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Debate on Measure D to take place Saturday

Original post made on Sep 25, 2013

The League of Women Voters of Palo Alto will host a debate on Measure D on Saturday, Sept. 28, from 1 to 3 p.m., in the City Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013, 1:54 PM

Comments (24)

Posted by No on measure D, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:53 pm

No on Measure D allows for low income senior housing while maintaining the zoning that is appropriate for a neighborhood. A no vote means no PC development that allows a 30' height limit to be increased to 50'. It keeps the market rate houses to two stories rather than allowing three stories houses. There is no reason to overbuild the property as we have seen all over town. Build the senior housing but do not make everyone live in higher density than historical zoning would allow.

A "No on Measure D" to stop the City's "random acts of rezoning" without a real overall plan for Palo Alto.

Posted by Also AGAINST Measure D, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Rezone "to build 12 single-family homes and a 60-unit affordable housing development for seniors."

This is the same misleading, biased language the City Attorney used to bias the ballot. It incorrectly suggests that the re-zoning is necessary to build affordable senior housing on that site, when in fact it is NOT (i.e., this ordinance is about zoning, not about allowing the building of affordable senior housing). Affordable senior housing could be built on the property as currently zoned, respecting height, setback, density, parking, and other protections in the zoning code.

The rezoning ordinance is not about the ability to build affordable housing for seniors. Instead, the rezoning ordinance is designed to accommodate a financing scheme that reduces the cost of the proposed development through "upzoning" but which also essentially shifts the cost burden onto the adjacent neighborhood. Such cost shifting is unnecessary for building affordable housing in Palo Alto, as affordable housing was just built at 801 Alma without using such a scheme, and where the entire property was built as affordable housing rather than selling off half of it for an even denser high-rise market-rate portion to fund and even denser high-rise affordable component.

So, first of all, the "affordable senior housing" is apartments, not a senior assisted living facility or a senior center. It is a 50-foot building in a residential neighborhood, when the existing zoning allows only 30-feet. They plan only 36 parking spots for residents, 6 parking spots for visitors, and 5 for employees, in a 60-unit building, where the existing zoning would call for 104. The overflow parking will directly take away from the already limited parking at Juana Briones Park and for families of the disabled students who attend the Orthopedically Handicapped and rehabilitation programs for disabled students at Juana Briones School.

You would never know from that sentence that less than half of the property will be for low-income senior rental apartments, and that more than half the property will be for market-rate houses, which the ordinance allows to be built on 3,000 sq ft lots -- basically, Alma Plaza in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

The ordinance allows the implementation of a financing scheme that would allow all zoning rules to be set aside anywhere a large property opens up anywhere in Palo Alto -- the city loans the money to purchase it, half the property could be built up with high-density market-rate homes to make the rest of it cost less, the rest built up with an even higher density "affordable" element. This allows such high-density developments to go anywhere in Palo Alto, even in the most expensive neighborhoods (especially in the most expensive neighborhoods which have large properties and which, unlike the Maybell neighborhood, don't have affordable housing developments already and will be prime targets for anti-NIMBYism arguments).

This is the first time such a scheme is being rolled out in Palo Alto; if the voters greenlight it at Maybell, the city council indicated in the City meetings that they will do it again, only having learned how to roll over the neighbors even better the next time, neighbors will have less defense from losing zoning protections.

Posted by No on measure D, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:14 pm

From a Weekly article February 15, 2013:

"Commissioners Wednesday night marveled at the lack of opposition to the project, given the proposed senior complex's height and proximity to single-family homes. Alcheck told the applicants that the lack of opposition "speaks a lot about your reaching-out process." Tanaka was more skeptical and surmised that people didn't show up to criticize the project because they didn't know about it.

"I think if the people in the (neighborhood's single-family houses) really knew what was being built across the street, there would be more of an outcry there," Tanaka said."

