posted by Art Liberman
The Palo Alto VA is undergoing another phase of significant building construction. In the previous phase of VA building expansion, several new medical facility structures and a parking garage were built along the Matadero Creek side of its property. This second phase is in the rear area of its property, which borders the Bol Park Bike and Pedestrian Shared Path (‘the Bike Path’). The initial projects in this latest phase of construction activity involve moving the VA’s Loop Road close to the VA property boundary (labelled number 3 on the following figure), building a new, five story Parking Garage (number 2) along that Loop Road and adding a Radiology Unit (number 1) to the main hospital building.
The projects will proceed in stages over the next several years. As indicated in the figure, future projects include a two story Research Building (number 5) that will also be close to the new rear Loop Road and likely visible from the Bike Path, and several other facilities elsewhere on the VA site (Ambulatory Care Center, number 4; Simulation Center, number 6; Recreation Therapy, number 7; and a second Fisher House hotel for veterans’ families, number 8).
While the planning for this phase of the VA expansion had been in the works for some years, the Barron Park community became aware of it only two months ago, when the VA sent out a notice about the construction project (forwarded to BPA-News), and then six weeks later when construction activity began in earnest. David Boxerman along with Richard Placone (president of the BPA at the time of annexation of Barron Park to Palo Alto in the 1970’s and the person responsible for having the railway line right-of-way donated to the City for the Bike Path) contacted the VA project managers at the end of October. These two Barron Park residents have been joined by BPA President Markus Fromherz, Art Liberman, and Khashayar “Cash” Alaee (a management analyst in City Manager Jim Keene’s office) to form a group that has held several meetings with Ronald Bochenek, Environmental Planning Manager/Facility Planner for the VA who is acting as the VA’s liaison to the community for this project (and who provided the images in this note).
Over the past few weeks, the VA contractors erected a new chain link temporary construction fence covered with fabric screening that is closer to the Bike Path than the previous fence (which was removed), and bulldozers and excavation equipment removed trees and cleared away vegetation along the VA side of the new fence. The construction fence marks the VA property line; the Bike Path and adjacent property beyond the donkey pasture and extending to Arastradero is on Stanford land leased long term to the City of Palo Alto.
The rear entry way for pedestrians and bicyclists, which had been up a steep embankment and through a gateway between the phone booth and the donkey pasture, has been closed; a new rear entry way to the VA property is now open much further along the Bike Path, near the flood retention pond and Gunn High School.
A clearer picture of the impact of the VA construction with the Bike Path can be seen in the following figure, which is a superposition of the footprint of the realigned Loop Road, Parking Garage and proposed Research Building onto a Google Earth image of the current VA campus and Bike Path area.
The BP/City/VA group has already asked the construction contractors to preserve as many trees as possible along the interface of the VA property with the Bike Path, especially in the ‘grove’ area near the old rear entry to the VA. The grove sits on hillside and may experience some erosion due to the removal of soil and some trees along the top edge of the hill. Going forward, the objective is to regain, with new tree and shrub plantings and landscaping involving both the VA and the City of Palo Alto’s landscape architects and tree expertise, some of the bucolic, pastoral feeling of the old Bike Path.
Nonetheless, there will be differences since the realigned loop roadway will be 10 or 15 feet from the VA property line (dotted yellow line in the above figure) and thus close to the Bike Path, separated from it by new plantings and retaining walls due to the elevation changes. At some places the loop roadway will be above the level of the Bike Path, and in a few places, such as at the top of Strawberry Hill, a few feet below the Bike Path. The retaining walls will be as high as 8’ at one end, the location labelled with number 1 in the image above, and drop down to ground level at number 3, a point roughly opposite the proposed Research Building and then begin again at number 4 and continue along the property at height that varies from 2’ to 3’ as it passes by the site of the new parking garage.
While the mission of the VA is to provide healthcare to veterans, Mr. Bochenek has assured us that the VA is concerned about the effect of its construction activity on the community and will try to ameliorate some of the issues. According to Mr. Bochenek, many project details remain to be defined, but he will endeavor to provide us with the VA’s designs for overhead lighting, landscaping, fencing and retaining walls when they become available and endeavor to have their appearance attractive to the community. The VA is moving, albeit slowly, on improving its community outreach channels, such as updating the construction project website [ VA Palo Alto Campus Construction] and providing specific project timelines. In the immediate future, we do not expect any further major removal of trees, and we have asked Mr. Bochenek to inform us of any changes to that, and also to insure that the construction contractors do as much as possible to mitigate the impact of their activity (dust, noise, etc). The group will be meeting again in December, and has proposed, tentatively, holding a community wide meeting with the VA and City representatives sometime early in 2015.