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Editorial: A breathtaking proposal

Original post made on Sep 28, 2012

The largest and boldest commercial development proposal in the history of Palo Alto, located at one of the worst traffic pinch-points in the city, would have been viewed by most as a non-starter under almost any circumstances.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, September 28, 2012, 10:33 AM

Comments (42)

Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2012 at 10:56 am

Another ad for this preposterous monstrosity of a project? Is Mr. Arrillaga also a Palo Alto Weekly "philanthropist"? Palo Alto inhabitants have already given their response on the following thread:

Web Link

Their response is NO. We don't accept that such a monstrosity be built in our town. No going back to the seventies and City Hall like projects. No thanks


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2012 at 12:23 pm

That's not how the editorial reads. It is rightfully plenty skeptical of the development and the giddy razzle-dazzle process being used to push it through.

Has anyone else noticed that this is a council election year? Monitor the campaign contribution disclosure statements carefully for the name Arrillaga, plus relatives and employees.


Posted by tracks, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2012 at 1:30 pm

How will this proposal be affected by HSR?


Posted by Palo Alto for sale?, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Editor,

"The council should resist staff's attempts to rush this project forward and should not try to meet the timetable for a March public vote. Taking this project to the voters prematurely and without the full impacts clearly identified will ensure its defeat."

If it ensures it's defeat, by all means please let us vote on it right away!

This is project is not premature, it is a crazy idea.

It's unthinkable that the City of Palo Alto would afford anyone such access, that would not be afforded to even Stanford University itself.

Are there no rules about this?

In the event it actually "matures," it should be a not an inch higher than 50 feet.

Anyone would think Palo Alto is some run down little town that needs an office complex and a transportation depot to save it!

Are there no other billionaires out there with better ideas?

Let the bidding begin if Palo Alto is for sale, and Palo Alto needs to stick to the 50 feet rule, that should never be negotiable.


Posted by Rick T, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 28, 2012 at 6:46 pm

This project should be dead in the water, but the end of the editorial sounds as if the Weekly is offering advice to keep this monstrosity alive. Why? Does the Weekly favor 10-story buildings? Probably so, but they don't have the guts to say so publicly ... so they offer advice to keep this thing going. what a bunch of shills! Kill this now!!!


Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Can someone please clarify:

Who owns this land? Palo Alto or Stanford, or both/

How can a developer "generously" take over this land, build something on it, and then "generously" allow Palo Alto to use the public space?

All that is missing is a traffic report, and this deal is done?

What exactly do we get to vote on?

The problem seems far beyond council having to "resist staff" from pushing this forward. How did this even get to this point?


Posted by What about conflicts of interest, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 29, 2012 at 12:10 am

Several open conflicts of interest were pointed out by Herb Borock at the council. This editorial doesn't even mention them.
The city hired a Trustee of TheaterWorks as the architect for the project.
The Chair of the theater Trustees is a former Stanford lawyer and the wife of former Stanford President Donald Kennedy.
The staff's enthusiasm, especially Steve Emslie, raises serious concern about what is going on behind the scenes.
The March vote is Non-binding. Council people can find excuses to ignore the vote if they wish to.


Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2012 at 1:47 am



it appears Stanford owns the land, and Palo Alto will thrown in dedicated parkland. No sale, just a give away.

I guess Stanford has decided to put up a tall tall tall barrier between the University and town.

to destroy Palm Drive and the quad by putting an in-your-face office complex that will make the quad look like a doghouse.

This will actually destroy the view FROM Stanford much more than for Palo Alto, because it's closer to Stanford. Us humble Palo Alto residents with our super code compliant renovations will happily get to go back to our views of open sky and trees.

Four Channing House buildings will be the new Stanford entrance. Will it be called Stanford Office Park? What a way to welcome new Stanford students, an office park.

This is breathtaking because of the obscene contrast to Palo Alto and to the current style of the campus.

And breathtaking how bad the safeguards are for us mortals, for city "staff" to be promoting it.

Staff? it just takes "staff" to blow zoning limits?


Posted by Gus L., a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 29, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Old man Potter up on the hill knows what is best for you Palo Altans.
Be good Sheeple and fall in line. Just wear comfortable socks, You will be grabbing them a lot in the near future.


