Undisclosed meetings, private funds cloud downtown debate Palo Alto Issues, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Nov 30, 2012 at 9:26 am
In July 2011, just weeks after Palo Alto approved the mammoth expansion of the Stanford University Medical Center -- the largest development in the city's history -- city officials learned about another giant project, this one nearby in downtown Palo Alto.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 30, 2012, 8:47 AM
Posted by common sense, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 9:54 am
Isn't there some potential Brown act issues, where council members are meeting with the same developer in small groups sequentially, in private meetings which then leads to a decision?
And why is city staff becoming a proponent of policy changes, lobbying the city council for those changes on behalf of a developer? I always though city staff should do due diligence based on the direction of council.
This whole 27 University project stinks due to the lack of transparency.
Posted by Follow the money, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 10:04 am
You cannot figure out what is going on without looking for what is hidden. As someone on another thread said, You don't become a Billionaire real estate developer without knowing where to apply the grease.
Public records of campaign donations show $1,000 to Pat Burt from Butler Construction, builders of the huge office building on Alma St. and lots of other developers.
Scharff is a real estate lawyer, he used to work for huge national developer, Prometheus.
Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 10:29 am
It would be very useful to view the invoices that were used to bill the City for the "Design Work."
Where did the money come from and to whom was it paid?
Then we would want to get those facts in front of the City Attorney and ask for an analysis of whether this breached the State Law that prohibits private inurement (private benefit).
The thinking is that the project is a private endeavor until it is contructed and then gifted to the City, so until completion, this is a completely private project and any expenditure is a private benefit -- without regard to the theoretical future benefit it might provide.
These are not accusations, but rather fair and reasonable fact checking to assure that there is absolute transparency and compliance with the law.
By the way, I understand that the funds probably came from reserves provided by the Stanford Hospital project agreement, and if so, where was the discussion that this $250,000 design expense was the top priority for the City.
Finally, let's not forget that the "donor" pockets something like 50 cents on the dollar under the donation of appreciated property, so his bank account gets 50 cents on the dollar for the value each extra square footage the City allows to be built.
Let's keep our eyes open and make a good decision that assures that if we give up our protected skyline, and if we allow the greater density, that the public benefit fully reflects the value of what is given, and that the public benefit is truly the community's top priority.
As important as a Theater might be, is it really more of a priority that a public safety building or improvements in our roads or sidewalks?
These are fair questions that deserve to be answered directly by our leaders, and we cannot accept the historical practice of having all dispensed information filtered through a public relations / sales pitch.
Posted by To Vice Mayor Scharff, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 10:43 am
Dear Vice Mayor Scharff,
How can you "make the project work for the community" if you don't make the process public and listen to the public's comments on the project?
You have been elected to REPRESENT us. I understand that Mr. Arillaga finds it inconvenient to document his proposal and have it publicly vetted. Too bad. He is REQUIRED to work through a PUBLIC process and you are REQUIRED in your role to keep that process transparent, following a very specific set of ground rules defined by the law.
Please don't fail in your responsibility.
Democracy is inconvenient and messy, but it's the best form of government I know. Do your job.
Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 10:50 am
""If we said to Lucie Stern, 'We don't want a community center; we want a police building,' do you think we'd have the Lucie Stern Community Center?" Burt said. "This being a philanthropic project limits the demands we can make."
I offer great respect for Pat Burt, but completely disagree with his statement from the above article. If John Arrillage was simply building a theater, then the statement would be accurate.
The Lucie Stern Community Center was a gift to the City. If he was gifting the entire project to the City, the statement would be valid.
While we may have great appreciation for the educational mission of Stanford University, the idea that the project might be given to Stanford should have not bearing on the granting of Height and Density exceptions. The project is owned by a third-party and the rules we apply should be exactly the same, whether it is a Arrillage project to be given to Stanford, or a Donald Trump investment.
i.e. It is a third party to the City, and the leaderships fiduciary responsibility is to protect the residents from Density and Crowding, or obtain a fully valued public benefit that is applied to projects that have the highest priority -- not of the developer's choosing.
Now if he just wants to gift a Theater, then that is a different story.
Please keep the community's eyes wide open, so we don't fall prey to a private cash generating business proposal (as described in my previous post) packaged as Philanthropy.
Offered with the greatest respect for all the nice things John has done for this community.
Posted by Cynthia, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 10:52 am
In the end, the entire community will vote the 27 University project up or down based on the layout, terms and conditions Council negotiates with staff help. There will be plenty of transparency, Palo Alto style.
Lucie Stern and Elizabeth Gamble made meaningful contributions to Palo Alto decades ago. Today John Arrillaga is offering similar contributions to our city in the form of a redeveloped transit hub connecting downtown Palo Alto with the Stanford Shopping Center and sports fields at Baylands.
I'm hopeful reasoned discussions lead to infrastructure contributions by one or more benefactors that can be, and are, positively embraced by our community.
Posted by Maria, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 10:52 am
When you are the benefactor of a massive gift, why in the world would you increase the barriers to receiving it?! It is obvious that the City/Elmsley et al are doing their best to make sure it gets it before anyone else does.
27 University area desperately needs improvements of any sort. We are so blessed to have this opportunity/gift that we will not have for another 50 years.
Posted by A, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 11:00 am
It sounds like a few city planners are over-eager to see some of their long-dormant plans put into place regardless of the other negative consequences of this project.
Here on the south side of town we have seen the effects of idealistic planning that ignores reality (e.g. families will have only one car. New developments will be occupied by a mix of singles, retirees and families so the schools will not be overcrowded. A tiny patch of common turf compensates for cheek-by-jowl houses.)
