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Palo Alto adopts new rules for downtown parklets

Original post made on Sep 12, 2023

Seeking to bring order to the city's nascent and chaotic parklet scene, the Palo Alto City Council adopted a suite of rules Monday for outdoor dining spaces in University Avenue and portions of California Avenue.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, September 11, 2023, 11:33 PM

Comments (19)

Posted by Comment
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 12, 2023 at 6:14 am

Comment is a registered user.

Cal Ave is dead M - F during the day but for a brief lunch flurry at a couple of restaurants.

Council members are in denial about this, going there at night when restaurants are open (most no longer serve lunch). Ignored is the obvious - the place is so empty that you could throw a rock the length of the Ave and never hit anyone. This started with the pandemic, but continues because city council won’t open the street back up, led by Pat Burt who has made a Cal Ave mall his special obsession and nighttime hang out spot.

Retailers are ignored, often cut off from view by “parklets”(sans parks) with the restaurants allowed to expand onto City owned, taxpayer supported land, though they no longer need extra privileges.

The City has strangled the Ave with its loopy notion a mall is a panacea. Tell that to Santa Monica with its struggling Third St. Promenade.

Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 12, 2023 at 7:03 am

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Disagree with Comment posted above. California Avenue was humming on Friday at lunch time. Some residents and merchants are displeased by the miniture golf near El Camino. This suddenly appeared and gives a Carnival
look to the avenue. Who made that decision? Was it the city manager? Glad the city is moving forward on design for parklets. State Street in Santa Barbara is a fine example of an attractive and successful closed street. The ARB needs to consider that example going forward.

Posted by PaloAltoVoter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 12, 2023 at 7:35 am

PaloAltoVoter is a registered user.

Time to reopen Cal Ave. The businesses want it but are afraid of a couple very aggressive restaurant owners. The only thing there outside of dining hours are tumbleweeds.

Posted by anon1234
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 12, 2023 at 7:41 am

anon1234 is a registered user.

Actually after a search of restaurants open today for lunch on the closed portion of Cal ave, there are at least 15 dinning options not including Backyard Brew or Country sun….many more than
“ a couple”

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2023 at 8:03 am

Bystander is a registered user.

My main problem is that it is confusing where pedestrians should walk. If there are cars and bikes then walking in the road is dangerous, but at the same time it is often difficult to pass on the sidewalk particularly with wait staff crossing with plates of hot food. If you have a stroller or perhaps a wheelchair, there is often not enough space!

Walkable streets mean that there has to be somewhere for pedestrians to walk.

Apart from that, some look ugly or at least untidy, so some better rules to make it look more attractive is necessary. But outside dining is wonderful otherwise.

Posted by Comment
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 12, 2023 at 8:25 am

Comment is a registered user.

RE number of restaurants open for lunch on Cal Ave -
Country Sun isn’t a restaurant.
Back Yard Brew is snacks unless something changed lately.
Don’t confuse a take-out place with a restaurant.

A restaurant is a place with tables, a waitstaff to take your order and serve your food, fill your water glass, followed by a bill and tip - you know - you’ve been to them. Most are only open for dinner on the Ave.

Posted by One Town Over
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 12, 2023 at 8:39 am

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I don’t get it, why do retail shops on Cal Ave need the street open?

Posted by anon1234
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 12, 2023 at 8:56 am

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Comment said:
“A restaurant is a place with tables, a waitstaff to take your order and serve your food, fill your water glass, followed by a bill and tip - you know - you’ve been to them. Most are only open for dinner on the Ave.”
Nope. I went on Google maps and clicked on each restaurant and 15 were open for lunch today.
If you read correctly explicitly did not include Country Sun or Backyard brew.

Open today for lunch:
Mediterranean wraps
Local kitchens
Anatolian kitchen
Printers cafe
Lotus Thai Bistro
Ramen kowa
Nameste Indian
Jin sho

More options on side streets and open portion of Cal ave.
Sorry I was off by one!

Posted by TR
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 12, 2023 at 10:21 am

TR is a registered user.

There are plenty of opportunities to improve the current parklet and street usage models. But let's not lose track of what is good about it. It's great to activate the streets and get people outside in lovely California.

But we also shouldn't try to homogenize everything as we tidy things up. Sure, get rid of the ugly k-rail barricades and the like. But the parklets don't all have to look the same.

""Allowing a myriad materials, colors and designs will not support a quality retail environment for us," Shenk said." The mix is what makes it lively and not look like a developer mall.

