A citizen initiative to create street-width requirements in Palo Alto will not apply to the controversial Alma Plaza development -- the very development that prompted the grassroots movement to widen private streets, City Attorney Gary Baum said Monday night.
The initiative, spearheaded by local watchdog Bob Moss shortly after the City Council approved Alma Plaza in January, would force developers to make private streets at least 32 feet wide unless the proposed project gets special permission from the city for narrower streets. The proposed ordinance, which the City Council is scheduled to discuss next Monday night, would also force the city to include private roads in calculations of the development's density during the approval process.
The council could either approve the streets initiative -- which netted more than 2,000 signatures and was certified by Santa Clara County last week -- or send it to the November ballot for voter approval or rejection.
On Monday, the council was charged with approving the final map for Alma Plaza -- a highly contested development that includes a grocery store, 37 houses, 14 units of affordable housing, commercial space, a park and a community room on the 3400 block of Alma Street, near East Meadow Drive. Though Monday's vote was largely a foregone conclusion (the council had already approved the tentative map for the project and was merely charged with making sure the final map is consistent with the tentative one), it stirred up new debate between opponents of the development and council members who argued that delaying the process further would essentially be a waste of time.
Council members Yoriko Kishimoto and Greg Schmid both called for delaying the final approval until after the council discussion of the private-streets initiative. After Baum emphasized that the initiative wouldn't impact Alma Plaza, Kishimoto sided with the majority and voted to approve the map.
Schmid, who voted against Alma Plaza in January, was the lone dissenter. He said the project is not consistent with the city's Comprehensive Plan, and he could not support it.
"I have to vote my conscience," Schmid said.
Councilmen Larry Klein and John Barton stressed that the project had already been approved and that the time to debate its merits has passed. Klein said the only question the council should be considering was the narrow one of whether the final map is consistent with the tentative map. Because staff concluded that it is, the council should approve it, he said.
"To vote no, it seems to me, is inconsistent with the oath we have taken," Klein said. "We have to uphold the law."
Moss, meanwhile, challenged Baum's determination and said he would keep fighting developer John McNellis' plans to include 20- and 22-foot-wide private streets in the Alma Plaza design. Baum said petitioners could have challenged the approved tentative map in a referendum. But the referendum would have had to have been submitted within 30 days of the council's approval in January -- a deadline that has long expired.
"This already passed," Baum said. "The (initiative) will have no effect on this development, whether it's passed by the electorate or the council."
Moss said the petition was a response to a series of large developments the city approved in the past four or five years. These include the Arbor Real development on El Camino Real and Alma Plaza. If the private-streets initiative doesn't widen the streets at Alma Plaza, Moss will lead a drive to amend the planned community (PC) ordinance that made the development possible, he said.
Moss also said he didn't pursue a referendum because he didn't think he could get the needed votes in time to meet the county deadline.
"Alma Plaza will not be developed with 20-foot blind streets and have the streets covered by FAR (floor area ratio)," Moss said. "If we have to go to court, or go to the ballot, by God we'll do it."