Study: Big traffic impacts from library in park

Draft EIR says no feasible way to fix traffic headache at Watkins and El Camino

A traffic light will be needed to address the increased traffic congestion at Middlefield Road and Watkins Avenue if a new library is built in Atherton's Holbrook-Palmer Park, but there's no feasible way to fix the traffic headache that would develop at Watkins and El Camino Real, according to the environmental study of the planned library project.

The draft environmental impact report (EIR) released March 23 described air quality, noise, water, transportation and other impacts that would result from building a two-story library of up to 13,500 square feet in Atherton's only park.

The public has until May 7 to comment on the document, which must be certified by the City Council before the planned project can move forward.

Although other environmental impacts were found to be insignificant, or less than significant after mitigations are put in place, the intersections of Watkins, where the park is located, and the two main thoroughfares were flagged in the report.

According to the draft EIR, if the library is built in the park, the town must install a traffic signal at Middlefield and Watkins, which would solve the existing problem of delays at that intersection, and make the traffic flow tolerable even if the library is built nearby.

The current "level of service," or LOS, at that intersection is rated F. LOS ratings range from A to F, with F indicating the worst level of delays for vehicles navigating the intersection.

The draft EIR also identified a mitigation measure for the Watkins/El Camino Real intersection, but added that the measure is likely to be found infeasible: It requires a dedicated right-turn lane from Watkins onto northbound El Camino, but that would involve the taking of residential property in the right-of-way. As a result, the traffic impact at that intersection is "significant and unavoidable," the EIR says.

The town might be able to lessen the impact of additional traffic at the intersection by providing more police enforcement of a left-turn ban from Watkins onto southbound El Camino. The existing ban covers 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, but a number of drivers ignore the restriction, according to the EIR. Nevertheless, "the effectiveness of additional monitoring cannot be quantified, and therefore it is unknown whether the impact would be fully mitigated by the measure," the report says.

The LOS at the intersection is already rated F for peak morning traffic. For peak afternoon traffic, it is now rated D, but is expected to drop to E even without the library in the park. But if the library is built in the park, peak afternoon traffic is expected to cause delays at the intersection that will earn an F rating, the EIR says.

Parking demands would increase in the park to a significant level if the library is built there, the report says. But with mitigation, it would be a "less than significant" impact.

The mitigation measure listed in the report would require the town to count heads at events in the park's Pavilion, restricting attendance to 92 people for weekday events and 58 on weekends.

If an event is expected to draw more people, the town must see to it that there are no other special events during that time, and that the event doesn't take place during peak library hours, the EIR says.

Also, the event coordinator would be required to submit a trip-reduction plan to the town, which could include off-site parking and shuttling.

The report also studied alternatives to building the library in the park, including a project, supported by a number of residents, to renovate the library in its current location in the Town Center. It also looked at environmental impacts of a library at the proposed location, where the Main House now sits, but reduced to a maximum of 10,000 square feet; and of a library built instead on the North Meadow site in the park.

The draft EIR will be reviewed by the Planning Commission on April 25.

Go to Draft EIR to read the document. It is also available to read at Town Hall, 91 Ashfield Road in the Town Center.

Comments on the draft EIR can be mailed to Lisa Costa Sanders, deputy town planner, at 91 Ashfield Road, Atherton, CA 94027. The public may also submit comments during the April 25 Planning Commission meeting.


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Posted by Scott
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Since we really should be taking steps to decrease auto traffic anyway - bring on the library!

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 26, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Given the acknowledged impact of this project the location of the new library should be a decision made by the voters.

In my opinion the library, a regional resource controlled by a joint powers agreement, would be in conflict with the park, a local resource. I also believe that giving a portion of the park to the joint powers agreement that ultimately controls the library would violate the terms of the original gift of the park to the Town of Atherton and thereby potentially cause the entire park to revert to the secondary recipient ,Stanford University, in accordance with article 2v of the original grant by Oliver Palmer.

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Posted by herstory lesson
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 26, 2012 at 11:51 pm

It's"Olive" Palmer Peter
A Woman made the gift of her family estate to the town, but you may have a point about the rest of it,

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Posted by just nuts
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 27, 2012 at 5:52 am

It appears that the regional community center will have control of the parking use while other Park use is subordinated to their hours. So as a Atherton resident paying taxes for the Park who may want to host an event at the Park cannot use it because non-taxpayers want to hang out enriching themselves at the center?
Make no mistake that this is a library because it is not except in name only.
Oh yes thank you council members Widmer, Dobbie and McKeithen for deciding this issue for us. What could we do without you?

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Posted by Vote
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 27, 2012 at 8:23 am

The residents of Atherton do not need a larger library. The regional library needs of San Mateo County can be served at Redwood City and Menlo Park. The region does need more open space and fields. Council members Widmer, Dobbie, and McKeiten should stop this wasteful process of forcing an unwanted library expansion and removal of open space against the will of a majority of the residents of Atherton. It is clear they are blocking efforts to allow a town vote because two-thirds of the town opposes the library in the park that they are forcing on the town.