What planners must consider is that, realistically, only a tiny fraction of people will arrive at this location by public transit. The other thing they must realize is that plazas at the base of large buildings always end up as a deserted, shadowed, no-man's land useful to no one. They do not seem to grasp that the term "open space" should also refer to the sky and public views of our beautiful mountains as well.
Posted by history, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 11:13 am
Money never sleeps. We better all stay awake and vigilant on this process. At current values a 200,000 sq foot building is worth about $200 million, and maybe $100 million of profit at market rates, apparently to be built where there are no existing entitlements if the Weekly is accurate. Not bad to conjure up $100 million by giving a shell and transit improvements of how much ? $10-20M? I realize it won't be sold and benefits Stanford, but they are still a third party to City and taxpayers, who suffer the expenses and traffic in perpetuity. Will Stanford even pay property taxes on the buildings?
Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 11:28 am
It would be best if we stopped calling this project "Philanthropy".
The Public Benefit is just the business cost of acquiring the right to build extra square footage beyond what is allowed by historical zoning laws.
If it is cheaper to "buy the sky" than to buy raw land, we will continue to be inundated by "Charitable" proposals that are really nothing more than business offers to purchase development rights.
The public benefit clause in our zoning was to give flexibility to developers who wanted to save a tree or modify a design that was technically in violation of the square footage and setback requirements -- it was never intended to allow the sky to sold, or our parkland to be sold to the highest bidder.
If we are not careful, the day will come when Palo Alto will look like just an extension of San Jose, and our home prices will be no different than San Jose.
Recognize that we have a good thing, and stop the nonsense of turning our back on the preservation of our past or our neighborhoods will be just residential islands in the Greater San Jose Megalopolis. (And we will say "Remember when Palo Alto was a special place."
Posted by I will vote yes, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 11:32 am
"Palo Alto residents are NOT interested."
Sandy--Do not presume to speak for me or others in the city. You have your opinion and you are entitled to that.
The reaction to this project is the typical knee-jerk Palo Alto reaction to a new project--"it is too big", it is ugly", "it will negatively effect our quality of life", "it will create too much traffic". The typical talking points that are resurrected each time. As one letter writer pointed out a few weeks back in the pages of the weekly--some people want to keep Palo Alto encaded in amber form the last century.
Let's decide on the project and then bring it to a vote. I will be voting yes.
Posted by Paco, a resident of the St. Claire Gardens neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 11:33 am
Greed is Good! Greed will be our saviour! Seems city leaders have sold out the very people they were hired to represent. Brokering a deal with developers behind the publics back,leaving no paper trail,and selling it as a community service is outrageous! What a pity!
Posted by A Desparate Resident, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm
I am not against the project per se. What I am against is that the staff (and perhaps members of the City Council?) knew of this idea a long time ago and did not see fit to bring it to the attention of the community.
If the City Council represents developers and not residents, where do we go to get representation?
Posted by Carl King, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm
To: " I will vote yes" or others already decided in favor
These forums tend to be polarizing but I honestly would like to understand what about the project in its current incarnation appeals to you? Particularly in the framework of what we as a city, and you as a resident are lacking, and how this growth might solve that? In my opinion any up-zoning should ask those questions. We have plenty of growth that will occur on the horizon under existing entitlements.
Posted by J, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm
Why does Palo Alto need to be put on the map? Isn't it already the epicenter and Mecca of technology now? Has Mr. Arrillaga lost his mind? What right does he have to come in and tell us who live here what we should want. You know what I want? someone to landscape the part of El Camino Real between Town and Country and Stanford Shopping center (near the overpass). It looks terrible and has been this way for 50 years!!!! Oh, I know... it is the State's responsibility but still no one from Palo Alto govt has asked the State to do anything!
Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm
> with one soaring to 162 feet
Let’s suppose that the 50 foot limit were increased to 175-200 feet for all of down town. This simple, stroke-of-the-pen change in the zoning code (well .. it might actually take a vote of the Council) would set the stage for a complete rebuilding of downtown Palo Alto. All of the old, quaint, turn-of-the-century buildings could be replaced with towering columns of glass and steel that would allow the developers to rebuild downtown PA in Manhattan’s image—which has been their desire for decades.
The idea that this would be the only building that would exceed the old, 50-foot limit, is not realistic. And remember—Council Member Scharff’s vision for bigger buildings: “the building is the benefit!”
A real City Council would have the gumption to demand a massing model of what a “rebuilt” downtown would look like—if the fifty foot limit were to be replaced with limits of increasing size: ie—75 feet, 100 feet, 125 feet .. and so on. By not looking at the big picture, the implications of seemingly one-off changes will not be evident until many years from now.
Posted by Fix the process, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm
A FRACTION of this project could be described as philanthropy--a tasty crumb Mr. Arillaga is throwing to Council and staff to entice them to overlook due process.
Council, your job is to make decisions based on existing policy and to hear the public (and the developer) so that you can represent us. Staff, your job is to SERVE the public through due process, including developers and Council--not excluding residents of the city. You should be documenting off-line interactions, preparing the information from those meetings to be part of the PUBLIC RECORD.
This is completely unacceptable. Regardless of what position one might take on the project, the process is improper and Council has a responsibility to to correct that immediately.
Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm
> preparing the information from those meetings to be
> part of the PUBLIC RECORD.
