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Stanford housing proposal faces appeal

Original post made on May 27, 2014

A proposal by Stanford University to build 180 housing units on California Avenue under a 2005 agreement with the city is now facing an appeal from a nearby resident who is arguing that the approved development violates Palo Alto's fire code.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 9:54 AM

Comments (51)

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Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2014 at 10:50 am

You go Fred Balin! Everyone, even Stanford University, needs to follow the municipal code and laws. No exceptions. This is not a small matter that Council members or the Planning Commission can simply hand-wave away.


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Posted by Art
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2014 at 10:56 am

Adherence to approved current fire codes is a necessary condition for approval of any building project in Palo Alto. Once the codes are approved, anyone and everyone constructing or reconstructing a home or laying out a new subdivision in Palo Alto needs to follow the rules. In some areas, the fire codes do allow for discretion by the Fire Marshal, but the road width conditions specified in this appeal do not fall into that category.


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Posted by Batoz
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2014 at 11:06 am

Waste of time, Stanford always wins


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Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 27, 2014 at 11:15 am

Go Fred Balin. Get a former Stanford attorney who knows the ropes to nasty. Stanford says jump, and Palo Alto asks how high.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 27, 2014 at 11:32 am

Nobody wins these appeals. The best they can hope for is to embarrass the city in public as the council follows its script and rejects the appeal.

The solution is very simple: Palo Alto has to amend its fire codes so they comply with this development.


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Posted by lindaloo
a resident of Mountain View
on May 27, 2014 at 11:35 am

This is Stanford land. Does that not enter this discussion?


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Posted by Law breakers
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 27, 2014 at 11:54 am

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Bailin on balin
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 27, 2014 at 12:05 pm

[Portion removed.
This is an agreement made 9 years ago between the city and Stanford. Palo alto has benefited for all those years from the agreement and now they have to,fulfill their end of it. Not surprised someone in CT is trying to derail the agreement [Portion removed.]


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 27, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Best wishes to Mr. Balin - we sympathize.
Stanford, one of the world's richest universities - a question: what would be their profit on this huge development?
I don't know about this specific area of land, but I was always told in past years Stanford was left land "for educational purposes" that they subsequently used in quite different manner than that intended by the deceased; namely, for massive development/building and profit.


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Posted by Bailin on balin
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 27, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Are we to take the engineers Fred hired results at face value? How do we know he is correct? Why can we not ask if Fred had other traffic engineers that gave different results? These are the questions thatbthe weekly should be asking, instead of removing them from postings


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2014 at 12:25 pm

So, if Stanford adjusts the plan to add the 2 feet to the street width and includes the other minor changes --- what's the next step for those who want to subvert the legal agreement the city made with Stanford? Perhaps Stanford should countersue and also try to nullify 2005 agreement. If the agreement is null, it can develop its land at El Camino and Page Mill.


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on May 27, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Thanks to Fred for being a watchdog for our safety!! Please let the rest of us know how we can help.

The problem is that safety has really been treated as an afterthought to development interests. Many of us were concerned about traffic and emergency vehicle access at Maybell, since that site affects already difficult access to the elementary school. The developers and City told us the fire department reviewed the traffic and found everything ok. Come to find out, the fire department not only didn't "review the traffic", they only look at access to the proposed development (across the street from the station), not how the development affects emergency vehicle access to everyone else.

The fire department only reviews the traffic and access elsewhere if Planning and Transportation tells them there's a problem, and there never is a problem when they want to approve some development. Driving around Palo Alto today, do you think that's a trustworthy way to deal with safety? For it to be subordinate to planning interests?

Fred went to one of the most respected traffic engineers in the state for this analysis. As a fellow citizen, I can't thank him and his family enough for footing the bill for prioritizing safety the way the City should have.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 27, 2014 at 1:03 pm

"If the agreement is null, it can develop its land at El Camino and Page Mill."

That would be good for all of us, and especially for the children who now marinate their lungs in tailpipe exhaust as they play soccer by Palo Alto's most congested intersection. I've always shaken my head at the city's giddy glee over that arrangement.

