Palo Alto (/ /; Spanish for "tall stick") is a charter city in the northwestern corner of Santa Clara County, California, United States, in the San Francisco Bay Area, named after a coastal redwood tree known as El Palo Alto.
The city was established by Leland Stanford when he founded Stanford University, following the death of his son, Leland Stanford Jr. Palo Alto includes portions of Stanford University and borders East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Stanford, Portola Valley, and Menlo Park. At the 2020 census, the population was 68,572. Palo Alto is one of the most expensive cities in the United States in which to live, and its residents are among the most educated in the country. However, it also has a youth suicide rate four times higher than the national average, often attributed to academic pressure.
As one of the principal cities of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto is headquarters to a number of high-tech companies, including HP, Space Systems/Loral, VMware, Ford Research and Innovation Center, PARC, IDEO, Skype, Houzz, SAP Labs, and Lockheed Martin. Palo Alto has also served as headquarters to several other high-tech companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Logitech, Tesla, Intuit, Pinterest, and PayPal.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Ohlone lived on the San Francisco peninsula; in particular, the Puichon Ohlone lived in the Palo Alto area. The area of modern Palo Alto was first recorded by the 1769 party of Gaspar de Portolá, a 64-man, 200-horse expedition setting out from San Diego to find Monterey Bay. The group trekked past the bay without recognizing it and continued north. When they reached modern-day Pacifica, they ascended Sweeney Ridge and saw the San Francisco Bay on November 2. Portolá descended from Sweeney Ridge southeast down San Andreas Creek to Laguna Creek (now Crystal Springs Reservoir), thence to the San Francisquito Creek watershed, ultimately camping from November 6–11, 1769, by a tall redwood later to be known as El Palo Alto.
In 1777, Father Junipero Serra established the Mission Santa Clara de Asis, whose northern boundary was San Francisquito Creek and whose lands included modern Palo Alto. The area was under the control of the viceroy of Mexico and ultimately under the control of Spain. On November 29, 1777, Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe (now the city of San Jose a few miles to the south of what was to be Palo Alto) was established by order of the viceroy despite the displeasure of the local mission. The Mexican War of Independence ending in 1821 led to Mexico becoming an independent country, though San Jose did not recognize rule by the new Mexico until May 10, 1825. Mexico proceeded to sell off or grant much of the mission land.
During the Mexican–American War, the United States seized Alta California in 1846; however, this was not legalized until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on July 4, 1848. Mexican citizens in the area could choose to become United States citizens and their land grants were to be recognized if they chose to do so (though many legal disputes arose over this).
The land grant, Rancho Rinconada del Arroyo de San Francisquito, of about 2,230 acres (9.0 km2) on the lower reaches of San Francisquito Creek (i.e., parts of modern Menlo Park and northern Palo Alto) was given to Maria Antonia Mesa in 1841. She and her husband Rafael Soto (who had died in 1839) had settled in 1835 near present-day Newell and Middlefield roads and sold supplies. In 1839, their daughter María Luisa Soto (1817–1883) married John Coppinger, who was to be, in 1841, the grantee of Rancho Cañada de Raymundo (in modern San Mateo county). Upon Coppinger's death in 1847, Maria inherited it and later married a visiting boat captain, John Greer. Greer owned a home on the site that is now Town & Country Village on Embarcadero and El Camino Real. Greer Avenue and Court are named for him.
To the south of the Sotos, the brothers Secundino and Teodoro Robles in 1849 bought Rancho Rincon de San Francisquito from José Peña, the 1841 grantee. The grant covered the area south of Rancho Rinconada del Arroyo de San Francisquito to more or less present-day Mountain View. The grant was bounded on the south by Mariano Castro's Rancho Pastoria de las Borregas grant across San Antonio Road. This later became the Robles Rancho, which constitutes about 80% of Palo Alto and Stanford University today. In 1863, it was whittled down in the courts to 6,981 acres (28.25 km2). Stories say the grand hacienda was built on the former meager adobe of José Peña near Ferne off San Antonio Road, midway between Middlefield and Alma Street. Their hacienda hosted fiestas and bull fights. It was ruined in the 1906 earthquake and its lumber was used to build a large barn nearby, which was said to have lingered until the early 1950s. On April 10, 1853, 250 acres (1.0 km2), comprising the present-day Barron Park, Matadero Creek and Stanford Business Park, was sold for $2,000 to Elisha Oscar Crosby, who called his new property Mayfield Farm. The name of Mayfield was later attached to the community that started nearby. On September 23, 1856, the Crosby land was transferred to Sarah Wallis to satisfy a debt he owed her. In 1880, Secundino Robles, father to twenty-nine children, still lived just south of Palo Alto, near the location of the present-day San Antonio Shopping Center in Mountain View.
