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Maybell foes won't sue over ballot language

Original post made on Sep 7, 2013

Palo Alto residents looking to overturn the city's approval of a housing development on Maybell Avenue remain deeply concerned about the ballot language drafted by the city attorney, but with the clock ticking down toward Election Day, they have chosen not to file a legal challenge.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, September 7, 2013, 10:03 AM

Comments (55)

Posted by Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 7, 2013 at 10:42 am

Thanks to Gennady Sheyner for reporting on this issue.

I'd like to clarify some things. In fact, if people wish to read a copy of the official letter sent from Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning to the City Attorney, please go to Web Link - a copy of the letter will be available on the site later today.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 7, 2013 at 10:59 am

It makes sense to me that the City Attorney should outsource this particular bit of ballot language just to prevent this sort of concern on the part of the people advancing a matter to that ballot, as well as the voters, in general.

It's hard for me to believe that any City Attorney can be "impartial" about anything. Therefore, outsource the task to an attorney who does not live in Palo Alto.

Maybe the exact wording matters, and maybe it doesn't. No one will remember any of this language minutes after the election is over. The issue here should be that the process is not "fixed" against voters/residents trying to make the system work via the ballot initiative.

Posted by Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 7, 2013 at 11:13 am

Thanks, Wayne, you really hit the nail on the head. I think ballot language had everything to do with why the High Street referendum was narrowly lost. Given the new awakening of "residentialists" in Palo Alto, who may use initiatives to limit PC zoning in residential neighborhoods, for example, it's important that this problem be solved so Palo Alto citizens can exercise their democratic power and rights.

We appreciate Sheyner's ongoing coverage of the rezoning battle at Maybell - Unfortunately, the article still misses the main issues for the neighborhood, and sort of jumbles the ballot concerns together.

There are 4 parts to the ballot, which goes out to every voter in Palo Alto:
1) The "impartial" analysis
2) The ballot question itself
3) The arguments for and against by both sides
4) The rebuttals to the arguments for and against by both sides

In Palo Alto, as in many places, the "impartial" analysis and the ballot question (#1 and #2) are written by the City Attorney. Unfortunately, the whole reason neighbors felt they had to hold a referendum was because the City Council had made up its mind well in advance of public hearings and City staff have acted as advocates for the rezoning. The very biased analysis and ballot question continues that advocacy by the City Attorney's office. It's one thing in the rezoning hearings, it's another in a ballot, where such advocacy is illegal, but the only remedy neighbors had was to file in court on a very tight time schedule.

Here's the ballot QUESTION the City Attorney wrote and the concern from the letter:

"Shall the Palo Alto Municipal Code be amended to rezone the property located at 567-595 Maybell Avenue from R-2 Low Density Residential and RM-15 Multiple Family Residential to Planned Community Overlay Zone to include 12 single family units and 60 units of affordable senior housing?"

My own concern from the above question is that is basically states what will go there in the most positive light if people say yes, not balanced by the positives if people say no. It's essentially saying, Shall we rezone from X to Y for affordable senior housing, i.e., the question is basically worded to get people to answer the question of whether they are for senior affordable housing, which most people are, even the vast majority of the opponents to the REZONING at Maybell.

Here's what the letter said about it:

"There are three fundamental problems with this language. First, 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). Because affordable senior housing could be built on the property as currently zoned, we believe that this last phrase should be struck from the ballot language. Second, the wording of the language suggests that the single family units will also be affordable housing, when they in fact will be market rate. Third, the reference to "RM-15 Multiple Family Residential" improperly omits the words "low density" from the official title of the zoning as it is described in the City Code, which further misleads the public regarding the current zoning. In short, we believe that the current language of the ballot measure is not a true and impartial statement of the proposed measure, and instead is misleading and likely to improperly create prejudice among City voters in favor of the measure.

"There are also NUMEROUS problems we have identified with the current language of your 'impartial' analysis. Most notably, the analysis misrepresents the purported public benefit of the ordinance by stating that such benefit is sixty (60) units of affordable housing for seniors. In fact, forty-five (45) units of such housing could already be built under current zoning standards, meaning that the net benefit from the ordinance is at most fifteen (15) units.

"More fundamentally in this regard, however, the analysis misstates what the ordinance is about. The ordinance is NOT about the ABILITY [emphasis added] to build affordable housing for seniors. Instead, the 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. The mischaracterization of a fundamental aspect of Measure D constitutes an impermissible attempt to oppose the referendum and bias the voters in favor of a 'Yes' vote."

The letter goes on to enumerate the biases in the City Attorney's analysis, including that it "Fails to mention that over half of the land will be used for for-profit, market rate housing."

In San Francisco, because it is so difficult for the City Attorney to be impartial -- and with referenda, it's not like at the state level with propositions, where well-funded parties on both sides can litigate if the ballot materials are biased or misleading so that both sides have their input -- they have an impartial "Ballot Simplification Committee" that holds public hearings where all sides are represented and they hash out as impartial a ballot as possible. They've been doing this for 30 or 40 years. It makes it so that citizens, who usually aren't well-funded, are not just effectively denied their right to referend at the end by the City writing their own election. After all, most referenda and initiatives are for the purpose of setting aside some action of the City, so the City has an inherent conflict of interest in having sole control of producing the "impartial" ballot materials and question.

