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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Please prioritize saving Palo Alto's emptying downtown

Uploaded: Dec 3, 2021
Once again, Palo Alto residents are being asked to submit a list of their priorities for the city council to tackle in the upcoming 2022 year.

The council has an annual retreat, usually in late January, at which members always set their priorities. Last year's were economic recovery (including from the pandemic), housing for social and economic balance, social justice and climate change

Nice words, although I am not sure what kind of social justice improvements the council wanted -- I suspect more control over the police department since that was the time right after the George Floyd incident. The economic recovery priority certainly didn't get far, given the $4.8 million surplus we have this year compared to $34.1 million surplus the previous year.

As I recall, no goals are included in the priorities, so we don't know how the city performed in pursuing its priorities. It certainly would be great to have a report from the city manager before the retreat describing what the city did and did not accomplish in 2021.

Sure. it's fun to set priorities, but if there are no established goals included or requirement for reports on what happened, why even bother with them? The priorities seem to just float away.

For me, forget about every other need; there is only one priority for 2022: Deal with Palo Alto's decaying downtown.

My husband and I went on a three-city tour last weekend, starting in Palo Alto. We drove up Hamilton Avenue to Middlefield, then down University Avenue, and then up Lytton Avenue. It was a troublesome area to view.

It seemed as if nearly 50 percent of the retail stores and restaurants are closed or boarded up. There were few people walking around, few customers in stores, and the whole area looked a bit shabby.

A pandemic ago, downtown Palo Alto was a wonderful, bustling place -- weekend brunch goers, weekday luncheon restaurants filled, restaurants crowded at night, and people who strolled around all day window shopping.

Now? The President's Hotel, once a pleasant residential hotel for lower income people, is closed. The tenants were tossed out, a Chinese group bought the property, and I have seen no sign of anything happening to that building on that prized corner lot. Walgreen's is gone. Restoration Hardware is moving to Stanford Shopping Center.

Shopping, and small businesses have shuttered. Thank goodness Apple is still a shiny glass retail magnet, still filled with customers. University Avenue is one-way now, to accommodate the many outdoor seats for restaurants. I haven't checked yet to see how busy they are. Lytton has turned into a street with banks and business offices; few retail stores to be found.

We dipped down to California Avenue, which is now a huge collection of outdoor chairs and table, many heated by big flaming propane flares. (I wonder how much that helps our environment.) Since Cal Ave is now closed to cars, I couldn't drive by to see if any retailers were open -- or how many had closed.

On to Menlo Park, which showed signs of move-outs but not as drastic as in Palo Alto. My guestimate: about 20 percent are closed or boarded up.We then went to Los Altos. That village has really remodeled itself and is most attractive. A variety of retail stores are open. Many sidewalks were lined with green shrubbery. There are a variety of indoor and outdoor restaurants.

And so where does this leave me? Palo Alto officials have to focus hard on making this city become alive again. Council needs to hire consultants who know how to get retailers to locate here. It's a learned skill. Menlo Park once had a great guy who knew how to convince upscale stores to his downtown.

Won't Palo Alto be better after the pandemic when people are back in offices, my neighbor asked.? Not sure, I responded. Office workers may bring in new restaurants but if we become the new restaurant row, as Mountain View once was, it becomes harder to get retail into town.

City officials should also talk to Los Altos leaders to find out how that city transformed their downtown so well, and call other cities in the country to find if they have solutions for attracting retailers.

If Palo Alto officials don't act now, I fear a continuing downward slope. I don't want to lose our downtown.

NOTE: To send our priorities to the city, go to this url, and scroll down to the bottom to get an entry form.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?

Comments

 +   30 people like this
Posted by Larry Klein, a resident of Los Altos,
on Dec 3, 2021 at 10:06 am

Larry Klein is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 3, 2021 at 10:55 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I agree about Palo Alto being dead compared to other places.

