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Arrillaga scales down plan for University Avenue

Original post made on Nov 22, 2012

A controversial plan by developer John Arrillaga to build a new "arts and innovation district" with four office towers and a theater on University Avenue has been revised after a flurry of complaints from Palo Alto officials and residents about the height and scale of the proposed buildings.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, November 22, 2012, 5:17 AM

Comments (24)

Posted by Bob , a resident of Community Center
on Nov 22, 2012 at 7:24 am

This doesn't pass muster. It is a huge project in the wrong place, It is the beginning of the 'Manhattanization" of Palo Alto. What's to stop the next developer from wanting his/her share of the pie someplace else? Traffic is bad enough on El Camino and University. If Arrillaga and Stanford want this so badly, build it under the University's trees- OVER THERE.
The University has 8,000 acres. Put it to a vote of the residents. If it doesn't go to a vote, then recall the council. It's OUR town. Arrilaga doesn't live here


Posted by Gustine, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 22, 2012 at 11:20 am

Will someone please tell Mr. Arrillaga that we dont want this nightmare Massive project in Palo Alto. Let him build it up in some vacant Quarry in the mountains.... something like this:
Web Link


Posted by Next door neighbor, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 22, 2012 at 12:26 pm

You all do realize that Arrillaga has carte blanche to erect a mega-monument to himself just over the creek on El Camino? So whatever negative impact you're envisioning from this project, double it.


Posted by Bosco, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 22, 2012 at 12:35 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Blessed Event, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Posted by Next door neighbor,

"You all do realize that Arrillaga has carte blanche to erect a mega-monument to himself just over the creek on El Camino? So whatever negative impact you're envisioning from this project, double it."

And I can plant Poison Ivy in my front yard, It doesn't mean the fair skinned Irish boy next door is going to like it.


Posted by Concerns, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm

1. Has Palo Alto decided that it wants to have a theater on EL Camino park, instead of open space? or that this theater and bycicle paths are a public benefit to be traded, for the costs of this massive and improperly scaled project?

2. No traffic study, still charging ahead?

3. Why is this project being presented by the City, on the City's website - is this common? What other office developments have been presented to residents this way?

The City needs to explain why they have been working with Arrillaga and Theaterworks behind closed doors to get this passed, why there is a letter of intent with a Theater company for this project, and why the project is receiving preferential attention from public officials.

Height was one of many concerns about this project, and by marginally lowering the height, all the other concerns don't go away.

The issues surrounding the theater need to be addressed. Theater is a highly subsidized art form, especially when it's not a first tier or even second tier company. Has Palo Alto decided this is where we want to place subsidies, when already Children's Theater is on the budget. Is this even affordable?

If the City decides to support theater, it can be at a different location, for a much lower price.


Posted by Bob , a resident of Community Center
on Nov 22, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Fellow residents. If you don't like this and don't want to see Palo Alto dramatically changed and a massive 'precedent set', and you don't like the 'back door' 'hush-hush' City Hall politics involved, they YOU get involved and say so. Don't just sit there - do something. Two members of the Planning Commission and Architectural Review Boards quit their jobs to work for Arrillaga. How does THAT grab you?


Posted by Dont call it Arrillaga, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by What philanthropist, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Nov 22, 2012 at 8:39 pm

John Arrillaga has no right to call himself a philanthropist. What he is does not fit that definition. his philanthropic feelings stop at the Stanford border.


Posted by Notgoodenough, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 22, 2012 at 8:42 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by concerns, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 23, 2012 at 1:11 am

from city website - dedicated to this project
FAQ Web Link
How was the current planning effort for this area initiated?

"In August of 2011, Mr. John Arrillaga, a well-known local developer ... approached the City to discuss the possibility of developing an office building at 27 University Avenue. Staff responded that this was a critical piece of land that should satisfy key community needs, such as facilitating connectivity, providing a community "sense of place," and perhaps a live performance theater, given past interest and studies"

THe FAQ is missing, among other questions,

How did the CIty respond without any public input what was "needed" for this site?

What past studies were done to determine the need for a live performance theater as a "sense of place" for Palo Alto?

Why build a theater on this site, why now, and why trade dedicated parkland for it?

Did the City or Arrillaga select the trustee for the Theaterworks as the architect for the project?


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm

1) It is my understanding that the city cannot 'trade' parkland. It takes a vote of the registered voters - and I emphasize 'registered' - to undedicate parkland - unless city staff found a way around that one. Mr.Arrillaga lives on vast acreage in the hills. He is not 'one of us'. It's not HIS town. It's ours. We must take it back.

2) That is a parkland area, It makes no difference how tall this will be, it is the wrong project for that area. The area doesn't need a project. As it is now, ambulances have to crawl through El Camino and University and El Camino and Embarcadero. Traffic on University is miserable, and there are problems on Hamilton and Lytton.

3) I've lost total faith in this city manager and this city staff. What is the next project quietly hatching at City Hall?


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 24, 2012 at 9:19 am

Can we get Story Poles installed to see what we are talking about here?

Santa Clara County's definition: "Story poles are three-dimensional, full-scale, silhouette structures that outline the location, bulk and mass that a proposed structure will occupy on a site. They are required for certain design review applications and may be requested for any discretionary review where warranted by visual impact or location issues."


