Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 26, 2011

Controversial condo proposal suffers another blow

Planning commission cites health concerns over Page Mill Road project

by Gennady Sheyner

For more than five years, Harold Hohbach's bid to place a three-story building on the corner of Page Mill Road and Park Boulevard has been stuck in planning purgatory featuring multiple design reviews, a retracted approval and a lawsuit from local watchdogs who characterized the planned development as a threat to public health.

The proposal suffered another setback Wednesday night when the Planning and Transportation Commission distanced itself from the city's planning staff and voted 4-2, with Daniel Garber and Eduardo Martinez dissenting, to reject the project.

The development, known as Park Plaza, would feature 84 condominiums on the top two floors and about 50,500 square feet of research and development space on the ground floor. It would be located at 195 Page Mill Road, close to the Caltrain tracks and the California Avenue Business District.

The City Council had initially approved a similar proposal in 2007, but its approval was later invalidated by a lawsuit from residents, led by land-use watchdog Bob Moss. Critics claimed that project would create health hazards because of the toxins coming from the groundwater plume under the site and from the proposed research-and-development area. The court found in 2007 that the city should have given the public a chance to comment on the environmental analysis for the project after the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has jurisdiction over the groundwater plume, suggested measures to mitigate problems arising from the groundwater.

The revised environmental analysis, which the commission considered Wednesday, notes that the site is located over groundwater that contains volatile organic compounds. These compounds originate from an off-site source known as the Hewlett-Packard-Varian Plume.

In voting against the project, the commission rejected the city planning staff's reccommendation to approve it. Planning and Community Environment Director Curtis Williams said the project is consistent with the city's push to place more mixed-use project near Caltrain stations. The site at 195 Page Mill Road is also listed in the city's Housing Element as potential location for new housing. The hazardous materials at the site, he said, are "very, very minimal" far lower than the levels found in the Stanford Research Park.

The latest environmental analysis includes several mitigation measures aiming to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination, including a vapor barrier under the garage and a ventilation system to make sure any vapors dissipate. The water-quality board approved of these measures but did not force the city to take indoor air samples at the apartments of the new developments, as Moss had urged. The measures, Hohbach told the commission, are more than enough to ensure public safety.

Commissioners Garber and Martinez agreed with staff that the project's location near the Caltrain station and near two prominent shopping areas is appropriate.

"The project would operate as an extremely helpful grid between the activity that goes on on California Avenue and the activity that will take place on the Fry's site," Garber said.

But the majority of the commission sided with Moss, who continued to maintain that the proposed development would create a health hazard for the condominium dwellers and that the water board's proposed mitigations are inadequate. Moss addressed the commission Wednesday and argued that the city should not put housing in a manufacturing zone, particularly given the uncertainty over toxins.

"It is in violation of the Comprehensive Plan, and it's also a violation of common sense," Moss said, referring to the city's official land-use bible. "It's not only absolutely unprecedented, it's absolutely idiotic."

Moss also argued that putting housing directly on the rail right-of-way is poor policy.

His arguments were enough to sway commissioners Arthur Keller and Susan Fineberg, who proposed rejecting the latest environmental analysis and Hohbach's proposed map for the project on the grounds that the "site is not physically suitable for the type of development" and because the proposal "is likely to cause serous public health problems." Commissioners Greg Tanaka and Chair Samir Tuma voted with Keller and Fineberg. Lee Lippert was absent.

"I really don't think it's appropriate to put a bunch of housing and to create a situation where we're releasing these toxins into the air, although they're supposed to diffuse what comes out," Tuma said.

The Wednesday vote means the City Council will be asked to choose between commission and staff recommendations when it considers the project next month. The council is tentatively scheduled to discuss Park Plaza on Sept. 19.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Carly, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2011 at 9:22 am

Why doesn't the city make HP clean up their toxic waste?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2011 at 9:59 am

The likelihood is that 84 condos would produce at least 84, and probably more, students in our schools.