Posted by No on measure D, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:24 pm

From Weekly article May 22, 2013

"This should not be characterized as 'neighborhood versus affordable housing.' We have plenty of affordable housing here. ... What I object to is the scale and intensity of the project, and the appearance that it is already politically a done deal, notwithstanding what the neighborhood feels," Hirsch said.

The Wednesday meeting was the most heated to date on a project has unleashed opposition from area residents in recent months, with hundreds submitting letters to the council and many others signing petitions and attending meetings. Around 150 residents filled the Council Chambers on Wednesday night, with about 60 submitting speaker cards -- the largest stack that Chair Eduardo Martinez said he has ever seen. Land-use watchdog Bob Moss, a frequent critic of new, dense developments, called the Maybell project unique in another regard.

"I have never seen a project that has had more community opposition than this one," Moss told the commission. "Learn from that."

Moss argued that the Maybell project runs against the council's intention not to increase density at neighborhoods zoned for single-family residences. This will do just that, he said."

Posted by What Stanford wants..., a resident of Stanford
on Sep 26, 2013 at 12:19 am

So Stanford wants Palo Alto to build more below-market housing. Not exactly a surprise, but it's interesting to see them being open about it. One of the pro speakers is a development attorney at Stanford, and a high official. She represented developers before joining Stanford.
oh right, she'll be wearing her Housing Corporation "hat." The League of Women Voters conveniently does not mention the speaker's real job.

Posted by Also AGAINST Measure D, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 26, 2013 at 1:10 am

@What Stanford wants,
Thats very interesting. That will be two lawyers representing developers on the pro side. I wonder why no one from PAHC is there! Kind of makes me think of Bush and Cheney and the Valerie Plame thing.

I'll be curious how the LWV handles things -- they're good people, but they tend to be very ideological and since two of their high up officers are PAHC board members and it's a tight group -- they already made up their minds, and don't seem to entertain the idea that good people can have be influenced by conflicts of interest, too.

Posted by Also AGAINST measure D, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 26, 2013 at 1:28 am

Why is the League allowing two [portion removed] lawyers, including our [portion removed] Mayor (who has campaign experience), on one side, with no one from PAHC? If this is a debate about the rezoning, shouldn't the owners/planners of the property/those who developed the project be there instead of two lawyers probably handpicked by their expensive political consultant? Or better yet, a representative from PAHC and an ordinary resident who spoke for the rezoning at the meetings? That would be much more even and make more sense. It would also do more to inform the public. It's just going to be a political circus (one-sided) as it is.

This whole rezoning has been characterized by extreme conflicts of interest among City Councilmembers. It's just wrong to stack the rezone side like that. What's wrong with our League?!

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 6:36 am

Representatives from the League of Women Voters in public comments before the council expressed support for this project. I doubt that they can be unbiased moderators in this debate.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2013 at 8:52 am

Jean McCown is a land use lawyer, who was a two-term Palo Alto City Council member. After leaving the Council, she worked for Jim Baer (if memory serves), in one capacity of another. Now, she's Assistant Vice President and Director of Community Relations at Stanford University. If Ms. McCown ever was sensitive to, or represented, the people of Palo Alto—it was a very long time ago. She can only be concerned with the interests of Stanford, and very likely, her long-time developer friends.

As private entities, neither Stanford, nor the PAHC, are required to answer questions about their agendas for trying to push this development down the throats of Palo Alto. However, sessions like these, few as they are, provide a good time to directly question Ms. McCown about details of this project, and why Stanford is so interested in this, and other PAHC projects.

It would be a good idea to record this session, and get the recording uploaded to Youtube. It would also be a good idea to keep notes about questions put to McCown, and her answers—if she will answer such questions.

Another problem with this session is that the League of Women Voters is a very politically-motivated group. They have a terrible record of filtering questions from the audience, if they don't want those questions answered. It's a real shame that some other group could not have bee chosen to facilitate this session.

