News

As COVID restrictions lift, Palo Alto plans to reopen facilities

Even with statewide loosening of rules, not all city buildings will fling open their doors to the public on June 15

The Magical Bridge playground in Palo Alto, shown here on Jan. 19, 2020, was subject to closure and capacity limits over the course of the pandemic. Those restrictions have recently been removed and the playground is now set to host a summer concert series. Photo by Magali Gauthier

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread in March 2020, Palo Alto swiftly shut down most City Hall offices, suspended recreational programs and closed down libraries and community centers to comply with the new and urgent health restrictions.

But while most of these limits are set to expire on June 15, residents should not expect an immediate return to normal. If the city's shutdown felt dramatic and, in many ways, traumatic, its reopening will be more like a slow bloom.

Palo Alto's emergence from the emergency is expected to unfold gradually and incrementally, city staff say, with some suspended services returning almost immediately and others remaining in limbo for months.

For users of the city's recreation programs, for instance, normalcy is already creeping in. Recreation classes at the Children's Theatre and camps at Foothills Park are now up and running after the pandemic-induced break and signups are in full swing, according to city staff.

Open space preserves, where trails were limited to one-way foot traffic during the pandemic, have recently reverted to two-way mode. The city's golf course, Baylands Golf Links, is also back in business, and its café is offering both outdoor and indoor dining, according to City Manager Ed Shikada.

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Mitchell Park, Rinconada and Children's libraries are now welcoming the public to come inside, and library computers, which were taken out of commission during the pandemic, are now back in use. The Palo Alto Art Center is also open, albeit with reduced staffing, shorter operating hours and 25% visitor capacity.

The Magical Bridge playground at Mitchell Park, which was under capacity limits before the city entered the "yellow tier" under the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy, no longer has these restrictions. And with limits easing, the popular playground is now looking ahead to a summer concert series, with musical acts booked for every Friday evening between July 16 and Sept. 3.

And while the Chili Cook-off, a longtime Fourth of July fixture in Palo Alto, will not be taking place this year, the city is planning a musical event in the park on that day, Shikada said. In lieu of hot chili, visitors can expect the Radio City All Stars band, food trucks and a play area for children, according to a staff update on the city's economic recovery.

The Rinconada Library is one of three Palo Alto libraries that have recently reopened to the public after being shut down during COVID-19. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Other city operations will retain their restrictions at least until the end of July.

City Hall won't be open for regular business for some time yet, even though some services can be provided through appointments. The city's community centers — Lucie Stern Community Center and Cubberley Community Center — won't be open for general use until early August, Shikada said in an email.

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Other reopening plans remain in flux. Shikada noted that staff is still trying to react to the recent back-and-forth decisions by Cal/OSHA about workplace regulations.

"Specifically, the requirements based (on) vaccination status have a big impact on our general workforce plans," Shikada said in an email. "That said, the community can continue to expect continued availability of services online and by phone as well as increased availability by appointment for services like building permits."

In some cases, the new normal may look starkly different from the old. On June 22, the City Council will have a key decision to make, when it considers Shikada's plan for reopening University and California avenues to cars on July 7 and Sept. 6, respectively, or whether to extend the city's experiment with dining promenades in the two commercial districts.

The issue has polarized the business community, with many restaurants welcoming the new street scene and the recent influx of outdoor diners and some retailers arguing that the closures have hurt their business and urging the city to reopen the streets to cars. Visitors, meanwhile, overwhelmingly support the new streetscape, with more than 95% of the respondents saying in city surveys that they would like to see the streets remain closed to cars.

A new report from Shikada notes that "many residents, in current and previous communications, expressed enjoying the openness of the streets, freedom from worrying about vehicles, and enjoying the pleasant weather and atmosphere." At the same time, the report states, continuing the street closures "helps some businesses possibly at the expense of other businesses."

"Continuing the program may encourage continued outdoor dining and boost overall visits to these streets," the report states. "If, however, these visits do not translate into retail sales, retailers will continue to be challenged to recover."

In another baby step toward normalcy, the council will consider on June 22 whether to rescind the local "state of emergency," which has been in effect since the onset of the pandemic and which gives the city manager special powers to circumvent normal regulations when purchasing equipment or making decisions relating to health and safety. Even if the local state of emergency is rescinded, Shikada would retain his emergency powers under California's state of emergency, which Gov. Gavin Newsom had indicated will remain in place even after June 15.

