Palo Alto Weekly
Spectrum - October 4, 2013
If you support affordable senior housing, vote yes on Measure D
by Greg Scharff
On Nov. 5, Palo Alto voters will be asked to vote yes or no on Measure D. A yes vote will support the unanimous decision made by the City Council on June 17, 2013, to allow the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation to build 60 affordable senior apartments at Maybell and Clemo avenues in Palo Alto. That decision also approved 12 single-family lots to subsidize the costs of the affordable senior apartments.
The City Council was unanimous in its support of the project, and the council is rarely unanimous on controversial land-use decisions.
I am 100 percent confident that the council made the right decision and that the community should stand behind this project and vote yes on Measure D and approve 60 affordable senior apartments for our local seniors, who need a safe, affordable place to call home in Palo Alto.
Opponents have tried to link Measure D to citywide issues about development, "PC" zoning, increased traffic, pedestrian-safety issues, or just a general frustration with traffic and parking.
Please do not be influenced by the rhetoric and false accusations, or allow unrelated complaints to influence your judgment about Measure D. Measure D is about one thing and one thing only — if you agree or disagree that Palo Alto needs more affordable housing for our senior residents.
Right now there are hundreds of senior citizens on waiting lists for affordable homes in Palo Alto — people who want to live in the community where they have lived and/or worked for many years. Your yes vote on Measure D will allow us to address this unmet need with 60 more affordable one-bedroom apartments and reduce that waiting list in a meaningful way.
I voted for this project because it is a better alternative for the neighborhood than the existing zoning in terms of traffic, safety, parking and preserving the look and feel of the single-family neighborhood. This project is a far less dense alternative than the existing zoning and will generate less traffic and other impacts.
Seniors do best when they can stay in their community and maintain their support networks. We need to protect and support our seniors as a community and this project does that.
Opponents claim the project is too dense for the location, that the location is not a good place for senior housing, and that increased traffic will put school children at risk.
We listened to the input from citizens through the hearing process and we learned of the concerns about traffic, especially on Maybell. We came to the conclusion that this project would have lower impacts on the neighborhood than any project that could be built under current zoning.
A private developer building under the existing zoning would likely construct 46 residences, all of which could be three- to four-bedroom homes. Common sense tells me that 46 families will generate more traffic and impacts on the surrounding neighborhood and in the neighborhood schools than would 60 affordable one-bedroom senior apartments and only 12 families.
The traffic analysis and experience with existing senior residential facilities in Palo Alto confirm that there will not be any significant increase to traffic or increased risk to bicycle or pedestrian safety by adding seniors to this neighborhood.
The project is located next to two existing apartment complexes — the 100-foot, eight-story Tan Plaza apartments and the Arastradero Park Apartments with 66 affordable family units. The Maybell affordable senior apartments will be set back more than 100 feet from the Maybell and Clemo sidewalks. All of the mature healthy trees on Clemo will be preserved to provide additional screening of the project.
The Palo Alto Housing Corporation manages the neighboring Arastradero Park Apartments where they offer many social, health and wellness, and educational programs for residents. These programs will also be available to the residents living in the Maybell affordable senior apartments. A shared van will also be provided to decrease car ownership.
Opponents claim that this project was not properly studied, lacked public review, and neighborhood concerns were not taken into consideration. This is just not true.
Beginning with a City Council study session in September 2012, more than nine months of public discussions took place before final City Council approval on June 28, 2013. The project was reviewed numerous times by the City Council, the Planning and Transportation Commission, the Architectural Review Board, and public comment was taken at every step. Additionally, before the final City Council vote, the Palo Alto Housing Corporation held at least three voluntary community meetings in the neighborhood, allowing residents to ask questions and provide input. They also had numerous one-on-one meetings with neighbors to address concerns.
I personally participated in a 10-hour negotiating session with PAHC and neighborhood leaders that led to the elimination of three market-rate homes, plus numerous site and design changes to further address traffic, safety and aesthetic concerns while still maintaining a financially viable project.
We also are aware that many Barron Park and Green Acres neighbors strongly support Measure D — including people who live across the street and in close proximity to the proposed site.
For me a no vote would be a lost opportunity to provide needed affordable housing for Palo Alto seniors and to protect the neighborhood from the impacts that will occur if a project is built under the current zoning.
If you agree we need more affordable senior housing, then I urge you to vote yes on Measure D. I will be voting yes on Measure D. I hope you'll join me.
Greg Scharff is the mayor of Palo Alto.