Posted by NTB2
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 12, 2023 at 11:50 am

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I get what @comment is saying. There are few eat in wait staffed outdoor restaurants open for lunch. The others function as a “food court”, counter order, take your own food to table, get your own water, bus your own table. Few have a full table service option. Too bad GS had to go into so much detail about a “nut” point on the outdoor gyms. More substance needed above — comparisons to how Menlo, Los Altos have managed to have both outdoor dining, and street open to vehicles and make it appealing, safe with flowers and good lighting —-

Lauing has a good sense of humor. And JLH support was a nice detail. No need to quote that back and forth dialogue. The real meat of the chaos (not sweat smattered sidewalks from a spin class) — the tax revenue portion back & forth between council & Par Burt near the end of the agenda item was far more interesting, compelling both sides using percentage and a $100 bill —- GS you could have done better.

Posted by John Haynes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2023 at 12:12 pm

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I think our downtown area and California ave us junky looking. Eating in the street doesn’t really appeal to me. Our sidewalks downtown are always dirty. Look at Burlingame downtown as a nice example of clean sidewalks that are updated. We look old and tired downtown!!

Posted by 4good
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 12, 2023 at 12:14 pm

4good is a registered user.

Cal Ave is great! Lots of wonderful dining options and lots of easy parking in the area on both sides. The car free street means more space for everyone and it is safer.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 12, 2023 at 12:30 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I agree with John Haynes and don't understand why the streets can't at least be cleaner and the closed-off portion of the avenue de-junked. The miniature golf jumble at the end of the street is a terrible eyesore, as are all the "wraps" on the barriers. It makes no sense whatsoever that Palo Alto cannot achieve what other cities can.

Posted by Patty
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 12, 2023 at 12:48 pm

Patty is a registered user.

Before COVID, Cal Ave was primarily a lunchtime destination with the parking lots only full from 12-2. It was primarily office workers from the Cal Ave area and the research park that fed that vitality. Since COVID, we have only ONE-THIRD the prior number of office workers, plus people are shopping for goods much more online. That is why daytime business is weaker and retailers in general are struggling. In contrast, Cal Ave is now thriving during the evenings, in large part because the community loves the pedestrian street vibe. They are thriving by focusing on evening business. The recent pop-up furniture and games have been a well received addition. Some retailers have responded by adjusting their hours so that they are open when there are the most people there. Check out Gamelandia. They are thriving by focusing on the evening vitality while other retailers are sticking to their former business models, hoping that the clock can be turned back. Unfortunately, the city has still not come up with parklet standards for Cal Ave so that the restaurants (and even retailers) can invest in nice parklets rather than tents.

Posted by Carla
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 12, 2023 at 1:14 pm

Carla is a registered user.

John Shenk again??
Why is his voice the only one that get amplified?

Posted by Evergreen Park Observer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 12, 2023 at 7:02 pm

Evergreen Park Observer is a registered user.

I agree with Downtown North. Cal Ave is not a ‘second downtown’. It was a neighborhood place more like Midtown until the City decided to build class A office space and prices rose and merchants can no longer survive. Some we have a downtown, why can’t Cal Ave once again be a neighborhood shopping area? Make it unique from all the other shopping and dining options. Also, I hope Inread this incorrectly - only the merchants in the car-open are have to pay??? That makes no sense. The Council seems to be operating from idiosyncratic personal experiences on and not from any data-based method.

Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2023 at 8:16 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

The story says rules for Cal Ave will unfold over the next year. Another year debating policies that have already been kicked around so much they are bruised and broken. How Palo Alto.

Posted by Laurie
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 16, 2023 at 6:49 pm

Laurie is a registered user.

Have only lived here 15 years but Cal Ave has never been as vibrant as it is now. What an anachronistic dump it was in 2010. Now it’s hopping. Retail is mostly online now (even shoes and clothes) and used bookstores and charity shops just won’t cut it there. Lots of optometrists (doing quite well) and therapists for business, but it’s food central now.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2023 at 7:01 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Sorry posted this elsewhere instead of here.

Last night, Friday evening, San Francisco had its first Night Market. It was an idea that came from Asian evening street markets which are very popular in many countries in Asia. Food, handcrafts, music, entertainment (I saw ballet on the tv report) and lots of families walking the 3 blocks enjoying the atmosphere, eating, and spending money

I think Cal Ave could do similar. It could be a monthly event. Being innovative with what we have and making Cal Ave a destination for residents of other towns along the Peninsula.

Let's think about it now, before one of our neighbors gets the idea ahead of us and takes something that could help to make Cal Ave vibrant on a regular basis.

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