Shikada wrote in the report that staff does not foresee a need for this authority to manage the current state of the pandemic.

In addition to laying out plans for near-term recovery, council members and staff are also looking further ahead into the post-pandemic future. On June 1, the council directed staff to hire an economic consultant who would help the city develop a new economic strategy, one that considers among other things the increasing trend toward telecommuting. Charlie Weidanz, CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, told the council during the discussion that the city should consider the implications of a "hybrid economy."

"We may not see the 85,000-plus workers that come in," Weidanz said. "How do retail, hospitality, restaurants and hotels succeed with a possible reduced daytime population?"

Mayor Tom DuBois said at the June 1 meeting that by developing a new economic strategy, the council is trying to be "nimble enough to adapt if there's really a long-term change from COVID that requires a different mix of businesses, both in raising revenue and providing services to residents."

Three of his council colleagues — Vice Mayor Pat Burt, Lydia Kou and Greer Stone — recommended that the city go even further and hire an economic development manager, a position that City Hall has lacked since 2016. Kou said she doesn't want to "leave it to chance and to market forces to dictate what we're going to do here" but rather supports being more proactive in encouraging the uses that the council would like to see. Stone agreed.

"I really think the shift we're going to see in these market forces and our local economy is so unprecedented that it really does require a level of expertise that I don't think we have internally," Stone said.

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As COVID restrictions lift, Palo Alto plans to reopen facilities

Even with statewide loosening of rules, not all city buildings will fling open their doors to the public on June 15

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Jun 11, 2021, 5:34 pm

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread in March 2020, Palo Alto swiftly shut down most City Hall offices, suspended recreational programs and closed down libraries and community centers to comply with the new and urgent health restrictions.

But while most of these limits are set to expire on June 15, residents should not expect an immediate return to normal. If the city's shutdown felt dramatic and, in many ways, traumatic, its reopening will be more like a slow bloom.

Palo Alto's emergence from the emergency is expected to unfold gradually and incrementally, city staff say, with some suspended services returning almost immediately and others remaining in limbo for months.

For users of the city's recreation programs, for instance, normalcy is already creeping in. Recreation classes at the Children's Theatre and camps at Foothills Park are now up and running after the pandemic-induced break and signups are in full swing, according to city staff.

Open space preserves, where trails were limited to one-way foot traffic during the pandemic, have recently reverted to two-way mode. The city's golf course, Baylands Golf Links, is also back in business, and its café is offering both outdoor and indoor dining, according to City Manager Ed Shikada.

Mitchell Park, Rinconada and Children's libraries are now welcoming the public to come inside, and library computers, which were taken out of commission during the pandemic, are now back in use. The Palo Alto Art Center is also open, albeit with reduced staffing, shorter operating hours and 25% visitor capacity.

The Magical Bridge playground at Mitchell Park, which was under capacity limits before the city entered the "yellow tier" under the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy, no longer has these restrictions. And with limits easing, the popular playground is now looking ahead to a summer concert series, with musical acts booked for every Friday evening between July 16 and Sept. 3.

And while the Chili Cook-off, a longtime Fourth of July fixture in Palo Alto, will not be taking place this year, the city is planning a musical event in the park on that day, Shikada said. In lieu of hot chili, visitors can expect the Radio City All Stars band, food trucks and a play area for children, according to a staff update on the city's economic recovery.

Other city operations will retain their restrictions at least until the end of July.

City Hall won't be open for regular business for some time yet, even though some services can be provided through appointments. The city's community centers — Lucie Stern Community Center and Cubberley Community Center — won't be open for general use until early August, Shikada said in an email.

Other reopening plans remain in flux. Shikada noted that staff is still trying to react to the recent back-and-forth decisions by Cal/OSHA about workplace regulations.

"Specifically, the requirements based (on) vaccination status have a big impact on our general workforce plans," Shikada said in an email. "That said, the community can continue to expect continued availability of services online and by phone as well as increased availability by appointment for services like building permits."

In some cases, the new normal may look starkly different from the old. On June 22, the City Council will have a key decision to make, when it considers Shikada's plan for reopening University and California avenues to cars on July 7 and Sept. 6, respectively, or whether to extend the city's experiment with dining promenades in the two commercial districts.

