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Palo Alto gives Alma Plaza the green light

Original post made on Jan 27, 2009

Alma Plaza is coming. After five hours of debate, dozens of public comments, a series of convoluted proposals, a sequence of technical amendments and prolonged last-second negotiations between city officials and developer John McNellis, the City Council voted 6-3 early this morning to give the contentious mixed-use project a long-sought green light.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 27, 2009, 8:34 AM

Comments (50)

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2009 at 9:15 am

This is wonderful news! I watched most of this meeting and finally went to bed. It is time to get this project built and end the blight at Alma Plaza. Congratulations to the long-suffering developer.
Incidentally, focusing for an eternity on a sign for a community room is an outrage. Some of these council members need to get their priorities in order.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2009 at 9:29 am

Please provide some information about the developer's responsibility for contributing to PAUSD. When a developer builds single family homes and apartments, who is responsible for ensuring the schools have the space and the teacher resources to accommodate the children that move into the new homes? I realize that property tax pays for operating expenses, however, where is the source of funds that pays for increased number of classrooms or builds new schools as we build more and more homes in Palo Alto? Schools across town are overcrowded, and the elementary and middle schools near this development does not have the space for additional children.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 10:19 am

I'm outraged. This is democracy? Most people in the crowd were
vehemently oppposed to the project and for good reasons.

1. The housing is too dense. Traffic/parking will be bad.
2. Narrow lanes just 20-something ft wide.
3. Restricted Community room hours. It should be open 7am-11pm.
4. No setback from Alma.
5. Dangerously small entry from Alma into the plaza.
6. If parking is the issue for restricting community room hours,
why is McNellis allowing Stanford Villa aparments to park here?

The palo alto council has shafted the residents and
handed over a chunk of public property to a for-profit organization
without a getting good set of public benefits in return. I'm
completely disgusted and would like to see these council members
impeached for violating the public trust because they dont want
to spend the time to get it right.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2009 at 10:34 am

How much $ will the developers of this project provide to PAUSD? How many children will be added to PAUSD? What schools will they be added to?

I'm sick and tired of the city council shirking their responsibility to the community to protect our property values by failing to evaluate the impact on schools.

No more housing development until the city council takes responsibility for the future of the schools in this town. We need a moratorium on housing developments in this town until school capacities at EVERY level (elementary, middle and high school) are planned and FUNDED.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by They'reDeveloper clones
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 10:40 am

The Chamber of Commerce Rules. We need to get rid of these developer clones on the council. They are ruining this town.
In November 2009 these guys terms are up - Barton, Drekmeier, Klein and Morton. We need to defeat the ones who will run again, they are a disaster.
Morton again used the excuse that he is tired so lets get it done. Drekmeier is the biggest disappointment, he is a repeat of Jim Burch, doesn't know anything or care about local issues but he knows where the money is. Gotta get rid of this guy before he does much more damage.


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Posted by bemused bystander
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2009 at 10:57 am

...and Palo Altoans wonder why there are no sales tax dollars for all of the pet projects, like parks, library improvements, sewer improvements, etc., as it takes so long for developments in Palo Alto and the anti-business and commerce!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 11:01 am

I agree with those above in disgust. This is another example of the kind of governance by those in power with no genuine regard for the population. It may well be time for the four above-mentioned council members to go. Sadly, it won't be in time to stop this travesty.

I'd rather live next door to a black hole than have on my conscience all the accidents that are likely to occur once this "community" is in place.

One thing I wonder about... if I understand correctly, the developer has been given the go-ahead to break the property into three parcels for a better chance to obtain financing. Is there anything in the provisions to ensure that he must develop all the parcels at the same time?

If not, it's quite likely that he'll manage to "find" the financing for the expensive separate dwelling and lag behind or "fail" when it comes to those parcels that meet the PC requirements.

He's been flaky from the top, so why expect him to behave in a more honorable way down the line?


