Plan to connect Main Library, Art Center draws ire | July 1, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 1, 2011

Plan to connect Main Library, Art Center draws ire

Community gardeners fear loss of space

by Janelle Eastman

A proposal to improve the connection between Palo Alto's Main Library and its Art Center, both on Newell Road, is infuriating community gardeners, who fear the proposed improvements would threaten garden plots at the site.

The library and art center are both scheduled for major renovations over the next two years. The art center closed in April and will hold a renovation groundbreaking July 16.

The Library Advisory Commission discussed three potential designs last week. All three include the addition of a driveway between the main parking lots of the two buildings, removal of a parking shed and the addition of a central plaza.

Commissioner Leonardo Hochberg said the buildings would be better connected with the addition of a curved driveway, enabling visitors to go between the facilities easily. Tying together the buildings' parking lots would also result in seven more parking spaces.

But the plan to connect the library branch and art center has drawn criticism from visitors to the community gardens, which are adjacent to the library's main parking lot.

Up to six garden plots could be displaced by the driveway, according to preliminary plans.

A new driveway would also create noise and pollution in the gardens, according to Rita Morgin, a Palo Alto gardener. The driveway would pass by the "Garden Annex," an area that lies between the Main Library and Main Garden and serves as a meeting and play area for families and their children.

"Putting in a driveway will ruin the quietness of this gathering area," Morgin said.

She also argued that the loss of garden space would have a negative impact on visitors and wildlife.

"Bird habitat and buffer zones are not 'unused' or 'dead' space but very much alive and appreciated by families with children, gardeners and anyone who walks through the gardens. Don't pave over paradise," Morgin said.

But staff from city's Public Works and Community Services Department wrote in a report that a fire-access trail currently running through the community gardens could be moved, opening up alternate space for garden plots.

Morgin nonetheless argued that even with the removal of the trail and the addition of a driveway, there would still be less usable garden space due to exhaust from cars driving by.

The goal of connecting the library and art center include improving access to the buildings, increasing the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists and creating a sense of unity on the site, city staff said.

The driveway would enable cars to travel between parking lots when searching for a space, rather than exiting onto Newell Road and re-entering down the block, which endangers pedestrians and bicyclists, staff said.

The driveway plan would also bring new bike racks to the site to encourage cycling. A parking shed, which gardeners said attracts vagrant dwellers, would also be removed.

As part of the three proposed designs, a crosswalk between the art center and the library would be widened as a safety measure for pedestrians.

In the first design, the current driveway that runs in front of the art center would be retained, along with the narrow parking lot parallel to it.

The second design shows the current driveway curved and expanded to encompass parking spaces on either side (the current narrow lot would be eliminated). The crosswalk would also feature a raised platform acting as a large speed bump for cars.

The third design shares the same concepts as the second but would also expand a nearby drop-off zone.

The number of parking spaces could change, with the second option bringing the most additional spaces (up to nine) and the first option potentially resulting in the loss of one space.

Hochberg said that before renovations are made, it would be helpful to talk with people affiliated with other Bay Area buildings that feature connecting parking lots.

The preliminary designs will be presented to the City Council on July 11. If approved by the council, renovations would begin by the end of this year. Costs and funds for renovations are not yet finalized.

Editorial Intern Janelle Eastman can be emailed at


Posted by more bike racks, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 1, 2011 at 10:01 am

People drive to much in this city. Why don't they just put up more bike racks?

Posted by James Hoosac, a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2011 at 10:18 am

"Bird habitat and buffer zones are not 'unused' or 'dead' space ..."

Next time the excuse would be the earthworms. LOL

Posted by Follow the money, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 1, 2011 at 11:18 am

Sounds like they had some money left over so they figured out a way to use it. This was not in the library plans or the art center plans. How much will this add-on squander?

Posted by Guard the Gardens, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 1, 2011 at 2:59 pm

James Hoosac:

If we could just get rid of those pesky earthworms, the world would be a better place. Oh, yes, and birds. And buffer zones. While we're at it, let's pave over the Bay. And bar gardeners and environmentalists from the entire Bay Area.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, James. LOL.

Posted by registered user, Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2011 at 7:46 pm

A privilege has been converted to an entitlement?

Posted by punishment, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 1, 2011 at 9:19 pm

So,what are you going to do with it?

Posted by registered user, Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Anything the City decides, in its wisdom, to do. Perhaps we need to vacate all such private uses of public property every 5 years just so the holders recognize they are there as a guest.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm

I think the design looks great and it makes such sense to tie the two facilities together - and the multiple parking lots! With the number of people who use both places, the fact that only 6 garden plots would be removed is a tiny price to pay to gain what looks like a nice outdoor gathering place. Getting rid of the shed (aka as an eyesore and home for people living in their cars...) is a bonus!

Posted by now, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 2, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Why bother to wait five years,it is the time now,go ahead,we are waiting for it.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Yes, the shed has become the unofficial car campground. Now the campers are not even trying to hide it - they are there all day too.

