News

Residents, developers clash over city's vision

If Palo Alto has a plan that nobody follows, what good is it?

The crowd arrived early June 11 and quickly filled every seat in the Council Chambers of Palo Alto City Hall, including the folding chairs set up in the overflow area.

Many were armed with red "No Rezoning" buttons, petitions, videos of traffic congestion and reams of technical legal data. Hundreds had emailed the City Council prior to the meeting, urging rejection of the latest "planned community" development on its way to council approval. Dozens more chose to address the council directly, each blasting the proposed construction of an apartment complex for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes on Maybell and Clemo avenues.

The developer, the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation, rallied its own troops as well. Nearly half the crowd, including dozens of tenants from existing Housing Corporation developments, wore green "Yes on Maybell" stickers.

The city has approved several affordable-housing proposals over the past few years, including a 50-unit housing complex for low-income families at 801 Alma St., near Homer Avenue, and the 35-unit Tree House at 488 Charleston Road. The latter was also developed by the Housing Corporation, which manages affordable-housing complexes throughout the city. While both projects encountered some criticism from nearby residents before winning approval in 2009, the opposition hadn't come anywhere close to approaching the levels of exasperation and frustration that the Maybell proposal has provoked.

Councilman Larry Klein, who had sat on the council for most of the 1980s before returning in 2005, said he had never "experienced such virulent opposition." Bob Moss, a Palo Alto resident and regular critic of large developments, called the opposition the fiercest he's seen in his four decades of watchdogging.

Proponents of the Maybell project tend to dismiss opposition as the latest flashpoint in the perennial battle between builders and NIMBYs, and it's true that opponents cite potential traffic problems and visual blight on the neighborhood as reason enough to halt the project. But this explanation is partial at best.

It is the city's disregard, in the eyes of some residents, for the values that the city itself has proclaimed it upholds, that disturbs residents the most. On top of that, they say, the city's process for approving 567 Maybell Ave. has taken this disregard and shoved it in their faces.

Long before the City Council's June vote to rezone the property, it had loaned the Housing Corporation $5.8 million to purchase the Maybell site. The city's planning staff had also decided to count the project's 60 affordable units in the Housing Element chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, the city's chief policy-making document for land use. By the time the project came to the council for final approval, some in the community felt the game was rigged.

Art Liberman, president of the Barron Park Association, brought up the issue at July 10's meeting of the Planning and Transportation Commission. Speaking for the association, Liberman said residents "feel they were steamrolled" during the process. Barron Park recently surveyed association members, who supported by a three-to-one margin holding a referendum on the council's decision. Nearly two-thirds supported having the association spend $1,000 on two referendum petitions, one that would bring the council's approval to a citywide vote and another that would ask voters to undo the council's change to the Comprehensive Plan that accommodated the project.

"A palpable undercurrent of anger exists toward the city staff and this commission and the council about your actions on this project," Liberman said.

"They feel you -- staff and the commission -- were pushed by the PAHC to approve this project because of timelines they had set up and by investments and commitments the City Council had made. They feel you and the PAHC ignored their views. They feel that you and city's traffic department have been dismissive of their concerns about traffic and based your decisions on a traffic study that used outdated data, invalid methodology and had glaring deficiencies. They feel the only way for the city officials to listen to them is through a referendum."

The frustrations Liberman described aren't unique to the Maybell project or, for that matter, to south Palo Alto, the area that has had more than its share of residential growth in the past decade. In downtown's Professorville and Downtown North neighborhoods, residents have been urging the city for years to hit the brakes on new developments until the area's exhaustively documented parking shortage is addressed. And around California Avenue, a place of many recent and upcoming changes, residents have called for the city to take a step back and consider cumulative impacts of these projects rather than merely considering the effects of each one.

But from the perspective of frustrated residents, the broader problem is the way in which the Comprehensive Plan has been used (or, many would argue, selectively ignored) by the council and planning staff. While the vision document is often described as the city's "land-use bible," intended to guide development decisions, it has largely disappeared from major discussions over development. City planners and developers still cite Comprehensive Plan programs in advocating for new developments, but these references amount to little more than footnotes in the broader decision-making process, which is increasingly characterized by zoning exemptions and quid pro quo arrangements negotiated between the developer and the council during late-night meetings.

For land-use observers like Moss, that's a problem. Minutes before the council formally approved the Maybell project on June 28, he made a last-minute argument for why the project is inconsistent with the city's official vision. The new development, he argued, will "devastate the community" and "endanger the health and safety of the children going to and from the school."

"It's incompatible with the residential zoning in the area, which is a violation of the Comprehensive Plan, and it's a really bad idea," Moss said.

Seek and you shall find

Frustrations about the Comprehensive Plan aren't limited to the Maybell project. Just about every major proposal that the council has faced in the last three years, including John Arrillaga's idea for an office complex and theater at 27 University Ave. and Jay Paul Co.'s application to build two large office buildings next to AOL's Silicon Valley headquarters on Page Mill Road, has faced the same criticism: The council is paying too much attention to the developer's offer and not enough to the city's vision document.

In theory, the Comprehensive Plan should inform land-use decisions rather than justify them after the fact. The 300-plus page document is described in its introduction as "the primary tool for guiding the future development of the city." The introduction states that the plan "strives to build a coherent vision of the city's future from the visions of a diverse population."

"It integrates the aspirations of the city residents, businesses, neighborhoods, and officials into a bold strategy for managing change," the plan states. The document is supposed to be used by the council and the planning commission to "evaluate land use changes and to make funding and budget decisions" and by staff to make recommendations. It is also used "by citizens and neighborhood groups to understand the city's long-range plans and proposals for different geographical areas."

Given these stated functions, it's easy to see why in the current environment, where just about every major application seeks to be an exception from the Comprehensive Plan and the zoning regulations it fosters, residents are becoming cynical.

No project illustrates the fading influence of this community vision better than 27 University Ave., which also proposes a renovation of the downtown train station and public-transit hub. When the project reached the council in September 2012 for a preliminary review, it was described in an accompanying staff report as an "unprecedented opportunity" to transform the area as part of an "extraordinary public-private partnership." The staff report alludes to the Comprehensive Plan several times and at one point cites five different sections of the Transportation Element that would be consistent with the proposal (these include Goal T-1, "Less reliance on single-occupant vehicles," and Goal T-2, "A convenient, efficient, public transit system that provides a viable alternative to driving").

The report also mentions the city' 50-foot height limit for new developments and cites the Comprehensive Plan's assertion that "only a few exceptions had been granted for architectural enhancements or seismic safety retrofits to non-complying buildings." But it doesn't dwell on the height issue. Instead, it notes that that there are "many existing buildings in the adjacent downtown area" that exceed 50 feet and lists 10 examples.

Council members had met privately with developer Arrillaga in the months prior to the presentation, and most shared staff's initial excitement about the ambitious proposal. Downtown residents, for their part, saw it as a slap in the face.

In the Downtown North neighborhood, 185 people signed a petition circulated by resident Martin Sommer opposing the project. Sommer argued in the petition that the office buildings, the tallest of which was initially proposed at 163 feet tall, would destroy the neighborhood's view of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

"Stop this madness," the petition read. "Retain the Palo Alto 50-foot height limit."

Sommer's petition didn't mention the Comprehensive Plan, though it could have. The vision document includes Program L-26, which contains five "design priorities" for the site. The final bullet point, which isn't mentioned anywhere in the 27 University staff report, could hardly be clearer: "Protecting views of the foothills by guiding building heights and massing."

Nor does the staff report reference any of the Comprehensive Plan's many policies about protecting historic resources. In this case, the new office buildings would displace the Hostess House, which has been at the site since 1932 and is listed in both the city's Historic Inventory and the National Register of Historic Places. The Julia Morgan-designed building, which now houses the MacArthur Park restaurant, briefly served as the nation's first municipally owned community center before Palo Alto moved this function to a larger theater donated by Lucie Stern. The September staff report gives a brief history of the Julia Morgan building, notes that it would have to be moved and suggests El Camino Park as one of several possible new homes. But it does not delve into the broader questions of whether the relocation should happen at all. It doesn't consider whether moving the historic building would be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, even though the Plan addresses this issue directly with Policy L-56 -- "To reinforce the scale and character of University Avenue/Downtown, promote the preservation of significant historic buildings" -- or the much broader Goal L-1: "Conservation and Preservation of Palo Alto's Historic Buildings, Sites and Districts."

Not surprisingly, the proposal to move Hostess House faced a major backlash from the city's Historic Resources Board. At a Dec. 5 meeting, members unanimously panned the idea, with several arguing that doing so would jeopardize its historic status. Board member Michael Makinen argued that the Arrillaga proposal would degrade the quality of life in Palo Alto. Board member David Bower said he didn't understand how the project had gotten so far without the questions of historic compatibility being considered.

"There's not much in Palo Alto that gets more significant than having these older buildings in their original place," Bower said.

Though the Comprehensive Plan has been peripheral to the council's ongoing discussion of 27 University, at least one former official has asserted it should be central in the debate. Former planning Commissioner Susan Fineberg, who during her term served as the commission's unofficial torchbearer for the Comprehensive Plan, pointed out to the council on Dec. 3 that the "Comprehensive Plan and zoning do not in any form support the scale, size and uses of the proposed project.

