'Tree House' development gets green light

Council approves affordable-housing project, but asks developer to provide Eco Passes to residents

A tree-lined development featuring 35 units for low-income residents received the green light from the city Monday night.

But the City Council approved the "Tree House" project at 488 West Charleston Road with one caveat: the developer will have to supply an Eco Pass to every resident of the tiered, four-story building. The pass gives residents access to Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority buses.

The condition was imposed after residents and council members expressed concerns about congestion and parking woes in the south Palo Alto neighborhood where the development is slated to go up. While the council praised the project for its creative design and its goal of providing housing to low-income residents, members said the Palo Alto Housing Corporation needs to do more to mitigate the development's potential traffic and parking impacts on the already congested neighborhood.

Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto proposed the Eco Pass idea and her colleagues agreed.

"I think the Eco Passes are essential elements for these types of projects in the future," Councilman Pat Burt said. "They mitigate the parking impact. It's the best thing we can do to both lessen impacts on neighbors and to make a better project."

The council also authorized a $2.8 million loan to Tree House Apartment, L.P., a subsidiary of PAHC, to purchase the West Charleston Road property from Peninsula Endowment Inc. The council voted 6-0 (with Councilman Larry Klein and Vice Mayor Jack Morton absent and Councilman John Barton abstaining) to approve the loan.

The project would feature 35 units, including 33 studios and two one-bedroom apartments. The monthly rent at the studios would range from $371 to $928, depending on the resident's income level.

The council, like every local commission that has previously discussed the project, generally agreed that the development's benefit -- affordable studios for some of the city's lowest-income residents -- makes it a project worth supporting.

Councilman Greg Schmid lauded the building's design and called the Tree House a "great project" but also cautioned his colleagues that the city is creating "a place for poor people that keeps them poor." Schmid championed taking a closer look at the south Palo Alto neighborhood and possibly creating a new "area plan" that would revise the land-use designations to make the neighborhood more vibrant and transit-friendly.

The council voted 5-1 to approve the Tree House (with Councilman Sid Espinosa dissenting, Barton abstaining and Klein and Morton absent) and directed staff to expedite its area-plan proposal for the neighborhood around El Camino Real. Espinosa voted against the proposal because of the area-plan condition. The proposed area plan should be thoroughly deliberated, he argued, and its initiation should not be based on a condition for a specific project.

A handful of area residents at the meeting spoke out against the Tree House, arguing that the neighborhood already suffers from traffic congestion and inadequate parking. Yvonne Lenbergs, who lives in the neighborhood, said the major intersections in the area are already "close to gridlock" and argued that the new project would only make things worse. The city, she said, has not spent enough time thinking about what the new project would do the neighborhood before issuing its approval.

"This process is backwards," Lenbergs said. "The area plan should have been developed first, not last."


Posted by Gus L., a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 22, 2009 at 10:44 am

Where are all of these residents going to park their cars? Do you really think they will go everywhere by BUS?
This neighborhood is already overcrowded with the new townhomes across the street at the former Ricky;s property and the project behind the Elks lodge.
Why does everything in Palo Alto have to be High Density?

Posted by Me, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 22, 2009 at 10:56 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Everyone rides the bus, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 22, 2009 at 1:57 pm

The City Council very cunningly approved this development after mid-night at the last Council Meeting. That's how they get approved. However, it surprised me that no one from the neighborhood protested the development. The message the City Council gets from that is that all the neighbors must approve.

Posted by jenny, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 22, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Strange ! Strange ! We talk about overloaded schools. How come those council still need to build these residents area ? They just think to solve one problem. They forget they already create another problem or other problems for us. The city council, Please use your brain. Don't waste our money and your energy. Please build some parks, modern concert places, library, technology museums ...etc. Or add more bus routes for our communities. We have lots of things needs to do. we need the city council doing something that benefits to Palo Alto. Not create " troubles " for us.