Posted by Vote AGAINST D,
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 4, 2013 at 6:02 pm
As someone who was present at the meeting where Larry Klein proposed a delay and meeting, the Mayor is absolutely misusing that situation for his own purposes.
City staff asked for people representing the neighborhoods to give their names, and when NO ONE would because no one was there representing the neighborhoods (as "leaders" or not), they promised they just needed people FROM those different neighborhoods and they would establish representative relationships later, but they never did.
The meetings were not a "negotiation" between parties and neighbors made very clear they were representing themselves, not the neighborhood. If you watch the video of the City meeting in which Klein called the weekend discussion, the 3 houses were already on the table before the weekend. They were never in a position to drop the number of houses any more than that because the "in lieu" fees they get from the market-rate developer's density are written in to the ordinance as a result of the financing mechanism. Neighbors tried early on to get PAHC to reduce the number of market rate homes so the lots would meet existing zoning, but they wouldn't because of the financing setup.
Neighbors also wanted to discuss the City finally doing a safety analysis on Maybell and Arastradero, the impact of the traffic on the bikes and pedestrians, which was never done, but he took that off the table entirely and wouldn't talk about it.
As for the claim that "many" neighbors in Greenacres and Barron Park strongly support Measure D -- it's the same activist group as from the start, mainly friends in the League of Women voters who have officers who are also on the board of PAHC.
A long poll of neighbors in Greenacres found 94% AGAINST the rezoning (with a large percentage FOR senior housing under the existing zoning, so the Mayor was misportraying the neighbors there, too). A poll of all the BP Association members also found the majority against the rezoning.
As for traffic concerns - they were ongoing long before this rezoning. Neighbors spent SIX MONTHS working with Cal Trans and the City to come up with plans to improve Maybell in a six-figure improvement project completed with in the last 4 or 5 years. Maybell is as safe as it's going to get, and even Councilman Berman admitted after coming out here that it is NOT SAFE as it is, after all those improvements and without adding any more traffic.
The City's answer has been to blame the change in start times at Gunn for the traffic (which was actually advertised previously as improving the situation), and set the traffic department on re-evaluating Maybell. They came without any notes or employees from the recent improvement and told neighbors to start from scratch. One who had worked on the last improvements for months left the meeting.
Lastly, what will go there if voters vote AGAINST D will NOT be worse. It defies logic that a high-density market rate development at 3 times the existing zoning density and a high-density building at up to 8 times the existing zoning density, almost twice the height, and with only a third to a fourth of the parking would be better than a LOW-DENSITY existing zoning, which has limits to height, density, setbacks, parking, open space requirements, daylight plane, etc etc.
If the new owner wants to build there, they're going to have to subdivide the property (which, by the way, PAHC would have to do, too, if they are able to enact the ordinance), and there are legal protections under the Subdivision Map Act. Where the City could falsely claim that the ordinance met the comprehensive plan in a political battle where they held all the cards, in a subdivision battle, neighbors will have legal recourse, and even charter cities subdivisions have to be consistent with their general plans.
Lastly, if voters help the neighbors vote AGAINST D, the next day after the election, they will put forward a plan to save the heritage orchard, as the 2nd fully accessible place for disabled kids in Palo Alto to play without boundaries with all children. This is an appropriate place for it as the 100 fruit trees slated to be torn down with the development can be saved (and probably the 2 100-year-old oaks that conveniently couldn't be saved just in time for that development), and it's catty corner to the long-time programs for the most disabled children in Palo Alto at Juana Briones' OH program.
(Instead of having to look up at high-density homes they could never live in themselves like at Alma Plaza, and the overflow parking from the development, the disabled children would have an accessible park right across the street from school. Let's face it, the Mayor let 20 our of 24 fully-assisted senior BMR units at Moldaw go unfilled for THREE YEARS and did nothing to renegotiate them until this controversy. He and the rest of the City Council care even less about the needs of the disabled in Palo Alto.)
People in the neighborhood are not being swayed by the Mayor's misrepresentations, he is only causing us to mistrust him more because we know what he is saying is false. Will people in the rest of Palo Alto? The City Attorney wrote such a biased ballot. Please read the neighbors' concern about the biased ballot before making a decision:
Posted by Vote AGAINST D,
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 7, 2013 at 11:42 am
If this is really about getting those units of senior apartments, then you should vote AGAINST Measure D, too,and I'll tell you why.
Because the same neighbors who showed up at City Hall in historic numbers, and who managed to qualify not one, but two referenda, the first in over 10 years in Palo Alto one in just 10 days, for something as dry as removing a rezoning provision for the property from the general plan those same neighbors have proceeded by the motto: Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst.