"The council's actions on the matter will demonstrate to the citizens of Palo Alto whether our Comprehensive Plan and zoning code matter," said Fineberg, who concluded her tenure in 2012 after the council chose not to appoint her to a second term.

The Maybell debate offers another example of the Comprehensive Plan's fading influence among policy makers. In a recent interview, Mayor Greg Scharff pointed to the Maybell project as a perfect illustration of the Comprehensive Plan's limitations. The document, he told the Weekly, encourages the city to both support affordable housing and to protect neighborhoods.

"A lot of time the policies conflict with each other, so it's not prescriptive, and it's not easy to say if something is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. No matter how much we update the Comprehensive Plan, we still have that conflict right there," Scharff said.

But even so, Maybell also showcases the way in which the document has lost authority as a roadmap, being used instead as a tool for ex post facto rationalization. Planning staff had determined that the project would be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and cited in a June 10 report 19 different policies, programs and goals (the report notes that the list is "not exhaustive" and can be further expanded). The list included Policy L-13, "Evaluate alternative types of housing that increase density and provide more diverse housing opportunities"; Program T-36, "Make new and replacement curbs vertical where desired by neighborhood residents"; and Policy L-76, "Require trees and other landscaping within parking lots."

The list did not, however, include Policy L-5: "Maintain the scale and character of the city. Avoid land uses that are overwhelming and unacceptable due to their size and scale." Also missing from the staff report was any mention of Goal T-5, "A transportation system with minimal impacts on residential neighborhoods," or Goal T-6, "A high level of safety for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists on Palo Alto streets." These omissions were particularly striking given that the heart of neighborhood opposition focused on potential traffic problems and the danger to children riding their bikes to school, with residents offering visual and anecdotal evidence of currently unsafe conditions in the bustling school corridor.

Scharff is correct to point out that the Maybell project includes tradeoffs: It's consistent with some policies and inconsistent with others. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree on whether the goal of promoting affordable housing should trump the goal of protecting a residential neighborhood against additional density. The job of the council, Scharff said, is to weigh these conflicts and make a judgment. But the conflict that Scharff mentions won't be found in the staff report. When planners list 19 reasons for why the project is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and zero reasons why it isn't, it's easy to see why legions of residents in Barron Park, Green Acres, Downtown North and other parts of the city feel like developers are in charge while the neighborhoods are being ignored.

When asked about the omissions in the recent staff reports, City Manager James Keene emphasized the limitations of these reports, which he said neither attempt nor intend to represent all views and tensions inherent in a project. The city assumes, even without explicitly mentioning these policies, "that so much has happened in public discussion and public process that it's really clear what those (tensions) are," he told the Weekly. The findings in the staff reports tend to support the particular staff recommendation rather than represent all views, he said.

"I think it would be a mistake to infer that those (policies) not existing in reports now signify any effort to sort of just steer a discussion toward a particular decision," Keene told the Weekly.

He acknowledged the city can do a better job identifying the tradeoffs that exist in the various development proposals and tracking the evolution of these projects. He said he plans to address this topic with Acting Planning Director Aaron Aknin for future projects.

"When we publish a final report, it's really trying to represent findings upon which that particular recommendation is being made," Keene said. "One of the things we should think about is how could we efficiently track and report the whole record of changes on a project going through time."

Keene also said the city recognized that the process it was following for 27 University was not effective. The new strategy involves more community involvement and strategic planning. On June 3, the council approved a staff recommendation to launch a "focused community input" process for the site. This process will include six to eight community meetings with the goal of coming up with a vision for the site acceptable to the community.

"We are trying really hard to be supportive and responsive to council and community intentions," Keene said. "We can't design a perfect process every time. We have to actually modify processes along the way based upon feedback."

Of carts and horses

When it comes to strategic planning, the Jay Paul Co. proposal for 395 Page Mill came at an unfortunate time. For the past four years, city planners and consultants have been working with residents and business owners around California Avenue on a "concept plan," a detailed vision document for the dynamic area that's been called the city's "second downtown." Over a series of sometimes emotional meetings featuring PowerPoint presentations, breakout sessions and debates over desired amenities, the group put together a detailed analysis of each section of the eclectic, mixed-use area between Cambridge and Portage avenues, which includes the Fry's Electronics site. The document, according to a March staff report, is supposed to "guide future land use and development activity within each area through the use of land-use designations and supporting Comprehensive policies and programs."

At a September discussion of the Jay Paul project, resident Fred Balin urged the council to complete the area's vision document before considering the new development, which at 311,000 square feet would bring more commercial growth into the city than the entire downtown has seen in a quarter century. Councilman Pat Burt also alluded to the timing issue, calling the council's deliberation "putting the cart before the horse" because the concept plan is still in the works.

Others disagreed. Councilman Larry Klein and then-Vice Mayor Greg Scharff both urged speeding along on the Jay Paul proposal. Klein encouraged his colleagues not to "dither" and rejected the idea that the city should wait for the concept plan to be completed before making a decision on the development.

"It might be nice to have a concept plan in place, but that's classic Palo Alto -- 'Let's study this thing until it doesn't have any life to it,'" Klein said.

Scharff shared Klein's enthusiasm for the proposal, which would also include a new police headquarters, calling it "a great idea, in concept" and predicting that the giant office complex would "add a lot of vibrancy on California Avenue."

This year, Scharff and Klein are both members of the council's newly formed Infrastructure Committee, which is charged with coming up with a plan to finance needed infrastructure repairs, such as a new police headquarters. In April, the committee, which also includes Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Councilman Marc Berman, discussed the Jay Paul proposal and tacitly approved an accelerated timeline for reviewing it. If all goes as planned, the project would go up for a council vote next year, in time for officials to decide whether to pursue a November infrastructure measure.

Even though this would be one of the largest commercial developments in the city, the Comprehensive Plan didn't come up once during the April discussion. (Scharff said recently that such a conversation was beyond the committee's purview and would have been premature.)

While 395 Page Mill gallops toward a vote, the area concept plan is languishing in planning purgatory. Numerous complications have arisen. These include a project to transform the California Avenue streetscape, which includes reducing the number of lanes from four to two on the commercial strip between El Camino Real and the Caltrain station. Merchants recently filed a lawsuit opposing the lane reduction, a move that "temporarily delayed the concept plan," according to staff.

The Jay Paul application itself delayed the concept plan's adoption. According to the June 24 staff report, the proposal has "shifted focus away from the concept plan until a more definite 395 Page Mill Road project was prepared and submitted to the city."

In a recent interview, Aknin characterized the city's simultaneous weighing of a concept plan and the Jay Paul application as a difficult "balancing act." In a "perfect world," Aknin said, the city would have a concept plan completed before an application is submitted.

At the same time, he said the two processes can contribute to each other. The city has just launched the environmental review for the Jay Paul proposal, and the traffic analysis from this review can inform the environmental review for the Comprehensive Plan, which is set to take place next year.

Furthermore, if the Jay Paul project were to be approved, it could inform the conversation about how land elsewhere in the area should be used.

"If in the overall area plan we are looking for X amount of office square footage and the Jay Paul project does go through, you'd have to say, 'If a lot of office is approved here, maybe more housing is appropriate for another portion of the plan," Aknin said.

Finding the right balance between current and advance planning is one of the biggest challenges of being a city planner, Aknin said. But even if this balance is achieved, one thing is clear: Much like with the Maybell debate and with Arrillaga's plan for 27 University, the community's vision is being strongly influenced by a single developer's proposal, rather than vice versa.

Mapping the future

As its broad name implies, the Comprehensive Plan means different things to different people. At the recent joint session with the council, planning Commissioner Carl King called it "a document that's probably referenced more than the Bible in Palo Alto" -- one that people "will point to for decades in saying that 'The city must do such-and-such.'"

For Commissioner Arthur Keller, the Comprehensive Plan and zoning laws serve to protect neighborhood character against the exuberance of the marketplace. At a March commission meeting, he recalled the housing boom of the mid-2000s and the council's 2006 decision to require "conditional-use permits" in certain areas before more housing could be approved. Without this restriction, Keller argued, more houses would have gone up, and "People would've lost their shirts trying to sell that housing in a housing downturn."

"To some extent, part of our job is to respond to market forces, but I think part of our job is actually to reduce the response to market forces," Keller said. "Because after all, what is built today and tomorrow is going to be here for 50 years. ... Moderating this so that the market forces don't overwhelm is part of our job," Keller said.

Council members Burt, Karen Holman and Greg Schmid routinely cite the document as an important foundation for weighing new policies, but they are the minority in this regard. Most council members appear content with approaching growth on a project-by-project basis, one "planned community" application at a time.

Keene called the Comprehensive Plan "one absolutely critically important piece of the puzzle," though he emphasized that there are many other pieces that the city has to consider in setting policy.

"The Comprehensive Plan is an important foundational document, but it can't be looked at in isolation from other tools that the city has it its disposal," Keene said. "It works in conjunction with the zoning ordinance. It works in conjunction with currying community opinion, involvement and voice, and in conjunction with the marketplace."

Mayor Scharff, for one, rejects the characterization of the Comp Plan as a "land-use bible." In an interview with the Weekly, Scharff noted that a Comprehensive Plan (or "General Plan" as documents of this sort are typically called) is legally required and "nice to have." But its value is limited by the fact that many of its policies conflict when evaluating a particular project.

