Close your eyes. Picture a square block in your neighborhood. Now imagine all the neighbors suddenly disappear. You would be heartsick with loss. This is what may happen in Barron Park now that 200 or more neighbors are threatened with loss of their homes at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park.
Buena Vista's owner shopped for a buyer, choosing the gargantuan developer Prometheus. Prometheus wants a zoning change, permitting 187 upscale, one- and two-bedroom units targeting young tech workers: units of housing for units of workers.
Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan and Mobile Home Park Conversion Ordinance recognizes Buena Vista as a major resource of affordable housing, requiring extra oversight and relocation payments if it's closed — neither of which will help much, given limited housing options and a lack of space for mobile homes.
Residents are frantic. Many low- and very-low-income people have lived there for decades. Old people, some disabled, and the schoolmate friends of our children. Residents are reaching out for help to their school principals, Barron Park neighbors and affordable-housing advocates.
The city has great discretion and leverage in this matter. It shouldn't grant a zoning change. Instead it must do everything possible to retain this affordable housing resource and our neighbors at Buena Vista.
What do Palo Altans value? Will we opt to live in a bubble of affluence, cut off from economic reality? Or opt for an inclusive community? If you value the latter, email firstname.lastname@example.org to support our neighbors at Buena Vista.
La Para Avenue
I am SO SO in agreement with the letter Jim Fox wrote about the horrible new development where Alma Plaza used to be. They wrangled for years and that's the best they could come up with? I particularly agree with him that having a building butted right up against the sidewalk, with no shade, no grass or bushes is — aaaagh — double ugly.
The new development going up at the other end of Alma is going to be bigger than the usual zoning permits allow, too — a massive excrescence that is supposed to be a gateway to our fair city. And yes, the JCC, also butted up against the sidewalk, with no green buffer, looks like a penitentiary from the outside.
It's very sad that so many hulking new structures are cluttering up what was once our quiet community. Gosh, maybe some day there will just be a continuous high wall on Alma all the way from Menlo Park to Mountain View.
The proposal to reduce trash collection (Palo Alto Weekly, Sept. 28) to allow for the collection of residential organic waste mixes up financial and environmental objectives. The council needs to establish the priority.
If it is to save money, then staff ought to pursue opportunities to sell our unused garbage allocation to Kirby Canyon landfill or some other agency. This should be the top priority, given the fiscal challenges the city faces, and that paying for unused space in that landfill, because of errors of judgment of previous city leaders, remains an irritant and an insult to the taxpayers of this city.
If it is to reduce trash so more of the residential garbage would go into a compost stream, then find out first how much that service would cost for a residence. The staff report says some people have asked for this service, so let's see if they would "put their money where their mouth is." Ask those residents who are requesting this service to pay for it. If they agree, give them a purple bin that would stand out in their neighborhood. Let them be the pilot, the public advocates. Let them talk to their neighbors and explain what a great idea it is, answer their questions about how it works and convince them to join — but don't force this on the rest of us.
Find Concours a home
Recently, the director of public events at Stanford University served notice on the Palo Alto Concours d'Elegance that after 38 years on the campus it can no longer hold the event at Stanford. If this decision is not reversed, 41 local charities will lose the funding provided by the Concours, and Palo Alto will be diminished by the loss of a signature event in the exhibition and display of rare and beautiful automobiles. Seven thousand to 10,000 participants and spectators attend the event held the fourth Sunday in June. A search by the Concours Committee to find a suitable replacement has not turned up a satisfactory replacement venue in or close to Palo Alto.
William C. Downey
De Bell Drive
Los Altos Hills
Density isn't vibrancy
Something's up in Menlo Park: The City Council recently passed an aggressive rezoning Specific Plan that adds 680 high-density units to a very narrow area smack in the city's downtown, with a big chunk of the proposed housing earmarked as low- to very-low-income units.
This bad idea was sold to the city in the name of "vibrancy." However, the hallmark of a vibrant city, such as Manhattan, is the upscale glamour and affluence that make it attractive to tourists and residents alike. Alas, this is not what Menlo Park can expect under the combined wisdom of the state, ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments), the punitive lawsuit against the city by Peninsula Interfaith, Urban Habitat and Youth United for Community Action, coupled with our City Council's refusal to go to bat for the residents.
The current top-down long-range planning, comprised of the following three-pronged attack — the controversial Downtown Plan, the new radical high-density zoning of the Housing Element, and the potential transforming of El Camino Real into primarily a bus route (the Grand Boulevard Initiative) as proposed by the GBI's unelected, unaccountable Task Force — far from making our city "vibrant," would make it a gridlocked, crowded, noisy, squalid place to live, with a strained-to-bursting, floundering school system and overburdened, underfunded infrastructure, plus a shrinking tax base and lots more people.
Isn't it time to stand up for our community, to preserve and protect our high quality of life? Should we allow outside agencies to dictate the terms of our lives: to "get us out of our cars," to discourage single-family homes, to rob us of our local control, mobility and all that we've worked for and for which we pay our taxes? Concerned residents need to bombard our City Council with calls and emails, and especially to attend the upcoming critical City Council meetings on Oct. 22 and 23, to voice their objections to high-density building in our neighborhoods, or the above scenario will become our "wrenching transformation."
