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Rule changes aim to widen El Camino sidewalks

Original post made on Feb 27, 2014

With its sea of cars, narrow sidewalks, fortress-like office complexes and eclectic scattering of motels, restaurants and oil-change stations, El Camino Real rarely justifies the "grand boulevard" vision planners have long been pushing for the central corridor. Now, Palo Alto hopes to change that.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 26, 2014, 10:00 PM

Comments (29)

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 9:15 am

Wasn't Mikki's approved by these people. It certainly "built-to-the-line" when no other building was built that way in the area.

Posted by Another joke
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 9:33 am

" Concerned about new buildings bringing too much mass to the narrow street,"
Uh, gennady, the street is 6 lanes wide with a center divider. Hardly narrow.

"to a Champs Elysee ideal"
The delusions of grandeur held by many in the city and supported by the weekly are laughable. We are not Paris, thank god.
In order to make el,camino pedestrian friendly you would need shops, restaurants, retail etc. this will never happen-- the would be an outcry about too much traffic and thesual palo alto, self centered complaining.

"less acclaimed developments such as Arbor Real, "
Arbor real is a totally, self- inflicted wound by the city. Time to,realize that and get over it.

Posted by 35 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:07 am

Thank you @Another Joke. You are right on every point you make. Nobody walks El Camino for the very reasons you mentioned and unless the "Champs Elysee" shops, restaurants and related retail appear overnight, the need to do this is insane and wasteful. And yes, thank God we are not Paris.

Posted by El-Camino-Real-Is-A-Highway-Not-A-Park
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:09 am

> At the Wednesday meeting, Commissioner Greg Tanaka said the street is
> "pretty far away" from the kind of a vibrant boulevard that would encourage > pedestrians to say "wow."

Something is wrong with someone who believes that El Camino Real, arguably the most important interior arterial in the Silicon Valley, would ever be a place that pedestrians would spend a significant portion of their day wandering around .. saying "Wow".

Palo Alto deserves better people in decision making roles than this one.

Posted by 40 year resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:13 am

What about the areas where there are NO sidewalks!!!!! Very very dangerous.

Posted by anon
a resident of Monroe Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:17 am

9 ft is not adequate width for a sidewalk. How would there be room for trees, newspaper racks, kids on bikes, pedestrians walking in opposite directions?

Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:21 am

>Palo Alto deserves better people in decision making roles than this one.<
I agree. I have no idea why he ws appointed. He knows nothing about planning.
It is just that he is a safe vote for developers.

Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:55 am

I'm voting for Champs Elysee!

Posted by Midtown guy
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I have one word: TREES.

Plant them all along sidewalks and buildings that are close to sidewalks. Conceal the architectural abominations until they one day fall.

They should have planted tall evergreen trees (redwood, cyprus) alongside the hideous Jewish center behemoth, with its faux shadows on San Antonio near highway 101. Ditto Mikki's on Alma. . Ditto the monstrosity for low income built on Alma.

Palo Alto used to be known as the "tree city."
Now it's Hideous Architecture city.

Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2014 at 12:44 pm

I agree totally with Midtown Guy. The new buildings in Palo Alto are hideous.
The recent architect of choice for developers seems to be the Hayes Group. [Portion removed.] Apparently he is also the architect of choice for the members of the Architectural Review Board. They let his designs sail through the ARB process. Hayes is no Birge Clark!! Of course, what do we expect from the ARB members. Has anyone read their qualifications? The board is comprised of a bunch of untalented, flunky architects. One of them was actually the head architect for the Jewish Community Center. Need I say more... Unfortunately most of the ARB members still have another 1-1/2 to 2 years left for their term on the ARB. That gives them plenty of time to continue their destruction of Palo Alto.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 1:24 pm

The ARB is a big problem. Here are my concerns:

1. Only one member lists an address as a residence in Palo Alto. All of the other members either list a business address in Palo Alto or not in Palo Alto at all. As far as I can tell, only one Palo Alto RESIDENT is on the ARB.

2. Clare Malone Pritchard is listed as a member. She is an architect at Fergus Garber. Same place where Dan Garber works (who is also a resident of PA). However Dan Garber resigned the ARB due to conflict of interest issues since he now has J. Arrillaga as a client. How can Malone Pritchard remain on the ARB and not have a similar issue for conflict of interest? Her term ends on 9/30/2014 - but she should not be on the ARB at all!!!

