to be there longer than an hour. But for me it’s very nice not to have cars all over the place.


Richard
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 4, 2021 at 1:06 pm
Richard, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 1:06 pm

Can someone explain to me how people in cars driving down a street will increase people walking into stores.


Carla
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2021 at 1:37 pm
Carla, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 1:37 pm

Roxy Rapp, Chop Keenan, and John Shenk, among other commercial real estate owners, have been placing plenty of undue pressure on the City Manager to open the streets to cars.

Let us not be blinded by the fact that these entities have influence and consolidated power to change the dynamics of this situation.  The motivation is not entirely clear but they seem to think that the value of their commercial properties is linked to the opening or closing of these streets. Or do they really love cars?

For sure there are a handful of retailers that have been hurt by the street closures, as it claimed, but there must be a solution to aid these businesses somehow to make the program work for everyone. This program has not only  been helpful to restaurants, but also it is of innumerable benefit to the citizenry of Palo Alto and beyond.

We must all put pressure on the City Manager and City Council Member to consider this a permanent program.  
The City must act to benefit and represent all citizens, and not just a handful of powerful individuals that control the downtown.


chris
Registered user
University South
on Jun 4, 2021 at 2:32 pm
chris, University South
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 2:32 pm

Carla,

Why don't you recommend to the City Council that they buy out the complaining retail landlords and use the land to build affordable housing. You can solve 3 problems at once - get rid of the complaining landlords, provide more built-in customers for the remaining restaurants and stores, and provide affordable housing, which is badly needed.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 4, 2021 at 3:09 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 3:09 pm

Before the pandemic, University Ave carried 12000 cars/day. If it stays closed, then those cars have to take some other route, because simply closing the street doesn't eliminate the reasons people were driving in the first place.

One place those cars would go is into the nearby neighborhoods, and we know this because it was already happening pre-pandemic whenever University got congested. Crescent Park was so badly affected that Stanford felt it necessary to analyze the effects in the Environmental Impact Report for its General Use Permit. Traffic on Lincoln Ave went up 85% in five years; my corner reached 5600 cars/day, roughly 30% *more* than on Cal Ave in the business district. Accidents on Lincoln at Addison School were rising along with the traffic; how long before some kid gets hurt there?

If the Churchill Ave crossing is closed as has been recommended, several thousand more cars per day have to get across the tracks somewhere nearby, which mostly means Embarcadero and University.

My guess is that to keep University closed, a lot of streets around Downtown will have to be redesigned. Maybe some will be partially barricaded (like in College Terrace). Otherwise neighborhood streets like Everett and Lincoln will just become de facto arterials, and plenty of other streets will be degraded by spillover.

I can't speak to the concerns of the business and commercial property owners, but as a resident who's interested in traffic issues, I know a lot of citizens would be negatively affected by traffic if University stays closed without some expensive public works to mitigate the problems that would arise. I suspect City Staff is aware of this, too.


Staying Young Through Kids
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 4, 2021 at 4:07 pm
Staying Young Through Kids, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 4:07 pm

@chris Your suggestion is both logical and laughable! It does make one wonder...what's the total value of land holdings in Downtown Palo Alto for Keenan, Rapp, and Shenk?

Of course having the city own and manage all of that property could only make things better...right?

Careful what you wish for...


WalkinRobin
Registered user
Midtown
on Jun 4, 2021 at 4:13 pm
WalkinRobin, Midtown
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 4:13 pm

Compare University Ave in Palo Alto to Pearl Street in Boulder Colorado. 40 years ago, Pearl was closed to vehicle traffic and restaurants moved outdoors and a permanent park was created some 8 blocks long. Within a year the area was booming with so much foot traffic that all the stores were open late into the evening. Traffic flow actually increased by making adjacent streets one way (e.g., Hamilton and Lytton), which allowed the traffic lights to be well timed for through traffic. This is an opportunity to do the same urban revitalization here.


Old PA Resident
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 4, 2021 at 6:10 pm
Old PA Resident, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 6:10 pm

Univ Ave and CA ave should be treated separately. I love WalkinRobin's suggestion to mimic Boulder's Pearl street which is booming again (I was there a month ago). CA ave is lovely without cars, something we've argued for years. Makes me sad to think we might lose it all. All those owners who spent thousands doing what was asked of them....and we who love it.


chewie
Registered user
University South
on Jun 4, 2021 at 6:55 pm
chewie, University South
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 6:55 pm

@Abcd: Palantir moved to Colorado because of the excessive rules placed on running a business in California. Same thing with Tesla moving offices to Texas. Difficult to see them coming back.