During the sessions that lead up to the “package of goodies” that the City put together that Stanford was offered in order to get City approval, a number of really odd items were on the list. I issued a Public Records Request to determine what person actually introduced these items onto the list. The response was that “No one knows.” I was told that there were no minutes of meetings, or anyway to track how this “goodies list” was constructed.
It’s not at all clear what State laws exist that require municipal corporations to actually document their internal processes. The City has for a long time now shown nothing but lip-service to the State’s Open Records Laws. And—if you don’t keep any meeting minutes—there’s nothing to turn over to the prying eyes of the Press, and/or the public.
Posted by Emily Renzel, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm
Thank you, Gennady Shayner, for exposing all of the behind-the-scenes machinations around the 27 University Project. Last September most of us felt like this huge proposal had just dropped out of the sky along with Arrillaga's lowball offer of $25,000/acre for land that should be part of Foothills Park. Now we learn that one-on-one Councilmember discussions had been occurring for almost a year. I think it is just plain SHOCKING that the public has been kept in the dark until now. This project can adversely impact Caltrans' busiest station on the Peninsula and also reduce El Camino Park by almost 2 acres (of 12). This project should go through normal City Planning processes and an advisory election will be no more than a sham because the public will be unable to match the resources of Mr. Arrrillaga.
Posted by Maria, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm
"Ugly" and "monstrous" are "in" these days - you can see it in many of the recent constructions. I realize that space to build in Palo Alto and the Peninsula has been getting smaller and the buildings put on it use every inch of it, upsetting the balance of the neighborhoods. We do have building codes and height limits - why are they not enforced? Its too easy to get waivers.
Posted by seesea, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm
One set of rules and processes for the wealthy and another set of rules and processes for the rest of us. We should all have to abide by the same rules and processes. I personally don't want to have to 'go through all the stuff they make you go through either'. I think the rules and processes Palo Alto has in place are excessive. I wish Arrillaga would put his considerable power behind changing the rules and processes for us all, not just for himself.
What undue hardship is shown for exceptions from the zoning rules for this project? Any regular person has to show an undue hardship that imposing the zoning laws would cause if the exception is not allowed.
If this property is allowed to exceed height limits it is only fair the zoning laws be changed to allow all property owners the same opportunities. It is not right that the city council can determine one person gets to make an extra $100000000 on their project.
Selling part of foothills park should not be allowed. 7.7 acres for $175000, where can you get a deal like that? Maybe they have a parcel they can sell me too? Is this not dedicated parkland? Does it not have the same protections as the baylands?
Posted by Richard Placone, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 4:30 pm
I have been following the 27 University Avenue Project with keen interest. So far I have said nothing about it. I sent a letter to the city council and staff on November 29 and another letter on the same date to Steve Emslie, Assistant City Manager. The letter to Emslie ( an edited version is reprinted below) referenced an article on the project on page one of the Daily Post, Wednesday, November 28, 2012, in which Emslie is extensively quoted.
Frankly, I am extremely disappointed in staff and council reaction to this project. The Palo Alto Weekly said it best in a recent editorial when they charged the staff of acting more like project advocates than the analysts they were hired to be. [And again in the Editorial in the Weekly’s November 30 edition.] We do not need city staff playing rah,rah people to the millionaire and billionaire developers in this town. They do a very good job for themselves, which is, of course, their right. But we the people, in case staff and council have all forgotten, have rights too, and we both hire and elect these individuals to be our spokespersons before all those who present claims to the city for our money, our roads, and our town's environment. In this all have failed insofar as this project is concerned, in my opinion, and that of many to whom I have spoken.
Specifically, Emslie claims in the Post article:
1. The project has a three level underground garage next to the Caltrain station that "would effectively eliminate any parking or traffic problems.” What?? People using Caltrain will not be driving, so how is that relevant? Traffic problems are not caused once cars are in the garage, but getting to the garage, from all the streets that lead to the garage. In a recent analysis in activist Bob Moss's letter to council, data presented estimates that the office complex will house at least hundreds of workers, most of whom will no doubt drive to the site along with clients of building tenants. That is what will cause the traffic problems. What are staff’s plans to manage up to 3000 additional cars per day on already crowded roadways? That should be part of the analytical job staff should be doing before virtually give Mr. Arrillago the green light. I would like to know if such a study is underway?
2. "Keeping at the height limit [currently 50 feet] for this project is a missed opportunity", Emslie is quoted as saying. Really? For whom? For Mr. Arrillago for sure, maybe for Stanford for all the high rents it expects to receive, probably. But for the city and its RESIDENTS - how is this a benefit? I would like staff to list two or three benefits derived from the additional height to the city. Do not say this will bring shoppers to the University Avenue retail. These people are office workers, who come to work in the morning and leave to go home at night. Surely staff doesn't expect to fill the building with Palo Alto residents, or do they? Even at lunch time the buildings will no doubt have a few restaurants to serve the workers, since to walk downtown and back will consume most of their lunch time. Similarly, clients coming to the building are likely to conduct their business and then go on their way rather than spend the rest of the day shopping downtown. So now, what is left to benefit the city and its residents? Perhaps there will be tax benefits. What is staff’s estimate of the increase in retail sales tax? What will be the city's share of property taxes? This latter may be complicated: the land is owned by Stanford and so by itself may be property tax exempt. But if used for commercial purposes not directly related to the university's business, which is education, then property taxes may apply. If so who pays these? My experience when I owned my own business in a high rise luxury building, my company paid our share of the building's taxes prorated on the square footage leased. We paid the building owner who then paid the taxing entity. What is staff’s estimate of property taxes that will accrue to the city?