3. From what I can tell, there are no listed requirements for a minimum number of members to be residents of PA. Only requirements are: "The Board is composed of five members, at least three of whom are architects, landscape architects, building designers or other design professionals. Terms are for three years and commence on October 1." This clearly needs to change. I understand the professional minimums - may not agree with their collective decisions lately - but agree that you need professionals on the board. But unless otherwise indicated, only one PA resident on the ARB is a big, big problem. There is no on the ARB who would appear to at least represent the homeowners/citizens of PA in the decision process. This is so wrong.

Posted by Another joke
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Palo,altan-- oneofmthe ARB members term expires this year . Which one was the head architect for the JCC. At the time people hated Borge Clark's post office , so you cannot judge Hayes work now. The fact that the head architect of the JCC is a plus-- that is the perfect building for its location. Of course people in palo alto think Burge Clark and Julia Morgan were something special, so that already says something.
Anyway, this whole pidream about el camino is another feel good plan put forth so that palo alto can be the leader in something or,ther. Isn't that what drives everything in the city-- the need to feed palo altos deflated ego?

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Seriously ... if they want to side El Camino's sidewalks ... why do they build all the new places right out to the edge of the existing sidewalks?

Posted by wayne
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 27, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Does El Camino Real have a Burger King? Then it's like the Champs Elysee! I recommend the (what else?) french fries.

Posted by OldAlum
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 27, 2014 at 4:32 pm

OH, please. Can't we elect some city management that will just relax and stop tinkering with the city. Another case of a vast idea with a half vast plan.

Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 27, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

I'm also with Midtown guy. More trees would at least beautify and camouflage that soulless stretch of blah.

Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2014 at 5:31 pm

There are trees by the JCC. However, if you think about it, you cannot plant large trees because that will impede traffic.
However there is nothing wrong with the JCC. I realize that it replaced the lovely KFC and Sun facility and does not fit in with the two gas stations and the hanger like structure on the other corners. Also I am sure the 10 pedestrians that walk by it every day are very upset.
But I agree thatbitnis whole " chumps élysées" thing is another Palo Alto mistake

Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Marie is a registered user.

This article is a prime example of the words of the city council not matching its actions. They call for wider sidewalks and setbacks in the grand boulevard initiative (which I support without a dedicated bus line) and yet the reality is that the planning department has been requiring "build-to-line," which has led to the looming reality of the Elks Club, Miki's, Arbor Real and the JCC. Don't get me wrong - I belong to and love the JCC and think the location is perfect. I can even live with the 60 feet. But could the architect have come up with an uglier building? The fact that it is an improvement over the KFC is not a ringing endorsement.

It is time to have a complete change in the ARB. I think it needs to be dissolved and reconstituted as a group that reflects the residents of Palo Alto, not the developers. It includes the architect of the JCC? Only one member lives in Palo Alto? When the city council is quite rightly considering increasing the sidewalks from 12 feet to 18 feet in width, they suggest a reduction to 9 feet is acceptable?

I'm sure the ARB members are big supporters of Ken Hayes who suggested that Palo Alto should improve Miki's (his architecture) by closing two lanes of Alma to plant trees and add a bike lane! He is so out of touch, I can't even begin to understand him. Yes, there should be trees and a bike lane - but if that is what we want, we will have to buy the land to put it there. Today, at 5pm, cars back up a mile from the light at Miki's. And this is before a number of large developments have been completed. Even the best TDM plan will only reduce the number of additional future car trips. There is no hope that, given the office space in the pipeline, anything PA can do will reduce the number of current car trips.


Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 7:57 pm

Requiring ARB members to be residents, while a step in the right direction, does not assure better decisions by the ARB. We have a completely broken system which became abundantly clear with the approval by the staff and ARB of The Cheesecake Factory on University Ave more than ten years ago. Since then a multitude of projects visually and functionally, oversized and underparked, have had devasting effects on the character and aesthetic values of this City. This is not a regulatory process that we have here, but is essentially a series of random outcomes depending on the particular projects submitted.

We need structural change. A citizen committee needs to be created which
would have review power over all large private and public projects or actions by the City for compatibility,scale,aesthetics and functionality. This committee would hire a recognized design professional/architect responsible to it. The members of this committee could be nominated by the various neighborhood associations, the Historical Association, etc. With this review function in place as a backup, an unfettered mall design concept like The Cheesecake Factory for University Ave for example,if it were ever submitted in the first place would have been rejected immediately. The track record over a ten year period mandates structural change, a division of power between the residents and City Hall.