Posted by Ghost of Howard Jarvis, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 7, 2013 at 11:13 am

Calling the opponents a "grassroots" group really gives a misleading impression. This group is a homeowners group with an agenda to prevent the location of low income senior housing. [Portion removed.]

On the merits one wonders why these folks bought homes on a street with a Walgreens, a car lot (!), and several apartment and condo developments and now is surprised that they live there, abutting a stretch of El Camino dominated by liquor stores, [portion removed.] They were already compensated for that congestion in their house prices.

Posted by Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 7, 2013 at 12:23 pm

@"Ghost of Howard Jarvis",

[Portion removed.]

First of all, the rezoning is not happening on El Camino or a major street. The rezoning is happening in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There are some condos close to El Camino and on Arastradero, but the only apartments back in the residential neighborhood are the existing affordable Palo Alto Housing Corporation affordable rentals, which they would take umbrage at hearing you describe in such degrading terms, especially since they want to build this development on the same residential street.

Secondly, the development property sits between two "safe routes to school" and can only outlet onto those heavily traveled school commute corridors that take almost all of the 4,000 schoolchildren going to the local award-winning schools. I think those parents would take umbrage at hearing you characterize the neighborhood where their prize schools sit as "abutting... liquor stores, prostitute motels, and dilapidated storefronts." (But if you think that is what the neighborhood is like, perhaps you would like to inform the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, as doubtless PAHC characterized the adjacent business district and nearby amenities available for seniors much differently in their funding application.)

The two main groups of homeowners in the residential neighborhood today are:
1) Seniors, often living on a fixed income, who bought their homes decades ago, and
2) Families, often willing to sacrifice significantly, to send their children to the 3 public schools that are walking distance in this neighborhood: Gunn High School, Terman Middle School, Juana Briones Elementary School.

The overwhelming factor when it comes to house price is proximity to the schools, especially Gunn High School. A typical 4 bedroom, 3 bath ranch house in this neighborhood, in original condition, will go for around $1.7million to $1.9 million, depending on the location, lot size, and condition. A 1400-1500 sq ft 3/2 house on Maybell, on a flag lot, in pretty original ranch house condition, went for $1.65 million earlier this year. It's hard to give comparables, because people tend to buy into this neighborhood and stay, so there isn't a lot of turnover. Homes over 2,000 sq ft are typically over $2million. Homes have sold in the neighborhood for over $3million.

Second of all, this issue is not about housing prices for the neighbors, who have never once brought it up in this debate because it's just not relevant. The concerns about traffic have to do with SAFETY for CHILDREN.

Maybell is a substandard street, not even wide enough for a single full-width bike lane or sidewalk on either side of the road. It has something like over 3300 vehicle trips per day, and is traveled by over 1,000 children on bikes and by foot per day. It is a City-designated "safe route to school" and bicycle boulevard, yet Marc Berman (no friend of the neighborhood in this) even deemed it NOT SAFE after witnessing the situation. Talk about the comprehensive plan seems dry until you realize the transportation element places safety over all other development concerns.

Maybell already underwent a six-figure safety improvement in recent years, yet the stop signs in front of the elementary school are regularly hit and even knocked to the ground so they have to be replaced. This is a bad place for a high-density development. If the City and developers wanted to counter that, they should have done the traffic safety analysis the neighbors kept demanding. (Note that the City Attorney's "impartial" analysis says they did an environmental review but failed to mention it's being challenged by significant public input and a CEQA suit in court.)

This is also about rezoning a residential neighborhood to high density using a new "creative" financing scheme (according to City staff), where more than half of the property is upzoned for the benefit of a for-profit market-rate developer, and funds from the upzoning help pay for the hugely upzoned rest of the property for affordable housing, which has to be sardined in there to accommodate the financing scheme. The neighbors are not against the affordable housing going there, they just want it to go in under the existing zoning, or something close to it. The financing scheme makes it so they have to exceed RM-40 "high-density" zoning and build closer to RM-60, on an RM-15 low-density lot, in the middle of a single-family residential area. They are putting in a 50-foot building where the existing zoning allows only 30-feet, and allowing a 60-unit complex to have only 47 parking spaces for residents, employees, visitors, aides, nursing, etc., when existing zoning requires at least 104.

The market-rate portion is upzoned in particular to shake out "in lieu" fees which are an extra incentive for the city to violate the character of the neighborhood. In other words, if the non-profit developer could get the same money by selling six large lots as 12 teeny-tiny lots in the same space, they still have an incentive to upzone because they get "in lieu" fees because of the City's BMR program - they get 15% of any developments of over units into the BMR program or in lieu fees. Zoning for sale.

If the development were simply financed more like 801 Alma and the costs not being shouldered by the neighborhood through the financing scheme, they could afford to build the affordable complex under the existing zoning or close to it. Greg Schmid gave a great speech about how the in lieu fees -- where another developer avoided putting those units downtown -- should have been higher in order to just pay for a reasonable development.

The rest of Palo Alto really needs to care about this, because anytime a large piece of property goes up for sale in this town, even in the middle of a residential area, it will be subject to such a scheme, and they will be attacked as mercilessly as neighbors have been here. The City seems to bent on densifying, and cares nothing at all for protecting neighborhoods. (Please vote against Measure D!!)

You wouldn't have any INKLING of any of this if you read the City Attorney's so-called impartial analysis. Everyone I've read that letter to is surprised to realize that the rezoning isn't what enables the senior affordable housing to be built there, and that almost as much could be built there under existing zoning, but respecting height, setback, daylight plane, density, and parking restrictions.