3. In regards to the proposed theater: How does the city benefit directly? Granted theater goers may now go to a new TheatreWorks theater and granted this may result in increased restaurant business, but will the city get a percentage of the ticket sales? Will the city have to provide public safety service and if so who will pay for these? Will the theater pay property taxes to the city? Since TheatreWorks is a "non-profit" organization, will it be exempt from paying property taxes of any kind? If that is so, then the city is stuck with providing services but getting no return thereby. Has staff analyzed these issues and if not, why not? In addition, what the city/TheatreWorks actually gets is a building shell. Who will pay the millions to complete the interior? TheatreWorks barely keeps itself afloat, if one is to believe the fund raising requests I get several times a month in the mail and in my e-mail as well as when I purchase season tickets. Will the city guarantee that we the residents will not have to pick up the tab for building completion? Finally has anyone given any thought to the noise of Caltrain and HSR trains speeding past the proposed theater site? Imagine that during the middle of the performances! Adequate soundproofing could cause build-out costs to soar.
4. I understand from several sources that staff has been aware of this project and indeed has been working with the developer since at least June, and maybe since last February, while we the public who should be having the most say in this, only learned of it at most two months ago. [See Editorial in the Weekly November 30 edition.] Meanwhile, the city has spent and committed hundreds of thousands of public money to assist a billionaire private developer with no apparent payback for the money spent. Since Bob Moss points this out in his letter, I want to know on what legal grounds has the city spent and committed funds for a private development that has not yet been submitted to city as an official project? My guess is that this is illegal, though I would guess that Ms. Stump has found some legal loophole to justify this. While it may be legal, I declare that it is unethical and a gross conflict of interest all around. How? Let me count the ways: Stanford gave millions to the city in return for approval of its medical center expansion, with the understanding that this money was to be used in ways that directly benefitted the city and its residents. But the success of this project directly benefits Stanford big time since it is on Stanford owned land; Stanford will be given the buildings as a gift; Stanford will realize huge rents from the tenants; the developer is likely to realize huge tax deductions as a result of the gift to Stanford. So far I have not listed a single benefit to the city, yet the city is spending and committed hundreds of thousands of dollars from which all these non city players benefit - and we whose money it really is, weren't even given the courtesy of being in on the ground floor. Oh yes, we will be asked to vote on the project, in an election we will pay for, and the results will only be considered "advisory".
5. Finally, Mr. Emslie engages in the most remarkable bit of hypocrisy that I have recently witnessed from a public official- almost as good as one expects from most politicians. It is this: all the while extolling the incredible benefits, claiming "a missed opportunity", gushing over the possibility of the theater and the transit center improvements that "we couldn't otherwise afford", has the temerity to state that "the city manager's report given to the council explaining the project are [sic] supposed to be objective." And "it's not intended to pitch the project." Which is it Steve? Not even the city of Palo Alto can have it both ways.
Here is an example of what I would expect from a clean unbiased analysis of the project:
1. Reduce the scope considerably.
2. Arrillago and/or Stanford will pay all development costs, including any that might be incurred by the city.
3. The theater as proposed is out. We do not un-dedicate park-land which is precious enough in this city. Instead, as a real benefit to the city, the developer will bring the already existing Lucy Stern Theater center up to current theater standards, providing as part of this an underground garage for the use of theater patrons, improved landscaping and lighting and a coffee shop for the enjoyment of patrons in between acts.
4. A complete cost/benefit analysis to be undertaken by the city, using an unbiased outside consultant whose fees will be paid by the developer.
5. After these studies and agreements are completed, the project will be submitted to the voters, with the developer paying the cost of the election, and with the decision of the voters binding on the city re approval of the project. It will then be up to the developer to attempt to persuade the voters of the merits of the project in a one or two month run up to the election. Clearly, with all this work to be done, the earliest the election could occur would be November of 2013, or better yet, April of 2014.
As a result of council and staff’s handling of the Arrillago project, I have lost all faith and trust in the planning department and the managerial staff, to act faithfully and transparently on behalf of the city's residents. I fully understand that the city cannot stand still, as some may wish, but on the other hand, I also believe that growth can be done in a way that respects the city's history, its general environment and ambiance. With the recent trend toward the "New Urbanization", all of this is gradually being lost. The 27 University Avenue project as currently proposed and planned and as likely to be approved by an enthusiastic staff and gushing council will be, in my mind, the final nail in the coffin of Palo Alto's demise as a unique place to live. There is no need, nor do I detect a desire amongst residents, that Palo Alto become the third major metropolitan center on the peninsula - San Francisco - Palo Alto - San Jose.
And while I am at it, Palo Alto was not the start of, nor is it the soul of Silicon Valley. That distinction belongs to Stanford University, without which Palo Alto would be just another peninsula town. With THAT relationship, Palo Alto is already on the map.
Posted by Follow the money, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm
It's long since time to uncover the corruption in the staff and on council. Little pieces come out every so often but we need some real information. The staff's enthusiasm and hard work on this monstrosity must have had some underlying grease to motivate all that enthusiasm.
Is it money, or jobs for family, or vacations, or cars, that Mr Arrillaga can sprinkle around?
Does staff have to report gifts they receive, and what about the council?
There is too much unwarranted politeness and attention to detail, that misses the elephant in the room.
Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Nov 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm
> Does staff have to report gifts they receive, and what
> about the council?
Council and key staff members are required to submit FPPC Form 700s on a yearly basis--where financial disclosure information is supposed to be revealed.
Who reads this information is an open question. These files are open to the public, for its inspection, but they are not on-line--necessitating a trip to City Hall to review them.