Posted by Don, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 29, 2012 at 9:40 pm

If Stanford had proposed this project, what would have been the reaction from the City powers? A big NO, non-starter, dead in the water. Look at the reaction when Stanford wanted to upgrade its hospital, which actually benefits everybody. The City extorted millions from them and took years to pass approval. This huge, inappropriate traffic-choking thing gets a pass before the plans are in. Wrong thing in the wrong location. It is very important that there is a very open follow-the-money investigation of this. It doesn't smell right, and it is likely that a lot of money is being passed around under the table.


Posted by What about conflicts of interest, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 30, 2012 at 11:08 am

Don said >It is very important that there is a very open follow-the-money investigation of this. It doesn't smell right, and it is likely that a lot of money is being passed around under the table.<
Not just money, also jobs for friends and family, connections for contracts.
Who should do this investigation?


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 30, 2012 at 11:18 am

> The staff's enthusiasm, especially Steve Emslie, raises
> serious concern about what is going on behind the scenes.

Not only that, but if Steve Emslie were to retire anytime soon, what's to keep him from being retained as a consultant, or even hired for "government relations" work by Stanford, or the construction companies that will be building these buildings--if authorization were to be granted by the City?


Posted by Jon, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Sprinkle in a few BMR units, and it will pass, easily. Karen Holman will be all over it.


Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Jon,

Below Market Rate housing units don't go with SKY high Executive office towers. 160 feet Glass towers, almost as high as Hoover Tower. Supposedly an "Arts and Innovation" center.

We already know this has zero to do with the Arts, and in case anyone hasn't noticed, Palo Alto is already an innovation center. Innovation centers in Palo Alto are GARAGES, not glass towers.

We are soon to become an official podunk anywhere town, capable of destroying history, nature, and values, for a handful of elevators and blocks of concrete. Keeping up with the Kardashians I guess.

It is incredible that Stanford would want such an ugly symbol towering over their main entrance. They will be the ones having this out of place eye sore in their view forever.

It does not block my view, I'm in a neighborhood where even billionaires can't renovate exceeding code. But like everyone else, I am disgusted with the process.

Btw, at least Holman is not sold on this, unlike Pat Burt who said he is willing to vote for it based on "his decision", even if against a March vote, which is only "advisory'

WHat the heck kind of vote is that anyway, an "advisory" vote?

We will vote on being "advised" ?




Posted by Jon, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm

>Btw, at least Holman is not sold on this

Just wait until the final 'mature' version is presented, with a bit of 'mixed use', to include a little bit of retail at ground level, a second level of BMR housing. Karen Holman will be the cheerleader for this project, primarily due to to her reflexive support of BMR.

On another note, has anybody done a serious economic analysis of the proposed project, leaving aside aesthtic aspects. I mean benefits (taxes/Downtown sales/property values, etc.) vs. costs (traffic control, parking, police, fire, etc.).


Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm




Jon,

Like any office complex, after hours it will surely be "mixed use."

As far as I can see, the equation for the Palo Alto is that it gives away dedicated parkland in exchange for a theater, and rights to walk and bike on the office complex.

The rent will supposedly go to Stanford and Arrillaga, and because of Prop 13, what Palo Alto gets is ???. Have not seen any valuations or cash flow analysis.

Don't underestimate aesthetics, a monument like this in the heart of town or city should be prohibitive in price, not a sell out.



Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 30, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Palo Alto is changing and it's not a bad thing. When once we were known only in the area, we are now covered on almost a daily basis in the New York Times. T&C is busier than ever, as are Stanford Shopping Center and Downtown. These changes are good: Property values have gone up and our downtown and shopping areas — with the exception of California Avenue — look clean and not run-down.

We also need more office space. Google, Facebook, Pinterest, PayPal, Sun, Intuit. These all started in Palo Alto but were forced to move out because we didn't have space. Almost every major tech company in the bay area started in this city.

We should be proud that our city is doing well. Many people here are against this development. But they were also against T&C renovations, Facebook, and the changes at Stanford Shopping Center. They are against redevelopment of California Avenue. They wish to stay firmly rooted in the 70s when Palo Alto was a little town unbeknownst to the world.

These people, however, forget how deserted T&C was 5 years ago. It was dirty; homeless smoked in the parking lot. They look past the fact that the Cal Ave roads are cracked and that few people outside of town want to go there. They derided Facebook as it increased their property values and brought smart people to our city. They forget how comparatively empty University Ave parking lots were at nights when people used to drive to downtown San Mateo and San Jose instead. We have great facilities — bar Cal Ave — and they draw people. How is that a bad thing?

