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Editorial: From fast to slow on 27 University?

Original post made on May 31, 2013

Just last fall, John Arrillaga's vision for building huge office towers and a theater where the MacArthur Park restaurant and the Red Cross building now stand was on an unconventional and intentional fast track.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, May 31, 2013, 9:06 AM

Comments (35)

Posted by Norman Beamer, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2013 at 10:38 am

I have a simple solution. Stop work on this project -- do nothing. The Stanford Hospital Expansion is already in the works, and it already vastly overloads the capacity of the city to provide proper levels of service for that area, including an almost catastrophic increased demand for water that so far everyone has ignored but which is a looming disaster. Closely following that is the onslaught of increased traffic. Adding any significant further development to that area is crazy.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Walter Hays School
on May 31, 2013 at 10:52 am

Well, this proposal, particularly if it includes high density housing, will exacerbate the severe traffic congestion problems we have on University. The Theatre alone could be OK, as could some restaurants if coupled with additional parking and improved traffic flow, but NO MORE HOUSING!


Posted by getaclue, a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2013 at 10:54 am

Arrillaga cant always just put $$$ to get his way.

I am glad to see this, lets not let him build. The Arrillaga family wants to take over Palo Alto. Get a Clue....you cant buy your way in...

This horrendously large and imposing project would destroy our quaint town.


Posted by Carl Van Wey, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2013 at 11:07 am

I strongly dissagree with your recommendation for high density housing. This would surely lower the quality of life for all, and increase traffic. University ave. is already a parking lot most of the day. Time to just say "no" to ABAG regarding high density. They should also be held to the required 50 foot height limit.


Posted by Joun Galt, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 31, 2013 at 11:49 am

Stop work! Cancel the White Elephant! No one wants this but the Real Estate Fat cats and Glory Hound politicians. . Another $500,00.00 blown! Get A Grip!! I will NEVER enter or use this abortion!!


Posted by Nancy Reagan Approach, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Just say "No".... No to unrealistic ABAG mandates. No to heights over 50'. No to sweetheart deals for developers. No to high density, BMR housing. No to more traffic. No to reduced set- backs.

Quality of life in Palo Alto would not improve by a "Yes" to any of that. I have a right to my backyard -- I paid for it. NIMBY, and proud of it.

One yes: time for a change in City Council.


Posted by Long time PA resident, a resident of Downtown North
on May 31, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Who wrote this editorial? Can we know the names? I would like to understand how this person/s came to these conclusions.


Posted by Joy Reist, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Palo Alto has become a very busy place and it seems as if we are being crushed by so many additional housing and business projects. Many of these are shoved close to sidewalks with contemporary designs. I agree with stopping Arrillaga's plans as a means of putting some boundaries in place to maintain a saner way of living in a once quiet city. Big is not necessarily better and in this situation not good at all. And who can dispute the increase in traffic as a genuine problem.


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on May 31, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Staff's proposal is totally transparent to any veteran city hall watcher. It is designed to stretch out the process at a low level of visible effort, get it below the public's radar, and wear down the opposition on the city council in preparation for a sudden ambush that rams it through. It worked at 800 High, and again at 195 Page Mill, and it will work once more at 27 University.


Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 31, 2013 at 2:25 pm

This town and this particular natural environment, squizzed between the bay and the environmentally diverse and precarious glorious foothills are physically unsuitable for the kind of massive growth triggers that Both Stanford and John Arrillaga are trying to impose. We will end up with an environmental irreversible disaster with serious social implications. We will end up as the 405 by-the-Bay.


Posted by Jane, a resident of University South
on May 31, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Why is a theatre location right next to the railroad tracks desirable? Even if they muffle the sound of the fast trains, there's vibration. Seems like a poor choice of location when concentrating on watching a play.

As far as 27 University, lots of gall in that proposal. I suppose Arrillaga figured that after lots of negotiation he would end up with something smaller but still very dense which would make money for Stanford. And WHY did Palo Alto spend money working with this plan which benefits Stanford??


Posted by Margaret, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 31, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Housing is an insane idea. The theatre is exactly what downtown Palo Alto needs. Has
anybody noticed the congestion around Lucie Stern when shows are there? This provides for an appropriate theatre that comes with enough public parking spaces, plus access to public transit. What a great idea! The office buildings are next to public transit - something the current generation of office workers are actually using. And Arrillaga is willing to spend extra millions to fix up our ridiculously out of date public transit hub. I don't know why he is being cast as a villain - I think he is a hero.