"This is Stanford land."

Yep. And it's smack inside the PA city limits, sand city law applies. In principle, at least.


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on May 27, 2014 at 1:07 pm

I also want to add -- this plan may have been in the works for a long time, but every development is made in the context of what exists. The City has changed a lot since 2005 and has been approving development pell mell, and knew this agreement was already made. If the plan has to be changed now to put safety first, then that's not the fault of citizens who have every right to expect safety to be the priority in planning. Better for the City to man up and go back to Stanford for the necessary revisions now than face other challenges down the line.


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

A bit of history: The 2005 agreement was negotiated in secret and presented to the public as a fait accompli. There was enough public outrage that some minor changes were made.

However, many who analyzed the agreement saw it as a very bad deal.
1. Stanford got permanent concessions for the housing, but gave Palo Alto only a temporary (50 year) concession (the soccer fields).
2. The soccer fields were grossly overvalued. Stanford had considered developing the parcel (hotel, offices,...) but had decided against it because it sat on top of a plume of contaminated ground water, from the Stanford Research Park. Dealing with the rising fumes of those toxic chemicals made such a building expensive and undesirable. However, in doing the tradeoff, the City accepted Stanford's valuation of the site as being fully develop-able.
3. ...


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Posted by Adrian
a resident of College Terrace
on May 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm

It is somewhat worrying that Stanford's plans *may not* be to required specs, but I believe that this is something for the City itself to evaluate. I'd like to see the Brohard's analysis. That being said, it really doesn't seem like these are important changes. ~9years after the Mayfield agreement, this seems like obstructionism. Delaying a project which will bring benefits to the city and the university - and has been approved been approved by the city - seems like obstructionism, especially ~9 years after the Mayfield Agreement.


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Posted by if it weren't for somebody paying attention...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm

GA

"Thanks to Fred for being a watchdog for our safety!! Please let the rest of us know how we can help."

DITTO





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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on May 27, 2014 at 1:39 pm

@ Adrian,
Again, every development is made in context. The City has changed a lot in the last 9 years, and much of it has been to violate zoning and without proper safety analysis. It's perfectly reasonable at this stage of the approval process, now, for someone to do this. The thing I find unreasonable is that the City made a resident have to step up and do it, instead of taking on the responsibility to put safety first itself.

The Balins are reasonable people and have been leaders in our community for a long time. Our City's motivations and behavior in the last few years are on full display for all to see. I trust the Balins. Given what I have witnessed behind the scenes, too, I'd actually prefer a halt on all development approvals until we do a holistic safety review of our City that includes traffic circulation, disaster planning, and recognizes cumulative impacts and already approved development.


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Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Thanks for keeping a watch on the planning department and city council. The planning department seems to like every project it sees-- the more crowded and overbuilt the better. It's time ti rein in such over built and high density projects. Everyone should be held to the lowest density for the current code for that site.

The planning department and our current city council want to make Palo Alto, except for old palo alto, crescent park, and Professorville look like midtown New York City. Unfortunately they forgot to make the sidewalks as wide.


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Posted by Oh Well
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 27, 2014 at 3:26 pm

The soccer field your children and others gleefully play, located on the corner of Page Mill and El Camino, is a designated Superfund site. The chemical plume located beneath this site and adjacent properties contain chemicals that even the Federal and State agencies in charge of monitoring cleanup of this site are unable to identify. Ever wonder why the property stayed undeveloped for decades? All structures built to service the soccer field were built on slabs so as not to disturb and/or release chemical toxins and the field itself was covered with a plastic grass tarp in a further attempt to prevent chemical toxin release to the atmosphere. Is the experiment working? Who knows! The site is still designated as a Superfund site. Will the chemical plume be contained or controlled within the 51 year lease between the City of Palo Alto and Stanford, probably not. Seems like Stanford swindled a prosperous land exchange for themselves while the city has burdened residents with a contaminated site and further enhanced Stanford development of open space within city boundaries. What a pity!


