News

Council rejects appeal of modernist building

Resident had decried Palo Alto building as not fitting in with character of downtown

The City Council on Monday shot down an appeal of a modernist development at 240 Hamilton Ave. in Palo Alto that appellant Douglas Smith said was incompatible with the historic buildings surrounding it.

The 15,000-square-foot building, which will stand at the corner of Hamilton and Ramona Street, will replace an existing 7,000-square-foot building, the former home of Radio Shack. The new four-story, mixed-use building will include retail space on the ground floor, offices on the second and third floors and residential space on the fourth floor.

Smith, a Palo Alto resident, appealed the July Architectural Review Board approval of the project's design, saying that its modernist architecture clashed with the historic buildings in the Hamilton Avenue area, which he called "the most densely historic spot in any commercial area in Palo Alto."

The council voted 6-3 -- with Karen Holman, Greg Schmid and Pat Burt dissenting -- to deny the appeal, saying during a discussion that stretched well beyond midnight that the building's design was compatible with the surrounding area.

Smith said the building is inconsistent with the city's municipal code and its Comprehensive Plan, the "land-use bible" that guides development in the city.

The municipal code states the board should only approve a development if it is compatible with the immediate environment and -- if the area is considered to have a unifying design or historical character -- the design is compatible with that character.

Dozens of members of the public spoke for and against the development, so many that Mayor Greg Scharff limited their allotted speaking time to one minute each.

Most of comments were directed at the insufficient parking the developer would provide and the traffic and parking woes it would cause in the already traffic-plagued area surrounding the building.

Paul Machado expressed the concern of many other speakers Monday who said the building was one of several smaller developments, approved by the council, that cumulatively create large traffic problems.

Machado and others called for a traffic-impact study that would address all new developments in the downtown area instead of addressing them one at a time, saying that it was like "measuring one tributary in a river to determine what the spring runoff is going to be."

But legally, the council's decision had to be based on the issue of the appeal, which was the building's architectural design, not on the consequences to parking and traffic.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss said she thought the modernist design mixed well with the traditional designs of the surrounding buildings, saying it fits the city's diverse character. Councilwoman Gail Price agreed and called the building "very well designed" and said it "provides an anchor to the corner." Both councilwomen voted against the appeal.

Councilman Burt called the appeal "misguided and inappropriate" and lauded the compatibility of other buildings around town designed by architect Ken Hayes but voted for the appeal nonetheless.

He said the debate shouldn't be over the merits or appropriateness of modernist buildings in historic districts, but of whether the design characteristics of this development fit with its neighboring buildings. He said the "massive" building was out of scale with its neighbors and that the materials used were inappropriate for making it compatible.

Councilwoman Holman voted to support the appeal because she said the building's design doesn't fit with surrounding buildings, contrasting the solid glass walls of the 240 Hamilton Ave. building with the historic Cardinal Hotel on the opposite corner, which is punctuated by windows.

"I'm a fan of many of your buildings, Ken," she said, addressing Hayes. "I think this one misses the mark."

One resident, Elaine Meyer, echoed previous statements made by Smith, who said that the members of the Architectural Review Board were motivated to accept designs because, as architects, they didn't want to upset developers who could be potential employers.

"The approval process is broken," she said. The Architectural Review Board "is broken and has been for a long time. ... Occasionally a critique is expressed, but it gets buried in the lavish praise that follows."

Though her comments were cut short by the truncated public comment time limit, Meyer told the Weekly that she believes the board is subject to a revolving-door phenomenon in which board members are later hired by developers, knowing that their support will help get them the job.

Burt and Price strongly rejected this argument Monday.

"Scurrilous personal attacks against the commission does not make it easy to stand up to this kind of action," he said. "It has to come to a halt. It just lacks integrity; disagreeing with design guidelines is not making accusations against (the board)."

Price said she was also dismayed by the suggestion and "took exception and was quite upset about the assignment of malintent and personal gain (to the board)."

"These are volunteers, and we are lucky and blessed to have people with expertise, knowledge and commitment to architecture," she said. "We need to be thankful to the contributions these individuals make."

But some residents, like Robert Peterson, a former colleague of esteemed Palo Alto architect Birge Clark, came out in full support of Hayes and the board.

"We need a group of people who are educated, experienced and creative and can make a judgment of what can work in our community," he said.

Residents like Andrew Wong, Martin Bernstein and Todd Simon said the building fit into the city's portfolio and championed the idea of diverse architecture in Palo Alto.

Councilman Marc Berman, who didn't support the appeal, said that architecture is an art and is therefore inherently subjective. However, he did appreciate some of the design characteristics, such as widening the sidewalk at the corner, which he called the most "awkward, claustrophobic and weird" corner in the city.

Berman said he enjoyed historical architecture but listed a string of modernist developments downtown that he thought were designed tastefully.

"They're going to be downtown until 2040, and they don't need to look like they were built in 1940 or 1950," he said. "There's something to be said for having modernity as well.

"I don't love it -- I like it, but I hate that corner now."

Resident Paula Shaviv told the council it should not try to mimic historic architecture but embrace change.

"It makes no more sense to require (the building) to be built in a period frozen in time than it would to make me appear before you in a hoop skirt," she said.

