September 1997 Newsletter

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General Meeting: Hear Both Sides of the Sand Hill Road Initiative!
Compare: Measure M and Measure O
City Council Candidates Respond to Midtown Concerns
  Midtown Shopping Center Plans
  Oversize Homes
  Reconfiguring Traffic on Middlefield Road
"Monster" Houses—Where Do We Go From Here?
Become An Informed Voter!
MRA Membership News

Come to our Next MRA General Meeting!
Tuesday     October 7     7:30 p.m.
Friends Meeting House
(957 Colorado, between Louis and Greer Roads)

Hear Both Sides of the Sand Hill Road Initiative

The November election Sand Hill Road issues, Measure M and Measure O, will be the focal point for the meeting. Measure M and Measure O representatives will be on hand to present their perspectives with a focus on the impact to Midtown. Our Midtown neighborhood is several miles away from the proposed developments and many in the neighborhood are interested in how these measures affect us, so the presentations will be tailored to the interests of our neighborhood.

Measure O is the City Council approved measure which resulted from several years of discussion between the City and the Stanford Land Management Company. Mike Cobb, former mayor of Palo Alto and Midtown businessperson, will present on behalf of Measure O.

Measure M has been placed on the ballot by a grassroots organization of city residents which collected over 4,000 petition signatures in support of their measure. Walt Hays, attorney and mediator, Greenmeadow resident, former San Jose City Council member and local civic leader, will present on behalf of Measure M.

The Midtown Residents Association (MRA), a group of over 350 concerned households, realizes that there is considerable diversity of opinion among residents with respect to development issues. In this meeting we hope to bring the diversity of viewpoints out into the open. It will be especially interesting to view this proposed development from the perspective of our neighborhood. Following the short presentations by Cobb and Hays, the moderator will pose several questions to the speakers of general interest to Midtown. We will then open the floor for questions from Midtown residents.

The MRA has been working since January 1994 to revitalize the Midtown Palo Alto area. We are guided by the expressed visions and values of local residents. We want all residents of the Midtown area to realize that your opinion is important. By joining together, we have found a stronger voice about the future of our neighborhood. MRA has been quite active and visible in the areas of Housing Development and Economic Revitalization for the Midtown Shopping Area. We continue to be involved in working towards an improved neighborhood.

Members of the Midtown Residents Association look forward to meeting you on October 7th. We need your help to make our neighborhood a great place to live! Please join us for this Residents' Forum.

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Compare: Measure M and Measure O

In preparation for our general meeting, here are short statements representing the two measures.


On November 4th voters of Midtown will have the opportunity to Fix Sand Hill Road by voting Yes on Measure O. Unanimously approved by the Palo Alto City Council, and strongly supported by the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto, the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, 10 former Mayors and many residents, Measure O will:

Measure O also means housing for Stanford faculty and staff close to where they work, senior housing, on-site child care, free Marguerite shuttle service and 13 miles of additional bicycle and pedestrian paths. Stanford pays the full cost of all improvements.

Measure O is the most thoroughly reviewed project in the history of Palo Alto. It addresses real problems with real solutions for the benefit of all Palo Altans.

Palo Alto voters will also be voting on Measure M, placed on the ballot by opponents of Measure O. Measure M wipes out five years of public review, erases all project agreements carefully hammered out by the City and Stanford and provides no substitute. The Sand Hill Road bottleneck would continue and the financial burden for a future solution would shift to the taxpayers of Palo Alto.

Vote Yes On Measure O and No on Measure M on November 4th.

Andy Coe
Director of Community Relations, Stanford University


Measure O, Stanford's Sand Hill Road project, is the biggest development planned here in over thirty years, and we'll all feel its impact.

Measure M, on the other hand, was put on the ballot by over 4000 Palo Alto voters, and is designed make the changes we all want—the Sand Hill connection and new housing—but with new requirements for traffic management which will move us into the 21st Century.