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on May 27, 2014 at 3:28 pm

This Mayfield deal was, on balance, a good thing: Free playing fields (badly needed) on a large property that was going to sit idle, probably forever; a tradeoff of development at the old Syntex site (now VMware), with a voluntary reduction in overall development rights in the SRP by Stanford; a housing element for Stanford, on Stanford land, in lieu of the toxic scare by fanatics about the SRP....could have just ignored that toxic plume nonsense, and achieved a new modern SRP building...but housing was a such a driving force in Palo Alto (Jim Burch and his group). Unintended consequences by the toxics fanatics, I think.

I didn't like the housing element, especially the welfare housing included, but it was a part of a major three-way deal. I like the fact that VMware is up there on the hill providing high-paying jobs, and I love the music of hearing the youth having a place to play ball.

I have always thought that the long-promised "spine" road (through the superblock)should have been part of the planning on upper Cal. Ave., meaning that the housing up there should have a second exit onto Hanover. Never was considered seriously, far as I can tell.

I would like to praise Vic Ojakian, our mayor at the time, for driving this deal.


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Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 27, 2014 at 4:07 pm

I don't think the appeal is obstructionist as one poster suggested.
If Stanford has to make a few changes in their plan to be consistent with the fire code (could be a matter of life a death! ) it should be required.

It is commendable that a citizen took the time and trouble to point out what the applicant should have known (and wanted) and the city staff should have known and required.

After all, we are all required to follow laws; why should Stanford projects and the projects of other BIG developers be exceptions?


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on May 27, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Has anyone besides Fred Balin seen this analysis? What are the credentials of the person that conducted this study?
Just because it comes from college terrace does not mean it is accurate.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 27, 2014 at 4:42 pm

>Has anyone besides Fred Balin seen this analysis? What are the credentials of the person that conducted this study?
Just because it comes from college terrace does not mean it is accurate.

Quoting from the article:

"First, the roads on Columbia and Amherst streets are too narrow to accommodate fire trucks, the review found. The fire code states that the minimum road width "shall be 26 feet where a fire hydrant is located on the fire access road," Brohard [the engineer] wrote in his report. Both of these streets are 24 feet wide, which means they would have to be widened to meet compliance.

Brohard also points to a provision of the fire code that states that dead-end fire access roads between 151 and 500 feet long must have "turnaround provisions at the end of the road." Two driveways off Columbia Street in the proposed project map are about 250 feet in length, which means that they must end in either a cul-de-sac, a 60-foot "Y" or a 120-foot "hammerhead," Brohard wrote, referring to road designs that would accommodate a fire truck that needs to turn around."

One only has to read the dimensions plainly called out on Stanford's plans to find out how wide a road is. Lack of turnaround space is even easier to spot.

Stanford's architects got busted, fortunately in plenty of time to easily fix things.

But would the critics of these findings please tell me why are you so determined to increase the hazards of a fire for our future residents over there? Seems to me Balin is selflessly doing them a big service, at considerable effort and expense on his own part.


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on May 27, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Curmudgeon--the article discusses claims that Balin makes, citing the report. Has anyone seen the actual,report or are we basically saying that third hand stories are to be taken as the truth ( plus add in the reporters reputation for sloppy reporting). Note also that the writer of the report was commissioned by the balins. So who is he? Anyone know what his reputation is? Is he a consultant for hire ( much like experts for hire you see at trials)?
IMHO, the timeline goes like this-- file an appeal, the city rejects the appeal, a lawsuit is filed stopping start of the project, CT benefits from the agreement without having to honor the negotiated agreement. Stanford should surprise everyone and agree to the changes, posthaste. Then we will see which card CT plays next.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on May 27, 2014 at 5:06 pm

I respect Fred Balin, even though I feel free to disagree with him on any particular issue. He is a valuable neighborhood asset in College Terrace.

If Fred says the streets should be two feet wider, I think Stanford might want to listen to him. On the other hand, if it is just a 'sand-in-the-gears' approach, I think Fred should reconsider.

Sadly, I think CT got caught up in the toxics plume craziness. Then there were competing arguments about traffic issues (depends on the baseline(s) considered).

