Designers air visions for downtown changes | April 9, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 9, 2008

Designers air visions for downtown changes

Renovated Lytton Plaza, new parking structure with bridge over High Street planned

by Becky Trout

Visions of a revitalized west downtown Palo Alto — with a new parking structure on High Street, revamped Lytton Plaza and a system of alleys-turned-paseos — were aired at a gathering of Palo Alto downtown leaders last Friday.

The effort to rebuild Lytton Plaza, which has been discussed for at least 11 years, has gained the most momentum. Within a few months, a private-public partnership — involving the city, the Palo Alto Downtown Association and Friends of the Palo Alto Parks — may be ready to formally introduce plans for the 0.2-acre University Avenue park, according to Barbara Gross, chair of the downtown association.

The $700,000 project, with $350,000 from the city, is intended to beautify the park — currently a haven for teens, young adults, the homeless and a designated "free speech" zone. The plaza should retain its focus, Gross said.

The redesigned Lytton Plaza will be a "vibrant, public space that we can all enjoy," said designer Gary Laymon, a landscape architect with San Francisco's The Guzzardo Partnership.

"It's a space that wants to greet you and say, 'Welcome; get out of your car,'" Laymon said. "It needs to have an open and fresh appearance."

Plans call for planter boxes and a row of trees lining Emerson Street and University Avenue, removing the small wall there now. A fountain, with space to sit at its perimeter, is planned for the park's corner near the intersection, Laymon said. The fountain will be "relatively quiet," able to mask some traffic noise, but not loud enough to interfere with conversations.

Two clusters of trees are planned and the "Digital DNA" egg sculpture will remain, although organizers haven't decided exactly where it will be placed, Gross said.

The angle of the paving pattern would also be changed, cutting from Emerson to University to acknowledge people's desire to cut across the plaza, Laymon said. He said he plans to use permeable material and energy-saving lighting to keep the project environmentally friendly.

The plaza would have plenty of lights, but they will be focused on the plaza so as not to pollute the sky.

"It feels safe. It will feel like you are in a room," Laymon said.

The plaza would also have movable tables and chairs, so they can be placed in the sun or shade or grouped together, Laymon said.

It would also require an "active custodian," who would maintain the plantings and ensure the tables and chairs are locked up at night, he said.

The organizers don't know who that would be yet, he said.

Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto said she even thinks Lytton Plaza should be expanded, removing at least one row of parking spaces in the Emerson Street lot, which would provide a link to the alley, eventually turned into a beautified, walkable paseo.

And one block away, at High Street's parking lot P, architect Joe Bellomo has designed a five-story parking structure, connected with a bridge over High Street to the five-year-old parking lot R structure he designed.

Bellomo said he wasn't hired to work on the project but consulted closely with city planners.

"This is not on the city's radar at this point because of economics. I'm planting a seed of thought," he said.

The 250-space structure would have a sweeping 14-foot-tall first floor, making it accessible to garbage and delivery trucks that use the lot. To get to the second story, however, a potential parker would have to enter lot R across the street, then cross a two-lane bridge — with a pedestrian pathway — over High Street.

Bellomo said he didn't want to put a duplicate ramp in the proposed structure because it would take up too much space.

"Plus, (the bridge) is just cool," he said.

He said he researched height clearances and the support needed for the bridge.

"We really carefully looked at the idea," he said.

Bellomo also designed the University Circle mixed-use development across from the train station on University and Alma Street and a cafŽ for Facebook, in addition to parking lot R.

Bellomo admitted to having a passion for developing the west side of downtown, which he calls the "entry."

"In 1988 it was deemed by several real estate companies the dead end of town," Bellomo said. "I have always felt that a transit-oriented corridor is vital. That's what creates urban texture, urban connection. That's part of the livable, walkable Palo Alto."

Kishimoto said the Friday morning introduction of the parking structure was the first she had heard of it.

But she would rather first ensure the city was using its existing parking spaces efficiently, perhaps by installing an electronic parking-management system that could direct drivers to empty spaces and charging based on demand.

Although the parking structure plan is new, reviving Lytton Plaza has been discussed for years. Former mayor Le Levy and developer Roxy Rapp, longtime advocates for changing the park, are still key members of the organizing committee, Gross said.

Ten people have already pledged $10,000 each toward the project, but the committee is aiming to raise $350,000, she said.

Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Just wondering
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 8, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Still another parking structure?
What happened to all the parking under 800 High Street?

Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 8, 2008 at 3:16 pm

What, we are going to provide additional opportunities for beggars and vagrants to pester us.

Unless PA starts moving these pests out of town we are going to see tax paying businesses moving out of town to Menlo Park.

Like this comment
Posted by Lois
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2008 at 8:02 am

They are removing the fountain at the end of California Avenue because vandals throw dye and detergents into it and it is used as a open air urinal. Now they're planning to build another one on Lytton Plaza - how ridiculous is that!!! You'd think they'd learned their lesson with fountains by now.

Redesigning Lytton Plaza, which is actually quite new, is a huge waste of PA tax dollars.

And, whose going to pay for another ugly parking structure when we're all being asked to walk, ride-a-bike or take the bus!!

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2008 at 9:08 am

Rather than some cosmetic changes to downtown, wouldn't the money be better spent fixing some of the infrastructure where people actually live rather than trying to attract us to a downtown area we won't go to because of the homeless problem?

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 9, 2008 at 10:41 am

Nice talk, but somehow I don't think this is going anywhere.

Like this comment
Posted by Still wondering
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 9, 2008 at 11:18 am

I think the brick flooring is very nice, I wouldn't want them to destroy it.
How about a little paint and a few flowers to replace those that died.
Is this is another of those neglected areas that provides an excuse to say we have to demolish?

Like this comment
Posted by An Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2008 at 12:51 pm

I think the downtown and other retail areas should have a minimum of 10 foot setbacks for new buildings so that trees and plants can enhance the area.

Setbacks are normal for all other areas in the city. They provide a openness and sunlight to the area. New zoning should be implemented immediatly.

The new "Wallgreens" building should have 10 to 15 foot setback from the sidewalk. There should be a moratorium on all building until this setback law is in place.

Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2008 at 1:25 pm

Putting a fountain into Lytton Plaza is a recipe for disaster. I agree with Lois of Midtown.
It will become a nighttime urinal - and maybe daytime too. Maybe a bath. Downtown has a problem. San Jose knows all about the hazards of fountains. At night, downtown looks 'pretty' but in the daytime, it is a mismash of mismatched sidewalks, transients sitting on benches drinking (yes, out of a brown paper bag) and often being obnoxious and panhandling. Do Palo Altans go there very much? There are no 'everyday stores' that people need except Long's and past-history Walgreen's.
Why are our tax dollars being used to re-do Lytton Plaza. Plant some flowers, keep it clean, and patrol the skateboarding crowd that make walking there dangerous and the transients who make it less than pleasant. I wonder how many transients are being sent here by Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco who has promised to 'do something about San Francisco's transient-a/k/a homeless problem.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 9, 2008 at 1:25 pm

Why build a parking garage smack dab at the core of downtown's "transit-oriented" area?

Like this comment
Posted by j
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 31, 2008 at 9:58 pm

Unfortunately, and since our City's in the west US were not set up with pedestrian friendly planning strategies we will probably have individual vehicular means of transportation for a while longer:


Hopefully soon these "parking structures" will house and park electric cars that are able to plug their "horses in"; all powered supplied from the structure's top floor PV array as well as when they leave their single family dwelling's PV electric fuel station. So for now we can still call it a "parking structure" but let's add more bicycle parking spaces.

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