Comments

Posted by dwtwnnorth, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:52 am

The downtown can not sustain every person who owns a building to be able knock it down and build a larger building. The infrastructure of PA can not handle this and was not meant to be. Furthermore the glass Apple store does not fit in with the historic downtown either, horrible looking store with now cement barriers in front of it. Really what an eyesore. We need new
ARB, somebody scratching somebodies back.


Posted by De novo, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:53 am

In past appeals of ARB decisions to City Council, the prior City Attorney had stated that the appeal is de novo, meaning from the beginning or anew. That means that all issues are out on the table for review.

Why is Council now telling citizens that the appeal is limited to only the complaints listed in the appeal? Has the law changed or is this Council and City Attorney determined to do whatever it takes to get what they want?


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:18 am

A bad decision.

I agree with "dwtwnnorth" about the Apple store, it is a pain in the neck, inside and outside. It is so small that they cannot accommodate the classes and seminars they hold, and they cannot even provide restroom facilities for those who might need them in the middle of them.

The City Council and the ARB are not upholding their responsibility to the city by condoning all this ugly development and ignoring the consequences.

Why does Menlo Park seem so good at controlling their development and all the focus seems to get dumped right into Palo Alto? What is their secret, or is their secret to push all the development into Palo Alto.

Meanwhile as Palo Alto goes development crazy we cannot even take some time to beautify some of our other spots, such as the Baylands or our parks.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:25 am

The problem I see with putting a humongous building at 240 Hamilton ... which is where I remember the old Radio Shack store being, is that the whole intersection and area directly south of that building, including the plaza of the City Hall Building is going to get much less sunlight. Whenever you build up, or even let a tree get really large you create a sunlight starved zone to the south of it that can make a whole area cold and depressing where all you see are the sides of buildings.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:47 am

Klein was completely off-base in his comments about the Apple store. It is a misfit on the University Ave streetscape. It needs definition at the front facade- it creates a gap or empty space along the streetscape. Then apparently unforeseen by the architect and ARB it is an extension of Florence Street right into the front door so soon after opening they put surplus damaged freeway berms in front and painted them gray. It looks like a slum and completely destroys the orignial intended effect of the glass facade.

This is a debacle. Since Apple is apparently comfortable with this improvised look in Steve Jobs hometown on University Ave the City should require require removal of the freeway berms to be replaced by something more appropriate such as a low iron rail fence. Recall how Steve Jobs was
quoted by Walter Isaacson as saying that "a fence needed to look good on
both sides" metaphorically and literally. Maybe our City staff could
find time to work on this.


Posted by southbayresident, a resident of another community
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:49 am

@CrescentParkAnon,

I think Menlo Park may actually wish it had some of the same "problems" as downtown Palo Alto. If you have seen their downtown recently it's actually pretty dead. If you've lived in this area long enough you might of remembered that the Park Theater was once a centerpiece of it's downtown area. Despite it's former historic status there is now just an empty lot where it once stood. That is not a good sign. Surrounding it are countless other empty lots from former car dealerships. It's more like a former car dealership ghost town than a vibrant commercial district.


Posted by Citizen Doh, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:58 am

"I'm a fan of many of your buildings, Ken," she said, addressing Hayes. "I think this one misses the mark."

Agreed. The architect had a presentation of lovely projects they did, ending in one ugly. Soulless one, then trotting out the ugly soulless one proposed here. What changed, Ken? Out of ideas?

I definitely agree with de novo, too. The question is, what can be done? Brainstorm, please...


Posted by FAR Abuse, a resident of University South
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

The council never addressed two of the public comments concerning the grandfathering in of the mezzanine space - two members of the public showed that prior permits had no mention of the mezzanine space; that when the store was marketed for lease, no mention of the mezzanine space; and that the mezzanine space was less than 4 feet high in some places. Without being able to grandfather in the mezzanine space, the project as presented would not be possible.

I thought it was very bad form by Mayor Scharf to cut each of the public speakers to only 1 minute, because the council had over run their time on other adgenda items. And then to have Council member Klein drone on and make jokes for quite a few minutes after the public spoke, just reinforces that the some of the council members & city staff don't care about the public input.

Lastly, it's been over one year since the Lytton Gateway was approved with severely under parked design, yet council continues to do nothing to modify zoning to solve the problem.


Posted by Planning Dept & Hayes, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Ken Hayes has a big storage locker of glass boxes so he just takes one out to use as needed. Put a few tiles around it and it's done. Unimaginative and pedestrian.
But the Planning Department seem quite taken with him. What gives?


Posted by sonja, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:30 pm

"One resident who spoke, Paula Shaviv, told the council it should not try to mimic historic architecture but embrace change. "

Paula Shaviv is an architect and claims the Taube-Koret Campus for Jewish Life on her linkedin - another awful soulless glass metal and concrete buildings


Posted by fedup, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:51 pm

What happened to the recent suggestion that we hold a recall on all the current city council members? It seems they ignore the wishes of the majority of residents, not just in this case, but in almost all others. While we're at it, perhaps we could also look for a new city manager, one who is also responsive to residents and to the actual needs of our town. Most of us feel no need to be a world-famous town or to be considered in the forefront of any movement--we just want to live our lives in a place we love without seeing it ruined by people who obviously don't share our feelings about Palo Alto.