Yesterday Redwood City had Tesla coils lighting up the sky outside the library and tomorrow they have their annual holiday parade. Both according to the Redwood City Pulse, a sister newspaper of the Weekly.

What does Palo Alto do?


 +   32 people like this
Posted by Marian Beckett, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Dec 3, 2021 at 11:51 am

Marian Beckett is a registered user.

"We love having a glass of wine at Calave or a cocktail at La Bodeguita del Medio on weekday evenings, brunch at Joanie's or Sun of Wolf on Saturdays, and shopping at the farmer's market on Sundays. I'm excited to explore some of the new additions to the street, including our new bubble tea spot and food hall." ^ Sounds pretty yuppie to me (aka a baby boomer mindset). Just goes to show that the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree!


To the staff - I would suggest giving boomers like Diana a less prominent landing place on your website. The younger residents of Palo Alto are working to build an inclusive and welcoming urban environment that prioritizes walkable and bike friendly streets as well as plentiful housing. We're the future of this city. It's time to bring in some fresh blood to your columnist roster. ^ The future looks pretty bleak if all the Millennials can do is point fingers & complain. Boo-hoo.


 +   23 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Dec 3, 2021 at 2:01 pm

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

The foul stench of ageism is emanating from a commenter here. Sad!


 +   18 people like this
Posted by swim, soccer parent, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Dec 3, 2021 at 2:42 pm

swim, soccer parent is a registered user.

Diana, while I also enjoy a nice retail-oriented downtown, our world is changing. Routine retail is better served with on-line and big-box stores, and boutique retail is meaningful only to the economically elite. It is too expensive to be mainstream. The constant calls for "more retail" are denying this trend. The bustling social streets in our area are focused on food, because that is accessible and useful to mainstream folks. Our energies should go towards maximizing this, by increasing the free and low-cost activities that bring people into safe and clean pedestrian zones to socialize and play. "Shopping" is not the destination it once was.


 +   18 people like this
Posted by Dgatsby , a resident of Shoreline West,
on Dec 3, 2021 at 7:16 pm

Dgatsby is a registered user.

I don't understand the negative comments about Castro Street. I love love love downtown Mountain View. Great restaurants, some awesome stores (Therapy, Books Inc, Boutique Four) and a great diverse mix of people. Yeah, some more retail would be nice but I sure do love the Parisian Cafe ( Maison Alyzee), the grocery store (Ava's) and all the dining options. There's even a CVS! Why all the negativity?


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Tal Shaya, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Dec 4, 2021 at 4:57 am

Tal Shaya is a registered user.

Well the author gave the solution here in two places. Where are people going? Restaurants, restaurants, restaurants. Where are people not going? Shopping. It would be difficult to reproduct Mtn. View results because Castro St. has only restaurants the last couple of blocks. Palo Alto is diverse and has two "downtown" How does Cal. Ave fit in? Antonio's was the only thing keeping it alive.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 4, 2021 at 8:14 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Midtown appears to be thriving.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Mark Michael, a resident of another community,
on Dec 4, 2021 at 9:05 am

Mark Michael is a registered user.

"... no goals are included in the priorities, so we don't know how the city performed in pursuing its priorities ... if there are no established goals included or requirement for reports on what happened, why even bother with them?"

Priorities, without objectively quantifiable metrics, tend to be illusory. Diana has this right.

Council policies for downtown reflect some nostalgia for the conditions of a bygone pre-COVID era, in which Palo Alto's daytime population doubled with a wave of commuters. This led to demand for class A office space with office rent the highest in the U.S. and low margin retail businesses closed and relocated. The influx of highly paid commuters patronized restaurants and local resident complaints expressed angst about shortage of parking spaces. Now workers can work from home or from anywhere with the same or increased productivity and freedom from the pain of commuting. The future of work implies a different future for downtown.

The planning process and policy setting is far from impressive. Perhaps Council should prepare a Precise Plan for downtown. If the priorities are set at a January meeting and results are measured and reported in December, and if downtown is in some way a priority, how about a final report on a Downtown Precise Plan before year end?

