Spring 2001 Newsletter

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Council Decision on Retail Services at Midtown
Just Do It! Traffic In Midtown
Future of Residential Neighborhoods
Harmony Bakery Has A New Home
Safeway Renovations
News Briefs
MRA Delivery to Shut-Ins
Protesting Council Change to Oral Communications Time

Council Decision on Retail Services at Midtown
by Annette Ashton

The Midtown Residents Association had excellent support last night, from both Midtown residents and other neighborhoods, at the City Council meeting on the final vote to extend the interim ordinance-much described in eNews-to March 2003. After long council deliberations, we in MRA are quite pleased with the council's decision and feel that we made a major step forward to protect our retail and services.

What finally happened? Council member Judy Kleinberg took the lead in crafting the final amendments that finally passed while "our neighborhood heart is still beating."

  1. Now any new office will be subject to a public conditional use permit process.
  2. Any new office approved cannot be greater than 2500 square feet.
  3. Any office will be subject to a definition of "neighborhood serving use."
  4. Residential use will be permitted in the Midtown Commercial Neighborhood District.

Please note that existing offices will NOT be affected by these changes.

Council member Burch made an important key point worth sharing. He reminded us that council can vote for a retail ordinance, but it is incumbent to "the people of Palo Alto" to shop locally and support our local merchants. He then asked us "to take responsibility when we go to Home Depot, Costco or Wal-Mart."

Council member Beecham floated an amendment that would have allowed the Harmony/Bank building to be used as an office for 10-15 years with a requirement for a total rebuild at the end of this period. Council felt that this pivotal space should be used for retail and the amendment did not pass.

The Midtown Residents Association Business and Public Relations Committee, headed by Ron Wolf, remains committed to try to bring the right business to Midtown-resulting in a win for the residents and a win for the property owners.

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Just Do It! Traffic In Midtown
by Richard Swent and Deborah Webb

Midtown Parking and Circulation Study

On January 24, MRA representatives met with City transportation officials Joe Kott and Ashok Aggarwal and the consultant who had been hired to do the study of Midtown traffic and circulation in the parking lot.

  • Statistics for traffic exiting and entering the center at all possible points were presented on a diagram of the site. The data represent the peak numbers per hour taken between 4 and 6 PM on a weekday in late September or early October (after Stanford classes started).

  • Several options were proposed for the parking lot. The ones listed below have only small impacts on the number of parking spaces. The only way to get any significant gain in parking is to pave over the garden. The options presented were:
    • Restrict the exit onto Middlefield Road near the coffee place to one lane, with concrete barriers to force a right turn only
    • Make both aisles between Longs and the coffee place inbound aisles, with exits out the back.
    • Option a) with the addition of a fully-signalized intersection at the location of the present light near Baskin-Robbins. Cars leaving the parking lot would not be allowed to turn right on red and would have to wait for their own green. The crosswalk could stay where it is or move to the other side of the "new" intersection.
    • Other arrangements for perpendicular instead of diagonal parking to try to increase the number of spaces. This is difficult, since perpendicular parking requires more space between aisles for turning in and out.

  • Proposals for increasing safety on Middlefield Road. Main idea is to reduce Middlefield to one lane each direction from Marion to near Colorado, with a double left turn lane from Marion to Co-op and left turn pockets for entry into shopping center (southbound) and Bryson (northbound). Two lanes each direction would remain from Marion to Oregon and in the stretch just north of Colorado (similar to Middlefield on the other side of Oregon). Some on-street parking could be available in front of Baskin-Robbins and on the west side of Middlefield between Marion and Webster (pending a detailed look at driveways and sight lines in this area).

  • Discussion of the budget constraints that must be considered: the City is already trying to trim operating budgets to find sufficient funds for mandatory infrastructure repairs such as storm drains. Minimal funding is available to implement any recommendations from this traffic study. Most of the proposal is just for striping changes, which do not cost much. Traffic lights are the big expense item.

Next step is to review this with the property owners in the next 6 weeks. They will have their say on the parking lot modifications and there will be some discussion on who would pay for changes.


At the MRA general meeting on March 6 Joe Kott, Chief Transportation Official for the City of Palo Alto, gave a presentation on roundabouts. He discussed the program goals and requirements, the geometrical and operational characteristics of a modern roundabout, and answered questions from the audience. After Mr. Kott left the group broke into smaller sections to discuss specific intersections or other ideas, then reconvened for voting.

Mr. Kott announced that the proposed program to place roundabout on Embarcadero was on hold because of lack of money. His department feels that roundabouts can be valuable tools to use in some, but not all, locations and they would like to gain experience with them. They have asked neighborhood associations to nominate a candidate intersection for a single 6-month trial of a roundabout. The Transportation Department would do a "before and after" study of the performance of the intersection in terms of speeds, safety, diversion of traffic to other streets, and public opinion.