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Posted by Rick
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2009 at 11:22 am

I completely agree that the Council continues to ignore impact that their decisions have on the schools - which are the jewel of Palo Alto! The additional children that will live in this project will put additional strains on our school resources that we should not have bear. Alma Plaza should have remained 100% commercial - we need the tax revenue! I will personally vote against all Council members that voted in favor of this project.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by flyer
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 11:25 am

bemused bystander from another community: Anti-business?
You must be kidding. This guy wants to build a dense housing project
in an area where traffic is already a nightmare at peak times and
schools are underfunded. Politicians always kow-tow to business
and screw the public because they know where the money lies. As
a result of this madness the whole planet is facing a catastrophe.
Of course you think that's all lefty bunkum..


 +   Like this comment
Posted by flyer
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 11:26 am

Can't we impeach these guys?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by citizenPA
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 27, 2009 at 11:31 am

For those who feel outraged, I would feel the same living in the neighborhood for many years, all it took was a few dissenting voice to shut down any kind of improvement to Lucky Plaza a decade ago. Which resulted in losing a nice small shopping center. It is the dissenting few who created this blight all in the name of traffic reduction.

Now I grew up in the Fairmeadow area for more than 30 Years. So I am happy this is moving forward. I see no cause for concern here. Also you already have high density housing at Alma Plaza with those apartments. Adding a few more is not going to hurt the neighborhood.

I'm also tired of the same politics from the people downtown telling what South Palo Alto and those not living in the downtown area what they can and cannot build. If you want quiet, move to a smaller town or to the boonies.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PA citizen
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2009 at 11:39 am

Don't forget that all California cities are required to provide more housing, especially for lower income citizens. PA is mandated to step up the housing in the city, regardless of the impact it has on the schools. New developments are required to contribute fees to the school district, in my understanding. In addition, dense housing near grocery stores and restaurants allows residents to walk to get groceries or other items and reduces the need for driving. This is the model for the future and it has to start somewhere. Other citizens will be able to take a bus to this plaza or ride bikes. Get out of your cars!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2009 at 11:56 am

I hope the housing element in this development will be counted against ABAGs mandated 2,800 housing units.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by flyer
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm

No matter how much high-density housing you add, its not going
to fix traffic. People still have to get to work and back. Not
everyone can live close to their workplace. All it does it
create local traffic bottlenecks. If you want to really solve
the problem, tax gas and provide decent public transit.

Saying that some more high-density housing wont hurt is ridiculous.
Each bit hurts that much esp when traffic is already bad. According
you you we could just add one whole skyscraper in that lot and be
done with it and it wont matter. At some point the streets break
down. If you want high-density living \Go live in san francisco. Get
out of Palo Alto.

John McNellis had made promises that were not kept. This area was
zoned "COMMERCIAL" and he was allowed "COMMERCIAL plus HOUSING"
and for that he was supposed to provide benefits. The benefits
he has provided an pathetic. A community center that is tiny and
has restrictive timings and a park that is so tiny as to be
non-existent. And he has move the park from the earlier, great
location to opposite the grocery store so it can be used by
the patrons with the excuse that the earlier location was
"isolated" It wasnt' isolated, it was perfect for the residents.

At every level of politics on this country, the public gets screwed
in favour of businesses. Did you even listen to the folks from
Charleston meadows? They're suffering from a lack of parking
because of the ridiculous high-density housing. And I have no
doubt that the laws passed mandating more housing were written
by developer lobbyists. So long as politicians are allowed to
take gifts and money from lobbyists, there will be no
honesty in the process.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by galen
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 27, 2009 at 12:06 pm

No wonder the people of Palo Alto no longer trust the scoundrels running this once fine city. If people think the current deserted Alma Plaza is a "blight", wait until they see the "high-density housing" Alma Plaza.

Every single council member who voted to destroy our Community Center should be brought up on criminal charges for failing in their sworn oath to serve the people (not the fat cat developers) of this city.

