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Palo Alto seeks truce in Maybell zoning battle

Original post made on Jun 13, 2013

Palo Alto's rancorous and highly emotional debate over a proposed senior-housing development on Maybell Avenue will spill over into next week after the City Council decided on Thursday not to vote on the project and directed the developer and the opposition to give diplomacy another chance.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, June 13, 2013, 9:52 PM

Comments (59)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 13, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Who are the two parties? Does that "accord" include all the people who are suffering from the traffic misery on Maybell and Arastradero on a daily basis? I live east of middefield, and this effect me directly on a daily basis. Am I part of the 'party'.

Palo Alto City Council is going to have to actually do the right thing. There is no two party' discussion to be had here. Who exactly are the parties that are supposed to reach an agreement here?


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Posted by Ken Poulton
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 13, 2013 at 11:28 pm

I'm with Gail Price. Reduce the number and size and uniformity of the detached houses and then let it go forward.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 13, 2013 at 11:36 pm

So we're going to impact thousands of students and many more thousands of families by staggering school times to allow for 12-15 housing units? Are people even listenting to themselves anymore?

You know, what's really amusing is that if the city wouldn't have been so arrogant about the 'traffic calming' on Arastradero without even the least of concern about the impacts on the Maybell neighborhoods, that rammed all this HUGE traffic problem down the throats of this neighborhood, the city probably wouldn't be sitting here with this angry mob right now.

Apparently, what goes around comes around. I this case the traffic that was forced to go around Arastradero - forced to reroute down Maybell, has caused the angry neighbors to come around in force to refuse this preposterous zoning change. The bizarre traffic changes on Arastradero are coming around to bite the city council council on their collective ...

I'm actually wondering why a city council member had to go do his own traffic study. Glad he did, but might we ask , what's the problem with the paid studies? For instance, did they do a traffic study after Gunn let out of school? Total crock? Useless? Pack of lies? Just curious.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 13, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Resident,
I'm a little at a loss over who will be representing, because we don't have a formal neighborhood association in Greenacres I & II, and those neighborhoods are more impacted than much of Barron Park. The opposition to the rezoning has been very grassroots, so I don't see how anyone in the neighborhood would speak for the group.

Plus, the Council voted to limit the discussion to a very narrow scope (limited to rearranging the deck chairs, so to speak), and they aren't willing to really brainstorm and hash out solutions. As Councilmember Klein said, the PAHC people have really been so recalcitrant — neighbors have already tried to meet with them to find compromises, and they haven't been willing. At this stage, the neighborhood doesn't really benefit in any way from this negotiation or compromising, because the things they want, like a good quality traffic study that takes the kids/bikes into account, takes time, and PAHC's not going to offer that. The only thing that would help PAHC be flexible, frankly, is if they didn't have to be married to their financing scheme, and I don't see any way around that unless the City is willing to put some change on the table.

I personally can't see what could be done in such a short time under such constraints.

Councilmembers seem ready to rezone, they should just rezone and accept the blowback, which is going to be significant. In the meeting tonight, they still talked like they just didn't get why there is so much opposition to the rezoning in the neighborhood (not the senior housing under the existing zoning, just the rezoning), and still basically spoke like they figured all those people are just misguided for disagreeing with Council and not swallowing the staff advocacy reports.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2013 at 12:05 am

I think this project is a safer project for our children than any other realistic alternative that involves housing," Berman said.

A. He does not know that because he is clearly not a traffic engineer, and there never was a quality traffic study covering the last few years and all the bicycles and pedestrians.

B. Maybell already has like 3400 vehicle trips per day! Cumulative impacts were never looked at.

C. Not all alternatives have to involve housing there. Council wants to negotiate without any chance of discussing those. That doesn't benefit the neighorhood.

People are fed up with overdevelopment all over town. If Council rezones, there will be a referendum, and it will be an opportunity to at the same time hold a referendum to restrict PC zoning, which would ultimately be good for all of Palo Alto.


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Posted by Ernesto USMC
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 14, 2013 at 12:13 am

I'm sympathetic to senior housing, but completely unsympathetic to anyone who, through deception, omission, or otherwise, would threaten the safety of our schoolchildren.

The city council should never have funded a flawed project with $5M of my tax dollars. Now they're effectively biased in deciding this zoning issue. While Kniss and Price seem willing to double down on a flawed decision, Klein is rightly hoping that the parties will solve the problem for him. I hope the residents hold out for the right decision, even it it means litigation.

The council has set the city up for a CEQA suit in which the city's position is compromised by their conflict of interest. The developer's arrogance will not help. If the traffic study is as flawed and incomplete as it appears, and it was cited by staff in their report, that's bad news for the city. The fact that the visual simulations submitted by the developer were different (better looking) than the actual plans is even worse. I've been in some nasty CEQA fights, and this is the kind of stuff the residents lawyer will put to use to great effect.