Not to say this wouldn't be ambitious! Economic recovery. Environmental sustainability. Land uses for retail, dining, entertainment, office, R&D, culture, medical, dental, services. Infrastructure for mobility, transit, parking, walkability. Interaction between residents, workers, students, Stanford, tourists. Impact on housing: affordability, density, height, single family, multi-family, young and old. Public open space and parks. Education and child care.

Comparison with neighboring cities may also be instructive. Nice to have a competitive advantage! Los Altos seems to have benefitted from public private investments by benevolent ultra wealthy residents. Nice.





 +   4 people like this
Posted by Mark+Michael, a resident of Community Center,
on Dec 4, 2021 at 10:01 am

Mark+Michael is a registered user.

Diana poses an issue about setting Palo Alto priorities.

There may be a process issue that forces short term thinking. Why are the priorities that Council sets not resulting in completed action?

The time frame for projects that involve complex planning, study, analysis, funding, implementation and completion will almost always exceed 12 months.

The "Palo Alto Process" is infamous for extending community engagement, deliberation, postponement, ad nauseum. Council rotates leadership by one year terms for mayor. Ipso facto no 1-year leader can undertake and complete multi-year projects. For that reason, Palo Alto might be better served by extending the term of its Council leadership so that accountability for achieving community goals is based on opportunity to do the work.

An elected mayor with a 4-year term might credibly undertake projects in support of policies that could realistically be tackled with appropriate schedules. This would raise questions about the role of the city manager. Also, the relationship of the Mayor and Council to boards and commissions who currently function solely in advisory capacity with no decision making authority and any recommendations mediated by staff reporting.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by SP Phil, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Dec 4, 2021 at 12:15 pm

SP Phil is a registered user.

Writing as a former Stanford student (AB and PhD), Palo Alto was and a presume still is part of the orbit of Stanford students. And then abruptly 15,000+ were gone during Stanford's shutdown. That number of people would have an impact on downtown Palo Alto. Now that Stanford is live again, perhaps this will help put some wind under the wings of University Avenue businesses.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 4, 2021 at 3:02 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

If we want a great downtown, I think we should look at Burlingame, whose downtown is so much more lively, fun and pleasant to visit than any other Peninsula downtown - both for dining and shopping. I have no idea why, but I would posit that we would do well to emulate.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Larry Klein, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Dec 4, 2021 at 6:04 pm

Larry Klein is a registered user.

There appear to be three people named Larry Klein in Santa Clara County. I'm one. The Mayor of Sunnyvale is another. I've met him once or twice. We're not related. As far as I know, he's never posted on Town Square.

And today I learned of the existence of Larry Klein of Los Altos who has posted in this thread. We have never met and are not related.

In order to prevent any confusion (attention Palo Alto Weekly editors!), if I post on Town Square I will list as a resident of Leland Manor and will note my past service as a Palo Alto elected official.

Larry Klein
Mayor of Palo Alto, 1984-85, 1989, 2008
Palo Alto City Council Member, 1981-1989, 2005-2014


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Victor+Bishop, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Dec 4, 2021 at 6:19 pm

Victor+Bishop is a registered user.

PA city council continues to believe in their pipedream of people rushing to shop at local retail and mom &pop stores that will populate Univerisity and California avenues. Not going to happen- PA slammed the door on affordable retail I town, in general, when they turned up their noses at big box retail stores. How many residents go to shop at wal mart and target just outside the PA border? Do they think people go shopping at the upscale retail stores at Stanford shopping center and univeristy avenue.
And of course their is the issue that when stores try to open, they are stymied by the ridiculous bureaucracy that is the PA planning and permitting g process.
Maybe the council, with old reliable “save local retail because things were so much better in the 70s" like Burt, filseth and Dubois should realize that times have changed


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Dec 5, 2021 at 12:35 pm

Paly Grad is a registered user.