If PAHC came back with a new PC zoning proposal that was closer to RM-15 or even RM-30, they wouldn't see this kind of opposition. Neighbors tried, but they said all along that the financing scheme didn't allow it. All of this flows from the financing scheme -- at some point, I hope the Weekly coverage starts including it.

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 7, 2013 at 12:37 pm

If PAHC came back with a new PC zoning proposal that was closer to RM-15 or even RM-30, they wouldn't see this kind of opposition. Neighbors tried, but they [PAHC] said all along that the financing scheme didn't allow it. All of this flows from the financing scheme -- at some point, I hope the Weekly coverage starts including it.

Posted by A neighbor, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2013 at 1:18 pm

@Ghost of Howard Jarvis

We are very much a grassroots organization. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm

So neighbor, anyone that does not support the " grassroots organization" will be accused of being a hired professional? Their place of residence will be questioned.
BTW, I know many " neighborhood folks" that totally disagree with your stance

Posted by Kevin, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Sep 7, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Kevin is a registered user.

When I was asked to sign the petition to put this on the ballot, I asked if it could trigger a special election, and was assured that that was not possible. Now we're having a special election for it. Super.

Posted by pavoter, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2013 at 5:00 pm

@Kevin -- if I understand you correctly you blame the petition gatherers for misinforming you. However, I don't know who you talked to. It was clear to me that the petition gatherers and supporters wanted this to be put to next year's regular election and NOT a special election. The special election was pushed for by our City Council.

Too many shenanigans by our city leaders surround this project. I think Palo Altans will see through the false accusations of the supporters of the petition. This is no way to treat citizens.

Posted by Sally, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 7, 2013 at 5:55 pm

@Kevin Credit for the special election sits squarely on Liz Kniss's shoulders. Her visions of cost savings by switching to even year elections have not yet materialized. Don't blame the public for excercizing their democratic rights when Council and PAHC have already excercized theirs If voters can't excercized our rights we live in tyranny.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 7, 2013 at 6:17 pm

[Portion removed.]

PAPNZ -- you are anonymous also. The weekly may have the IP address, but they do not know where that IP address is located. The kettle is calling the pot black with regard to vicious attacks-- ghost of HJ expressed an opinion and made an observation.

Sally-- kniss worked to change the election year dose would have a seat to run for. Pure and simple.

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Had a Yes on D person knocking on my door, with printed literature.

So far the Yes on D has the city staff with their thumb on scale for the Yes on D, such as writing the "analysis" slanted towards the "Yes" campaign, and the Yes on D seems more aggressive in getting out to the voters.

The PAPNZ had better step up their game and start walking the neighborhoods, passing out literature. I imagine many of them have day jobs, so there are only 7-8 weekends to get out and meet the voters. If they are relying on the debate, or write-ups in the PA Weekly, they are going to lose this election.

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 7, 2013 at 7:38 pm

"they do not know where that IP address is located"

You can in fact find out where an IP address is located.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm

"You can in fact find out where an IP address is located."

You can locate the city or not-- my IP address comes out as in palo alto or Sunnyvale depending which program I use. Check the Terms of Use, the is no obligation to,use your real name or real location
I think the weekly uses the IP address only to verify thatbthe same poster is not posting under different names on the same thread.
But coming from someone that is not posting using his/her own name........

Posted by Ruby Ridge, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2013 at 8:22 pm

[Portion removed.] You know what made me decide to vote for D? The accusations of fraud. The personal attacks on Candace Gonzales. The superheated incredibly long posts like the ones above that go on and on [portion removed] about "SAFETY for CHILDREN" predicting a Maybell Avenue awash in the blood of innocents from the addition of 12 single family homes and some senior apartments. You all have utterly lost perspective. There are 4000 [portion removed] parents driving their kids to school up and down Maybell and Arastradero rather than making them walk or bike every single day. If you want a culprit for congestion on your street it's not 50 old people and 12 families more or less. [Portion removed.]

The real issue is always hiding in your posts, like a diamond ring that was swallowed accidentally and now has to be fished out of the toilet. Here it is: "If the development were simply financed more like 801 Alma and the costs not being shouldered by the neighborhood through the financing scheme." What "costs" are being "shouldered"? That, of course, is the feared drop in property values that will be occasioned by having this new building near "existing affordable Palo Alto Housing Corporation affordable rentals."

[Portion removed.]

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 7, 2013 at 10:32 pm

[Portion removed.]

RE: Safety problems on Maybell

Sorry, but no one is going to stop being concerned about SAFETY OF CHILDREN at that location [portion removed.] Even Marc Berman, after actually coming out and spending some time - during an actually pretty low time for traffic during the school year, when the weather is good - deemed the situation UNSAFE. He said even though it's a "safe route to school" it's not a safe route to school. The neighbors just disagree that adding a dense development there will make it safer.

Neighbors have been involved with that six-figure safety improvement to Maybell in recent years, pushed to do more than was even originally envisioned, and know that we are at the limits of the infrastructure there. There are currently 4 ranch houses - mostly occupied by seniors - and 100 trees. Putting an overly dense development there is a bad idea, and neighbors know it.

