Palo Alto Housing Corporation nears sale of Maybell site

Nonprofit enters contract with potential buyer after Palo Alto voters rejected its housing proposal

After seeing its proposal for a housing development on Maybell Avenue fall in a referendum last year, the Palo Alto Housing Corporation has entered into a contract to sell the orchard site where the project was slated to go up.

Because of a confidentiality agreement, the Housing Corporation is not disclosing any details about the buyer or the terms of the sale. But Candice Gonzalez, executive director of the Housing Corporation, confirmed in an email that the nonprofit is "in contract with a buyer for the sale of the Maybell site but have not yet closed."

The sale was widely expected November, when after voters shot down the Housing Corporation's proposal for a development that included 60 units of affordable housing for seniors and 12 single-family homes. Though the City Council unanimously approved the project, residents gathered enough signatures to bring the development to a citywide vote, where it was rejected by a margin of more than 1,500 votes. Critics of the proposal argued that the proposed "planned community" development is inappropriate because it is both out of compliance with zoning regulation and out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood.

Opponents urged the Housing Corporation to reduce the number of units and bring the project into zoning compliance. Officials from the Housing Corporation countered that doing so would make the project impossible to finance and said they would likely have to sell the property if the development proposal were rejected.

Though the price is not being disclosed, the 2.46-acre property at 567 Maybell Ave. is expected to bring in more than $15.6 million that the Housing Corporation paid for it. At that time, the nonprofit developer had outbid at least five other would-be buyers. It was ultimately chosen because of its nonprofit status, which allowed the family selling the orchard to get a tax write-off.

Palo Alto had loaned $5.8 million to the Housing Corporation for the site's purchase. In December, council members agreed not to terminate the loan but to give the nonprofit more time to repay it. City officials said at the time that with local property values on the rise (up by close to 20 percent between 2012 and 2013), the property could probably now be sold for about $18.7 million.

Gonzalez said the agency's intention is "to pay back all the lenders that supported our project, including the City of Palo Alto."


Posted by Sue, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 16, 2014 at 10:49 am

I hope the buyer maximizes the amount of housing at the site. Most units would be market rate, but I hope density bonus will be used to add below market rate housing too. What a waste of land to build other than the maximum when housing is so needed, especially below market rate. Even under the RM15 zoning a lot can be built if townhouses, or better yet, apartments. Conforming to the current zoning means much less city oversight which is why it is termed, "build by right". Much quicker approval too.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2014 at 11:21 am

I hope the developer will live within the current zoning, and build something that fits within the current neighborhood. Above all, I hope that welfare housing (BMR) will be rejected. The Barron Park neighborhood deserves to be enhanced, not degraded.

This could well be one of those major issues where the neighborhood deserves a serious voice, via a secret ballot or survey. Why not?

Posted by Stephanie, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2014 at 11:34 am

Oh my! Since when did BMR housing translate to "welfare housing" which might "degrade" a neighborhood? How sad!

Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2014 at 11:35 am

Palo Alto is not build for high density, but presently this density drive is a gold mine for investors: we need a better set of leaders to protect our environment. The increased congestion created by increasing density without mass transit in place will produce ever more pollution from traffic congestion. While housing is a need (worldwide), so is the ability to get where you need to go.

I would like the proponents of density to answer this: how is more density going to decrease greenhouse gases if we are choking in traffic jams? Or answer this: where are the plans for CROSS TOWN transit? Bikes? Yikes.

I attended the VTA presentation about the proposed bus lines on El Camino. The nice VTA employee said this: "This is a mass transit project. It's not a traffic reduction project." I believe that means that they are fully aware that traffic will worsen, and there is no mass transit plan to create flow. Is that what Palo Alto residents want?

High density (especially the development of commercial office space) results in more traffic=environmental degradation: exactly the opposite of the stated rationale of the redevelopment proponents.

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2014 at 12:26 pm

>how is more density going to decrease greenhouse gases if we are choking in traffic jams?

Short answer, its not. One of the problems with transit advocates is that they sell it as a way to reduce traffic which it will not do. The flip side to this however, which many people don't want to face, is that NOTHING (outside of a complete collapse of the local economy, its sick that some people actually wish for this) is going to help, the traffic is coming and its only going to get worse, regardless of whether Palo Alto allows or rejects high density housing.

What (good) mass transit DOES do however, is provide an alternative i.e. if you're sitting on Caltrain, or on a bus in a dedicated lane, you're not stuck in traffic.

Posted by JO, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Let's hope that PAHC sold to a buyer with good intentions/ not just greed intentions. Hope they won't try to follow through on their threats to get a worse project built. Would be better to see PAHC try to repair its reputation within the community.

Posted by Ellie, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Alas, greenhouse gases don't stop at city borders, Cheryl. This memo, from an assistant director of NSA, establishes We have 7 billion people now. More and more as time goes by and population increases- I was born into a world of 3 billion. To suggest that somehow our pollution will be lessened by building less at maybell or downtown is to see palo alto as exclusive and insular - a bubble of privilege so cool as to be immune to pollution caused by others. To see everything thru a single lens - build to current zoning - will result in blind spots galore where we will miss legitimate positive opportunities to addreglove image change and build some BMR housing. You mention our city council - you sound like you are running for office - I hope you broaden your view for the good of us all.

Posted by just a minute!, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 16, 2014 at 7:02 pm

Hey the Weekly editorial promised us that if Measure D passed then there would be low income housing built there and that the City would just put in the money. They said it so confidently that I believed it. I would have voted for Measure D if I had known that the Weekly was just blowing smoke. What happened, Weekly?

Reporting is great, editorials seem to need some work.

Posted by Teresa Statler, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2014 at 7:51 pm

I was horrified to read the gentleman's post which regarded BMR housing as welfare. Shame on you, Sir. Ellie, thank you for your information--it's a simple truth--and you give me renewed hope.

Posted by Where Foolz Tread, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Apr 16, 2014 at 8:17 pm

BMR in Palo Alto just means affordable by someone who is NOT a billionaire. It still,isn't inexpensive.

