Palo Alto (pronounced /ˌpæloʊˈæltoʊ/, from Spanish: palo: "stick" (or "pole" or "tree") and alto: "tall") is a California charter city located in the northwest corner of Santa Clara County, in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, USA. It is named after a tree called El Palo Alto. The city includes portions of Stanford University and is headquarters to a number of Silicon Valley high-technology companies, including Hewlett-Packard, VMware and Facebook. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 58,598 residents.
Earliest recorded history stems from 1769, when Gaspar de Portolà noted an Ohlone settlement. This remains an area of known Indian mounds. A plaque is erected at Middlefield Road and Embarcadero Road to commemorate this area.
The city got its name from a tall tree, El Palo Alto, by the banks of the San Francisquito Creek bordering Menlo Park. You can still find half of this tree (the other half was destroyed when the creek flooded) along the foot bridge on Alma Street. A plaque recounts the story of a 63 man, 200 horse expedition from San Diego to Monterey from November 7–11, 1769. The group overshot and reached the San Francisco Bay instead. Thinking the bay was too wide to cross, the group decided to turn around near 'el palo alto.'
About 1827 Rafael Soto, tenth child and son of De Anza Expedition settler Ygnacio Soto and María Bárbara Espinosa de Lugo of Alta California came to stay with Maximo Martinez at his Rancho Corte de Madera for seven years. Located south of the San Francisquito Creek, west of today's I-280, Rancho Corte de Madera covered most of Portola Valley to Skyline Boulevard extending south to about Foothill College. In 1835, Rafael Soto and family settled near the San Francisquito Creek near Newell and Middlefield, selling goods to travelers. Rafael Soto died in 1839, but his wife, Maria Antonio Mesa, was granted Rancho Rinconada del Arroyo de San Francisquito in 1841.
Their daughter María Luisa Soto married in 1839, John Coppinger, who was the grantee of Rancho Cañada de Raymundo. Rancho Cañada de Raymundo was West of San Francisquito Creek, and began at Almbique Creek, the north border of Rancho Corte de Madera, and extended north, including present day Woodside. Bear Gulch Creek (Bear Creek) flowed on his land in Portola Valley. The rancho also abutted Buelna's grant near Skyline Boulevard and Matadero Creek. Upon Coppinger's death, Maria inherited it and later married a visiting boat captain, John Greer. Greer owned a home on the property that is now Town & Country Village on Embarcadero and El Camino Real. Greer Avenue and Court are named for him. To the west of Rafael Soto, near El Camino and following the Creek, was Rancho San Francisquito granted in 1839, to Antonio Buelna and wife Maria Concepcion.
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 extended from San Francisquito Creek, Alpine Road and Bishop Ln. (behind Stanford Shopping Center) and golf course. Then South along the Santa Cruz Foothills between Junipero Serra & Hwy 280 to the (Intersection of Matadoro Creek/ Hillview /Miranda) & then SW near the intersection of Page Mill & Arastradero Rd. where the Jone's House was), then east down Arastradero Rd. to the north property line of Alta Mesa Memorial Park and Terman Park. Follow the trail of what was once the old stage road over Adobe Creek/Yuegas Creek to El Camino Real & then east on San Abtonio Rd. to the Bay marshes passing over the RR and what was once the Jeffry's House & Stables. The property then went along the bay to the Embarcadero, a major boundary in the day. Then up to the Stanford University gates, up Galvez and along Campus way to the hills near the golf course. The grant was bounded on the south by Mariano Castro's Rancho Pastoria de las Borregas grant across San Antonio Road. That's the Robles Rancho, about 80% of Palo Alto and Stanford University. It was whittled down by 1863 through courts to 6,981 acres (28.25 km2). Stories say their 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 it is said lingered until the early 1950s. In 1853, they sold 250 acres (1 km²), comprising the present day Barron Park, Matadero Creek and Stanford Business Park, to Elisha Oscar Crosby, who coined Mayfield. In 1880 Secundino Robles, father to twenty-nine children, still lived near present day Sears store.