Posted by DaveV, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2011 at 11:08 am

From what I know, the potential "harm" from toxins in the ground water this far from the Research Park to anyone in a well constructed building is almost zilch. I have not read the reports and studies, but I am concerned that this is over reaction to this issue. The landowner should make his case to the city council on appeal that this decision is myopic at best.
The City staff more than likely got this one right, and the majority of the commissioners are off base.


Posted by AA, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2011 at 11:13 am

AA is a registered user.

Let's please sort out our overcrowded school situation before we even consider any more housing.


Posted by Just wondering, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2011 at 11:39 am

Has architect Garber ever voted against any developer?


Posted by Alex, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 26, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Funny how this area was perfectly OK when the city council wanted to build a humungus police station next door, but when a private developer wants to put up housing ... oh, no, can't be done. Old Harold needs to hire some of those ARB and Planning Commission members to work on his other projects, and this thing will sail though. Grease the skids. That's how it's done in Palo Alto.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Much of the controversy about this project occurred before the reporter joined the Weekly, and is not represented in this article. The "purgatory" cited in this article was one of the developer's own making.

I was heavily involved in the first go-rounds, but a quick scan of the current proposal shows many of the same problems. One constant in this project is that the developer has been incredibly disingenuous and manipulative.

For example, in the first proposal, he argued for significantly reduced parking at the site based upon estimates of the number of residents who would drive to work so that employees in the commercial section would be able to use those parking spaces. But in the section on traffic impacts, the developer argued that there would be no significant impact because there would be a much smaller number of residents and employees driving to the site.

For example, there was the usual (flawed) assumption about few children in the proposed housing units despite those units having 2-3 bedrooms.

And the developer displayed amazing chutzpah by asking the City to donate to him the section of Page Mill Rd next to the site for him to convert into a plaza and basketball court for his tenants and then asked the City to allow him to significantly exceed the zoning limits as compensation for those "improvements".

The Zoning Ordinance prohibits you from tearing down existing structures until you have approval for replacements (with some exceptions). However, the developer tore down the buildings on this site without such approval, thereby displacing a range of functioning businesses, several of which were unable to find appropriate space in Palo Alto. This was an apparent maneuver by the developer to force the City to approve the project despite its many and serious flaws.


Posted by w obse., a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Aug 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by longtimeresident, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 26, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Mr. Moran is absolutely right.
In addition to appropriate characterization of the developer, it should be noted that the developer previously sued the City over land use issues. I believe that was decades ago and was related to the height of the office building he developed nearby on Birch St.


Posted by who cares, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 27, 2011 at 3:15 pm

And yet the Planning Commision and critics had no problem when the Jewish Community Center and nearby low income housing was built on one of the most toxic superfunds site on the Peninsula and Southbay.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Just more Palo Alto BS. Underground garage ventilation is far above the requirement for VOCs. Let the tenants decide whether they want to live by the railroad tracks. As soon as they electrify that will be a far better location. It ain't Woodside but it will do.
Mr. Moran just doesn't want a development there and is doing whatever it takes to prevent it. For shame!


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 27, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

As is his wont, Walter_E_Wallis uses a false ad hominem attack instead of responding to the facts of the situation.

Wallis has a long history of supporting transfers of money from the general public to rich, well-connected developers via only modestly hidden subsidies. In this case, the intersection of Park and Page Mill has long backup at least during evening peak hours, routinely extending to Sheridan and often to Grant, and barely moving.

Wallis seems to have no problem with imposing a slightly hidden tax on the businesses, employees, and others of the California Avenue Business District so that the developer can get even larger profits by overbuilding the site (through zoning exceptions). If Wallis wants to argue that forcing people to sit longer in traffic isn't a tax, he needs to explain why "Time is money" is false.