Posted by Greenacres resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 16, 2014 at 9:16 pm

I feel another referendum coming on. This land should be preserved as the last heritage orchard in Palo Alto. Something tells me it wont be.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2014 at 11:49 pm

It's because it's in South Palo Alto. The Post Office puts a Birge Clark building up for sale, and the City is right on that. But stepping in to save a historic orchard with 100 established trees and a nesting redtailed hawk, across from a park and a school for disabled children. H#ll no! Not even if the neighbors paid for the park like they did the other neighborhood park, Bol Park. (Reminding everyone that City had first right of refusal on the orchard property and could have given the neighbors the option. Recall the orchard part, minus the existing ranch houses on the perimeter, was valued by the City at less than $7 million.)

Well, I'd like everyone to realize that the sale of the property means the money goes back into the affordable housing fund. The City should commit those funds to save Buena Visa.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2014 at 12:17 am

I think it's hilarious that you think bulldozing 100 established trees at Maybell is "green".

If the City wanted to be green it would save the trees and think about making the orchard accessible to the school for the disabled across the street.

This is a much better plan (from another thread) to create the housing without taxing the infrastructure or causing many of the ills:
Web Link

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2014 at 12:36 am

@just a minute,
In most parts of the state, residents spot zoning like that is illegal and residents can enforce it easily in court, not have to go to a referendum. The fact is, if PAHC couldn't make that work without violating the zoning so severely both on their side and the majority of the property which was market rate, they should never have proposed that plan. The City told them to do it (someone at PAHC told me this). They led PAHC to believe the neighbors couldn't do anything about it.

Let's hope the City didn't lead the new buyer to believe the neighbors can't do anything about overdevelopment there now, because what the City thinks can go there involves overlooking consistency with the Comprehensive Plan, and is significantly more than the neighbors believe can go there. They'll quickly find out what the neighbors would have done had they lost the referendum.

Well, this group of Councilmembers seems awfully cavalier about the upcoming election and how their trying to rub those uppity South Palo Altans' noses in it will only incite things more. Should make for an interesting fall season.

Posted by jane, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2014 at 7:37 am

we had a chance to get a nice senior center that would have had a small impact on schools and traffic, now thanks to the misinformed voters we will see around 40 homes go up. and FYI you don't need land zone change to do this, that is the current zoning. Thus the will never make it to the city council. No referendum will be possible.

Posted by Sue, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 17, 2014 at 8:39 am

Stop with the heritage grove bit - it never was a realistic land use alternative given the value of land here. That you persist in pushing the notion is just evidence of a rich fantasy life. The city will never throw money at at that - they would probably be sued for malfeasance for spending 18 million on this land use. Again - please stop pushing silliness.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 17, 2014 at 11:03 am

The comment was made "---Since when did BMR housing translate to "welfare housing"

BMR housing is below the existing market rates. That means someone other than the occupant is footing a part of the bill. Seems like that is the definition of subsidized/welfare housing. BMR is just a more "politically correct" term in today's vocabulary.

There may be nothing to stop BMR/subsidized housing from going into the Maybell site but current zoning/setbacks, street widths, daylight planes and building heights should be maintained in both the R-2 and the R-15 areas.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2014 at 11:41 am

>we had a chance to get a nice senior center
Well, speaking of misinformed voters, there never was a proposal for a senior center, not even on-site meals. Just apartments people would have had to leave when they got frail.

The same conditions that made the location attractive for that financing scheme, also make it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save the orchard. There are 4 large >2,000 sq ft houses on the edge of the property in a neighborhood where a 1400 sq ft original condition rancher just sold by owner for almost $1.9M. Expand the properties to make them even more desirable, and auction them off. Like I said, the City's own appraisal of just the orchard (not including the ranch houses) was $6.7 million.

Many of us realize the realities of how differently the City treats South Palo Alto, our part in particular, when it comes to investment. Of our two existing parks, one was bought by the residents to save it from becoming a large development (Bol Park), the other was saved from being turned into an electrical substation by the residents (Juana Briones Park, across from the school). We simply asked to be given the chance to raise the money ourselves. The City could have given us that by simply holding the property, which they had the right to do. They would have made money. We will not forget when it comes to election time.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2014 at 11:57 am

The neighbors do not believe the current zoning or configuration allow for 41 units. No one argued about it because if PAHC had decided to build 41 units across the property, no one wanted to argue about that. This was never a NIMBY issue, it was always about appropriate development in a fesidentialneighborhood.

But a commercial development, people will enforce the other requirements. The Comprehensive Plan states that RM-15 is a transition zone, and where it s adjacent to R-1 areas - R-1 being the dominant land use there - the density should be on the lower end of the scale.

A builder can put up probably 15 or 16 new $2.5-3M homes there without pushback and make a killing, sell out in a week. Or the builder who ignores what just happened could (will) face litigation and challenge under the Subdivision Map Act, for example, that they could very well lose. Remember that no one at the City thought neighbors could overturn their upzoning by referendum. The neighbors were already ready to further the challenge and in fact showed a willingness to sue over CEQA already as there was an existing suit. Regardless of what the builder thinks about their chances, banks are risk averse. Anyone looking to make easy money will go the acceptable path, which means compatible, singlr-family homes, which will also make the most money for the least expense (15 kitchens is a lot cheaper than 41). The safety issues there are very real, and anyone who thinks they can succeed where PAHC failed will rue the day.

On that note, I, too hope PAHC is finally thinking about repairing their reputation in the community. We shall see.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Sorry, I should clarify. The zoning code says the lower end of the scale in RM-15 areas is 8 units per acre, not 15.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 17, 2014 at 1:22 pm

>BMR in Palo Alto just means affordable by someone who is NOT a billionaire. It still,isn't inexpensive.

Wrong. BMR welfare housing is limited to those whose income is below middle class levels, however defined. For example, police, fire, teachers earn too much to qualify. Welfare housing in PA serves no purpose other than to provide welfare housing. Billionaires need not apply, because they don't need it; actual essential workers in PA need not apply, either, because they are not allowed.

If welfare housing is insisted upon in the Maybell land deal, it will, unnecessarily, increase housing density and degrade property values. It will also steal tax revenues from our tax base.