Many of the Spanish names in the Palo Alto area represent the local heritage, descriptive terms, and former residents. Pena Court, Miranda Avenue, which was essentially Foothill Expressway, was the married name of Juana Briones and the name occurs in Courts and Avenues and other street names in Palo Alto and Mountain View in the quadrant where she owned vast areas between Stanford University, Grant Road in Mountain View and west of El Camino Real. Yerba Buena was to her credit. Rinconada was the major Mexican land grant name.
The township of Mayfield was formed in 1855, around the site of a stagecoach stop and saloon known as "Uncle Jim's Cabin" near the intersection of El Camino Real and today's California Avenue in what is now southern Palo Alto. In October 1863 the San Francisco to San Jose railroad had been built as far as Mayfield and service started between San Francisco and Mayfield (the station is now California Avenue); train service all the way to San Jose started in January 1864. El Camino became Main Street; the northeast-southwest cross streets were named for Civil War heroes, with California Avenue originally being Lincoln Street. The town had its own newspaper by 1869 (the Mayfield Enterprise, in English and Spanish), incorporated in 1903, and had breweries and a cannery.
In 1875, French financier Jean Baptiste Paulin Caperon, better known as Peter Coutts, purchased land in Mayfield and four other parcels around three sides of today's College Terrace – more than a thousand acres extending from today's Page Mill Road to Serra Street and from El Camino Real to the foothills. Coutts named his property Ayrshire Farm. His fanciful 50-foot-tall brick tower near Matadero Creek likely marked the south corner of his property. Leland Stanford started buying land in the area in 1876 for a horse farm, called the Palo Alto Stock Farm. Stanford bought Ayrshire Farm in 1882.
Creation of the town
In 1884, Leland Stanford and his wife, Jane lost their only child Leland Stanford Jr. when he died of typhoid fever at age 15 and decided to create a university in his memory. In 1886, they proposed having the university's gateway be Mayfield. However, they had one condition: alcohol had to be banned from the town. Known for its 13 rowdy saloons, Mayfield rejected his request. This led them to drive the formation of a new temperance town with the help of their friend Timothy Hopkins of the Southern Pacific Railroad, who in 1887 bought 740 acres (3.0 km2) of private land for the new townsite. This Hopkins Tract, bounded by El Camino Real, San Francisquito Creek, Boyce, Channing, Melville, and Hopkins Avenues, and Embarcadero Road, was proclaimed a local Heritage District during Palo Alto's centennial in 1994. The Stanfords set up their university, Stanford University, and a train stop (on University Avenue) by the new town. This new community was initially called University Park (the name "Palo Alto" at that time was attached to what is now College Terrace), but was incorporated in 1894 with the name Palo Alto. With the Stanfords' support, Palo Alto grew to the size of Mayfield. Mayfield eventually an passed ordinance banning saloons that took effect in January 1905.
On July 2, 1925, Palo Alto voters approved the annexation of Mayfield and the two communities were officially consolidated on July 6, 1925. As a result Palo Alto has two downtown areas: one along University Avenue and one along California Avenue (renamed after the annexation since Palo Alto already had a Lincoln Avenue).
The Mayfield News wrote its own obituary four days later:
It is with a feeling of deep regret that we see on our streets today those who would sell, or give, our beautiful little city to an outside community. We have watched Mayfield grow from a small hamlet, when Palo Alto was nothing more than a hayfield, to her present size … and it is with a feeling of sorrow that we contemplate the fact that there are those who would sell or give the city away.
Palo Alto continued to annex more land, including the Stanford Shopping Center area in 1953. Stanford Research Park, Embarcadero Road northeast of Bayshore, and the West Bayshore/San Antonio Road area were also annexed during the 1950s. Large amounts of land west of Foothill Expressway were annexed between 1959 and 1968; this is mostly undeveloped and includes Foothills Park and Arastradero Preserve. The last major annexations were of Barron Park in 1975 and, in 1979, a large area of marshlands bordering the bay.
Many of Stanford University's first faculty members settled in the Professorville neighborhood of Palo Alto. Professorville, now a registered national historic district, is bounded by Kingsley, Lincoln, and Addison Avenues and the cross streets of Ramona, Bryant, and Waverley. The district includes a large number of well-preserved residences dating from the 1890s, including 833 Kingsley, 345 Lincoln, and 450 Kingsley. 1044 Bryant was the home of Russell Varian, co-inventor of the Klystron tube. The Federal Telegraph laboratory site, situated at 218 Channing, is a California Historical Landmark recognizing Lee de Forest's 1911 invention of the vacuum tube and electronic oscillator at that location. While not open to the public, the garage that housed the launch of Hewlett Packard is located at 367 Addison Avenue. Hewlett Packard recently restored the house and garage. A second historic district on Ramona Street can be found downtown between University and Hamilton Avenues. The Palo Alto Chinese School is the oldest in the entire Bay Area. It is also home to the second oldest opera company in California, the West Bay Opera.