If you really want the affordable housing, and that's really what this is about for you, why aren't you working for some alternative, like building the affordable housing under the existing zoning (which many neighbors tried to negotiate all along), or even some compromise more in that scale, and making up more than the small difference by ensuring the 20 senior BMR units at Moldaw are filled (even subsidized) after 3 years of remaining unfilled? (I believe the City finally renegotiated the rules and filled 8 or more finally, so it is possible.) Or helping to redirect the financial resources to save the far greater amount of affordable housing at Terman Apartments, which is just a few blocks away and being converted to market-rate housing after only 25 years? If you could do that, you would quickly find your former foes would be working with you.

Why are you so dead set on THAT financial scheme at THAT location, even if it works against getting the most affordable housing? Neighbors are pretty clear why that location is a problem. They are also supportive of affordable housing in the neighborhood, of which we have a great deal already without controversy, including right next door to the orchard.

[Portion removed.]

There are 4,000 children who have to get to school in that neighborhood every day. Close to half of the middle and high school students already bike and walk. Nearly ALL of them have to go along the streets, Maybell and Arastradero, which that development impacts. There's no way around it. No other way for the kids to go to school, and no other way for people living in that development to come and go. Maybell is a seriously substandard street with serious traffic problems. There is no way to widen it so it can include a full-width bike path or sidewalk on either side. The situation deserved the kind of study and consideration that City policy promises, and did not get it. Why?

The fact is, parents living in that neighborhood are there for the schools. [Portion removed.]

Children at the elementary school are not allowed to bike or walk by themselves to school until they are in 3rd or 4th grade. Many parents have to drop off their children on the way to work, or to take their children's instruments to school with them. When the weather is severe, more people drive - many of them come from across Palo Alto and this is the only reasonable option when the weather is very bad. On the Maybell side, the elementary school includes the OH, with a preschool for disabled children, and some of the most disabled children in the district attend and must be driven, plus a county facility for rehabilitation of disabled children, all of whom drive there on Maybell.

RE: Foisting the cost of the development onto the neighborhood through the financing scheme

The financing scheme is the whole point. The staff report begins with flaunting the new "creative" way of financing the affordable housing. But it involves taking more than half of the property, upzoning for the benefit of a for-profit developer, and shoehorning the affordable housing on the remainder.

Discussing all the ways this foists the costs on the neighborhood is a longer discussion, but let's start with the most obvious: Upzoning the neighborhood rather than respecting the existing zoning and character of the neighborhood. The market-rate houses are on 3,000 sq ft lots, when 6,000-8,000 is the norm in the neighborhood. There will be two houses on Maybell for every one of the 4 ranch houses there now, and 3-story buildings on Clemo (there are no 3-story houses in Barron Park or Greenacres, not allowed under existing zoning).

The City wrote the in lieu fees from those market-rate houses into the ordinance. The in lieu fee comes from someone building a lot of units. Hence, even if as much money could be made from selling larger lots to high-end developers (which a contractor in the neighborhood deemed would make as much) instead of the skinny lots, the City wouldn't get the in lieu fees. They're basically upzoning the neighborhood to shake out that extra money in in lieu fees and it's written into the ordinance -- and Candace Gonzales said in the paper that the in lieu fee was given to that development, not into the general pot. Jessica de Wit told neighbors they couldn't negotiate down the number of houses that low because of the financing scheme.

The financing scheme was put into place at the time of the loans, before any public input, and it has rigidly dictated all these aspects of the design of the project: the upzoning of the market-rate half of the development, the need to even make half of the development market-rate, the need to put traffic on Maybell instead of out onto Arastradero (with a light at Clemo), etc.

So the design of the project was basically decided by City Hall and PAHC and set in stone because of the financing scheme (including the point system on the funding application), long before there was any public input. (Larry Klein himself said he had never seen such "stonewalling" from an applicant, but his firm handled the sale and he was involved in the loan situation, he knows very well they had no ability to be flexible.) It has made the City Council and PAHC justify themselves and filter all input that came later. [Portion removed.]

If as much were spent per unit on the affordable senior rentals at Maybell, or even close to it, as was spent at 801 Alma, JUST the affordable housing could be built, closer to the pre-existing zoning at Maybell, and we wouldn't be having these fights now.

RE: "fraud"

I don't think most people used the word "fraud". Tim Gray did when he spoke at City Hall, and the paper did, but most have tried to just describe exactly what was done: City staff filled out a document for PAHC's application verifying that their zoning was valid on June 26, which was 33 days before their own staff report said it would be valid at a minimum. (And it still is not valid today, more than 60 days later.) They said it complied with the comprehensive plan, even though it objectively doesn't, the City manager admitted staff cherry-picks for the ways it complies and ignores what doesn't, and even though neighbors successfully removed the rezoning from the comprehensive plan by referendum.

The application due date was July 3, and it required all zoning to be in place as of that date. So if it was no big deal that it wasn't, why lie? The application is made under penalty of perjury, so is a misrepresentation fraud? I'm not a legal expert and have never used that term. I do think it was unethical, and definitely evidences an inappropriate advocacy of City staff to improperly exclude public input.

Neighbors also produced a document from the funding application showing that the City loaned PAHC $7.3 million, which had never been publicly disclosed. Again, if it was no big deal, why lie? Ditto for exaggerating adjacency factors that give them points to win funding.