12-15 market rate single family homes would be a nice fit. Plenty of profit for the developer and a boost to our tax base, as well as improved property values nearby.

Just say no the PAHC and welfare housing in PA. It is long overdue.

Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Since this is all speculation about what the buyer plans to do with the property, why restrict ourselves to thinking about options some might consider to be "overbuilding" at the Maybell site?

What if someone with a lot of wealth and a strong preference for living in our wonderful neighborhood has decided to buy it and place a single magnificent manor on the property? It would be simpler than buying adjacent properties closer to downtown for building a statement house.

And what an opportunity to show ABAG and others how little their calls for increased density close to major arterials to address housing and transportation needs of the region matter to Palo Altans tired of being nagged on this subject.

This is not an outcome I'd favor, but I've been curious for a long time about whether it could legally be pulled off. It's more fun to speculate now than after we know what the developer's real intent is. We'll find that out in good time.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm

>What if someone with a lot of wealth and a strong preference for living in our wonderful neighborhood has decided to buy it and place a single magnificent manor on the property? It would be simpler than buying adjacent properties closer to downtown for building a statement house.

Jerry, you might want to address that question to Mark Z. For example, you could ask him why he wants his statement house (and several other properties he bought up to protect it) in Crescent Park, rather than Barron Park. To turn the argument around, why doesn't CP insist on forcing welfare housing into its own neighborhood? Imagine the good will that Zuck would have from PA limo-libs for donating all those properties that he now owns, to general welfare housing? Well except, of course, until that welfare stuff gets stuffed into their own neighborhoods.

I would consider my arguments to be a success, if we can finally get over dumping the welfare projects on the non-elite neighborhoods. The elite neighborhoods will NEVER accept them, so why should the rest of us?

Posted by Sue, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 17, 2014 at 8:14 pm

All you Anti maybell folks seem to ignore that your argument that you wrote for the official SC Co Reg of Voter No on D arguments states you believe that either 41 or 45 units can be built under current zoning (can't remember which). Take a look - then stop saying otherwise. How convenient to forget. What gets built is another topic.

Posted by bick, a resident of University South
on Apr 17, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Are you a welfare homeowner writing off your mortgage interest deduction on your tax return? Then congratulations, many of these BMR taxpaying renters are subsidizing your $million dollar home purchase.

Posted by Sunshine, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2014 at 10:59 pm

Anyone who thinks that overbuilding the Maybell site or using it inappropriately
should review the history of the development of the Benedict property, now Emma court.
The Maybell site should partly, at least, be made into a park. A slightly less desirable result. Would be to use it for about 8 market rate single family homes. There is already too much BMR housing in south palo alto. The next such development should be closer to good transit that is a mix of marguerite, Caltrain,and local bus, such as near downtown, possibly near the former palo alto medical center site or on the eastern side of town near businesses there.
Just remember our teachers, city workers, police, firefighters make far too much to qualify for BMR housing. The senior housing that was proposed would not have been a senior center. It would have been only apartments for seniors. There would have been no servicesfor the residents, care when one is ill, or meal service. Strictly apartments and when you become less than fully able you would be evicted.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 12:14 am

>All you Anti maybell folks seem to ignore that your argument that you wrote for the official SC Co Reg of Voter No on D arguments states you believe that either 41 or 45 units can be built under current zoning

First of all, that's not true, many of us, including Joe Hirsch, persistently and publicly said the zoning rules and consistency with the Comprehensive Plan meant around 16-18 units at most on the property under the zoning. City Council ignored that.

Secondly, the only way to come up with 41 units is if certain bonus density rules are applied for low-income housing projects, not for a market-rate development.

Thirdly, those numbers can only be attained if those rules are applied to the maximum number of units possible under the zoning range. Given that many in the neighborhood felt it was a reasonable compromise if PAHC was going to build senior apartments under the zoning to let them push that limit, there were people saying 41 or so units. But if a market-rate developer is building there, people will have no qualms about enforcing consistency with the Comp Plan and zoning.

Fourthly, the opposition was a large grassroots effort, and your attempt to characterize the opposition to the zoning as having spoken with one point of view or one contention about what could be built there is demonstrably false. A single organization had to be formed in order to wage the campaign, and that proved to be the most difficult part of the whole thing for the grassroots.

Lastly, the safety issues do not go away just because that plan won't be built. There are significant challenges at that location, which people in the neighborhood understand better than anyone. The City policy is of heightened scrutiny of developments on school commute corridors. Safety is supposed to come first. As has been pointed out so many times, that property sits at a bottleneck between THE two safe routes to school to Gunn, Terman, Bowman, and Juana Briones that thousands of children travel to school daily, a significant portion by bike and foot. One of those routes, Maybell, is a seriously substandard street. The other, Arastradero, is developing more serious traffic problems with each passing month. The neighbors suggested a light at Clemo and Arastradero as a way of putting most of the traffic from the development onto Arastradero instead of Maybell, in order to diffuse some of the conflict, but the City said this had too many impacts. Well, if it's too much traffic to go onto Arastradero, it's way too much to put onto Maybell. It was telling that in all those months, while neighbors complained about a lack of any study of the safety impacts to the bikes and pedestrians, and called on the City to do so, that the City never did.

ANY development there will have to be scrutinized for safety. If anyone thinks they can build there, even within existing zoning (whatever they think that is) without dealing with those safety issues -- which were the underlying motivation for many of the original opposition -- they may find themselves at the flash point for the next big civic movement, applying better and more comprehensive safety and traffic evaluation to new developments. Every rule in the zoning that you think a developer can use, has some kind of legal asterisk next to it that allows safety considerations to override. How those safety considerations are evaluated is too vague (although, no evaluation clearly doesn't comply) -- anyone trying to push a big development at that location will almost certainly trigger that conversation (in legal terms), which is long overdue anyway.

@Craig, I doubt anyone will decide to put just one house there. The 4 ranch houses along the edge, if renovated, are already $10-12M in value (especially since, if a little bit of land is added on the back, they are zoned for and would have room for in-law units each).

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 12:16 am

Question for Doug Moran: Weren't the people at Alma Plaza promised a park? Don't we have an open space requirement whenever development goes in? Didn't you say the City was applying the development in South Palo Alto and providing the open space we're due in the North?