I sense a giant waste of more of my tax dollars coming if the city decides to fight this one in court, but I'm glad the residents aren't simply going th eat the garbage the city is trying to force feed them.

My advice to the neighborhood: don't "settle" for anything outside of existing zoning. If the city continues its heavy handed tactics, the populace will back you, both in a referendum and in an initiative as well if you wanted to take PC zoning away from the council for good. With 27 University as an example, the citizens are tired of the council rolling over for developers at every turn, and the council seems completely ignorant to this sentiment. I would suggest carrying recall petitions as well when you're gathering signatures.

Also, if the project is on such a tight deadline for tax credit application, the developer should not have taken such an intransigent approach. How will all the shortcuts, omissions, and misinformation delivered by PAHC help it in a competitive credit situation now that its blown up? Saddling the project with a pitched CEQA battle with "loss" written all over it probably makes the tax credit argument completely irrelevant.

Terrible show, city council. Terrible show, PAHC. Residents, just be glad your in this country because there is real recourse available to you after kangaroo court adjourns.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2013 at 6:00 am

Here's a compromise:

* Put in a auto barrier on Maybell, somewhere between Thain & Amaranta. Make Maybell a bike boulevard

* Redesign the layout so that all car traffic from the project goes onto Clemo and then to Arastradero.

* Make Arastradero a major arterial, with 4 lanes (2 each direction)

* Market rate houses of the project need to be limited to 2 stories. If they want a third story, then build a basement.




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Posted by Lacks Credibility
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2013 at 6:50 am

Why should Klein be surprised at the opposition to this project? Residents are unlikely to have a shred of trust in the council especially since the city has provided money to this development and is therefore an interested party; not a neutral arbiter. Combine that with what everyone can see for themselves at Alma Plaza and there should be no surprise at the opposition. The real surprise is that there have not been lawsuits already.


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Posted by long term resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2013 at 7:48 am

The current R2 and RM15 is already the 'tapered/buffer' zoning from the existing, high density development on two sides to the R1 zoning of the rest of the neighborhood.

The latest proposal (15 to 12 houses) plus the proposed senior housing unit still would require a zoning change to high density.

If the property must be developed as housing- then develop the senior housing (at or below market rate) within the current, zoning without encroaching high density rezoning further into the neighborhood.




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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 14, 2013 at 9:14 am

Wonder how this kind of "secret" meeting will pass muster with the Brown Act? Is there any history of these kinds of "secret" meetings to resolve other City-related zoning changes?

Will any of the participants be free to record the meeting? Will the public be told what transpired?

This seems like a really bad idea.


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Posted by Really?
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 14, 2013 at 9:16 am

It appears the council wants desperately to get some air cover to take peoples' minds off of the council's blatant steamrolling of the neighborhood. How can anyone take their claims of impartiality seriously in any way?

If I'm an umpire who has bet $5M on the Giants, would you really expect me to call balls and strikes accurately, even if I reassure you that I'm capable of acting as a better and an impartial umpire because I'm used to "wearing many hats."


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Posted by pares
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 14, 2013 at 9:23 am

The city should respect and uphold zoning laws. When residents ask for just that and then are vilified, that's a travesty. I don't fault the developer so much because it looks like the bigger problem is that our city leaders have been encouraging high density. That needs changing!


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Posted by questioning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2013 at 10:16 am

No big deal for the city to approve removing two heritage oaks? Does the tree ordinance only apply to home owners?


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Posted by a disappointed voter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 14, 2013 at 10:50 am

This project will directly impact our kids and our families too and we are not even in the game.... We really need to look for new council members to represent us!


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Posted by Juno
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2013 at 10:54 am

The article says: Holman on Thursday asked Candice Gonzalez about these rumors: Did the agency pay supporters?

"Absolutely not," Gonzalez said.
****

What the article fails to report is that, after Candice Gonzales was given unlimited time to respond to Council Member Holman's question, Council Member Holman asked whether anyone in the chambers had evidence to the contrary. Someone in the back portion of the chamber raised her (couldn't tell for sure if it was a his or her) hand. Council Member Holman, then would not let that person speak, saying that "the Public Hearing is closed."

A lame excuse, it seems to me, to shut up one side, while giving the other side a chance to respond.

As demonstrated later in the meeting when residents' group members were asked to identify themselves and were asked questions by the Mayor, the public is allowed to answer questions from the Council when called on to do so after the public hearing is closed. So all Council member Holman accomplished was to confirm most resident's feelings that this is a biased City Council, who mired itself in a conflict of interest, and is struggling to extricate itself, from the hole it dug (and doing a very poor job of it, at that).