The neighbors are well aware that the deck in the referendum is stacked heavily against, them, especially given the nasty, false things they have been accused of from the start, and the highly biased and leading way the City Attorney structured the ballot question: Shall we rezone from X (no description of what it entails) to Y, for this GREAT thing you get with Y?! In other words, for Maybell, it was written to essentially say, Senior Housing, YES?!! The "impartial" analysis is even more biased and leading. The City did this with the High Street referendum, it's a miracle it was even as close as it was.
If the neighbors lose at the ballot, they will pursue every other avenue of recourse they have available to them, some of which are frankly more likely to be successful than the referendum, they just aren't the first thing you do in a situation like this. If you don't understand why neighbors will continue to fight, and how hard they will fight, take a look again at the reasons the neighbors have given and realize they are sincere and dead serious, especially about the safety issues at that location.
If PAHC loses this referendum, it will dust itself off and try again, only this time it will have learned two very important lessons:
1) Work with the neighbors rather than try to sneak something through just because the City tells you to do something, and
2) Look for properties on corridors where density is considered appropriate.
If PAHC loses the referendum, frankly, they won't be able to use a financing mechanism that allowed them to be more competitive in getting funds over considerably less wealthy communities, communities where they can provide far more housing for less money for people in far greater need. We have always been able to afford to putting in affordable housing without having to take money from less wealthy communities. This situation is about PAHC -- PAHC getting into the low-income developer game and the City saving money doing it. It's not about affordable housing, which could be built without inflicting this high-density and lack of parking, lack of safety review, etc., on the neighborhood. Because Eden Housing managed to build 801 Alma without having to resort to this financing scheme that involves selling off the zoning, by spending 3 or 4 times the amount per unit.
But if PAHC wins, the neighbors still have a lot of recourse at Maybell, and the conflict will continue for as long as it takes, this you can count on. That is an unsafe and unsuitable place for a high-density development, and those who live here know the problems in ways they probably will never be able to adequately convey to others, because they are just neighbors.
It took Mark Berman a month of coming out here and studying to traffic to finally pronounce: It may be a Safe Route to School, but it's not a safe route to school. Even though he was here during one of the best times of the year (lower traffic than height of rainy season in school year). If he and the rest of them really understood the situation here (and assuming they had ethics/consciences in there somewhere), they'd be working with the community to come up with ways to turn it into low-traffic parkland of one variety or other.
Most of all, if PAHC wins, it will embolden this already sickeningly insular City Council to think they can do whatever they want, especially when it comes to their developer friends (remember that more than half the Maybell development will be for-profit market-rate) regardless of what the residents of Palo Alto want.
If you want PAHC to provide more housing, help them move onto the next project, even in the same neighborhood such as at Buena Vista, where there efforts might actually be welcomed, lead to housing, and not just lead to further conflict. Because make no mistake, if Measure D wins, it will mean ratcheted up conflict.
City Council has no idea what is coming, they didn't think in a million years neighbors would referend. When putting Measure D to vote in an expensive special election, , Larry Klein is quoted as saying, "It's hard for me to understand why the neighborhood objects." (Because they decided on this thing with $7.3 million in loans to PAHC and a rigid financial setup before ever taking public input, they have never tried to understand!)
There are several efforts that I know of the neighbors will pursue if they lose, and probably ones I don't. Remember, 70 unpaid neighborhood grassroots volunteers collected 8,000 signatures between the 2 referenda, and this is a broad grassroots effort with a lot of smart and dedicated people. Palo Alto is beginning to wake up politically, too, and neighbors are awakening to broader, related issues they want to address as well.
And remember, the neighbors are not against putting a senior housing development there, if zoning rules and city policies are even mostly respected. If PAHC isn't going to build there, maybe the City will bring in a different low-income developer who has the resources to finance the development without having to resort to the abusive financing scheme they rolled out here. We've never had to finance affordable housing like that before in Palo Alto, and we shouldn't let City Hall use it as a lever to set aside residential zoning protections.
Posted by Vote AGAINST D,
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 9, 2013 at 7:58 pm
@Jeff from Duveneck/St. Francis,
As someone who lives in the Maybell neighborhood, thank you so much for voting Against D! Please talk to your friends, as this is the only way the neighbors can hope to win.
I just saw this, though. Your wrote:
"I have a simple distrust about why a zoning change to create 12 + 60 homes will create a more peaceful residential area than the allowed 48 homes."