Why not an initiative like the one that made Johnson Park (I believe) in the North? Weren't they also promised a park and the promise was ignored as soon as the City got its development?

Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 18, 2014 at 8:44 am

Regarding the number of units that could be built on this site, some of it is zoned R-2 which I think allows for about 12 homes in that section. The rest, what looks like about 2 acres, is zoned R-15 which would allow 30 units. Even if the housing is not that dense, there is plenty of $$ in it for a developer.

I think the only way to have preserved it for a park would have been to raise the same amount of money that whoever is buying this was willing to pay.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 10:08 am

> BMR units not welfare ..

Given that a lot of public money goes into BMR units .. how can anyone not come to see BMR as welfare?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm

@palo alto resident,

[Portion removed.] The existing ranch houses on either end are R-2. Basically, this allows you to put in a granny unit, if the property is big enough (these currently aren't) and if the granny unit is owned by the owner of the main house (no flag lots, in other words).

R-2 is basically R-1 allowing granny units. There are still height, setback, daylight plane, square foot and other zoning restrictions that apply. Those lots are actually over built for what is allowed by the zoning, in other words, they are small lots and if someone tore the houses down and the zoning weren't changed, they couldn't even put back what is there.

You are remembering that PAHC wanted to tear down the 4 ranch houses and zone to let the for-profit developer put up 15 3-story houses (later reduced to 12 2- and 3-story houses) in their place (9 along Maybell), on far smaller lots than the zoning allowed, and violating virtually every other zoning rule. That is not possible under current zoning, hence the City's writing new zoning, and hence the neighborhood challenging it through referendum. It bears repeating that what the City did would have been against state law and wouldn't even have required a referendum, if Palo Alto were not a charter city with no provision for residents to legally enforce the comp plan.

So, in summary, no, you couldn't put 12 units where it's R-2, not even PAHC was trying to do that, as it would be physically impossible.

RM-15 is a zoning transition zone that allows 8-15 units per acre. According to the Comprehensive Plan, if it's adjacent to an R-1 area, as this is (the dominant land use of the entire surrounding area is R-1), the density is supposed to be on the lower end of the range, i.e.,8 units per acre, not 15. Although our comp plan is not legally enforceable the way spot zoning would be if we were covered by state law, there are other avenues including legal that allow neighbors to enforce the zoning and consistency with the comp plan. And, as you have seen, if Council thinks they can do an end run around these neighbors, they are mistaken.

Additionally, the density is not just the only restriction in an RM-15 zone. There are height, setback, parking, daylight plane, and other zoning restrictions. The more units you put on that space, the smaller they get, if you have to live with those restrictions. Within the zoning, according to the mayor, it's hard to even put up three stories. The smaller the units in that neighborhood, the greater the costs (kitchens and bathrooms cost the most), and the less the return. The builder will get the best return from putting in luxury homes on as small a lot as the zoning will allow, which is probably 6,000 sq ft. These will sell fastest, for the highest price in that neighborhood.

I think some people ran the numbers with someone down at the City, and what I heard was that if they lived with the zoning rules and put in 40 units, each would be on the order of 1,100 square feet? Which wouldn't make them the most desirable in that area, which in turn wouldn't make the best return. They would certainly sell, they would just be complete idiots to do that, though, if their goal was to make the most money.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Oh, also, building large luxury homes would be the least risky from the standpoint of potential legal challenges or delays. Builders do no make money by engendering unnecessary risk.

Again, the safety considerations have not disappeared with the previous plan. The more major the plan, the more likely it will be challenged. There are also environmental concerns -- the orchard has been there for decades, untouched, and it has become a part of the urban wildland patchwork connecting the foothills to the bay. I believe there is a nesting redtailed hawk, which is a protected species under California law.

I wonder if the City or PAHC disclosed that?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 1:01 pm

For comparison, the condos at Arbor Real are huge, like 3,000 sq ft. The builder didn't choose to build the most number of small units, or they would have put in 1,100 sq ft units, they chose to build the most marketable units. People here pay for space, and in this neighborhood, they will pay through the nose so their kids can walk to Terman, Gunn, and Briones, all within easy walking distance.

Run the numbers on putting 3,000 sq ft houses on the Maybell property. Those will get the most money, there's an exponential jump in what the houses in that neighborhood will fetch when they cross over the 2500 sq ft line.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 1:05 pm

@palo alto resident,
>I think the only way to have preserved it for a park would have been to raise the same amount of money that whoever is buying this was willing to pay.

Which is why residents asked the City to purchase the property as was their right, and give the neighbors a chance to raise the money. Unfortunately, there's no way to raise money like that if the property isn't going to be available to be purchased anyway. PAHC was pretty quiet about their plans, and initially were shopping the property around to the builders they knew, who are pretty exclusively stack and pack folk.

That isn't the only way to have it preserved for a park, by the way. It's just the least disruptive.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 18, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Exactly how many residents asked the city to purchase the property and then hold it for the "neighbors" to raise the money?

I'm not doubting you - just that I am unaware of any city-wide or local neighborhood movement (of significant numbers) that placed a proposal in front of the CC.

Thanks in advance for the reply.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Crescent Park Dad,
Much correspondence is public record. Many, many of the key neighborhood advocates asked the City to purchase the property in order to allow the neighbors to turn it into a park, and/or to evaluate the safety issues at that location and place restrictions on the property before reselling it. Since the City was involved with the purchase of the property, had the first right of refusal, and knew there were significant safety concerns there, it seems well within their responsibilities to at least discharge their duty to safety, especially since it almost certainly wouldn't have cost them anything. I was with a group of several neighbors after the election who met with a City Councilmember and that was one of our requests. I also wrote letters myself to the Planning Commissioner and all the Council. Also, some neighbors met directly with the new Planning Commissioner. That's just off the top of my head. Emails to Nancy Shephard before she was Mayor, etc. After I post this, I'll look and see if I have Cheryl Lilienstein's letter(s) after the election, she's for saving the orchard and I'm pretty sure she wrote something fairly succinct.