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 14, 2013 at 11:08 am

Staggering school hours. Obviously Mr. Berman has no clue as to how school hours are already staggered across PAUSD --- one key reason is to coordinate the cross-town buses for the Tinsley kids. Change the hours for one school and then you have to adjust all of the other elementary and middle school hours as well.

If the city council hasn't figured it out yet, they need to go back and rethink their entire mindset on housing, rezoning, etc. It is abundantly clear that the residents do not want their town urbanized.

Time to send ABAG packing. Yes it is selfish. But we're talking about 65,000 people being selfish, not just the community around the Maybell project.


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Posted by Approve it Already!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 14, 2013 at 11:21 am

1)The streets are relatively calm outside the period of 7:45-8:15 a.m.

2) The site's existing zoning would already allow a developer to build 34 single-family homes on the site, a development that staff argued would have an even greater traffic impact than the senior complex. If the developer offers to devote a portion of the project to affordable housing, city law would allow construction of up to 46 homes. These projects, Berman said, would be far worse for the neighborhood than what the Housing Corporation is proposing.

To those that oppose the project:

Would you prefer the current proposal or 46 single family home son the site? This should be a no brainer! Approve it already!


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Posted by Really?
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 14, 2013 at 11:52 am

To "Approve it Alreay!"

The 46 homes is a terror number thrown about by the developer, and seized by staff and council to help justify their pre-determined, conflicted position. Those 46 homes would be constrained by current zoning, making the practical, build-able total much less.

I don't presume to lecture the neighbors on what is in their best interests.


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Posted by Approve it Already!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm

To: Really?

The current zoning of the site is RM-15 (Low Density Multi-Family) which allows 15 dwelling units per acre. The size of the lot is 107,393sf so the current zoning allows 36.98 units. By taking advantage of the density bonus you get to the 46 units.

While this number may be terrifying to you and other neighbor it is a fact, jack. This project should be approved already. When you look at the alternatives the current proposal is a no brainer! Approve it already!


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Posted by Eileen Wright
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm

"Approve it already!"

Yes! Anywhere but my neighborhood.


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Posted by JerryL
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm

.......the populace will back you, both in a referendum and in an initiative as well, if you wanted to take PC zoning away from the council for good. .........

Count me in. I have had it with the HUGE increase in traffic, housing density, school overcrowding, street narrowing, red light proliferation that has been going on (mostly in the South portion of Palo Alto).
I am appalled at the recent misuse of so-called Planned Community zoning. PC Zoning has no place in an already developed community like ours and needs to be stopped. Where do I contribute? Where do I sign?


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I am aghast at the bias of the PA staff and the city council's inclination to just accept their view. I would like to know the Staff's agenda on this. Do they not want to do any work to find a better site. There are so many restaurants closed on El Camino. Surely one of those could be utilized to create senior housing!
The City Council is just dumbing down the neighborhood concerns and do not even know the true situation.

Fo example Councilman Berman has no clue! Please look at some of these facts before making any decisions:
a) The school hours are already staggered for Briones, Terman and Gunn. Because of the traffic issues since over a year Gunn has moved it's start time from 8:05 to 8:25 am. Do you want Gunn Students to start at 9am just so that you can add density to that stretch of Maybell!

b) You were going on about the layout of the Bike cages in Briones. Most students who bike on Maybell are not going to Briones. Most Briones parents would not be comfortable having the young ones bike on Maybell. The students who bike on Maybell are mostly Gunn and Terman students.

c) Why do you need to do a personal traffic study? Should you not be asking for a "valid" traffic study to be done by PAHC so that hundreds of Bikers and Pedestrains are taken into consideration? Was it not alarming to you to see so many student bikers that were not accounted for in the Study? Would you trust the study done by Hexagon to base your decisions on?

There are so many frustrations on this issue that I cannot believe we are going through this as a neighborhood. The Planning commission let us down and now the City Council is letting us down.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Someone sent to City Council this morning:

"The idea expressed by Council Member Berman that there can be 34 single-family homes on the Maybell-Clemo site is not accurate. That is or may be a theoretical number. 34 homes on 2.46 acres would mean that each home site would be 3,150sf (very small even for Palo Alto) and there would be NO roadways whatsoever. Roadways and appropriate setbacks, appropriately sized home sites, etc, would lower that number (and traffic, etc.) very significantly. 6,000sf lots (not all that large) would drop that number to 18 and roadways (32' wide as said to be required by Bob Moss) would drop that number even lower.
"


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Everyone in the rest of Palo Alto should be concerned about the inadequate traffic report on emergency response grounds, too, because the fire department, contrary to what Gail Price said, did not review how the response times to the area (including the schools) would be affected, they only reviewed the project itself, and response times to it (it's right across the street).