Mr. Kott showed a diagram of a "modern roundabout" and discussed the geometrical details that distinguish it from its less successful predecessors. The key feature is a "splitter island" that forces cars to slow down upon approach, prevents a short-circuit left turn, and provides a refuge which allows pedestrians to cross one lane at a time. He said that Palo Alto was only considering single-lane versions, with design speeds of about 17-18 mph. Mr. Kott discussed how automobiles, pedestrians and bicyclists would negotiate an intersection with one of these devices, and discussed why roundabouts are safer than stop-controlled intersections, referencing material from the Federal Highway Administration that documents safety improvements at various roundabouts in the USA.

After discussing various intersections as roundabout possibilities, a vote was held.

  • The first vote, on whether to host a roundabout trial in Midtown, had 24 in favor and 8 opposed.
  • The second vote, on which intersection was preferred, had 8 in support of Louis and Colorado, 0 in support of Ross and Loma Verde, and 19 in support of Cowper and Loma Verde.

The audience wanted to see the criteria for success of the trial explicitly delineated, to see a diagram of exactly how a roundabout would fit into the existing intersection, and to be sure that the entire trial period was within the school year.

Post-meeting update: Traffic engineer Ashok Aggarwal is now in charge of the roundabout project and says it will proceed. They will perform a feasibility study from May to July of 2001 to look at the geometrics and traffic volumes at the proposed sites (two from Midtown and one from College Terrace). If there are no major obstacles (such as curb replacement, landscape or irrigation issues) the trial could begin in March 2002.

Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program

The Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program is going on the City Council consent calendar, and may have been approved by the time you read this. The program is presently funded at $100,000 per year, but there have been recommendations to increase this funding. Staff shortages may be a significant obstacle to progress on this program. It is intended to fund small projects which do not require an overall neighborhood evaluation.

Beginning of Issue

Future of Residential Neighborhoods

We have reported the formation and progress of the city advisory task force on the Future of Residential Neighborhoods in previous newsletters. Here is the latest update. The group's final recommendations will be done by mid-May, and plans are being made to present the specifics to all interested neighbors soon after that time. We will send a post card announcement to everyone and broadcast the meeting dates on Midtown eNews.

Quick Preview

This advisory group to the Planning Department was created due to the outcry of many residents who have bitterly complained about some of the new houses in our city. The outcome is important to the Planning Department, since they are required to update zoning to make it more in sync with the comprehensive plan. This will be one of first steps in their effort to revise zoning for single family homes.

The group did something unique for Palo Altans-they started by defining the problem. The 3 key problems that the group defined (and community forums endorsed) are:

  1. Privacy issues of neighbors, especially insensitive placement of large second floor decks and windows
  2. Massing and homes out of scale with their neighbors
  3. Streetscape issues or out of context issues (the Taj Mahal looks exquisite in its surroundings however you might feel that it looks inappropriate next door)

These problems will be addressed by changes to zoning code and a review process for second floor construction. Although this process will be similar to the Voluntary Design Assistance program currently in place, it will be mandatory-not voluntary. The process will address only issues of privacy, mass, and streetscape--NOT POOR ARCHITECTURE. There will be checklists to be completed by the applicant before the review that will guide the applicant about parameters that will be scrutinized in the review.

Today, many people feel totally frustrated when they are out of the communication loop on what happens next door. Some come home to find the house that was there in the morning has been demolished. Some try to contact the new owners or builders to no avail. They are frustrated just because they lack information. The advisory group's intent was that the notification process could reduce the stress of change and lack of information. Please note that the neighborhood notification is only to contiguous neighbors and those directly across the street.

Others might have legitimate concerns but do not have the where-with-all to communicate them to the city or the owner/developer. They will now be able to express (in written form) their comments related to the privacy, massing or streetscape for the new construction (but not architectural design).

The review board will be made up of staff and consulting architects. They will examine the required checklist, neighbors' comments, and the plans. The applicant will meet with review board and the ensuing discussion with consulting suggestions (again on the 3 major problems-privacy, mass, streetscape) will make a better product. The advisory group believes that for most people, this will be more than satisfactory. For those that are not satisfied, there is an appeal process first to the CPA Planning Director and finally to the city council.

For more information, take a look at: http://www.midtownresidents.org/Housing/default.htm.

Beginning of Issue

Harmony Bakery Has A New Home

Harmony Bakery needs help to finish getting open. By joining the Harmony Club, your $50 membership will help us with this last push to be a FDA certified kitchen. Our resources are dwindling and our progress has been slowing which is frustrating because we are so close and we had been on a fast schedule. We decided to stay in Palo Alto because it needs our local flavor. We couldn't let our home town become a giant strip mall of Starbucks and Walgreens. We have put our heart, soul, sweat and fortune in to this bakery project but we now find we can't do it alone. Club membership will entitle you to all the rights and privileges of a wholesale customer as well as invitations to fun events such as tasting parties and parent/kid cookie baking parties. Send checks to 2865 Park Blvd. Palo Alto Calif. 94306 or contact Nickie and Phil Nasr at Harmony or Harmonybakery@aol.com.