Posted by Victoria, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 31, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Do the proponents of more development ever try to run an errand by car between 3 and 7pm? Do they see how long it takes to make a left turn from southbound El Camino to eastbound Embarcadero? What about Oregon eastbound toward 101, backed up all the way to Waverley, starting at about 3:30pm? Not to mention El Camino in near gridlock, both directions, through Menlo Park. People who live on the peninsula are not interested in public transportation for daily purposes, no matter what developers try to make us believe. Most people with families prefer to have their car near work in order to pick up a child bound for an appointment, buy groceries on the way home, etc. This area will soon be unlivable if 27 University and similar monster projects are allowed to go forward. The expanded hospital will already exacerbate the traffic situation.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on May 31, 2013 at 3:43 pm

@Victoria

Let me guess, no one will want go there because it will be too crowded?


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2013 at 3:51 pm

The theater element is a transparent ploy to gain approval from PA residents who get brainwashed by the "arts district" baloney. Read the details...only the shell of the theater would be built, no seating, staging, etc.

Snake oil.


Posted by Concerned citizen, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2013 at 3:52 pm

The massive project would block the views of the Stanford Hills.
Just say "no." Quit spending money on this outrageous project.
Arrillaga still thinks he is going to get his way. Palo Alto citizens need to be vigilant to make sure Arrillaga's project doesn't get approved and built. The guy is ruthless and relentless.


Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on May 31, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Abortion, snake oil, arillaga is Eli, Stanford is evil etc. the typical hysterical pronouncements when anything new is proposed for palo alto. Throw in the usual comments about " too much traffic" ( maybe the naysayers can get yoriko to be the front person on that aspect) . Then add in the claims that a view of the Stanford hills is an ingrained right for residents.
Instead of trying to deal with this issue and reach some kind of soultion that will be beneficial to all sides, we have the usual " lets hire consultants and try to please everyone because we are afraid of the vcal opponents" approach by the council and staff.perhapsmthey could hire consultants that will guide then how to,develop spines.
And for those that say that the solution is to do nothing--- that is not really an option for reasons that should be obvious to all.


Posted by Cc, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 31, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Palo Alto, a "guaint town"??? That has not been true for decades. Palo Alto has to decide to accept life as a " city" or call a halt to expansion.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Here's an idea, propose something that doesn't require any variances! Then you'll get your project built.


Posted by Tres, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Paris has adhered to the same building code for about 150 years. They have strict rules about what can be built where, and almost everyone accepts the regulations because otherwise Paris wouldn't be the Paris that people love. Is there even a French equivalent to "NIMBY?"

We don't need to try to turn every small city into a megalopolis. Making plans to trash a community in the name of progress, branding the opposition as terrified Luddites, insisting that we have to grow and grow and grow just misses the point. People who live in a community should have the right to determine the look & feel of their town. We, the residents. Not developers hoping to enrich themselves. They aren't going to be living with the consequences, the ugly oversized buildings, the traffic, the overcrowded schools, the inadequate infrastructure. Time to reclaim our city.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on May 31, 2013 at 6:33 pm

During last years budget cycle, the city manager & city council cut the animal services budget & police staffing.

Now we find there was $500,000 for the city to spend on "working on the 27 University" development, $250,000 (including benefits) for a Chief PR Hack, $250,000 for a Chief "Sustainability Office", another $160,000 extra to spend on Natural Gas Honda Civics, millions of dollars to loan for a High Density development at Maybell Ave, millions of dollars on endless consultant studies, millions of dollars to expand the California Ave street redo, etc. etc.

Nice to know when the next time we read about another downtown robbery.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on May 31, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Before my term on the Parks and Recreation and Commission ended last December, I had an opportunty to hear a presentation at our regular meeting from the architect working on this project.

I found it to be offensive on two counts:

First, as a Parks Commissioner who had invested considerable time to develop a re-design of El Camino Park when the underground reservoir is completed, this guy suggested that the building known as "Hostess House," which McArthur Park currently occupies, be placed on the El Camino Park Footprint. He displayed at best a limited understanding of the existing design for El Camino Park, or the implications of moving Hostess House to that site., Rather, he came across to me as merely interested in getting Hostess House off the 27 University, without regard to other objectives or designs that could intelligently place the building in another location.