The issue has polarized the business community, with many restaurants welcoming the new street scene and the recent influx of outdoor diners and some retailers arguing that the closures have hurt their business and urging the city to reopen the streets to cars. Visitors, meanwhile, overwhelmingly support the new streetscape, with more than 95% of the respondents saying in city surveys that they would like to see the streets remain closed to cars.

A new report from Shikada notes that "many residents, in current and previous communications, expressed enjoying the openness of the streets, freedom from worrying about vehicles, and enjoying the pleasant weather and atmosphere." At the same time, the report states, continuing the street closures "helps some businesses possibly at the expense of other businesses."

"Continuing the program may encourage continued outdoor dining and boost overall visits to these streets," the report states. "If, however, these visits do not translate into retail sales, retailers will continue to be challenged to recover."

In another baby step toward normalcy, the council will consider on June 22 whether to rescind the local "state of emergency," which has been in effect since the onset of the pandemic and which gives the city manager special powers to circumvent normal regulations when purchasing equipment or making decisions relating to health and safety. Even if the local state of emergency is rescinded, Shikada would retain his emergency powers under California's state of emergency, which Gov. Gavin Newsom had indicated will remain in place even after June 15.

Shikada wrote in the report that staff does not foresee a need for this authority to manage the current state of the pandemic.

In addition to laying out plans for near-term recovery, council members and staff are also looking further ahead into the post-pandemic future. On June 1, the council directed staff to hire an economic consultant who would help the city develop a new economic strategy, one that considers among other things the increasing trend toward telecommuting. Charlie Weidanz, CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, told the council during the discussion that the city should consider the implications of a "hybrid economy."

"We may not see the 85,000-plus workers that come in," Weidanz said. "How do retail, hospitality, restaurants and hotels succeed with a possible reduced daytime population?"

Mayor Tom DuBois said at the June 1 meeting that by developing a new economic strategy, the council is trying to be "nimble enough to adapt if there's really a long-term change from COVID that requires a different mix of businesses, both in raising revenue and providing services to residents."

Three of his council colleagues — Vice Mayor Pat Burt, Lydia Kou and Greer Stone — recommended that the city go even further and hire an economic development manager, a position that City Hall has lacked since 2016. Kou said she doesn't want to "leave it to chance and to market forces to dictate what we're going to do here" but rather supports being more proactive in encouraging the uses that the council would like to see. Stone agreed.

"I really think the shift we're going to see in these market forces and our local economy is so unprecedented that it really does require a level of expertise that I don't think we have internally," Stone said.

Comments

Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 2:00 pm
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 2:00 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2021 at 4:44 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 4:44 pm

Importantly, what will the masking requirements be in City facilities? Will we be able to enter the libraries without masks? Will employees be expected to wear masks in City Hall? Will police, firefighters, utilities workers, park maintenance workers all be able to work mask free. Individuals may still choose to wear their masks, but being able to work and do city business without masks is important information.


PA Community Advocate
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2021 at 10:05 pm
PA Community Advocate, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 10:05 pm

July 4th with Radio City All Stars band, food trucks and a play area for children FTW. Palo Alto is back!


Ming Le
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 13, 2021 at 9:28 am
Ming Le, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2021 at 9:28 am

Come June 15th, continuing to wear a facemask in public might give others the wrong impression that the wearer has not been fully vaccinated.

And not wearing a face mask may give others the impression that that the non-wearer is either an anti-masker or a vaccinated person who now feels 100% safe from the coronavirus.

Either way, the subsequent public health repercussions (positive or negative) remain nebulous.

And if it is proven that the Wuhan laboratory experiments were either military sanctioned by the PRC as a biological weapon or a questionable virology experiment that went awry, further contempt and hate crimes towards Asians in America will most likely persist.

What was once perceived as a right-wing conspiracy theory has now become a potential reality and even President Biden is having U.S. Intelligence investigating the matter further.

We are considering a move to Hawaii as it is ethnically diverse and very accepting of Asians.

The least racist places in America seem to be where the white population remains the minority.


Helena Karteris
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Jun 13, 2021 at 10:04 am
Helena Karteris, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2021 at 10:04 am

We are being lulled into complacency.

The coronavirus is mutating all over the world and its variants are now making their way into other countries including the U.S.

Come autumn and winter 2021-22, many more people will become ill and/or die regardless of being vaccinated or the wearing of facemasks.