When The Stanford Theatre reopens that will be an excellent reason to return to downtown Palo Alto!

Web Link


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Amie, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Dec 5, 2021 at 12:38 pm

Amie is a registered user.

This isn't rocket science. We need new excitement and leadership, instead of the regime we have right now that is so change averse we are losing the fun and community that should be a part of living downtown. What about events, concerts, street closures for markets and bike rides - things that draw people in.

The elephant in the room is that we NEED to put more residents near University and Cal Ave - lots and lots of small, dense housing with limited parking.

After all, great streets are always surrounded by dense residential development. Where residential growth and revitalization is occurring, retail is primed to follow; it simply will not occur the other way around. Retailers will not be attracted to a neighborhood street, regardless of how much public money they get, unless they see the cash registers ringing, and this depends on the strength, variety, and density of the surrounding residential market.


 +   30 people like this
Posted by Jim Withers, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Dec 5, 2021 at 12:45 pm

Jim Withers is a registered user.

In downtown Mountain View we have a plethora of various dining and drinking options along with a perpetual and problematic homeless population to contend with.

Why can't Palo Alto residents, the city council, and its police department effectively deal with these issues as well?

For a Stanford University oriented town with an enlightened reputation, something is surely amiss.

Perhaps it is time to replace all of the individuals Palo Alto voters elected to represent the best interests of their community as the City Council has apparently done very little to constructively improve matters by continually ignoring the concerns and voices of its residents.

Until then, Los Altos will remain a model local community with minimal street crime and a near-zero homeless population because its police department (unlike that of Mountain View & Palo Alto) ensures that petty crooks and derelicts are essentially unwelcome in Los Altos and only a quick 20-minute drive to the booking section of the San Jose Main Jail.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Larry Klein, a resident of Los Altos,
on Dec 5, 2021 at 1:02 pm

Larry Klein is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Missy Phillips, a resident of another community,
on Dec 5, 2021 at 4:30 pm

Missy Phillips is a registered user.

Could downtown Palo Alto repackage itself with a "turn back the clock" theme similar to Main Street at Disneyland?

This would allow for a variety of quaint period-styled specialty shops and various dining establishments but with modern day offerings.

It would be similar to a theme park environment and reflective of whatever timeframe Palo Alto considers its "Golden Era"...perhaps a throwback theme to the late 1890s or 1950s when times were simpler.

By making downtown Palo Alto a tourist destination, countless smaller businesses would thrive including hotels, dining establishments, and various boutiques.

The stumbling block is primarily attributable to the overall lack of imagination and vision on the part of the city council.


 +   28 people like this
Posted by Adrian Buchowski, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 6, 2021 at 8:56 am

Adrian Buchowski is a registered user.

• "the City Council has apparently done very little to constructively improve matters by continually ignoring the concerns and voices of its residents."

Being a city council member is merely a stepping stone to other political aspirations (county supervisor, state assembly person etc.) or to connect with outside developers for futuristic gains.

Perhaps best not to get caught up in their campaign hyperbole about civic pride & duty as their later actions (or inactions) speak louder than their semantics.


 +   22 people like this
Posted by Vinob Gupta, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Dec 6, 2021 at 10:47 am

Vinob Gupta is a registered user.

Downtown Mountain View is far more vibrant than downtown Palo Alto & California Avenue because in addition to its vast array of restaurants, Castro Street also offers other amenities like specialty Asian markets & shops, a performing arts center, several unique bookstores, and a mortuary (with a discount casket store conveniently located next door).

With the possible exception of its various upscale dining options, downtown Palo Alto & California Avenue caters exclusively to a predominantly white middle class clientele while totally ignoring the evolving demographics of a city which is now 40% Asian.

For a community that embellishes it acceptance of cultural diversity, the Palo Alto shopping districts offer little to successful non-white professionals who have the real money to spend.