The Mayfield deal was a good deal, despite some housing element drawbacks.


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Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Mayfield
on May 27, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Seriously folks, Palo Alto agreed to this deal because Stanford agreed to lease Mayfield for $1 per year of 51 years. Palo Alto in turn makes money from all soccer teams who rent time on the fields. It's a moneymaker. Why Stanford waited so many years to develop the site is poor judgement because it lets residents enjoy the benefits of getting the milk for free and when the farmer wants to sell the cow we have people who balk at the idea.

People claim that Stanford gets its way all the time. Again seriously, we lease schools from them, they have developed a world class hospital system that we leverage and a "to be envied" shopping mall. If Stanford were not next door, this would be Hayward or Fremont.

If you want to pay for Fred's concerns about safety, we can use eminent domain to seize people's land to make the streets wider (and reimburse them) and to pay for all the changes, let's make an amendment to Prop 13 and have all landlords (be they foreigners who own investment property here or children who inherited their parents house and live in Carmel) who rent out homes at property values way below market be re-assessed at current market rates. My neighborhood has renters living in homes assessed at $50K to $300K while the homes easily sell for millions. And the renters complain about our services or throw their support behind Fred.


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Posted by Longtime homeowner
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 27, 2014 at 8:14 pm

I have been a long-time homeowner in Palo Alto and my children benefited from the great schools here and I paid market rate taxes to support them. The Mayfield resident who complains about renters over burdening our city and its schools is not just a Palo Alto problem but a california problem. He/she raises an interesting point and a vexing problem. If you live anywhere for a long time, you're stuck. One solution could be the "Landlord exclusion" that would force people who benefit from below market taxes yet burden us with families who rent to make them pay current market taxes. It would also lower property values to more reasonable rates. Then we could afford to adhere to fred balin safety concerns. Go Fred and let's get the landlords to pay for the street changes!


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on May 27, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Safety First. Period.

Balin chose one of the most respected traffic engineers in the state, and paid for it out of his own pocket. I'm sure it was not cheap, and probably a lot of money relative to his means compared to what Stanford could have done to hire people to just follow the safety laws in their plans.

The charge of sand in the gears is just weird. No one who knows Balin thinks he'd be inclined to waste his time, effort, and good money just making trouble. (Who really does that?) I only wish the focus could go beyond this one project to requiring better safety review of our town before anymore development is even considered! (And not by those people the City always hire with that rubber stamps engraved with "No Impact".)


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 27, 2014 at 10:03 pm

"Curmudgeon--the article discusses claims that Balin makes, citing the report. Has anyone seen the actual,report..."

Balin's appeal is a public document. It surely includes its centerpiece: The Report. Why not read it yourself?


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 27, 2014 at 10:17 pm

The planning director should be fired for recommending a plan that does not follow the rules - it's just plain incompetence. Fred Balin provides a possible solution, so just follow the rules!


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Posted by Not in my backyard
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 27, 2014 at 10:31 pm

Praise Balin's efforts! We don't need more people moving here. Let's keep Palo Alto for people who can afford to live here. Mayfield is a superfund site. You be "serious" Mr "Mayfield" resident. It's a pig with lipstick slapped on it. The city didn't get a deal since Stanford couldn't develop it. Making it a soccer field was the next best thing. After 51 years it will still be a superfund site.

Curmudgeon's correct that PA laws still apply (until the city rubber stamps Stanford's needs).

PA has built HP, Agilent, Facebook, etc. Even Steve Jobs worked at Xerox Research Park where he stole the mouse for Apple. PA has a lot to be proud of and needs to stand up to Stanford. Longtime homeowner raises an interesting point. I have renter's in my neighborhood too, although they pay through the nose, but i doubt the city or state gets any of the money. Maybe it is time we look at the grandfather rights landlords have in this town.