Posted by Guard the Gardens, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 3, 2011 at 12:56 pm

It does seem like the planners are making up new plans to use up available money. Could they find better ways to do this? Could the money be reallocated to other projects? Why tear out plantings and garden plots to change and add more paving? The garden shed can be torn down if it's no longer needed. Why not replace it with more garden plots? Why not encourage gardeners to donate food to the downtown food closet?

These "guests" are using the space for far better purposes than the proposed project would. Why evict them periodically just to make some strange point, Walter Wallis?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm

The proposed project would benefit everyone who uses the library and/or art center. The shed's "guests" are just a few people as are the 6 renters of the garden plots that may be removed. This is not to prove a point, it is to beautify a well used space.

Posted by Guard the Gardens, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 4, 2011 at 9:04 am

Palo Alto Mom:

The "guests" I was referring to were the gardeners, not the homeless folk, who, by the way, don't seem to bother anyone except perhaps to remind us that we need to have compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves.

But where are these "benefits" you talk about? There's no problem walking to the art center from the library, and vice-versa. Parking is rarely in short supply. The gardens are a pleasant place to walk, give people an opportunity to grow healthy, local food, and furnish them with a relaxing outlet to the stress in their lives. There is a two-year wait for garden plots--six fewer plots is not a trivial change, if counting people who lose a benefit is all you want to consider.

This seems to be a project no one has asked for, as follow the Money points out. I'm glad those who enjoy and support the community gardens in Palo Alto are raising questions about the so-called benefits and desirability of this particular plan.

I'm not a plotholder, but I enjoy a walk through the various community gardens in PA from time to time, and I think they add to our quality of life here. Let's not chip away at this site, but value it and preserve it.

Posted by Peter, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jul 4, 2011 at 9:56 am

They are also planning on removing trees to connect the art center and the library. This is another Group 4 project. That group seems to not care about trees AT ALL. Case in point the 73 trees removed at Mitchell Park library. I would not use them for any project. I see no innovation and good ideas in their designs as well.

Posted by Follow the money, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I agree about Group 4, their designs leave much to be desired. I looked through the windows of the downtown library and was not impressed, but I'll wait until it opens to see it.
I don't know who created the desire for a connecting road? Need to follow the money.

Posted by Guard the Gardens, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Yes, Follow the money, the dangers of exiting onto Newell, a street with very light traffic, turning right, going one block, and turning right again, seem to be just a trifle exaggerated. It looks like a case of "Here's this plan. Now let's go find some reasons to do it."

Removing trees for unneeded parking spaces and more asphalt makes no sense either.

How about finding another use for the money, if it must indeed be spent?

Posted by registered user, Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Guard the Gardens, that "strange point" is protecting title to land. The garden plots are a private usage of public land, a questionable practice anyway. This claim to a right to use that land is precisely why the lucky few need a reminder. I doubt that many cities grant such privileges.

Posted by Guard the Gardens, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 6, 2011 at 10:49 am

Walter E Wallis: First, how is title to the land lost when it's rented to city residents? Second, how is the private use of public land questionable, when it's a city program that charges fees and has been approved by the city council? Third, how is this particular use any different from renting city facilities to private people and groups, as, for example, the art center being used for art studios, concerts, etc., or Lucie Stern being rented for all sorts of activities?

Finally, advocating for continuation of a popular and useful city program is not the same as asserting what you call a "right" or "entitlement." These gardeners--and all residents--have a right to assert their preference for gardens, trees, and buffer zones over encroaching driveways, parking lots, and car exhausts.

Posted by Follow the money, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 7, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Taking away the garden area isn't the only violation of public expectations by Group4.
In the downtown library the use of the highly touted community room will cost $45 an hour during times the library is closed.
Which is every evening and several days each week.
Something was terribly deceptive with the former library administration and perhaps her bosses in the city as well.

Posted by registered user, Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 8, 2011 at 7:27 am

Guard, a rental agreement does not grant title to land and is revocable. If any title better than month to month is granted, the city attorney is [again] lax. If a different use is proposed by the city, the city's preference is paramount. And $45/hr seems about right to rent a facility.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 8, 2011 at 9:38 am

Follow the money - was $45 an hour too much or too little to rent the community room? It seems pretty reasonable to me.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Guard, I've made that turn often, & while I don't consider Newell St. traffic to be light, it's not an inconvenience to do the right, then right into the other driveway. Clearly, if we've all been capable of doing it for decades, we can still do it!

The only benefit I can think of w/going forward w/this waste to your coffers, is that it *may* reduce the number of offleash dogs in the library area, but I wouldn't hold my breath...

Posted by Follow the money, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm

$45 is an average of $34 an hour for residents and $51 an hour for non residents. (please correct these numbers if they are wrong).
Given that we residents just gave the city $4 Million for this remodel, we should not be charged for its use. $100 for an evening meeting may be nothing to a large organization, but to a small group or a nonprofit it is a lot, enough to make it impossible.
On the other hand, the city staff will be able use it free whenever they want to because they can have authorization for access at anytime.

Posted by registered user, Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2011 at 11:15 am

Follow, smaller groups can always meet in a coffee shop or, quietly in a library.