I have myself throughout the controversy of Measure D, even before, let the Council know the results of the internal Greenacres poll that showed a very high opposition to upzoning the property, and the most favored land use was low-traffic, and of those, community orchard was by far the most favored (that was when I myself had picked that as the top one).

Clearly this Council isn't the savviest when it comes to their political futures. They would have made big points for almost no cost by just letting the neighbors save the park, at no cost to the City. It's painful to see these guys keep falling on the same political swords in order to spite those uppity neighbors...

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 1:57 pm

correction, sorry : "....that was when I myself HANDN'T picked that as the top one"

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 2:19 pm

@Crescent Park Dad,

I didn't have a chance to search for Cheryl's Lilienstein's letter(s), but there was a City meeting in which the City Council put on the agenda after the election what do to about the Maybell property, since they did have first right of refusal by virtue of the purchase contract they were so involved in. You can probably find more letters on the public record around that time, early December. The staff recommended the Council do nothing and that's what they did. Here's a few excerpts/letters:

Dear Council Members,

We are strongly in favor of maintaining the Maybell Orchard as a historical orchard so that young people and future generations of Palo Altans will have the opportunity to learn about the agricultural history of the Santa Clara Valley and of our city of Palo Alto.  Many of us who have lived here before our valley became Silicon Valley feel very connected to that part of our city's history.

We grew up in New York City and are so familiar with urbanization as well as the protection of historical sites.  Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was instrumental in saving Carnegie Hall from demolition.  Unfortunately the magnificent Pennsylvania Station was demolished and and so many New Yorkers strongly regret that decision.  Palo Alto is the city we chose to live in and raise our family and have been here for over 50 years.  We would not want to see Julia Morgan or Birge-Clark designed buildings demolished.  Our Maybell Orchard deserves the same consideration for many reasons.  In addition to its historical value, it would be a low impact addition to a neighborhood already experiencing very heavy traffic.  It would be a wonderful educational tool for our children and it's across the street from Juana Briones Elementary School and the Orthopedically Handicapped School.  Our citizens, children, seniors, everyone of us, need open space and this is a rare opportunity to obtain some.

If you would use your option to purchase the property and give us a chance to find funding to purchase the property from you, we would be most grateful.  We ask for your consideration and help in allowing us to achieve our goal.


Dear Councilmembers,

I realize that PAHC has decided to sell the property at Maybell, and the City has the right to purchase it. I realize also that City staff has recommended the City do nothing. In considering your options, I hope you all remember that you are supposed to be leaders for all of us, not just your favored constituencies, and look to the future. What kind of future are we leaving Palo Alto's children?

We are at a crossroads here again. We face a unique opportunity to create a community asset, to protect safety for our children, with a healing path of collaboration. Or more conflict stretching out well into the future.

Councilmember Berman, after spending time in our neighborhood last May, you told us you didn't think the traffic situation was safe for the kids, just as we have been trying to tell you all. I believe you said: [Maybell] may be a Safe Route to School, but it's not a safe route to school. I personally appreciated your time and candor in admitting that. I hope you all realize the traffic gets considerably worse when it rains, and not just on those days, the whole pattern of traffic changes during the rainiest, coldest months - Councilman Berman came out at a dry time in a record dry year. (And everything has been worse overall the last two years.)  Councilman Berman and others of you in the City also voiced the opinion on record that a market-rate development would be less safe than the PAHC proposal, and a belief that Council would be powerless to do anything about safety if a market-rate developer were to build what you believe could be built there.

That is about as strong an argument as any for the City to do what it is eminently in its power now, to ensure you act in your official capacity first and foremost for the safety of Palo Alto's residents and children. At the very least you have a responsibility to reduce future liability to the City, and to avoid acting in a way that you have admitted you believe reduces safety, particularly if out of less-than-professional personal motives.

Given that you all have a responsibility, first and foremost, to safety, you should at the very least do what you can now by exercising the City's right to purchase the property. I am not suggesting the City hold the property long or ultimately incur any expense - though for safety and fairness, it would be even more justifiable an expenditure than loaning money to a private corporation (no matter how noble the purpose) or spending $660,000 on an election you hoped to win for them. The City has $40 million in Stanford funds, and it's been a very good year for tax receipts. You have the money to purchase the property, especially since you would just be holding it temporarily and most or all of it will ultimately come back to the City. (And where are all the fees to mitigate the affects of all this development on this side of town going? Could some of them be used?)

If the City purchases the property, it could do a comprehensive traffic analysis including bicycle and pedestrian safety, with current data, and put deed restrictions on the property to ensure any future development prioritizes the safety of the thousands of children whose school routes are impacted by development at that key location. All of the above information about safety concerns is on record (for any liability attorney in the future, no less), as well as the City's awareness of it and ability to do something about it.

I do think you should consider the opportunity that site presents to make a unique community asset for the future, to save an orchard with 100 established trees and the last heritage agricultural site in Palo Alto. The trees are established without irrigation, have been an important part of our urban canopy for decades, and in the middle of rampant development, remains a key piece in the patchwork of connected wildlife habitat between the foothills and the bay.

While I'm not asking for Council to make a specific plan or concession now - I think we would all benefit from the time and careful study of a citizens' working group - you need to realize that it's not a $15 million dollar orchard, either, it's a $6.7 million dollar orchard, as your own documents state. The value from the existing ranch houses could be optimized, making the orchard pretty cheap as parkland in the middle of Palo Alto goes, and could be cheaper than $6 million.

Again, I hope Council takes the high road for the sake of discharging its responsibility to safety, the environment, and yes, even the residents who voted No on Measure D, and takes the following steps:

1)  Exercise the City's right to purchase the Maybell property from PAHC and retain it for 6 months to a year, or however long it takes to do the following:

2)  Form a citizens' working group to ensure the safety considerations in the area, especially traffic, are properly studied, and the best possible land use of that unique site are considered. If the property is to be sold, place deed restrictions on it to ensure development is considered safe and no controversy will arise for the builder from the community, because the community has buy in on the conditions up front. If a low-traffic use is deemed safest, give citizens the chance to make it happen. I'm told a red-tail hawk has been nesting in the orchard - they and their nests are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Give us time to find the best way here. Recognize that the same citizen energy that went to opposing D could and would be put in service of finding a beneficial way forward, even raising private money to pay for it. We just need the opportunity to do it.