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Posted by be
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 27, 2014 at 11:45 pm

Stanford has recently got THE WORSE architect ever. Those track housing on Stanford avenue are glue buildings of the ugliest and most vulgar type. The high standard of architecture that gave Palo Alto Eichlers has now sold out to nasty cheap Chico rent a style pastiche. These will be no different. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 28, 2014 at 6:00 am

I don't care who owns the land...you never cut corners when it come to safety services requirements. If that is the only concern, then make the adjustments and move on.

For the person above who insinuated that Stanford is going to profit from this like a developer would...please be aware that this housing is for faculty and staff, not for the general public.


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Posted by Adrian
a resident of College Terrace
on May 28, 2014 at 8:45 am

@Greenacres - I think it would be ludicrous to halt all development. Development is a rightful function of private enterprise (situated within a community, I understand). Do you think any developers would come near Palo Alto if the council arbitrarily halted all development, as you suggest?

I've live my entire life in Palo Alto, and I truly see this city withering on the vine. I think citizens need to be flexible and reasonable. Inserting themselves into each and every planning decision, code review, etc, is unreasonable, unproductive, and arguably, unethical. As some others have mentioned, we all benefit enormously from Stanford. In short, give em a break.


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Posted by businessdecision
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 28, 2014 at 9:27 am

Haven't read through this whole thing - so maybe someone has already mentioned - Stanford planning to have undergrad population 20 to 25% larger than what they have now - so need more faculty - so need more homes for them -
Meanwhile is churning out grads who set up companies here and whose employees take housing the future faculty might need - and housing period.
Might be time to say the past of Stanford is another country.


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on May 28, 2014 at 9:52 am

@Adrian,
The citizens of this town don't WANT to have to spend their time dealing with development decisions, but our City has been regularly handing out gross violations of zoning that have changed the character of our town, hurt traffic circulation, hurt the natural envionment, and hurt safety. You do realize these are all things we have a codified RIGHT to see respected?

I said, "I only wish the focus could go beyond this one project to requiring better safety review of our town before anymore development is even considered." Given the zoning busting going on, it would be perfectly reasonable for us to require a holistic review of safety before approving anymore development. Our infrastructure has been treated like a black box of infinite capacity, and it's not. Safety is one of those things for which the City could deny even development under zonng, and for which it has broad power. Rather than pushing things beyond the breaking point, a holistic review lets everyone know where we stand. That's a good thing for everyone, including developers (just not the ones hoping to get in their own violations of zoning regardless of laws and safety).

Look at Arastradero Road. People complain about the traffic already, it's not a major road, it's a residential arterial, and yet the City approved a 22,000 square foot looming hotel where there was a 3500 sq ft business space, right around the corner from one of the most backed up intersections in town. The VMWare expansion will double buiness traffic on that corridor, and it's not done yet. The giant apartment block (literally) at the old bowling alley will send its traffic in that direction. And still every zoning application is for over the legal zoning by significant amounts.

Citizens have a right to expect certain things like safety, from our city code and Comp Plan, and even state laws, and when the City and developers violate them, we have the right to demand. It's called democracy.

And if enforcing our laws so that developers have to build within them means some of them focus their attentions elsewhere, then good. If a review of the infrastructure finds we're at capacity, then it's time. If it finds how we can protect safety, protect traffic circulation (which the state mandate, by the way, says needs to even deal with the "convenience" of residents), then anyone who wants to build will know what the rules actually allow. No one ever had the right to build whatever they wanted here in the first place anyway.

Not following the safety code was just lazy. Thanks to the Balins for stepping up on that. Stanford abuts a lot of wildand open space. Their citizen action protects the safety of the people in the Stanford development as well.




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Posted by Henry
a resident of Downtown North
on May 29, 2014 at 3:01 pm

The most precious role of government is to protect the public health and safety.

The fact that Fred Balin, a private resident, is the one that pointing out violations of building codes means that staff and council are failing to protect the public safety. They are recommending approval of building plans that do NOT protect the building occupants, owners or neighbors.

Staff is willing to violate building codes so Stanford can pack in higher density buildings. Stanford profits. What's in it for Staff that they will give away public safety? Why does Staff think that Council will approve plans that violate safety codes?