Bechtel for trustee
In these tough economic times we need the leadership skills and business acumen of Betsy Bechtel, who is running for another term as trustee of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District.
She chaired a successful $490 million bond campaign that has made possible the renovation of four 50-year-old campuses, the upgrade of classrooms and the construction of new state-of-the-art labs and science buildings that will meet the educational challenges of the 21st century.
In addition, Bechtel's extensive experience in business helped facilitate negotiations among employee groups that saved more than $5 million annually in medical benefit costs. During Bechtel's tenure on the board, she has continually looked for creative ways to cut costs and increase efficiencies, but never at the expense of students or the quality of their education.
In fact, Foothill and De Anza — despite ongoing and severe budget cuts from Sacramento — have remained nationally renowned for their innovative programs and academic excellence. Each year both colleges have earned the prestigious distinction of being a member of the League of Innovation.
From participating in the hiring of the college presidents and an outstanding chancellor, to spearheading the installation of a photovoltaic system to reduce the district's electric bill by thousands of dollars, Bechtel has been a dynamic, dedicated and highly effective trustee. She deserves our deep appreciation for her many contributions to our community colleges and our vote for another term on the Foothill-De Anza Board of Trustees.
Foothill-De Anza Foundation board member
Other people's money
As if the state doesn't already have its hands full, the recently passed SB1234 will create a new state retirement system for employees in small, non-unionized businesses. Employers will be fined $1,000 per employee for non-compliance.
Worse yet for small business owners, their money will end up helping big businesses that they compete against. Worse still, this new pot of money will be managed by seven political appointees who won't be small business employees and don't have their own money in the pot. So they got to play with other people's money either to enhance their own investment portfolio or to use that money to punish political foes and reward political friends.
This is a bad law. If I am in the Assembly, I will vote no if my vote can defeat it. But if all the Democratic members vote to pass it as a block, this is how I might modify it: I will dedicate this money as a one-to-two matching fund for small business loans so the money will help support small business jobs in California while making a healthy return. For example, if Ginger's Cafe in Sunnyvale applies for and receives a $30,000 loan from Wells Fargo, the State Fund will loan $10,000 of that amount on the same interests, same terms, with preferred repayment conditions. Participating banks get to serve more clients, and the funds get a good return.
The job of the state government is to provide for infrastructure, education and public safety. Investing other people's retirement money is not among those.
Candidate for state Assembly
Homeless, not unsavory
At a recent campaign coffee with a candidate for Palo Alto City Council, one of the candidate's positions was particularly alarming. Because this candidate has not responded, I write this letter to all council candidates to encourage sensitivity.
The topic is our community's homeless, and this was raised in conjunction with the instances of individuals and families living temporarily in autos. The candidate concluded with what seemed intended as a knowing whisper: "... they (homeless) are unsavory." To many of us, this comment was particularly grating.
Instead of such divisive views, and responding to poverty with police and "kicking the can" down the street, we were hoping that the candidate, indeed all candidates, will speak of leadership — how to direct such a resourceful city as Palo Alto to address the root causes of poverty right here at home.
In this era there are many who are within a few lost paychecks of being dispossessed and homeless. For those who also lack extended family, one's poverty is not "unsavory," but rather a misfortune that we as a community share.
I write as one homeowner among many here in Palo Alto who values people above property, and who measures the richness of the community by our compassion and vision to help those who are less fortunate among our neighbors. I urge that candidates for Palo Alto City Council speak specifically and sensitively, to demonstrate a leader's capacity to see beyond the petty gripes to gather our community including those in need.
I think your endorsement of Liz Kniss for Palo Alto City Council is gratuitous and condescending. I have designed the graphics for a number of candidates and appreciate how hard it is just to run for office. She is running a campaign as though she were a first-time candidate, especially in reaching out to constituents to learn about their issues.
I watch most City Council meetings and appreciate even more how much time it takes to be an effective public official. They not only have to spend countless hours reading the often-prodigious packets, but need to be constantly alert during the many hours of public meetings ready to listen, comment and vote.
I disagree with your comment "the need for the likes of Klein and Kniss is lessened today ... and her political insider status fails to broaden the community perspectives represented on the council." Their expertise and institutional knowledge is needed more than ever as the council grapples with the major economic, demographic and environmental changes facing Palo Alto and Silicon Valley.
I urge a strong yes vote for Liz Kniss for City Council.
Bikes on the loose
This morning I was nearly knocked over by a speeding cyclist riding on the sidewalk on Homer Avenue from Alma as he headed up to Whole Foods. He was a fit, 20ish guy on an expensive bike. I assume he speeds in a Bimmer when he isn't busy terrorizing pedestrians. I'm a fit, oldish cyclist who bikes in the streets, the law in Palo Alto, when I'm not walking. Whole Foods is a major pedestrian area, and many of its patrons are not really able to hop out of the way of bikers who seem to feel they're too important to obey the rules.
It's great that more and more people are using bikes for transport, but this is the seventh time in two days that I've been sideswiped, startled or intimidated by people riding on the downtown sidewalks of Palo Alto in mid-morning. Two months ago I was forced off University Avenue at High Street and into a tree well, twisting my ankle, by a young man hell-bent toward Palm Drive.
Is the Palo Alto Police Department waiting until there's a major accident before it starts enforcing the law?