 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 6, 2021 at 11:34 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Thank you for the return of the paragraphs. It is so much easier to read the comments now.

BTW, about the type of businesses, is it the role of CC to encourage one group or culture to be catered to more than others. If someone feels that there is a need to open say an Asian arts/crafts type store in downtown is that up to the council or up to someone who wants to do so?


 +   20 people like this
Posted by Lucy Chao, a resident of Blossom Valley,
on Dec 6, 2021 at 12:07 pm

Lucy Chao is a registered user.

There is very little reason for Asian shoppers and diners to venture into either downtown Palo Alto or California Avenue to fulfill their consumer necessities because there is nothing there for them. Stanford Shopping Center is an exception and thriving.

Mountain View embraces ethnic diversity while various downtown Palo Alto businesses apparently prefer to look the other way given the predominant flow of white customers and window shoppers strolling along University Avenue.

And this is all fine and dandy but why complain about various downtown businesses being on the downslide as it does not take a Stanford or Harvard MBA to establish that the moneyed consumer base has changed.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Barry Goldman, a resident of another community,
on Dec 6, 2021 at 12:24 pm

Barry Goldman is a registered user.

San Jose, San Francisco, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Mountain View, and Fremont (among other noteworthy cities in both California and the United States) have vibrant ethnic-themed shopping districts that are doing quite well when it comes to procuring consumer dollars.

Palo Alto could easily do the same but it chooses to reside in the past, clinging to the ghost of Leland Stanford who was a teetotaler and alleged racist.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by LuAnne Gregory, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 6, 2021 at 12:42 pm

LuAnne Gregory is a registered user.

A downtown Palo Alto shopping district with individualized Chinese, Vietnamese, East Indian, Korean, Japanese, and African-American shopping/dining sectors would be unacceptable to most Palo Altans as this would dilute the preferred overall portrait of the city which is predicated on a white upper middle class identity.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 6, 2021 at 12:57 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@LuAnne Gregory, great idea. Both Menlo Park and Los Altos have late afternoon to early evening markets which certainly bring people downtown.

Palo Alto might try that but with equal emphasis on the shopping and dining. I still miss the little Japanese market in Menlo Park and never manage to make it down to the Grant Rd Asian markets.

Many downtown Palo Alto restaurants are closed for lunch, another deterrent to going downtown. PA should start banning downtown company cafeterias which really hurt nearby restaurants' lunch business. Palantir and St. Michael's Alley is a prime example.


 +   16 people like this
Posted by Lacie James, a resident of Bailey Park,
on Dec 6, 2021 at 1:19 pm

Lacie James is a registered user.

With the exception of Stanford Shopping Center...California Avenue, downtown Palo Alto, and Town & Country Village are losing business because they are out of touch with the changing times.

Now whether this neglect is due to racism or an inherent contempt towards the many recently arrived and wealthy immigrants from abroad, it remains debatable and perhaps best reserved for another thread.

The litmus test...put up a Ranch 99 Market at Town & Country Village and watch the steady flow of Asian customers arriving to purchase their native foodstuffs. This additional customer traffic would also stimulate various non-Asian businesses and restaurants due to immediate proximities and shopping ease.

"This isn't rocket science.'

^No it isn't. Nor does it require an MBA in Marketing.






 +   10 people like this
Posted by Victor+Bishop, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Dec 6, 2021 at 3:56 pm

Victor+Bishop is a registered user.

Lacie James- have you noticed that all the neighboring cities each have a number of ethnic grocery stores. But not in Palo Alto, despite the percentage of non white people in the city. Seems that the only type of grocery stores allowed in Palo Alto are boutique stores that cater to a white clientele.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 6, 2021 at 5:31 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Rents for offices and conversion to housing are also factors for all markets, including ethnic market. The building housing the Russian market on El Camino is now another strip of look-alike apartments or condos. The Middle Eastern Crossroads market at Middlefield and San Antonio is still there but not for long because the whole strip will become "multi-use"


 +   22 people like this
Posted by Stepheny , a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 10:35 am

Stepheny is a registered user.