They also said they did not consider any scenarios with traffic blocked in both directions on Maybell, something neighbors see pretty regularly, because the transportation people didn't tell them to consider such a scenario. In fact, they pretty much didn't consider any new traffic scenarios. The transportation people told them there would be "little or no impact" from the development, so that's what the fire department went with -- there was nothing to consider.

The fire department said that if the transportation people tell them there's an issue, then they look at it and weigh in. The fire department uses what PTC tells them, and PTC used the advocacy report from the Maybell project, which used old data and didn't include the bicycles, among other things.

is that how the rest of town would like safety handled here?


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Posted by Really?
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 14, 2013 at 1:05 pm

To "Build it Already!", the zoning expert from Crescent park:

It's more than just arithmetic. The current zoning has setback, height, parking, minimum lot size, access road width, and other restrictions that would not allow 46 conforming units to be built under current zoning. Your understanding is first order, and in this case inaccurate.

To Parent: I agree with your fatalistic assessment of where the council is going with this, but remember the process right now is just a show trial. The city council saw to that when they climbed into bed with the developer financially. The real action will be in a legitimate, third party court, where the city, staff, and developer will have to answer to the facts in a forum that isn't rigged in their favor. My brother litigates CEQA suits all the time and says the city is walking into an ass-kicking with this one.

Given PAHC's arrogance so far, I doubt they'll offer anything but meaningless concessions masked as "compromise" in this council mandated peace summit (knocking out a few houses on Maybell, removing the 3rd stories that should never have been there in the first place, etc.) After all, they know the council is in their pocket because they're stuck for $5M already invested.

This the PAHC's idea of compromise:

PAHC: "I'll screw you twice."
Neighborhood: "No."
PAHC: "OK, we'll compromise... Once."


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Posted by Jake Hartinger
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 14, 2013 at 1:13 pm

I live 1/2 block from the project. I realize that the land will be developed. I think the recommendation from LIz Kniss & Gail Price is fair and reasonable and I would support that.
The current plan doesn't fit into the neighborhood in any way, does not properly address safety, and surely impacts parking in my neighborhood. It also appears to be illegal based on Maybell street width between Abel and Clemo.


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Posted by Approve it Already!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 14, 2013 at 1:43 pm


To Really? -

Since you are such an expert on RM-15 zoning why don't you tell us how many units could be built on the site based on the current zoning? You mention minimum lot size, but RM-15 projects are generally developed with a condominium configuaration with just the one underlying lot - so this wouldn't come into play.

Or if it wasn't developed with "for sale" condominiums it could be developed with market rate or below market rate rental housing (oh horrors! The impacts to the neighborhood and schools!). All these types of development are allowable under the current zoning and there would be even less opportunity for public imput and involvement involvement then the current project.


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Posted by Sheryl
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:00 pm

The city has let south/west Palo Alto down. Would you like to live near:

1. The Maybell Ave./Georgia commute corridor, during the school year. Hours: 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM.
2. Arastradero. All Hours but particularly commute hours. Come and drive that one, for fun.
3. The high density housing complex at the Hyatt Ricky's site.
4. The new Tree House directly across Charleston from the Hyatt.
5. The not so attractive situation at Miki's Market. (Our local market?) All approved by our City Councils.
Greenacres and Barron Park have every right to be upset with this poor planning and management. Our area is paying for Palo Alto's unwillingness to tell ABAG to take their density requirements and place them somewhere else.


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Posted by long-term palo altan
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I strongly support Sheryl's post.


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Posted by Floyd
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Green Acres 1 has had a formal neighborhood association for almost 60 years. I've asked this publication more than once over the years to make the distinction, but to no avail.
The whole city plan Arastradero and Maybelle has the same aroma as the battles we fought over Terman School and the Cabana Hotel(twice): a back room deal (minus the citizenry) decided before going public.


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

I figure city council will just keep deferring the 'announced issue' meeting, each time, until attendance falls off, where they will quickly pass it 'due to lack of opposition'.
A barricade on Maybell, will just divert even more cars onto Los Robles


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Does everyone realize that the City has put a policy in the proposed Housing Element of the new General Plan that it will focus on South Palo Alto for densification???!!!!

They are also going to increase the number of houses that can be built per acre under RM-15 -- rather than fight rezoning battles, they'll just increase everyone's zoning.

What else is in there? They will be voting on that later this month. Everyone should read the proposed housing element and general plan, and write city.council@cityofpaloalto.org if you do not think it is appropriate for them to focus on densification in South Palo Alto! In case anyone hadn't noticed, there are several applications by developers, and they're just applying with PC zoning like they're assuming they'll get it, especially on El Camino.