Palo Alto is also home to a long-standing baseball tradition. The Palo Alto Oaks are a collegiate summer baseball club that has been in the Bay Area since 1950, eight years longer than the San Francisco Giants. The Oaks were originally managed by Tony Makjavich for 49 years. The Oaks were going to fold before the summer 2016 season but were taken on by Daniel Palladino and Whaylan Price, Bay Area baseball coaches who didn't want to see the team die. The Oaks have a rich history within the Palo Alto community.
Palo Alto is in the southeastern section of the San Francisco Peninsula.
It consists of two large parcels of land connected by a narrow corridor. The southern inland section, located south of Interstate 280, is hilly, rural, and lightly populated and is the site of Pearson-Arastradero Preserve and Foothills Park both part of the Palo Alto park system and also large parts of the Los Trancos and Monte Bello Open Space Preserves part of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. The city extends as far as Skyline Boulevard along the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The northern more densely populated parcel is bordered by San Francisquito Creek (with Menlo Park and East Palo Alto in adjacent San Mateo County beyond) to the north, San Francisco Bay to the north-east, Mountain View, Los Altos, and Los Altos Hills to the east and south-east and Stanford University to the south-west and west. Several major transit routes cross this parcel from the north-west to the south-east. The biggest and closest to the bay is the Bayshore Freeway and going inland are Alma Street/Central Expressway, El Camino Real, and Foothill Expressway. Interstate 280 is parallel and crosses the narrow corridor of land that connects the two parcels that makeup Palo Alto. Somewhat perpendicular to these roads are Sand Hill Road from El Camino until it crosses San Francisquito Creek into Menlo Park, Embarcadero Road, Oregon Expressway/Page Mill Road, Arastradero Road/East Charleston Road, and San Antonio Road (the last forms part of the boundary with Mountain View).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 25.8 square miles (67 km2), of which 23.9 square miles (62 km2) is land and 1.9 square miles (4.9 km2), comprising 7.38%, is water.
Palo Alto is crossed by several creeks that flow north in the direction of the San Francisco Bay, Adobe Creek near its eastern boundary, San Francisquito Creek on its western boundary, and Matadero Creek in between the other two. Arastradero Creek is a tributary to Matadero Creek, and Barron Creek is now diverted to Adobe Creek just south of Highway 101 by a diversion channel. The San Francisquito Creek mainstem is formed by the confluence of Corte Madera Creek and Bear Creek not far below Searsville Dam. Further downstream, Los Trancos Creek is a tributary to San Francisquito Creek below Interstate 280.
Palo Alto has a number of significant natural habitats, including estuarine, riparian, and oak forest. Many of these habitats are visible in Foothills Park, which is owned by the city. The Charleston Slough contains a rich marsh and littoral zone, providing feeding areas for a variety of shorebirds and other estuarine wildlife.
Typical of the South Peninsula region of the San Francisco Bay Area, Palo Alto has a Mediterranean climate with mild, moderately wet winters and warm, dry summers. Typically, in the warmer months, as the sun goes down, the fog bank flows over the foothills to the west and covers the night sky, thus creating a blanket that helps trap the summer warmth absorbed during the day. Even so, it is rare for the overnight low temperature to exceed 60 °F (16 °C).
In January, average daily temperatures range from a low of 38.5 °F (3.6 °C) to a high of 58 °F (14 °C). In July, average temperatures range from 54.9 °F (12.7 °C) to 78.4 °F (25.8 °C). The record high temperature was 107 °F (42 °C) on June 15, 1961, and the record low temperature was 21 °F (−6 °C) on December 24, 1990. Temperatures reach 90 °F (32 °C) or higher on an average of 9.9 days. Temperatures drop to 32 °F (0 °C) or lower on an average of 16.1 days.
Due to the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west, there is a "rain shadow" in Palo Alto, resulting in an average annual rainfall of only 15.32 inches (389 mm). Measurable rainfall occurs on an average of 57 days annually. The wettest year on record was 1983 with 32.51 inches (826 mm) and the driest year was 1976 with 7.34 inches (186 mm). The most rainfall in one month was 12.43 inches (316 mm) in February 1998 and the most rainfall in one day was 3.75 inches (95 mm) on February 3, 1998. Measurable snowfall is very rare in the populated areas of Palo Alto, but 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) fell on January 21, 1962. A dusting of snow occasionally occurs in the highest (unpopulated) section of Palo Alto near Skyline Ridge, where the elevation reaches up to 2,812 feet (857 m).
|Climate data for Palo Alto, California (1953–2017)|
|Record high °F (°C)||75
|Mean maximum °F (°C)||66.5
|Average high °F (°C)||58.0
|Average low °F (°C)||38.5
|Mean minimum °F (°C)||29.2
|Record low °F (°C)||21
|Average precipitation inches (mm)||2.9
|Source: "Daily Summaries Station Details (for station USC00046646)". National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved September 27, 2020.|
Palo Alto was incorporated in 1894. In 1909 a municipal charter created a local government consisting of a fifteen-member City Council, with responsibilities for various governmental functions delegated to appointed committees. In 1950, the City adopted a Council–manager government. Several appointed committees continue to advise the City Council on specialized issues, such as land-use planning, utilities, and libraries, but these committees no longer have direct authority over City staff. Currently, the City Council has seven members.