The tax credit funding is a competitive situation, where PAHC appears to be asking for so much money, if they misrepresented anything to get the money, they would be taking money away from considerably less wealthy communities, where truly low-income people would otherwise be homeless. Here, we have expensive housing, but we really do have far more resources and discretion for how we spend those resources. It really does hurt poor people if our City staff and PAHC are misrepresenting key requirements in their funding applications. Is it fraud? I don't know. The application was made under penalty of perjury. It did allow them to make changes, but I think that was for the purpose of correcting things that change, not taking back deliberate misrepresentations when they got caught.

Those other communities would be housing far more low-income people for far less money. (Remember, the Maybell rentals will be open only to people at 30-60% of AMI, which is actually kind of a lot of money --- it does not include one single person below the poverty limit, despite all the loud noises about needing to serve seniors under the poverty limit in the ordinance.)

RE: What this is about

[Portion removed.]

And they take it so seriously, you need to understand that they see the referendum as only one step they will probably have to take, and aren't even counting on winning. [Portion removed.] They know the deck is pretty stacked against them. PAHC hired a political consultant the next day, whereas neighbors are still on a shoestring and trying to do everything with volunteers. The City Attorney has acted as an advocate for the rezoning all along, too, and it remains to be seen whether neighbors can get the truth out so that the rest of Palo Alto realizes that this is not about affordable housing. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Ruby Ridge, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2013 at 12:36 am

There's no way to have any discussion of this in the Weekly because of the excessive editing of the posts in this forum by the publisher. Who knows what he's trying to accomplish.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 8, 2013 at 1:44 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Ruby Ridge, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2013 at 7:49 am

Gayle Price lives a block away and she voted for the project, saying that the proposal is a "good one" and one that "certainly addresses the need for affordable housing." Web Link

I doubt Gayle Price was interested in having all those nurses, aides, and visitors slaughtering neighborhood kids, including her own, in the streets.

When a delegation of your group met with the Mayor and PAHC to try to mediate the dispute you came out willing to agree to 8 houses. So all this is about 4 houses. Even if they are "tall, skinny, houses."

Calling the financing mechanism a "scheme" doesn't turn it into a "scheme". The shape or height of the buildings doesn't increase the threat to SAFETY OF CHILDREN either but [portion removed] it might confuse people into thinking that there is some safety issue related to the 4 houses you don't want.

No one believes that this is about 4 skinny houses because no one would force a referendum and put the city through all this sturm and drang over 4 houses. People believe that this is a NIMBY on the affordable housing because that is the only reasonable interpretation for the constant perseveration on the "costs imposed on the neighborhood" theme, the harping on "visitors" and the endless way you protesteth too much about how you already have more PAHC properties than anywhere else in PA. [Portion removed.] If it's 4 tall skinny houses then it's relevant that you live in a part of town that is cheaper for a reason. Maybell Avenue has commercial development. It has a car lot. It abuts a part of El Camino that is dominated by dilapidated and empty storefronts, abandoned lots that are overgrown with weeds, cheap motels such as the Glass Slipper [portion removed], and other developments including condos, and apartments.
[Portion removed.]

Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2013 at 8:07 am

I have to agree. The referendum is really about keeping low income housing out of the neighborhood, not 4 houses.

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 8, 2013 at 9:59 am


Gail Price lives on the other side of the school and is not affected by the traffic or parking, and does not even see the site daily (or ever unless she goes out of her way), as those of us who live in Greenacres do. In fact, those who are are almost unanimously AGAINST the rezoning and AGAINST Measure D, because we can see how ludicrous and unsafe it is to put a large development there.

Marc Berman also voted for the rezoning, as did all the City Council - they had already committed $7.3 million to it and come up with this complicated financing scheme that restricted any flexibility later on. Larry Klein's firm represented the seller in the sale, and Liz Kniss even reminded her peers during the vote that the City Council members had "more than a passing interest" in getting the site rezoned. Despite this, Berman even admitted that Maybell is "UNSAFE" for the kids as is, without even adding a large development.

The fact is, the City has a duty to safety, first and foremost, that's spelled out in the general plan. The City has a policy of "heightened scrutiny" for developments on school commute corridors, which is utterly failed to do here. Why? [Portion removed.]

[Portion removed.] No neighborhood in Palo Alto should have to go through this. Zoning laws should be respected, and PC zones should be at least a little closer to the pre-existing zoning. Here they went from RM-15 and R-2 to the equivalent of RM-60.

If you really want the affordable housing, then REJECT Measure D, work with neighbors to do the traffic studies they have been asking for since day one, and get the City to commit to financing that property the way they did at 801 Alma, without having to sell off more than half of it, UPZONED for a private developer's benefit.

The fact is, the existing zoning allows nearly as much affordable housing to be built there, but they would have to respect height restrictions, daylight plane, setbacks, parking provisions, density restrictions, etc. i.e, building under the existing zoning, they could get almost as many units and the impact on the neighborhood would be far less. (Or they could have proposed a PC zone with as many units, but staying close to the restrictions of the existing zoning on height, daylight plane, setbacks, parking - i.e., they couldn't sell half of the property, upzoned, to a market-rate developer.) But it costs more to do that, and the City and PAHC don't want to do that, so they are implementing this new "creative" financing scheme (as they deemed it) instead of just financing it the way 801 Alma was. That makes the neighborhood pay for it, rather than the developers just paying the cost.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Pat Markevitch, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 8, 2013 at 10:18 am

I went to see for myself the traffic on Maybell during the school commute. It was gridlocked with a lot of the cut through traffic coming through Barron Park streets and not just off of El Camino.