El Camino is now a highway.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2013 at 5:13 pm

@ approve
The City's comprehensive plan is supposed to be our land use guide:Web Link

It says such quaint things as:

Maintain and periodically review height and density limits to discourage single uses that are inappropriate in size and scale to the surrounding uses.

Maintain the scale and character of the City. Avoid land uses that are overwhelming and unacceptable due to their size and scale.

Preserve the character of residential neighborhoods by encouraging new or remodeled structures to be compatible with the neighborhood and adjacent structures.

Density should be on the lower end of the scale next to single family residential areas. Densities higher than what is permitted by zoning may be allowed where measurable community benefits will be derived, services and facilities are available, and the net effect will be compatible with the overall Comprehensive Plan.

Density should be on the lower end of the scale, because the surrounding region is R-1. Higher density would not be compatible with the overall Comprehensive Plan. The RM-15 is a historic nod to the pre-PaloAlto Tan/Arastradero and a transition zone to avoid abrupt density change to the R-1. If the zoning is changed, there will be a giant island of high-density spot zoning there which violates the overall Comprehensive Plan in virtually every way. If it weren't for those historic apartment exceptions, that property would be R-1 and we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

So, at 8-15 units per acre for "low density residential multifamily", that's really closer to 16-20 units on the 2 acres, 20 because of the density bonus if they put in that many BMR units.

That property has so much negative disclosure on it now, what are the chances someone is going to take the chance of building 1300-1400 sq ft homes on tiny lots, when the 2000+ sq ft homes are the desirable ones?


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Posted by Marianne
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 14, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Marianne is a registered user.

I attended the special meeting of the Palo Alto City Council held June 13. The follow are comments on some of my observations from that meeting.

1) School start/stop times have already been staggered at Briones, Terman, Gunn and Bowman Schools. The designated bicycle route on Maybell involves all four schools and the heavily used Briones park.

2) The main traffic concern is not the 20% of the time that all schools are out but the 80% of the time schools are in session. In addition, traffic on Arastradero is also less congested when school is not is session.

3) The current R2 and RM15 zoning is already there to provide the buffer between the existing high-density zoning and the R1 zoning of the neighborhood. The proposed rezoning allows the encroachment of high-density further into the neighborhood

4) The proposed, still open, amendment reducing market rate housing from 15 to 12, which also allowed for the 72-hour negotiation period, would still require rezoning to high-density. This is what the neighborhood is against. Building senior housing at or below market rate under current zoning would probably be acceptable in a properly planned proposal if it including a valid traffic study and legitimate neighborhood input. That option is not even considered part of scope of the 72-hour negotiations.

4) PAHC denies paying or recruiting 'seat holders' to wear green badges at the meetings. I can accept that this may be true since it would not be a smart move for PAHC to be officially involved is this activity. Never the less, many relatively un-informed individuals were present who did not know details or even the location of the project. They (many in large groups) found out about the meeting and arrived somehow. In contrast, there were some neighbors/residents who do agree with the original proposal and deserve to be heard (even though I don't personally agree with them). It is difficult, probably impossible to truly sort this out.

5) There is pressure from PAHC, Staff and the Council to meet a deadline for a grant application. The portion provided by this potential grant, which may not even be awarded, is small compared to the total project cost – especially the cost of making a mistake.


Marianne McKissock

Donald Drive, Palo Alto


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 14, 2013 at 6:36 pm

@ neighbor/green acres: El Camino has been a highway all along. State Route 82. The road is managed and maintained by CalTrans, not the city or county.

But your point about the mess that is getting created is well-taken and sadly correct.


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Posted by homeless
a resident of another community
on Jun 14, 2013 at 11:40 pm

2 many comments about this issue: senior housing; to read. Not worried about it bc the waiting list to get housing is already filled and more seniors waiting or staying homeless .we raised the kids and are raising up the grand kids too, therefore the senior housing project must also accept children living in there. Children and grandchildren; ok? We are a huge baby boomer generation; burden on working generation is huge. Just like to sum it up in a nut shell: who ever is working on senior housing: must not forget the foundation . You are where you are bc of us ; seniors; homeless or not. We want everyone to be happy and not to feel guilty about red tape or seeing a homeless senior citizen walking around or sitting around on the curb. Please, respect us; no matter how we look or if we look for cans from the garbage.


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Posted by CL
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 15, 2013 at 8:17 am

Rezoning the Maybell property and then selling the more valuably rezoned land to a developer in order to finance the construction of low income housing looks like a perfect back room deal, in which any developer, by making an alliance with a low income housing corporation, can BUY rezoning. If this is the case, ALL of Palo Alto can be rezoned by any low income housing developer.

The PAHC states they do not yet have a developer for the rezoned home plans they wish to sell. And, even though our city gave them $5 million, so far they are unwilling to discuss their financial plans for this project. What was disclosed to the city in order to obtain that money? If this deal is being funded in part by our tax dollars, shouldn't the PAHC be willing to disclose the plans to the public?