The mayor and vice-mayor serve one year at a time, with terms ending in January. General municipal elections are held in November of even-numbered years. Council terms are four years long.
According to one study in 2015, the city's effective property tax rate of 0.42% was the lowest of the California cities included in the study.
According to the California Secretary of State, as of February 10, 2019, Palo Alto has 40,040 registered voters. Of those, 20,857 (52.1%) are registered Democrats, 4,689 (11.7%) are registered Republicans, and 13,520 (33.8%) have declined to state a political party.
|U.S. Decennial Census|
|Race||Pop 2010||Pop 2020||% 2010||% 2020|
|Black or African American (NH)||1,131||1,170||1.76%||1.71%|
|Native American or Alaska Native (NH)||65||37||0.10%||0.05%|
|Pacific Islander (NH)||135||146||0.21%||0.21%|
|Some Other Race (NH)||254||503||0.39%||0.73%|
|Mixed Race/Multi-Racial (NH)||2,388||4,136||3.71%||6.03%|
|Hispanic or Latino (any race)||3,974||5,091||6.17%||7.42%|
Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.
The 2010 United States Census reported that Palo Alto had a population of 64,403. The population density was 2,497.5 people per square mile (964.3/km2). The racial makeup of Palo Alto was 41,359 (64.2%) White, 17,461 (27.1%) Asian, 1,197 (1.9%) African American, 121 (0.2%) Native American, 142 (0.2%) Pacific Islander, 1,426 (2.2%) from other races, and 2,697 (4.2%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3,974 persons (6.2%).
The Census reported that 63,820 people (99.1% of the population) lived in households, 205 (0.3%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 378 (0.6%) were institutionalized.
There were 26,493 households, out of which 8,624 (32.6%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 13,975 (52.7%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 1,843 (7.0%) had a female householder with no husband present, 659 (2.5%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 979 (3.7%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 188 (0.7%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 7,982 households (30.1%) were made up of individuals, and 3,285 (12.4%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.41. There were 16,477 families (62.2% of all households); the average family size was 3.04.
The population was spread out, with 15,079 people (23.4%) under the age of 18, 3,141 people (4.9%) aged 18 to 24, 17,159 people (26.6%) aged 25 to 44, 18,018 people (28.0%) aged 45 to 64, and 11,006 people (17.1%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41.9 years. For every 100 females, there were 95.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.0 males.
There were 28,216 housing units at an average density of 1,094.2 per square mile (422.5/km2), of which 14,766 (55.7%) were owner-occupied, and 11,727 (44.3%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 1.5%; the rental vacancy rate was 5.6%. 39,176 people (60.8% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 24,644 people (38.3%) lived in rental housing units.
As of the census of 2000, there were 58,598 people, 25,216 households, and 14,600 families residing in the city. The population density was 955.8/km2 (2,475.3/mi2). There were 26,048 housing units at an average density of 424.9/km2 (1,100.3/mi2). The racial makeup of the city was 75.76% White, 2.02% Black, 0.21% Native American, 17.22% Asian, 0.14% Pacific Islander, 1.41% from other races, and 3.24% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.65% of the population.
There were 25,216 households, of which 27.2% had resident children under the age of 18, 48.5% were married couples living together, 7.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.1% were non-families. 32.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.95.
In the city, the population was spread out, with 21.2% under the age of 18, 4.9% from 18 to 24, 32.4% from 25 to 44, 25.9% from 45 to 64, and 15.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 95.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.6 males.
According to a 2007 estimate, the median income for a household in the city was $119,046, and the median income for a family was $153,197. Males had a median income of $91,051 versus $60,202 for females. The per capita income for the city was $56,257. About 3.2% of families and 4.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.0% of those under age 18 and 5.0% of those age 65 or over.
Palo Alto, north of Oregon Expressway, is filled with older homes, including Craftsman and California Colonials, some of which date back to the 1890s but most of which were built in the first four decades of the 20th century. South of Oregon Expressway, the homes, including many Joseph Eichler-designed or Eichler-style houses, were primarily built in the first 20 years after World War II.
While the city contains homes that now cost anywhere from $800,000 to well over $40 million, much of Palo Alto's housing stock is in the style of California mid-century middle-class suburbia. The median home sale price for all of Palo Alto was $1.2 million in 2007 and $1.4 million in July 2009. Palo Alto ranked in as the 5th most expensive city in the United States as of 2007, with an average home sales price of $1,677,000. In 2010, Palo Alto ranked as the 2nd most expensive city in the United States, with a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home listing for $1.48 million on average. Palo Alto is by some measures the most expensive college town in the United States.
