An election for Palo Alto's recently approved housing development on Maybell Avenue would cost the city more than $600,000 if the council decides to move forward with the vote this year.
Unless the City Council repeals its June approval of the controversial project -- an option it will consider Thursday evening -- the development will go to a citywide vote. Last week, the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters confirmed that opponents of the project at 567 Maybell Ave. have gathered more than enough votes for the two referendum petitions opposing the council's rezoning decision.
If the council chooses not to repeal its decision to rezone the Maybell site to "planned community," it will have to decide when to schedule the election. Estimates from the county registrar's office and Palo Alto City Clerk Donna Grider indicate that the election would cost more than $630,000 if the city were to put the two items on the November 2013 ballot.
The county estimate was $584,400 for the election this year, Grider said. But she told the Weekly that the election would also require her office to take out legal ads and pay for translation costs, expenses that would add roughly $50,000 to the bill.
Election costs would be lower next year, particularly if the council puts it on the June 2014 ballot. That election would cost $354,800 under the registrar's estimate, with the clerk's costs pushing the bill to above $400,000. A November 2014 election, in which five council seats would be open, would cost $303,100 under the registrar's estimate, or about $350,000 when the clerk's expenses are added.
The development, proposed by the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation, includes a 60-apartment complex for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes. The council approved a zone change to enable greater density than would otherwise be allowed on June 18, with members agreeing that affordable housing is a rare and valuable commodity in Palo Alto. Residents in the Green Acres and Barron Park neighborhoods have rallied against the zone change, claiming that additional density would worsen their traffic conditions.
In the past week, several opponents of the Maybell rezoning have submitted letters to the council urging members not to schedule an election for this year because of the high costs. Kevin Hauck, who opposes the project because of traffic-safety concerns, said he strongly objects to any special election being held prior to next year's regularly scheduled vote. He cited the "significant additional expense associated with holding a special election."
"This expense would amount to an improper financial favor for a developer using city tax dollars," Hauck wrote. "A message needs to be sent to all developers seeking to build in Palo Alto: If a developer proposes a project that is ill-conceived, poorly vetted, or insufficiently mitigated to the extent that it induces a citizens' referendum, the city of Palo Alto should not and will not commit tax dollars to hold a special election at the time of the offending developer's choosing."