Measure O, crafted by Stanford Land Management Company, with some tinkering from the Palo Alto city council, doesn't even deliver the four-lane road that Stanford promises.

Instead, 54,000 cars a day will creep through the ridiculous path that Measure O will construct: two lanes from Santa Cruz to the San Francisquito Creek bridge, four lanes past Oak Creek and the 628 new units on Ohlone Field and back down to two lanes from Arboretum to El Camino Real. And along the way, there will be 11 pedestrian-operated stoplights!

This will not "fix" Sand Hill. Instead, Measure O will choke the road—and our lungs—with cars spewing out particulates that increase asthma in our children and emphysema among our elders.

In addition, Stanford Shopping Center will expand by the size of two football fields, attracting 2,000 new cars to ALL our city streets. The intersection of Page Mill and El Camino, for example, will become so crowded that we will have to wait a minimum of two cycles—possibly up to 5 minutes—to cross.

Most importantly, it's clear that Measure O is just the beginning. Stanford promises to keep the golf course area as "open space" for another 20 years—but what then? We'll see research labs and more commuters. Measure O lays down more pavement as infrastructure for this development—a 1950's "fix" to the new century's problem.

Measure M, on the other hand, requires the City Council and Stanford to reduce traffic by offering more shuttles, van pools, housing closer to campus jobs and other incentives to REDUCE congestion. Crafted by the state's most experienced land use law firm, Measure M will extend Sand Hill Road, allow housing to be placed in a better location, keep the current cap on shopping center expansion, and preserve the last remaining creekside meadow in the Midpeninsula.

For more information, or to join your neighbors in this campaign, please call the Measure M office, 322-5111

Debbie Mytels, 2824 Louis Road

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City Council Candidates Respond to Midtown Concerns

We at MRA feel that the votes we all cast in the upcoming City Council elections will be important for our neighborhood and for the whole city. Because we want to take an active role in keeping you informed, we sent three questions to all candidates for the Council elections in November. The questions were chosen because of feedback from our members that these are things you care about. We are printing the responses we received just as they came in, without editing or deleting anything. As an organization we do not endorse any individual candidates. We hope these responses will help you decide.

Midtown Shopping Center Plans

Although new merchants are moving into the vacant buildings in Midtown, we in the neighborhood remain concerned about the lack of a master plan for the redevelopment of the shopping area. The parking lot circulation is a dangerous maze which will only worsen as new stores bring in more traffic. Lack of landscaping gives the center a blighted appearance. As a Council member, what ideas do you have for improving pedestrian and vehicular safety and the aesthetic appearance of this important commercial center?

Dena Mossar: I absolutely support your interest in comprehensive planning efforts to ensure appropriate development in the Midtown area. These planning efforts are also related to the issues you raise in your question #3. Such planning efforts must identify public gathering places, significant landscaping to improve aesthetics and reduce heat and noise, pedestrian and bicycle access routes and parking lot designs that are compatible with roadway modifications and non-automobile access requirements. Planning for transit access is also important—both for regional transit services, such as the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority bus system, and local transit services, such as local shuttles.

Gary Fazzino: Revitalization of neighborhood shopping centers should be a major city priority. Midtown revitalization will be a success only if a meaningful public/private partnership is established which includes property owners, neighbors, and the city. A master plan is needed which articulates the shared vision for the center, and delineates responsibilities for each sector to make the plan a reality. The city has the responsibility to manage traffic and parking issues, work in concert with owners to improve landscaping (which includes use of city funds or lending capability), and assure that uses are consistent with the master plan. Some successes have been achieved, but parking and traffic improvements, landscaping, and neighborhood oriented uses must be incorporated into the plan to make Midtown revitalization a reality.

Victor Ojakian: As a Planning Commissioner, I’ve noted the significance of Midtown. It is an important shopping center since it provides goods and services within walking distance of residences. I am a strong supporter of neighborhood shopping. Also, I agree the Center has a parking and circulation problem and lacks landscaping.