Web Link
colorado.html#:~:text=Data%20analytics%20software%20company%20Palantir%20Technologies%20is%20relocating,its%20social%20media%20pages%20to%20reflect%20the%20change.

@Alex B: I agree with you completely. Open the streets and leave the parklets that only occupy the size of one to two parallel parked cars.

@Richard: It is difficult to walk several blocks away from your car and transport a bag of groceries, three 8 packs of paper towels with a gallon of water from CVS while picking up a prescription for your employer's office located in Palo Alto. This is while you are on a schedule.

@Allen Akin: Let's not forget that the detour caused increased traffic congestion on Lytton Ave. that resulted in a pedestrian death. Pinxiang Zhou, 79 years old died at Lytton Ave. and Waverly Ave. on Nov. 2020 in a pedestrian crosswalk while crossing Waverly Ave. as a car turned off of Lytton Ave. onto Waverly Ave. Traffic was and is still confusing and dangerous with the blinking stop lights and unpredictable diverted traffic.

Web Link

Let businesses be businesses again. Let's not forget that it was not too long ago that all of downtown Palo Alto was nearly closed and not because of closed streets. Restaurants were only allowed to sell takeout. No one was allowed inside a restaurant and downtown was saved because of essential businesses and retail. If you could sell paper towels, then you could save your business.









Amie
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2021 at 7:18 pm
Amie, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 7:18 pm

Totally agree with ABCD -- "It’s important to tease out the difference between businesses have not been doing well since before the pandemic because of online sales and not matching the changing demographics of the area and street closures. Both landlords and out of date merchants seem to hold City Hall captive to their threats."

On that last warm Saturday afternoon with covid waning, University and Cal Ave were booming and crowded. It is covid that was killing the businesses, not the lack of cars and awesome pedestrian feel. Add a bike route through the middle and things would be perfect.

Treating our downtowns like drive-up malls is the way of the past. Malls are dying while pedestrian-oriented downtowns are booming. This is a real lost opportunity to do something special. We need more residents downtown (i.e. build housing) to support businesses, those office workers may never come back like before.


DM
Registered user
Midtown
on Jun 4, 2021 at 10:29 pm
DM, Midtown
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 10:29 pm

It’s ridiculous and completely misleading and disingenuous for Mike Stone, of Mollie Stone’s, to complain about the street closure on California Ave, as Mollie Stone’s has its own parking lot and is absolutely unaffected by the street closure 2 blocks away. I’ve been shopping at Mollie Stone’s since 1993, and I have never parked anywhere other than their own dedicated parking lot or the parking garage on the other side of the post office off of Cambridge. Neither of those is affected by the street closure.


Samuel L
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2021 at 10:35 pm
Samuel L, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 10:35 pm

@Chewie - If you parked directly outside of CVS you'd have a hard time carrying three 8-packs of paper towels, a bag of groceries and a gallon of water. Also, there's a lot off of Hamiliton directly behind CVS which has an entrance off that lot.

If you're arguing that it makes it hard to shop and walk without parking ON University, what guarantee do you have that there is a spot on University? Also, people manage to do a good amount of shopping at the local malls without parking right next to the stores.


chewie
Registered user
University South
on Jun 4, 2021 at 11:37 pm
chewie, University South
Registered user
on Jun 4, 2021 at 11:37 pm

@Samuel: It is not just CVS. The pharmacy closed its Hamilton Ave. side entrance. That means you would still have to walk around the block carrying your purchase. Multiple parking spots are now not available because of the closure on University Ave. That means parking spills over to other streets because of the closure on University Avenue and other streets. Circling around looking for a parking spot is now inconvenient regardless of the destination because the grid now feels like an unpleasant changing maze. Most malls are enclosed with temperature controlled air-conditioning. Walking around in a mall is a pleasant walk with a short walk to your car. Walking around downtown can be cold and rainy or wildfire smoky depending on the season.


Keri
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Jun 5, 2021 at 1:35 am
Keri, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Jun 5, 2021 at 1:35 am

Mollie Stone's has its own private parking lots which are accessible from California Ave and Cambridge Ave, and the store itself is located on a section of California Ave that is not closed. I like this store but their objections to the street closures are disingenuous.


Anneke
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 5, 2021 at 5:42 am
Anneke, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 5, 2021 at 5:42 am

Another idea: Keep University and California closed to traffic in the weekends, not during the week.


hkatrs
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 5, 2021 at 9:04 am
hkatrs, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Jun 5, 2021 at 9:04 am

Fortunately the City of Palo Alto has been able to help "many businesses" and their landlords survive by closing University and California Ave during the pandemic. It would be a detriment to reopen both University and California to pre-pandemic use because the commerce on both streets will reduce. Why? Because "foot traffic" will reduce significantly, thus reduce many business's bottom lines and the landlord's bottom lines. Why? The restaurants have been able to expand their seating considerably bringing in more revenue.