If you want to live in a city rotted in the 70s with no major developments and little modernization consider moving to Berkeley. Berkeley has great charm, but it also has terrible roads, a run-down downtown, rats, thousands of homeless persons, few if any shopping options, and much more crime. It's because its residents and city council are rooted in the past. Not far off campus, there is an empty lot that has remained undeveloped for almost 20 years. It has thousands of rats. But the city has yet to do anything about it. Is that what we want?

As long as what truly matters remains the same— our neighborhoods, parks, and libraries — change and modernization that renovate dilapidating roads and buildings, and draw visitors to our town are a good thing.


Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Paly Student,

Development itself is not the problem.

Your suggestion to move to Berkeley is not different than saying one could move to New York City. With or without development you can get "terrible roads, a run-down downtown, rats, thousands of homeless persons." Fortunately, Palo Alto is neither Berekely or NYC, and there is a balance to be struck.

Large or small - you would want public land development to happen, not behind closed doors, or with private deals behind resident's backs. To bust zoning limits for unnamed reasons or potentially with corruption. I guess I am a dreamer.

Anyway, people in this town have proven to not be "firmly rooted in the past", and even if they are, they somehow invent something like an iPhone.

Inspiration for innovation here may even and most likely have a connection to the nature, trees, sky, space. Nothing else to do!

Seriously, Palo Alto has a higher responsibility to develop something consistent with what made it what is today. It's not on the NY TImes on a daily basis because of the Alma Plaza development. Although this story of the Arrillaga/Stanford/CIty "staff" deal is certainly worthy of a NYT article.


Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2012 at 9:12 pm

@ Paly Student,

Noooo, we don't want to be rooted in the 70s. The 70s is when they built those abominations that the tall office building on University is, and that our City Hall also is, complete with his pedestrian "plaza"... Speak of charmless.

Also, property values in this city have been increase dramatically since the end of prop. 13, well before Google, Facebook, Pinterest and others existed.

Believe it or not, we can "develop" smartly while preserving our small town feel and charm, which precludes exceeding current rules such as the limit on building heights. Places like Los Altos, to name just one, do just fine, without tall buildings in downtown, and without rats and homeless people.

The proposed development is a monstrosity.


Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm

* ... its pedestrian plaza (not his)
* ... have been increasing..

Apologies for the errors.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 30, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Midtowner - what do you mean 'since the end of prop 13'?


Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Sorry I meant since Prop 13... I clicked on the Submit button way too soon obviously.


Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2012 at 11:25 pm


Midtowner,

"we can "develop" smartly while preserving our small town feel and charm"

Just want to say that "charm" is sometimes confused with stupid or backward, and this would not the the case here, tech center of the universe and all.


Bottom line is that the space for all this project is SO small which is why they want to build UP.

To house Broadway, Rockefeller (Arrillaga) center, the World FInancial Center, and the Golden Gate Bridge on University and Alma, on top of where there is currently a restaurant, you need to go to the MOON.

Yes the Quad will look like a doghouse, and Hoover Tower would look like a fire hydrant.

Also, in a PERFECT world, there would be a contest for the Architect. Instead of naming a trustee on TheaterWorks, with all the conflicts of interest. Frank Ghery is building the Facebook building and this monument to modernity is being built by who?

Editor,

I still cannot understand where Stanford is on all this. They really want this?

Anyone from Stanford?






Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2012 at 11:43 pm



"To house Broadway, Rockefeller (Arrillaga) center, the World FInancial Center, and the Golden Gate Bridge on University and Alma, on top of where there is currently a restaurant, you need to go to the MOON"

I forgot to add Grand Central Station to the list!

Arts,Transportation hub, office complex, pedestrian plaza, bridge to Stanford

All-in1, a real Walmart effect

In a space barely large enough for a pre-school.




Posted by Leslie, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 1, 2012 at 11:45 am

I was heartsick to read your editorial. I was raised in Menlo Park and have lived in Palo Alto for the last 33 years. I've seen many changes as you can imagine, but it's only recently that I've felt we're being crowded out. The level, speed, and type of growth is shifting that delicate benefit-to-detriment ratio for residents, and we're wondering what happened to our city leaders and their judgment. We live on a peninsula with limited space. At some point we need to look at building growth in terms of replacements rather than additions. I'm biking to the store now because it's too hard to drive there. I say slow the growth until we can beam folks to where they need to go. Otherwise, we will shoot ourselves in our collective foot, because it will become so unpleasant here that folks will leave and our slick new office buildings will sit empty.