What's in it for Council? Why is Council willing to leave the public's safety in the hands of individual residents rather than staff? Something is very wrong!!!

Thank you Fred Balin! Your service to the citizens, workers, property owners, business owners is invaluable and much appreciated.

No thank you to the Council Members who approve project after project that violate the existing zoning and safety codes. In November that means vote NO Scharff and NO Shepherd.


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on May 30, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Thank you for all the supportive comments, and Greenacres, thank you for asking if there are ways people can help. Indeed there are.

Specifically, and as first step, if you can spare the time, come to the city council meeting for a short period of time this Monday evening, June 2 beginning at 7 pm and sit together with me, prominently and up front in the chambers, until I use my three minutes or less, probably during oral communications. After that, unless there is one or more other items on the agenda you are closely following, we can all leave.

Why leave then? Because no vote will be taken, no staff report has been released, and there will be no council discussion of the matter.

So why is the item on the agenda in the first place? Because the municipal code requires that an appeal appear on the consent calendar within 30 days and Monday is the last opportunity, but since staff needs more time, they will request that the item be delayed one week.

Now, on the other hand, this or any other resident who files an appeal, only has 14 days following the decision that is appealed in order to make the filing, and don't even think about asking for an extension. This 14-day period includes time waiting to receive postcard notification (if you are close enough to the project), requesting from the city and receiving the full record of the matter being appealed, and then not only filing out your appeal form, paying your money, and wandering through city hall departments to receive stamps on paper, but completing a coherent statement if you want it to appear in the main body of the staff report when that is finally released.

And that is why I will use the opportunity Monday to speak. Not about the appeal specifically, but about related process issues.

So why I do I ask you to come? To help inoculate this council from an impression that only a few people are interested in this matter as a justification to not even hear it.

Yes, friends, when this item comes to the consent calendar for real on June 9, three council member votes are required to take it off the consent calendar, else the appeal dies right there without a single council member word spoken.

And even though safety issues, especially violations of the fire code would seem to warrant a hearing, you never know.

Recent history points out the difficulty of resident appellants bringing forth appeals and then having a hearing.

Since the beginning of last year, the cost to file an appeal has more than tripled, from $136 to the current $409. In addition, the threshold to remove an appeal from the consent calendar has been increased by 50%, from two council members to three.

You might think that filing an appeal gives you some kind of due process rights to be given sufficient time to make your case and for council members to ask questions. But in Palo Alto, filing the appeal gives you no automatic right beyond anyone else speaking to an item on the consent calendar, where you are limited to a maximum of 3 minutes and council members are not allowed to discuss items. Only is the items is removed from consent does an appellant get a formal appeal hearing.

In addition, in the staff report for each of the eight appeals brought forth by residents and placed on the consent calendar since November 2012, staff has recommended to decline its removal from the consent calendar every time. In two cases, the threshold of three council votes was achieved to remove the items from the consent calendar and to a formal hearing.

The odds are against the appellant getting a hearing.

So help me create a sense that is an important matter and deserves a hearing by sitting with me on Monday, in the council chambers, up front, beginning at 7 pm and, if the council schedule runs on time, we can be out of there by 7:30, and I'll be happy to pick up the conversation in the lobby with anyone who wants to.

Thank you.


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Posted by Take a Clue, Council
a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Ain't this the pits?

In Palo Alto, the Crown Jewel of Silicon Valley, a citizen must spend $409 of his own money and hours of his time to petition the city government to follow its own safety codes, while our city staff urges the city council to ignore its own safety codes.

Never mind that, at some time in the future, people could be injured or die because our responders could not navigate the staff-sanctioned substandard streets. It's the principle of the thing, people: citizens must not be allowed to challenge staff.


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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 1, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

I disagreed with Fred Balin's position on Measure D, but on this item I agree with him that the city must show that building code safety requirements are met before giving final approval. It wouldn't appear to be too hard to tweak the project to remedy the 2' street length shortfall. I take no position on the other aspects of his appeal since I'm not familiar with the neighborhood.