Posted by Mark Weiss , a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm

In August of 2011, a year before staff report went public, Arrillaga came to staff and said he wanted to build a massive office tower or towers for a corporate headquarters and Amy French of Staff said this might go over better if there was a public benefit in the form of the shell of a home for Theatreworks, or so Amy told me ex parte recently, and its consistent with the new version of things posted Wednesday as I ate my turkey. Coincidentally, and something I'd like some more daylight on, in August of 2011 a chain book store went out of business at 456 University Avenue, the historic and beloved Varsity Theatre and myself and numerous others started to revive what in 1995 was a very lively public discussion about finding an arts tenant there, at the Varsity, and how could leadership enable this. Did Amy catch whiff of the talk about the Varsity and turn it around and give it up to the developers as an argument for more office space, sugar coated with some theatre?

Point of fact correcting a post above, Dan Garber left the PATC to work for we the tax payers regarding this proposal; we pay him from money Stanford gave us to let them build the $5 billion expansion I mean "renewal" of the medical center. But yeah it is confusing the matter of who the civil servants especially 7th floor and development staff think they work for; some of these guys are quite charming and convincing - who could resist?

Amy by the way is a Cubberley and Gunn grad, did musical theatre and rock band backup vocals, is married to a musician and is about as much a friend of the arts as we could expect to have in City Hall, notwithstanding what I just said about the seductiveness of the billion dollar ($25 B measured in valuation) commercial real estate and development biz.

People can turn out Dec. 3 to continue the opposition to Arrillaga Towers.


Posted by Concerns, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Ahead of the City Council meeting, this week

Palo Alto Parks
Tuesday, 7 pm, 250 Hamilton

Arrillaga Project:

The commission will hear a report on the 27 University Ave. project regarding the park and recreation aspects of it and will consider relocating the Julia Morgan building.




Posted by Stanford grad Paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 24, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Mr Arrillaga has done a lot for the community. OTOH, the 50 foot restriction is there for a reason, and I see no value to the community for releasing him, or Chop Keenan or any developer, from this restriction.

I never go to Council meetings. I will be there December 3. I will brook no rationalizations: that the extra height is needed because of modern lighting needs (I can introduce Mr Keenan to a local lighting company which can help him out); or that the mechanicals (for e.g. elevators) do not 'count' against the 50 feet. Esthetics matter. Their embodiment is through restrictions such as the 50 foot restriction. Variances against the restriction impoverish residents while enriching developers such as Mr Keenan. Not this time.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm

As hear about carrots and sticks, I wouldn't approve or even go dianthus project. Theater is the carrot, offices are the stick. We still have to find way to finish theatre.


Posted by Concerns, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 24, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Stanford grad...

If more people like you would show up at Council meetings, maybe this would get more attention.

Height enriches developers, but so would parkland for the Arrillaga project. As Garrett points out, the theater needs to go. It's being used as the justification for swapping away much more value than what the theater building is worth.

Any new building is relatively cheap compared to the effects of re-zoning a park, and never getting it back. Even a lease would be more profitable for Palo Alto, but CIty staff is that gift that keeps on giving to developers.


Posted by Rational, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 24, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Every company that starts here leaves here quickly because we don't have space. It would be nice to actually have newer (than H-P) big corporations to live in this town.

Second, I like the idea of a Lytton underpass (in theory). Right now, there is one way to get from downtown to El Camino/Stanford/Shopping Center. But the spaghetti of roadways at Univ/Alma/El Camino/Train tracks intersection is just very complicated, and there has to be a way to simplify it to improve traffic flow.

One idea could be to bury (tunnel with ceiling) the train station. That would free up space in the right-of-way and make it very easy to access these buildings from downtown. Perhaps better this way if the HSR does come thru one day.

I agree that a converted Borders is a better place for a theatre rather than what is Being proposed.


Posted by Martin, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 25, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Please sign my online petition: Web Link

Thank you!
Martin


Posted by theater fan, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 26, 2012 at 9:27 am

The owner of the Varsity Theater (former Borders store) has not offered that site as a possible theater, and in fact has plans (not yet proposed to the city) to develop it as office space.


Posted by don't sign, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 26, 2012 at 11:38 am

Wow, Martin, 140 signatures in 2-3 months.
Maybe you should revise your petition--the election is over and your comparisons of the potential loss of a view (which was never guaranteed to you) with the taking of a life/home/livelyhood are beyond ridiculous.


Posted by Ronald L., a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 26, 2012 at 5:03 pm

how to build double the height limit: 1) propose 3x times the limit
2) expect opposition 3) make "concessions" to 2x.


Posted by Concerns, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 2, 2012 at 12:02 am

Can anyone explain why there is a push to give a theater company, which has no particular significance to the majority of Palo Alto a "home"?

There is no transparency about the financial stability of this theater company, or artistic staying power to speak of, but Palo Alto wants to gift this company a very permanent palace.

Compare this to a company like Berkeley Rep (which has links to their audited financial statements for two years on the cover of their "about us" page!), a company with a national reputation, respectable subscription base, and near rock star status of their artistic director - Berkeley rep still relies on donations for half of their budget.

Palo Alto supposedly has a budget crisis, and if you read the May 6 article "Budget woes spark arts groups' fears, rumors" the planned largess towards Theaterowrks makes no sense. Web Link

What about gifting a building to the West Bay Opera instead? Or to me! I can sing.

Better idea. How about we not give away land or buildings until we can afford them. Especially if the land and buildings we want to give away are worth so much more than the risk and costs of giving it to a company which may or may not even last. I would rather give land to some other cause, world hunger, the environment, an aquarium.

A building does not make a theater company successful. This gift to this theater company would be a headache for Palo Alto, and even if we sanely pushed for a new Arts building in another location, it could not possibly be gifted to any one company.

The gem in the article,

"User-group revenue from Palo Alto Players, West Bay Opera and TheatreWorks came to $58,671."


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