By 2020, residents' opposition to new housing has resulted in Palo Alto only allowing construction of enough low-income housing to meet 13% of its state-mandated share, and 6% of its share for very-low-income housing.
History of housing
In the 1920s, racial covenants were used that banned “persons of African, Japanese, Chinese, or Mongolian descent” from purchasing or renting homes in many neighborhoods throughout Palo Alto. In the 1950s, some movements opposed these policies, including the Palo Alto Fair Play Association, as well as architect and developer Joseph Eichler, who built almost 3,000 homes in Palo Alto.
Blockbusting strategies were also employed to instill fear in white neighborhoods and cause White flight out of areas on the outskirts of the city. Blockbusting refers to a practice realtors adopted in which they would advertise the incoming presence of a black family to a neighborhood, causing panic among the white residents who would consequently sell their houses at deflated prices very quickly. One famous blockbusting event is responsible for the prevailing demographic divides between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.
One of the most destructive policies at the time was redlining. Redlining was a policy put in place by the Federal Housing Association starting in 1937. Through the program, the association could rank neighborhoods from Type A, which was desirable, to Type D (outlined in red) which was deemed hazardous. Residents in Type D neighborhoods were ineligible for loans to buy or fix houses. The program was implemented in a way so that neighborhoods with any kind of African American population were ranked type C or D. This was also the case in Palo Alto and the surrounding areas. Palo Alto’s White neighborhoods were ranked mostly Type A and B, allowing for wealth accumulation and eventually resulting in the high housing prices we see today. On the other hand, the surrounding areas were all marked Type C and D, and African Americans found themselves being driven to the outskirts of Palo Alto, what is now mostly East Palo Alto, where there was no money from loans in the economy, leading to a state of decay.
However, for the most part, Palo Alto’s housing was built on policies that are still reflected in the current demographics.
Palo Alto serves as a central economic focal point of the Silicon Valley and is home to more than 7,000 businesses employing more than 98,000 people. Many prominent technology firms reside in the Stanford Research Park on Page Mill Road, while nearby Sand Hill Road in the adjacent city of Menlo Park is a notable hub of venture capitalists. The city's economy generally follows the economic trends of the rest of the Silicon Valley.
Many nearby Silicon Valley companies, no longer primarily in Palo Alto, were once headquartered and experienced major growth in Palo Alto, including Google (now in Mountain View), Facebook (now in Menlo Park), and PayPal (now in San Jose).
According to the City's 2021 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers in the city are:
|#||Employer||# of Employees|
|1||Stanford Health Care||5,500|
|4||Veteran's Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System||3,900|
|5||Lucile Packard Children's Hospital||3,500|
|7||SAP Ariba (SAP Labs Inc.)||3,500|
|8||Varian Medical Systems||3,300|
|10||Palo Alto Medical Foundation||2,200|
Palo Alto has a city-run and owned utility, City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU), which provides water, electric, gas service, and waste water disposal within city limits, with the minor exception of a rural portion of the city in the hills west of Interstate 280, past the Country Club, which does not receive gas from the City. Almost all other communities in northern California depend on Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) for gas and electricity.
Water and Gas Services (WGS) operates gas and water distribution networks within the city limits. The city operates both gas meters and the distribution pipelines. Water comes from city-operated watershed and wells and the City and County of San Francisco Hetch Hetchy system. The city is located in Santa Clara Valley Water District, North Zone. Hetch Hetchy pipeline #3 and #4 pass through the city.
The city operates its own electric power distribution network and telemetry cable network. Interconnection points tie the city into PG&E's electric transmission system, which brings power from several sources to the city. Palo Alto is a member of a joint powers authority (the Northern California Power Agency), which cooperatively generates electricity for government power providers such as the City of Santa Clara, the City of Redding, and the Port of Oakland. Roughly the same group of entities operate the Transmission Agency of Northern California (TANC). TANC transports power over its own lines from as far as British Columbia through an interconnection with the federal Bonneville Power Administration. A local oddity is a series of joint poles; those primary conductor cross arms are marked PGE and CPA (City of Palo Alto) to identify each utility's side of the shared cross arms.
Palo Alto has an ongoing community debate about the city providing fiber optic connectivity to all residences. A series of pilot programs have been proposed. One proposal called for the city to install dark fiber, which would be made live by a contractor.
Services traditionally attributed to a cable television provider were sold to a regulated commercial concern. Previously the cable system was operated by a cooperative called Palo Alto Cable Coop.
