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Jay Paul development wins its first zoning battle

Original post made on May 29, 2013

In a city teeming with major development applications, few fuel hopes and stir anxieties like Jay Paul's grand plan for 395 Page Mill Road. The project, which includes two large office buildings and a new police station, scored a major victory Wednesday when the Planning and Transportation Commission initiated a zone change that would make the development possible.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 10:18 PM

Comments (16)

Posted by WT...um...Eff, a resident of Green Acres
on May 30, 2013 at 12:04 am

"But Williams and commissioners all emphasized that the city still has plenty of homework to do before the project gets the final green light. Among the biggest wildcards is the development's effects on traffic and parking, which are yet to be evaluated and which will be the subject of an upcoming environmental study. The commission's decision Wednesday to initiate the zoning change effectively allows the city to proceed with the state-mandated analysis.

"...and, despite concerns about the already high level of traffic in the area...

"... "What I'm concerned about is this project could introduce -- in exchange for a one-time upfront benefit that has value for many years -- we'll have years and years and years of ongoing downside because of the potential traffic and parking problems.""

What the?

Who stole our Planning Director and Commission and replaced them with people giving some appearance of doing their jobs? And why couldn't they have done that before last week's meeting when the future of our neighborhood was before them?

On Maybell, a residential neighborhood, we are faced with having a massive 4-story complex with 15 tall skinny houses without proper setback plopped right in the middle of the neighborhood, with NO public benefit -- except "affordable" housing for seniors, even though PAHC has 20 units at another senior complex it hasn't filled for 3 years because they build first and ask questions later -- NO environmental study, NO acknowledgement of the seriously problematic traffic in the neighborhood affecting SCHOOL CHILDREN on safe routes to school, NO "homework" or due diligence anything like this before the city charged ahead, and NO thought of the future downsides to the neighborhood, the park, or the thousands of schoolchildren using the affected school transit corridors because of potential traffic and parking problems.

Why oh why couldn't we have had THESE city employees instead of the ones treating the residential areas of our side of town as a dumping ground for density, while providing NO public benefits at all in the form of public spaces, assets, or even due infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the density! For us, the massive wall of houses in our residential neighborhood, like the ones at Alma Plaza, ARE supposed to be the public benefit!!! (Someone representing the development said that!)

While this developer offers a city safety building, we're told we have the privilege of having our neighborhood destroyed and our children's safety compromised to satisfy ABAG tallies. Aren't we lucky?


Posted by Tang Wu, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 30, 2013 at 7:27 am

Hurrah! This news is most wonderful.


Posted by Palo Alto native, a resident of Downtown North
on May 30, 2013 at 8:06 am

Why even fight it. Money is the only thing that matters in this town. Skew the argument anyway you want, money always wins. It is remarkably simple.


Posted by Please no rezoning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2013 at 11:12 am

In neighborhoods across Palo Alto there are zoning rules to protect the quality of life in that neighborhood. Some neighborhoods carry more of a burden of traffic or schools. However, I think most Palo Altans would like to protect the nature of their neighborhood.

The vote on June 10th by the PA City Council could forever change the value of your neighborhood. By approving rezoning of the land in Barron Park, the city is allowing a developer to have benefits that go beyond anything that current homeowner can have. This is a for-profit developer that is getting mixed into the senior housing project. The project is in the middle of a neighborhood and will look like the project on El Camino and Charleston.

As a homeowner, can you build a three story home with no setback on your lot? Can you build high density with small side yards? Can you remove two heritage oak trees for your benefit? This is what this change will mean to the quality of Maybell Ave. Once the City votes yes for the for-profit developer (which is separate from the senior housing) then developers will be all over this city looking for other ranch houses to tear down and ask for rezoning. If they say yes on June 10th then they will say yes again to other projects in neighborhoods all over town.


Posted by Facts please, a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Re:"PAHC has 20 units at another senior complex it hasn't filled for 3 years because they build first and ask questions later " : is another untruth repeated even after accurate information has been provided: The empty units are in fact at the non-PAHC Moldaw residences at the JCC complex. They require a major upfront buy-in (> $100,000) which has not attracted enough seniors to fill the unit. A completely different type of project.
You can easily view all of PAHCs 20 properties (whose generally unobtrusive presence as far back as 1972 have provided low-income housing options) here: Web Link
Maybe you should consider thinking and doing basic fact check first, then posting.


Posted by member, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 30, 2013 at 1:04 pm

If it sounds to good to be true...it probably is


Posted by WT ....., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2013 at 1:49 pm

@Facts,
The 20 vacant units are BMR units, i.e., affordable units, and yes, they have remained unfilled because they are't actually affordable. You would think if there was such a need, it would be possible to fill those in three years. Maybe it's not so easy to solve such a problem, but I think it's easier than rezoning a residential neighborhood for high density and putting up a high rise which is not a senior community and has no nearby services for seniors.