I personally consider raising money to pay for a park and community building a far easier prospect than winning a land use referendum to overturn a rezoning under the conditions we just faced. I have been told by those in the philanthropy sector that there was no way for them to be involved while the property was in dispute - you can make it possible now. There are also federal and state grants for heritage agricultural sites, among other things. A working group could look at all possibilities. What about expanding APAC on the back end with 8-10 homes designed for low-income people with severely disabled children, a seriously underserved population, and so close to the OH at Juana Briones, with a connected, accessible community orchard in front? That's just one idea. Just give a working group - like the one that saved the Terman school site as well as resulting in the 92-unit low-income Terman apartments - a chance.

Dear Council Members,

I strongly urge you to purchase the Maybell property now that the PAHC has decided to sell it.  The City has $40 million in Stanford funds, and this is a unique opportunity to create a community asset for the south part of town, in a key location near multiple schools. It would also be an opportunity to save an orchard with 100 established trees, the last agricultural site in Palo Alto.

I would also strongly urge that you consider using profits from the eventual sale of the Maybell property to help save the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, perhaps even creating a site that could accommodate our community members who live there now as well as additional affordable housing for seniors.

As the defeat of Measure D indicated, the residents are not happy with the PC zoning in Palo Alto, and more broadly, there is unhappiness with the leadership of the city; a leadership who so clearly misjudged and dismissed the concerns of the residents.

I think there is a way to create a real community benefit at the Maybell property in the form of an orchard, and create affordable housing for seniors and save the housing for the families at Buena Vista.  There is a very motivated group of residents who are mobilized, able and willing to help figure out a workable solution to address all of these concerns.

Posted by Safety first, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 18, 2014 at 6:00 pm

And just what exactly has CC done to address the safety concerns of residents with respect to Maybell Avenue since the Defeat of Measure D? Precisely, nothing. Not one stinking thing. If CC thinks anything is going to be built on that site without a proper traffic study, they will quickly learn otherwise.

My neighbors and I fought them once, we are more than prepared to do it again.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2014 at 6:19 pm

@Safety First,
I thought it was telling in the community meetings over the bicycle "improvements" aka green paint on roads, that they said they weren't allowed to consider potential impacts of development at that location in their plans. How much was all that stuff a show for the sake of a potential buyer? It certainly didnt reassure me that they had anything to add for improving safety since the last major attempt on that corridor a few years ago.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2014 at 1:49 am

I just want to say, if the buyer wants to save all or part of the orchard, he or she will get all the help they need from the community to rezone for parkland. I guarantee you can find such volunteers through

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 20, 2014 at 9:06 am

As part of the arguments above I am concerned about the legality of the financial aspects of this transaction. Since the City of PA is a participant by how it manages the loan payback it is deeply involved in this transaction. Lack of transparency, contribution to a set of transactions which will provide gain to the PAHC due to increased land values is financially a legal issue. Where is the city attorney in this set of transactions? Who on the city council is supporting the lack of transparency in the transaction?
We have enough trouble in the current group of legislators and here it is in our face.

Posted by Build Baby! Build!, a resident of Mayfield
on Apr 21, 2014 at 11:15 am

I hope the new developer builds an affordable rental housing apartment complex under the existing zoning on that site with even more units than PAHC was going to build.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2014 at 11:54 am

>I hope the new developer builds an affordable rental housing apartment complex under the existing zoning on that site with even more units than PAHC was going to build.

Let's explore for a moment where your animosity is coming from, since it's actually not possible for someone to even come back with a PC zone proposal for a year, and the residents in that area have already demonstrated a great deal of willingness to fight off an overdevelopment. The PAHC proposal was for the equivalent of RM-60, four times the maximum density allowed by the existing zoning, and EIGHT (8) times the existing zoning for it to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. So it's not possible for someone to build something that has even more units than PAHC was going to build if under the existing zoning, even if they bulldoze the ranch houses, too.

It couldn't be about affordable housing, since the very same people who fought off the rezoning of Maybell have officially come out in favor of saving the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, in the same neighborhood, which is far more affordable housing, for families, than could ever have been by bulldozing the 100 trees at Maybell. In fact, the money that went to purchase the property at Maybell from the City, if the City hadn't committed it at Maybell, could have been available to help save Buena Vista. Anyway, the Maybell development was over 60% a market-rate development, not an affordable housing development.

What's in it for you that you are so interested in having 100 trees bulldozed? That you want a market-rate developer to build a bunch of completely incompatible tall-skinny homes that the disabled could never live in (or probably even visit) right across the street from a long-time school for the most disabled students in Palo Alto?

What's in it for you that you want to start another major controversy, as the safety issues at that site have not gone away and residents who began the whole Measure D battle were primarily motivated by safety concerns that are very apparent to people living there? Do you care so little about PAHC's reputation that you would want to open old wounds rather than help them heal them?

I still wonder what was going on at PAHC that they weren't willing to work with that community, which was responsible for both saving the Terman school site AND creating the 90-unit affordable housing complex next to it the last time someone tried to do something like that. The neighbors all along tried to make overtures to PAHC but were rebuffed -- they thought the neighbors were beside the point. They don't seem to realize how many of us saw the documents they submitted to the state, for example, claiming for months that they already had the rezoning when they didn't (documents signed under penalty of perjury). They also don't seem to realize that good community relations are good for their long-term future. They could have completely turned things around by just entering into a working group relationship with the community like at Terman, or offering to favor proposals that helped the community save the orchard and the trees, but instead they treated the residents like enemies, like you are now. The director of PAHC and the person in charge of that project were very young, and clearly don't have the maturity to understand things like diplomacy. They seem to have responded kind of like you are now. They didn't get what they wanted, no matter how ill-advised, so anyone opposing them must deserve revenge. Like the kids in wheelchairs who use the park across the street from that site. Way to go.

You may want to look inward that your being a sore loser makes you want to hurt everything that development SUPPOSEDLY stood for (but didn't, that's why so many neighbors were against it).