Posted by DonaldS, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:53 pm

DonaldS is a registered user.

southbayresident has a point. Younger people are moving to cities and embracing the urban lifestyle. I used to live in Santa Cruz and the people who rallied to stop change literally killed the town. If you walk down the street in Palo Alto there are people of all races, children, elderly people and the town is distinctly alive. People seem happy and great you on the street. In Santa Cruz they have closed many of their elementary schools because there are few children there anymore. It is closed and there is suspicion of the outside world. We need to find a way that more people can live here because if you are not growing you are dying. "Palo Alto" is almost a synonym for "progress." From the hobos riding the rails to build Professorville, the first movie, the first vacuum tubes for radio we have been magnet for the brightest and most motivated people in the world who come here, start world beating companies and develop the technology that will shape everyone's lives. It would be bad for the whole world if we took up the doormat and locked the doors. The solution to the traffic problem is easy. Ditch your cars. I don't drive. I don't even own a car. I commute to work and love it. It is a chance to relax and read. My brother commutes here from the City, where you don't need a car. The problem here is not the traffic but the mindset of some vocal people with a lot of time on their hands. We need to figure out how to improve public transportation so it will be used more. CalTrain is having to expand its service because so many people are taking it now. Considering all the amazing innovations that have come out of Palo Alto it is almost tragic that the only solution to these problems some people see is to resist change. Cities could be humankind's greatest invention, they can be great places. I believe that there is nowhere on earth we could find more innovative people than here. This is our chance to create a place that 100 years from now will still be a legendary place that is almost synonymous with "progress."


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:55 pm

CrescentParkAnon,

"Whenever you build up, or even let a tree get really large you create a sunlight starved zone to the south of it that can make a whole area cold and depressing where all you see are the sides of buildings."

I've been very concerned about the point you have just made. Every build up is a take-away of light from the street. I objected to the building at a September 9th Council meeting. My name is Jennifer Landesmann, but it's long and sounds formal so I'm using the handle jland.

I said then, and will repeat now that the building screams square footage.

Having attended a couple of ARB meetings and Council meetings, I keep hearing the defense for why building maximum square footage is good. We know why it's good for the ROI for the developer or the retail that will go inside, but these reasons have a flip side for the town. More concerning is that the same rationale for accepting projects is not used to reject them.

For example diversity of architecture. Where is the diversity of architecture in the recent projects approved? All are glass, all go to the absolute limit (or above) the height limit.

I have a long list of reasons to disagree with the comment made that "It makes no more sense to require (the building) to be built in a period frozen in time than it would to make me appear before you in a hoop skirt," This comment is spin.

I thank Mr. Smith for his appeal.


Posted by MadamResident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm

I am all for high density, but this one really really bad


Posted by Yeccccchhhhh, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Notice that the only people who like these ugly buildings are architects? They are hoping that they will get more work by knocking down more historic buildings and replacing them with sterile uglies. Their intention is that ALL the older buildings will be demolished and replaced with their designs, making them very wealthy.

They all forget that they are supposed to be pleasing the residents, who loathe that sterile, cold, uninviting, up-to-the-sidewalk, in-your-face, oppressive and unimaginative "gulag" style.

We need ASAP: a new Planning Commission, a new ARB, a new city council.


Posted by Gail, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Architect Ken Hayes is "no Birge Clark." [Portion removed.]


Posted by Jana, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:21 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by Citizen Doh, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:28 pm

@fedup,
"What happened to the recent suggestion that we hold a recall on all the current city council members? It seems they ignore the wishes of the majority of residents, not just in this case, but in almost all others. While we're at it, perhaps we could also look for a new city manager, one who is also responsive to residents and to the actual needs of our town. Most of us feel no need to be a world-famous town or to be considered in the forefront of any movement--we just want to live our lives in a place we love without seeing it ruined by people who obviously don't share our feelings about Palo Alto."

The Maybell situation highlighted what just ordinary Palo Altans can do if they just get involved. That's why the Maybell situation worked, it was a huge broad-based grassroots effort where lots and lots of people took up many complex tasks. They didn't wait for someone to tell them what do to.

They're still busy trying to keep the vindictive element from plopping a giant development there in City's overblown interpretation of what existing zoning allows. But you can be sure they will support your recall effort. Call the City Clerk and find out how to get the information on what to do. The City site or code has instructions.


Posted by Citizen Doh, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:40 pm

@DonaldS
If you walk down the street in Palo Alto there are people of all races, children, elderly people and the town is distinctly alive. People seem happy and great you on the street. In Santa Cruz they have closed many of their elementary schools because there are few children there anymore. It is closed and there is suspicion of the outside world. We need to find a way that more people can live here because if you are not growing you are dying. "

Wow, you have led a sheltered life. If you want diversity, move to Oakland. I'm serious -- Oakland is a vibrant TRULY diverse community with accomplished people of all walks of life. Sure, there are parts you don't want to accidentally drive through, but most of it is a beautiful (architecturally, too) place with a real multicultural, mulitethnic, multiracial, diverse economic populace, lots of open space, eclectic and far better and cheaper dining scene, etc. It's easy to take BART to SF from most neighborhoods. It's a big city and at the same time, it's like a giant small town, in all the best sense of small town.