It's not clear as to whether these files are digitized, so that possible conflicts-of-interest can be detected via software. For the most part, the City seems to expect people to come forward and identify any possible conflicts-of-interest that they might have. Maybe the City Attorney might, on occasion, actually get involved--as it did a few years ago when it did some work to determine if a City Council member who lived fairly close to the Charleston/Arastradero Cooridor would benefit if property values were to increase--based, in part, on the vote of that Council Member. Seems there is something called "The One Penny Rule"--that can be invoked to force a Council Member to recuse imself/herself. That particular instance is about the only time that rule seems to have been under consideration for disqualifying a Council Member from voting on an issue.
The current system operates on the "Honor Code"--which leaves a lot of room for people to wiggle around. It's way past time to have all of the Form 700s on-line, and available for public review.
Posted by Mark Weiss , a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Dec 1, 2012 at 10:38 am
Also, as the Weekly reported at the time, Steve Emslie and Tom Fehrenbach of City staff were asked by City Manager to research finding a performing arts tenant for 456 University Avenue and instead basically kicked the ball out of bounds -- now it looks like they did so to protect the competing idea of a performance space at 27 University. Or the matter should be looked at more closely.
Who do they work for, the public or the developers?
(Also, when I say we pay Tommy "$60,000" I think his actual take from us is more like $150k.)
Jim Keane meanwhile, on the subject of The Varsity's viability, said he saw the merit in it due to the fact that when he was in Berkeley Freight and Salvage raised $16 million to build a downtown arts venue - -I suggested them as a precedent and F&S's Steve Baker was on the list of people who Fehrenbach was supposed to poll or attract.
Many people's first reaction to the "theater proposal" at 27 immediately responded by saying "the Varsity is a better idea".
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm
> … the "Design Work." Where did the money come from and to whom was it paid?
So far, the city has approved spending $286,000 of the money Stanford gave for “intermodal transit”studies: See Web Link
Report Type: Action Items Meeting Date: 9/24/2012
Summary Title: 27 University Avenue Contracts
1)Contract with Fukuji Planning and Design in Amount of $139,500 for Preliminary Design Concept Services; 2) Contract with Sandis Civil Engineers Surveyors Planners in the Amount of $16,500 for Traffic Engineering, Civil Engineering and Arborist Report Services; and 3) Contract with Fergus Garber Young Consultants in theAmount of $85,000 for Urban Design and Architectural Services 4) Contact with Metropolitan Planning Group in Amount of $45,000 for Project Management for Real Property at 27 University Avenue to be Funded By the Stanford Medical Center Intermodal Transit Funds with a Budget Amendment Ordinance totaling $286,000.
Two members of the city's land-use boards, former Planning and Transportation Commissioner Daniel Garber and former Architectural Review Board member Heather Young, resigned earlier this year to work on the Arrillaga proposal. Web Link
The city has since approved a Contract with Fergus Garber Young Consultants in the Amount of $85,000 for Urban Design and Architectural Services
Posted by Paco, a resident of the St. Claire Gardens neighborhood, on Dec 1, 2012 at 2:45 pm
Corrupt process, you bet! The whole project is tainted with the public's perception that corruption of city officials, city council, and city Board members has occurred and that approval for this project has been given a minimally conditioned "green light". It is unfortunate that city officials have, in essence, become business partners with the developer on this project. What a pity!
Posted by Bob Moss, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 1, 2012 at 4:19 pm
This letter was sent to the City Council last Wednesday. I have gotten several favorable comments about it and some people have taken a few of my points and expanded upon them.
Mayor Yeh and Councilmembers; November 27, 2012
The bizarre progression of the massive Arrillaga project at 27 University is scheduled to continue December 3. You will be asked to discuss TheaterWorks proposal for a new theater and the massing and concept of the development, plus approving a measure for public ballot next June. Presumably public funds will continue to pay for these studies, preparing ballot language, and paying about $200,000 for a special election. All of this is being pushed by staff for something that legally does not exist. There was no formal application for a project. Papers have not been filed identifying exactly what is proposed and what the supposed offsetting public benefits will be. Amy French verified that there was no formal project or proposal yet. The public, ARB and Planning and Transportation Commission were asked to comment on something that could not be acted on, approved or rejected formally because there is nothing that can officially be approved or rejected.
Lack of a formal proposal means that the developer, John Arrillaga, was not required to fund any studies or reviews of anything yet. Apparently Palo Alto’s treasury is swimming in assets because staff requested and you approved spending $536,000 from various City accounts for various studies and reviews of the informal proposal including installation of bike and pedestrian paths and traffic studies. If normal procedures were followed staff would have required a formal proposal along with the fees for this project. Usually staff has all the preliminary reviews of the proposed project done in public with ample opportunity for public and Commissioner comments on every section of the proposal. All studies, comparisons, impact reviews, and proposed mitigations would have been paid for by the developer. Mr. Arrillaga can certainly afford it. Here is some information about his wealth from Forbes:
John Arrillaga Net Worth $1.9 B As of September 2012 Age: 75
Source of Wealth: real estate, self-made Residence: Portola Valley, CA
Country of Citizenship: United States Education: Bachelor of Arts / Science, Stanford University
Marital Status: Widowed, Remarried Children: 2
Forbes Lists #250 Forbes 400 #719 Forbes Billionaires #255 in United States
Apparently one reason for his success in real estate and great wealth can be demonstrated in the proceedings of 27 University. He met privately with staff for a year or more pitching this project. Clearly staff is no match for someone who used his abilities and talents in real estate development to become one of the 800 wealthiest people in the world, the 255th wealthiest in the U. S.
