Some observers are already comparing the defeat of the 60 units of low-income senior housing and 12 market-rate homes that would help fund it to the 1963 "Oregon Expressway" citywide vote.
That is an unlikely sounding link on the surface, especially since voters narrowly approved the expressway to replace the traffic-clogged two-lane Oregon Avenue.
But the two elections have much in common. The main commonality is that they served to coalesce and unify neighborhood-level pockets of concern and resistance to what to many seemed to be out-of-control growth spurred and dominated by developers.
The fact that the Maybell project was promoted by the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation seemed to get lost in the angry pre-election exchanges. Or rather it was deemed irrelevant to the bigger issue of out-of-scale developments in other areas of town.
Among the hottest of those other neighborhoods are the residential areas flanking the downtown Palo Alto and California Avenue commercial areas — where overflow parking by employees of businesses has spilled further and further into the neighborhoods, saturating curbside parking.
There are other areas where developments have generated local concern and opposition.
But none of those seemed to catch fire as a citywide issue the way the Maybell plan did. And none developed the intensity of feeling that turned into name-calling and questioning of motives.
The larger, longer-lasting outcome of the Oregon Expressway vote was that a crop of community activist leaders emerged to take on the "establishment-dominated" City Council, then at 13 members in a size-reduction program from 15 on the way to the present nine members.
By 1965, boosted by an initiative to dedicate all city parks and parklands, the slow-growth "residentialist" faction of the council had grown to six members.
Last July I posted a blog on the Palo Alto Weekly's www.PaloAltoOnline.com raising the question of whether the neighborhood-level concerns might coalesce into a citywide revolt against decades of city policies and decisions that have exacerbated traffic and parking problems. (See http://tinyurl.com/mko3ybj.)
The Maybell vote bolsters that probability. Longtime community critic/watchdog Bob Moss teamed up with former planning commissioner Joe Hirsch and some relative newcomers to citywide politics to conduct a high-energy successful No on D campaign.
The size of the defeat caught a number of council veterans and observers completely by surprise. Was it a vote against low-income housing for seniors, or low-income housing in general?
Few are interpreting it that way, so far. But for some voters it may well have been.
The goodness of the cause simply did not have the sway over the concerns about overdevelopment and loss of faith in city planning and approval processes to regulate development appropriately.
The overwhelming rejection of D was more the result of a high-energy campaign that framed the issue as a citywide stand against excessive development, traffic and parking impacts of increased intensity.
Years of approval of "planned community" (PC) projects that exceeded zoning limits and then forgetting to enforce so-called "public benefits" promised by the project developers has undermined confidence in the entire planning process.
A number of persons are calling for a moratorium on new PC zones until a full review and revision of policies and guidelines for such zoning are developed to replace the current "negotiation" model for the zone.
Reestablishing confidence in zoning will be a major challenge for the city's new planning director, Hillary E. Gitelman, former director of planning, building and environmental services for Napa County, who took office this month.
But the questions really are: Can confidence be rebuilt? Or will the anti-growth concerns re-energized by Measure D dominate the political and community field?
Part of the answer will be in the collective lap of the City Council members, who unanimously supported the Maybell project, and who clouded the approval with an earlier loan to the Housing Corporation to enable it to buy the site for the project.
The fact that this council is made up of nine mostly independent thinkers could make a cohesive city response more difficult to arrive at. There are strengths in independent thinking, especially as opposed to a voting-bloc split council as in past years. But Ben Franklin's adage about not watching sausage or policies (he said laws) being made may come into play sooner than later at City Hall.
Can the city come up with a cohesive response at all, one might ask?
Measure D opponents successfully framed the issue in a simple yet compelling matrix of overdevelopment out of scale with the neighborhood, and linked it to other developments around the city, both past and proposed.
What easily understood answer to that perception can city leaders formulate? Clearly, "we need more affordable housing" didn't fill the bill this time around. And the undermined perception of the city's zoning policies and approval procedures makes it hard to rally support.
The irony, of course, is that a vast majority of residents, as shown by polls over many years, absolutely love Palo Alto, its schools, its climate, its quality of life. It is rated one of the best places to live in America, and city services consistently get high marks.
Its well-to-do liberality shows up in strong volunteerism and financial support for nonprofit social-service agencies across the board. Its support for open space in the foothills and baylands is a huge factor in that — even though saving the hills and baylands has exacerbated a jobs-housing imbalance that has made real estate and housing costs soar over the past four decades.
Bridging the perceptual gap between loving Palo Alto and fearing for its future may well be an impossible dream, a bridge too far for community leaders who still seem in some denial about the depth of concern out there in the neighborhoods.