Posted by Long Time Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 27, 2011 at 7:17 pm

@Carly - HP has been paying to remediate the toxic's from this Superfund Site for years.
I would like to add that the contamination is not entirely from HP, but from a number of corporations in the Research Park. Please read Sue Dremann's article from Oct. 4th 2010. Web Link


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2011 at 5:40 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Ad hominem? I apply my answer to the VOC problem and the location problem before I offer an opinion of Mr. Moran's motivation.
I compare the minor irritant of a traffic delay with the burden of delaying any return on investment for years and, yes, I come down on the side of the investors. After all, the many INTENTIONAL blockages to through traffic on Park are a MAJOR impediment to traffic, an impediment that as an example took down Peninsula Scientific.
In the end I believe the market is the best arbiter of land use.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 28, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Walter_E_Wallis

Wallis uses the standard rhetorical trick to claim he didn't make an ad hominem attack by saying he addressed facts, although those facts were not relevant to the person attacked. The template is "2+2=4. Therefore John Doe is pure evil".

If you stop and think about Wallis' supposed concern for "the investors", smacks of nanny-statism and even socialism because he wants the public to protect the investors from their own bad decisions and to give them a bigger return than their investment warranted. If I walked into a bank and said I wanted a savings account that paid 20% interest and the bank said "no", would Wallis argue that I should be subsequently be paid my desired interest if I left my money uninvested? Probably not. Wallis seems to believe that welfare is only for the very rich.

His argument about "the market" is equally specious. The zoning rules are a significant part of "the market". The zoning apportions to properties their fair share of the shared resources which in turn influences the value on the individual properties which in turn determines how they pay (taxes) to support the share infrastructure. Wallis believes that the developer should be given more than the property was allocated and had paid for. It like you buy a play-out gold mine and demand that the government transfer to you high-grade ore from other people's gold mines.

While Wallis purports to believe in markets, his actual position in these forums is to back government redistribution of wealth from the general public to the (rich) few.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Huh?


Posted by Well endowed in midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2011 at 3:38 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 28, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Walter_E_Wallis "I compare the minor irritant of a traffic delay with the burden of delaying any return on investment..."

I forgot to comment on this dismissive statement. Let's do some math. Once an intersection reaches a certain level of congestion--which this one has already significantly surpassed--additional traffic produces nonlinear increases in delays. Let's assume that the proposed project increases delays during evening peak hours by only 6 minutes. For someone who works 8 hours a day, this constitutes an effective tax of 1.25%.

Apparently Wallis has no problem with a tax increase on the working public as long it is used to provide subsidies for wealthy investors, even though their problem is of their own making--they attempted to over-reach, ignoring the admonition "Pigs get slaughtered".


Posted by Negativity Needed, a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2011 at 8:39 am

Where is pat to weigh in with some "patented" negative perspectives? This hot button topic needs a lot more negativity from the usual sources. Come on people, step it up!


Posted by Who in their right mind would invest in development now? , a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 29, 2011 at 9:27 am

If anyone has any doubt about why California real estate and development tanked, reading this developer's struggles should enlighten. Who, in their right mind, would tie up millions and millions of dollars for years in land on the off chance that maybe one day s/he could overcome the constant pushback, build something and recoup their investment, and maybe make some profit?


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Who in their right mind would invest in development now?"

That whole comment is contrary to the facts.

1. The developer did not invest in hopes of building. He already owned the property with existing buildings and rent-paying tenants. Contrary to common sense and the law, the developer _chose_ to expell the tenants and tear down the buildings without first having approval to build a replacement. Kicking out good tenants to create blight is a common, and often successful, tactic to pressure the City into approving bad projects (for example, Alma Plaza). These actions call to mind the "definition" of chutzpah: A person who has murdered his parents pleading for leniency because he is an orphan. In the case, the developer gambled and lost. Perhaps the commenter would explain why he seems to think that the public should compensate the developer for his gambling losses?

2. "...recoup their investment, and maybe make some profit": The types of zoning exceptions that this developer seeks can result in _staggering_ profits. For example, with the Alma Plaza project, its developer McNellis purchased the parcel for $6M and almost immediately turned around and sold roughly 80% of it to Greenbriar Homes for $20.5M with a $5.3M up-front payment, based upon the _expectation_ of his persuading the City to change the zoning (Greenbriar sued to get this payment back because McNellis failed to allow them to start building by the specified date). Doing the arithmetic, the $5.3M upfront is 88% of the original purchase price, more than its share. If you take the remainders, the $15.2M is a 2177% of the uncovered $0.7M of the original purchase price.