I support a Master Plan, and City Staff should be pressed to complete their assignment to write this Plan. As part of this assignment, a revision to the neighborhood commercial (CN) zone may be necessary to stimulate desired changes. This Plan is vital since it appears property owners will not make improvements without it.

Parking and circulation may be improved by better utilizing the City Parking Lot space and considering some change to Middlefield Road. As for landscaping, I would consider using city funds to foliate Middlefield and encourage business owners to improve the parking lot areas.

Edmund Power: I think this is a question to be resolved by some organization of the Midtown shopping area landowners with input from the neighbors and probably best done with the help of an independent professional planner and a commitment by the property owners to abide by that person’s directions.

Duf Sundheim: I agree with the statements in your question. I very much favor a master plan for the area. I believe the work done by Carol Jansen, who is a major supporter of my campaign, is an excellent basis for such a comprehensive plan. Given the complex ownership of that parcel, including ownership by private and public entities, it is the only way for the issue to be resolved.

Trina Lovercheck: I think there should be a comprehensive approach to planning for the Midtown area. I would support development of a plan that would look to improve traffic circulation and safety, as well as pedestrian safety. The plan should include a landscaping plan for the shopping area and a coordinated design plan that would include a color scheme and facade improvements so that the shopping area would have a more pleasing, aesthetic look and not just appear haphazard. Similar landscaping and facade improvements were made at the Charleston Center which give an improved look and upgraded feel to the center.

Eric Bloom: I am enthusiastic about the policies and programs laid out in the revised Comprehensive Plan re Midtown (including the bike/pedestrian path along Matadero Creek) and would push for their implementation. As you may know, the Plan calls for bringing interested parties together to work out a plan to revitalize Midtown’s commercial area. Unfortunately, the plethora of property owners and interests in that area has so far made it difficult to come up with any kind of plan. However, the City is one (and a very powerful one) of these many owners and if elected I would work to ensure that it becomes a flexible and active partner in creating a redevelopment plan. Examination of the basic planning and zoning restrictions that have prevented improvements in the past is where I would start.

Liz Kniss: As a current Council member, I support the Master Plan, and have voted to allocate funds for the study. The council direction has been to do a Master plan. However, the city’s ability to impose such a plan is problematic if there is a lack of consensus as to how it should be accomplished.

The amount allocated for this is still in the budget. City staff indicates they are ready to respond whenever the area is ready.

Sandy Eakins: You have raised several important issues about the Midtown shopping district and I will respond in order:

The first Midtown Improvement Committee effort appears to have stalled after a series of meetings and presentations. I recommend that we all observe the SOFA Coordinated Area Plan (CAP) process to see how it works. I am interested in applying what the City learns there to see what could be applied to Midtown. Additionally, we can build on the initial traffic and design work from the Committee. We also have the report from the Comprehensive Plan Midtown Workshop. Of course, I will support Midtown and renewed efforts to move ahead, but I want to see how the SOFA CAP process works first.

Tru Love: I've always believed that all goals large or small are attained only after proper planning and research. Being a newcomer to Palo Alto (my husband and I have only been here for about 3 1/2 years), I'm not as familiar with all the concerns of Midtown as I am of the problems of California Ave (next to the train station, which is where my husband and I live). But I'm not afraid of a little leg work. I've been investing time and energy in talking with as many friends, neighbors, city appointed officers, board/commission members as humanly possible. Because I feel you can only make an educated decision after you've heard all the facts.

Naturally, as a Palo Alto resident I support reasonable ideas that would improve pedestrian and vehicular safety, as well as the aesthetic appearance of Midtown's important commercial center. Palo Alto is my home. It's important to me that our neighborhoods are safe and that we feel comfortable in our surroundings.

