Wave of 'beautification' projects heads downtown | November 2, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 2, 2012

Wave of 'beautification' projects heads downtown

Palo Alto looks to repaint Caltrain underpass, upgrade irrigation system along University Avenue

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's busiest downtown thoroughfare will undergo a series of touchups in the coming months, though in some cases the price for beautification will include traffic disruptions and parking restrictions.

The University Avenue projects are neither as dramatic nor as expensive as the city's planned streetscape changes at California Avenue, which include switching from four lanes to two. But at least one of them is expected to impact downtown parking for up to three months early next year.

The most ambitious component of the city's "University Avenue Downtown Beautification Project" involves replacing the 40-year-old irrigation system that supplies water to the 73 planters along University. Starting in January, workers will be going block by block between Alma and Webster streets, removing a section of the curb at most tree wells, changing the connection between the main water line and each well, replacing the spray heads with drip irrigation and reinstalling the curb.

The curb work will require the city to temporarily limit parking on each block. Peter Jensen, the city's landscape architect, said the $150,000 project is scheduled to begin in January and last from nine to 12 weeks.

"It will require closing of basically each segment or block for a week or so to parking," Jensen said at a Tuesday night meeting focused on the various downtown projects.

The outdated irrigation system has been harmed over the years by the very trees to which they are supplying water.

"The trees have gotten a lot bigger and are crowding out everything in the planter, including the irrigation pipe," Jensen said. "There are consistently breaks in the pipe that require maintenance."

The project will also involve installing new, hardy planting along University Avenue. The proposed planting palette includes the resilient silver liriope, the asparagus fern, the red-hued heuchera 'Santa Ana Cardinal' and the pink-leafed nandina 'Fire Power.'

Other downtown projects promise to be less disruptive. Among them is the repainting of the underpass at the downtown Caltrain station and repairing broken light fixtures. This project, which the city is pursuing after requests from downtown businesses, is scheduled to kick off on Nov. 5 and last two weeks.

The project is included in the city's capital budget as the first phase of planned improvements to the Caltrain underpasses. The Caltrain tunnel will be painted a sandy "golden brown" to match the stone archway near the entrance to Stanford University.

"The existing paint is peeling, water is leaking inside the tunnel at the joints, existing lighting fixtures are broken and are in need of repair," the budget states.

University isn't the only downtown street that will see construction in the coming months. The city is scheduled to repave a stretch of Lytton Avenue between Alma and Florence streets in early January, a project that is expected to last two months. And work is proceeding on the recently approved renovation of the long-neglected Cogswell Plaza on Lytton and Ramona Street. That project includes removal of turf, installation of a new seating area and, most critically, the removal of the thick shrubbery that has long shielded the plaza's inhabitants and made the plaza a hot spot for alcohol, drug use and public urination.

Jensen said the goal of the renovation is to "encourage visitors and members of the business community to use that space for dining and broaden the user group of that plaza.

"Just the removal of the shrub has made a big difference on the space and how the space feels," Jensen said.

The renovation of Cogswell Plaza is scheduled to be completed on Nov. 22.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.


Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 30, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Why does the city spend so much tax money downtown and so little on grungy California Ave and Midtown?

Posted by What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2012 at 7:02 am

> Why does the city spend so much tax money downtown and so
> little on grungy California Ave and Midtown

The Cal Ave project--destined to make a mess of Cal Ave will bring in over $1M of public money to Cal Ave. As to Midtown, there isn't a lot the City can do other than to take it over. There was a plan to form a Redevelopment Agency some years ago--that would seize all of the propert through eminent domain, and then resell it to a developer who would rebuild Midtown according to the City's (the Council acting as the Redevelopment experts) image. This idea didn't fly--since it was difficult for people to buy that Midtown (as wellas most of Palo Alto) was "blighted"--which the City would have had to claim in order to seize the current owner's properties.

Now--RDAs are no longer functioning here in California, so that mechanism is out-of-reach of the City. It still can use eminent domain to seize the properties and give them to a favored developr under the misguided Supreme Court "Kello vs New Haven" ruling, although that's not likely either.

That does not mean that a private developer could not step in, buy up some/all of the properties, and redevelop that area. But given the hostility to private businesses that people in the Midtown area have demonstraed in the past--that's not very likely either.

There aren't very many options available to the City, at the moment--other than reducing the number of lanes on Middlefield from four to two--which was proposed back in the mid-90s.

Posted by Jo Ann, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 31, 2012 at 11:15 am

That plan to make Middlefield two lanes for a 24-hour bicycle route got an incredibly bad reaction from all the residents because, among other problems, it would have eliminated the turn lanes. Given how badly it backs up now , I can't imagine how much worse it would have been.

Our next door neighbor at the time (the late Jean Fowkes) was concerned that her elderly friends would no longer have been able to park in front of her house and would instead have had to hobble up to a traffic light and back. The image of cleaning people and gardeners doing the same with their equipment was not a pretty sight.

Jean did a great job of getting everyone involved to protest the idea.

The city spent a fortune on that traffic study and never could admit how dumb the idea was because there are safer less busy streets for biking and instead "tabled" it rather than kill it entirely.

The stupidity and intransigence of the whole process left a lot of is permanently skeptical of the city / transportation planning process.
The Cal Ave debacle hasn't improved my view of it.

Posted by Ducatigirl, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Downtown is where all the tourists go, and it is where people who live here take visitors from out of town. Non-citizens of PA drop money here, professional people have business lunches and dinners here.It simply draws more cash.