Scharff also defended "planned community" (PC) zoning, which by definition is the exception to the rule -- allowing development that exceeds zoning regulations that, theoretically, were guided by the Comp Plan. PC projects have become increasingly controversial during the hot building climate of recent years (for more on this trend, see "Balancing benefits" in the April 12 edition of the Weekly).

The PC approval process, he noted, gives the council the power to demand things from an applicant that would make the project better, things that the applicant otherwise wouldn't have to provide. He pointed to the four-story office building that developer Charles "Chop" Keenan plans to build at 135 Hamilton Ave. and the redevelopment of the eight-story Casa Olga convalescent home downtown, which will reopen as a hotel. Both projects are consistent with the zoning code, and each relies on parking exemptions in the code. Each is thus expected to exacerbate downtown's already terrible parking shortage. Yet because these projects are consistent with their zoning designations, the council can't require them to provide more parking, Scharff said.

"If it (the Casa Olga project) was a PC, I would have discretion over it," Scharff said. "I think the PC process has merit. It allows a lot of flexibility and community benefits. It allows you to control the process in a way that is positive."

Scharff also rejected the suggestion that the city is overlooking the Comprehensive Plan in discussing major projects such as 395 Page Mill Road and 27 University Ave. Neither project has been approved, he said. Each would have to undergo review from the planning commission and the council, which would ostensibly involve discussion about compatibility with the Comprehensive Plan. The Infrastructure Committee intentionally avoided discussion of the Comprehensive Plan when it sped up the timeline for reviewing the Jay Paul proposal, he said.

As for Arrillaga's proposal, "It's unfair to talk about the Comp Plan with 27 University Ave.," he said. "No one has sat down and made findings to approve it. No one said whether it's within the Comp Plan or it's not."

But deferring this conversation carries its own costs, both financial and political. If 395 Page Mill is later found to be incompatible with the Comprehensive Plan, then the city is needlessly dragging its feet on the concept plan for California Avenue. If Arrillaga's proposal is later found to be completely incompatible with the Comprehensive Plan, then the city will have spent as much as $250,000 on design work and an initial environmental review with little to show for it.

Scharff acknowledged that some thought should be given to the Comprehensive Plan in the early stages, though he said he expects this to happen at the staff level.

"I think it would be incumbent upon staff if they thought they'd be inconsistent with the Comp Plan, to say so," Scharff said.

And while the Comprehensive Plan hasn't been a major feature of the Jay Paul discussion thus far, Scharff said he can think of several planning policies in the Comprehensive Plan that would be consistent with the proposal, including encouragement of development near transit areas.

The Comprehensive Plan, Scharff said said, is a "vision document about where in the big picture you want the city to be." But at the same time, things in Palo Alto have changed greatly over the past four or five years, Scharff said. These changes, he said, justify a complete overhaul of the Plan, which the planning commission decided to do after the council launched an "amendment process" in 2006. The revision is now entering its final phase after numerous detours.

Scharff said he expects the commission to complete its review of the updated Comprehensive Plan later this summer, at which time the council will begin reviewing each section (called an "element") one meeting at a time. Scharff said he is optimistic the process will be completed next year, an estimate that may seem ambitious given that the city's last effort to adopt a Comprehensive Plan took nearly 30 meetings.

The council's adoption of the amended Comprehensive Plan promises to finally bring to the forefront the debate over the city's values and strategies for growth. For Schmid, that can't happen soon enough.

In a recent interview, he echoed Scharff's observation that the Comprehensive Plan, while an important expression of community values, sometimes has a hard time keeping up with changes on the ground. Since the city adopted the vision document in 1998, the city has undergone four "revolutions," he said -- the dotcom boom in the late 1990s, the dotcom bust in the early 2000s, the influx of residential developments in the mid-2000s and the economic crash in late 2008. His list doesn't even include the last three years, which have seen the city rebound from the recession doldrums, spurring an influx of new office buildings.

A document created in 1998 can't possibly address all these changes, Schmid said.

"I think applications are very powerful, and I think there is a tradition in Palo Alto of permitting PCs, -- that is, variations from planned zoning because of special benefits," Schmid said. "I think it's an indication of the Comprehensive Plan having a hard time explaining or giving guidelines to a very dynamic community in a changing world."

Schmid agreed that many policies and programs in the document are now outdated. But even so, community values have not disappeared, and the vision statements at the beginning of each chapter should be taken extremely seriously, he said.

Holman agreed. Even with the Comp Plan revision languishing and the city undergoing massive changes, the existing document has plenty of good direction to offer policy makers, she told the Weekly.

"The Comprehensive Plan does talk about not having abrupt changes in scale (of buildings). It talks about having compatible uses next to each other. I don't think we do a very good job of that," Holman said in a recent interview. "I don't think we follow that well at all, and I think (the Comp Plan) is wonderful guidance."

Related articles:

Palo Alto races to predict future traffic

The long and winding road to an updated 'land-use bible'

Editorial: In city that loves plans, Palo Alto's creates cynicism

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 19, 2013 at 11:24 am

Give our cur city credit. Development and the comprehensive plan are always kept in sync. It amends the plan as necessary to conform to each new development.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 19, 2013 at 11:53 am

And miraculously, not a single car will be added to our congestion from any of the developments because the amended plans say so. Only in Palo Alto could we have more development where not a single worker or resident ever drives a car.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Zayda
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 19, 2013 at 11:57 am

I want to congratulate Gennady Sheyner for a very timely, thoughtful and well researched article.
Why should the citizens of Palo Alto believe anything which emanates from City Council or staff when they don't keep the promises they make or enforce the ordinances they pass.
In 1975, following the annexation of Barron Park into Palo Alto,then Mayor Stanley Norton wrote a letter (Web Link) in which he promised
"The City Council has adcpted several policies concerning 3arron Park.
They are: (1) that the City supports in principle the desire of Barron
Park to preserve and enhance Barron Park as a residential community made up predominantly of single-family homes by keeping present R-I zoning intact(Council motion of May 11, 1973);and (2)...that before Barron Park zoning is comprehensively reviewed, no denser land use than that which is already acceptable under present county zoning will be allowed (Council motion, April 21, 1975)." Now they have passed an ordinance setting up a high-density PC zone next to those R-1 homes.
Fast forward to the present when the City adopted the Auto Dealership Overlay Zone (AD) ordinance which, among other things, provided that:
" Off-street parking and loading facilities shall be required for all automobile dealerships in the (AD) combining district, in accord with Chapters 18.52 and 18.54. Where the provisions of Chapters 18.52 and 18.54 conflict with the provisions of this Section 18.30(F).060, this section shall control... (Web Link)
This regulation has NEVER been enforced on Maybell Avenue, a sub-standard width street designated by the City as a "Safe Route to School". The very street where they want to add more traffic with the PC zoning. (Web Link)
Do they really expect us to believe that they represent the interests of the Palo Alto residents? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I'm not buying their bridge.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Zayda
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Oops, my bad. In the previous comment the web links for the pictures should have been:
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JerryL
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 19, 2013 at 12:06 pm

"Since the city adopted the vision document in 1998, the city has undergone four "revolutions," he (Schmid) said -- the dotcom boom in the late 1990s, the dotcom bust in the early 2000s, the influx of residential developments in the mid-2000s and the economic crash in late 2008. "

What an absurd, shortsighted point of view. The examples he cited are
far from "revolutions". They are little 2 and 3 year blips. We are talking about a 50 year time scale. Such massive developments will very adversely change the city I have known over the last 41 years.
The trend, over the last 5-10 years is NOT the direction we ought to go and it needs to be halted, if it takes a recall of every single incumbent Council member.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by FedUp
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 19, 2013 at 12:34 pm

In the face of our City Council's indifference to public opinion, and our City Manager's alien vision for the future of Palo Alto, why has no one stated the obvious: 1) Demand the firing of the current City Manager; and 2) Hold a recall election including ALL members of the current City Council. Get rid of the self-serving bureaucrats who insist on destroying the Palo Alto we love.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm

To Fed up and all of like mind. YES. Let's start this recall now. There are fed up and angry people all over town - north, south, east, west, and everyplace in between. The fed-uppers segment is growing. Where do we start and how soon?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel Mart
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 19, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2013 at 1:43 pm

>The developer, the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation, rallied its own troops as well. Nearly half the crowd, including dozens of tenants from existing Housing Corporation developments, wore green "Yes on Maybell" stickers. (from the original article).

This is another example of why the PAHC should be banned. The more BMR units/subsidized developments it gets, the more votes it can rally against the neighborhoods. Is the PAHC a non-profit organization?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel Mart
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 19, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

This council, and the many incarnations before it,is corrupt; they power-hungry, and they need to learn how to be a government.

This is ludicrous. Beyond, even. Palo Alto Bowl was really the beginning of the absolute end. It's a ginormous disgrace, and people of a higher authority need to step in.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Armand
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 19, 2013 at 2:00 pm

"This is another example of why the PAHC should be banned."
Banned??? Are you serious, they are an organization that does much good.
Anyway, all organizations/groups rally supporters to go to meetings--that is the way democracy works. Something wrong with the way our democracy works, Craig???

"The more BMR units/subsidized developments it gets, the more votes it can rally against the neighborhoods"
Isn't that how democracy works--you convince people to vote for you??
What is wrong with democracy, Craig????