But your question was 'what ideas do I have' idea is to listen to what all the people of Palo Alto want and make decisions that would be the best for the city. That's the beauty of being one of nine on the city council. Every council member shares their insight on the problem and concern and makes a decision by voting. It's not about what one council member wants, it's what do the people of Palo Alto want. And to answer your second question...of course, I'd support efforts to develop some sort of plan to move the process ahead. I love Palo Alto. And will always do what I believe is the best for the city.

Micki Schneider: I am in full support of a master plan for revitalization of the Midtown shopping area. I believe that there is no other commercial area in Palo Alto that has the potential for successful locally serving retail than does Midtown. I will support the city’s participation, both with staff support and with money to see that this happens. A great deal of work has already been accomplished through the efforts of the city, the property owners, developers and neighbors. It is time to move forward on the good work already begun through a master plan supported by developers, business owners, neighbors and the city.

Andrew L. Freedman: As a preface, I grew up in the Midtown area. I recall when:

I mention this because I believe it’s important to know how one’s city has developed. Midtown Residents Association has become one of Palo Alto’s most pro-active groups and the real question here isn’t, "what will I do?" but rather "what do you want and how can I support you?" Your question already raises the problem and the solution—needed landscape design and improved traffic circulation at Midtown shopping area.

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Oversize Homes

The local shortage of available homes, changing family needs, and the desirability of living in Palo Alto have increased the amount of development and the number of "scrapes" and major remodels in South Palo Alto. We now have many more two-story houses. The R1 (50' or 60' by 100') lots were intended primarily for single- story houses. The current zoning ordinances (lot coverages, setbacks and daylight plane rules) are inadequate for two-story houses. What steps would you take to preserve neighborhood character and stability?

Dena Mossar: I think it is vitally important that we reach consensus on what makes the "character" of each of our neighborhoods—with the understanding that "character" changes from neighborhood to neighborhood. As a member of CPAC, I supported—and continue to support—the development of building regulations, guidelines and incentives specific to neighborhoods, where consensus can be reached.

I understand personally the issues related to narrow lots (50' rather than 60') because I, too, live in a house on a narrow lot. These lots create problems, not only around lot coverage, setbacks and daylight planes, but also with preservation of large trees, privacy and noise. I would support special "narrow-lot" requirements for second-story structures, windows, construction noise and impacts on existing trees.

I believe that efforts to preserve neighborhood character will lead to reductions in the trend towards "scrapes and major remodels."

As a council person, I would

Gary Fazzino: City rules and regulations re housing construction and remodeling need to be sensitive to the unique character of each neighborhood. Some old areas need the protection of the historic ordinance. Other newer single story areas have chosen the single story overlay zone protection. Areas like Midtown, which has a unique mix of housing types, needs rules which reflect its diversity and lot sizes. Setback and daylight plane rules, for example, should be adjusted to protect homeowners from intrusion. The city should work with neighbors to identify problems unique to the area, and establish planning rules to address these issues. Rules should be predictable and easy to understand for both those who are remodeling, and those who are neighbors.

Victor Ojakian: A review of my Planning Commission decisions would show I’m a strong supporter of maintaining neighborhood character and stability. I’ve recommended the Single Story Overlay Zone every time I’ve had to rule on this special zone which restricts an area to only single story homes. Additionally, I would consider a residential design review process aimed at having new homes conform to their residential surroundings.

Edmund Power: The best solution is to organize, forming a group that will work hard and spend the money to elect a majority of Councilmembers that are committed to the best interests of the people of Palo Alto so that the voice of the people may be heard in the government.

Duf Sundheim: I believe we should review the lot coverage, setback and daylight plane rules to insure that they are appropriate for the lot sizes found in the Midtown area.

Trina Lovercheck: The city’s current zoning ordinances and rules for single family houses have been in place for a number of years and were implemented after careful study. Perhaps it’s time to ask the planning commission to evaluate the effectiveness of the rules. If there are places where they’re not working, recommendations should be developed and proposed. If there are areas that are not being monitored well, then those should be corrected.