It is unfortunate that the Land Owners (who probably donate [pay off] the City Council Members) don't see an opportunity to influence contributing to Palo Alto's culture and community by enhancing the street closures and attracting more pedestrian traffic. Many European cities closed their main streets decades ago to accommodate pedestrian's and bicycles for many reasons that everyone who visits and lives in Palo Alto have been enjoying during the University and California Street closure. Someone pointed out that Palo Alto goes quiet during the Summer months because of many people who live and go to school in the area leave. It may be more exciting and enticing for foreign visitors to experience Palo Alto's downtown on foot. There could be more interaction and entertainment on the streets too. It's always been joyful to attend the Arts & Crafts Fair and have bands during the event.

Before pandemic I personally avoided driving down University, even if I had to get to El Camino from 101. The traffic always bottlenecked at Middlefield and the stop signs made the route unpleasant, especially since I didn't shop on University. I would only visit the street restaurants and shops randomly. I think it would be a worthwhile investment by the City Council to survey the Citizen's of Palo Alto about the uses of University and California Avenues.

It is sad that Mike Stone is in favor to reopen Cal Ave. He should enhance his outdoor dining area. I'd stop by!


Bob Cluck
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 5, 2021 at 9:35 am
Bob Cluck, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 5, 2021 at 9:35 am

The downtown landlords should simply offer to buy University and California Avenues from the City of Palo Alto to expand their available commercial space.

And then enclose or dome the street areas to accommodate more diners and foot traffic regardless of the weather.

As for California Avenue, the only obstacle would be the new public safety building but there is still time for the architects to blend it in with the outdoor enclosure.

The Mollie Stone's grocery store is irrelevant as most PA grocery shoppers go to Safeway, Piazza's and/or Whole Foods.


Lucille Manning
Registered user
Southgate
on Jun 5, 2021 at 10:17 am
Lucille Manning, Southgate
Registered user
on Jun 5, 2021 at 10:17 am

If cars are eliminated along California and University Avenues, those streets will most likely begin to take on the unpleasant appearance of an eternal street fair...those seasonal, tacky tent sale environments with crappy merchandise, lousy cover music, commemorative wine glasses and way too many people wandering in from elsewhere.


Steve Dabrowski
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 5, 2021 at 3:52 pm
Steve Dabrowski, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 5, 2021 at 3:52 pm

Lucille's point is spot on. The history of urban street closures to auto traffic is littered with failures-business closures, deterioration of the areas, increases in street crime. Chicago closed State Street for several years and ultimately it became a no-go zone and was only restored when re-opened to normal traffic. Same in San Jose when First Street was closed downtown. That (and urban renewal) really destroyed downtown San Jose and it has never really recovered.

Sure it seems like everyone envisions a happy urban mall, but a downtown based only gourmet satisfaction is hardly a vital center. For my part I welcome the clearing of these tents and jury rigged eating areas which have transformed the downtown into nothing as much as resembling a Hooverville of the great depression.


Pops9
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 5, 2021 at 4:26 pm
Pops9, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 5, 2021 at 4:26 pm

97% of the residents want to keep it the way it is and the city manager proposes the opposite. And unlike most topics, the vast majority of the opinions stated above are in favor of leaving the streets closed. On busy days it was impossible to park on University anyway, and traffic crawled. Best to listen to the citizens and make the closures permanent so that the restaurants can make the appropriate investment. The area will draw more rather than fewer shoppers over time.


chewie
Registered user
University South
on Jun 5, 2021 at 4:30 pm
chewie, University South
Registered user
on Jun 5, 2021 at 4:30 pm

Diversity of businesses in a downtown area means that the area can withstand the next economic turmoil in the future. A mix of cafes, restaurants, retail, hospitality, and services guarantee that a failure in one area of the economy does not bring down the entire area.

Retail, hospitality, and services need the same amount of respect as the restaurants and bars.

Some people compare this time to the roaring 20's. I wonder what would happen to some restaurants if prohibition came back.

The parklets helped some restaurants survive at the cost of other businesses that relied on the ability of customers to park and drive on all of the streets.

Open the streets and allow limited parklets that do not obstruct traffic.


Raul Morales
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 6, 2021 at 7:45 am
Raul Morales, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 6, 2021 at 7:45 am

> I welcome the clearing of these tents and jury rigged eating areas which have transformed the downtown into nothing as much as resembling a Hooverville of the great depression.