Right project, wrong location.

Posted by Ghost of Howard Jarvis , a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 8, 2013 at 11:24 am

That traffic has to do with Gunn and Terman. 12 houses and 50 seniors aren't the issue. Pat please explain how this project is even relevant? I agree that we should solve the traffic problem but this seems completely unrelated. The issue is parents driving kids to school, clearly. Your argument augurs in favor of never building anything there at all since anything would add to the traffic but even the [portion removed] poster says a senior development would be ok leaving us with the 12 houses as the issue. So please explain how 12 houses have any appreciable impact on this school traffic.

Posted by Seniors?, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 8, 2013 at 11:33 am

Is there any part of the property deed that ensures that these 60 units will remain for seniors?

As has been pointed out on other threads, there is a strong market for families for any size housing units in Palo Alto, including studios.

Posted by oooooo, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 8, 2013 at 2:05 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Lee Thé, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 8, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Lee Thé is a registered user.

Personally I'm fine with adding lots of low income housing to Palo Alto--as long as it doesn't increase the total population of the city. So any high density development would need to be accompanied by eliminating a comparable number of high-income residents from the city. For example, you could condemn a block of high income homes near the downtown area, raze them and replace them with underground parking topped by a nice park.

Because regardless of the merits of any individual project, we Palo Altans will have to deal with their aggregate impact for the rest of our lives here.

And their aggregate impact includes the load of motor vehicle traffic coming in, through, and out of the city on a daily basis, as well as the amount of drinking water required.

Most plans to further "develop" Palo Alto rest squarely on the unstated assumption that we have and will always have unlimited access to unlimited amounts of drinking water and relatively cheap electricity.

Considering what global warming is doing to the amount and predictability of our fresh water supply and the steadily increasing demands for water by both agriculture and unrestricted growth in California's population and the beginnings of water rationing during drought years, the assumption of permanent unlimited water is naïve at best.

The plain fact is that we can't have everything we want, and there's a price for everything we get. Want to densify Palo Alto because we owe it to low income people? OK, then couple that demand with the demand that we accept any mandatory water rationing that accompanies that densification. Demand that we accept any increase in congestion in our thoroughfares, and put metrics on that based on current trends.

Above all, instead of boiling the frog with one development, then another, then another, ad infinitum, give Palo Altans a chance to vote of just how much population we want this city to have. The current 56K or so? Double that? Triple that?

Put it to a vote, with the benefits and consequences laid out plainly.

See what happens.

Posted by Mad Max, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 8, 2013 at 2:47 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 8, 2013 at 5:09 pm

"Right project, wrong location."

The affordable housing component, but not the overall financing scheme or the market-rate half.

I hope you will consider that the senior affordable housing is the thing we should be building, not applying this financing scheme all over Palo Alto. This is a trial run to see if they can roll it out in this town. If residents green light it, there will be densification all over Palo Alto in residential neighborhoods.

It's a bad plan for the location - a bad scheme for Palo Alto.

Posted by Honest question, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 8, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Is it just the principle of the thing then? 12 houses isn't that many. There's alread 4 houses on the site. So that's a difference of 8 homes. Is 8 homes worth this conflict or is it really more the principle of the thing? I think many people are wondering this.

Posted by businessdecision, a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2013 at 7:41 am

It is high time to recognize that this newspaper is ill serving this community by opening these fora and then having to close them down because of the awfulness of the comments.
4th estate, shut this whole thing DOWN. Please.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 9, 2013 at 7:52 am

One of the comments suggests that the law firm of one of the sitting Council was involved somehow with this situation. If this were true--wouldn't this trigger some sort of "conflict of interest"? There is something called the "one penny rule" which says that if a "covered individual" (like a city council member) were to be enriched by as little as "one penny", then that enrichment constitutes a "conflict of interest".

Anyone looked into this? Is there a reason that the "one penny rule" doesn't apply here?

Posted by Ellie, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 9, 2013 at 8:17 am

The ordinance written for maybell when the zoning was changed restricts the use to senior affordable housing and so it will remain thus. That is one benefit of a PC - you can give a condition the force of law.

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 9:22 am

[Portion removed.]

@Honest question,

A lot has been said about this already above -- no, it's not just the principle of the thing, it's problems caused by the actual proposal and limitations of the location, or you'd never have so many families and volunteers out over such a long period of time with such involvement.

Whether you think 12 houses and a 50-foot, 60-unit building with inadequate parking in the middle of a residential area is a problem or not depends on whether you think there's a difference between the 4 typical ranch houses that are there now, and the stovepipe houses on tiny lots at Alma Plaza.

If the 12 houses were about the same size as the 4 houses there now, with similar lots, you'd have trouble getting them all onto the remaining orchard property (with legal lanes), and there would be no room for the main building.

The problem with the 12 houses is that they are tearing down the existing 4 houses, and putting up 8 in their place, then 5 more across from the park on similar tiny lots, 3 stories high, even though there are no 3-story houses in Barron Park and Greenacres allowed under existing zoning. They're letting the for-profit developer have the giveaway of high density housing, which he will benefit from for being in that location, so they can get the extra in lieu fee out of it - zoning for sale by the City to reduce the cost of the main building.