Eric Bloom: You call them “scrapes” and I call them “Taco Bells®” but regardless of what you call them, they are gutting the souls of neighborhoods. Ironically, the City has plenty of examples of beautiful remodels and new construction that are attractive and don’t malign the character of the street, so it can be done. Therefore, I feel that it is time to consider a residential design review process to ensure compatibility with adjacent properties. Finally, I think that Palo Alto’s entire planning process needs review and overhaul to encourage rather than impede attractive and practical housing.

Liz Kniss: The preservation of neighborhood character and stability is one that many Palo Alto neighborhoods have discussed. Some neighborhoods have chosen to put a single story overlay on their definable area, so that a second story cannot be added. In regard to the lot size of 5000 - 6000 square feet, and whether or not they were intended for single story homes only: during development of the single family home regulations it was not suggested that this lot size should have different zoning regulations. Estimates indicate that 1/4 to 1/3 of Palo Alto lots of this size do have 2 story single family homes. In 1989, the city cut back substantially on the size of single family homes; a number of issues may have arisen from that. Design, rather than size, could be the issue in some instances.

Sandy Eakins: I interpret this question broadly. Replacement houses can be controversial in several ways— size, bulk, height, quality of design, compatibility of style, choice of materials and accessories. Our lots were originally developed primarily with one story houses, but these lots can be made to accommodate two-story houses if designed sensitively. In the 1989 R-1 changes, floor area ratios were reduced and other modifications were made with the intention of limiting size and bulk of new houses. One of the changes was the carport exception which has been used to increase the size of some new houses. I have already asked to have the Planning Commission study our carport rules so that garage doors cannot be applied to carports without losing the “free” square footage from carports. Additionally, I believe that Palo Alto needs design standards, not just guidelines, for all new residences and major remodelings. I agree that lot coverage, set- backs and daylight plane formulas will not, by themselves, prevent the building of houses that look and feel too big for the neighborhood. This will not be easy. It will take much public study and discussion, but I believe that our neighborhoods are worth our spending the effort.

Tru Love: Housing and development is a very hot topic in Palo Alto. But remember, the times they are a'changing. Palo Alto is no longer a sleepy little town next to Stanford University. Palo Alto is the heart of Silicon Valley and without a doubt the most perfect place on earth. And being so perfect, everyone wants to live here. Palo Alto is only 25.98 square miles. There are approx. 26,000 housing units, and according to a 1995 census our population is almost 59,000. It's basic Econ 101—supply and demand. Palo Alto is a small city, everyone wants to live here—some thing’s got to give. And lately it's been the single story homes. The single story houses are no longer meeting the changing family needs of our residents. I should know, Stephen and I just bought our condo a few years ago. We're starting our family and we only have a 2 bedroom, 1 bath condo. We want to stay in Palo Alto, but our choices are: buy a shack and tear it down or buy a cottage and add on to it. These are not unreasonable needs—young families in Palo Alto need affordable housing. Other options (like buying a million dollar home) is too expensive for young families like Stephen and myself. I truly believe everyone is just trying to do the best they can with what they have. But I must admit, I'm tired of all my friends leaving Palo Alto because housing it's too expensive. I just lost my friend Diane and her husband to Utah for this very reason. (Which is one of the reasons that helped me decide to run for office—I decided to stop complaining and start doing something positive to change the housing situation. I am NOT moving to Utah!!). As far as preserving the neighborhood character and stability...I believe there should be a certain limit on what can be built in Palo Alto. I hate "the taco bell® houses" that are built inches away from the property line. I love the charm of Palo Alto's more quaint homes with small Howard's End-ish stained glass windows and well kept lawns. I believe we can find a balance between the two.

Micki Schneider: The preservation of neighborhood character is something I feel very strongly about. That uniqueness is what makes Palo Alto so special and separates us from other communities. The FARs adopted in the early 80s attempted to deal with oversize houses on small lots. Recently we have seen giant houses built on relatively small lots which still fall into the current zoning envelope. I think it’s time to revisit our zoning ordinances and I strongly encourage the use of single story overlays in areas where appropriate. I believe we can insist on neighborhood continuity and still preserve personal property rights.