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2014 at 12:04 pm

@resident 1,
"As part of the arguments above I am concerned about the legality of the financial aspects of this transaction. Since the City of PA is a participant by how it manages the loan payback it is deeply involved in this transaction. Lack of transparency, contribution to a set of transactions which will provide gain to the PAHC due to increased land values is financially a legal issue. Where is the city attorney in this set of transactions? Who on the city council is supporting the lack of transparency in the transaction? "

You have really hit the nail on the head. I have been extremely concerned about this all along! There are some very trouble aspects of this that went totally unexamined. The State of California office that deals with allocating tax credits for affordable housing proposals, millions of dollars, has a way of checking up on affordable housing proposals to make sure they aren't being lied to (because they dole out state AND federal tax money), so Cities usually provide that documentation. Our City acted as the neutral 3rd party, providing verifications of the rezoning for months (when the property was never rezoned), AND making other false representations, such as that CEQA appeals had expired, when there was an active CEQA lawsuit, in order to get the funding. Few people realize that over $5 million was already awarded to them based on false representations made by our City Employees in planning and almost certainly vetted by legal, employees that were never investigated, reprimanded or (I think probably more appropriately) fired.

Any City with employees engaged such unethical and probably illegal acts should be engaged in soul searching. What is our Council doing about it? Trying to aid in showing those uppity neighbors for daring to cross them. This is an abuse of power, among other things.

resident 1, have you ever thought of contacting Common Cause and other organizations concerned about transparency and government corruption, including local government corruption?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2014 at 12:40 pm

@ resident 1,
And let's not forget that the City Council made the decision to put the Maybell referendum to a vote at the soonest chance possible, which was also the most expensive option, costing around $500,000 or $600,000 more than all the other options.

The City could have set aside their zoning decision right then, and allowed the community to form a working group as they has asked for, to try to negotiate something that worked for both sides, just as they set aside the other issue that was referended (remember, neighbors qualified two referenda). That would have cost nothing.

Perhaps their reasons for holding the election at that great cost, as stated publicly were true. But when they didn't also bring up the fact that they had already made significant and possibly illegal misrepresentations to the state (and via them, HUD/federal government) which would only be easy to "overlook" if PAHC won the election that November, it casts their motivations for spending a very significant amount of taxpayer money into significant doubt.

There's definitely something else going on here, because it's clear the majority of City Councilmembers are not the kind of blinders-on-ideological liberals they clearly seemed to want to co-opt there in order to get that segment to at least not stop them from bulldozing the trees (as if any open space they may have missed in our borders offends them and they must blot it out!) I still wonder what Liz Kniss meant when she told all the other members during the vote that the (the Council) had more than a passing interest in seeing that particular property rezoned.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm

I am only looking at the surface issues that are being provided in the Weekly - I do not have any in-depth information on this specific issue.

What I know for sure is that the Maybell project that was put out there was a disaster for the older people and the neighborhood. Having enough background in other senior home developments I do know what the basic criteria for success is - and it was not there. Channing House is a good example of what the criteria would be for a successful senior facility. If you have a good example then why accept anything that falls short of the good example.

I do know from HUD is San Francisco that it is a disaster and if the wrong people are put in place it will be a downhill slide for the city.

I do know that the pressure is on "to do something" - but what ever the something is has to be well planned and well thought out. Someone should check to see who is coordinating this activity for the city of PA - both the advertised person and the person in the background.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2014 at 9:18 pm

"I do know that the pressure is on "to do something" - but what ever the something is has to be well planned and well thought out. "

Amen to that! The trouble is there are so much pressure from developer special interests. We do need to finally get a full-time City Council in this town.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 21, 2014 at 10:46 pm

I noted in the Sunday Papers that north Santa Clara County is committed to provide some type of low income housing / and or homeless housing since the facility in Sunnyvale that has performed that service is being shut down. The Armory will be replaced with a new development.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Well, then maybe it's another blessing the Maybell development didn't suck up all those resources, didn't the County loan a whole bunch of money there? Now they can use it for that, and hopefully our City will use the money they would have loaned to instead help save the Buena Vista Mobile Home park.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I have heard from others that apparently Nancy Shepherd is still taking the stance that the City Council can't do anything at all if the next owner wants to build under existing zoning (which we're all sure Council will define higher than residents or the Comp Plan). I wonder if she realizes those pesky neighbors who brought those two land use referenda know better, and her claims come across as retaliatory?

The City had the right to buy the property in this case, first right of refusal, and even if they chose not to give the neighbors the opportunity to save the trees/orchard, the Council is on record as saying a market-rate development will be less safe than the erstwhile PC development, and one of the Council who studied the area without a development at all deemed it not safe, and said he voted for the PC because he thought a market-rate development would be less safe.

In that case, Council at least had the duty to purchase the property, study the safety issues properly, and resell it with deed restrictions to deal with the safety issues. There is a huge, huge volume of correspondence from neighbors about the safety issues at that property, and the City has not dealt with them. The state law applying to bonus density has exception for safety, among other things.

If a buyer intends to build up to what the Council claims they can, they will find themselves facing the same opposition PAHC did, only they won't have nearly as much pre-existing sympathy. REGARDLESS of what anyone wants to put there, there will have to deal with significant safety issues. Those did not go away. The Council built up the area all around and paid no attention to those issues.

That property is headed to being the spark for finally addressing our Safety Element mandate (and much neglected safety issues in general) the way it was for overdevelopment in this town.

Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm

@resident - I'm curious why you think that the City can do anything if the new owners want to build under the current R-2 and R-15 zoning. I would assume if they follow the existing rules for those zones, they can build what they would like.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2014 at 10:12 pm

@ palo alto resident,

That's a good question.

The Council is on record as saying what they think could go under existing zoning is 3 or 4 times what people in the neighborhood have been saying, like former planning commissioner Joe Hirsch.

So, for example, developers can often build far more units using what's called a "density bonus" if they include a small percentage of BMR units. Unfortunately, state laws have made such a low bar for getting the bonus, our own BMR program is being undercut AND we're getting this densified housing with all the impacts (and without any state funds to offset those impacts). So technically, a developer might be able to build 40% more units using density bonus rules.

