Perk up Palo Alto --- this city can be a lot more attractive! | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Almanac Online |

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An Alternative View

By Diana Diamond

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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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Perk up Palo Alto --- this city can be a lot more attractive!

Uploaded: Sep 3, 2022

Let’s face it. Palo Alto needs to be prettied up, as in add to the ambience. For some reason, over the years, our city fathers have paid little attention to Palo Alto’s appearance.

For example, several of our small shopping centers seem dilapidated and dingy -- like Midtown and Charleston Shopping Centers. Years ago, the very first column I wrote for the Palo Alto Weekly was on the Midtown area. I complained that it was a mish-mash of assorted bland store fronts, mostly for kids – not adults, that the hub of it was nothing more than a parking lot. There were no flowers and little greenery, even at the entrance -- nothing to suggest this was a nice place to shop. It looked more like a square strip mall.

Guess what! A decade-plus later, it hasn’t changed. It’s still dingy. I know it is privately owned and I presume city officials believe they can’t interfere with the property owner(s), but I would say that it is a public area, built to cater to local residents, so the city could strongly urge the owner to spiff it up.

Consider the way Town & Country Center at Embarcadero and El Camino really redesigned several years ago. The owners worked hard to provide lovely beds of flowers, particularly and the entry ways, and get an interesting group of new retail stores. Soon it was filled with shoppers.

The same can be said of the Cubberley campus. Over the years, those school grounds have been studied by several consultants and restudied by citizen’s committees. to plan for a renovated 35-acre site. Although the restrooms have been improved, the old school is still dingy and needs painting, etc. In other words, a campus overhaul is needed, as some consultants suggested.

However, my first priority in making this a lovelier town is to plant more trees, particularly in south Palo Alto. I once measured tree spacing north and south of Oregon. Quite a difference! The northern portion has significantly more trees which are closer together -- roughly five street trees compared to the three or fewer in the same amount of space on the south side of Orgon. And there are many more long treeless spaces on the south – why, I don’t know. I propose the city plant 200 or so new trees at curbsides EACH year, so this area could also have more shaded streets. An additional perk: These additional trees would be great to assist the CO2-filled environment!

Embarcadero Road is such a lovely entranceway not only to the city and Stanford University but also a pleasant way to view adjacent residential areas. What if we were to welcome residents and visitors by having flower-filled planters border both sides of this street? Some creative engineer could come up with a plan.

Let’s also look at King Plaza, fronting the entrance to City Hall on Hamilton Avenue. are a few benches and an occasional piece of art, which is great. But what if we filled the plaza with little round tables and chairs, typical of an outdoor French café, where we could sit and talk with friends and strangers. Of course, there would be a barista on one of the corners, selling coffee, tea, soft drinks, cookies – and perhaps even beer in late afternoon. What a wonderful place to people-gaze. The redecorated plaza could be a great gathering place and surely wouldn’t cost that much to redecorate. And let’s add a bit of music (live or recorded) in late afternoons.

That same area could be lit with twinkling lights during the winter season to complement Lytton Plaza just a block away and make the downtown a new favorite place to hang out.

Another thing I’d like to see is more flower beds downtown. NYC has impatiens and begonias planted around each tree trunk, circled by a low fence, to keep dogs from tramp-ling on the flowers. Los Altos has surrounded some of their outdoor restaurants with potted green plants bringing soothing greenery into this shopping area. And since many of the restaurants now have indoor and outdoor dining, the shrubs make sense –more pleasant to look at than cars parked in a row.

So, let’s next look at California Avenue, our second downtown in name only, since it never was quite as exciting and bustling as the University Avenue area.

First, since no cars are allowed on the street, the city needs to get rid of those terrible unwelcoming traffic barriers that may cause visitors to wonder about our messaging problems. Why not prevent cars from entering by using potted plants, real or artificial, which can easily be rented?

Cal Ave has now become restaurant row, with diners around lunch and dinner times, but pedestrian-empty at other times. That’s because the existing retail and service shops are hidden behind the umbrellas in front of the outdoor restaurant areas. That can be fixed.

Other areas of the city to consider beautifying: The living wall – a plant-filled wall facing the street at Mitchell Library is wilting – fewer plants. The areas near the adjoining Mitchell Park could have flower beds filled with perennials.

I suspect the Gamble Garden Club members would love to help plan where flowers could be planted in this town.

The median strips and triangular islands on the street could also be filled with perennials – just to make the streets prettier. This is a project the city should take part in -- including funding areas like King Plaza, providing flowers downtown and creating a planted pot barrier on Cal Ave – all to help beautify this city.

I’m sure some of you also have a lot of ideas on perking up Palo Alto. I will send your suggestions to City Hall officials. It would be fun for all of us to get involved!
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Sep 3, 2022 at 2:56 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

A great org working on re-treeing in Palo Alto is . A few years ago, they organized one of their neighborhood plantings in our area so we got a which is doing well 3 years later. The City even provides some late-night summer waterings in the initial years after planting to make sure it develops well.