University Avenue is blighted, by homeless vagrants and the loud noise of buildings being renovated. An ironic contrast. It's not a welcoming place, even for eating. As for the homeless, how many are displaced residents of our City? How many have been lured here because of the generous and overly compassionate voices expressed here? Is all this mushy compassion merely patronizing pity?

If you feed a pigeon, that pigeon not only hangs around for more food, but attracts others. That's what's happened to our downtown and more importantly to our City. Diana is truthful and a lot more charitable than many of us, if we speak truthfully.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by nope2, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 10:44 am

nope2 is a registered user.

If Palo Alto wants a thriving downtown, it will need to change zoning laws and entitle large apartment complexes. It's really that simple.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by nope2, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 10:44 am

nope2 is a registered user.

If Palo Alto wants a thriving downtown, it will need to change zoning laws and entitle large apartment complexes. It's really that simple.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by nope2, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 10:44 am

nope2 is a registered user.

If Palo Alto wants a thriving downtown, it will need to change zoning laws and entitle large apartment complexes. It's really that simple.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by nope2, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 10:44 am

nope2 is a registered user.

If Palo Alto wants a thriving downtown, it will need to change zoning laws and entitle large apartment complexes. It's really that simple.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 10:56 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

With a new study showing Sierra snow pack could all but disappear in 25 years, how are we considering water supply in our development decisions? Where will the water come from to recharge aquifers? What fully funded investments are being made in water management systems that do not rely on snow pack? How much development will that investment support? Are our development plans in line with realistic long-term water supply estimates?


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 11:35 am

Online Name is a registered user.

We're in a historic drought. People have cut back water usage but not so much as in the past. Many are wondering what's the point of individual conservation when the Bay Area MUST absorb almost 1,000,000 more people and NEW offices continue to put pressure on housing prices, the environment and infrastructure.

It's like two totally different goals: growth OR conservation.

No amount of preaching about conservation. walking, biking, live-where-you-work-and-never-change-jobs, noboudy-wants-cars so we can underpark everything, etc. will change the illogical, contradictory reality.


 +   20 people like this
Posted by Beatrice Potts, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 12:15 pm

Beatrice Potts is a registered user.

"As for the homeless, how many are displaced residents of our City? How many have been lured here because of the generous and overly compassionate voices expressed here? Is all this mushy compassion merely patronizing pity?"

"If you feed a pigeon, that pigeon not only hangs around for more food, but attracts others."

^^ Why can't the PACC & PAPD rid the streets of these derelicts who are both detrimental for local businesses and deter decent people from patronizing the various shops and dining establishments that are still in operation?




 +   5 people like this
Posted by Rose, a resident of Mayfield,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 12:26 pm

Rose is a registered user.

If we want local businesses to thrive we need to quit using Amazon for our shopping -- except when you're buying something no one carries locally. You can do your research on Amazon but then find a local bookstore, hardware store, clothing store, etc, etc, etc.


 +   15 people like this
Posted by Pheobe Lindstrom, a resident of another community,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 1:00 pm

Pheobe Lindstrom is a registered user.

The homeless population and looters have a lot to do with the decline of the Palo Alto shopping districts.

It is simply not safe or wise to bring a family into certain sections of Palo Alto to go shopping or dining.

And this is a shame because downtown Palo Alto used to be such a nice quiet town and an enjoyable venue to stroll through.

Of course, that was well over 40 years ago and certainly not today.


 +   14 people like this
Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 1:54 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

A number of posters have suggested that a requirement for a vibrant downtown is to build many new high-density residences nearby. My understanding of the mechanism for this (please correct me if I'm wrong) is that many people living nearby without cars would not have choices other than shopping there.