And yes...if the Wuhan lab is indicted for either negligence or cooperation with the PRC military, Sino-U.S. diplomacy will sink to even lower levels and Asian hate crimes will sadly continue.


Dex/Covid-Homeless Survivor
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2021 at 10:36 am
Dex/Covid-Homeless Survivor, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2021 at 10:36 am

It is good to hear that the public libraries and park facilities will reopen shortly.

During the pandemic closures, it was very difficult for a homeless individual to access public restrooms for both bathing purposes and/or to relieve oneself.

It will also be nice to get out and mingle with the public again as one needed to maintain a much lower homeless profile for the last 15 months or so.

Looking forward to a return to normal.


Mabel Carlton
Registered user
another community
on Jun 13, 2021 at 12:30 pm
Mabel Carlton, another community
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2021 at 12:30 pm

With the open dining on University and California Avenues, it would be especially nice if some of the restaurants were to set-up a tent where the homeless can also be fed on a complimentary basis.

With media attention, this gesture could go a long ways towards diffusing the overall and outside impression of Palo Alto being a city primarily inhabited by crotchety NIMBYs, racists, and the upwardly mobile.

Time for a new Palo Alto facelift!


ALB
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jun 13, 2021 at 12:54 pm
ALB, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2021 at 12:54 pm

Cheering the general opening but confused as to why the College Terrace and Downtown branch libraries are closed.

The city council needs to authorize the opening of these branch libraries.


ALB
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jun 13, 2021 at 1:02 pm
ALB, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2021 at 1:02 pm

[Post removed; consecutive comments not permitted.]


Who Are We To Judge?
Registered user
Community Center
on Jun 13, 2021 at 1:10 pm
Who Are We To Judge?, Community Center
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2021 at 1:10 pm
Jameson
Registered user
another community
on Jun 13, 2021 at 3:18 pm
Jameson, another community
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2021 at 3:18 pm

We are not out of the woods until everything is 100% open with no further restrictions or public health mandates.

The pandemic will continue to mutate with newer and deadlier variations becoming a common occurance.

What to do?

Either follow the pre June 15th guidelines (regardless of being vaccinated) OR disregard all previously cited precautions (if vaccinated) and get back to active socializing by attending large arena and social gatherings without the hassle of having to put on a mask.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 14, 2021 at 11:19 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2021 at 11:19 am

How special that City Hall remains closed and that our highly paid city staff get to stay at home.

Echoing the concerns about the College Terrace and Downtown libraries staying closed and the continued cutbacks on hours at Rinconada Library.

"With media attention, this gesture could go a long ways towards diffusing the overall and outside impression of Palo Alto being a city primarily inhabited by crotchety NIMBYs, racists, and the upwardly mobile."

Agree that feeding the homeless would help PA's image, I nominate the CEOS of Palantir and DoorDash to man the feeding stations since they're the 1st and 2d most highly paid execs in the US who've fought against gig workers getting benefits and decent pay. (Their CEO salaries are reportedly $1 BILLION and $450 Million respectively.)

Given Palantir's staunch pro-YIMBY positions, surely they'll be eager to help the needy.


Justin Larrabee
Registered user
Los Altos
on Jun 14, 2021 at 11:45 am
Justin Larrabee, Los Altos
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2021 at 11:45 am

Governor Newsom has the latitude to rescind or reinstate Covid related restrictions...except for church worship.

The coronavirus is rapidly mutating and as newer strains emerge, the March 2020 restrictions could easily become a reality as the number of infections increase.

This issue is not going away anytime soon


Seer
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Jun 19, 2021 at 10:19 pm
Seer, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Jun 19, 2021 at 10:19 pm

We have a super-effective vaccine that works against all known variants so far (perhaps at lower rates, but surprise, you don't need vaccines to be 100% to completely end an epidemic).

Moreover, the mRNA tech is now proven and can pump out new vaccines in weeks. If the resulting proteins are not toxic or a potent allergen, then the new vaccines are safe. The whole vaccine process is 1000x sped up and this tech can pretty much end pandemics forever.


Jeremy Rocha
Registered user
another community
on Jun 20, 2021 at 7:34 pm
Jeremy Rocha, another community
Registered user
on Jun 20, 2021 at 7:34 pm

What about aquired immunity among those who have already contracted Covid-19?

Doesn't the human body create natural antibodies to combat future infections?


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