Conservatives used to be dedicated to The Rule of Law, but modern "conservatives" now routinely argue that the rich should be exempted from the law whenever it inconveniences them.


Posted by PA-PAPA, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 29, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Feels like this is another example of baby boomers keeping housing stocks low and real estate prices high only to price out younger buyers. Paul Moss and his ilk do some good stuff, but their complaints are reflexive. The younger folk are starting to get resentful of paying for the sidewalks and community services of 10 retired boomers who have been in their house for years. The generational theft is starting to get old. Because of the benefits this fairly selfish generation has enjoyed there are fewer schools in Palo Also. Cubberly was closed as a result of proposition 13 and all of its current beneficiaries. Can we please expand the tax base so some real tax contributors can get into the mix?


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 30, 2011 at 5:04 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE:PA-PAPA

According to the presentation that the City Manager gave on the budget, higher density housing such as the proposed condos cost the City more in services that it generates in taxes. The cost/benefit on commercial is complicated.

And while you have a valid complaint about the inequities imposed by Prop 13, the biggest beneficiaries have been commercial property owners. Before Prop 13, commercial properties accounted for two-thirds of the property tax, but by the early 2000s they accounted for only one-third. Aside: The authors of Prop 13--Jarvis and Gann--were apartment building owners. And for Bob Moss, who you demonize, I have heard him speak frequently about the need to reform Prop 13.

And you are wrong about Cubberley being closed because of Prop 13: It was closed because of a substantial drop in student enrollments and the school district's demographer projecting that enrollments would continue at the lower level. There was a big battle fought by many of the people you demonize to keep the school district from closing Gunn as well. It was the same bad demographic advice that led to the closing of elementary schools, with some of the sites being sold off for housing (that then increased the need for more schools).


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 30, 2011 at 5:14 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

In the end, the land belongs to the developer and, subject to reasonable regulation, it is his choice and his risk. We all know what a smashing success the Old Mill was. And Doug, faithful to the end, defends a process that is perilously close to confiscation.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 30, 2011 at 5:24 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

PS: If one is concerned about the City's tax base, you should be worried about the City's policy of pushing out businesses that generate sales tax and converting those spaces into housing and office. For example, the City has long been pushing to get rid of Fry's in favor of high density housing and some office. Note: The people pushing to get Fry's off the site _claim_ that they don't want it to leave Palo Alto, but they are unable to identify anywhere it might go and dismiss this as not their problem.

Note: Fry's has long been one of the City's top sales tax generators. Several of the other biggest are gas stations. Corporate headquarters, law firms, R&D facilities, software development companies,... generate very little sales tax for Palo Alto other than from meals employees eat in restaurants.

Note: Sales tax is a more important revenue source for the City because it gets a bigger cut: It gets only 8% of the property tax, but 1% of the sales as tax (12% of the tax collected). In most cities, increasing housing would also increase sales tax, but many Palo Altans have found that most of the places they go shopping have been forced out of Palo Alto into the surrounding cities.


Posted by Who in their right mind would invest in development now? , a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 30, 2011 at 5:42 am

Walter: Yes, you are correct in your pithy assessment of the situation "Perilously close to confiscation". Risking revealing who I am... I will tell you that California in general, esp in some communities, DOES extort much for little in return to the investor. Did you know it is possible to buy 160 acres, give 120 in park land to the county, and still go through 5 years of hell to get a permit to build? Did you know one can get within one more meeting of a vote by city council ..then there is an election, one person is sifted out..and you have to start all over, new environment reports, new studies, new votes, new everything?

Of course, given enough time, the winds change and the developer goes broke..giving it all up to someone else to try again, if they dare.

It simply is no longer worth it California to try to invest in developing land. However, the poster above who talked about keeping real estate prices high has it right..it keeps the "haves" in their homes and able to buy from each other, and the have-nots unable to buy a home. Greed on display for all to see.