And in case you hadn't noticed, Palo Alto is expensive mostly because of its schools. We have too much enrollment. Allowing Ken Hayes to put in a lazy ugly building instead of going one more round on it to improve it isn't going to empty the schools or make Palo Alto more or less diverse. It will make our downtown nicer for decades to come, though.

The point above about the grandfathered in mezzanine is a serious one, though. If any of us tried to do that to avoid paying our property taxes on a remodel, it wouldn't be pretty. But what can be done about it? Thank you to Doug Smith for taking the time to appeal and for your thoughtful, intelligent suggestions for a better process. I hope the Weekly publishes them.


Posted by Citizen Doh, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:44 pm

I should proof my posts better, sorry. I meant:

Making Ken Hayes go one more round on the design to improve it instead of putting in a lazy ugly building isn't going to empty the schools or make Palo Alto more or less diverse. It will make our downtown nicer for decades to come, though.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 10, 2013 at 6:14 pm

It was silly to go after this development based on aesthetics. Some people will like it, some won't. Should have gone after the lack of parking, and traffic issues.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Our City Council last night gave us the worst possible outcome - an under parked building, large increase in square footage contributing to over-all
congestion, and a bland generic glass and steel building which looks
transplanted from an office park, completely out of context in a
Downtown setting like Palo Alto. The 240 Hamilton project is all of this.

It is not "compatible". Compare it to 100 Hamilton, the Palantir Bldg which
is a good piece of architecture and adds to the Downtown in its attractive,creative design. Or the Accel Partners Bldg at 428 University
which also is attractive and compatible in scale and texture and color.

Mr. Hayes tried to point out the attributes of other projects he has done Downtown. He skipped over the just completed massive retail/office building at the prominent Bryant/University corner, while he praised the adjacent
Jos Bank Bldg completed some years ago. The Jos Bank Bldg on its own
is an interesting design, but its qualities are lost as the two similar Hayes buildings together now create a huge monolith completely out of scale and completely transforming the character of University Ave. The dark color of the new building just adds to the negative impression.

Mr. Hayes described the attention given to aligning the entrance to the
new office building at 317 University with the Birge Clarke facade with its vertical columns. The huge office structure which wraps around and forms a backdrop to the historic facade is the dominant impression in which the
historic facade is completely overwhelmed and leaves the visitor wondering
what happened here.

The City Council, ARB, and staff are ruining this unique and historic City.
It's more than just an insider game, power, influence, money. They really
have no idea what they are doing. And this is seen not just Downtown, but
all over the City.













Ken Hayes is doing exactly what he is criticizing - creating a sameness
throughout the Downtown in his modernistic style. In his review of
his accomplishments he passed the over massive, dark, completley out of
scale new Roxy Rapp buildinga the corner of Bryant and University which
creates a huge monolith with the Jos Bank Bldg which he highlighted which
by itself was an interesting contrast and attractive but is now part of
a huge uninteresting completely out of ascal


Posted by Bobby, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Another over sized out of place glass box in downtown Palo Alto with limited parking, and it was not approved? And the City Council cited aesthetics and municipal code in denying the application?! Such nerve!


Posted by De novo, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Seems like this Council can ignore the ordinance enacting a 50 foot height limit, and any other ordinance for that fact, and every guiding principal in the Comprehensive Plan. They claim that because we are a Charter City they can choose not to follow any of the zoning ordinances or Comprehensive Plan principals. Prior City Attorney said that if citizens don't like a decision, we can sue.

Does anyone know a good land use attorney that might be willing to sue to get the courts to determine if this is legal?


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Mr. Recycle,

"It was silly to go after this development based on aesthetics. Some people will like it, some won't. Should have gone after the lack of parking, and traffic issues."

I imagine you mean that traffic would get more attention.

Mr. Smith is to be commended for taking the time to do what he did, and he was absolutely correct to appeal design, and aesthetics, as they have the most lasting impact on that street and downtown. Cities around the world get very hands on about how things look downtown, and I would venture to say that few leave it to "some will like it, some won't." He did also appeal the project on parking, I'm not sure about traffic.

There are half a dozen buildings going up downtown, I wish we had a Mr. Smith to figure out how to appeal all these projects because of traffic. I did a google map for the projects underway, traffic will indeed be a mess.

Having just attended an ARB meeting to express concern about a height waiver at 500 University- which could also be called "silly" on my part because it was just 3 feet over - I noted that the owner of a large neighboring commercial building spoke in support of the project.

If nobody speaks up, aesthetics for downtown are being determined by the voices of other commercial buildings, and by that measure of course this structure is compatible. The next building will be compatible with this one and so forth. Palo Alto streets are small, if all buildings bulge and block, downtown will become a retail tunnel and that is depressing.


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Sorry, even by measure of the nearby commercial buildings, this building is still not compatible.

It's just not compatible at all.


Posted by Citizen Doh, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:41 pm

@De novo,
Unfortunately, in charter cities, the protections are not as strong in regards to suing if cities don't follow the Comprehensive Plan. There are protections, but it's not like with other cities where, for example, a spot zone (as was planned at Maybell) is absolutely illegal and could be overturned in court.