Here's how it looks: Our city is funding a process by which a private, non-profit housing corporation can fund projects by selling very valuable newly rezoned land to a developer, in violation of the Comprehensive Plan.

The city attorney claims that loaning 5 million dollars to entities like the PAHC is a common practice for developing low income housing.
Is it --or will it become-- common practice for the city to finance "rezones-for-profit" ?

Additionally, building plans for these homes were passed through ARB and Planning, which certainly looks like a biased transit through the planning process.
After all, if the city loaned $5 million to the project, isn't every city employee compelled to give it a pass?

And, if the city loaned $5 million of our tax dollars in order to facilitate a VERY profitable land deal, is it not sitting on a very expensive legal explosion?

If the PAHC and the city council want to get out of this unscathed, they need to maintain the zoning restrictions. Build the low income senior housing with NO REZONE. This neighborhood--and all neighborhoods-- should not be forced to accept high density to enable profitable speculation on land deals. All lot sizes, setbacks, daylight planes, FAR limits should apply. Stick to the Comprehensive Plan.



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Posted by no rezone
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 15, 2013 at 9:12 am

@CL -- Well said! That's a nightmare that didn't occur to me before: you pointed out that all a developer needs to do is say he/she will build low income housing, and the city responds with a big green light, and never mind the comprehensive plan.

There are so many very high density projects going up near us at Arastradero/Charleston/El Camino, that I wonder what traffic will be like when all these apartments are filled in a year or two from now. Some of these are close by but in other cities such as Mountain View but they will have an impact on traffic in Palo Alto.

I haven't seen mention of it, but doesn't East Palo Alto provide low income housing nearby? Areas of Redwood City and Mountain View too. There's no need to urbanize south Palo Alto any more than it ia already, and we are doing more than our share of low income housing.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 15, 2013 at 11:53 am

@CL,
Yes, well said.

One point you said "The PAHC states they do not yet have a developer for the rezoned home plans they wish to sell. "

Are they claiming that now? Because that's not what they said on April 22. Someone in the community recorded the meeting, they said they were rezoning the market rate homes because that's what the developer wanted to make their financing of the rest of the project work out. As of that meeting, they clearly had a specific developer in mind.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 15, 2013 at 11:59 am

@ No rezone,
It's worse than that. They had the City Attorney read the Affordable Housing Accountability Act at the start of the meeting, making dire warnings about how the City may have its hands tied in rejecting an affordable housing application, even though this is a REZONING proposal and the Affordable Housing Accountability Act was clearly intended to make it difficult to reject a project that MEETS zoning, not to make it easier for developers to rezone.

The City is further failing to take up all the important issues about access/egress and safety that it is making over at College Terrace, or arguments about traffic and overdevelopment it is making at 27 University, because of its conflicts of interest here. It's like watching Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.


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Posted by Pants on Fire
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2013 at 12:21 pm

For the past few months, individual neighbors have tried to talk with PAHC about modifying their project, and all were told that any modification was financially infeasible and that what was proposed as a package was the only possible way that senior housing could be built.

Then on June 10, the City Council tries a hail Mary pass, and asks PAHC if it could reduce the number and height of the fair market value proposed "wall of houses" on Maybell. Surprise, surprise, PAHC now says that it is open to considering that.

So I am waiting to hear on Monday whether PAHC shows itself to have blatantly lied to the neighbors all this time. Sounds like it to me.

PAHC has treated the neighbors as enemies from the beginning, and now they claim they want to be part of the neighborhood community and work with neighbors. Ha!

I am waiting to hear PAHC prove itself to be a Big L*** to everybody, and put every neighborhood on the alert that this corporation is not to be believed.


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Posted by No more sand
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2013 at 4:33 pm

The abuses in this project are so blatant and on such a grand scale
that the way Palo Alto has been run by and for special interests as their own "sand box" for so long is now clear for everybody to see. This way of doing things is ingrained in the culture of City Hall
it has been going on for so long. The concept of the "public interest" in a long-term framework for decision-making is absent.
Basically there is no framework. How else could the Downtown parking mess have happened, etc.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 15, 2013 at 10:51 pm

So as the 72 hours go by, does anyone know if there are any negotiations occurring?
And if so, who is representing the residents of Palo Alto?
Does PAHC and the CIty Council get to fill those seats as well?