The result of all this off-line dealing are proposals to create a new zone for Arts and Innovation. The fact that Palo Alto has an existing Arts Zone along Middlefield funded by Lucy Stern more than 50 years ago seems to have slipped past staff. As for Innovation Zones, we already have many such Zones already in offices on and adjacent to University Avenue, lofts on High Street, Stanford Research Park, East and West Bayshore, and of course our many garages. There is an interesting one on Addison you could visit. The proposed office towers are much more suited to established companies willing to pay high rents for the space, not for start-ups.
Another weird aspect of the proposal is the way that the long-established 50 foot height limit was totally ignored. The staff report glosses over this violation, arguing that taller buildings are need because floor heights for modern offices need to be 12 or 14 feet. If that really is true there is a simple solution. Office structures will be limited to three, not four or five floors. Recently projects have been allowed to exceed the 50 foot limit, but in almost every case the excess height was for utilities, equipment such as elevator shafts, decoration such as the corner tower of the Gateway building as Alma and Lytton, the minaret for the mosque, or art such as the tower at the Campus for Jewish Life which has not been built. They were rarely occupied. If there is a real need to revisit our height limits it should come from the City Council where policies supposedly are set, or from the residents who are concerned about whether or not existing policies are still valid. Policy such as violating the 50 foot height limit should NEVER be established by developers such as Mr. Arrillaga, Chop Keenan, or Jim Baer. It is fair for them to ask, but not to decide. Serious policy issues such as the height limit ought to be based on proper study and decisions made by the City Council. They should not be made by staff and developers and rubber stamped by the Council.
Commissioners on both the ARB and Planning Commission had problems with many aspects of the proposal, including location of the theater, traffic, heights, appearance and layout of the office towers, viability of the plaza, blocking of views, and incompatibility with existing downtown development, among others. It is very premature for the City Council to be taking any firm actions on a proposal that has so many issues and unresolved problems.
Another concern is the speed with which this project is being pushed through. Asking for Council to approve formulating a ballot measure for a project still in flux and not even a formally submitted project is unprecedented and inappropriate. Speeding a public vote on a project such as this which a) legally does not yet exist, b) violates many existing Comprehensive Plan and Zoning policies, and c) has not justified the urgency of holding a special election is unwarranted. Staff and Council refused to put any bonds or fund raising issues on special election ballots despite the well-established lack of adequate finances to fix our infrastructure funding problems. Now we are asked to have a special election for this massive project that mainly will benefit Stanford which will be granted income from and eventually ownership of the towers, and TheaterWorks which will face the challenge of raising many millions to complete and furbish the theater shell. And just who pays for this special election?
Please defer any further action on this project unless and until it is brought much more into compliance with EXISTING land use and zoning requirements. Comments on how councilmembers believe such compliance can be achieved are valid and useful, but any actions at this time are not.
Posted by resident, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Dec 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm
You called it from the start. When everyone was debating the project, you pointed out the process. I hope Palo Alto residents will expect nothing less from City Hall, than what you are asking
"defer any further action on this project unless and until it is brought much more into compliance with EXISTING land use and zoning requirements. Comments on how councilmembers believe such compliance can be achieved are valid and useful, but any actions at this time are not."
Posted by paly mom, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2012 at 8:33 am
Council will take the project to the voters. The project has to be somewhat developed for the voters to vote on it, therefore, the "undisclosed" (not illegal) meetings between staff and Arrillaga representatives.
I do not believe the 50' limit is sacrosanct. The voters have NEVER had the opportunity to vote on this.
Giving the people the right to vote on the project BEFORE any more money is spent on it, is appropriate and legal.
Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community, on Dec 2, 2012 at 9:07 am
27 University has a long way to before any kind of approval or any changes in zoning, height or density. Right now we are seeing drawings for both the public benefit and the office buildings, nothing in these plans show anything is set in cement. As for the land use designation, or any kind of planning rule concerning new buildings.
Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2012 at 9:12 am
> I do not believe the 50' limit is sacrosanct. The voters
> have NEVER had the opportunity to vote on this
No, not exactly. The the events that surrounding the building of the Bank of America Building, and the others that were being promoted for a "Superblock" of (maybe) four of these very tall structures downtown did lead to the election of "Residentialists" in 1971--which shut down the red hot growth that had been going on in much of Palo Alto since the '50s.
Even though a lot of the same people who voted in the '71 election are still living here in Palo Alto, they are a lot older now--and probably not as motivated to fight the developers as they were in the late '60s.
Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community, on Dec 2, 2012 at 10:31 am
I was born at Stanford in 1964, my parents in the were paying customers of the Palo Alto Times. At a young age would love read the news, which over the years growth was a red hot issue. Battles over buildings and how tall they should be, reason for the 50 foot limit. As I understand, which is important to know, that certain buildings were approved, then built over residents obj Ppections. Now as some who doesn't mind tall, well planned and designed buildings that some thought of where, how tall and size. I oppose buildings that get built over objections of residents
Posted by No, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2012 at 11:09 am
Office buildings don't put cities on the map, except maybe in the case of Manhattan. Palo Alto look like Manhattan? We are a long way from it, don't want to go there, and it's not this project from a handful of megalomaniacs that's going to put us on any map.
Posted by resident, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2012 at 1:57 pm
"Even though a lot of the same people who voted in the '71 election are still living here in Palo Alto, they are a lot older now--and probably not as motivated to fight the developers as they were in the late '60s."