"Is the PAHC a non-profit organization? "
Go to their website and find out

"This council, and the many incarnations before it,is corrupt; they power-hungry, and they need to learn how to be a government."
Let us know h ow you feel when you move to Palo Alto, Daniel.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 19, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Am I the only one who finds the grim ugliness of the Eden housing project ( although the ARB lauded its "innovative design") an expression of Palo Alto's contempt for the low-income families it was built to house?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2013 at 2:27 pm

OK, I looked it up...PAHC is a 501-c(3) non profit organization. All of its contributions are tax deductible, and it is not allowed to support candidates, directly or indirectly. However, supporting their own cause is OK, as long as such support does not, indirectly, support local political leaders. Given the long-term stranglehold on our council, I would suggest that opposition to the Maybell referendum is a de-facto support for the city council that voted, unanimously, to support PAHC; not to mention lending them $5.8 M to buy the property. Very cozy relationship with local politicians. This deal doesn't pass the smell test.

>they (PAHC) are an organization that does much good.

Please explain what good they do for our residential neighborhoods. They opposed the current self defense effort of Barron Park. Barron Park fought back....

>Isn't that how democracy works--you convince people to vote for you??

Yep. And since the neighborhoods are under attack from the PAHC, I am suggesting the PAHC no longer be supported by PA, unless our residential neighborhoods want to be invaded by PAHC projects. Once PAHC is defunded and disapproved by our city council and neighborhood voters, it will evaporate.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 19, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Craig-- proof for your claim about the long term stranglehold PAHC has on the council, please.
Check their website again for the good they do-- low cost and senior housing as an example ( I know you are against helping the needy and elderly, but it does not mean that it is not a good thing)
The neighborhoods are not under attack-- a project was proposed, the council approved, SOME neighbors are against it, they launched a petition drive etc. no signs of any " attack" there. In fact some residents of those neighborhoods support the PAHC. And once again, Craig, you continue to use misplaced rhetoric ( invaded) in your attempt to paint the PAHC as evil. Does not help your argument or cast you in a favorable light.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Democracy is not PAHC bringing in a bunch of non-residents to fill the council chambers in order to create the illusion of support by Palo Alto residents.

So tired of non-residents demanding this or that out of Palo Alto.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm

>So tired of non-residents demanding this or that out of Palo Alto.

CPD, refreshing to see that some people are starting to see the political game that is being played on Palo Alto residential neighborhoods. PAHC needs to disappear, if PA neighborhoods are to be preserved.


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 19, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Residents need to understand that there are several levels to this, each based on ideology and financial self-interest that whose rationale are falsehoods. Start with the local density advocates who argue that "Palo Alto should be more like New York City". Then go to ABAG/MTC/VTA. And then to the state which passed the laws that being implemented.

At a meeting sponsored by the City's Planning Department, two of the big movers behind SB25 talked about the need for very high density housing in Palo Alto to reduce Green House Gases from commutes. One stated that a lawyer hired by a Stanford Research Park firm such as Wilson Sonsini would have to go all the way to Tracy to find housing that she could afford. The other speaker said that because of the lack of affordable housing in the area, an engineer hired by a Palo Alto company would be forced to commute from Los Banos. I raised by hand and said that my personal experience with newly hired engineers was that they were having no problem finding housing in Mountain View. I was immediately hushed by a Council member (don't remember which). One cannot allow facts to interfere with ideology and profits.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 19, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Craig and CPD-- we're you checking IDs at the meeting to show that those I support of the project were from out of town.
Craig-- waiting for the stranglehold proof. Step up to the plate, Craig.
Doug- I would think you woulD remember which council member hushed you, given that you remember the incident so well.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm

The one big problem I have with the so-called "Comprehensive Plan" is that it was the product of a small number of people (35-50) and not put out for an approval vote by the electorate. It's hard for me to believe that very many people have even read it.

So--I would like to suggest that the Comprehensive Plan needs to be put out for a vote, even at this late date.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 19, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Kudos to Gennady Sheyner, who I think must have been working almost as hard as the Maybell Residents' Group this week -- it's a comprehensive and perceptive piece of reporting.

Sheyner points out the Comp Plan is sufficiently broad and in some ways abstract, that you can find selective support for a lot of different things in it. I think that's a fair critique. What struck me in his article was the discussion of Planning Department's consistent use of the Comp Plan in their reports to Council; that is, the Department's selective use of the text in order to support only one side of any given issue. You guess which side.

It's hard not to conclude the Planning Department has its own agenda, and that agenda skews toward Big Development, and away from Resident issues.


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Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Think Recall....
And One year terms for Commissioners.....


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 19, 2013 at 7:05 pm

What would a recall really do? We constantly get new concil members and they are all the same--- chosen by the city establishment and their mouthpiece-- the weekly. Last year we had a chance for a new, young member-- Timothy gray. He was not endorsed by the establishment and the weekly endorsed Liz kniss ( who also happened to buy advertisement in the weekly)
Next election check out the campaign stuff you get-- you will see the candidates of the establishment are endorsed by the usual gang of former council members-- the baton is passed from one self absorbed council member to another.
This year they want to get rid of term limits so that Larry Klein can run for a 4th or 5th or 6th term ( who knows-- he always gets endorsed by the weekly)
So no point in recalling the council if we get more of the same


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Posted by PA citizen
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 19, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Copied from the duplicate thread:

I'd like to point out to everyone that there are TWO referendums being circulated by Maybell neighbors, and the 2nd and most important one is still collecting signatures.

The one just submitted was because the Maybell rezoning so conflicts with the zoning provisions of the general plan, the City put the rezoning in the new housing element as a provision in order to make it consistent. Because of possibly applicable legal precedent, neighbors are holding a referendum to put to the voters whether to remove it. Neighbors only found out about it through an attorney, and thus had only 2 weeks to collect thousands of signatures. Luckily, the petition packet was small and it was easy for people to print it out and attach it to the signature page themselves.

The second referendum is the main one: putting the actual rezoning of Maybell to the vote. Volunteers are collecting signatures for that one until July 28. Because the petition packet is 60 pages long, it's harder to collect the signatures for that one -- it's easier to do in person. I don't know where and when the signature collecting events will occur -- can neighbors clarify?

Anyway, I just wanted to let everyone know. The editorial is a much needed look at how are general plan and the zoning provisions are being so casually disregarded, and how staff essentially act as advocates for particular projects (and how anti-democratic that can be). But it accidentally makes it seem like the referendum signatures have been collected -- they have been only for the first referendum, not the second. They are both necessary.



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Posted by not sure
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 19, 2013 at 8:24 pm

@curmudgeon, "Am I the only one who finds the grim ugliness of the Eden housing project ( although the ARB lauded its "innovative design") an expression of Palo Alto's contempt for the low-income families it was built to house?"

I did not realize this complex was called the Eden, I have only heard it referred to as "the prison".
Wonder what the architectural review group saw when they approved this one. Maybe the drawing presented was a more pleasing representation.


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Posted by concerned cynic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 19, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Weekly,

Your editorial "In city that loves plans, Palo Alto's creates cynicism" is excellent. Should be required reading for all Palo Alto residents.

In the articles covering the Comprehensive Plan, I got dizzy with all the sub- commissions and commissions and staff and friends of staff that are responsible for revising the comprehensive plan, anyone but the residents?

After the 27 University situation, I am most cynical about "commissioners" (all appointed), or architectural review members, and even staff, because many of these same people have extremely close ties to the developers. How can these same people be revising the plan?

Can anyone out there (unrelated to the CIty) explain who is changing the plan? Any resident voices in any of the changes to the plan?

What I am most cynical about is that City Council is not representative of resident voices. I cringe every time Klein or Scharff say anything, and simply do not trust the entire system.

Can't we elect a mayor? Seems to me that any planning is irrelevant if the everything can get corrupted along the way.




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Posted by Fomad
a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2013 at 8:59 pm

@cpd & @craig

[Portion removed.] I was born and raised in PA and went through PAUSD K-12. I am currently a Teacher at PAUSD and at one point was living in a PAHC property. PAHC houses many valuable members of our community who give back, more so than many of the new tech millionaires.

What is your idea of a sustainable model for the city? How do you expect teachers to survive without options like PAHC's BMR program??? Kind of ironic that so many people move to Palo Alto for the schools, yet the teachers can't afford to rent a studio apartment. I will gladly stand with the PAHC supporters at the next meeting.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2013 at 9:20 pm

>How do you expect teachers to survive without options like PAHC's BMR program???

Please tell me how many PAUSD teachers currently live in BMR housing in PA. Where is that database kept? Once we have the data, then we can address your question.


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Posted by PA citizen
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 19, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Input on the above back-and-forth about PAHC and their astroturf at the council meetings:

The people I spoke with at two meetings were from PAHC properties, but indicated they were there because PAHC employees drum them up for their purposes - the two I spoke with indicated they get concessions in their rental situations in return for going "to these things" and speaking. PAHC also got help from another organization, the Housing Action Coalition, an out-of-town group that goes around supporting rezonings like PAHC's for affordable housing. I do not know if they brought some of the astroturf with them or it was all PAHC generated.

PAHC also sent out a manipulative note in their newsletter, indicating that a "vocal group of residents" was opposing affordable housing and making it seem like people's spots at their residences were at risk.