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm

A citizen committee with review power with a “recognized design professional/architect responsible to it” would be an unmitigated disaster.

Who would decide on this god-like professional? Who would nominate or elect or appoint the citizens? Would they be modernists or Birge Clarkists?

I’m not saying the ARB shouldn’t be reformed and it certainly has a lot to answer for, but another committee would be just another group to criticize. And design by committee never works.

Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Feb 27, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Thank goodness our leadership seems to finally realize that crowding buildings close to the street with narrow sidewalks is a disaster. I'm convinced that Mikki's market failed because it felt so monolithic, crowded and top heavy. I stopped in their first week and the store was gorgeous. But it was so uninviting from the road that I never went back. I always want to hurry past that eyesore. At least we can learn from our mistakes.

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2014 at 8:28 am

The purpose of a citizen committee is not to do design but to establish
boundaries for projects submitted in terms of compatibility, scale, aesthetics,functionality. The egregious examples we are all familiar with
would be rejected by a citizen committee in quick order. It's not that
complicated. This is how you break the status quo, how you change the
ground rules and turn things around here. The key here is to establish
"boundaries" for projects.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2014 at 9:09 am

As long as the new JCC is being discussed, is there anyway to make it more bike and pedestrian friendly? As someone who has to ride on the sidewalk on San Antonio to reach the Baylands, could someone have designed a place which is less hospitable to pedestrians? Does anyone walk to it for its pools and gym? How about trimming the vegetation so it doesn't interfere with the woeful sidewalk?

Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2014 at 9:53 am

Champs Elysée which El Camino Real is not, but I understand the idea of the Grand Blvd., Trees on walkable sidewalks, decent amount shops and services, open space here and there.

Uniformed lighting, street furniture, clean brightly transit stops, and order. It will help to keep ugly tasteless buildings away.


Arbor Real was a horrible idea, should have mixed use. Housing above shops and offices, townhomes or flats in the rear.

BV Trailer Park, retail units with apartments in the front, townhomes and flats in the rear.

Classic traditional architecture, Palo Alto has certain buildings that will give you an idea. Build, build it to last.

Posted by sorry Palo Alto resident
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 28, 2014 at 11:19 am

Mid-town Guy for mayor! The PA City Council lost its way with the death of the older gentleman who attended every council meeting and had the audacity to speak out and complain when the council lost its way. When did the architects from the ugly school of design take over? Who thought a Pelican Bay prison should go up at Home and El Camino? Who decided that 15 feet easement should be required for a one or two story house but a big chunky hulk of a building (fifty feet tall with faux shadows and geometric projections) should assault the sidewalk so directly. I feel guilty every time I pass these two horrors because I never went to a single City Council meeting. I just expected the architectural review board and our city council to watch development and represent our best interests. Plant trees, ivy, kudsu asap!

Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2014 at 1:51 pm

You can get creative with a 50 to 60 foot tall building, the tallest being only built in areas that won't affect the single family or low density area. A building that height should only be built if a area can support that many people.

Back to the 50 foot, how tall is a story office building vs a residential building of 4 story building with low ceilings.

It might sound funny but how about a 3 story building with mixed units, unfinished sale units with the idea of office or residential use. Someone can live next to a CPA and a work live artist. Shop keeper units/rental unit, 2 to 3 story flats. One could build.3 rentals or ownership units. 2 story office buildings with ground floor retail or all offices. 2 story small 1 bedroom cottages around a courtyard.

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2014 at 3:54 pm

@ resident: “The purpose of a citizen committee is not to do design but to establish boundaries for projects …”

Boundaries are already established by zoning laws, which unfortunately have been ignored.

And whose “aesthetics” would this citizens’ committee follow? A mmittee’s aesthetics could be even worse than the ARB’s.

Posted by 54 year resident
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 28, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Really! This is what they're spending their time on? If there were one store that someone would want to walk to on el camino real (besides T&C) then it might be worth thinking about, but honestly we should just plant big trees and hide the mess.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2014 at 10:55 am

"Grand Boulevard" aside, I am definitely very much in favor of mandating street trees adjacent to the street, and, wider sidewalks on the building side of the trees. I would like to see that enforced throughout the city, including commercial areas. Street trees and, somewhat more recently, bicycle lanes and routes, have long distinguished Palo Alto.

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