Whoever they are, I have a lot of respect for what they did. They themselves should be a motivation for the rest of us.
Posted by paly mom, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2012 at 6:01 pm
@Wayne Martin. Please provide me with the cite to the law limiting building height to 50' in Palo Alto that was directly voted on by residents. I was led to believe that it was only in the Comp Plan, which is approved by the City Council, who are voted on by the people, so indirectly.
Posted by Follow the money, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2012 at 7:15 pm
The vote in June, only advisory, sounded good at first. Then I realized that the ballot description will likely be controlled by the same staff that's been deceiving us up to now, City Manager Keene and Asst Manager Emslie. Emslie has been having secret meetings with Arrillaga all along.
The ballot text will likely contain lofty prose like 'Arts and Innovation District' and 'putting Palo Alto on the map,' and new concepts the highly priced marketers are working on already. It won't mention the horrendous traffic it will create, or how they plan to get artists and innovators to work there, or the violation of the Comprehensive Plan or the takeover of public park land.
Posted by resident, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2012 at 7:53 pm
"Councilman Pat Burt said the philanthropic component of the downtown proposal limits the number of demands the council can place on Arrillaga without risking all the potential public benefits, which Burt estimated could amount to $100 million."
The "philanthropic component" in this "proposal" makes Palo Alto the philanthropist! Palo Alto would philanthropically trade away zoning laws to give Stanford lease income, and one theater company a stage.
Mr. Burt you need to learn about the time value of money. Luci Stern's gift is not the equivalent here. It does not even come close.
At any rate, Palo Alto is not receiving the 100 million you speak of, that is as questionable as the process for this deal.
A theater shell and sidewalks do not cost that much. I would value the cost of a 600 seat theater shell under 10 million. Sidewalks? my contractor could maybe do it for 100,000.
About 90 million is missing, but WHO decided there is a price for this open space?
The ballot should read as the sale of this property for X amount. Let residents do the math.
Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2012 at 8:06 pm
I will add that one theater company cannot possibly have earned this distinction. Again, this is very different from Luci Stern giving the Palo Alto players a home.
Luci Stern did not make her donation conditional on four office towers being built as a donation to Stanford.
Of all the backdoor conversations, the most interesting would be the ones related to the theater and especially the architect of the project - on the board of trustees of the theater, AND a former PA planning commissioner(?!), and the 3-4 related members of city commissions to this same architect. Yuk
Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2012 at 8:51 pm
> Please provide me with the cite to the law limiting building
> height to 50' in Palo Alto that was directly voted on by residents.
I am unaware of any ballot item that was put to the voters on this particular issue. Although one person has posted that there was such a vote--I am not aware of it myself. (Perhaps that person might help to clarify this point by telling us about which year that vote was held. I think that this limit was imposed by the Council, but it couldn't hurt to research that point.)
Times were turbulent here for local PA government during the '60s. From talking to at least one person who was living here then--the Council was completely controlled by "business interests"/developers. Stories about less-than-veiled rudeness on the part of the Council towards the public abound. To make matters worse, the Council was 15-strong at the time. Eventually (around 1967, I think) there was a recall--which resulted in a downsizing of the Council from 15 to 11 around 1971, and perhaps two years later (around 1973), the current size of nine came about.
The City Manager at the time, a fellow by the name of Jerry Keithley, was the first of the so-called "Strong City Managers". He is said to have been supportive of the "Superblock" concept--which made him less-than-popular with the residents. At some point after that, he resigned.
To reign in "growth", people began to run on a "slate"--pledging to vote together as a group--which ultimately brought the so-called "Residentialists" to power.
Posted by resident, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2012 at 9:55 pm
Is your point that if there was no specific vote on the 50 foot heigh limit, we can all build a multiple of it? What about the countless codes for residential building or renovations. Was there a vote for those?
More than a vote, it would help to understand the purpose of zoning. What is the purpose of zoning, if not to protect the character and livability of a city or town, for the residents of that town.
Voting specifically on breaching the 50 foot limit open ended? Or is your idea to vote to increase the height to 60, 65, 75.4 feet?
Smarter cities and people have dealt with this same issue since the beginning of time. The usual is for residents to fight against builders. Are you suggesting lifting zoning limits? That would definitely put Palo Alto on the map, for sheer stupidity.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Dec 3, 2012 at 10:56 am
resident makes a great point. Stanford does have a strong set of architectural guidelines. Mostly on the look and feel side of things - reflecting the sandstone walls and the red tile roofs. But I don't believe they have a height limit in place - Hoover Tower and the medical center are at least two buildings that breach 50'.
Nevertheless the proposal in its current state does little to fit in with the surrounding area. I am not opposed to developing the site - but clearly the scale is just far too out of whack.
But perhaps that's the point - negotiating down to what is reasonable (and let's face it, profitable).
Posted by Emily Renzel, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Dec 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm
Everyone who is outraged about this stealth project should attend the City Council meeting tonite,December 3. Even if you don't intend to speak, WEAR RED to show your solidarity against this questionable process and outrageous project.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton, on Dec 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Based on the information provided in the article there do not appear to be any Brown Act violations.
The Brown Act does not cover meetings between private individuals and staff and all of the reported meetings involving council members had less than a majority of the council in attendance. A Brown Act violation would have occurred if a majority of the council members then, either together or serially, discussed this matter amongst themselves - there is no information provided that such discussions did or did not occur.
The Brown Act is the law with regard to transparency but it is the legal minimum and not the higher standard to which public officials should attempt to hold themselves.