The former Regional Bell Operating Company in Palo Alto was Pacific Telephone, now called AT&T Inc., and previously called SBC and Pacific Bell. One of the earliest central office facilities switching Palo Alto calls is the historic Davenport central office (CO) at 529 Bryant Street. The building was sold and is now the home of the Palo Alto Internet Exchange. The former CO building is marked by a bronze plaque and is located on the north side of Bryant Street between University Avenue and Hamilton Avenue. It was called Davenport after the exchange name at the introduction of dial telephone service in Palo Alto. For example, modern numbers starting with 325- were Davenport 5 in the 1950s and '60s. The Step-by-Step office was scrapped and replaced by stored-program-controlled equipment at a different location about 1980. Stanford calls ran on a Step-by-Step Western Electric 701 PBX until the university purchased its own switch about 1980. It had the older, traditional Bell System 600 Hz+120 Hz dial tone. The old 497-number PBX, MDF, and battery string were housed in a steel building at 333 Bonair Siding. From the 1950s to 1980s, the bulk of Palo Alto calls were switched on Number 5 Crossbar systems. By the mid-1980s, these electromechanical systems had been junked. Under the Bell System's regulated monopoly, local coin telephone calls were ten cents until the early 1980s.
During the drought of the early 1990s, Palo Alto employed water waste patrol officers to enforce water saving regulations. The team, called "Gush Busters", patrolled city streets looking for broken water pipes and poorly managed irrigation systems. Regulations were set to stop restaurants from habitually serving water, runoff from irrigation, and irrigation during the day. The main goal of the team was to educate the public in ways to save water. Citations consisted of Friendly Reminder postcards and more formal notices. To help promote the conservation message, the team only used bicycles and mopeds.
Fire and police departments
The city was among the first in Santa Clara County to offer advanced life support (ALS) paramedic-level (EMT-P) ambulance service. In an arrangement predating countywide paramedic service, Palo Alto Fire operates two paramedic ambulances which are theoretically shared with county EMS assets. The Palo Alto Fire Department is currently the only fire department in Santa Clara County that routinely transports patients. Rural Metro holds the Santa Clara County 911 contract and provides transportation in other cities. Enhanced 9-1-1 arrived in about 1980 and included the then-new ability to report emergencies from coin telephones without using a coin. Palo Alto Fire also has a contract with Stanford University to cover most of the campus. In all, the Fire Department has six regular stations plus one opened only during the summer fire season in the foothills.
The police station was originally housed in a stone building at 450 Bryant Street. Still engraved with the words Police Court, the building is now a non-profit senior citizen center, Avenidas. The police are now headquartered in the City Hall high rise. The department has just under 100 sworn officers ranking supplemented by approximately ten reserve officers and professional staff who support the police department and the animal services organization.
The Palo Alto Unified School District provides public education for most of Palo Alto. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Palo Alto has a student-teacher ratio of 14.9, much lower than some surrounding communities. Juana Briones Elementary has a student/teacher ratio of 14.4. The school board meets at 7 p.m. on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month; the meetings are open to the public and city, cast live on Channel 28. Channel 28 is operated by the Mid-peninsula Community Media Center in Palo Alto, which is affiliated with the Alliance for Community Media. ACM represents over 2,000 PEG channels in the US. Government-access television (GATV) Cable TV. Palo Alto students attend one of two high schools, Gunn High School or Palo Alto High School. There are also three middle schools, JLS, Greene, and Fletcher.
The Los Altos School District and Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District provide public education for the Monroe neighborhood portion of Palo Alto off El Camino Real south of Adobe Creek.
- Bowman International School – a K-8 Montessori school founded in 1995
- Castilleja School – an all-girls' college preparatory school for grades 6–12 founded in 1907
- Challenger School – a K-8 School
- Esther B. Clark School – a school for children with mental or behavioral challenges
- Fusion Academy Palo Alto – a small 1-1 alternative school for 6–12
- Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School – a K-8 Jewish day school; school's name changed from Mid-Peninsula Jewish Community Day School (MPJCDS)
- The Girls' Middle School – an independent, all-girls day school founded in 1998 in Mountain View and moved to Palo Alto in 2011. It has about 200 students in grades 6–8.
- International School of the Peninsula – a Nursery-8 bilingual immersion school with two Palo Alto campuses. Established in 1979.
- Kehillah Jewish High School – a high school with both secular and Jewish studies founded in 2002 in San Jose and moved to Palo Alto in 2005.
- Keys School – a co-ed, independent K-8 school
- Living Wisdom School – a K-8 school
- Meira Academy – an Orthodox Jewish all-girls high school, founded in 2011
- Sand Hill School – a K-7 school
- St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School – a Catholic school for preschool through eighth grade located in Palo Alto
- Stratford School – a K-5 school
- Tru School – a K-5 school
- Grossman Academy Japanese Language School (グロスマン・アカデミー Gurosuman Akademī) – a Japanese weekend educational program, holds its classes in Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto.
- Palo Alto Chinese School – oldest Chinese school in Bay Area.
