With the recent approval of the "Gateway" building on the corner of Lytton and Alma our council has yet again failed to represent Palo Alto residents. The developer got way more than the zoning allowed. Instead of a two-story office building, they got a four-story office building. And by one speaker's estimation at Monday's City Council meeting, the extra space is probably worth $30 million to the developer.
Nearby residents complained of overflow parking from this monstrosity, while the property owner of the surrounding parcels whole-heartedly endorsed the Gateway plan. Undoubtedly he will soon present his own plans for multiple high-rise, extremely dense developments in keeping with the new land-use pattern that has been established.
Meanwhile the real issues of sustainability persist. How many people can live in Palo Alto? How many can work here? What do we want our city to look like in 20 or 50 years? How do we expect our children to live when they are adults?
At the rate we are going, there will be no open views, no green spaces, no quiet left. Office canyons and high-rise housing complexes will be the norm. Driving and parking will be a nightmare. Schools for your children's children overcrowded warehouses with no room to play.
And the environmental toll is obvious. Wait until the next drought with twice the people in Palo Alto and the same water allocation.
Sustainability was supposed to be a goal of the current city council. Yet every decision to make something bigger, higher and denser is anathema to that goal. We live in a world where the existence of limits is more and more apparent, yet our City Council blithely ignores the connection between over-intensification of use and diminishing essential resources.
Please let council know your vision and next city council election try to find people who support it.
Palo Alto Avenue
Palo Alto Mayor Yiaway Yeh is obviously a kind and well-meaning man. But like many do-gooders with a cause, he has neglected the first principle of running a business. And make no mistake — running a city is a business. The principle is "Ask the Customer."
The poor response to his challenge is easily predictable. Many residents of Palo Alto and neighboring communities have no interest in being more than acquaintances with their neighbors. That is because friendship and association are not based on geographical proximity. They are based on commonalities, including educational, financial and cultural similarity, shared languages and ethnicities, and psychological compatibility. Of these, only financial similarity has anything to do with the juxtaposition of dwellings in a neighborhood. It alone is not an adequate basis for friendship and social interaction.
There is also a larger principle to consider. As many recent letters to the Weekly have pointed out, the principal function of city government is to provide a safe, secure, efficient infrastructure for daily existence.
That means fire and police services, emergency medical response, and a clean, well-maintained, and smoothly operating network of streets and utilities. It is not a major responsibility of city government to provide entertainment, education and social welfare. Only when the primary requirements have been satisfied and are operating at a profit can a city afford the luxury of spending time and money on peripheral activities.
Palo Alto has a long way to go to satisfy the primary requirements — humdrum though they may seem — of city operations.
355 Alma Giveaway
The rezoning of 355 Alma to a "planned community" gives the developer millions and millions of dollars of rentable space at the expense of the surrounding neighborhood. It creates huge parking and traffic problems.
The developer saves millions by not building adequate parking. This project's underparking exacerbates the current parking shortage there.
To paper over the harm done, there was talk of discounted office space on the street level for a nonprofit. Did the Council favor an agency that helps the disabled, seniors or children? No. The "worthy" organization proposed for this valuable space is (drumroll please) the Chamber of Commerce.
The suggestion to reward the Chamber was made by a councilman who reportedly discussed it with them before the Council meeting. He did not disclose his discussions and pushed the item to a vote. The conversation was reported in the newspaper days later.
Isn't it improper for Council members to have behind-the-scenes discussions in cases like this?
Perhaps the city attorney should look into it.