Posted by More and more, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 22, 2009 at 10:36 pm

The neighbors did speak up at earlier hearings. There is something odd going on when they often squeeze important matters to very late at night and spend the first hour on drawn out ceremonial trivia. It begins to look intentional, it happens so often. And they seem to meet less often. Like, they aren't meeting tomorrow.

There is another even bigger housing project for below market rate housing coming up in a week or so. A full block long on Alma Street off Channing. Still more kids, still more traffic.

Posted by A Neighbor, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 22, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Only one nearby neighbor to this high density project stayed until after 11pm to speak. He may have been the next door neighbor with a two story house objecting to this massive 4 story right next to his house in this single residental neighborhood.

A council member said that there wasn't any real objections at this 11pm to 12pm hearing.
What working family/person can stay up that late? and it could have been put off even if they did.

I wonder if a 4 story apartment would go over in Downtown North, Cresent Park, Community Center or Professorville areas if it was next door to a single family home.
The answer is that it would never even be considered.!!!!!!!!!

This same attitude towards South Palo Alto was expressed when the Alma Plaza was shut down and rezoned to housing. S you S.Palo Alto!!

This tree house project should only be rented to people on the condition they have no cars and need no parking spaces.

The law doesn't allow them to discriminate against anyone with children, contrary to what was said by the council "They will have no children there".

Posted by Resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 23, 2009 at 7:54 am

"they often squeeze important matters to very late at night." This is deliberate, particularly if it may involve opposition from members of the public. This matter didn't get heard until after midnight but I don't think it would have made any difference. Our CC are big supporters of low cost housing being built by the Housing Authority and our tax dollars. After all the new residents will be given bus passes!!!

Posted by Dissatisfied, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2009 at 10:43 am

Housing, housing and more housing! Have our city council members traveled to south Palo Alto and experienced the increasing traffic along the San Antonio/Charleston corridors? Building more homes, and dense ones at that, will not make for an increased quality of life in Palo Alto. I think our City Council and administration are misguided in their priorities (and seemingly sneaky in their approval of projects.)

Posted by Penny, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 23, 2009 at 11:50 am

Ironically, the day this project was approved VTA provided public notice that VTA is proposing another round of bus service cuts in south PA (second round of cuts this year). Note proposed cuts to VTA89 and VTA88 which serves several new higher density projects, including: CJL, E. Meadow Circles, DR Horton, and the Treehouse project. VTA88 runs right in front of the Treehouse site on Charleston.

After working this year with Gunn PTSA volunteers Arthur Keller, Christine Fawcett, and Sue Luttner to promote the VTA88 to Gunn students, I was very disappointed to see yet another cut to the line this year. While VTA has promised not to reduce the runs serving Gunn before and after school, reduction of service throughout the day makes bus use less flexible for students who come and go on irregular schedules. The effect will likely be reduced ridership...providing VTA with an argument to make further future cuts.

In the 13 years I have lived in south Palo Alto, I have seen only cuts, no increases in VTA transit service in south PA. Even last year's VTA88 route changes which serve Gunn better (and I am grateful for that) represented a reduction in service dollars spent in our community.

CPA staff tells me that there is an understanding with VTA that VTA88 service will be restored when the CJL opens in the fall. I can only hope that CPA will hold VTA to that agreement.

This is just one more disappointing development in south Palo Alto transit. I'd like to encourage Council to also look at service reductions in recent years to the San Antonio train station. As density increases in south PA, our transit is reduced…consistently.

I'd like to at least be able to retain the service levels we currently have instead of constantly losing ground.

It would be nice if some of our local transit tax dollars were transferred back to our community as we comply with ABAG's persistent demands that we build higher density. As it stands, south county controls the VTA Board. As a result, VTA spending continues to be funneled (unfairly, quietly, and increasingly) to south county. That must change.

It would be a good idea for the Weekly to do a deep investigative report on VTA spending and their long-term financial health. It's a challenging story to tackle, but I think it would unearth some information that the public needs to know.