The Palo Alto City Library has five branches, with a total of 265,000 items in their collections. The library's mission is to enable people to explore library resources to enrich their lives with knowledge, information, and enjoyment. For Palo Alto library card holders, the main library web page also offers links to primary source databases with collections of magazines, newspapers, and other print articles. The Palo Alto City Library is also a member of the Northern California Digital Library, which allows cardholders to browse and download the digital resources made available. Library cards are freely available for California residents. The Mitchell Park Library, now the largest one in Palo Alto, was rebuilt between 2010 and December 2014 to be the largest in Palo Alto. The former Main Library was then renamed the Rinconada branch. Palo Alto Children's Library is located close to the former Main Library. There are smaller branches in the Downtown and College Terrace neighborhoods.
The Palo Alto Daily Post publishes six days a week. Palo Alto Daily News, a unit of the San Jose Mercury News, publishes five days a week. Palo Alto Weekly is published on Fridays. Palo Alto Times, a daily newspaper, served Palo Alto and neighboring cities beginning in 1894. In 1979, it became the Peninsula Times Tribune. The newspaper ceased publication in 1993.
KDOW, 1220 AM, began broadcasting in 1949 as KIBE; it later became KDFC, simulcasting classical KDFC-FM. As KDOW it broadcasts a business news format. The transmitter is in East Palo Alto near the western approach to Dumbarton Bridge, with power of 5,000 watts daytime and 145 watts nighttime.
KTLN-TV, virtual channel 68, with transmitter facilities on Mt. Allison across San Francisco bay, east of Palo Alto.
Among other programs, Palo Alto Institute runs a unique film festival, the Palo Alto International Film Festival, that focuses on the ways in which new technologies influence and are influenced by artistic revolution in media.
The movie Palo Alto (2007) was filmed in the town and many landmarks can be seen in the background but the plot could be centered in any smaller town or city.
Palo Alto is served by two major freeways, Highway 101 and Interstate 280, and is traversed by the Peninsula's main north-south boulevard, El Camino Real (SR 82). The city is also served indirectly by State Route 84 which traverses the Dumbarton Bridge to the north and State Route 85 via Mountain View to the south.
There are no parking meters in Palo Alto, and all municipal parking lots and multi-level parking structures are free but limited to two or three hours per weekday 8am–5pm. Downtown Palo Alto has recently added many new lots to fill the overflow of vehicles.
Palo Alto is served by Palo Alto Airport (KPAO), one of the busiest single-runway general aviation airports in the country. It is used by many daily commuters who fly (usually in private single-engine aircraft) from their homes in the Central Valley to work in the Palo Alto area.
The nearest commercial airport is San Jose International Airport (SJC) (also known as Norman Mineta Airport), about 15 miles (24 km) southeast. Nearby is San Francisco International Airport (SFO), about 21 miles (34 km) north.
Passenger train service is provided exclusively by Caltrain, with service between San Francisco and San Jose, extending to Gilroy. Caltrain has two regular stations in Palo Alto, the main one at the Palo Alto Station in downtown Palo Alto (local, limited, and express). The main Palo Alto station is the second busiest (behind 4th and King in San Francisco) on the entire Caltrain line. The other station is located at California Avenue, (local and limited). A third, the Stanford station, located beside Alma Street at Embarcadero Road, is used for occasional sports events (generally football) at Stanford Stadium. Freight trains through Palo Alto are operated by Union Pacific (formerly Southern Pacific).
The Palo Alto Transit Center adjacent to the Palo Alto Train Station is the major bus hub for northern Santa Clara county. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) provides primary bus service through Palo Alto with service to the south bay and Silicon Valley. San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) provides service to San Mateo County to the north but some lines include the Palo Alto Transit Center. The Stanford University Free Shuttle (Marguerite) provides a supplementary bus service between Stanford University and the Palo Alto Transit Center, and the Palo Alto Free Shuttle (Crosstown and Embarcadero), which circulates frequently, and provides service to major points in Palo Alto, including the main library, downtown, the Municipal Golf Course, the Palo Alto Transit Center, and both high schools. The Dumbarton Express is a weekday-only limited stop bus service that connects Union City BART in the East Bay to Palo Alto via the Dumbarton Bridge serving Stanford University, Stanford Research Park, Palo Alto Transit Center, and Veterans Hospital.
Cycling is a popular mode of transportation in Palo Alto. 9.5% of residents bicycle to work, the highest percentage of any city in the Bay Area, and third-highest in the United States, after Davis, California and Boulder, Colorado. Since 2003, Palo Alto has received a Bicycle Friendly Community status of "Gold" from the League of American Bicyclists.