Posted by Too much traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2011 at 7:58 am

"Kicking out good tenants to create blight is a common, and often successful, tactic to pressure the City into approving bad projects (for example, Alma Plaza). "

Doug Moran is engaging in revisionist history. Let's not forget that Luckys/Albertsons tried to build a large supermarket at Alma Plaza--which would have retained Alma Plaza as a neighborhood shopping center.
This was derailed by:
1) the neighbors playing the "grocery store is too big/the grocery store is too small game
2) a "neighborhood" leader telling the city council to place a building moratorium on ALma Plaza as part of a traffic study of Charleston Road
3) a spineless city council that was afraid to take any action less they offend the vocal minority, despite their constant desire to have walkable neighborhoods

BTW, we are seeing a repeat of the Alma Plaza fiasco with Edgewood Plaza


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 30, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Who in their right mind would invest in development now?" #2
He engages in the rhetorical trick of saying "esp in some communities" to lead the reader to infer he is talking about Palo Alto.

In Palo Alto, the claims of "extortion" routinely come from people who believe that developers should be allowed to exceed the zoning without paying for it--in effect the developer wants to seize from the community a share of the infrastructure to which they are not entitled. When these entitled entities are kept from engaging in this predatory behavior and told that they will have to pay, they and their supporters scream "extortion".

On the other hand, for developers there are two Palo Altos, one that is difficult to deal with and one which gives away major exceptions that benefits the developer. The latter occurs when the developer is, or partners with, one of the very politically-connected local developers (Jim Baer is the most prominent example). Want a major exception to the zoning? Promise to put a piece of art in an interior courtyard and call it public art. Or build a small plaza "for the public" that is too out of the way to be actually used by the public, but readily used by your tenants. Or the basketball court that I mentioned earlier.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 30, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Too much traffic"

He accuses me of engaging in "revisionist history" but it is he that distorts what happened. Alma Plaza contained many more tenants than just the grocery store. Under the Lucky/Albertson's ownership, they started refusing to renew leases, even for tenants who were willing to stay on a month by month basis. Developer McNellis expelled the remaining tenants after he took over (the period I referred to).

On his #3--City Council's failure to make a decision: This I agree is true, but it was only half the story. Lucky/Albertson's was a big part of the problem: They repeatedly failed to make timely decisions, and then failed to follow-up on those decisions (This was understandable because the company was in serious financial problems and they were focusing on super-stores that were much too large to fit on that site).

On #2--a neighborhood leader requesting a moratorium--is disingenuous. The majority of neighborhood leaders had actively opposed extending the moratorium to that site, and it was advocated only by two who lived close to the site, but they spoke last to Council. The Council member who added the site to the moratorium was Bern Beecham who routinely spoke for the the business community (and was a registered Republican). This may have been the usual bad decision by a fatigued Council, or ...

On #1--"...too big...too small game" is false. Under the Lucky/Albertson's ownership, the issue always was _whether_ the grocery store would be too large to allow the range of other tenants that were an integral part of the definition of a "neighborhood center" (its zoning). There were lots of different views among residents because the larger store would have incorporated _some_ of what was normally covered by those other tenants. The "too small" argument arose only after the period that "TMT" refers to--after McNellis purchased the property and requested the elimination of the "neighborhood center" zoning, with the site to be predominantly housing (roughly 80%). The "too small" argument was only secondarily about the small size of the market because there were legitimate questions about whether the total amount of retail would provide the critical mass to sustain the businesses. You can see how disingenuous "TMT" is when he apparently characterizes residents objecting to both a grocery store that was nearly 100% of the site and one that was less than 15% as being illegitimate positions (a "game").