Thanks Nickie

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Safeway Renovations
by Ron Wolf, MRA Business & Public Relations Chair

Over a year and a half ago, Safeway's architect came to the MRA asking to work with us on an extensive remodeling and landscaping of the Midtown Safeway. Safeway's reaching out to MRA even before working with the City was a great validation of the presence and effectiveness of our Association. Well, as these things go, there was a long road ahead of us requiring commitment and focus from myself and other MRA steering committee members, faith from Safeway, and time from City staff and the Architectural Review Board.

The good news is that the City approved plans look great. The store will look like new, the parking lot will be more pedestrian-friendly, the new outdoor lighting poles will be much lower, and there will be much more landscaping. We should all be proud that MRA was a big part of this! Last Thursday, I attended a pre-construction meeting with Safeway management, the general contractor, and the architect. More good news: construction is about to start, maybe as soon as this week! We will have a schedule soon. The contractor was very aware of noise, parking, access, and such issues that affect shoppers and neighbors. The contractor wants to work with us to mitigate these effects. The store will remain open during construction and the project will go through the summer and fall, wrapping up before Thanksgiving. Also, I will be meeting with the project manager every other week (more frequently if needed) to review next steps.

If you have any questions or concerns please contact me (ron.e.wolf@ieee.org) and I will try to help you work them out. Things will be messy for a while, but in the end we will have a nicer store and a shopping area that just keeps getting better.

Beginning of Issue

News Briefs

NEW TENANT AT GATE CLEANERS SITE: Midtown Residents Association is pleased to announce the imminent arrival of Nature's Alley (fountains, wreaths, potted plants). They are currently located in The Allied Arts Guild. The owner, Karen Froniewski, has signed a 5 year lease. Karen has been a Midtown Resident for the last 17 years. Nature's Alley will start renovations in early May and hope to open in June.

LONGS MURAL: Now that spring is here, Elizabeth Lada will start the long awaited mural on the Long's north facing wall. Watch this space for news.

CO-OP MURAL: Fate of this mural is tied to the building. If we can't place it on the Co-op south facing wall, we will try to locate another desirable site in Midtown.

CITY OF PALO ALTO ZONING: Lynn Chiapella is putting together a MRA team to meet with the City on issues of zoning . Please contact Lynn at lchiapella@juno.com if you wish to participate in this effort.

JOE SIMITIAN LOCAL OFFICE: MRA is pleased to announce that Megan Swezey Fogarty, a long time Midtown Resident, has joined the local Joe Simitian team as the nonprofits liaison officer. Their District Office will be located in Town and Country at 160 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, CA 94301. Phone is 688-6330.

SEALE PARK RESTORATION: The City has scheduled Seale Park for a restoration that includes the playground, picnic areas, pathways and irrigation system. Design is scheduled for this summer and the parks staff will hold a neighborhood meeting to solicit input. The project itself should be completed during this winter. Contact Sheri Furman at sheri11@earthlink.net if you have questions.

VICTORIA EMMONS CHANGING HANDS: The Victoria Emmons property is in escrow and will soon change hands. The new owner, Thomas Senter, will open a facility called Inn Season, Inc. We believe this is just a transfer of license but will report more when we receive more details.

MIDTOWN GARDENERS IN CYBERSPACE: Midtown Gardeners have their own web page: http://www.midtownresidents.org/garden/home.htm

TEEN CENTER: Wei Wang (WPaloAlto@aol.com) is trying to build a coalition of residents interested in a teen center. Please contact her if you are interested in working with her on this project.

FUTURE OF CO-OP SITE: The MRA steering committee has received your comments about the possibility of Co-op being replaced by a Walgreens. Ron Wolf (MRA Business & Public Relations Chair) and Annette Ashton (MRA Chair) are meeting with the new owner (Village Properties out of San Francisco) to start a dialog about the use of the site. We want to uphold the goals of the MRA for the center: retail variety and convenience, pedestrian friendliness, local scale and community spirit. We will keep you informed as to status of conversations.

Beginning of Issue

MRA Delivery to Shut-Ins

The MRA is helping develop a Home Delivery for Shut-ins Program in the Midtown area. This program will aid those who are no longer able to shop for themselves for various reasons. We are "adopting" shut-ins for this worthy cause. Each volunteer shops for the items, pays for them at the store (however the volunteer chooses), and then is reimbursed with a personal check at delivery. If you can stay for a chat, that is also much appreciated.

If you can help volunteer, please contact Deborah Webb, the MRA Volunteer Coordinator for this service. Her work telephone is 849-4254, home telephone is 856-9468 or e-mail at deborah.webb@sap.com.

Beginning of Issue

Protesting Council Change to Oral Communications Time
by Natalie Fisher

The Council agendas now put oral communications after the first big item, meaning people will have to wait hours to speak on items not on the agenda; this is effectively keeping people from speaking. Ed Powers has certainly been shut up. This streamlining is working against residents and not shortening the meetings. Many people must be upset at this change, but sitting through hours of meetings to express this discontent isn't feasible for many. We need to all write emails to the Council protesting this change.

Beginning of Issue

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