In fact, PAHC has in the past had vacant units at Abitaire and the Redwoods that they had to advertise to fill, and the consultant the city hired to evaluate the program said, among other things, desirability (or lack of) had much to do with it.

I don't question they will fill that high rise, I question whether they are filling a concrete need for Palo Alto seniors.


Posted by WT...., a resident of Green Acres
on May 30, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Web Link
Here you go, you can verify that PAHC has 24 units at Moldaw. 20 of them are unfilled. (Do you need me to explain what the BMR program is?) They are in the BMR program, so why hasn't PAHC fixed this since they say the need for seniors is so great? It's just logistics and far less money than building a new structure, and they don't even have to shove it own the throats of the neighbors who have legitimate concerns about siting a development on an overcrowded school commute corridor of substandard width. The problem is, they build/get the units first and ask questions later. This isn't how you best meet the need in an expensive place with an inexhaustible supply of people who need affordable housing.


Posted by WT ...., a resident of Green Acres
on May 30, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Copied from another thread: how come they get a real process and we don't?

Palo Alto should provide low-income housing because this area is so expensive, it's impossible for many people to work and live here at the same time. Many of those jobs we need locally, and it's better for everyone if they can live near their jobs.

That said, this project is for seniors who won't be working, according to PAHC. PAHC has actually been kind of cagey about who would live there, even inconsistent with their answers. (First they're working when they want to make a point about them being in the community, then they're not when they want to claim they won't add to traffic.)

In the past, when PAHC has just assumed if they build it, it will fill the endless need, they've ended up with vacancies in a number of places, Abitair, the Redwoods, and most recently 20 unfilled spaces in a senior center (Moldaw). In addition to the cost issues at Moldaw, there are apparently some issues with lack of nearby elevators for people with mobility problems (from what I've heard) -- people who need low income housing do actually have to assess whether they can live in a given place, and drawbacks (like the elevators) could cause people to choose other alternatives, including moving away for affordability when they retire, something virtually everyone considers at a certain age, regardless of where they live (not just Palo Alto or California). In the case of this development, there are no nearby services or resources seniors need, not medical, grocery, etc. It's not really on a transit corridor, as the Commissioner said.

Palo Alto is an expensive place for everyone to live. Most seniors living here are long-time residents who stay in their homes -- many of them on fixed incomes, as the homes ARE affordable housing despite the value, just by virtue of the tax structure. So, such a project wouldn't be serving seniors in the neighborhood, or across much of Palo Alto, who wouldn't qualify if they sold their homes. The development is not a homeless shelter, people who qualify are supposed to live or work in Palo Alto, the homeless would not be eligible.

What about seniors who have needed the affordable housing all along? If so, they've had decades to work their way through PAHC waiting lines and already live in PAHC affordable housing. Or by the time they're that age, they've found alternatives.

Like most people, we've scrapped for our housing over the years, living in our share of substandard conditions in other communities and commuting. We have always assumed if we got to retirement age and couldn't afford to live here, we would move away to somewhere more affordable. That's what people typically do, everywhere across the nation. It's what many of our friends locally have done. It's what our own parents have done after they retired. Move somewhere more affordable after retirement. So why are we spending millions to provide affordable housing for retirees in Palo Alto, which would be horrendously expensive despite housing assistance, and in that location, not near any services or necessities?

PAHC representatives have themselves admitted that the underlying driver here is to push through what they can, because designating it for seniors would be easier politically in an area with schools, not because the project does the best job meeting the needs.

The vacancies over the years at PAHC facilities have been acknowledged to be in part about desirability. This project is a problem for seniors, in that the constraints of the financing have been driving the design, not the actual need, and not the accessibility of nearby necessities. And there are traffic and safety issues the neighborhood is really up in arms about, that were a problem before this proposal and will affect the residents as well. PAHC has compared traffic numbers with other local senior communities that have nearby amenities, including grocery, library, etc., just across the street, they frankly don't have any comparable experience with facilities anyone was dumb enough to build so far away from anything residents need.

PAHC has 20 senior spots at Moldaw that have gone unfilled for 3 years. In the past, they've had to actually advertise units that went unfilled so long to the general public. And they end up filling a substantial portion of their units with people from other communities. For younger workers, this makes sense, because there's a rationale for making affordable housing available to people who work in Palo Alto. But building something so controversial, in such an unsuitable location, with many drawbacks for seniors (and the neighborhood) -- it could very well end up being an expensive subsidy for people from surrounding communities to finally get to move to Palo Alto. Is that how we want to spend our tax dollars? Should we really be compromising our kids' safety over such a dubious thing? (School transit corridors are supposed to be accorded a higher level of scrutiny anyway, which has not happened, so keen is everyone to cry "NIMBY" they can get away with prioritizing this project over the safety of local children.)