If it weren't for the 12 houses, the main building wouldn't have to be sardined onto less than half of the property, and thus wouldn't have to be 50-feet tall. It could also have adequate parking. There are only 47 parking spots planned for 60 units, plus employees (there will be several), plus visitors, plus aids/nursing/hospice/helpers. The development is already going to require eliminating most of the parking on Clemo, i.e., most of the parking for Juana Briones Park. And, the plan is going to require eliminating the parking along Maybell during the day, where a lot of overflow parking from Arastradero Park Apartments (the existing PAHC property) parks during the day. This neighborhood already has no place else for the cars to go. They're going to end up competing with park visitors and the families of the disabled students in the OH and county rehab facility across from there for the already very limited parking.

Lastly, there are only 4 houses with mostly seniors living there now and an orchard. As it is, without adding any more development, the traffic is untenable and unsafe. This isn't just something where City Council can just handwave and it can all be worked out, because we just finished a major safety improvement on Maybell, and it's already about as good as it gets. There are limits to the infrastructure, and the City should be taking that into account in development. Instead, they have flagrantly avoided doing due diligence on the traffic and safety for the thousands of children who take the two streets on either side of that development to school.

The problem can't just be solved by putting all of them on bikes, almost half of them are already. Arastradero is a major east-west corridor, and business traffic is going to almost double in the next year or so because of developments the City Council approved going online. That particular location is at a traffic bottleneck in the neighborhood, and should not be the site of such a huge upzoning.

If they built just the senior rental apartments, without the 12 houses, they could make a much more compatible building with the neighborhood, with more space and parking. If they didn't have to make excuse after excuse for the rigid financing scheme, they could do things like put a light at Clemo and have all the traffic come out at Arastradero at a light instead of Maybell. Would that be workable? It would certainly be more so than Maybell, but hopefully without the rigid financing scheme, they could do the traffic study with current data and the traffic safety study they owe the residents under City policy (that they didn't do) to find out.

If they simply paid for the development they way the one at 801 Alma was paid for, and didn't have this convoluted financing scheme that required such gross violations of the zoning laws to work, it wouldn't be a problem.

Posted by TIS an issue, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:10 am

@not an issue-- You do not live in the afflicted you know some of the Maybell neighbors?

Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:10 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@PAPNZ member, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood

Regarding your heading in an earlier post-@Ruby/Jerry:

I always post under my own name, not anonymously.

Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:24 am

PAPNZ, you aren't dealing with two core questions:

1. Your group agreed to 8 houses in the City Council mediation effort. So why are you willing to go to the mat over 4 additional houses? Are you saying that 4 more houses will somehow affect the traffic?

2. What is the relationship between the height of the houses and traffic? That relationship seems very hard to make out.

3. Regardless of whether there are 12 houses or 8 or 4 that is such a small number compared to the volume of cars that it is very hard for anyone to conclude it will have an impact on traffic. Why do you think it will have that impact?

4. Using market-rate housing to finance low income housing is a creative solution that has allowed for the development of mixed-income housing developments that self-finance the low-income component. They are a tested solution to the problem of public housing. You continue to call it a "scheme" using the quite nefarious connotations of that word. But it is simply a financing mechanism that leverages the power of the market to create public housing. In this instance our elected leaders think it is a good solution including one who lives just a block away. I cannot understand the continue calling of this a "scheme."

[Portion removed.] I predict that this election will lose unless the Yes on D folks don't turn out voters since it's not a general election which means that those who care the most about this (i.e., opponents) will be more likely to turn out.

What "Ruby Ridge" and others are trying to highlight (in a less than fully civil manner, granted) is the constant claims you make that don't add up [portion removed.]

Voter turnout for those who want affordable housing needs to be strong. I hope liberals who care about housing for the poor will participate in get out the vote efforts on D.

Posted by Juno, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:34 am

Trying to read this blog is a waste of time. It's like trying to read through your email, having to go through every piece of spam.

I give up reading PaloAltoOnline on this subject. I suggest that everybody go to the two campaign web sites to get info. I know the web site Against Measure D is Somebody else can list the web site for the Measure.

Posted by senior longtime resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:35 am

Several decades ago when we bought our house in Green Acres II, it was a neighborhood with little traffic and many orchards. Our children grew up here with safe streets to bike on and wonderful orchards to play in. We didn't expect things to stay that way. We knew that development of those lovely orchards was inevitable, but we bought our house with the expectation that existing zoning laws would prevail, that the Comprehensive Plan would be meaningful and we certainly expected that children going to the neighborhood schools that our children went to would be safe. We didn't expect to have to fight against PC rezoning of our neighborhood for high density and a City Council that bows to the desires of developers rather than to the constituents who voted for them. We are rightfully angry and have worked very hard as a neighborhood to bring about this referendum. We hope that many Palo Altans will feel as we do that high density and urbanization is not what most of us in this city want and that they will turn out and VOTE AGAINST MEASURE D!

Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:42 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by JerryL, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:59 am

I don't live in the affected area. But, I DO have a vote.

I am dead set against zoning changes that suddenly permit 50 foot height limits where they used to be 30 foot limits. I find the arguments of the opponents of the ordnance to be convincing.

That neighborhood has more than their share of high density and low income housing already. This development was probably the straw that broke the camel's back. My hat's off to them for fighting the Council and "city hall".

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 1:25 pm

@ JerryL,
Thank you!