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 15, 2013 at 11:56 pm

This article misses the point. The neighbors' biggest concern is the 15 tall skinny houses like those behind Miki's Market going in a residential neighborhood, the sale of which is supposed to pay for the rest of the development. This is the first time an affordable housing project has been funded this way, basically asking the neighborhood to bear the cost instead of the City. Neighbors are asking the City to keep the development within the character of the neighborhood and just man up and pay what it costs, the way they paid at Alma near University. That's what people spoke the most about at City Hall last week. You can't tell that from this article,


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 16, 2013 at 12:44 am

@ Resident,
The whole thing was just a sham to put it off the vote until Monday, when maybe they wouldn't have to stare down so many neighbors. There were 2 meetings with some community members from the Thursday meeting, but apparently the understanding was that the people there were just representing themselves and there was no representation of the neighborhoods. There wasn't any time to put a representative coalition together, for one.

The City and PAHC don't appear to have been prepared to budge on anything, either. They threw a bone of a few of the bloc of market-rate houses to the neighborhood after the meeting on Thursday, and that's apparently all they were ever prepared to give on. Perhaps they felt this would give them the appearance of having tried. No one in the neighborhood is fooled, but perhaps the City thinks everyone else will be. The neighbors never stood a chance of changing anything, as near as I can tell.

The City again seems to have rejected the idea of doing a traffic study that includes more current data and the impact on the thousands of children who take the school commute corridors that are the only routes in and out of the development. Why don't they want to do that? If their proposal doesn't present a risk to the kids, what's to be afraid of? It's City policy to accord those school commute corridors a heightened level of scrutiny; I don't think not even assessing the impact on the bikes and pedestrians at all counts.

PAHC and the City Council didn't decide who came to those meetings, they just grabbed some people who were there Thursday (it didn't matter who, they said those people wouldn't be representatives, their job would be to try to find people who would be representatives, but no attempt was made to seriously follow through on that — neighbors who attended were sincere but insisted they represented only themselves) but the talks weren't really good faith negotiations anyway.

More than likely the City wanted to just give itself some plausible deniability in the future over the conflict of interest charges. Just you wait; someone bet me $50 they, in some way shape or form, try to claim it means they tried.

The good thing that will come out of this is that now a large part of the City is waking up to what the overdevelopment is doing to our City. PC zoning is basically a way to circumvent all zoning laws and restrictions, and it's being abused. PAHC actually told the neighborhood that the public benefit of rezoning for those 15 tall skinny houses (maybe 12 now?), for the benefit of the for-profit developer, was that it would make money for PAHC. (By that logic, some for-profit developer could ask to get a rezone for a strip joint in the neighborhood, and it would be a "public benefit" because it would make money for PAHC. All those teenagers going to and from school -- they'd make a LOT of money.)

One of the most upsetting things about all of this is to watch the City Council make the same arguments the neighbors have been making, in other parts of town, for example, expressing concern about safety such as emergency egress (what if there's a fire) by Stanford/MayFIELD, and ignoring those same concerns in the MayBELL area where the traffic situation is even worse. For shame.


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Posted by MAYBE
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 16, 2013 at 7:12 am

I dont understand, the people of the neighborhood clearly are not for this proposal so why do people who won't be affected get to decide. I don't even know what Palo Alto is becoming and there is nothing more that would upset me than 100 more people to have to look out for when I drive down Maybell. Sorry I'm not sorry that I seriously hate this idea.


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Posted by property owner
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 16, 2013 at 8:34 am

72 hour countdown is passing. No indication on who is representing the interest of neighbors who do not want rezoning to high density.

If I understand this correctly, the scope of the negotiation is to decide the lesser of two (maybe more) evils that is how to develop the land with a high density zoning change. Use or building the land under current zone is not included as narrowed by the city council.

By 1:00 pm Monday I guess we may know who, of if anyone is representing the neighbors who do not want rezoning.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 16, 2013 at 11:44 am

Just to be clear Palo Alto, the enemy is not the PAHC. It is your City Council who has fooled people into thinking they are a neutral player in this conflict. Your elected officials are screwing you.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm

What I'd like to know is if there is any way (and how does it work), that citizens might bring a city initiative to the voters of the city, that removes the authority to rezone from the city council, and requires rezoning to be approved by the only true resident representative group - which would be the voters of the city.

There should also be an imposed moratorium placed on all new development until a comprehensive, long term traffic plan is put in place -after- all current development is completed and in place (including all the damn monster library remodels, all the massive school remodels, all commercial and residential/dense housing development, stanford development, massive water tank, caltrain remodel, etc. At which time traffic impacts are live, in place, understood, studied, and the traffic plan would include mitigating design that would be approved by the voters, which would specify exactly where any future development will be located, and how roads and traffic flows will accommodate that. And one which DOES NOT ASSUME all humans abandon cars. Traffic - in cars - should be made to move more smoothly, quickly and safely through the city, with dedicated pathways designed specifically for bikes and pedestrians in ways that avoid interaction with through traffic entirely.

So how do citizens get proposed laws put on the ballot?