I think PAHC really should be working on filling those 20 spots at Moldaw first, and understanding the needs and wants of that segment first before pursuing a huge project like this with so many drawbacks. In fact, there should be a lot more soul searching at the City level before we decide it's a priority to privilege the retirement of a few people in Palo Alto over the majority of long-time residents who could never make that choice, even if they don't need affordable housing now. This has proceeded because PAHC CAN do this, because they've found their boilerplate NIMBYism arguments work like kryptonite in this community and they don't have to ever answer for the merits of any given project, not because it's the best way to answer a clear problem.

Someone who is very good at it is burnishing their professional credentials, at the expense of safety and common sense. The City Council should never have put themselves in such a compromised position that they can't decide on this project objectively.


Posted by WT ...., a resident of Green Acres
on May 30, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Copied from another thread: how come they get a real process and we don't?

Palo Alto should provide low-income housing because this area is so expensive, it's impossible for many people to work and live here at the same time. Many of those jobs we need locally, and it's better for everyone if they can live near their jobs.

That said, this project is for seniors who won't be working, according to PAHC. PAHC has actually been kind of cagey about who would live there, even inconsistent with their answers. (First they're working when they want to make a point about them being in the community, then they're not when they want to claim they won't add to traffic.)

In the past, when PAHC has just assumed if they build it, it will fill the endless need, they've ended up with vacancies in a number of places, Abitair, the Redwoods, and most recently 20 unfilled spaces in a senior center (Moldaw). In addition to the cost issues at Moldaw, there are apparently some issues with lack of nearby elevators for people with mobility problems (from what I've heard) -- people who need low income housing do actually have to assess whether they can live in a given place, and drawbacks (like the elevators) could cause people to choose other alternatives, including moving away for affordability when they retire, something virtually everyone considers at a certain age, regardless of where they live (not just Palo Alto or California). In the case of this development, there are no nearby services or resources seniors need, not medical, grocery, etc. It's not really on a transit corridor, as the Commissioner said.

Palo Alto is an expensive place for everyone to live. Most seniors living here are long-time residents who stay in their homes -- many of them on fixed incomes, as the homes ARE affordable housing despite the value, just by virtue of the tax structure. So, such a project wouldn't be serving seniors in the neighborhood, or across much of Palo Alto, who wouldn't qualify if they sold their homes. The development is not a homeless shelter, people who qualify are supposed to live or work in Palo Alto, the homeless would not be eligible.

What about seniors who have needed the affordable housing all along? If so, they've had decades to work their way through PAHC waiting lines and already live in PAHC affordable housing. Or by the time they're that age, they've found alternatives.

Like most people, we've scrapped for our housing over the years, living in our share of substandard conditions in other communities and commuting. We have always assumed if we got to retirement age and couldn't afford to live here, we would move away to somewhere more affordable. That's what people typically do, everywhere across the nation. It's what many of our friends locally have done. It's what our own parents have done after they retired. Move somewhere more affordable after retirement. So why are we spending millions to provide affordable housing for retirees in Palo Alto, which would be horrendously expensive despite housing assistance, and in that location, not near any services or necessities?

PAHC representatives have themselves admitted that the underlying driver here is to push through what they can, because designating it for seniors would be easier politically in an area with schools, not because the project does the best job meeting the needs.

The vacancies over the years at PAHC facilities have been acknowledged to be in part about desirability. This project is a problem for seniors, in that the constraints of the financing have been driving the design, not the actual need, and not the accessibility of nearby necessities. And there are traffic and safety issues the neighborhood is really up in arms about, that were a problem before this proposal and will affect the residents as well. PAHC has compared traffic numbers with other local senior communities that have nearby amenities, including grocery, library, etc., just across the street, they frankly don't have any comparable experience with facilities anyone was dumb enough to build so far away from anything residents need.

PAHC has 20 senior spots at Moldaw that have gone unfilled for 3 years. In the past, they've had to actually advertise units that went unfilled so long to the general public. And they end up filling a substantial portion of their units with people from other communities. For younger workers, this makes sense, because there's a rationale for making affordable housing available to people who work in Palo Alto. But building something so controversial, in such an unsuitable location, with many drawbacks for seniors (and the neighborhood) -- it could very well end up being an expensive subsidy for people from surrounding communities to finally get to move to Palo Alto. Is that how we want to spend our tax dollars? Should we really be compromising our kids' safety over such a dubious thing? (School transit corridors are supposed to be accorded a higher level of scrutiny anyway, which has not happened, so keen is everyone to cry "NIMBY" they can get away with prioritizing this project over the safety of local children.)