The fight which killed affordable housing for very low- and low-income seniors at Maybell set a tone in which approval of massive projects at 27 University and on the AOL property near California was unthinkable. Slowing up approval of Stanford's housing project pending full compliance with safety regulations is consistent with the message of the Measure D vote. People (including most supporters of Measure D, like myself) are concerned about concessions being given to developers large and small.

I assume this is the start of PASZ's campaign to get sympathetic candidates elected to the city council in the fall. The current council should vote unanimously to remove the item from the consent calendar and make sure they've got the necessary data to take and defend the decision they come to. Otherwise we'll be hearing about it every day from now through November 4.


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:09 pm

I think Fred Balin is doing an excellent job here. Kudos.

It will be interesting to see if Scharff or Shepherd will indeed try to change their stripes before election season and throw the citizens a bone here with a vote to pull from consent calendar. Joining Holman and Schmid, but not before enacting some pound of sausage in exchange.

I had to search the term PASZ to learn who they were. I'd be more concerned at what the special interests i.e. developers are doing to preserve or extend their rout of recent years (beyond lobbying for a smaller council, something I view as limiting the chances of "fresh voices" to get elected and the pendulum swinging back to residents or residentialists).

Web Link

Link above is to the group that was behind Measure D, the successful referendum on upzoning on Maybell Avenue and are continuing on, and I hope do play a role in the upcoming election.

I would say Palo Alto's striving to self-govern means becoming independent of Stanford University, a hugely powerful and organized neighbor, as well as independent of the real estate industry, which arguably is larger than our public sector per se, and certainly better organized and incentivized that We The People.

It would be great to see one or two residentialists in the campaign this summer fall, for the bully pulpit it provides whether or not he, she or they actually get elected. Taking back the City leadership may take some time. I see it sort of like being a 10 and 152 baseball team looking to make a run at the pennant.

Not that we should concede on 1451-1601 Cali: give em hell, Fred!

(but it is kinda funny and sad that when a billionaire wants to build a giant monument to his greatness at 27 Uni City Manager gives him $250,000 of our budget to flesh out the idea, but if a average citizen and small business owner like Fred wants to contest something proposed by power or the powerful, it's now $400 out of his meager pockets...)


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:28 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Stanford private deals
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:49 am

Greenacres said: Look at Arastradero Road. People complain about the traffic already, it's not a major road, it's a residential arterial, and yet the City approved a 22,000 square foot looming hotel where there was a 3500 sq ft business space, right around the corner from one of the most backed up intersections in town. The VMWare expansion will double buiness traffic on that corridor, and it's not done yet. The giant apartment block (literally) at the old bowling alley will send its traffic in that direction. And still every zoning application is for over the legal zoning by significant amounts.

Charleston-Arastradero project was managed by Stanford's Andy Coe. Former Planning Director Emslie hired him. The Planning Department's behind the scenes deals with Stanford become public every so often. Most recently Emslie's secret meetings with Arrillaga planning the 27 University development.


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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 2, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Stanford private deals

"The VMWare expansion will double buiness traffic on that corridor,...


Lots of hyperventilating about Arastradero and nearby development on El Camino Real in Greenacres's posts. Green Acres and Barron Square activists have worked hard to get the city to back off the traffic calming measures on Arastradero and return to the 4-lane expressway feel of the street a few years ago.

Greenacres's statement above is authoritatively delivered yet totally unsubstantiated. Is there enough to it that we should stop all additional development, return Arastradero to its original status, and cancel measures to encourage safe bicycling on the road? I don't think so.





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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 2, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Mark Weiss

"I had to search the term PASZ to learn who they were."

They are the most current incarnation of the Maybell Action Group, which was formed last spring to fight PAHC's affordable housing for low-income seniors project on Maybell Avenue.

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Stanford private deals
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 2, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Jerry, nice job changing the subject. And setting up some straw men.
You did not respond about the fact that it was a Stanford PR man in the Planning Dept. who managed the planning for the corridor. Whose interests do you think he was working for? I think that has more to do with what's going on there than anything else.
I prefer a little hyperventilation compared to apologists for the major development interests.