Posted by Parking Lot, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 1, 2012 at 2:19 pm

This project is a nonstarter under ALL circumstances.

It is too tall.

It will result in too much traffic.

It is too corrupt.

Nope.

Noway.

No how.


Posted by Bad Investment, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Why on earth is the City spending ITS OWN money to review this project. Shouldn't the developer bear all costs of pushing the project through the process?

Also...why is money received from Stanford to offset the issues created by the new Hospital being spent by the City on THIS project. That's exactly like Stanford getting to use the offset funds for their own benefit...not Palo Alto's.

What on earth is the City thinking.

These guys need a wake-up call. Right...its coming on the first Tuesday in November.


Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 1, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Jan H. is a registered user.

Everyone forgets that Palo Alto is a bedroom community, supposedly a nice place for people to live quietly, shop, dine, go to school, etc. NOT some dirty, dingy complex of tech or other industry.

PA has improved tremendously traffic-wise since Facebook left, but now people in Meno Park are complaining about rowdy diners in their restaurants at lunch and dinner, from Facebook, and the god-awful traffic the employees have generated. Traffic complaints here have been dramatically reduced.

Keep in mind the town of PA and its streets cannot handle the volume of people and traffic. Notice all the new houses being built three stories high on less than 2,000 square feet? The new traffic lights going in? The lack of room for existing roadways to be widened?


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

To Jan H et al:
Your view is in sharp contrast to those setting policy. They want Palo Alto to be a regional center, a destination for work, dining, entertainment. Recognize that the City pushed the developer of 101 Lytton to have a _bigger_ building -- one that exceeded the zoning. And notice that these office towers are meant primarily for those commuting into Palo Alto. Similarly for the theater.

In virtually any other city, the location of the JCC would have been seen as ideal for major retail, such as an auto dealership or big box retail that would have generated a substantial stream of sales tax revenues. Instead, Palo Alto got a regional center (remember that they wanted to have a decorative tower far above the height limit so that people coming down 101 could use it as a landmark).

And the Stanford Hospital Expansion: Although it is intended to greatly expand the region that they served, Stanford and the PA elite argued (largely successfully) that Palo Altans are so rich that they should bear the costs of the side-effects (traffic, housing).

If one attends meetings on policy, you hear influential people saying that they wish Palo Alto as more like Manhattan and that Palo Alto needs to become far more dense to become "a real city".

We have an elite that routinely behaves as if money is no object and seems oblivious to the many Palo Alto families that are struggling financially to stay in Palo Alto to keep their children in school here.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm

I thought it was the schools struggling to keep up with the flood of children moving in.


Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm



musical,

it's both - you have people coming in, money no object, and people who financially struggle to afford to stay in Palo Alto and to keep their children here.

I saw a good letter to the Editor on the Post proposing a Referendum on the whole issue of Palo Alto as a Mini-Manhattan, which I think was the title of the article.

It's time for the people who are struggling to stay, and the people who have plunked hundreds of millions in houses here to speak up.

Does Palo Alto want to lose its sky and trees, embrace high rise shadows, in exchange for restaurants, and so forth?

My view is that Palo Alto will not look like Manhattan because only Manhattan can do that. Palo alto will look more like Santana Row in San Jose. Italian Villa architecture with a Container Store and Pasta Pomodoro, not Nobu.

We will only pretend to be Manhattan. While Manhattan wishes it was us, less dirty, less busy, less tourists, and more green.

It's definitely time to have a referendum, and not let a handful of people who are failing at their job of representing us, or developers to decide this.





Posted by arts supporter, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 1, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Wow. Such negativity. It's not like the current land use is anything to be proud of. It's currently a homeless encampment! And the "intermodal transportation center" is a disaster. Who hasn't turned right into the McArthur Park lot when you wanted to be on El Camino? Geez, think about the good stuff this project could bring.

I'm not saying it's a slam dunk; I just think it's worth considering. Would it be more palatable if it were all below 50'? Of course, the theater fly needs to be 100' to accommodate the size of the proscenium. If this were a theater and a retail complex would you like it better?

And has the 50' limit ever been voted on by the residents of Palo Alto? No, is the answer to that question. What the City Council is proposing is to let the people decide whether or not to proceed with this development. This isn't a bad thing.

