Cal Ave. to become a permanent pedestrian mall

California Avenue in Palo Alto. File photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto City Council voted tonight (Nov. 6) to permanently close California Avenue to cars.

City Manager Ed Shikada had suggested another one-year closure while a consultant came up with a permanent design, but council members said it was time to let business owners know which way they’re headed — toward a pedestrian mall.

“We have to make a decision,” Councilman Ed Lauing said.

Council voted 5-2, with Mayor Lydia Kou and Councilwoman Vicki Veenker voting no.

Veenker said she preferred the street closed but wasn’t ready to make the decision tonight. Kou sided with retailers who said the closure is hurting their business.

Hundreds of people wrote to council, both for and against the street closure, and more than 30 people spoke at the meeting.

A coalition of business owners pushed council to open at least one lane because they said the closure was only helping a few restaurants that use the space for outdoor dining.

But council members said that the coalition’s struggles are more to blame on a lack of office workers.

“I am confident that opening the street to cars will not bring any more workers into their offices, and it won’t stop people from shopping on Amazon,” Councilman Pat Burt said.

Since the pandemic, less than half of workers have returned to nearby Stanford Research Park, Assistant to the City Manager Steve Guagliardo said.

The vote tonight wasn’t final because a permanent closure wasn’t on the agenda and because the city has to follow a specific process, Assistant City Attorney Tim Shimizu said.

“Council would not be able to 100% definitively take that very formal action tonight,” he said.

Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi said he didn’t know when he would return for council to take a final vote. The city will change its contract with the consultant to look at only a closed street, rather than studying the different options.


  1. At least the city saved $384,000 on a consultant to study this for another year.

    NOW do you think our “leaders” can finally put up a sign or banner saying BUSINESS DISTRICT and maybe list the business names? Just a thought for less than $384,000 and all that wasted staff time.

  2. Council wants to push out the mom-n-pop businesses to let the landlords replace them with offices, which have higher rents. Say good-bye to another hometown neighborhood.

  3. So glad I sold my restaurant on Cal Ave the city has destroyed the street and picks the winner and losers. I and many others will never visit the restricted area congratulations PA for destroying small business dreams while u get ur gold plated pay and benefits!

  4. California Avenue has finally completed the transition from a useful business district, to a mall food court. I am so old that I recall when you would go there for hardware, paint and groceries, instead of to try out the latest fashionable bistro.

  5. Cal Ave is now the go-to spot for all the entitled folks who enjoy $100+ dinners and don’t go to hardware or grocery stores (they have people for that). Country Sun (for old hippies) and Anthony’s Nut House (for people who like a beer and fries and peanuts) no longer fit into “the community.”

    There’s no room in Palo Alto for ordinary people who enjoyed dealing with the moms and pops who supported their families with their small businesses.

    The callousness from some council members is disturbing. Pat Burt said, “Retailers should change with the times.” Does he think they haven’t tried? Online shopping has been around for many years, yet many small businesses survived. Sure COVID was a disaster and working from home changed the dynamic. But there’s no data to show how much of an impact the closed street had in addition to those problems.

    A bike lane down the middle of Cal Ave makes no sense if the city wants golf and music and dancing in the street. Maybe the multi-thousand-dollar consultant will figure that out. Since the chief transportation officer has no idea how long it will take to update the contract, even the study could go on for years. And then “two to four years until construction is done.” Only in government would this be acceptable.

    Meanwhile, Cal Ave will go limping along, looking trashy, and we might lose even more businesses and restaurants some of us loved.

    Thanks to Lydia Kou and Vicki Veenker for their NO votes.

  6. Council should benchmark this change. At the next election we should know if this failed or succeeded. If it failed, get rid of the council members who supported it and the staffers who had a hand in this. Hold them accountable!

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