With tension in the community mounting over a housing development on Maybell Avenue approved in June, the Palo Alto City Council has hastily scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to consider its options.
The project, which includes a 60-unit apartment complex for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes, has become the subject of heated community opposition, two referendum drives and a citizen lawsuit. Last week, the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters confirmed that both citizen petitions had more than enough signatures to bring the issue to a citywide vote. One petition seeks to overturn approval of a zone change that would enable the housing development. The other would undo a change in the city's Comprehensive Plan that the council approved to accommodate the project.
Now, it's up to the council to decide when the election will take place. The deadline for placing an item on the November ballot is this Friday. That, however, would require the city to schedule a special election and incur all the costs that go along with that decision. An alternative is to wait until the next general election, which would be held in June 2014.
The citywide vote could spell a blow to the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, a nonprofit organization that has been developing affordable-housing complexes throughout the city. The Housing Corporation requested a "planned community" zone for the site at 567 Maybell Ave., near Clemo Avenue. The designation allows developers to exceed density regulations in exchange for negotiated "public benefits," which in this case is affordable housing. The council approved the zone change on June 18.
Opponents have contended throughout the process that while they support affordable housing for seniors, they oppose greater density at the Maybell site, which is located close to a busy route to schools. Hundreds of people attended meetings on the project, with many voicing concern about traffic problems the development could cause.
This week, with the signatures authorized, opponents have urged the council to repeal its approval rather than rush to a costly special election. Some asked the council to hold a vote next year, while others urged officials to simply repeal its approval and avoid a citywide vote. Steven Rosenberg was in the latter camp.
"Clearly the City Council did not grasp either the seriousness of Palo Alto residents' concerns about the project and the depth of the community dislike of the project," Rosenberg wrote in an email to the council.
Barron Park resident Susan Keehn made a similar point, writing to the council that its decision to rezone the site has "awakened a sleeping populace" that is concerned about "excess building."
"You have an opportunity to rescind the zoning and not waste the taxpayers' money on an expensive special election," Keehn wrote. "Palo Alto used to be on the forefront of sustainable development. Let's get back to that, with the awareness of how one action affects so many others, especially our quality of life."
The council will consider its alternatives on Thursday, shortly after it meets in closed session to discuss a lawsuit filed last Wednesday by opponents of the Maybell project. The agenda states that the council will consider repealing its decision or hold a "special election" on Nov. 5, 2013, for the referendums.
The closed session on the lawsuit is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 8, at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave. Consideration of the referendums is set to start at 6:45 p.m.