I am not one to get into traffic issues in town, and it was also apparent in that hearing last year that there had been little or no thought given to the implications for traffic in the vicinity. The proposed design at the hearing includes hundreds of underground parking spaces. How are the drivers going to get to work? On University? On Lytton? On Hamilton? Fly in Jetson-style?

The Palo Alto process is not something for which I have a great deal of affection. In this instance, I am all for it.


Posted by a concerned Palo Alto resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2013 at 8:30 pm

What is the budget the City can spend on sorting our the development of this location? I hope there is a ceiling. $500,000 has already spent!!! Will this amount be recovered from the ultimate developer? Or all the money the City spent would be our tax money?


Posted by WalterP, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm

The city is poised to spend upwards of $1M to further study this project!? This sounds like a page torn from how Parsons Brinckerhoff is 'managing' the massively fraudulent CA HSR project; lots of expensive studies, and nothing to show for it.

I believe ABAG, or is another buerocratic acronym, is hoping to develop housing densities of 10000 persons/square mile in spots all over the Bay Area, exceeding the density of Manhattan! Is this project potentially evolving into one of these over stuffed projects.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2013 at 1:19 pm

@WalterP

ABAG doesn't "develop" anything, private developers do because there is a market need for more housing. Palo Alto can "study" this to death, but if the past 40 years are any indication, they are completely inept at everything except for passing the buck onto the next generation.


Posted by Bob , a resident of Community Center
on Jun 1, 2013 at 6:02 pm

First priority. Clean house at City Hall and get rid of every non-essential department, manager, whatever. Get a new City Manager. NOW And stop this Arrillaga project in its tracks. NOW. If not, it is time for a recall....NOW. Is this city council listening? What is the PA Weekly thinking? PS Tell ABAG "where to go". This issue should go all the way to the State Supreme Court and higher.


Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 1, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Bob- on what grounds would it be taken to the state supreme court? Stopping the project in its tracks is not an option. Something g will be built there-- the question is can the city and the developer reach a middle ground that will satisfy many ( but not bob, of course).


Posted by WalterP, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 1, 2013 at 7:33 pm

my bad, I meant to say ABAG forces (blackmails, coerces, choose your own word) cities to add more dense housing then they want.

A cool $million to 'study' this, amazing.


Posted by Sarah, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 1, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Who is going to foot all this project. Dare I say that we will all be in some form.


Posted by Bob , a resident of Community Center
on Jun 1, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Sorry. A mistake on my computer's part. Several sentences were omitted. I meant to say that the push and demand for more and more housing and forcing cities to go beyond their capacity should go all the way to the State Supreme Court. What right has the state to force the cities to house more than they can do safely? What right has the state to force a community to be something it does not want to be and can't handle? Housing density is drowning Palo Alto, and 27 University is a very bad place for dense housing under the umbrella of the ABAG mandate.


Posted by we are here, we are here, we are HERE!!, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 3, 2013 at 4:33 am

I wish all of you on the North side of town crying out about no more housing would extend your concern to those of us in the South who are being forced to take the dense housing in the middle of our residential neighborhoods, without any protections from this "Palo Alto Process". Most of the dense housing in Palo Alto is either going in around downtown -- which let's face it, is DOWNTOWN -- or in south palo alto, including in residential areas.

The City has loaned Palo Alto Housing Corporation over $5 million to help partially finance the purchase of an old orchard with 4 ranch houses across from Juana Briones Park. They plan to sell part of the parcel with the 4 homes to a for-profit developer who will tear down the 4 perfectly good homes and put up in their place 15 tall skinny 3-story houses like at Alma Plaza, completely out of character with the neighborhood, and benefitting in sale price because of that neighborhood. The developer will only make things work out for PAHC if he gets everything rezoned to maximize his profits. PAHC will then put a 60-unit development there -- which they admit they decided would be for seniors not because they had any analysis that it would best meet the needs, but because it would be the easiest to get their way politically. (Their failure to analyze the needs left them with 20 of 24 BMR units at Moldaw vacant for 3 years.)