Andrew L. Freedman: Unfortunately, the Planning Department, Planning Commission and City Council approved many of the "scrapes" and subsequent "Taco Bell®/Cape Codville-style" housing which has taken away from the character of Palo Alto neighborhoods. It wasn’t until the College Terrace Neighborhood Association literally stormed council chambers and put their foot down that council finally responded. But merely instituting a ban on pre-1940 scrapes isn’t enough, and the year since hasn’t produced any real solution. As I discussed in my 1995 campaign, the solution begins when guidelines are established that balances out rights of property owners with preserving the characteristics of our neighborhoods. To establish these guidelines, the Planning Department needs to benchmark this issue by consulting other cities around the US that are similar to Palo Alto.

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Reconfiguring Traffic on Middlefield Road

There has been discussion both at a neighborhood level and within the city's Traffic Department about narrowing Middlefield Road south of Oregon as a device to slow traffic, make the street more pedestrian friendly and draw the east and west sides of the commercial area together. This could involve on-street parking, with either diagonal or parallel parking, and the addition of street trees to improve the area visually. Do you favor or not favor such a reconfiguration of the street and how do you think the change would impact Midtown if it was implemented?

Dena Mossar: As a member of CPAC, I was—and continue to be—supportive of funding a study to determine the most cost-effective methods to slow traffic and make the street in the Midtown area more pedestrian friendly.

There are many potential options, including narrowing Middlefield to two lanes and the installation of modern roundabouts at key intersections. I have a preference for reducing roadway width whenever feasible, but without careful analysis and discussion, it would be premature to judge the impacts of any possible alternative.

Whatever roadway alternative is chosen, it is important that it be compatible with the design of the commercial center, encourage transportation alternatives to the automobile and enhance the pedestrian feel of the Midtown area.

As a council member, I would support your efforts to pursue such a study.

Gary Fazzino: I have always supported retention of the current speed limit on Middlefield Road. I co- authored the proposal to place speed bumps on Ross Road, and supported use of traffic circles in other areas. Traffic calming devices are very effective in reducing traffic speeds, while avoiding creation of traffic volume problems on adjacent streets. I also co-authored the traffic safety initiative, which increased police attention and resources to reduction of speeds. The city is using motorcycles, radar, and stoplight devices to cite speeders and red light runners. Longer term, I support infrastructure improvements such as medians, trees, and parking on arterials such as Middlefield to create a boulevard rather than expressway effect in order to further reduce speeds.

Victor Ojakian: If Middlefield is narrowed, it should be to improve parking and circulation in the Center and for traffic safety reasons. Again, my Planning Commission record shows I’m very sensitive to traffic safety issues, especially where young children are involved. I was concerned when my children biked to Jordan, so I relate to other parents’ traffic concerns. I favor a temporary roadway change, so its impacts can be tested. Any final narrowing of Middlefield should be done in conjunction with traffic calming devices or a plan to keep traffic off of all adjacent streets. Also, this should be an opportunity to improve bike and pedestrian access to the Midtown. Finally, I would consider use of a roundabout at Middlefield/Colorado and Middlefield/Bryson.

Edmund Power: The simple answer is yes. But I am afraid that adding on-street parking is not the best solution.

Duf Sundheim: Reducing traffic speed is one of my campaign’s TOP priorities. Especially with the increasing number of children in our neighborhoods. I believe we have to do everything we can to reduce traffic speed. Also, as I shop and eat in Midtown, I am especially interested in beautifying the area.

In theory, I favor the narrowing of Middlefield from 4 to 2 lanes. I have taken this position because I believe it will reduce traffic speed, beautify the area and not transfer traffic to ancillary streets or unnecessarily impede the flow of traffic. However, to verify that my inclination is correct, I would recommend we temporarily reduce Middlefield from 4 to 2 lanes to determine whether I and others are correct. If we are correct, I would then move quickly to effectuate the change from 4 to 2 lanes.