However, charter cities can have their own provisions in their own code to give residents of the charter cities the same rights. Palo Alto citizens just have to get City Council to insert such protection in city code, as I believe the majority of Charter Cities have. Barring that (pigs flying), Palo Altans can put together an initiative to accomplish the same thing. (A referendum lets you set aside an action of the City, an initiative lets you make one, basically.)

With a referendum, you have only 30 days after an ordinance is approved to collect signatures, and you can't start early. With an initiative, you have six months to get the requisite signatures. By the way, you are not forcing an election, when you qualify a referendum or initiative, the City Council can then choose to just do whatever it is the citizens want OR they can put it to the voters, and they can choose to schedule it into the future for the cheapest election. If you start now, you will have the initiative qualified just before the next City Council race, meaning, you can get the issue debated by the candidates, and hold City Council accountable if they put the initiative to vote rather than just adopting it.

Ask the City Clerk for the instructions on how to sponsor an initiative. After Maybell, there are any number of residents who could tell you how to do it, too. The people who did the Maybell referendum were just ordinary people from the neighborhood. Look at the code of other charter cities like ours that require cities to follow their comprehensive plans. Have a government law firm check over your work (that will cost a little, but if you do it well, you may be able to get help from the Maybell folks to raise the money paloaltoville.com, it costs about $1,000 if the work is simple and you've done your job. Then collect signatures!

The caveat is that in Palo Alto, the City Attorney gets to write the ballot, which is a conflict of interest since referenda and initiatives are generally to set aside some action of the City. In San Francisco, they have an impartial ballot committee that holds a public process with both sides. So for example, with San Francisco's Measure C which was almost the same as the Maybell decision, their ballot question asked whether the developer could exceed the height limit by 80 feet. Our City Attorney structured ours to basically ask people whether they like seniors or not. As resounding a victory as the residents got for Maybell, 56 to 44, in SF the split was 67 to 33. This tells me the City Attorney could kill your chances of getting such an initiative through by biasing the ballot.

Take heart, though, someone might do an initiative to give Palo Alto a similar impartial ballot committee as San Francisco. SF is also a charter city, and their code regarding the "ballot simplification committee" is short and simple. They have been doing it for 30 years and have all the kinks worked out. I think getting an impartial ballot committee for Palo Alto will give residents a much better shot at being heard in the future, as Council will want to listen rather than be forced into acting through referendum and initiative. It will certainly give winning an initiative as we are discussing here, or Bob Moss's initiative restricting PC zoning, a much better chance.

Someone could put together a referendum to over turn the approval of this building, too. I'm not sure the architectural style would be enough to make it worthwhile, but the issue of using the mezzanine -- but I think the best chance on something like this is if we get an impartial ballot.

Also contact the Maybell people for names of land use attorneys, we are blessed with some good ones in this town.

You can fight City Hall! (Please do.)


Posted by anon, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:12 pm

citizen Doh-
could you clarify what you meant in your last post about the mezzanine issue ??? can ne referenda an appeal decision?


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:14 pm

At the previous council meeting (December 2), there was an agenda item on engaging the community on a dialogue about zoning.

But when it comes to an actual project in this council meeting (December 9) to give input on the Hamilton Ave project, Mayor Scharf gives each speaker from the public 1 minute to give their input. Most of the public waited 3-4 hours, and prepared their comments to fit in 3 minutes.

If this is the way Mayor Scharf wants to engage the community, it's not going to happen.


Posted by anon, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:16 pm

sorry typos!….can one use a referendum on an appeal decision? is what was intended.


Posted by K, a resident of University South
on Dec 11, 2013 at 3:43 am

I've lived downtown for many years now. It wasn't that long ago that it was a really nice and inspiring place to be, even a little affordable on a middle class income if you can believe it. There was something almost magical about living here. Now, big deal money has moved in and it's all cement trucks and construction noise. Instead of cool places to shop (for everything you could possibly need) and hang out, it's nothing but mega banks and restaurants. Ho Hum. Every historical building that has been renovated, it seems, is filled with wall to wall computer. How boring is that. The traffic and exhaust fumes are horrible as soon as I open a window. Traffic is so dense and aggressive now, it doesn't seem to be as safe for pedestrians as it once was either.


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:37 am

K,

"I've lived downtown for many years now. It wasn't that long ago that it was a really nice and inspiring place to be"

If there was resident input on the design of downtown, I think your term "inspiring" would stand out. I keep bringing up the HP garage as a symbol.

Downtown was not even "downtown" and that is what was inspiring, not being overwhelmed by monuments to retail or office space.

I'm not exactly a traditionalist, I have bleached floors, gallery white walls and a glass staircase. The glass staircase was the cheapest alternative I could find, no craftmanship involved, just cutting the glass to size and installation.

Whoever mentioned innovation, glass buildings are not innovation, and architecture does not need to look like electronic devices from the 70s.


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:07 am

CItizen Doh,

"Someone could put together a referendum to over turn the approval of this building, too. I'm not sure the architectural style would be enough to make it worthwhile, "

Architectural style - scale is something that is actually very worthwhile to protest, and it is the cleanest solution to traffic and parking issues. By focusing on parking, or traffic we're doing the equivalent of fighting the symptoms.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:14 am

@jland - The battle against "modern" buildings was lost in the 60's. Whether you like this building or not, it is absurd to say it out of character at this point. I mean it is literally across the street from city hall, which is truly a modernist nightmare... Look at the 3 buildings at Bryant and Hamilton. The best hope is to at least fight for a liveable city, whatever it looks like. Fight on objective grounds like parking, density, and as you mentioned, height.