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 16, 2013 at 2:04 pm

@Parent,
Here's a link to the City Clerk's page, with links on it to the provisions for initiatives and referendum.
Web Link

A referendum is where citizens overturn an ordinance made by City Hall, and an initiative is where citizens propose an ordinance. In both cases, the idea is to bring it to the voters.

What will happen here is that after the City Council rezones Monday, there will be a second reading of the decision later this month, and then the next day, the community can start collecting signatures for a referendum. I think they need to collect 2300 signatures, but the plan I think is to collect almost twice that many. Then in the fall, the rezoning will go before the community for a vote.

I think there may also be a separate plan after to do an initiative regarding PC zoning.

I think you are right, there should be a moratorium on new development, especially this rampant development where anything goes if there is a "public benefit" and the developer, not the affected public, gets to decide if there is a real benefit, at least until we can get a handle on whether/how/where the infrastructure can handle it.

Don't worry, Resident, neighbors don't really blame PAHC, though they are beginning to question how well PAHC is assessing the most urgent need and meeting it. I think I speak for a lot of neighbors that if the City somehow didn't rezone, if the engagement were welcomed, it wouldn't be the end for a lot of neighbors in terms of then putting some positive energy into helping create those housing spaces in that area under existing zoning, with a good traffic study as a guide, or in another more transit-oriented place (rather than negative just fighting the rezone).


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Posted by no rezone
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 16, 2013 at 3:00 pm

@ Parent -- good idea about an initiative. And, how about the city upholding existing Zoning ordinances, especially for R-1 neighborhoods.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jun 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Instead of large tall skinny family homes, why not have smaller senior ownership houses that will raise funds for the apartment units. Or use the land for market rate senior housing, build or purchase older an older building to rehab for low income housing for seniors


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Neighbor, thanks for the details. So is this petition being prepared by someone in the Maybell neighborhood, or does someone need to take this on? Is there any organization around this yet?


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Posted by Calvin
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 16, 2013 at 9:34 pm

It's really simple. If the council passes this low-income, high-density, whatever you want to call it bad idea, we are going to recall the mayor of Palo Alto and every council member who votes Yes. When our representatives stop listening to us and the community it represents, it is time for them to update their resume.


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Posted by Chris Gaither
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2013 at 10:24 am

It's amazing that the PACC, and the city do not comprehend why these two neighborhoods fiercely oppose this project, particularly the number of market rate homes being proposed. The city exacerbated the traffic mess in this neighborhood by narrowing Arastradero Road.

While councilman Berman showed his videos demonstrating no traffic on Maybell and surrounding areas while the schools are on break, as one reader points out, school are in session the majority of the time during the year. It does not matter that the traffic is increased "only" while the schools are in session. What matters is that heightened traffic exists throughout the neighorboods largely because folks are avoiding Arastradero Road. The city created the Arastradero Road mess, and the simple answer is to fix that problem.

One can even see how the Arastradero Road diet has extended to directing traffic to Los Altos Avenue near the Unocal and Courtyard Marriott hotel. Now, Palo Alto is impacting another neighboring city, Los Altos with its decision to narrow Arastradero Road. The true public benefit would be for the city to restore the lanes on Arastradero Road. Simply, accept, acknowledge, and admit that a mistake was made to narrow Arastradero Road. That would be the wise choice here, in addtion to reducing the number of market rate homes proposed.


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Posted by Once Burned
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

"Here's a link to the City Clerk's page, with links on it to the provisions for initiatives and referendum."

DO NOT RELY ON THE CITY CLERK. The city clerk will disqualify a referendum petition that was conducted according to city clerk's instructions. Hire an attorney who knows city law and do it right.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 17, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Apparently, the secret meeting is supposed to be over in about ten minutes and yet I don't even know who are representing us or what the status of the negotiations is so far. Or, does it matter?


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Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Diplomacy:

The art of saying " Nice Doggy " while looking for a big enough rock...

Someone will get shafted and it will not be the City or the Developer....

Just remember: " Delay is the cruelest form of Denial " ( and I do not mean a River in Egypt ).


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 18, 2013 at 2:52 am

It's better that they just finally rezoned so we can get on with the referendum and other steps. Neighbors hoped and tried for the best but planned for the worst.

Would appreciate your support from the rest of the City!

Councilman Schmid made the point that developers downtown pay money into a fund so they can avoid putting affordable housing in their buildings, and that money went to make it possible to put those units at Maybell, only it wasn't enough money to make the project feasible within a reasonable scale. Please reject this and make sure in the future, the costs are borne by the City and not individual neighborhoods. This is a pernicious scheme, where they sell off part of the acquisition to a private developer for whom they first rezone for the developers profit, in order to finance the project, rather than just paying the cost. So in essence, the neighborhood rather than the City bears the burden.


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