To me, it seems better to attract people to a destination area rather than give them no other practical choices. As some others have suggested, fairs/markets and special events seem successful at drawing people to other downtowns. For example, over the past year I've frequently noticed banners/signs over Main St or on San Antonio in Los Altos promoting some downtown event or other. Further lending a festive atmosphere to Los Altos are the many artsy bear statues scattered about, each sponsored by a store or group. Although there is plenty of VC chat at the local Peet's, the shopping area still has normal retail like a skate shop in addition to e.g. Manresa Bread.

Perhaps not unrelated is my impression that the Los Altos City Council deals with practical quality of life municipal issues more than the social justice issues that seem to so often occupy the PACC's time.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Wilmer Florin, a resident of Barron Park,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 2:02 pm

Wilmer Florin is a registered user.

The subtle allegations that Palo Alto is a somewhat racist (aka ethnocentric) community are a bit on the extreme side.

As a longtime Barron Park resident, I have found that the white community in Palo Alto embraces ethnic diversity and cultures.

Back in the day when Mings was on El Camino Real in Barron Park, there were many white diners in attendance and the same could be said for the now defunct Horky's Mexican Restaurant on El Camino Way and today, at Celia's on El Camino Real. Fuki Sushi is always busy and the manager once mentioned that Caucasian sushi enthusiasts often know more about the dish than 2nd & 3rd generation Japanese Americans! And at one time, for those hankering for some good Italian food, there was the now-gone Rudolfo's which beat having to drive all the way to Frankie, Johnnie, & Luigi's in Mountain View.

Lastly, at the traditional late summer Obon festival held at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple on Louis Road, the majority of the attendees are white folks who enjoy the food and culture.

So how can Palo Alto be considered a racist community where almost everybody seems to get along so well?

And as far as Palo Alto being too expensive for young people to live, well our first home as newlyweds was situated above a garage in East Palo Alto. My wife and both worked full-time before we had saved enough for a down payment in then unincorporated Palo Alto and before deciding to start a family.

The Millennials have not learned how to make certain sacrifices and that remains their problem. As I have told my children and grandchildren, "I'm wealthy. You're not." In other words, don't count on me for your extravagances.

As for the decline in local downtown Palo Alto and California Avenue businesses, it is attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic, exorbitant commercial rents but perhaps most notably, the corporate consolidation of various stores and services along with countless online ordering options.







 +   8 people like this
Posted by Pheobe Lindstrom, a resident of another community,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 2:57 pm

Pheobe Lindstrom is a registered user.

@Wilmer Florin:

I could be wrong but I'm not quite sure if gastronomical indulgences equate to an acceptance of ethnic diversity.

I've seen many a redneck eating at various Chop Suey joints and the same can be said of my having seen them dining at Mexican restaurants. And as for Japanese food like sushi and sashimi, this is more of a white middle class acceptance as most of the rural white people I have met prefer to have their fish battered and fried.

On a closing note, I am curious why there are few (if zero) black-owned businesses in downtown Palo Alto. The last one I recall was Jackson's Auto Laundry on High Street. Mr. Jackson steam cleaned automobile engines and resided above his facility.

Perhaps downtown Palo Alto needs to rezone the area and allow for a variety of different businesses. At one time you could buy an Oldsmobile or Cadillac at Paddleford, a Ford truck or car at Lutz Ford, a Pontiac or GMC truck at Keyes Pontiac, or a BMW at H&E.

And don't get me started on the specialty stores like Dana Morgan & Son Music, Swain's House of Music, and Melody Lane along with The Camera Store (next to Dick Felt's Store for Boys) and Webb's Cameras on University Avenue.

There were also a lot of quality stores to buy adult men's and women's clothes as well.

Downtown Palo has lost its character and I'm glad to have experienced it during the 1950s through early 1970s as there is no real reason for me to venture out that way at present.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by valorie25, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 2:58 pm

valorie25 is a registered user.