Posted by DonaldS, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 11, 2013 at 11:05 am

DonaldS is a registered user.

In 20 year people will be screaming if that building gets changed. We need places to put people. Arguing about aesthetics is a lost cause. Taste is not uniform.


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 12:11 pm

DonaldS,

"We need places to put people. Arguing about aesthetics is a lost cause. Taste is not uniform."

The aesthetics of the City Hall building - size and modernism are being used to justify this new building. The aesthetics of the developer simply won over the aesthetics of Mr. Smith. But we all know it's because the aesthetics of Mr. Smith do not fulfill the goal you state of making place to put people.

Palo Alto is world renown for the aesthetics Mr. Smith dared to appeal to preserve. Embodied in that aesthetic is scale and understatement.

Small scale and understatement is/was what Palo Alto is known for. That's an aesthetic judgement and worth arguing about, and it should be argued pretty fast because the town is well underway to be AnyTown with bookmark mini-malls in every corner.

I've lived in a lot of cities, and some do a better job than others preserving character, but size maters. It's easier to preserve a small city than a big one. Destroying a small city is of course easier too.


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 12:26 pm

typo in my last post

maters is matters

By the way, if anyone is interested in town aesthetics, the ARB is ultimately making decisions about this and actually also about traffic.

Regular ARB meetings are at 8:30 a.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month. It's in the City Council chambers, comfortable chairs.

The projects underway are
Web Link


Posted by southbayresident, a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm

@jland,

you say:

"Palo Alto is world renown for the aesthetics Mr. Smith dared to appeal to preserve. Embodied in that aesthetic is scale and understatement."

Oh come on!!! Are you serious? World renown?

Don't you think that's a bit of an overstatement? Sounds like you need to travel more and see other examples of fine architecture and community planning.

And besides, Mr. Smith wasn't fighting to PRESERVE anything. He was fighting to legislate the CREATION of a false historical identity that in reality would do more to undermine and discredit the true historical character of the city. Mr. Smith was trying to turn Palo Alto into a Disneyland. Palo Alto deserves a lot better than that.


Posted by DonaldS, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 11, 2013 at 1:25 pm

DonaldS is a registered user.

@jland - what southbayresident said. There was an article in last week's Economist about our area. We have some of the highest real estate prices in the WORLD! That's what we are famous for, we are not Solvang north. Some of this discussion reminds me of the old joke: Q: what's the difference between and environmentalist and a developer? A: The environmentalist already has a house in the woods. It makes sense to make our city as beautiful as possible but we need to also understand that it is important for us to grow. When I get time I can post a number of studies that people who live in safe urban environments (like Manhattan) are happier than people who live in suburbs and rural areas.

In a few years whatever is done now will be normal. If any of you are old enough to remember Santa Cruz before the earthquake try to remember anything that was there besides the most prominent buildings. We are bad at predicting our future emotional states which is what is happening here. People are predicting how terrible they and everyone else will feel if such and such happens but the reality is that except for a few people that have nothing better to do than obsess about the past most people will be fine with it. Here is the abstract of a journal paper on this: Web Link


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm

southbayresident, resident of another community,

"He was fighting to legislate the CREATION of a false historical identity that in reality would do more to undermine and discredit the true historical character of the city."

I think this is a really important point. What is historical identity, Is it something to legislate, and who decides the "true historical character of the city." Is it another item that gets chalked off as a matter of opinion?

A town's history is a moving target, but when and how do you decide to protect something that people consider worth protecting.

To allow massive architecture, veiled under "innovation" does not serve a town which I maintain is renown for unique aesthetics. Architecturally it is a town that I would say is renown for what it does not have. Imprinting it with retail and office tracts would destroy what Palo Alto is world renown for.

DonaldS,

"When I get time I can post a number of studies that people who live in safe urban environments (like Manhattan) are happier than people who live in suburbs and rural areas. "

I take a broader view of this. You need areas nearby which are not completely dense for everyone to re-generate. Palo Alto serves an important purpose in that respect. Not everyone has the time or money to travel to get a break.



Posted by DonaldS, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 11, 2013 at 2:56 pm

DonaldS is a registered user.

" You need areas nearby which are not completely dense for everyone to re-generate. Palo Alto serves an important purpose in that respect. Not everyone has the time or money to travel to get a break." -- Santa Cruz is just a short drive (or bus ride) away. They decided to make their city a park. Walk down their main street (Pacific Ave) at 2 in the afternoon and then come back and walk down University Ave. In Santa Cruz you might walk several blocks without passing anyone but the occasional beggar. University will not be packed, just crowded. It is shoulder to shoulder in the evenings. Not much different than Greenwich Village. I just talked to the guy in the next cube and he has several friends that can easily buy a $1 million dollar home and there are none to be found anywhere, not just Palo Alto (where a million dollars might be a down payment on a tool shed). These are NOT the kind of people we want to drive out of the area. We have a major crises in housing availability. There is no reason anything has to be ugly though that is subjective. It would be a bit hard to come up with standards that a majority would agree on but we will grow and we can either do it in a piecemeal way with lawsuits and bad feelings or we can do it in a way that leaves a legacy of a place where people are happy.