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Posted by Bookworm
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 27, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Of the alternative choices for a location if a new library is built for Atherton, the most logical and practical would be to incorporate it into the new Town Center. Then, as it goes the way of Encyclopedia Britannica, which is inevitable, it can easily be converted to a meeting and event facility. The puny litle Atherton library has currently diminished to more of a children's play center and computer bank for non-residents than anything else. The existence of larger, more meaningful libraries on either side of Atherton, as pointed out by others, more than meets our residents' library needs. The swell-headed bunch currently in charge should back off and do what's right for the community and for HP Park. Olive is watching!

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Posted by Library Express
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 28, 2012 at 6:02 am

Widmer is on the fence on this issue. He's been deliberate in his decisions. I recall him speaking about the footprint not exceeding the existing house on the property and only voting for the project if it stayed within that limit.

This report now gives Widmer a solid reason to withdraw his support, swinging the Council's decision the other direction.

This project may still go forward. The residents need to vote. If the majority or residents want it and the accompanying traffic congestion, then the new library should move forward. But, this shouldn't be decided on a 3-2 Council vote.

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Posted by Machine
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Mar 28, 2012 at 7:04 am

A majority of the town disagrees with Widmer, Dobbie, and McKeithen on placing a county library in the park. With other county libraries so close, there is no need for another one in Atherton.

The McKeithen/ Dobbie Organization ran Widmer's campaign to get him elected in 2010 and moved Widmer in front of Lewis to be Vice-Mayor and Mayor.

Even with so much information to justify a vote against the library in the park, can he vote against McKeithen and Dobbie's desire to build the library in the park?

It would be safer for the residents to sign the petition and force the council to put this to a town vote.

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Posted by Hmm
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2012 at 2:59 pm

So would the library being placed in the park result in similar parking issues as Menlo's main library is facing & that Palo Alto main faces when there are popular art shows?

It'd be lovely to hit the Atherton library then stroll in the adjacent park, but that's possible to do in Menlo & PA right now - it's not *necessary* for one's library trip - in addition because those other local cities have multiple parks, as does Redwood.

What are the traffic impacts of a larger library in its current location?

How much input should non-residents have on this issue since the library is a regional one? I should add that I, for one, don't care that much where in Atherton the library is located, but it would be best to have its impact be as gentle as possible on residents & surroundings. I recognize that the park's mandate is certainly different than city property a la the other libraries I've mentioned -this is a crucial difference that shapes this decision-making process.

Losing this park should NOT be a possibility here since it's not the only option for the library.

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Posted by here4longterm
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Mar 28, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Anyone who lives near the Middlefield-Marsh Road intersection knows full well the serious hazards and difficulties of exiting or entering Fair Oaks Lane in the mornings and afternoons. If there were to be a priority for safety, a signal at Fair Oaks and Middlefield should have priority. The expense of such an installation is prohibitive. A signal at Watkins and Middlefield would only make matters worse for those whose daily travel requires negotiating that stretch on Middlefield.

And does anyone really believe that special traffic guards will be stationed at Watkins and El Camino - already proven to be one of the most dangerous intersections in Atherton?

I would vote to keep the Library - a public building that serves County residents - in the current area. Incorporate it into the new Town Center plans. Let's keep our only park and public open space to be enjoyed as it is.

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Posted by Atherton Resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 28, 2012 at 6:38 pm

It's time we stop this nonsense that we've "gotta" have a library! Atherton residents, which I am one of, often have to go a bit out of their way for services. Awwww. Too bad! We've got great libraries all around us and don't need to mess up our wonderful park any more than we already have and add more traffic to an already over-burdened Watkins Avenue. Keep the library where it is or close it down!

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Posted by library neighbor
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 28, 2012 at 11:02 pm

We like to call ourselves "central Atherton" (neighbors of the current library) I agree with last posting "keep it where it is or close it down" Regarding traffic, I have not seen any mention of Station Lane and Watkins intersection - that too can be dangerous at certain hours of the day. Coming from the current library turning onto Watkins cars fly up & down Watkins over the tracks. This is Atherton keep things the way they are quiet and charming. Why do we want more traffic in our park and town when it's everywhere else?

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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm

I once asked our postmaster if I could rent a PO Box but have mail delivered to my residence. He asked "Why?". When I explained that it was for privacy and security, his reply was "Of course not, too many people would want to do that."

I am not suggesting that traffic impact and traffic mitigation planning are not important, but let's not banish the library because it might be popular, or draw traffic to the park.

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Posted by JT
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm

As a property owner in Atherton, I've been using the Atherton library for more than 20 years. I understand that the library could be enlarged and modernized some and Holbrook-Palmer seems like an obvious place. But I don't understand why the library needs to be expanded to the level that's under discussion. There are rarely more than 20 people at a time in the library (unless there's an event), so why would this crowd have such a monstrous impact on the Watkins corridor? No more stop lights on Middlefield, I say!

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Posted by Events
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Mar 29, 2012 at 6:25 pm

More than half of the people using the library are not from Atherton. Events could be held in the Council Chambers building. No need to give up the Park.

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