Agree...the outdoor dining tents take eating-out to a lower level and create visual clutter.

They are OK as temporary sites for events like outdoor wedding receptions and parties but as a fixed venue, they are very tacky and afford minimal dining privacy and intimacy.


Cassandra Edwards
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Jun 6, 2021 at 8:29 am
Cassandra Edwards, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Jun 6, 2021 at 8:29 am

We will not go out and pay for a nice dinner while being served in a tent.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 6, 2021 at 10:36 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 6, 2021 at 10:36 am

I think there should be traffic counts being done on roads such as Hamilton and Lytton. This information should be used to make any type of decisions. If through traffic is using these parallel streets and causing bottlenecks then those things have to be considered.

As usually happens though, these traffic counts are not done so it is only anecdotal evidence that causes decisions to be made.

When Ross Road had traffic calming measures done there were no traffic counts done on either Middlefield or Louis to see how the roads were affected by the change to Ross. It is ludicrous to think that traffic disappears when a road is closed, it just moves elsewhere.

I personally think that there is a lovely charming atmosphere on closed roads for dining, for walking and for shopping. Parking and walking to a destination should be easy for the majority of people who want to visit University and Cal Ave. Making more disabled or drop off spots as well as 30 minute only on the cross streets would make much more sense to me. But unless we can see some firm numbers of how many cars are using downtown areas for through traffic purposes, it makes little sense to base major decisions without data collected for the purpose.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 6, 2021 at 12:31 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 6, 2021 at 12:31 pm

@Bystander: Good points.

The City does make occasional studies of traffic on the major streets. The last one was in 2017, and it's why we know that University Ave downtown normally carries 12000 cars/day. Lytton carries 11000 and Hamilton 8000, which is why traffic spills over into the neighborhoods rather than taking Lytton or Hamilton when University is slow. This suggests that without major redesign of downtown, Lytton and Hamilton wouldn't be able to handle all the extra load if University stays closed. I suspect this is one of the issues that Staff had in mind when the reopening proposal was written.

The Comprehensive Plan states that Staff is also supposed to make "periodic" measurements of local streets in neighborhoods, but to my knowledge that's never been done. So we have no baseline information to help us understand how closing a major street would affect the smaller ones. I've been asking for this for six years, and other people were asking long before I realized there was a problem. So far, there's not much progress.


Bobby Becerra
Registered user
another community
on Jun 6, 2021 at 2:12 pm
Bobby Becerra, another community
Registered user
on Jun 6, 2021 at 2:12 pm

Another option would be to tear down Town &Country Village and create a Santana Row like they did in San Jose and to demolish most of the California Avenue shopping district and build something along the lines of Old Town Los Gatos.

Downtown PA could stay the same for the time being as nobody goes there except to dine out or to catch an old movie.


Bill Chambers
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Jun 7, 2021 at 10:33 am
Bill Chambers, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Jun 7, 2021 at 10:33 am

Who wants to dine outdoors curbside or in the streets while hundreds of passersby stroll by?

Not me as a tent is no substitute for the interior of a fine restaurant.

Drop the menu prices by 30% and maybe I will reconsider this unpleasant option.


Richard Geharty
Registered user
Barron Park
on Jun 7, 2021 at 11:41 am
Richard Geharty, Barron Park
Registered user
on Jun 7, 2021 at 11:41 am

Eating outdoors is OK for the Millennials because they either like to be seen dining in public or are too busy on social media with their smartphones while seated at the table.

Older folks prefer to dine in private and with some dignity.


chris
Registered user
University South
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:34 am
chris, University South
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:34 am

Downtown Palo Alto was wiped out in the 1950s and 1960s when Stanford Shopping Center was opened. It was salvaged beginning in the 1970s when restaurants in downtown Palo Alto were first allowed to serve alcohol. By the 1980s, some "fine dining" restaurants started opening.
This stabilized downtown until the number of office workers downtown increased dramatically in the following decades. Now online shopping and the pandemic have hit downtown retail with a double whammy. It is foolish to think that reopening University will save all of the retail downtown, but it will help save some of them.

If you want to revitalize University AND close it off, it would make sense to develop major housing developments in the downtown area. That will bring shoppers who don't need to drive to the stores. And replacing stores with housing will allow the remaining retail to be more profitable.


My Words
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 8, 2021 at 1:22 am
My Words, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 1:22 am

Cars on University Avenue made it more dangerous for pedestrians. The city should look at how many car/pedestrian accidents there were. Turning cars were always a disaster. Too bad there isn't any data on near-misses because surely, that number is high.