"Affordable" housing in Palo Alto isn't really that cheap, and people who live in those developments should not be treated in such a humiliating and coercive manner.

As someone who is against the rezoning but WAS very supportive of PAHC, I can tell you they have managed to alienate a very large and formerly highly supportive segment of town. I am still FOR affordable housing in Palo Alto, I just think competition is good and we should be taking a harder look at some of the other operators who may be doing a better job.


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Posted by PA citizen
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 19, 2013 at 9:36 pm

@Fomad,
The issue for Maybell is not about affordable housing or not. Neighbors support affordable housing, and have asked for the project to be built under existing zoning, with height, setback, parking, and other rules respected to reduce the impact on the neighborhood.

The rezoning at Maybell is an attempt at a new financing scheme which has never been done in Palo Alto -- they rezone part of the property for the sake of a market-rate developer who benefits by being able to build really high-density homes in a neighborhood that is otherwise not zoned for such density. PAHC planned on getting the rezone for the market-rate developer as part of their financial scheme. The end result is that the City pays way less per unit than they did at Eden on Alma, essentially making the neighborhood bear the actual cost.

The public benefit is to the City, not to the neighborhood, which is bearing other serious problems such as unresolved impacts to the thousands of school children on the already overburdened school commute corridors that are the only routes in and out of the proposed development. The City deliberately avoided doing a traffic study with current data or looking at the impacts on the children bicyclists and pedestrians, even though the City has a policy for heightened scrutiny of developments on school commute routes.

Greg Schmid said that the units were to go in a downtown development at the top floors, but as soon as someone pointed out that those seniors would get those great views, they took it all off and paid the in lieu fees. But the in lieu fees were not enough to buy comparable property, apparently, so the scheme foists the costs onto a single neighborhood.

In the long run, steamrolling this through is going to create a huge backlash against PAHC and affordable housing operators in town. The tragedy is that neighbors at one time would have genuinely put energy into helping PAHC get the City to fix the funding situation and put in the project under existing zoning. Now they just need to full bore oppose PAHC, which seems to have absolutely no concern for the safety of their children or the character of their neighborhood.


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Posted by Julia
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 19, 2013 at 9:40 pm

There is a basic truth in that the values that Palo Alto built and held over decades are not being upheld by the Council. There are lots of new faces on the Council, who don't seem to care about protecting those long-held values.
The Council is not effectively resisting the requirements of ABAG and the atrocious shape and size of buildings being built. Witness the look and size of the new building on Lytton and Alma: in your face awful. And the initial plans for 27 University are way-beyond unthinkable. It's time the Council, and the staff, got the message - they are not honoring the values we hold.


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Posted by Fomad
a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2013 at 9:56 pm

I am just curious as to what some people's "vision " of Palo Alto should be? Do the original Palo Altans really think they can hold on to their dated idea of what the city should look like? Sorry, but Silicon Valley is booming and there are a lot of people who need housing. Do we really want PA to turn in to some exclusive city like Atherton, with the drastic income disparity knocking on its doors? There must be some balance, and allowing your servants/peasants who make your coffee, teach your children, and sell your wife her handbags, a place to live is not a bad start. I agree, that maybe PAHC's approach may not be the best, but when you're going up against a bunch of entitled residents who won the real estate lottery, it makes it hard to root for the other side.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Please read the article on page 6 of this week's edition, entitled "Senior Housing or not, Maybell area ripe for development"

It says "Jessica DeWit, project manager with the Housing Corporation, noted that the vast majority of the tenants in the organization's existing properties throught town don't work, and many don't drive. In Arastradero Park Apartments, which are next to the Maybell site, 89 percent of the tenants don't work she said"

One of the arguments made for affordable housing is so that workers can live closer to their jobs. Yet the PAHC says the "vast majority of it's residents don't work". Exactly why are subsidizing affordable housing?


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2013 at 10:13 pm

>One of the arguments made for affordable housing is so that workers can live closer to their jobs. Yet the PAHC says the "vast majority of it's residents don't work". Exactly why are subsidizing affordable housing?

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 19, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Common sense and Craig-- pretty obvious that the reference was to senior citizens living in these subsidized housing. Trying to twist the fact that these people do to work to imply that it is some kind of scam is amusing at best.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2013 at 10:29 pm

>pretty obvious that the reference was to senior citizens living in these subsidized housing

Just provide the database, then we will know. A simple spreadsheet will do: PAHC project, employment status, years of residence in Palo Alto prior to acceptance in the PAHC project, essential jobs currently doing in PA, etc. This is a no-brainer.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 19, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Craig- you make ridiculous requests. You want fonda to provide information about teachers . You ask me for a spread sheet of private and personal information. Really ridiculous. If you are serious about having that Information, contact Ms DeWit. See if she can provide it for you ( however for privacy reasons, an issue you fail to understand as noted from your posts in other threads, I doubt she can provide you with personal and private information). [Portion removed.]


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Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 19, 2013 at 10:49 pm

The Developers and Architects in this Town are doing us NO favors.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Action needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 19, 2013 at 10:50 pm

The 801 Alma project was highly praised during the approval process
as a "fabulous" design and it sailed right through the ARB with staff support.

The Council/ARB/staff have greatly damaged the City with over-development, lax requirements, exceptions, bonuses, etc and poor projects, and more projects are in the pipeline. It is very late. I mark the beginning of this period of decline ten years ago with the approval by the ARB and staff of Roxy Rapp's Cheesecake Factory on University Ave. The decline accelerated drastically in the last few years with the strong office market fueling it.

Installing new Councilmembers through the normal election process
or a recall is not quickly or easily accomplished, requires a slate
of new candidates and may not be successful.

Here is another idea - through initiative create a new level of
design review for all major projects which affect the physical environment ,covering private development and action by the City itself, to be outsourced to a recognized design professional hired by a citizen committtee. This would be an overview function relating to scale, compatibilty, and aesthetics.All major projects would have to be signed off. In other words, boundaries would be established
for what could be done. By outsourcing this review function we would break the link between the Council/staff/ local developers. A Cheesecake Factory on University Ave for example would not happen, among a long list of other projects since then, at least in the form they took place. If you see some difficulties with this procedure, compare it to what we have now and the results we have gotten.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Craig is not making a ridiculous request when he asks for a database of tenants in BMR housing. No personal info need be given. Why shouldn't we know how many teachers or other public servants are living in such housing, how many are seniors, how many have children in the schools, how many have jobs, how many are disabled?


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Posted by Henry
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 20, 2013 at 12:29 am

New inexperienced teachers in PAUSD start at $60k to $70k. Unless they are the sole earner for a family of four, that is too high an income to qualify for affordable housing in Palo Alto. New teachers are usually young and there just aren't many teachers in their twenties with two kids and no second income (spouse or summer).

The affordable housing in Palo Alto does not and will not have material numbers of teachers, police, fire fighters, or full time city staff members. We pay them too much to qualify. A small number of city staff members at the bottom end of salary scale would qualify.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2013 at 5:47 am

Pat-- you and Craig should get in touch with Ms DeWit and request that information, if you feel it is relevant to the maybell project. Do not ask another poster to,provide it for you as Craig is requesting.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PA
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 20, 2013 at 7:27 am

Fomad, I would agree with your assessment except for the fact that in order to qualify for
subsidized housing you must make very little money. The middle class earners such as
teachers will not qualify. So, once again the middle class is squeezed. I am one of these
workers, I have lived here all of my life. I can barely afford to live here, but would never
qualify for subsidized housing.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Action needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2013 at 7:48 am

A new "design review" function through the initiative process would
also include overview for scale,compatibility, and aesthetics two-story single-family houses under the City's Single-family Individual
Review Ordinance. Right now it is staff/developer controlled with
appeal to the City Council which is meaningless. This would change
the dynamics completely of this review process by giving residents
a seat at the table and this important ordinance for protection
of our neighborhoods would be implemented as intended when it was
enacted.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fomad
a resident of another community
on Jul 20, 2013 at 7:58 am

@Henry

You are misinformed, by about $20k. New teachers in Palo Alto start at $50k. Still "too much" by your estimation?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Chronic Complainers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2013 at 8:30 am

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2013 at 8:43 am

>Craig- you make ridiculous requests

Since BMR/subsidized housing was sold to our city as essential to attract and hold essential workers (police, fire, teachers, etc., it is hardly unreasonable to ask how many of those workers are currently living in BMR. I asked a current councilmember (a strong supporter of BMR), and she said they don't keep the data. The whole thing was a bait-and-switch scheme.

Will somebody please provide a rationale for building BMR units in Palo Alto?


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Posted by Fomad
a resident of another community
on Jul 20, 2013 at 9:25 am

@craig

Your empathy is staggering. How would you feel if say, your elderly mother grew up in PA and was seeking a BMR apartment?

People are so caught up in their own little world these days. The sense of community and regard for helping others is seriously lacking in the Bay Area.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ridiculous Requests
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 20, 2013 at 9:46 am

@Craig
Since you are requesting private information of BMR residents you will obviously have no problem providing us all with a spreadsheet of your contributions to Palo Alto. Would you like to decide which residents contribute the most to Palo Alto and decide who should be able to live there?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2013 at 10:00 am

>How would you feel if say, your elderly mother grew up in PA and was seeking a BMR apartment?

How many BMR units are currently assigned to people who grew up in Palo Alto, and who have no resources?