The city's flat terrain and many quiet tree-shaded residential streets offer comfort and safety to cyclists, and the temperate climate makes year-round cycling convenient. Palo Alto pioneered the bicycle boulevard concept in the early 1980s, enhancing residential Bryant Street to prioritize it for cyclists by removing stop signs, providing special traffic signals, and installing traffic diverters, and a bicycle/pedestrian bridge over Matadero Creek. However, busy arterial streets which often offer the fastest and most direct route to many destinations, are dangerous for cyclists due to high volumes of fast-moving traffic and the lack of bicycle lanes. El Camino Real, Alma Street, and Embarcadero and Middlefield roads, all identified as "high priorities" for adding bicycle lanes to improve safety by the 2003 Palo Alto Bicycle Transportation Plan, still contain no provisions for cyclists.
The Palo Alto Police Department decided to stop using tasers to detain bicyclists after a 2012 incident in which a 16-year-old boy, who had bicycled through a stop sign, was injured after police officers pursued him, fired a taser at him and suddenly braked their patrol car in front of him, causing the boy to crash.
Conditions for walking are excellent in Palo Alto except for crossing high-volume arterial streets such as El Camino Real and Oregon Expressway. Sidewalks are available on nearly every city street, with the notable exception of the Barron Park neighborhood, which was the last to be incorporated into the city. Palo Alto's street grid is well-connected with few dead-end streets, especially in the city's older northern neighborhoods. An extensive urban forest, which is protected by the city's municipal code, provides shade and visual diversity, and slows motor vehicle traffic. 4.8% of residents walk to work.
In 1989, Palo Alto received a gift of a large, whimsical wooden sculpture called Foreign Friends (Fjärran Vänner)—of a man, woman, dog and bird sitting on a park bench—from Linköping. The sculpture was praised by some, called "grotesque" by others, and became a lightning rod for vandals. It was covered with a large addressed postcard marked "Return to Sender." A former Stanford University professor was arrested for attempting to light it on fire. It was also doused with paint. When the original heads were decapitated on Halloween, 1993, the statue became a shrine—flowers bouquets and cards were placed upon it. Following an anonymous donation, the heads were restored. Within weeks, the restored heads were decapitated again, this time disappearing. The heads were eventually replaced with new ones, which generated even more distaste, as many deemed the new heads even less attractive.
A few months later, the man's arm was chopped off, the woman's lap was vandalized, the bird was stolen, and the replacements heads were decapitated and stolen. The sculpture was removed from its location on Embarcadero Road and Waverley Avenue in 1995, dismantled, and placed in storage until it was destroyed in 2000. Ironically, the statue was designed not as a lasting work of art, but as something to be climbed on with a lifespan of 10 to 25 years.
Notable buildings and other points of interest
Historical buildings and architecture
- Frenchman's Tower was built in 1876
- Former Palo Alto Community House, at the intersection of University Avenue and El Camino Real; designed by Julia Morgan as the YWCA Hostess House but first used as a social centre in Camp Fremont during World War I; now a restaurant, MacArthur Park.
- Lou Henry Hoover Girl Scout House, "the oldest scout meeting house remaining in continuous use in the United States".
- Packard's garage where the company Hewlett-Packard was started in 1939.
- Printers Inc. Bookstore, now defunct, was a landmark independent bookstore on California Ave. and was referenced in Vikram Seth's novel, The Golden Gate. It closed in 2001.
- Saint Thomas Aquinas Church is the oldest church in Palo Alto.
- Woman's Club of Palo Alto was built in 1916 in a Tudor-Craftsmen style, listed in 2014 in the National Register of Historic Places.
Nature and hiking
- Arastradero Preserve
- Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden, public botanical garden
- Esther Clark Park, a small open oak/grassland park connecting to Los Altos Hills
- Palo Alto Foothills Park
- Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve
Museums, art, and entertainment
- Palo Alto Art Center
- Pacific Art League
- Stanford Shopping Center
- University Avenue (Downtown Palo Alto)
- Palo Alto Children's Theatre
- Palo Alto Players
- Stanford Theatre
- Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo
- The Foster Museum
- Winter Lodge Ice Skating Rink
- Mental Research Institute (MRI)
- Palo Alto University
- Sofia University formerly Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
- Stanford University
Class-action lawsuit against battery makers
Palo Alto was the first city in California to participate in a class action lawsuit against major battery producers, and currently serves as a representative for various cities and public entities across the state. The lawsuit was filed against global manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries, including Panasonic, LG Chem, Sony, Hitachi and Sanyo.
The companies were accused of unfair business practices. They were alleged to have fixed prices of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which are commonly used in laptops, smartphones, and GPS devices, and Palo Alto has purchased a lot of such devices.
Palo Alto's case will be consolidated with many others brought against the batteries producers in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The companies are also facing at least 10 lawsuits in New Jersey. The city is represented by Rene Sloan Holtzman & Sakai, LLP, and Green & Noblin, P.C.
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- List of cities and towns in the San Francisco Bay Area
- List of people from Palo Alto
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