Trina Lovercheck: I would like to see a reconfiguration of Middlefield Road that would make the commercial area more viable and encourage people to patronize the area. I think such changes would impact Midtown in a positive way. Making the street more pedestrian friendly and drawing the east and west sides of the commercial area together would be positive ways to improve the area. Ideas on how to improve the visual, aesthetic look should be explored. I would want to study the traffic impacts of narrowing the road on the wider Midtown area. I would support funding a study that would evaluate various proposals for alleviating the present speeding on Middlefield Road.

Eric Bloom: Since I live on Ross Road ( a short cut around traffic on Middlefield) I am wary of squeezing down Middlefield, but not against it. While I would prefer bike lines, center planted medians, and turn lanes to on-street parking, I enthusiastically support the effort to study proposals for alleviating speeding, as long as the goals of the study focus on producing a calm and steady flow of traffic in the area and off residential streets.

Liz Kniss: I would support your efforts to fund a study that evaluates a variety of proposals in regard to alleviating the speeding problem.

The narrowing of Middlefield should be investigated if there is sufficient support to do so. Traffic studies need to be done in greater depth and six month trials of different configurations could be looked at. Given the current use of Middlefield Road as a major north/south connector street, reconfiguration should be studied carefully before permanent changes are made. Making the area more pedestrian friendly would be a positive move.

If studies support a reconfiguration that will not push traffic onto neighboring streets, I would strongly support looking at the narrowing, and making this a more pedestrian and business friendly shopping area. This center has great potential, and I think a different "look and feel" will alter the entire area.

Sandy Eakins: Middlefield Road, for much of its length, is designated in the Draft Comprehensive Plan as a Residential Arterial. Like most streets, Middlefield is a public space serving several functions—auto traffic, pedestrian circulation and retail areas. In its present form, Middlefield is heavily dominated by automobiles to the detriment of pedestrians and even retail. There is concern that any changes to Middlefield Road will cause more commuter traffic to go to parallel streets where it will not be welcomed. South of Oregon, especially after Midtown, the street becomes very wide and drivers increase their speeds in response to the physical conditions. An earlier traffic study found that most of the traffic in the southern part is local, not intercity. On the other hand, some people believe that Middlefield frequently is an alternative route for longer distance commuters when there are backups on 101 or Alma. All traffic patterns must be studied and understood before deciding on specific redesign and physical changes. I already support the goal of calming traffic not just in Midtown, but all over the city. As you indicate in your question, a study is needed. I believe that the study should be area wide so as to consider and understand the system of parallel and cross streets, especially between Oregon Expressway and Colorado Avenue. I also believe that any study should be part of a coordinated plan for land use and other changes as I described in my response to the first question. Again, I support efforts to find funding or funding mechanisms for these studies.

Tru Love: Wow. Interesting idea... "narrowing Middlefield Road south of Oregon as a device to slow traffic, make the street more pedestrian friendly, and draw the east and west sides of the commercial area together"... seems to me Middlefield moves slow enough as it is. If you get stuck on Middlefield during rush hour it's almost as bad as University.

I honestly couldn't tell you if I'd favor such an idea. I need more information. I'd need to know what studies have been done to evaluate the impact on Midtown if this new plan was implemented. I'd also need to know how the residents of Midtown and other areas of Palo Alto felt about it. Would it necessarily be a better idea to slow down traffic on Middlefield, only to increase traffic on the side streets? More questions need to be asked. More information is required.

Micki Schneider: I favor the narrowing of Middlefield Road and the addition of street trees to draw the east and west sides of the commercial area together. This will have two immediate positive results. One, it will calm traffic and go a long way in reducing the number of rear end accidents as cars turn into driveways. Two, it will increase the visibility of the businesses to the passing traffic. The city will benefit from increased sales tax and the environment will benefit from fewer longer car trips to find services. I will support your efforts to fund a study that evaluates the proposals.