Many of the Spanish names in the Palo Alto area represent the local heritage and descriptive terms and former residents. Pena Court, Miranda Avenue, which was essentially Foothill Expwy was the married name of Juana Briones and the name occurs in Courts and Avenues others in Palo Alto to Mountain View in the quadrant where she owned vast areas between Stanford Univ., Grant Road in Mountain View and west of El Camino. Yerba Buena was to her credit. Rinconada was the major Mexican land grant name.
The township of Mayfield was formed in 1855, in what is now part of South Palo Alto. Leland Stanford starting buying land in the area in 1876 for a horse farm, which became a university after his son died in 1884. In 1886, Stanford came to Mayfield, interested in founding his university there. He had a train stop created near his school on Mayfield's downtown street, Lincoln Street (now named California Avenue). However, he had one condition: alcohol had to be banned from the town. Known for its 13 rowdy saloons, Mayfield rejected his requests for reform. This led him to drive the formation of Palo Alto, originally called University Park, in 1887 with the help of his friend Timothy Hopkins of the Southern Pacific Railroad who bought 740 acres (3.0 km2) of private land for the new townsite. Stanford set up his university, Stanford University, and a train stop (on University Avenue) by his new town. With Stanford’s support, saloon days faded and Palo Alto grew to the size of Mayfield. On July 2, 1925, Palo Alto voters approved the annexation of Mayfield and the two communities were officially consolidated on July 6, 1925. This saga explains why Palo Alto has two downtown areas: one along University Avenue and one along California 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.
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 Lee DeForest laboratory site, situated at 218 Channing, is a California Historical Landmark recognizing DeForest'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.
Palo Alto has a number of significant natural habitats, including estuarine, riparian, and oak forest. Many of these habitats are visible in Foothill 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.
Palo Alto is in the south-eastern section of the San Francisco Peninsula. It is bordered to the west by Menlo Park, to the north by East Palo Alto, and to the east by Mountain View and Los Altos. The southern border is made of Stanford, California (Stanford University) and Los Altos Hills.
The official elevation is 56 feet (17 m) above sea level, but the city boundaries reach well into the peninsula hills. There are signs denoting the city limits on Skyline Boulevard (highway 35) and the Stevens Canyon trail (San Andreas fault rift zone).
Typical of the San Francisco Bay Area, Palo Alto has cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers.
In January, average temperatures range from 38.5 °F (3.6 °C) to 57.4 °F (14.1 °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 20 °F (−7 °C) on December 23, 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 rare in Palo Alto, but 1.5 inches fell on January 21, 1962.
Palo Alto was incorporated in 1894, and in 1909 created, by municipal charter, 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. Today, the City Council has only nine members.
The city is strongly Democratic with 52% of those registered with any party being Democrats, versus 25% registered with the Republican Party. In the state legislature Palo Alto is located in the 11th Senate District, represented by Democrat Joe Simitian, and in the 21st Assembly District, represented by Democrat Ira Ruskin. Federally, Palo Alto is located in California's 14th congressional district, which has a Cook PVI of D+21 and is represented by Democrat Anna Eshoo.
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% African American, 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. The reason for the difference between the household income and the family income can be explained by the fact that some areas of Palo Alto are populated by graduate students from Stanford University who do not live on the Stanford campus.
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 in excess of $40 million, much of Palo Alto's housing stock is in the style of California mid-century middle-class suburbia. It has highly rated public schools (see: Paly and Gunn), a high quality of life, and a vibrant downtown. The median home sale price for all of Palo Alto was more than $1.3 Million in 2006. The median home sale price of Palo Alto as of July 2009 was $1,363,000 Palo Alto ranks in as the 5th most expensive city in the United States, with an average home sales price of $1,677,000 as of 2007. Palo Alto is by some measures the most expensive college town in the United States; as a result, most Stanford University students live on campus.
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 haunt of venture capitalists. The city’s economy generally follows the economic trends of the rest of the Silicon Valley. Well-known companies and research facilities headquartered in Palo Alto include:
In addition, Palo Alto has a lively retail and restaurant trade, and the Stanford Shopping Center and downtown Palo Alto (centered on University Avenue) are popular destinations.
Unlike surrounding communities, electric and gas service within city limits are provided by the city of Palo Alto. A minor exception is a rural portion of the city limits in hills area—west of Interstate 280 and along Page Mill Road—which gets gas and electric service from Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).