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 2, 2014 at 3:45 pm

@ Jerry,
"Green Acres and Barron Square activists have worked hard to get the city to back off the traffic calming measures on Arastradero and return to the 4-lane expressway feel of the street a few years ago."

Jerry, I've never even so much as written a letter expressing that opinion to City Council, and I certainly haven't said so here.

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 2, 2014 at 4:01 pm

@Take a Clue, Council,
"In Palo Alto, the Crown Jewel of Silicon Valley, a citizen must spend $409 of his own money and hours of his time to petition the city government to follow its own safety codes, while our city staff urges the city council to ignore its own safety codes.

Never mind that, at some time in the future, people could be injured or die because our responders could not navigate the staff-sanctioned substandard streets. It's the principle of the thing, people: citizens must not be allowed to challenge staff."

I love getting to quote people because you said it!

I really believe in revising the Comprehensive Plan, we need a separate SAFETY ELEMENT. Safety as its own element. The state, in mandating what Cities need to put in their comp plans, lists safety as a separate element. Naturally, cities are able to divvy things up how they like, but they still have to deal with those issues. The problem for Palo Alto is that our safety element got rolled into the natural environment element, and safety is dealt with as an afterthought.

Look at what happened at Maybell. Neighbors kept pointing to a City Policy that said our policy is to have heightened scrutiny of developments on school commute routes. But is that policy in the Comp Plan as a policy under a Safety Element? No. Are there any guidelines that provide assurance of what "heightened scrutiny" means or entails? No. Apparently it doesn't even involve studying the impact to students bicyclists and pedestrians.

Additionally, residents expressed concerns about how overdeveloping a property that sits at a natural bottleneck to the neighborhood (including an elementary school) would impact emergency access and egress. Were there any safety rules or guidelines or policies they could point to or request in the Comp Plan? No. The City and PAHC representatives claimed that the fire department had evaluated the traffic and said everything was fine. But upon asking the fire department, we discovered they don't do that. They were only asked whether they had access to the actual building (across the street from the station) and they said yes. They only evaluate what Planning and Transportation tells them is a problem, and we all know P&T never finds any problems with developments. Furthermore, they don't have a separate safety element to guide development decisions, so safety comes last if at all. (If you look at the natural environment element, it really is mentioned as an afterthought, in general terms, and basically zero guidance is given as to what applying safety in any situation would mean.)

I think it's astonishing, alarming, and pathetic that a citizen would have to do this, that a City with this number of highly-paid employees wouldn't just do their jobs. So what if there was an agreement going back to 2006. Why the 8 year delay? Things change in cities. If I get a permit to build something, it expires. If I go to get a new permit, I have to follow any new codes. At least I think that's the way it works. I shouldn't assume when it comes to safety in this town!

Additionally, there are times when cities can reject building even under zoning if safety is at issue. They can reject density bonuses. Cities have broad power, discretion, and responsibility when it comes to safety. And yet, there are no guidelines for how safety should be evaluated or judged in development situations where that is a concern.

We should really have that overt conversation about safety -- the new version of the Comp Plan should have a separate Safety Element.

Thank you to Fred Balin for stepping up where our City has failed even its most basic responsibilities in favor of developers.


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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 2, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Greenacres

Could you speculate as to what effect applying the provisions of the Safety Element to Arastradero might have on that route?


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 3:45 pm

I meant "exacting" not "enacting" as in the lower definition meaning "severe" as in common trope "exacting revenge". I also wrote "that" for "than". Oh, well.

Fred Balin did an excellent job when given his 3 minutes to speak to his appeal, although the item was continued to June 9 meeting. There were about 40 people who turned out specifically to support Balin and his appeal (He asked people to raise their hands if that's why they were there. )

Well played, Balin. Not sure, but waiting to see, what this will do if anything to the proposal. Not sure what this means to the residentialist movement, but it seems somewhat encouraging. I presume GS will note last night's news on this when he covers the June 9 meeting.


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