The model we currently have is 'build it, and they will come'. The PAHC has made Palo Alto into a magnet for low income people. Any future magnets proposed by the PAHC should have explicit approval of the neighborhoods impacted.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2013 at 10:03 am

>Would you like to decide which residents contribute the most to Palo Alto and decide who should be able to live there?

No need. The people who can live here should be the people who can afford to live here, without subsidies from the rest of us.


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Posted by resident who pays attention
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2013 at 10:11 am

Amazing how the opponents of the Maybell project keep putting out their uninformed opinions as if they are factual! In fact, what would be built if they "succeed" in their referendum would indeed be much worse for the neighborhood. And people who don't understand how the state density bonus law works to up the # of units from 34 to 46 should have no credibility in discussions of what will or won't happen.

Gennady did a good job of documenting the "be careful what you wish for" scenario which City Council members were cognizant of in deciding how to vote. His story is on page 6 of Friday's paper and online here: Web Link

A summary of the public meetings and the conditions added to the project by the City Council may be useful to those who haven't drunk the koolaid:
Web Link
See the FAQs link near top of page for layperson language.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2013 at 10:18 am

Craig displays an amazing lack of empathy or compassion for others. Palo,alto alwya worries about traffic issues. Having reasonably priced housing available for workers should be seen as a good thing-- cutting traffic and providing housing for certain essential personnel. [Portion removed.]BMR housing is not something that palo,alto invented-- it is found all over the country and for good reasons. I guess has no problem with those that earn less than what he considers to be a Palo alto- worthy salary commuting and adding to the pollution and traffic issues--- just as long as he is not bothered by "those" people.
[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Ridiculous Requests
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 20, 2013 at 10:24 am

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2013 at 10:43 am

>Fortunately I think very few palo Alton's share craigs extreme view

The only way to be sure is to put it to a vote, in each neighborhood targeted for new BMR projects.

>You just want to keep the poors out.

Correct. The alternative is to invite the poor into Palo Alto, even if they are not providing essential services. I don't subscribe to the 'give according to ability; take according to need' mantra.


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Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 20, 2013 at 12:22 pm

As Craig says (reflecting the opinion of the vast majority of neighbors affected by these BMR projects pushed by our politicians), put it to a vote. That's how a democracy works.

I hope you all know by now that the BMR units hardly to go essential community workers like teachers, policemen, etc (and that's why everybody is so secretive about sharing this information). You end up attracting residents from nearby towns who probably don't care much about preserving the way of life many of us looked for when moving to Palo Alto under regular circumstances (either by getting a huge mortgage or paying high rent). We have to stop this welfare system.


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Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm

The recent backlash that has resulted in widespread support for the referendums is really about respecting our zoning.

The council's willingness to break the zoning rules caused the price for the land to rise which then required extra density to make the economics viable.

At the net net effect was the zoning change simply and unjustly provided a gift to the land owner at the cost of safety to the school children and crowding of the neighborhood.

In addition, additional density is awarded without regard to funding needs for greater sewage, water and other infrastructure requirements. Even in cases where there is compelling reasons for extra density, Palo Alto must collect cash to place in reserves to pay for these most certain future costs for infrastructure, or else our children will be left holding the bag. Every inch of increased density beyond what is allowed by zoning has a future cost that must be funded at day one.

Awarding density without these up front payments is private inurement which is highly illegal and morally corrupt -- but the council just rubber-stamps this theft like a gang of thieves -- a theft of our future quality of life, and theft of our infrastructure.

Let's come together as a community to build senior housing and affordable housing within the well-supported and long established rules we have in place.

We all support the goals of providing the affordable housing, and many, including myself would be willing to donate to that cause -- however trying to bring in a Trojan Horse project is outright deception.

We are a great community of people acting out of goodwill -- we can achieve these same goals without the deception and manipulation behind this project.

The referendums will offer a fresh start so we can create good within the rules. It's time that residents are represented vs. the special interest that have "purchased representation fair and square."

Tim Gray TimothyGray@sbcglobal.net 650 493-3000


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Posted by resident who can read
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Thankfully, we have a representative democracy and an evolved set of laws that allow freedom of speech (including for people who are ignorant, prejudiced or just plain wacko), but where decisions are usually made by people who understand more about the rule of law and the dangers of direct democracy where the vocal extremists try to shout down people who disagree with them.

Indeed, if citizens don't like a particular decision at the local, county or state level, and if there is enough passion behind an issue, we do have the opportunity to vote on initiatives and referenda.there is the option of initiatives or referenda. But there is no country in the world that has direct democracy where every decision is voted on by all citizens. For good reason, as anyone who paid attention in high school civics or informed themselves about constitutional law would know.

In the particular case of Maybell, opponents are asking for the existing zoning to remain (R-2 and RM-15). Ironically, the main reason for the Comprehensive Plan amendment Maybell opponents want to throw out was to change about half of the parcel to R-1 zoning. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by Ken
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm

CEQA, the EIR process should be helping but not the way used by City Staff. They should be but do not cite conflicts of adopted policy - like keeping commercial impacts out of neighborhoods - in their reports they only show support, not conflicts, cherry picking anything that supports a development project, disregarding potential problems. Disregarding CEQA is a significant foundation of successful lawsuits.


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Posted by R Evans
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 20, 2013 at 3:41 pm

To me the most troubling part of this report is the portion about the staff's recommendations listing all of the portions of the Comprehensive Plan that are consistent with the project and omitting all the portions that conflict. This results in an advocacy piece not a balanced evaluation. This should not be the role of the staff. They should mention all the conflicts and present their justifications for ignoring them or provide reasoned explanations for why they should be overlooked or why the benefits outweigh the conflicts.

No wonder the Barron Park and Green Meadow communities felt that the fix was in before the council voted! We were even informed by some city employees that they were advised not to speak with or assist opponents of the project because the city was supporting it.


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Posted by Margaret Fruth
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm

The City of Palo Alto is not required to change zoning for any project. The city is not required to facilitate developers' profits. If a project is not viable without government subsidies and accommodations, the developer is paying more than the site is worth, and asking the city to make up the difference with a hidden, indirect subsidy. Density increase is often just a gift to developers.

The government subsidies for operating existing housing for low income seniors have been almost eliminated. The secret about existing low-income housing for seniors is that in order to pay for the Iraq war, the Bush administration almost completely eliminated Section 8 funds for subsidizing operating expenses. For example, the last time I checked, the waiting list at Lytton Gardens was a few months for full-pay middle class residents, but five years long, & closed for all but two weeks of the year, for subsidized housing. PAHC insists it cannot build Maybell without the gift of a density bonus in the form of some market-rate townhouses. If that is true, they paid too much for the land. Before Maybell is approved, reliable, permanent source of funds for an operating subsidy (in addition to to start-up costs) should be secured before approving this project, unless PAHC wants to get into the market-rate housing business. They already plan to do so--the townhouses are just that. The corporation which owns Mabell has an extensive real estate portfolio; it should be able to find funds to cover start up and operating costs.

This project has been fasttracked by City of Palo Alto staff. There have been so many errors in the planning process that it may not be legally defensible. The City Council has already accepted the project in concept, by giving public funds to them in advance. The worst effect of this decision is not the giveaway of public funds, but the giveaway of advance approval of more intensive land use. If the news reports are accurate, the City Council comments so far are not credible, but instead insulting to Palo Alto's citizens.

These giveaways increase the likelihood that both decisions would not survive a court challenge; they may be decided in court or at the ballot box. To avoid these, the best option would be to figure out what the neighbors could be satisfied with.

Mayor Greg Scharff has insulted the electorate with his claim that the Council can make an "impartial" decision about projects they have already committed funds to.
The Mayor in particular should know better, since he is an attorney specializing in land use. His arrogance is one justification for keeping term limits.

Governance by lawsuits, referenda, and recalls is very expensive and time-consuming Because of the errors, the City would make better use of scarce resources by negotiating with the neighbors. In the case of Maybell, start by eliminating the market-rate housing, which has impacts far greater than senior housing. If PAHC wants to build the senior project, they should find outside funds to make the construction & operating budgets balance. Eliminating the market-rate housing entirely would reduce the impacts, especially traffic impacts enough to make the project more defensible. The City could require more comprehensive permanent project-based transportation. Existing senior housing varies greatly in number of trips and quantity of transportation provided. If the facility provides more transportation, the residents drive less, with younger, more qualified drivers. The project approval could require residents who drive to complete a DMV road test once a year as a condition of their residency.

Anyone who wants to keep Maybell as open space needs to start raising money now, to compensate the owner at fair market value. Of course, the property is not worth now what it would be worth with the gift of a zoning change.


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Posted by Margaret Fruth
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Show Me the Money

I have been following with concern the proposal for low income senior housing for seniors coupled with 12 units of market rate housing. Is this project worthy of receiving taxpayer subsidies from our limited funds?

We need low income senior housing in Palo Alto, because right now there is almost none. The secret about existing Section 8 senior housing is that Section 8 operating subsidy funds to subsidize ongoing operations, (as opposed to start-up funding) have been almost completely eliminated. As a result, existing complexes, like Litton Gardens, have been converted to middle class housing. This has created an artificial scarcity of low income housing for seniors. I have been unable to find out how PAHC plans to overcome this shortage of funding for operating expenses. Of course if there is no funding for actually operating low income housing, the approvals constitute a windfall for the developer getting increased density & a sweetheart loan from the City to build what will, in fact, be market rate housing.