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 3:41 pm

DonaldS,

Infrastructure has a lot to do with the constraints to bulk up Palo Alto for the density you envision. Even if by magic we would have infrastructure though, the same reasons that make Palo Alto attractive now are the ones that conversion to a dense city would eventually destroy. Meantime, there are 2 major cities on either side of PA ripe for more density and easier to get to than SC.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 4:13 pm

1. The Apple Store ... I finally realized what the Apple Store evokes in my mind when I look at it. It reminds me of when you look at an normally attractive person, and then they smile and have a tooth missing, or in a TV show have the tooth blacked out to look like it's missing. The Apple Store looks like it should just be a blank space, but there is a store there - and not a efficient or particularly friendly one. (spoke by the owner of 4 Macs, 1 iPhone and 2 iPads)

2. SouthBayResident ... I never really thought that downtown Menlo Park was El Camino, but I agree there are problems with the theaters in Menlo Park, and I was semi-sad to see the Menlo go. However, the Guild is a real mess. It should be condemned and there is not enough parking for that area either. I always think of the Guild as it was decades ago, and then every time I go there now I am just disgusted by its dilapidated state. But sadly, even worse, is the complete lack of remembrance of the ???? I can't remember the name, maybe "The Park" theater where the Left Bank restaurant is today. The one theater that was downtown Menlo Park and actually in OK condition. The last movie I saw there was "Time Bandits" so that tells you how long it has been.

3. SPEAKING TO THE POINT AT HAND, THESE TALLER BUILDINGS OUGHT TO ONLY BE ALLOWED ON THE NORTH OR NORTHERNMOST POINTS OF CITY BLOCKS SO THAT THE SHADOW OF THE SUN FALLS OVER THE ROOFS OF THE BUILDINGS AND ON ON THE ACTIVE PARTS WHERE PEOPLE WILL BE. IF THAT RULE OF THUMB WAS FOLLOWED IT WOULD MAXIMIZE THE SUNLIGHT AND PLEASANTNESS, NOT TO MENTION THE GROWTH AND HEALTH OF TREES IN OUR CITY.


Posted by Douglas Smith, a resident of University South
on Dec 11, 2013 at 5:29 pm

The subject of my appeal was proper interpretation and enforcement of the Comprehensive Plan and Municipal Code, not mandating a particular architectural style. The statutes absolutely require "compatibility" with neighboring structures. They are excellent laws. If you don't do that, but permit anything and everything, you allow development of a hodgepodge of unrelated structures, an unregulated mess. The city has been doing that for quite a while, and Monday night was an opportunity to straighten things out. Instead the Council opted to defend the status quo along with their planners and ARB who are supposed to be applying the statutes to new construction.

Wait till you folks see what the enterprising Mr. Hayes has in store for the 600 block of Waverley. 636 is first (see the appeal at next Monday's Council meeting), then 640, probably followed not long after by 628. Are the designs compatible with 650 Waverley (built in 1901) and the Birge Clark post office? Not even remotely. They bring the most modernist and most dense University Avenue paradigm to sleepy Waverley Street, radically altering its character. Guess whether they will be approved.


Posted by FLR, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2013 at 6:22 pm

You forgot to mention your bogus survey, Doug. If mr Hayes does to waverley what this building will do for the downtown, that will be great. The council acted properly in rejecting your appeal. Just because something was built in 1901 does not make it special or historic ( unless you are Karen Holman) . And people hated Birge Clark's post office when it was first built.
Everyone has their own taste and we do need you to tell us what is appropriate and what is not-- you speak for a minority, albeit a very noisy one, of the people in Palo Alto.


Posted by anon, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 6:55 pm

I wonder if anyone noticed that some of the younger people who spoke in favor of 240-8 Hamilton Monday night, 2 or 3, were relatives or descendants of the property owner Sal Giovanotto? His son is the developer.

THis was very hard to pick up on as the mayor had trouble in every time in pronouncing the last name Giovanotto.
He consistently mispronounced it; though in different ways….made it hard to connect the dots. That some f these people had a more nuanced interest in the project

Just wondering….


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:07 pm

FLR,

"Everyone has their own taste and we do need you to tell us what is appropriate and what is not-- you speak for a minority, albeit a very noisy one, of the people in Palo Alto."

In residential structures, residents are told exactly "what is appropriate and what is not", and these laws/rules are miraculously followed.

Buildings apparently have different laws/rules, and the laws for buildings are sounding like taxes, mortals pay them, get in trouble if they don't, but some find ways to get around them. I know, nobody is breaking the law!

Douglas Smith,

I think if the laws were truly excellent, they would not have left compatibility to be defined as compatibility to neighboring structures, but also had something broader in terms of compatibility to the overall town. That could close the loophole of finding the tallest and widest structure possible, and call every building compatible. I wonder if there has ever been anything rejected because it's incompatible.


Posted by FLR, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Jland-- in residential housing there are certain guidelines-- setback, privacy, number of stories, blocking of sunlight etc, if those rules are followed the owner can build any kind of house they want --i.e. they can build a Spanish colonial home in an eichler neighborhood. Doug smith is trying to force his narrow ideas of what should be built in the city on everyone ( bolstered by a survey all his supporters took) .