Likewise, if you read the bonus density rules, the City isn't required to allow the bonus density if safety is at issue. The City has responsibility first to safety, and has broad powers it doesn't have in almost any other area per our own Charter. Unfortunately, the density bonus rules are pretty vague about meeting the safety standard, and as this Council seems to put safety last in virtually everything it does, I see a lot of litigation, controversy, and political heat down the line if anyone tries to put a development there per Council's vision. it could very well be the safety equivalent of the zoning grassroots we got from the last one. Most of the neighbors who got involved over Maybell did so fundamentally for safety reasons.

Nancy Shepherd has stated in writing recently her belief that those density bonus rules are from the state and thus the Council can't do anything at all if a developer wants to create that density. In other words, the Devil Made Me Do It defense. This Council loves to try to say they were forced into their worst decisions, but it's almost never true. During the Maybell debates, Shepherd and the rest of the Council called on the City Attorney overtly to try to hunt through a state housing law to see if there was any way it could force them to rezone Maybell. The City Attorney was instructed to warn the public that the law "ties their hands". (The state law doesn't apply to rezoning, anyone could see that by reading it, but nevermind.)

But it goes beyond that. All development rules are subject to safety limitations. It doesn't matter what the zoning says can go there if there are safety problems. That location happens to sit between the two main routes to school traveled by almost all the kids going to Gunn, Terman, Bowman, and Juana Briones, 4,000 kids daily, soon to be more, and half by foot and bike. There is no way to go in and out of that development except by those routes. One of those routes is seriously substandard, Maybell, which is why there was such an outcry. During the Maybell debates, residents suggested the City put a light on Arastradero and put that traffic out at Arastradero, and that this might work if it were tied together with the light at Clemo, but the City said no, there were too many impacts.

Whomever buys that property has a real planning nightmare ahead of them. If it's a builder planning to put in more than 15-18 units, I'm guessing City Council worked on them the way they worked on PAHC, probably promised them the residents couldn't do anything. (Something I heard verbatim from people who never thought in a million years the residents could win a land use referendum.) Anyone who's lived here for the last year or more would know better, but anyone else is going to believe a City Council telling them not to worry, put in what they want, there's nothing the residents can do.

The other issue is that any development that must go through any kind of subdivision process at all must comply with the Subdivision Map Act, which means consistency with the Comp Plan, something our Council has never paid much attention to, but which residents can enforce in court.

And there's more, but this post is long enough. And you'll know soon enough if anyone is gullible enough to believe the City Council. Maybe they can't do anything, but residents can, and as we saw in Measure D, will.

The City told PAHC to go after that property in the first place and were involved in that sale. By virtue of the loans/contract, they also had first right of refusal and other protections, so they could have purchased the property. Again, if the City Council believes it cannot do anything if people comply with zoning, then they were negligent not to exercise their right to purchase the Maybell property and place deed restrictions on it. They are on record as saying they don't think they can do anything if someone builds under the existing zoning while also saying they think that would be even less safe than the PC zoning. The only Councilmember to come out and spend time examining the traffic is on record as saying the situation is not safe as it is even without any development there. The City also has a policy of heightened scrutiny of developments on school commute corridors (which that property sits between).

If they didn't want to give the residents a chance to raise the money to save all those established trees (in a drought year no less), then they could have then turned around and sold it with said deed restrictions after properly studying the safety issues, and then indeed, there is probably little anyone could do, but then, whatever someone could build would probably be acceptable to everyone.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2014 at 10:14 pm

@ palo alto resident,

I think I should clarify. The council is on record as saying they think a lot more could be built under the zoning than residents believe could be built there - under the zoning rules.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2014 at 10:21 pm

PS - I forgot to add one more thing. This City Council is pretty predictable and if they corrupt the Comp Plan for their evil ends, residents will not let them get away with it, even to the point of recall if they have to.

Remember, there were TWO referenda, one to remove the rezoning from the Comp Plan, which neighbors qualified in 10 days.

ALERT TO ALL THE NEWLY AWARE RESIDENTS: Such a referendum is really not that difficult, and the packets are relatively small, so we can referend things like this in a matter of days in the future, almost all online. I don't think the council understands that things are different now because of all the connections we all made through Measure D...

Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2014 at 11:00 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

What if the new property owner decided to take out the orchard and build 8 luxury homes on approximately 1/4 acre lots? Would that pass muster with Measure D opponents, or is keeping the orchard a non-negotiable demand?

Does Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning have a position on the Maybell/Clemo project beyond a call for compliance with existing zoning? Is it also, like Resident, threatening dogged resistance and legal action if the orchard is taken out?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2014 at 3:59 pm

@ Jerry,
I don't think anyone is going to be happy that the orchard couldn't be saved, but I don't think anyone is going to put up an argument if someone puts in 8 luxury homes on 1/4 acre lots, especially if the traffic comes out at Clemo to Arastradero (a light at Clemo tied to Coulomb is still a good idea for the fire department anyway). It's not what City Council was angling for. My sources tell me PAHC was shopping the property quietly to their stack-and-pack partners, so it remains to be seen whether this will happen.

If the trees are bulldozed, the Council will have at least accomplished one thing: co-opted the people who screamed bloody murder about the removal of the less-established, fewer trees, that were removed on Cal Ave, that were going to be removed anyway.

There is a nesting redtail hawk in that orchard though, and raptors are protected in California. There really could be cause for people to protest the destruction of historic agricultural land. I'm not sure the neighbors would be involved, but environmentalists could. But almost certainly not local environmentalists. There, the City Council has at least accomplished their purpose in neutralizing them.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2014 at 8:35 pm

@ Jerry,
There is a huge premium in the surrounding neighborhood for homes over 2,000 or 2,500 sq ft. There is also a premium for houses with enough property to build in-law units. Those homes go up into a whole other stratum of price.

If someone wanted to make the most money here for the least investment, it would be in hitting right where that sweet spot is, where people are willing to pay a premium here for single-family homes that are just so large and with so much property (not in building as many units as possible). The main market in the neighborhood is for families wanting to be walking distance to elementary, middle, and high school, a rare thing in this town.

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