Posted by Too much traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I will stand by my comments

"He accuses me of engaging in "revisionist history" but it is he that distorts what happened."
I am not sure why Mr Moran is so upset with my comment, besides the fact that he is apparently very thin skinned and does not tolerate disagreement with his positions

However in the next paragraph he writes:
"On his #3--City Council's failure to make a decision: This I agree is true, but it was only half the story. "
So I am not really distorting what happened. However for Doug to make his point he needs to claim that I am "distorting" what has happened

"On #2--a neighborhood leader requesting a moratorium--is disingenuous. The majority of neighborhood leaders had actively opposed extending the moratorium to that site, and it was advocated only by two who lived close to the site, but they spoke last to Council. "
And I stated that a single neighborhood leader demanded that Alma Plaza be included in the moratorium--so how does that go against what DOug is saying above. So once again Doug falsely accuses me of "distroting" the facts. That is strike two, Doug.

"You can see how disingenuous "TMT" is when he apparently characterizes residents objecting to both a grocery store that was nearly 100% of the site and one that was less than 15% as being illegitimate positions (a "game")."
At first an organization of neighbors objected to the grocery store because they claimed it was too large. Then a new organization-"Friends" of Alma Plaza--objected because they felt the grocery store was too small. They could have had a fairly descent sized store to begin with and now they were complaining that it was too small. to me that is a game they were playing because, IMHO, they wanted to keep Alma Plaza as it was-empty, quiet and with no traffic. That is my take on the matter--to label it as "disingenous" is another attempt by Doug to make opinion's of others unworthy of being aired.
That is strike three, Doug, and you are out.


Posted by To much of too much, a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 30, 2011 at 6:09 pm

"Too much" is devious and so he thinks other people are "playing games". The idea that anyone wanted to keep the site empty is a hallucination. The neighborhood has been crying for a grocery store ever since Albertsons went broke in California.
Too much: you repeat yourself so much that you are beginning to believe yourself. This is not healthy.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 31, 2011 at 1:54 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Too much traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2011 at 6:37 am

To much of too much:

""Too much" is devious and so he thinks other people are "playing games". The idea that anyone wanted to keep the site empty is a hallucination. The neighborhood has been crying for a grocery store ever since Albertsons went broke in California."
Really? They have been crying for a grocery store? They had an opportunity for a very nice grocery store that would have maintained the plaza as a retail only place. They fought that tooth and nail. Anyway, Piazza's is not that far away from that neighborhood. My statement that the neighbors wanted the place empty is my opinion and I stated it as such. I am still entitled to my opinion, even if it disagrees with you and Doug.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]




Posted by What a shame, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 1, 2011 at 12:24 am

This is really amusing. Here we have a blighted section of Palo Alto that is literally rat-infested at night (check it out) - a health hazard, and often populated by van-dwellers. It's a creepy walk in darkness, and ugly during the daytime. "Blight" is too kind a word.

What this is *really* all about is control by a few citizens, using the law and the convoluted machinations of Palo Alto process to have their way. It's really about a few Palo Altans who are drunk with the power of extraordinary knowledge about process and how to delay it, over petty variables that hardly deserve the time of day. Remember, our City Council approved this project, after exhaustive review. So here we are with virtually 100% turnover since Bob Moss' lawsuit. And, here we are; it's still blighted.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

So, what has resulted from yet another perfect example of process twisted by citizens whose sole purpose in life seems to be memorizing and quoting city code at City Council meetings, and using that code to violate the spirit for which it was intended. ( I know Bob and Doug will disagree, but please bear with, a little further)

What has this delay cost Palo Altans?

1) I know for a fact that Google didn't populate the gleaming HP building across the street because they didn't want to subject their employees to the dust, dirt and mayhem that might result from endless stop and start efforts.

2) The vacant Agilent building thus stayed vacant for YEARS, while California Ave merchants lost the opportunity to have in place a substitute for the loss of business that was caused when Agilent left their location on Park, before Google bought in. Many merchants on California St. were severely challenged by this turn of events, because for many of them, losing 5-10 customer a day meant the difference between survival and going out of business.

3) The delays are going to result in far more expensive construction costs for the builder. Guess who is going to pay for those costs? The companies and residents who rent/buy into the space, crating a larger rent burden thn otherwise would have been the case.

4) Legal expenses expended by the City of Palo Alto, to deal with the lawsuit, in addition to the probably dozens of staff hours to re-approve plans, etc. etc. for a building that had already one through PA's process (it was a lengthy one the first time) and been approved by City Council. Thus, this effort at obfuscation has cost the Palo Alto taxpayer a bundle.