From the Canopy website:
"Canopy raises funds and coordinates volunteers to supplement plantings by the City of Palo Alto's Tree Department, locating them along our city streets, in parks and in community spaces. Each year, Canopy coordinates volunteer street tree plantings in areas where multiple street trees are needed in one neighborhood. For neighborhood plantings, we recruit Neighborhood Tree Ambassadors, get buy-in from homeowners and engage them in the planting and continued care of their new street trees. Canopy also works closely with the Parks Department and Tree Division to identify tree needs in parks. We bring critical shade to play areas and community buildings and provide opportunities for local community groups to get involved."

Posted by DianaDiamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 3, 2022 at 3:28 pm

DianaDiamond is a registered user.

I am well of Canopy's great work and their dedicated volunteers. But I want the city to do it -- and pay for it. The council is cautiously considering spending $100million on a fiber optics system in town (FTTP)-- I think we need city workers to plant the trees -- and they will not cost $100M.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 3, 2022 at 4:12 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Ah but if the city can't spend big bucks to enrich its consultants and contractors, they obviously don't care. They were willing to convert Town & Country to "medical/retail" without bothering to define what that means weeks before the pandemic ended and -- as anyone sensible would expect -- the shoppers returned.

The more I think about the ridiculous fiber network, I more irritated I get. I'm still -- MONTHS later -- waiting for their reply to a question about how they'll treat neighborhoods with underground wiring. When I noted this disconnect and PA"s obvious lack of expertise in running a cost-effective network requiring prompt customer service, one of our City Council members assured me we'd simply outsource the service to one of the big companies already providing this service!!!

Tell me how this makes any sense when the city's always pleading poverty.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 3, 2022 at 4:55 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Midtown. There used to be a community garden. The it was removed and it was weeds. Now Baskin Robbins have tried to make it community space with pumpkin patch, but it was vandalized! It could be kept as community space, made attractive, perhaps have a children's play area or seating for eating lunch or drinking coffee.

Charleston Plaza. They have started putting in EV charging stations. For months there has been a green net fence. Somewhere pleasant to sit in shade as often the tables and chairs are in full sun.

Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Sep 3, 2022 at 4:56 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

Canopy DOES get funding from the City, and the City provides support services such as the summer tree watering that I mentioned. I agree that big bucks are planned to be wasted on things like the fiber debacle-to-be. What we really need is a list of projects that Palo Alto's citizens can vote on with something like ranked-choice voting.

Posted by Rochelle Walters, a resident of Ventura,
on Sep 4, 2022 at 11:15 am

Rochelle Walters is a registered user.


With CA and the rest of the world (including the USA) experiencing severe droughts, the last thing we need are pretty flowers to enhance the 'Palo Alto Experience'.

If anything, toss some colorful rocks in the decrepit city flower beds and islands or plant succulents and cacti...the idea of planting flowers is very wasteful of water, regardless of whether they are annuals or perennials.

And besides who is going to water them or will this endeavor require the installation of more automated sprinkler systems?

Besides, Palo Alto is never going to win a municipal beauty contest.

Posted by MyFeelz, a resident of JLS Middle School,
on Sep 4, 2022 at 3:45 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

I raise Diana's appraisal of Cal Ave and raise her a "they has redefined 'ugly' and all it would take to improve it would be ROCKS blocking the street instead of those hideous orange barricades".

I'm already not a fan of the outdoor bizarre (do I mean BAZAAR? NOOOOO!!!) that has become California Avenue. But every time I drive past that intersection on the ECR I am nearly struck blind by the visage it provides. Everybody except a tourist would know that you can't drive there (do we HAVE tourists?) so if they replaced the barricades with dashboard-height boulders, at least it might have some kind of natural effect. It would serve two purposes. Wouldn't have to be watered, and would be high enough so drivers won't accidentally "go there" -- the barricades are too low.

It's like a mall food court, except it looks like a construction zone. The thought of eating food at a construction zone is hard to stomach. If PA *insists* on allowing these restaurants to have free extra square footage that's not taxable, the least it could do is make the restaurants BEAUTIFY THE AREA OF THE SQUARE FOOTAGE THEY ARE GETTING FOR FREE.

Currently, nothing will improve the vision you get when you look PAST the barricades. Multi-colored cheap plastic chairs, that look like something out of a nightmare, and people sitting amid bubble gum debris in those chairs, and the only thing I can smell all the way to the ECR is hot asphalt.

Don't bother with plants. Nothing rented or with ongoing costs. Just rocks. Big rocks.

Posted by Juanita Salisbury , a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Sep 4, 2022 at 6:51 pm

Juanita Salisbury is a registered user.