I don't know how any retail store can survive in downtown anyway unless it's a draw like Lululemon or other decent chain.

Unfortunately, the Palo Alto City Council usually makes their own decision rather than following the wishes of their residents.


eileen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jun 8, 2021 at 9:05 am
eileen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 9:05 am

I like the vitality of the closed-off streets but not the ticky-tacky look.
The plastic tents are super ugly. If you decide to keep Cal. Ave. closed to traffic than the city should help the restaurants invest in a beautiful streetscape. Otherwise, it looks like a street fair with fast food.


Merilee Steinman
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Jun 8, 2021 at 11:45 am
Merilee Steinman, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 11:45 am

The dining tents are TACKY.


Tony
Registered user
Community Center
on Jun 8, 2021 at 5:54 pm
Tony, Community Center
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 5:54 pm

Having these streets closed and allowing outdoor dining is a huge improvement for the atmosphere for these commercial areas. There should be a transition to more permanent outdoor seating.


Dusty Pierce
Registered user
Barron Park
on Jun 8, 2021 at 6:46 pm
Dusty Pierce, Barron Park
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 6:46 pm

Downtown PA has pretty much become a dining hub for upscale gourmands.

Who are we to argue with progress?


StarSpring
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 9, 2021 at 9:11 am
StarSpring, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 9, 2021 at 9:11 am

Good. And can we please get rid of the "Local Traffic Only" barrier at Ross and Louis? It has been hit twice since it went up and makes both driving and walking more dangerous.


Tim
Registered user
another community
on Jun 14, 2021 at 12:08 pm
Tim, another community
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2021 at 12:08 pm

EVERY YEAR during the Festival of the Arts, my friends and I talk about how University Avenue should be closed to cars permanently. There is no reason University can't be a pedestrian mall, with vehicle traffic routed to Hamilton and Lytton. Likewise, California Avenue isn't even a through street. Keep them both closed to motor vehicle traffic!


Justin Larrabee
Registered user
Los Altos
on Jun 14, 2021 at 12:20 pm
Justin Larrabee, Los Altos
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2021 at 12:20 pm

> EVERY YEAR during the Festival of the Arts, my friends and I talk about how University Avenue should be closed to cars permanently.

^ And EVERY year parking is heavily congested along the residential side streets.

These so-called Festival of Arts should be banned because all they do is promote excessive out-of-town foot traffic (along with the cars), questionable 'craft' art, a slew of mediocre cover bands, and complimentary wineglasses...not to mention an enfringement on the existing businesses situated on adjacent streets.

Besides, if you've been to one street fair, you have been to them all.

And holding them on Santa Cruz Avenue (Menlo Park), University Avenue (downtown Palo Alto), California Avenue (south Palo Alto), Main Street ((Los Altos), and Castro Street (Mountain View) within a matter of weeks is overkill.

I hate these tacky commercialized gatherings.


Butch Lindstrom
Registered user
another community
on Jun 14, 2021 at 1:00 pm
Butch Lindstrom, another community
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2021 at 1:00 pm

And the people who frequent these street fairs don't look all that interesting either.

I've spoken to a few and the highlight of their summer season is often attending one street fair after another within a matter of weeks.

How spiritually fulfilling.


Lynne Henderson
Registered user
Mountain View
on Jun 16, 2021 at 2:45 pm
Lynne Henderson, Mountain View
Registered user
on Jun 16, 2021 at 2:45 pm

WalkinRobinn posted a comment cheering the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, CO. What s/he omits to mention is that the main north/south thoroughfare, Broadway, remained open and that Canyon Boulevard, the big west/east thoroughfare remains open and busy; really good businesses on Pearl St. couldn't manage and were closed or moved over the years-

My apologies to those folks in Boulder who live on Ninth or Nineteenth Streets, the main "cut throughs" to avoid the "mall;" I haven't been to Boulder for several years.


Andy
Registered user
Community Center
on Jun 18, 2021 at 4:36 pm
Andy, Community Center
Registered user
on Jun 18, 2021 at 4:36 pm

Having a few quieter streets where we can enjoy outdoor dining without the noise and fumes of cars has been one of the only positives that has come out of a dismal period. It would be so sad to revert to the way things were. Maybe a solution would be to have the streets open for dining seasonally--ie, without tents that would block the view to retail stores. In the colder months, maybe the local stores could receive a boost as well with some holiday sales days where the streets were closed to traffic and they could spill out into the street, maybe with the addition of some food vendors etc, to make it a destination. I agree that if other towns keep streets closed, restaurants may lose business here. Let's take this opportunity to move the community in a direction it wants to go.


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