5) I know for a fact that the delay was partly responsible for the decrease in CalTrain service to the California Avenue station, thus causing additional inconvenience for commuters, and another burden for Cal Ave merchants, who lost early-morning and late-afternoon business because of the drop in commuter passers-by.

Other variables have also been brought to bear by this delay, but those are the major ones.

The tragedy in all this is that just a few people can cause a great deal of harm to a municipality; harm that isn't noticed by most of us until one weighs the multiplier effect on adjacent businesses and citizens.

We've seen the same thing happen at Alma Plaza, Edgewood, etc. etc.

The thing is that Palo Alto is a very upper-middle-class community, with most people very busy with their careers and kids. They are too busy to follow the micro-managing machinations of political process gadflies. The tragedy is that little by little, as the gadflies cause delays, the vitality and resident-and-business friendly quality of Palo Alto becomes diminished.

There's a place for political process, and everyone has a right to speak and act; that's democracy. But her, in Palo Alto, we have too long suffered from a cabal of delay and micro-managing groups who have over the last 20 years caused a decrease in this city's vitality, and a process so fraught with delay that forward planning is brought to a near standstill, and small business entrepreneurs are wont to set up shop elsewhere, for fear of getting caught in the web spun by those who sill use any means to get their way. This has diminished the dynamism of our community to no end.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Once again, Palo Alto Online has confirmed that this forum is for telling lies (intentional falsehoods) about events and people, but that pointing out those lies is forbidden.

And they want us to pay for this? The sooner the PA Weekly goes out of business, the better for Palo Alto.


Posted by Doug disappoints, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 1, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Sounds like doug moran is really upset. Of you express an opinion that hours against his world view or disagree with his position then you are a liar! The weekly is evil because that allow people to voice their opinions-some of which are in disagreement with doug moran. Therefore the weekly should go out of business! Doug moran seems to want to stifle the free exchange of ideas and opinions. Glad he never ran for chitty council.


Posted by Too much traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2011 at 6:18 am

It is unfortunate that once again the Weekly editors have chosen to stifle discussions by making excess deletions in this forum. It is too bad that they deleted Doug Moran's response to my comments and my answer to him. Not sure why the editor is engaging in such blatant censorship.
This once again shows that the Weekly cannot be taken seriously as a newspaper and a source for facts. This comes after their recent self-serving editorial attacking Amazon. And also follows on the heels of their refusal to do a long-needed expose of the HSR fiasco, including an in depth interview and tough questions being put to the council members that pushed the HSR down our throats. I have felt for years that they are a mouthpiece for the city and refuse to upset certain individuals
Too bad. I know that the editor will tell you that this is his paper and he can delete what he wants. If we do not like it we can go somewhere else to post our comments. Very short sighted coming from what is supposed to be a defender of free speech.


Posted by What a shame, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 4, 2011 at 1:57 am

Doug Moran: "Palo Alto Online has confirmed that this forum is for telling lies"

Dougie, they took out part of my post, the part which claimed that you have opposed 95% of the large housing builds in my memory - that's over 30 years. I can prove it, so consider yet one more fact that people should know about you taken out by the Weekly. They did you a favor.

See you at the new Mitchell Park Library, Doug!


Posted by Who in their right mind would invest in Palo Alto now?, a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 4, 2011 at 5:35 am

Dear What a Shame:

Agree with you 100%. The cost of the obstruction by a few is the loss of jobs and tax base for the many, filth and blight for all.

It is a literal crying shame that just a few can cause so much grief to the entire area.


Posted by Too much traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Despite Doug Moran's hatred of the Weekly ( for allowing people to express their opinions, even if they go against Doug's), the Weekly has done a nice job over the years of protecting him from criticism. Not sure why. Perhaps the Weekly feels that Doug is a mover and shaker in the community and they may need him.

Anyway, for those of you not familiar with Doug's history in the city:

Web Link
Web Link


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