Andrew L. Freedman: I do not favor a reconfiguration of the streets in the Midtown area. CPAC’s recommendation (narrowing the road to 2 lanes) fails to consider the traffic impact when buses make their stops and when vehicles turn either left or right into shopping areas. This is another area that is going to hinder the process of implementing the Comprehensive Plan. Speeding on Middlefield Road is not a new issue, nor is speeding on Embarcadero or Arastradero Roads. The problem is not that there are two lanes of traffic going in the same direction. The real problem simply boils down to 2 words: DRIVER BEHAVIOR—and reconfiguring the streets will not change that. However, this can be dealt with more economically and efficiently through precise traffic enforcement.

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"Monster" Houses — Where Do We Go From Here?

by George Stern, a Midtown homeowner

At MRA's March 17th meeting, over a hundred attendees voiced their concern about very large, intrusive, sometimes ugly houses springing up around Midtown and jarring the character of our neighborhoods. A small group of residents formed a discussion group to redefine the issues and plan a series of action steps to deal with the problem.

By the end of July, the group had met several times and selected priority issues: excessive floor area and offensive window placements on second stories which often interfered with neighbors' light and privacy; overused exemptions to the setback requirements, such as protruding chimneys and bay windows that crowd adjoining homes, and irregular roof lines that clash with their surroundings. Most of these issues are already identified in the City's residential guidelines, which don't currently have the force of law.

The residents' group prefers to frame any potential changes in Palo Alto's laws in ways that don't interfere with homeowners' real needs to alter, improve and expand their residences for their own personal and business reasons. Part of our strategy is to set up local networks and alliances among interested parties.

One way to further define the problem is through a new series of discussion/workshops called "The Future of Residential Structures in Palo Alto" which began last month. Moderated by local architect John Northway, the sessions are attended by a small number of invited stakeholders: community organizations, like our MRA, builders and developers, architects, members of the planning commission and city council, the Chamber of Commerce, and historical and housing advocates.

From these activities and others, better definition of many housing and neighborhood issues facing Midtown and all of Palo Alto will emerge, so we can determine what actions to take.

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Become An Informed Voter!

DateEventSponsored by
October 7Sand Hill Initiative Forum
Held at the Friends Meeting House
MRA General Meeting
October 8Palo Alto City Council Candidates DebateLeague of Women Voters
October 16Civic League Candidate Debate
Held in the Palo Alto City Council Chambers
Co-sponsored by MRA
October 23Palo Alto Daily DebateBroadcast on Channel 6

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MRA Membership News

Members who have renewed since the last newsletter include:
Tais & Jim BarberaCraig BarneyScott Benson
Mary & Gene BulfRuth CharltonRichard Clark & Glenda Jones
Paul ConleyAnn & Alan DavisDorothy & William Dewing
Greg Bell/Kathleen DuganDavid Bergen/Rhea FeldmanSteve & Mary Forman
Leland FrancoisSally Froud/Steve GreenbaumMargaret & Richard Govea
Martha GreeneEmily HarrisJohn Herndon
Annette IsaacsonPamela & Yousif KharakaMarie Kitajima
Deborah Kong (SJ Mercury)Mary Ann KvenvoldenJudith & Karl Levitt
Claire & Bob MacElroyJean McFaddenMary Ann Michel
Michael MoraAnn Firth MurrayDebbie Mytels
Lesley Kalmin & Todd NewmanJean OlmstedKristin & Doug Owen
Lois SaloAnnette & Leif SchaumannJean & Charles Scott
Barbara & Michael ShepherdRoger B. SmithDavid Squires
Tatiana & Roland Van HoutenDeborah & Mark WebbPamela Webster & Peter Davis
Dawn WilcoxLydia & Norm WintemuteGarry Wyndham
Anne Truitt & Rick Zelenka  
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