The development would sit on a parcel right between two overly congested school transit corridors. You think you have traffic problems downtown? Try Arastradero and Maybell during the school year. Maybell has traffic signs that are mowed completely over replaced more than once a month, yet is the only other designated bicycle boulevard besides Bryant. Even though over a thousand children on foot and bike travel to and from school every school day, the bikes weren't studied in the City's traffic report, even though school commute corridors are supposed to be accorded a heightened level of scrutiny. There is no way to route traffic from the 15 dense houses and 60-unit-development anywhere except the existing overcrowded school commute corridors (to Terman, Gunn, and Juana Briones) of Arastradero and Maybell.

Neighbors with kids, dealing with cancer, dealing with job crises -- have to drop everything to battle this project or face even worse problems than we already have.

That location is the WORST place to put a dense development. Those of you in the North have no idea, because no one is trying to do away with the zoning in the middle of Professorville or Old Palo Alto. You even get to combine lots and tear down houses. Even though, if you came over here and drove up Georgia to Donald to Willmar, you'd see why any old 2,000 sq ft home here goes for over $2 million, we are never accorded the same respect of the zoning rules. Here, even though we already have 3 large affordable housing units in a relatively small neighborhood, we're told the need is so great, and the City is under so much pressure to put in these units, we have to do our share.

Honestly, putting in senior/affordable housing is like kryptonite against anyone who wants to enforce zoning in this community -- I don't know why Arrillaga hasn't proposed it already. He could have gotten away with anything if he had. There are other properties on this side of town where the developers have stopped even pretending they won't get their rezoning, and just proceed as if everything has been rezoned. The City included the Maybell property in its Housing Element as if it had been rezoned, but when neighbors protested, put off the vote on the Housing Element until after their fait accomplit of rezoning Maybell so they could claim it didn't affect their decision (even though they didn't take the Maybell rezoning out of the draft of the Housing Element).

I think putting some housing at 27 University is a great idea. It's a far better place than right in the middle of an R-1 residential area with no nearby services at all. It's right on the rail and bus lines, walkable to PAMF, Avenidas, Stanford, any amenity you could think of. If you're worried about traffic, in THAT location, it would be possible to ask residents to take a no car pledge. They wouldn't need cars there, and thus would not add to traffic.

27 University is a far better place than the middle of a residential neighborhood, especially since it would be possible to create the housing without cars. It's all well an good to complain about ABAG, but it won't help our neighborhood now. If you think housing density is drowning Palo Alto, try walking in our shoes over here!

As for Hostess House, we'd be thrilled to take it on that orchard instead, it could be made into a community orchard, a counterpart to Gamble Garden house only for trees and on this side of town. But the City will never go for it unless other housing units are found. At least at 27 University, the housing could truly be made in a way that created no new traffic.


Posted by We are here, we are here, we are HERE!!, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 3, 2013 at 11:21 am

Oops - naturally I meant to say:

That location is the WORST place to put a dense development. Those of you in the North have no idea, because no one is trying to do away with the zoning in the middle of Professorville or Old Palo Alto. You even get to combine lots and tear down houses. Even though, if you came over here and drove up Georgia to Donald to Willmar, you'd see why any old 2,000 sq ft home here goes for over $2 million, we are never accorded the same respect of the zoning rules. Here, even though we already have 3 large affordable housing DEVELOPMENTS in a relatively small neighborhood, we're told the need is so great, and the City is under so much pressure to put in these units, we have to do our share.

From what we've seen with this proposal at Maybell, if Arrillaga were to propose to put, say, 75 units of affordable housing for seniors at 27 University - especially if it were a visionary green no car proposal (since it's right on the rail and bus lines, and right downtown - perhaps the complex might have a few shared vehicles), it would put a teflon coating on his project as far as City Council is concerned. With a performing arts center - which we really could use, 400 seats at Lucie Stern is not large enough - and affordable housing for seniors, green no less, there are no concerns, real or imagined, that will take precedence. The project would go forward.


Posted by We are here, we are here, we are HERE!!, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 3, 2013 at 11:23 am

Oops again! When I repeated myself about -- "That location is the WORST place to put a dense development" I of course meant Maybell, in the middle of a residential area and at a traffic bottleneck to the neighborhoods between two safe routes to school. 27 University is a good place to put the density, especially because it sits so perfectly to access transit and every amenity anyone could want.


Posted by jm, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 3, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Why is it that the city looks so favorably on rich developers while the rest of us have to abide by the zoning?


Posted by bag ABAG, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 3, 2013 at 8:39 pm



Isn't ABAG a developers front anyway?


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