I think PAHC really should be working on filling those 20 spots at Moldaw first, and understanding the needs and wants of that segment first before pursuing a huge project like this with so many drawbacks. In fact, there should be a lot more soul searching at the City level before we decide it's a priority to privilege the retirement of a few people in Palo Alto over the majority of long-time residents who could never make that choice, even if they don't need affordable housing now. This has proceeded because PAHC CAN do this, because they've found their boilerplate NIMBYism arguments work like kryptonite in this community and they don't have to ever answer for the merits of any given project, not because it's the best way to answer a clear problem.

Someone who is very good at it is burnishing their professional credentials, at the expense of safety and common sense. The City Council should never have put themselves in such a compromised position that they can't decide on this project objectively.


Posted by JL, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 30, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Does Palo Alto really want to build another hideous building? The architecture is, frankly speaking, terrible. The city blew it with the new Mitchell Park Library...they blew it with the new low-income housing on Alma, downtown Palo Alto. And the new yoga center on Middlefield in Midtown is yet another atrocity. What happened to good, architectural taste?Build something that will last, please.


Posted by NIMBY MAYBELL , a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 30, 2013 at 11:34 pm

I live close by the Maybell project, and I am in favor of the Project. Some of my neighbors just do not want a project there, the real reason in not traffic or parking space but that is a easy route in a meeting, since nobody want to be called discrimination, all a bunch on NINBYs.


Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on May 31, 2013 at 1:25 am

Marie is a registered user.

Please do not rezone anything for denser office space with inadequate parking until the housing imbalance documented by ABAG has been satisfied. Palo Alto is in this huge downward spiral which requires more and more housing because of too much office space. When will this end?

Instead, use the money from Stanford to build a new police department plus a minimal bond issue. I'd rather pay more taxes than have Palo Alto become a concrete jungle.

And, given the parking issues, there should be no decrease in parking required by existing zoning. In fact, they should consider increasing the required parking to make up for earlier poor decisions allowing developers to pay in lieu fees instead of providing the required parking. Check the current number of cars generated by AOL versus the number of employees. Consider requiring parking spots to match the number of projected employees rather than office space. Newer companies often cram a lot more employees into the same space. How many AOL employees use alternative transportation today?

Ask the people around the Sunrise of Palo Alto how much parking is required by a senior development. My understanding is that the planning department grossly underestimated how many seniors were still driving in assisted living and how many spots were needed for caregivers and other workers. A minimal study should be able to project realistically what would be needed for a new senior living complex.

As far as I can tell, the only benefit new office space provides Palo Alto, is higher property taxes to pay the benefits for all the new employees hired to manage the new development. This makes no sense.


Posted by Please no rezoning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2013 at 10:51 am

In response to "I live close by the Maybell project, and I am in favor of the Project. Some of my neighbors just do not want a project there, the real reason in not traffic or parking space but that is a easy route in a meeting, since nobody want to be called discrimination, all a bunch on NINBYs."

This is so wrong. Building 15 homes along Maybell and Clemo with no setbacks that match the rest of the neighborhood is wrong. Building three story homes right up to Maybell Ave. is wrong (these are not senior housing).Then having less than one parking space for every senior unit being built is wrong. Where are the family visitors going to park, where are the caregivers, hospice folks, physical therapists going to park? I suppose it will be all through the neighborhood. Saying that you can make Maybell a bicycle boulevard is wrong (there is no room to add a bike lane). The message is safety, yes but the real message is quality of neighborhood living.

If the city is really cares about senior housing then they should reduce the for-profit housing down to normal setbacks, side yards, and back yards and height of structure that are expected in the neighborhood. The additonal 15 for-profit houses (four bedrooms) could not have been included in the traffic study. These houses alone could have 4 or more drivers in each house. That alone is 60 cars that will be traveling to work and school.

Leave the zoning alone and scale back the project to what actually fits in the neighborhood and retains the integrity of the neighborhood. Senior housing, yes. For-profit developer being able to win high density, three story homes with no setbacks in the process is really wrong for all property owners in Palo Alto.


Posted by John, a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 1, 2013 at 11:12 am

I wouldn't call the rezoning a "battle" for the developer, more like a walk in the park.

We have the same thing going on in Mountain View. Developers buy up a low density apartment complex, walk down to city hall to get it rezoned to a higher density, hardly a "battle". Then tear down the "outdated" apartments and build what they please.


Posted by Please no rezoning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2013 at 9:14 pm

John,

This one is even better. They are tearing down four ranch houses and getting a rezoning to be able to build nine three story homes with no set backs and smaller side yards than anyone else in the neighborhood. Then they get six more around the corner in an area that was vacant. I don't think that I have seen another three story house in any Palo Alto neighborhood yet. I hate to see one (much less fifteen in a row) in any neighborhood.


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