First they shoved Tasers down our throats, then a new police headquarters, now this. This City Council may well be remembered as the biggest bunch of crooks this city has ever seen. Impeachment is too good for them! If there were any justice, they'd all be sitting in jail. And i mean you Peter "never met a high-density housing project he didn't like" Drekmeier.

What sick and sad jokers these people are. They're ruining South Palo Alto by destroying our commercial areas and turning them into high-density housing. I smell a rat, a big stinking rat!

Dennis "galen" Mitrzyk


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2009 at 12:48 pm

The customary cave-in at last. It's a predictable minuet. The council initially puts up a show of fighting for the best deal, while executing a carefully scripted retreat. In the end it abjectly surrenders under the guise of accepting an "imperfect project rather than waiting for perfection and risk ending up with nothing." The council is very, very afraid of nothing.

Good for Kishimoto, Schmid, and Yeh who showed integrity, stuck to their principles, and stood for the public good. As I recall, Kishimoto also voted against 800 High Street.

I hope the neighbors have the will and resources to bring this to another referendum. The movement against 800 High almost won. This one seems to have even more momentum.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by flyer
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Paul, What is the process for a referundum? It would be good to
start one while this is fresh in people's minds.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by flyer
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Does anyone know how the planning dept passed the grocery store
without a setback from Alma? When I asked about remodeling my house,
I got the impression that setbacks are not negotiable.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by zanon
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 27, 2009 at 1:04 pm

This is an OUTRAGE!

How dare they! Don't they think about anything!

We shall stop them though. The PALO ALTO PROCESS defeats EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by flyer
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Especially moronic, badly designed projects that a majority
of the residents around think are a bad idea


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Flyer says: "What is the process for a referundum?" You need to get a copy of the City Charter, it may be on line, if not the City Clerk's office will give you one. Follow the instructions carefully.

Any change to the City Charter by referendum will require you get 6,000 signatures by hand (not by internet).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Driver
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Just drove past Alma about 40 minutes ago and smelt smoke and saw fire truck with firefighters using hose and water on either the old Lucky store or something near. Any idea what?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by south of midtown resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Moving forward quickly the wrong way is not progress. More accidents will occur on Alma, the retail will fail, and then we will have empty retail and an atrocious housing development.

This is instead of developing a successful income generating retail center that our community would use.
This is instead of following the intent of the comprehensive plan to keep Palo Alto a functioning pleasant city.

What's the point of the city's input if the developer can have whatever he wants in the end? This decision went against the commissioners' advise and against what the citizens want.

Over the years, I never heard any support for the project except to "get it done." Decisions should be made for good results, not to ease the process.

I commend Yoriko, Schmid, and Yiaway who care and understand what's right for Palo Alto.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by TipAndRing
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2009 at 1:55 pm

"Just drove past Alma about 40 minutes ago and smelt smoke and saw fire truck with firefighters using hose and water on either the old Lucky store or something near. Any idea what?"

One of the people against the project suffered a spontaneous combustion event.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by They'reDeveloper clones
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 2:35 pm

>I commend Yoriko, Schmid, and Yiaway who care and understand what's right for Palo Alto.
I agree. There were hundreds of people there last night to support the neighborhood. And lets remember the names of the rest of the moneyboys so we can vote them out this November.
It's time for a referendum. I'm ready to contribute to its cost.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Alma Neighbor
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 27, 2009 at 3:09 pm

In addition to the council members who voted no, I would also like to thank the Planning and Transportation Commissioners who twice rejected this project only to have the majority on the city council ignore their recommendations.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2009 at 3:24 pm

"Paul, What is the process for a referundum? It would be good to start one while this is fresh in people's minds."