Wilmer Florin: Thanks so much for the trip down memory lane. My husband and I ate a Rudolfo's a couple of times per week. How many in Palo Alto even remember the place? The food and service were excellent. Broke our hearts when they tore it down. Also, I'll never understand why Compadres closed. Excellent Mexican food. Now there are apartments. If they close Sundance Mining Company to build apartments, I'll go mad!!

Lacie James: Why, oh why, is everything blamed on racism. I am so SICK of hearing this and I'm sure many, many others are too. Let's move on........


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 4:18 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

I agree that stating our downtown is dying has something to do with racism is completely out of order.

Our downtown has had problems for many years. To being with it has been competing against Stanford Shopping Centre since that was built.

Secondly it has a reputation for parking confusion. Color Zones, difficulties in paying for parking for over 3 hours, finding spots at lunch times, and general fear of crime in the garages all contribute to people not wanting to venture downtown. We have big box stores built just outside our borders that attract people to shop outside Palo Alto. We do not have large one stop supermarkets where you can buy lunch/coffee in the deli and sit and eat before doing grocery shopping. We do not have the big name chains that people can be attracted to and then find a niche boutique next door. We have start up after start up ice cream, cupcake, dessert, tea shops that open and close within the blinking of an eye. Repeat clientele can take more than a year to establish somewhere as a go to destination but quite often by that time they are gone.

While we are at it, what's happening at the old Bed Bath Beyond/REI/Best Buy in Mountain View? It seems that even old staples are being pushed out of what always appeared to be thriving areas.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 5:46 pm

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

Clearly, Los Altos must be less racist than Palo Alto because its downtown is doing better. (rolls eyes)


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Gail Sredanovic, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Dec 7, 2021 at 10:27 pm

Gail Sredanovic is a registered user.

One poster said Los Altos had improved its downtown. I have gone there from time to time over the years and see little to no change. Last time I saw it, it had a lot of retail and a lot of foot traffice and zero big apartment complexes.
Same goes for San Carlos.
Big tall buildings with little to no set back make me want to stay away.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 8, 2021 at 8:59 am

Online Name is a registered user.

The entire former President Hotel is a major eye sore with the boarded up storefronts and MOVING signs. Shame on our "leaders" for destroying a fornerly vibrant building with 85+ residents who actually contributed something to the community to push Jim Keene's greed and delusions.

Let's start imposing daily fines on the greedy new owner who was going to provide pricey luxury rentals for college students! Again, shame on the city for allowing a company with a specialty like that to take over and then ditch the building.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Melanie Fredricks, a resident of Atherton,
on Dec 8, 2021 at 10:05 am

Melanie Fredricks is a registered user.

The downtown Palo Alto landlords also bear some responsibility for the deterioration of a once vibrant shopping district.

By increasing the rents to near astronomical levels, many smaller businesses can no longer afford the overhead.

Over 75% of the downtown rental property is owned by the Ames, Brophy, Thoits, and Stankovic families who have owned and managed these properties going back to the 1940s and earlier.

Unfortunately, Palo Alto real estate (both commercial and residential) is far overvalued and overpriced for what it is, leaving avaricious landlords and older home owners the latitude to dictate the asking prices.

As a result and based on its perceived sense of exclusiveness, downtown Palo Alto has priced itself out of the market when it comes to conventional, everyday shopping needs.

Allegations of racism and blaming the homeless population should not be used as excuses for what amounts to commercial landlord greed.


 +   14 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 8, 2021 at 12:00 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Interesting point about the big landlords who've owned properties dating back to the 1940s. It makes me wonder why there's such a loud outcry against "Nimby homeowners" and Prop 13 while they totally ignore the big commercial players and THEIR Prop 13 breaks when their companies "live" longer than individual homeowners, hope their properties way longer than the average FIVE years and make way more money.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Jamie Long, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Dec 9, 2021 at 12:21 pm

Jamie Long is a registered user.

The landlords and their heirs who have owned downtown commercial rental properties for decades are simply playing a game of real-life Monopoly.

Shame on them for their inherent greed.


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