As a matter of fact...there is the Embarcadero Road Pollinator Corridor project to enhance this gateway into our city. The project entails planting California native plants on both sides of Embarcadero in the parkway strips between the sidewalk and street from the Primrose Way to the Guinda Street pollinator gardens.

I'm spearheading the project. It's all funded by grants and donations (you can donate at the Friends of the Palo Alto Parks website). The planting and maintenance is done by volunteers.

We already completed the section between Newell and Mark Twain. We're now working on the section in front of the First Congregational church at the corner of Louis and Embarcadero.

Most of the expense is IVY removal. We work with residents adjacent to these spaces. But, once these sections are planted, about 17,000 square feet of pollinator habitat will be added to our city.

In 2016 we started with the Primrose Way pollinator garden. Now we have 5 pollinator gardens, planted in parkway islands that were filled with ivy.

Follow our progress on Instagram and Facebook: Primrose Way Pollinator Garden

We're always looking for volunteers!

Posted by Seth Aronson, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 5, 2022 at 10:14 am

Seth Aronson is a registered user.

The outdoor dining on California Avenue leaves much to be desired as there is literally no privacy unless one wants to be seen eating out there.

Since the restaurants are getting free dining space from the city, they should be the ones required to maintain any suggested horticultural enhancements.

And it would simply be passed along to the diners when the tab arrives.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 5, 2022 at 6:55 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Personally, I am not too concerned about having flowers in beds around town. What I do think we need is to preserve the trees we already have. They need water. We are told that if we have a city tree in our front yard, it is our responsibility to water it sufficiently.

What does bother me is that we don't have places to sit in the shade in our shopping areas. I don't mean outside seating for restaurants, but just places to sit and people watch, eat lunch or drink coffee, catch up on the news or chat with a friend. We have very few areas where we can sit on a bench in the shade and even fewer public litter receptacles. A few outdoor shaded seating areas which are not attached to restaurants or cafes would be a very pleasant addition and enable us to rest or socialize.

Posted by Native to the BAY, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 7, 2022 at 11:52 am

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

The Palo Alto ECR corridor: orange cones, rippled sidewarlks, bent pedestrian signs, crumbling buildings, structures, weeded empty lots between Page Mill and Charleston is hideous. Falling to the ground, abandoned, boarded up, old and NEWLY deserted construction sites, for lease signs. It looks like the outskirts of Fresno or God Forbid, Detroit MI!!! About the only thing I enjoy along this desolate strip is the ad-hoc RV homes (at least they are keeping it real and are showing the rest of us they are trying to survive at forefront of the Bay Area housing instability). The Drift Wood Deli also is a highlight, which serves great sandwiches and coffee drinks to all the construction workers and others who happen on it.

Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 7, 2022 at 11:55 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Sidewalk sitting areas require setbacks...and developers (who rent to the restaurants and shops you love) want freedom to develop every square inch of space the way they want it-- multi-story privately-controlled space.

Stop whining on PA Online and tell your City Council (the people who have the power to DO something about it) what you want. There is a public comment opportunity at the top of every City Council agenda. You can find their agendas with information on on how to participate here Web Link

The general absence of informed, engaged citizens at City Hall these days is worrisome. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Read agendas and the occasional staff report.

Posted by tag, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Sep 7, 2022 at 1:05 pm

tag is a registered user.

Why does new or remodeled residential construction have ugly inverted rectangular u-shaped pipes plopped in a too prominent place in the front of the property? Not to mention parks and fields where the pipes are huge, unattractive and usually front and center. Can't the ARB weigh in on better placement for these blights, at least in homes?

Posted by Green Gables, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Sep 7, 2022 at 1:59 pm

Green Gables is a registered user.

Wonder how the town of Burlingame does it. It is such a beautiful town.

Posted by Tika Peterson, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 8, 2022 at 7:07 am

Tika Peterson is a registered user.

"...we need is to preserve the trees we already have. They need water. We are told that if we have a city tree in our front yard, it is our responsibility to water it sufficiently."

Trees don't need to be watered. They have taproots.

Posted by Paly Grad, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Sep 8, 2022 at 9:20 am

Paly Grad is a registered user.

“The first five years are critical for the long-term health of a tree. Proper watering, pruning, and other tree care will ensure a healthy, mature tree and drastically reduce future maintenance costs."

“Note: While Canopy recommends proper young tree pruning, please do not prune Palo Alto street trees, as the City ordinance does not permit residents to prune street trees."

For detailed instructions on watering young trees follow the following link: Web Link

Posted by Jersey+Girl, a resident of College Terrace,
on Sep 8, 2022 at 2:00 pm

Jersey+Girl is a registered user.

Thank you for bringing this up. And, what about the untidy yards all over town? The drought has made yard maintenance difficult, but removal of knee high dried weeds would help appearances as well as reduce the amount of fuel for fires.

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