Posted by Sharon Lee Kufeldt, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2009 at 12:46 pm

As a Palo Alto resident for most of the 7's, 80's, 90's, and now into the 00's... I have been totally priced out of my community. Think how that feels. I have worked all of this time, never earning enough to buy in exhalted Palo Alto, yet it is home. The rents just keep spiraling upwards, as I age, I am now so living in the cracks. Perhaps it's time to give up my "home" and move elsewhere. NIMBY NIMBY NIMBY NIMBY, each decade.

Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2009 at 2:12 pm

"There is something odd going on when they often squeeze important matters to very late at night and spend the first hour on drawn out ceremonial trivia. It begins to look intentional, it happens so often."

Bingo. Ever wondered why? Follow the incentives. Affordable housing interest groups give the city nice little awards for building these projects. Council members eat that up. So how many awards do residents give them? Get the picture?

Posted by More and more, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2009 at 3:08 pm

>Bingo. Ever wondered why? Follow the incentives. Affordable housing interest >groups give the city nice little awards for building these projects. Council members eat that up.

Also the council rewards them with huge amounts of money. The Alma Street project has received millions of dollars in land and subsidies. The city bought Oles Car shop and gave it to the BMR developer.

Posted by Dennis, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2009 at 3:16 pm

re "Paul"

"So how many awards do residents give them?"

Residents give their votes. If you are sincere in thinking that the council is ducking public input by holding late night votes, vote them out. Even better, organize a movement to impeach the present council.

Posted by guest, a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Jenny and More, more, etc.

I'm curious how many students you think will be added to the Palo Alto schools from 33 studio apartments and 3 1-bedroom units?

My guess is zero...

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 23, 2009 at 6:02 pm

With 3 1 bedroom apts, I'd guess at least 6 kids, probably a few in the studios as well.

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Subsidized housing - another development which pays zero property taxes. Won't help solve that budget deficit problem.

Ever try going shopping using an "Eco Pass"? Good luck with ice cream, popsicles, and any stuff that should be kept frozen.

Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2009 at 12:59 pm

"Residents give their votes. If you are sincere in thinking that the council is ducking public input by holding late night votes, vote them out."

It just flat don't happen. Residents do not organize themselves to get it done. The council members know they got nothing to fear.

Posted by A Neighbor, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 24, 2009 at 5:04 pm

About the VTA service in S. Palo Alto.

VTA isn't and shouldn't be a School Bus service.

VTA busses are almost all empty even at rush hours, except ElCamino service. And those with students to Gunn,etc.

Talk about single rider cars, how about single rider desiel busses that probably get maybe 2 mpgallon.

People in million or multimillion $$ houses need to get their own bus service for their kids.

The VTA probably spends $200 million runing empty or nearly empty busses around the county. People drive cars!!!

South and West Palo Alto needs small busses running loops to the San Antonio Shopping center. The VTA, City and the shopping center need to get together and create this service. It would take a lot of cars off the road. It should be very low fare also. The Palo Alto busses should be charging at least 50 cents a ride to help pay for it. It would also let us know how many people really use it. It costs all taxpayers $$ now and no one tells us the cost.

Posted by Dennis, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 25, 2009 at 1:33 am

re Paul
"It just flat don't happen. Residents do not organize themselves to get it done. The council members know they got nothing to fear."

Make it happen - start a petition drive with your neighbors, solicit signatures at council meetings - just a show of action may get you some surprising results.

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 30, 2009 at 9:14 am

Time is very high. We need to vote council members of palo alto out.So next city council will care and represent voters not to their developer buddies.

Posted by another_NIMBY, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 24, 2009 at 10:35 am

Just great! more loosers to garage theirs cars out in the streets with no respect to the laws and their respective neighbors. Meanwhile, these city workes demand more raises and sitting on their laurels doing jack! It's high time to turn your existing South P.A homes to rental property and move on....

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