What we do need is more funding for subsidizing operations. Then we can figure out whether we need new construction.

This is aside from any NIMBY concerns.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2013 at 7:09 pm

>We all support the goals of providing the affordable housing

Tim, on what basis do you make that statement? Has there been a direct vote by the PA citizens? It sounds like one of those meaningless statements, like we all want world peace.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Craig-- do you support unaffordable housing? What kind of housing do you support?
Do you support reducing commute traffic by having housing that is affordable for those that are not rich and will enable them to live in the cityntheywork in? If not, why not?
But Tim is correct, people support the goals of affordable housing. Affordable housing is not new to palo,alto, the area or the state. There has never really been widespread opposition to the principal of affordable housing.
Why do you feel thatbthe city should have elections for evry little thing? These elections cost money- does that matter to you? So you are against world peace also?
You have no problem with subsidized stuff when it benefits you, I.e. RPPP. Correct, Craig????


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2013 at 7:43 pm

>do you support unaffordable housing?

Of course! What a nonsense question. If all housing was affordable in Palo Alto, then all people on the face of the earth could live here.

>Do you support reducing commute traffic by having housing that is affordable for those that are not rich and will enable them to live in the cityntheywork in? If not, why not?

No, I do not. However, their commute, if they work here, should be supported by public/private transportation models.

> There has never really been widespread opposition to the principal of affordable housing.

Has there ever been a vote on that assumption, in Palo Alto?

>Why do you feel thatbthe city should have elections for evry little thing?

BMR housing is not a little thing.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Craig-- why do you think " all the people on the face of the earth" would want to live here. Which kind of people do you not want living here?
You have no problem with traffic, yet you constantly complain about traffic and parking in college terrace. Interesting..
There already exists BMR in palo alto. No need for a vote. The current issue will have a vote, but just on the specific issue. Even those that support the referendum have stated that they are not a gainst BMR or senior housing. It is only you that is against senior housing and affordable housing in all of palo,alto.
You have no problem with subsidies when it benefits you, I.e. RPPP in college terrace. That never came before a vote.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2013 at 8:13 pm

>Which kind of people do you not want living here?

Those that cannot afford to live here. By what criteria would you exclude anybody who cannot afford to live in PA?

>You have no problem with traffic

Traffic is not going away, but there are a number of public/private models that work. Your assumption that BMR owners will decide to work in Palo Alto is not supported. They might decide to commute to San Jose, once their kids are in PA schools.

>It is only you that is against senior housing and affordable housing in all of palo,alto.

How would you know that, unless it goes to a vote?


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2013 at 8:29 pm

"How would you know that, unless it goes to a vote? "

Because we have senior housing in town and we have BMR housing in town and there has never been widespread opposition. The maybell issue is about a specific project-- the supporters have stated that they support senior and affordable housing. Are Yu saying they are lying.
When you benefit from subsidized programs, I.e. RPPP, you have no,problem with them
You also want Stanford to subsidize a spine road n college terrace, but that is okay because you will benefit. And neither issue has been brought to a vote .


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2013 at 8:46 pm

>Because we have senior housing in town and we have BMR housing in town and there has never been widespread opposition.

There has never been a neighborhood vote on any BMR project, that I am aware of. The elites that pass these BMR projects generally are insulated from them...they like to stuff them into S. Palo Alto.

RPPP: It is partially subsidized, but there is also a fee-based buy-in by the residents. It was supported, street-by-street (or not) by CT residents, and it is up for renewal every year. I agree that the subsidy should be offset by higher penalties for the offenders. Hmmm...as I think about it, the RPPP model could be used for the BMR issues: Those supporting BMR can go door-to-door on any given street, and request approval of the people owning or renting on those streets. This should provide a decent idea of support for the BMR project. Thanks for ringing that bell for me!


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Posted by Tom
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 20, 2013 at 11:56 pm

I think Craig needs to get out and see the world


 +   Like this comment
Posted by VM
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 21, 2013 at 10:20 am

If the staff members only provide citations to back up their perspective or opinions to the Council, shouldn't there be somebody listing the alternate point of view? Otherwise our staff members, who are unelected, will end up making most of the decisions for the city!

I'm disappointed that our very competent, intelligent city manager doesn't think that this policy is a HUGE red flag and should be fixed.

On another note, why are Barron Park/Green Acres (increased density and zoning changes) and the kids going to Briones/Terman/Gunn (traffic and safety problems) paying for the larger city benefits (compliance with ABAG requirements) without even having a voice in this process?

Finally, the new Eden development looks sadly horrific. Whoever approved the designs should be required to live across from it for a few months.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2013 at 11:43 am

>I think Craig needs to get out and see the world

Well, I took a trip to Hawaii last month. I also did a lot of hard labor on field crews in the Salinas Valley, when I was younger. I prefer Hawaii, no doubt. I will continue to go about the world, as I see it...I hope to observe real PA neighborhood votes on specific BMR deals that PAHC rams through, with a compliant city council. That would be a world view that has not yet been seen by PA citizens. I hope that they will be able experience it.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2013 at 12:26 pm

What about all the baby boomers who were born, raised in Palo Alto? What about those who won't be able to afford, buy in or even worked the non tech/financial industry.

I know people who get older their income earning power decreases in time. I was born in Palo Alto but in the 60'a my parents couldn't afford to purchase a home. But spent a good part of youth in Palo Alto.

So I guess I am not free to return.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2013 at 12:50 pm

>So I guess I am not free to return.

Is there some Constitutional clause that guarantees free right of return to one's birthplace? You can return to PA, if you have the resources to buy a house here, or to pay rent...or you can try to game the PAHC system, and insist that your were born here...but that won't help because the PAHC does not care about PA natives.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Not trying to game the system, just planning to return to the area of my roots. It is fine to say that people like us. Poor, senior or people from the area. Past, Present or Future.

The rents in the area have gone up, property prices for homes have gone, open land for building has even risen to sky high prices. Downtown Palo Alto doesn't have,large open barren land. Yes I know 4 homes sit on the property but these homes are standing in the way of progress.

Personally I think the senior housing should have only been built, fitting into the neighborhood would have helped. Lower the building by 1 floor and designing with Palo Alto in mind, not a ugly modern box.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2013 at 2:09 pm

>just planning to return to the area of my roots.

Really? Is that some inherent right?


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 21, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Actually, Craig, there is an inherent right to live wherever you want. We are still a democracy, not some banana republic style dictatorship you want it to be. Or should we have vote on every new resident?
Craig loves subsidies when it benefits him---- the RPPP and the proposed spine road.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2013 at 2:46 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 21, 2013 at 3:07 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Ok I know I have no inherent right to live in either Palo Alto or Mountain View or even squat, take over or just move in for free.

I have watched homes prices rose, rents go sky high and stores close due to the high costs. The tech industry has grew so much that other types of industry and businesses have left the area. Not to mention the state of California.

I don't have a inherent right to stay in California. But I do remember everyone coming here to work the tech. They have the right to move here from other states, heck we had people from other counties come here.

I guess in the end will just leave California.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2013 at 3:26 pm

>the right on anyone to live in any city they want to.

If you take trespassing off the table, which your original statement did not infer, as long as they don't violate city regulations...for example car camping in surrounding cities, soon to be in PA, I hope. There is no right to demand that PA, or any other city, build BMR units for them...that is a political choice. I want to drive the political choice by putting it to a vote, neighborhood by neighborhood. BMR is a very big issue in PA. We need PA citizens to decide. What is wrong with that?


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2013 at 3:36 pm

>I guess in the end will just leave California

You need to move to where you can afford to live. It's an old-fashioned American idea, and all of my ancestors did it.

PA needs to put an end to BMR/subsidized housing. The way to do it is to put it to a vote in each and every neighborhood where it is being pushed by PAHC. PAHC will evaporate, if that simple step is taken.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 21, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Digressing into your car camping comment. This was in a story in a yesterday's paper:
Web Link
"But research by coalition members shows Palo Alto isn't alone. The city's immediate neighbors, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, don't outright prohibit people from living in their cars, Keating said."
Back to the topic at hand-- I never mentioned demands for BMR housing to be built. I just said that people have a right to live where they want. Do not put words in my mouth.
Clearly when people say they can live anywhere-- it is obvious they are not talking about trespassing -- again you are putting words in my mouth.


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

There are so many gems within Gennady Sheyner's prolific and comprehensive coverage of land-use matters in Palo Alto over the past several years, but Friday's Trifecta (Vision, Re-Vision, and Traffic Analysis) in the center section of The Weekly may be at the top of the list.

And for exceptionally good measure this week, let's not neglect a pair of customary, solid reporting and analysis pieces earlier in the issue (240 Hamilton Ave and Maybell area zoning).

Sheyner is also noted for his investigative reporting, aided by the use of public records. This includes the untold stories on the process behind the California Avenue clearcut in 2009; last year's private back-of-the-napkin planning with John Arrillaga and private council-shuttles with staff to pre-view the 27 University Avenue project; and recently the mess within the Mitchell Park construction.

And on Friday, he went a step further, incorporating citizens' public records research into a story on the thorny issue of traffic analysis, to reveal to a larger audience the dubious coziness between staff and an outside traffic consultant.