Posted by DonaldS, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:39 pm

DonaldS is a registered user.

San Francisco is overflowing with people and the real estate prices in Oakland are reflecting the overflow. If downtown Palo Alto has gotten so awful, then why are the rents heart stopping and the streets packed with people? Fortunately, the anti-growth ultra-reactionaries are way outnumbered here and probably pretty elderly too. When I was a little kid this whole valley was mostly fruit trees. I have heard people pissing and moaning about change my whole life. Anything will be incompatible as far as someone is concerned. It is not a position anyone can win in the long term.

This is defiantly hyperbole, sort of the word of the week around here: In residential structures, residents are told exactly "what is appropriate and what is not", and these laws/rules are miraculously followed.hwsSz


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:42 pm

@jland - if with residential structures people are told exactly what is appropriate, why do I see a modern box next to nantucket shingles next to a pagoda next to a home depot special? There is no consistency in the new homes being built around town.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:45 pm

@DonaldS - "Fortunately, the anti-growth ultra-reactionaries are way outnumbered " you are way wrong - see the Maybell referendum for proof. The reckless overbuilding and new urbanism has finally been unmasked, and is dead in Palo Alto.


Posted by southbayresident, a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:08 pm

@Douglas Smith,

"The subject of my appeal was proper interpretation and enforcement of the Comprehensive Plan and Municipal Code, not mandating a particular architectural style."

Do you really expect anyone to believe that? That contradicts everything you have said and done to this date. Or does the real truth lie in the fact that you did not understand what the wording in the Comprehensive Plan and Municipal Code actually meant? There is no doubt you made this issue 100% about style. If you were mistaken on that I would of expected you to provide rebuttals to all those stories in the Palo Alto Weekly, Daily Post and San Jose Mercury that specifically referenced your advocacy for a particular style (namely Spanish Colonial Revival).

As has been mentioned your Survey Monkey survey was so riddled with flaws it had no credibility. I am not familiar with the specific options Survey Monkey provides in terms of constructing a survey but I am led to believe either of two things: A.) Survey Monkey is a pathetic piece of software and useless for creating valid surveys or B.) you manipulated the survey format so the results would err in favor of your original bias.

For your "Which building do you like more"? questions did you ever think to include an "I like both" option? If that was not an option please contact Survey Monkey and let them know their software is flawed! That's just one of the problems among many. The other problems are with the basic conception of the survey itself and for those we can't blame Survey Monkey.

The great irony is that if you didn't make this 100% about style you may of actually gained the necessary support from the other council members for (whatever it is you now claim to be your objective). As you framed the issue you gave them no choice but to reject your appeal and I am glad they did. And in general, flawed survey formats don't do much to engender trust and gain support for your cause either.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:15 pm

As far as design,the problem is not statutory, it is in the implementation- enforcement by the ARB, the Council, the staff. The Cheesecake Factory was approved on University Ave. The ARB needs to demand excellence for buildings, creative design which is sensitive to its surroundings and context. Downtown the Palantir Bldg at 100 Hamilton and the Accel Partners Bldg at 428 University both built years ago in a different period, are good projects.So it's not uniformity which defines good projects- it is simply good design in a creative process.

What we have here now is a process driven by the architect/developers which is essentially rubber-stamped by the ARB/staff. Along with poor design we
have over-developed sites, maxed out in floor area and site coverage, and
under parked. So anything can happen- a good project is possible but
unlikely. Bad projects in Palo Alto have become the norm, one after the other.


Posted by DonaldS, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:18 pm

DonaldS is a registered user.

The no on Maybell vote was a wake up call for people that have not been involved before. I didn't expect there were so many NIMBY folks. Next time, we will make sure that the people that are hurt by this get out to vote.


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:22 pm

FLR,

"setback, privacy, number of stories, blocking of sunlight"

Specifics for residential, no rules on compatibility per se, which makes sense to support your view that nobody should dictate taste. Freedom of expression is bound within the many rules that add up to a general compatibility of sorts.

I agree taste can't be regulated, or should, but without some boundaries or their proper enforcement, you can actually impose taste.


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:36 pm

@jland - if with residential structures people are told exactly what is appropriate, why do I see a modern box next to nantucket shingles next to a pagoda next to a home depot special? There is no consistency in the new homes being built around town.

The modern box will not be twice the size of the nantucket shingles, and both of them will not be built on one lot, and it's unlikely all houses on a block will be one style or the other. Though there has been a proliferation of what people call faux Mediterranean. My house I guess could be called faux something, but because it was built in 1988, I'm calling it an original:)


Posted by jland, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:48 pm

southbayresident,

Sigh, if the only hope we have is for an appelant to get their appeal just right, and Council cannot make other judgements on their own about the many many items the public has brought up about the building, it's not a very fair system to the public. I would have made my appeal based on glare. We would not want any Jaguars melting. I share this story to lighten up the thread.

Web Link


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2013 at 12:58 am

@DonaldS - So PAHC, the city council, and big developers come in, hire SF political consultants, outspend the citizens more than 10 to 1, and still lose big. But somehow you think there is some untapped support for more density? Good luck with that.


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