Posted by Toynbee Tiler, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 26, 2013 at 9:25 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by senior longtime resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 26, 2013 at 9:27 am

"Representatives from the League of Women Voters in public comments before the council expressed support for this project. I doubt that they can be unbiased moderators in this debate."

I was about to state this fact when I read the above comment. I was at that City Council meeting and heard the representative from the League express support of the rezone for the project. Why would the League expect the public to feel any credibility for their stance when the advocacy arm has make up it's mind on the issue before hearing the "impartial" issues during the debate? They have a mindset (members conflict of interest) and this debate is already stacked on the for measure d side!

Posted by Joe, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 10:40 am

If anyone still has a doubt about the position of the LWV in Palo Alto, see page 2 (President's message) and page 5 (Advocacy Report) of the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto October newsletter: Web Link

"We signed the ballot statement in favor of Measure D, and we will urge voters to support a Yes on D vote."

Why doesn't the Palo Alto Weekly story mention this?

Posted by Also AGAINST Measure D, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 26, 2013 at 12:06 pm

@ Joe,
More that two of the officers of the League - which is a long-time social group as much as anything else - are on the board of PAHC and had major influence on the groupthink.

Posted by League bias hurts, a resident of Triple El
on Sep 26, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Many of my women friends will never join the League of Women Voters because of their pro-housing political advocacy in Palo Alto. The League has alienated my generation of women (40 year olds) who should be filling their ranks as the older generation passes on. Too bad that the mission of such a fine organization has been harmed by pro-housing fanatics.

Posted by What Stanford wants...,, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 26, 2013 at 12:16 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by senior longtime resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 26, 2013 at 1:03 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by good riddance, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 1:22 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 26, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

I understand that the LWVPA's Non-Partisn
An 501(c)3 group is sponsoring this debate. Please note that the moderator is from another town not affected by this ordinance. I think we should all thank the LWVPA for organizing this debate so that the public can make informed decisions.

Posted by jerry underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 8:28 pm

jerry underdal is a registered user.

This should be an interesting debate. Bob Moss and and Timothy Gray have been key figures in the Maybell Action Group since its inception and will be able to represent their group's current position very well.

I'll be listening, though, for the arguments that underlay the emotional support for opposition to the Maybell/Clemo project at the start. -- the buildings will create multi-story canyons, older drivers are a menace to kids on the streets, local contractors aren't getting a chance to bid for each lot one-by-one, this is a smokescreen for getting large numbers of students into Gunn, the property should be kept as an orchard, the site is unsuitable for seniors because of lack of amenities, and many more.

I suspect we won't hear them. Instead we'll hear how the No on Measure D folks like affordable housing for seniors and how 41 units could be built under current zoning. Let's listen, though, to hear if they call for the housing to be built and can tell us how it can be financed.

Without financing, projects, don't get built. So you can "favor" affordable housing for seniors under current zoning and still hold onto your orchard dreams.

Posted by SWE, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 26, 2013 at 9:24 pm

SWE is a registered user.

[Portion removed.]

Look Jerry, we all know you are in favor of the rezoning. But over 94% of Greenacres II residents are opposed to the rezoning (based on an extensive internal poll that was conducted for weeks). Most of them are also opposed to the Buena Vista tenants being evicted from the trailer park, they are not against affordable housing development in the neighborhood, of which there are several, including right next door to Maybell. [Portion removed.]

Tim Gray has not been involved from the start. He came on kind of late as he learned about it. Bob Moss also was not involved from the start, but neighbors asked him to take on public tasks because frankly, neighbors are private citizens who do not appreciate being forced into such public roles in order to just count on zoning laws they should by rights be able to count on.

I don't think anyone wanted to be involved in the League's debate, but they knew the League would air it with just the pro side if they did not. The League may be bringing in someone from out of town for the moderation, but they have refused such 3rd-party involvement for the Pro and Con evaluation and their endorsement. I doubt the choosing of questions will be by a 3rd party at the debate, either.