Water and Gas Services (WGS) operates gas and water distribution networks within the city limits. Natural gas is purchased from PG&E or third parties and delivered to Palo Alto via PG&E's gas transmission pipeline network. The city operates gas meters and the distribution pipelines. Water comes from city-operated watershed and wells, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, 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. A claim to fame is the city's exemption from rolling blackouts during the summer 2000 power shortages. 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 (called wheeling) 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 on Arastradero Road near Page Mill Road. The 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 were proposed. One proposal called for the city to install dark fiber which would be made live by a contractor. Internet connectivity over fiber optic lines is not universal or city-wide as of spring 2006.
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. The company is now called AT&T and was 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 St. The building was sold and is now used as offices. 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 Bryant CO, located at , contained several floors of clattering Western Electric Step-by-Step switching equipment that historically handled calls for homes and businesses in Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto, and Palo Alto. 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. (The building still stands but Stanford's present-day PBX switch is elsewhere). From 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, run off 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 post cards and more formal notices. To help promote the conservation message, the team only used bicycles and mopeds.
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. American Medical Response 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 provides service to the Stanford University campus.
The police station was originally housed in a stone building (still) marked Police Court at 450 Bryant St. The building is now a senior citizens center. In modern times, police are headquartered in the City Hall high rise. The Department is staffed by just under 100 sworn officers ranking from Chief, Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant, Agent (corporal) and Officer. The staff is supplemented by approximately 10 Reserve Officers and numerous non-sworn employees who support the Department.
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 less than 17, 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. the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month; the meetings are open to the public and city cast live on Cable Services Channel 28 in Palo Alto. Palo Alto students attend one of two high schools, Palo Alto High School or Gunn High School.There are also 3 middle schools, J.L.S., Jordan, and Terman.
The Los Altos School District and Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District provide public education for the portion of Palo Alto south of Adobe Creek.
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 in order 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 magazine, newspaper, and other print articles. The Palo Alto City Library is also a member of the Northern California Digital Library, which allows card holders to browse and download the digital resources made available. Library cards are freely available for Palo Alto residents.
The Palo Alto Daily Post publishes six days a week. Palo Alto Daily News, a unit of the San Jose Mercury News, publishes 5 days a week. Palo Alto Weekly is published 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. 5,000 watts daytime and 145 watts nighttime with a news-talk format. The transmitter is in East Palo Alto near the western approach to Dumbarton Bridge.
The city is also served indirectly by State Route 84 which traverses the Dumbarton Bridge to the north. None of the highways on the Peninsula side of the bridge have been upgraded to freeway status due to opposition from residents of Palo Alto, Atherton and Menlo Park. The freeway opponents fear that upgrading Highway 84 will encourage more people to live in Alameda County (where housing is more affordable) and commute to jobs in the mid-Peninsula area, thus increasing traffic in their neighborhoods to the south of the bridge. Also, Palo Alto has only one major crosstown arterial, Page Mill Road / Oregon Expressway, which completely connects the two freeways. Because of these two defects in the regional road network, Palo Alto is notorious for severe traffic congestion at rush hour.
Palo Alto is served by Palo Alto Airport of Santa Clara County (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 singled engine aircraft) from their homes in the Central Valley to work in the Palo Alto area.
Train service is available via Caltrain with service between San Francisco and San Jose and extending to Gilroy. Caltrain has two regular stops in Palo Alto, one at University Avenue (local and express) and the other at California Avenue (local only). A third, located beside Alma Street at Embarcadero Road, is used to provide special services for occasional sports events (generally football) at Stanford Stadium. The University Avenue stop is the second most popular (behind 4th and King in San Francisco) on Caltrain's entire line.
The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) provides primary bus service through Palo Alto with service to the south bay and Silicon Valley. The San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) provides service to San Mateo County to the north. The Stanford University Free Shuttle (Marguerite) provides a supplementary bus service to and from the campus, 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 Caltrain University Ave. Station, and both high schools.
There are no parking meters in Palo Alto and all municipal parking lots and multi-level parking structures are free (limited to two or three hours any weekday 8am–5pm). The lack of parking meters often makes it difficult to find parking downtown. Downtown Palo Alto has recently added many new lots to fill the overflow of vehicles.