16 January, 2012


Neighbors lobby for new road in research park 

A new road northwest of Page Mill Road that could divert traffic from the College Terrace neighborhood will be looked at by Palo Alto staff, city planning director Curtis Williams has confirmed.

The idea for a "spine road" to take traffic from El Camino Real through the center of the north end of the Stanford Research Park -- two blocks between California Avenue and Page Mill Road -- could play a major role when two housing developments get underway in 2014. 

It's not a new idea. Discussions of the road emerged nearly a decade ago. The road was proposed by the College Terrace Residents Association as a way to mitigate traffic impacts that have been growing steadily on California Avenue and surrounding residential streets.

In 2005, the city and Stanford University formed the Mayfield Development Agreement, which allowed 250 housing units to be built at two sites adjacent to College Terrace in exchange for a 51-year lease of land at Page Mill Road and El Camino Real for $1 annually. Athletic playing fields have been built there.

Related story: Mayfield's soccer fields deal concluded (Dec. 14, 2004)

One housing development would occupy 1.8 acres at 2450, 2470 and 2500 El Camino, between California and Page Mill. A larger development would be constructed on 17 acres on the 1400 to 1600 blocks of upper California Avenue, adjacent to the Peter Coutts housing on the Stanford campus (the former site of Facebook).

A May 2, 2005, city manager's report recommended exploring a spine road from El Camino to Hanover Street and noted "Stanford is supportive of any future initiative by the city to study this potential circulation option." The report also noted the need to consider options to remove traffic away from California Avenue.

An initial traffic study showed that housing would generate "significantly less traffic" than the commercial buildings it would replace. But at the same time, a new workspace model, adopted by Facebook, tripled the number of employees working in the same space. The model has been a game changer in terms of how future businesses coming into the research park could impact traffic in the surrounding area, residents have said.

With demolition of structures on the sites expected to begin in 2014, College Terrace association members have let university officials know they want the spine road to be part of the university's construction plan. Residents met with city planning staff and Stanford real-estate personnel in June to discuss the issue. 

Even before the residences are built, Stanford will have to devise a way to move out demolished buildings and move in construction materials. Most buildings in the research park are aligned to allow a road, residents said.

"We are concerned about having California Avenue become a construction road for 17 acres of concrete and dirt coming out and 17 acres of construction materials coming in," neighborhood association President Brent Barker said.

At the neighborhood association's annual meeting last March, residents asked then-Mayor Sid Espinosa to initiate a study regarding the spine road. In November the city confirmed staff would look into the issue.

Williams, the city planning director, said this week that the city "is not preparing a 'study' as such for the spine road," but will be meeting with the College Terrace group about the spine road concept and how to develop a sketch (or plan line) that will help planners to review future development proposals.

"This is something that would need to be implemented through future development or voluntarily by research park tenants. We expect that the future (2013) development plans for residential on the 1601 California Ave. site will be a good opportunity to initiate the concept and want to be prepared for that or other development possibilities as they arise," he said.

A spine road could depend on research-park leaseholders agreeing to modifications to their buildings. But the city and Stanford did give the idea a nod by requiring two driveway curb cuts when a new building was planned at 2475 Hanover. The south driveway was designed for potential use as part of the spine road, College Terrace association members noted.

Steve Elliott, Stanford's managing director of development, said the university has not yet been in contact with the city regarding details of a potential road.

"Regarding the Mayfield projects, it is too early in the process to know or project the construction schedule. We are still in the preliminary planning stages and will be working with the city and the neighbors as we move forward," he said.

Barker said that given the trend toward intensifying high-tech workspaces that increases the number of employees, a spine road makes sense that could serve as both an inner conduit for employees and as a service road.

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