League members have behaved in a shamefully biased way from the start because of officers who are also PAHC board members. They do not seem to understand that undue influence applies also to those with good intentions.

Posted by jerry underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 10:02 pm

jerry underdal is a registered user.

@SWE, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood

I agree. There are serious reasons for opposing use of fiddling with zoning laws to get undeserving projects approved. Bob Moss and Tim Gray will do a thorough job of laying out the case for why those reasons apply in this case.

I don't believe I called them names or belittled their reasons for opposing the rezoning. I respect their willingness to openly discuss their position and look forward to a serious exchange of ideas in the debate.

Posted by SWE, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 26, 2013 at 10:17 pm

SWE is a registered user.

But you said "the buildings will create multi-story canyons"

I don't think I've heard anyone use an exaggerated word like "canyons" except you.

Do you not understand why a 50-foot building would be a problem for people in a residential neighborhood when the existing zoning limit is 30-feet?

You also said, "older drivers are a menace to kids on the streets"

I also don't think I've heard anyone use the word "menace" once in all this, except you. I'd say neighbors have taken the need for senior apartments FAR more seriously than you or anyone on your side have taken neighbors' safety concerns for the children, which long preceded this high-density development proposal.

You want an emotional reminder of that? In the past two weeks, there have been several deaths of bicyclists around the Bay Area, including of school children, and a young mother who died on Skyline at the same location as another bicyclist a few years ago. In that case in particular, citizen concerns about safety at that location were ignored. A child pedestrian was struck and killed by a car in front of her elementary school in San Jose within the last year, in an area where residents had complained repeatedly about the traffic. No, children are not dying there every day. But one child's death is too many, and the situation was clearly unsafe to those who witnessed it regularly.

Parents who live in the neighborhood can see that AS IT IS, Maybell is not safe.

As people keep reminding, Maybell is a substandard street. Neighbors spent six months with Cal Trans and well over $100,000 (maybe over $200,000) trying to make it safer within the last few years. Still the medians and stop signs are regularly hit and sometimes knocked over. There are limitations to the infrastructure. The City's recent calls to revisit Maybell -- with no staff, no notes, no lessons, no information from the six months that was just spent with much neighbor involvement on improving safety on Maybell -- will not make Maybell wide enough for a real sidewalk or bike lane.

Marc Berman even admitted in City Council Meetings: Maybell may be a Safe Route to School, but it's not a safe route to school. He may believe it can be made safer by building a high density development on it, but if so, he should have been willing to do the traffic safety analysis the neighbors called for again and again.

There are 4 major schools in the neighborhood -- Gunn High School, Terman Middle School, Bowman International, and Juana Briones Elementary School (which includes a preschool for disabled children, the OH for the most disabled elementary students in the district, and the county rehab facility for disabled children from across the county, all catty corner to the proposed development). Thousands of children travel the two streets on either side of that development to get to school, almost half by bike and on foot: Arastradero and Maybell. That's how the kids get to school. There's no other way out or in the development, and no other way to school for the majority of the kids.

If you wanted to avoid what you call "emotional" calls from neighbors to protect the safety of schoolkids, why haven't you joined their calls for actual data? City policy is of "heightened scrutiny" on school commute routes, yet no safety study of the impact to bikes and pedestrians was done. Safety studies were studiously avoided as neighbors called for them month after month. Traffic problems have risen exponentially in the last two years, yet the data the traffic people did use for the City study was older, mostly before the narrowing of Arastradero, and did not include the impacts of all the developments in the pipeline, such as the 50% increase in business traffic expected on Arastradero because of the VMWare expansion.