But he needs no public records on the issue of the city's planning vision and lack of respect for it. From the events that passed before his reporter's eyes and ears, his knowledge and experience, and simple questions to those in authority, he brings into brilliant focus, what has been in front of us for some time, but has never been as cogently articulated in the press.

That Includes:

¥ That the Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan, the result of a true community effort, and a legal document, is either completely ignored, seen as something that gets in the way, or is cherry-picked for specific ends, while ignoring competing or completely contradictory statements.

¥ That staff reports are not objective documents created by planning professionals after which the director can make a recommendation to commissions and council, but rather advocacy documents supporting predetermined positions.

¥ And key staff and elected officials do not see this as a problem.


It will take several more readings for me to fully integrate the impact and import of these articles, but it something all of us who care about Palo Alto's future should do.

Beyond that, the Weekly should publish Sheyner's work of recent years, as a collective; a book publication. In place of a denigrated and abused Comprehensive Plan, It is the best guide you will get to Palo Alto's runaway land-use vision.


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Posted by more
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2013 at 9:47 pm

@Fred Balin
There is more. As I recall there were a number of instances in past
years where people said that they were not notified of meetings/ public hearings on matters directly affecting their properties. It appeared that the staff deliberately included/excluded certain residents in these mailings.




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Posted by Fomad
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Ahh yes, Craig is proposing such a beautiful utopia, where all of the wealthy live in a bubble and the poor live in slums on top of each other. Look at all of the examples of this model across the world (India, Brasil, etc.). Not only is this unhealthy for the economy, but also for the health of the local culture. I'd like to think that Palo Alto is still a welcoming place that embraces different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds, and has not turned into an exclusive bubble of wealthy classists, because if it has, I'm not sure i want to teach here, let alone return to live.

There's more to life than $$$. When's the last time you volunteered your time to help someone in need? We are in this together, aren't we?


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Posted by Homeless
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2013 at 11:03 pm

In the end of the night: when all dust settles down : everything will be all right. The moon and all the stars will always be there, no matter what. Life is a gift, not a privilege. Thank you for all the opinions , expression , talk.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tim H
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2013 at 10:30 am

Low-income housing does not need to be "ugly today, blight tomorrow". Whomever designed the hideous, bloated "Eden" project should be dismissed. I've seen more attractive Lego project designs than this example.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 22, 2013 at 10:37 am

> We are in this together, aren't we?

No. Because none of us should be forced to yield our neighborhoods over to PAHC. I give both time and money to various volunteer causes, and charitable causes, but I object to coerced 'giving'.

If you don't want to teach here, or return here, then don't.


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Posted by Eyesore
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2013 at 11:37 am

This building is an eyesore. I shake my head when I drove by on Alma everytime. Also, I try not to go downtown now. It has too many high density office building or condos. Not saying the traffic is terrible, the parking is a nightmare too.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 22, 2013 at 11:54 am

>This building is an eyesore.

Always in the eye of the beholder, of course. However, you might want to confront John Barton, an architect, who is also the Board president of the group that drove this project. His group is all about placing more welfare housing in PA. It would be interesting know if he had any input to the design.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm

While I am a baby boomer, the tail end. Also want to point out another future planning nightmare which I understand growth will happen.

Nursing Homes.

You might see these popping up in R 1 zones.


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Posted by About Barton
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2013 at 2:17 pm

John Barton is a long time housing advocate. Of course he's an architect who makes a living off of construction.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 22, 2013 at 6:59 pm

I have to agree. The new Alma housing complex is one of the ugliest things I've seen in a long time. Right up on the sidewalk too. Nice.

Nice going ARB.


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Posted by joe
a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2013 at 8:17 pm

"Under California law, a local government's General Plan must include an affordable housing action plan."

Web Link

Menlo Park NIMBYs fought development for 20 years and it all unraveled this year with a settlement.

"Key terms of the settlement include:

Adoption of an affordable housing plan (or "housing element") by early 2013

Rezoning sites in and around downtown to promote the development of affordable housing near jobs and transit

Providing local funding for nonprofit housing developers"


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Posted by Don't be...
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 22, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Fomad,
If we are all in this together, how come the Maybell neighborhood is being asked to take another large affordable housing development, when there are already 4 in the immediate area, more than any other residential neighborhood of Palo Alto (except downtown, which is more appropriate for density), when some neighborhoods have none at all?

Actually neighbors don't even mind having another affordable development, they've said it over and over, they just want the development to go in under the existing zoning. Every time they say that, opponents shift the conversation to scare tactics over a market development there and never address the issue of building the affordable housing under the existing zoning. If the City were to pay the actual cost of the units -- as much as they did per unit at the Alma development -- instead of essentially foisting the cost onto the Maybell neighborhood, that development could be built more in keeping with the neighborhood.

The pre-existing zoning on the Maybell orchard, by the way, IS the transition zoning from the Tan apartments, which was even fewer units per acre when that zoning was originally designated on that property (RM-15 has since been increased). Upzoning from that using Tan as an excuse is adding insult to injury.


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Posted by Don't be...
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 22, 2013 at 10:12 pm

All of this may be moot, because I don't think Palo Alto Housing Corporation technically met the minimum requirement of their CTAC funding application. They were supposed to have all their zoning in place, and prove it by their application deadline of July 3, but the city staff report says the zoning isn't official until 31 days after the second reading, which means around July 28. Plus the citizens are going to hold a referendum, which means it won't be in effect then, either.

If they represented in their application that they had the zoning, they could face sanctions in this and future rounds.

They are also supposed to show the development is consistent with the general plan, interestingly enough, and neighbors are going to referend that, too, and regardless of its fate, the rezoning can still be argued as being very inconsistent with the general plan.

Anyway, I don't know how serious it is for them to misrepresent having the zoning, but the application instructions say it's a basic requirement.


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Posted by big picture
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2013 at 8:47 am

This is not about one or two bad projects, mistakes, or missteps in procedure. Palo Alto is being hammered across the board as its qualities and character are being destroyed in a perfect storm.
With the market pressures, just at the time Palo Alto needs strong planning and control, with a strong Council, ARB and staff it has none of this. It's the opposite as the strong market has been viewed as an opportunity to capitalize on current conditions, with incentives,bonuses, exemptions in a development free for all.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

We want Palo Alto to be a community, not a commodity.


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Posted by seriously
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2013 at 11:18 am

From the Weekly article regarding the Planning Department discussing the Maybell project:

"Commissioners Wednesday night marveled at the lack of opposition to the project, given the proposed senior complex's height and proximity to single-family homes. Alcheck told the applicants that the lack of opposition "speaks a lot about your reaching-out process." Tanaka was more skeptical and surmised that people didn't show up to criticize the project because they didn't know about it.

"I think if the people in the (neighborhood's single-family houses) really knew what was being built across the street, there would be more of an outcry there," Tanaka said."

Need we say more.....


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Posted by FedUp
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2013 at 11:25 am

Why should PA or any other city be compelled to provide housing for more people? How about encouraging start-ups to move to areas where people would love to have jobs available? There are cities and towns throughout the US that are seeing people--especially the young--leave because there are no jobs. Why don't all these eager young dotcom types start businesses in their own home towns instead of mine?? Why don't the developers follow the startups AWAY from PA? Granted, we can't bring back the "Valley of Heart's Delight," but we don't want to turn Palo Alto into a big, ugly, expensive, over-crowded city... and that seems to be what's happening.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 23, 2013 at 11:29 am

"We want Palo Alto to be a community, not a commodity."

This is the best statement yet. Thanks to the above poster.

Tim


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 23, 2013 at 12:42 pm

>"We want Palo Alto to be a community, not a commodity."

If it is not a commodity, there will be no community.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Senior Citizen Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Palo Alto was a community long before it became a commodity. It became a commodity because it was a community, and one close to Stanford University, benefitting greatly from it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 23, 2013 at 5:18 pm

>Palo Alto was a community long before it became a commodity. It became a commodity because it was a community, and one close to Stanford University, benefitting greatly from it.

Wrong! PA became a town, because it was next to Stanford. All properties were commodities, then and now. Think Old PA. They didn't give away those lots! Those who could afford them invested their efforts in the town. If the lots had been given away, there would not be a current PA.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Don't be..
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 23, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Protecting sensible zoning protects both community and commodity for the residents. Part of what you buy when you buy property is the promise of what will be around nearby in the future. PC zoning has allowed the City Council to circumvent the protections of zoning, plain and simple. If the public benefit is real, the City Council shouldn't have to shove it down our throats. Change PC zoning so those affected have a say in whether the benefit is real. Until then, stop letting the City Council hand over our town to short-term developer interests!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 23, 2013 at 6:58 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 23, 2013 at 7:03 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by like a 2 x 4
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Over-development, destruction of neighborhoods with cut-through
traffic and parking overflow, gridlock in sections all over the City, ugly buildings and streetscapes is not what we are going for here but tragically is what we have ended up with. This is a city government with a single-minded purpose to promote development and has lost its ability to even distinguish between quality development in keeping with the character of the city and its infrastructure capacity, and for example massive office buildings Downtown which look like they were transplanted from an office park someplace. Project after project is out of place and disrespectful of its context. The unique qualities which distinguished our community,
the City of Palo Alto, are just being obliterated. Go on vacation like I did for a couple weeks, come back here, and what you see
will hit you like a 2 x 4.


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