And to all of you who keep threatening to "throw the bums out", um, have you noticed the lack of serious candidates for City Council this year? Please, if you can do better, then run for office. It's easy to criticize; it's hard to lead.




Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2012 at 10:31 pm



arts supporter,

Voting for what we thought were serious candidates is certainly not getting any results, maybe what you call non-serious candidates will be an improvement.

For the serious arts supporters, there is an empty theater sitting empty Downtown that you could revive. Why lift one up in the air, in an office complex above the train tracks? Because a trustee for Theaterworks is the Architect for the office project. The homeless encampment currently there smells better than this.

Have residential restrictions been voted on?


Posted by FYI, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 1, 2012 at 11:35 pm

For an example of this architect's work, look at the large structure on the northwest corner of Seale and Cowper. It's worth the trouble so you have an idea of what you might be in for.


Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2012 at 12:35 am

fyi,

the box car house. It's ok, and I don't mind modern or "unique"

But, the house is built on the entire lot.

No room for anything but the house, which says something about the architect. He/she may feel that building is more important than space, or the nature it rests on. The house also screams, look at me! I am the house.

WHich is exactly what this project sounds like. A monument to the architect or building, or the developer, who knows, but they sure left Palo Alto out of it!




Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2012 at 10:05 am



City Council agreeing to a the Letter of Intent to work with Theaterworks on this mega-office complex. Doesn't that sound like Theater itself? Maybe the Children's Zoo has a commercial development to propose too.

The house on Seale and Cowper (by the architect for the office complex) is a massive block of construction blocking anyone from the sidewalk seeing the sky above it. It does not have any slants or angles on the second floor (to respect light, and views) like most other new or renovated residential constructions.

Did that house count on special exemptions they got from the City?

This project is a nightmare in terms of traffic, and the environment. It could be a dream for a run down part of town that needs revitalization.

Does anyone know if Stanford has zoning limits? How tall is their tallest new construction?













Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2012 at 10:09 am



sorry, did not mean to imply that even a run down part of Palo Alto would consider ruining the environment. Just meant they may appreciate the traffic.


Posted by FYI, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2012 at 4:56 pm

To who owns: The house on the corner of Seale and Cowper by the city's theater architect is extraordinary -- lets give other people a chance to look at it and express their opinions.


Posted by watcher, a resident of another community
on Oct 2, 2012 at 9:45 pm

"... but if Steve Emslie were to retire anytime soon, what's to keep him from being retained as a consultant, ..."

Guess what? Emslie IS planning to retire soon.


Posted by who owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm



FYI,

Other than the house on Cowper and Seale, what else qualifies the Architect to do this massive commercial development?

Any other city, maybe even town would entertain the best they could find. Facebook could probably qualify as a town because it serves so many people, they found Frank Gehry.

Anyway, nobody answers - any experts around? What is the tallest new construction at Stanford?

And is Stanford behind this project? What are they saying about their new view.

Everyone at Stanford needs to look over in the direction of Palo Alto, and notice that from every angle of their campus and especially Palm Drive, the skyline is pristine - light, trees, and sky.

No big buildings sticking out of the trees. Now, a building taller than any building on campus or town will be right on Palm Drive.

Not even the hospitals are built "up", and they provide social good. This thing will be for offices. We are building a monument for office space.


Posted by WHo owns this land?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2012 at 11:31 pm



watcher,

I googled Steve Emslie's photo and he looks kind of young to retire. Shock full of hair, eager look.

All it takes to do this, is one guy at the development office?

WHat does it take to have a referendum on building over 50 feet?


Posted by Traffic blocking emergency care, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm

In a related thread, someone suggested closing off University to accommodate this office project. Which only means transferring the problem to Hamilton or to the neighborhoods.

But If you close off University, there is nothing left to reach critical medical services located at PAMF, and at Stanford. Already NOW you better hope you do not need access to medical attention during a Stanford football game or rush hour.

Even if you ran over to get medical help from your house (if you could), your nurse or doctor may not be able to get to work because of the gridlock. Certainly an ambulance would be stuck too.

Blocking off traffic and access to El Camino for Palo Alto residents because of this project is the most irresponsible thing. Offices need to be zoned OUTSIDE traffic push points, and certainly away from anything that blocks medical attention.

"Quality of life" would certainly be impacted.




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