Parents in the neighborhood think safety deserves attention BEFORE the unthinkable happens. The City's Comprehensive Plan Transportation Element says safety comes first when considering development (especially high-density development where there is currently an orchard with 90+ trees and a few ranch houses). The City has designated Maybell a safe route to school, and the schools have been there for decades. If the City is going to designate "Safe Routes to School" and heavily advertise to children to ride their bikes and walk there daily, it's not "emotional" to demand they follow their own Policy and give safety some scrutiny before plopping a high-density development where it can't avoid impacting those routes. Contrary to PAHC claims to the contrary, there have been reported accidents between children on bikes and cars on those routes in recent previous years, and many not reported: Web Link

If the developers of this property knew they had to have such high-density to build it, they should have gone after one of the many properties on El Camino or other properties more appropriate for a high-density development. If they didn't want to care about the safety of schoolchildren, they should have gone after a property where safety for schoolchildren isn't such a central issue. But at the very least, now that they have, they shouldn't be so disrespectful of parents to call their concerns about the limits of the infrastructure and the need for safety scrutiny as "exaggerated".

Posted by jerry underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 11:30 pm

jerry underdal is a registered user.

@SWE, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood

You should be my editor. I didn't need to use the adjective "emotional" to make my point, and I should have skimmed through some old threads to get the exact terms used for urban streets that have tall buildings overpowering the streets.

But my main point would still be that many of the arguments made against the Maybell/Clemo project since it was approved by the Planning Commission in February are not likely to be heard or rebutted in Saturday's debate. I may be wrong.

By the way, I did not intend for "emotional" to be taken as a pejorative but rather as a straightforward indication of depth or intensity of feeling.

Posted by SWE, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 27, 2013 at 12:28 am

SWE is a registered user.

Thank you for bringing it down a notch. [Portion removed.]

These are the main arguments as I understand them:

Measure D is for high-density rezoning of a low-density residential parcel. The rezoning is of an RM-15 and R-2 low-density parcel to exceed even RM-40 high-density restrictions on density, setbacks, parking, etc.

The rezoning is being sold as for affordable housing for seniors, even though less than half the property will go for low-income apartments, the majority will be upzoned market-rate houses like at Alma Plaza, some 3-stories high, on half-minimum-sized lots, across from Juana Briones Park.

High-density is inappropriate for a residential neighborhood and probably unsafe for a development on such a heavily traveled Safe Routes to School, but there's no way to argue over safety specifics because the City avoided studying current data or the safety impact to bicycles and pedestrians.

The City is rolling out a new financing mechanism for affordable housing at Maybell, where the City loans the money to acquire the property, as much of the property as possible is sold for profit for market-rate development, and both the market-rate and affordable component are heavily upzoned to much higher density in order to make it all work. The affordable housing component in such a scenario is used as an excuse to completely set aside any reasonable adherence to existing zoning. So that in the future, anytime any large property goes on the market anywhere in Palo Alto, like 1 acre parcels in Old Palo Alto, the same thing can be repeated. City Council justified it by saying it's being done in other cities, and promised to be more efficient at it next time.

Parenthetically, I don't think it's appropriate to ask neighbors how to finance affordable housing when the question is disingenuous. A different affordable housing operator just built a large development at 801 Alma without having to resort to financing it that way, even though property is more expensive downtown. Better to ask them how they did it. I believe the difference is just a willingness to pay the actual cost of the units rather than resorting to upzoning the neighborhood for the benefit of the developers, at the expense to the neighborhood. If this was the plan all along, there have been many properties on the market on El Camino and other transit corridors that would have been more appropriate. Building under the existing zoning would mean nicer units for seniors, and they would cost more in keeping with the units at the 801 Alma property.

[If you are seriously willing to talk about alternatives: If the parties involved, like the City, were instead to commit the money along with the funding the neighbors at Buena Vista have offered, they would have more than $30million and could competitively buy what is a larger, 4 acre parcel in the same neighborhood they could share, where some higher density might be more acceptable closer to El Camino, for affordable housing and keeping the existing low-income tenants in the neighborhood. Please don't belittle neighbors' desire at Maybell to preserve the open-space/orchard, either. That neighborhood has very few amenities compared to the rest of town, and the plan would make it accessible to all children, including the disabled students in the long-time school programs right across the street from the Maybell parcel.]

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