I don't know the full story. Check with the city clerk for the basics. Then consult a knowledgeable attorney for the all-important details, because the city will look for every possible technicality to disqualify your paperwork. Start now - the deadlines are tight.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Any referendum will require at least 6,000 signatures collected by hand not over the internet. Good Luck. How do I know this, because we tried to change the City Charter by reducing the City Council from 9 to 7.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2009 at 5:28 pm

"Please provide some information about the developer's responsibility for contributing to PAUSD"

State law says the developer makes a lump-sum payment to the school district, and he's done.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2009 at 5:32 pm

I don't get it. Shouldn't this be good news? They are actually going to do something. We are going to get rid of the rat infested, crime enticing, derelict site. That to me is good news. The housing is just another problem, but it should encourage us to make sure that the City does not agree to any more housing before the plans are drawn up at Fabian/Meadow. This is where we should be putting our protests, not at Alma and Edgewood.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2009 at 8:07 pm

But, does anyone know the specifics about what the developer is required to do in order to ensure that the impact on the local schools is not negative, and, here's a concept, possibly positive? I know in some CA cities, new schools are being built all over the place, funded by developers, so can this be a state requirement? Is there a city or county equivalent? Will someone with specific knowledge or experience please comment?

I see a very consistent set of concerns posted on this forum, and it would be helpful to know the facts.

Thanks


 +   Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jan 27, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Hyatt Rickeys and Alma Plaza, among others, show the negative effects of the Palo Alto Process.

The end result is worse than the original proposal before the neighbors got involved. The neighbors need to learn how to make constructive proposals rather than just be obstructionists.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by They'reDeveloper clones
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 10:19 pm

That's very high minded Chris. The neighbors said again and again, we want a larger market. What would be a more constructive proposal in your mind?
We want less housing (have you seen the sardine can design?).
The developer said no way to even the most minor suggestions by Councilman Burt.
It isn't worse than when the neighbors got involved. What are you referring to?
I note your Blame the Victim attitude, without any constructive suggestions yourself.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by zanon
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 27, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Chris:

you said "The neighbors need to learn how to make constructive proposals rather than just be obstructionists."

I am not obsctructionist, i just don't want to see anything built that will add to congestion in palo alto and make this place a hell hole!

if they decided to tear down the plaza and make it into a park, i would approvel. it's good for global warming! how's that for being constructive, and not "obstructionist"

that said, the palo alto process will kill this thing dead. 2012, i guarantee alma plaza will still be the same special place it is today!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lisa
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2009 at 6:52 am

I'm one of those obstructionist neighbors, so I've been following every proposal in detail for 12 years. And every one of those proposals, whether for a purely commercial development or a mixed development, suffers from the same problem -- they are all too dense. Every one of them tries to put buildings that are too large or too numerous into a relatively small space. As a result, you get predictable problems: too little parking, traffic congestion, cramped streets and sardine-can designs.

My recommendation to those who are interested is this: Don't just drive past Alma Plaza. Park there (plenty of parking now), walk around. Observe the limitations of the site. It's not large. It's an odd shape for a shopping center. It is surrounded on three sides by residences, and on the fourth by a high-traffic through street. It's not suitable for a high-density development of any type.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2009 at 7:49 am

Too dense you say, this is not necessarily the developers fault; the Palo Alto zoning codes allow the developer all this latitude. If you want less dense developments lobby the City to change the zoning codes, don't blame the developer for doing what he is allowed to do, and wishing to make money.

The developers of BRIDGE/BUILD, Echelon, Vantage and Sterling have not given any money to the PAUSD, why should the developer of Alma Plaza? Meanwhile, the only obligation the City has to the PAUSD is to notify them of the number of units being built. The School District's obligation is to educate any children, how and where is up to them.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Andrew L. Freedman
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 28, 2009 at 7:49 am

Hello all,

Without assigning any blame or being critical, this is how I see what had occurred at two separate areas, with the same aspiration to grow and with the same outcome.

Rickey's wanted to expand because at the time, Palo Alto needed more hotel rooms. The neighborhood association put up a lot of resistance to Rickey's expansion plans. After some years, the owner, noting this, gave up and sold. Since it had been rezoned to allow housing, that's what happened.