I just wanted to clarify something. The zoning change is from RM-15 and R-2 to PC zoning which allows about 3 times the allowed density on the market-rate portion (which is about 55% of the property) and up to 8 times the allowed density on the rest. The main building will be the equivalent of RM-60, a zoning designation so dense it doesn't even exist in Palo Alto code, and exceeds RM-45, which is inappropriate for residential neighborhoods per the City's own general plan.
If someone were to build senior affordable housing under the existing zoning, it appears they could build 41 units. That's because there is a density bonus when people build affordable housing, but also because neighbors DO support affordable housing and wouldn't quibble over the fact that this assumed building the maximum under the range specified for RM-15 in the zoning code, which isn't actual consistent with the comprehensive plan.
A market-rate development under the existing zoning would not and could not put in 46 units. That's just a scare tactic used by the Mayor and City council, which has only increased the distrust of residents. Here's why that many houses would never be built there under a market rate scenario:
1) If someone were to put a market-rate development there, they would have to subdivide. And in order to subdivide, they would have to comply with the Subdivision Map Act, which means even charter cities have to comply with the comprehensive plan. Our comprehensive plan says that RM-15 is 8-15 units per acre, and should be on the lower end of that range next to R-1 residential neighborhoods, which this property is, which means 8 units per acre. And other restrictions. If it were a market-rate development, neighbors would be pursuing this in court to enforce the SMA, as they will be if they have to fight this rezoning. If the property had to comply with the comprehensive plan, that means 16-20 homes.
The most recent major development in the neighborhood, the Glenbrook extension in Greenacres I, has larger lots, probably because of all the involvement of the neighbors who also had to rebuff the City from making a road from El Camino right through their neighborhood to Arastradero. There are some homes back there that are larger than 9,000 sq ft. (I mean the HOMES.)
2) According to a statement by former Palo Alto Planning Commissioner Joe Hirsch Monday night, if someone were to try to build 46 homes on that property, and applying existing restrictions of the existing zoning (and not even applying the restrictions of the exact geometry, but assuming it could be optimized), you would end up with 4 normal homes plus 42 homes of 600 square feet each with one bedroom at most. No intelligent private developer is going to build that when they can get $2.5 - over $3million for large new homes on decent-sized lots and optimize their profits.
3) If this rezoning does not go through, and no one wants to build an affordable complex under existing zoning, the City has the right to assume title to the property and does not have to let it be sold. This is because of the $7.3million in loans to PAHC, and City fingerprints all over the loan. This also means residents have the power to get that property turned into parkland - hopefully, a heritage orchard for which they could get grant money. There are 100 established fruit trees and a dozen giant 100-year-old oaks on the property. It faces the hills. It's the last piece of our agricultural past here in Palo Alto; that area used to be all apricot orchards in living memory. All the communities around us have preserved at least some part of heritage orchard. If the properties of the 4 existing ranch houses were expanded and auctioned, they could bring in $2.5-3million each (depending on how large and assuming an orchard goes in behind them), leaving a doable amount for the neighbors to raise. There are neighbors who will put forward an initiative for an orchard if it comes to it, which the City has the power to make happen (or to be made to make happen, as the case may be).
4) The City also has the power, by the way, to simply take over the property and place restrictions on it for safety before reselling it -- if they think 46 homes could be built there, and such a bad outcome, they have a responsibility first to safety and would have a duty to prevent that outcome, which would be well within their power. Under this scenario, all residents of Palo Alto should demand they do their duty, if only to avoid the liability they would incur given all the disclosure about safety at that location.
5) Take a look at the property using Google satellite. 567-595 Maybell are the existing 4 ranch houses. the orchard to the right. Does it look to you like you could put 45 homes there? Looks to me like 16-18, which is what Bob Moss has said, too.
You could point out to anyone tempted to fall for the City's scare tactic, that it makes no sense to ignore the neighbors' efforts to protect the children, to protect their neighborhood cohesion and character, to protect their neighborhood from being upzoned more in the future should this development bisect it through the heart with a line of high-density, and then vote against them with a claim that it is to protect them. It's a real sham to claim that a high-density development more dense than any residential building in Palo Alto (the main building) would have less of an impact than building under the existing "low density" zoning. These people who qualified a referendum for in 10 days of signature gathering for something as boring as removing a rezoning from the comprehensive plan -- they know the scare scenario isn't real, and that they can prevent it if it somehow remotely threatens to be.
Thanks so much for the support of your fellow residents over here, and your vote Against D.
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