In this case I think the public outrage on the lack of a higher standard may well force a redo.
Posted by Fred Balin, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Dec 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm
Do you see significantly increased risk of a serial communications or a hub-and-spokes council-majority aggregation when the applicant, staff, or consultants speaks to all council members after the developer meeting, on-site visit, or staff updates?
Also, when two council members are conflicted from a topic (as they are in this case), does the Brown Act council-majority-consultations-limit shrink by 2 on the matter, i.e. from 9 to 7 on the current issue.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton, on Dec 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
The Brown Act states:
54952.6. Definition of action taken
As used in this chapter, “action taken” means a collective decision made by a majority of the
members of a legislative body, a collective commitment or promise by a majority of the members of a legislative body to make a positive or a negative decision, or an actual vote by a majority of the members of a legislative body when sitting as a body or entity, upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order or ordinance."
I would interpret this t mean that a majority is the majority of those members who 'sit as a body' to make a specific decision in which case the majority of the PA council would be 4 of 7 rather than 5 of nine. My opinion may well not be shared by others or the courts.
"Do you see significantly increased risk of a serial communications or a hub-and-spokes council-majority aggregation when the applicant, staff, or consultants speaks to all council members after the developer meeting, on-site visit, or staff updates?"
Yes, under these circumstances the council members must be extraordinarily careful that a series of one on one conversations do not, even inadvertently, lead to a serial meeting.
Posted by Fred Balin, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Dec 3, 2012 at 3:05 pm
Good; thank you again, Peter.
Everyone, this an excellent and import investigative piece. Encourage your circle to read it, and, yes, seriously consider attending the council meeting tonight. If not for the entire meeting, then at least for staff's presentation, council questions, and then public comment. The item should start about 7:15 pm. We're are at pivotal juncture with regard to Palo Alto's future as a desirable place to live.
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 3, 2012 at 9:54 pm
The article says, “Because in both cases, the meetings involved two or three council members at a time, they did not need to be publicly disclosed under the Ralph M. Brown Act, …”
Having only 2 or 3 council members in a meeting seems like a convenient way to get around the Brown Act.
Karen Holman "... raised flags about the lack of transparency in this process in June, when staff from Keene's office was trying to schedule a series of 30-minute update meetings between council members, staff and consultants working on the project."
"With these additional meetings being proposed that include designers as part of the meetings, I have even greater concerns about transparency," Holman wrote in late June. "Please help me understand what causes the need for private meetings with City
Council members rather than meetings that could be held in public."
Holman said she doesn't recall getting a response from staff addressing her concerns about private meetings, other than a brief message indicating that staff would like to update the council.
Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 5, 2012 at 10:35 am
I watched the video of the Dec 3 meeting at City Hall, and heard Manager Keene say staff has only been doing what the council directed them to do. The Post has a similar description today, that staff did nothing but follow council direction.
I recall first reading about this project, and Council said staff brought this project to them.
All a misunderstanding?
A council member said the process went sideways. Which is it?
Disturbing to hear Keen explain it away, saying it is Council that set the process, and several Council members say, don't blame the staff. Actually some council members attacked people's concerns.
How is one to trust the work ahead, when neither Council or staff take responsibility for co-developing a plan behind closed doors, and how are we to believe that the long standing relationship between staff or and the developer in this "co-development", is not a problem going forward.
The council meeting ended up sanctioning the plan, and it appears most of the council and staff's work will be towards conforming to this exact plan in the future.
The music has been paused, but sounds like the same song will be playing when it resumes.
Posted by common sense, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 5, 2012 at 11:58 am
I watched the Dec 3 City Council meeting as well, and found the City Staff & some members of the council sadly lacking in being forthcoming and transparent on this project:
* I too am amazed that the City Manager is failing to take any responsibility for the process involved thus far, and instead is deflecting blame onto the city council for "directing staff". The City Manager needs to provide a reference to the city council meeting where such a vote was taken, and show where it fits in the timeline of events.
The City Manager acted like a petulant teenager who denies all wrong doing after getting called out during the City council meeting.
The City Council should have provided a reprimand for the subversion of the process - that is one of the city council's job - to provide oversight and ensure the city staff is working for the resident's benefits not some special interest's benefit.
* So much discussion was "verbal", and no notes taken - it suggests that the city staff was intentionally trying not to leave a paper trail that they would later be forced to provide under a public information request
* How does $500,000 of city money get spent on this - when no formal project has been submitted? Remember the last budget cycle, when the City Manager cut 6 police positions, and animal services? Yet there is $500,000 laying around to pay for consultants and studies that the developer should be paying for
* Who determined that Theatreworks should be the highest priority for public benefits? what happened to the commitment to affordable housing? and what does the addition of 200,000 square feet of office space do to future ABAG Housing requirements for housing?
* The Stanford Hospital, and Menlo Park Office park proposals are all traffic additions to the El Camino/University intersection which are already close to be graded as failing.
* A special zoning of "Arts & Innovation District" is just incredibly deceptive - the office space rent will be prohibitive to many start ups.
All in all this episode reflects pretty poorly on many members of the council and city staff.
Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm
Another item worth noting from the meeting is that the park in question is currently poorly maintained, confusing, and unbecoming. Office tower supporters made public comments saying they see rats there, and can't figure out how to get around the park right now.
Why has the City allowed this to happen? Is it poor management, negligence, or a way to tee up for the project?
In San Francisco, they put up bike paths overnight.
It would take $20,000 to clean this up, build bike and pedestrian paths, and print out a map for the confused. Without taking decades or a master plan to do it.