Lucky's (Albertson's) wanted to expand to be competitive with the grocery stores in Mountain View. They had wanted the city to allow them more square footage than what was currently allowed. Many neighbors voiced their concern about that and it wasn't going anywhere. The city placed a temporary moratorium on development in that area. Lucky's gave up, sold it with a covenant that if there is a future store, it could be no larger than what they had.

Andrew L. Freedman
androcls@aol.com


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Monroe Park
on Jan 28, 2009 at 11:00 am

I followed the Alma Plaza decision carefully because our neighborhood is coming next. In Monroe Park, the proposal is to convert the Palo Alto Bowling Alley/Motel 6 property to a very large hotel and fairly dense housing (24 units)with egress/ingress of residential onto Monroe Drive (where AM/PM traffic is already very bad) and hotel onto El Camino (where right-turn is only option). The City wants to get the hotel they did not get at the Hyatt Ricky Property.

Any advice?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2009 at 1:55 pm

This is the time to look forward not backwards. The Planning Department will be holding a meeting to amend the Comprehensive Plan on Fabian Way and East Meadow Circle. This change is being considered as they look for places to build 2,800 units of housing mandated by ABAG.

The meeting will be held at Palo Verde School 3450 Louis Road, PA on January 29th from 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM.

If you don't like what happened at Alma Plaza, be prepared to fight the next battle.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2009 at 6:31 pm

The NIMBY tone of much of this thread is sickening. What a profound disservice you all are doing to the community as a whole.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2009 at 3:52 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Anyone remember the parable of the dog in the manger?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by They'reDeveloper clones
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2009 at 9:50 am

In November 2009 these terms of the council members who voted for the sardine can are up. Some may want your vote.
No for Barton, Drekmeier, Klein and Morton.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I disagree. Vote yes for Drekmeier and other council members who voted - after great thought and analysis - to approve the Alma Plaza project.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by They'reDeveloper clones
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Drekmeier gave it a lot of thought? He never said a word, had no opinion on anything, and votes consistently for major development.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by phil
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 29, 2009 at 3:53 pm

I am not at all happy with what is going to happen to Alma Plaza, but we're getting no more than we deserve. If people in the neighborhood (myself included) had more strongly supported Lucky's and then Albertson's attempts to modernize the Plaza with a medium-sized (30 to 45K sq ft) traditional grocery, we could have had a viable center a couple of decades ago including small shops and places to eat. Instead the process was argued to death by those wanting only a small store or nothing (maybe a park, suggests one post). I hope the store that is put there will be viable and has prices more reasonable than Piazza's, but I suspect that most people will continue driving to Mt View to do their main shopping (either to the larger Safeway or Whole Foods). I'll support the local store (I'd rather bike a few block than drive a few miles to save a little money), but don't know if it will be able to succeed. I hope it doesn't take another decade to get it built. It's time to move on.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2009 at 8:09 pm

To Resident:
Thanks for the information about the lack of contribution to PAUSD for more schools. I am interested in the source of that information and whether that is a city requirement, one established by the county or a state-wide problem. I think I read that we do not require developers of homes to contribute to the school district in which they are building their homes. Am I reading your comment correctly? Does anyone have any further clarification?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2009 at 9:39 am

Regarding the comment of whether they will have to pay for the impact on the schools...

As far as I know, any development which increases square foot of living space is required to pay a school impact fee. When we expanded our house, we were required to pay some $/ square foot of space we were adding. I think the number was something like $3/square foot, but I am not 100% sure. I assume that this development would fall under the same requirements. I believe there are also park impact fees.

Now you might be wondering as I do what actually *happens* to all of these fees since I am pretty sure that a lot of them are generated. I just wonder where all that money goes.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2009 at 10:32 am

Probably to pay for portables.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Education and Food!
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Sounds like they should have built a school and a grocery store on this site. Build what we need, not what we already have!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Who pays for the operation and upkeep of the community center? Who cleans it up after meetings? Who makes sure it will be secure when not use? Who opens it when the next meeting is scheduled? The city; the neighbors; some fairy godmother?


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