Some of us living here would at the same time really like to see the Terman Apartments, which are behind the Bowman School and have 92 units, to be saved for affordable housing. They are currently being converted to market rate. PAHC wanted to buy that property a few years ago but didn't have the same support as they do now for Maybell.

The property is only a few blocks away, in the same neighborhood.

A compromise involving saving Terman and letting neighbors save the historic orchard and turn it into a community asset, would be healing and healthier for everyone, would provide far more affordable housing, and preserve the character of the neighborhood.

As would rejecting the financing scheme being used at Maybell so that it doesn't get used again and again all over Palo Alto. A fundamental aspect of the scheme is that zoning laws can be seriously violated any time anyone has a public benefit (even if that benefit could substantially be provided without so seriously violating the zoning).

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 1:40 pm

@Barron Parker,
[Portion removed.]

I am being absolutely factual, which "claims" do you mean? These come from the staff reports:

1) PAHC is providing only 47 parking spots for 60 rental units, several employees, aids/nursing, and visitors. The existing zoning would require at least 104 (from the staff report).

The parking on Clemo will be restricted under the development plan, and parking along Maybell in front of the Arastradero Park Apartments will also be forbidden during the daytime. (Where will the parking go? The neighborhood cannot absorb it.)

2) The 60 unit main building will be on 1.1 acres, nearly the equivalent of RM-60 in an RM-15 area. They/the ordinance itself discusses the ways the development needs to exceed even RM-40 "high density" zoning. That is also just a hard fact.

3) The main building will be 4-stories, or 50 feet high, when the existing zoning limit is 30 feet. (You can check with city staff.) If you want to be nitpicky about it, the building height will be uneven and mostly be 45 or 48 feet tall, still at least 50% taller than the existing zoning.

4) Maybell is a city-designated "safe route to school" which is heavily advertised as such to the schoolchildren. It is in the bike + pedestrian plan as a bicycle boulevard. Yet it is substandard in width and does not have one single full-width sidewalk or bike lane on either side, despite having recently undergone a 6-figure safety improvement. The stop sign in front of the elementary school has been knocked to the ground and even had to be replaced several times over the past year or two. Those are all verifiable facts.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm

@"Barron Parker"

Re: "delegation" of "your group"

[Portion removed.] There was never any "delegation" - City Council rounded up people who had attended the meeting where Larry Klein called for a delay and weekend discussion, and asked for people from different neighborhoods. When no one wanted to sign up because they had no representative relationship with any group, they were told not to worry, they just wanted people FROM those different areas, they wouldn't be representing them. I was told by those who attended the meetings that they repeatedly said during the discussions that they represented only themselves. No attempt was ever made to establish a representative relationship with any group. No real mediation occurred, and no "agreement". In fact, it was either Klein or Burt who warned that he didn't want to hear any claims afterwards that anything was promised or agreed to. To say otherwise is to severely misuse what happened. The discussions were steered by the Mayor, who took any discussion about things important to the neighbors, such as a traffic study, completely off the table.

All that happened was some kind of a sales job. The mayor and PAHC never even told the group about how they couldn't reduce the number of market-rate houses substantially because the ordinance contained a financing scheme that relied on the "in lieu" fees from the market rate portion being allocated to that development. The reduction to 12 from 15 had already been discussed at City Council before the meeting and was not the result of negotiation or agreement, and still results in an upzoned parcel of dense skinny houses similar to Alma Plaza in the middle of a residential R-1 neighborhood. If you would like to look at the varying views of those who attended, watch the following City Council meeting online. Several of them signed the referendum, so I think your interpretation about it is way off.

Re: the financing "scheme"
[Portion removed.]

All the ills of this and the controversy flow from the rigid financing scheme. It is a large-scale arrangement for attaining a particular end, which is to make the affordable housing cost less, by essentially asking the neighborhood to shoulder the cost. For example, in the same way the City asks downtown to shoulder the costs of developments with inadequate parking, the City is allowing a dense building with only 47 parking spots in a neighborhood with no ability to absorb additional parking when the underlying zoning would call for at least 104 parking spots (per the staff report).

The Mayor and PAHC staff, in front of the community, talked about how this was the first time PAHC was trying this financing scheme in Palo Alto, indicated that they would make fewer missteps next time. Palo Alto neighborhoods be forewarned: your zoning will be meaningless if people greenlight this financing scheme. (Please vote AGAINST Measure D.

Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2013 at 3:52 pm

PAPNZ -- I can understand (though do not agree with) a concern that you don't want this development in your neighborhood because low income housing reduces property values. However, I cannot understand the concern about "skinny houses." Maybell Avenue just is a street that already has a lot of different levels of development, and a lot of patchwork design and houses. There are a lot of houses that aren't very nice or well-kept, overgrown yards, etc. There are also houses that are McMansions with 2 story atriums recently built that at least to my sensibilities are horribly ugly. The ranch rentals are nothing to write home about. Skinny houses that are new and well-kept like the ones over on East Meadow near the Goodwill would be nice there, probably an improvement. I don't see how "skinny" translates into "shouldering a burden."

This is aesthetic question but honestly a nicely landscaped 12 home development in which families have the chance to buy starter homes near a park and good schools sounds wonderful. If the houses have only a little land, they will give young families a chance at Palo Alto that they otherwise wouldn't have.

Over on campus they built starter homes in College Terrace and they are really nice even though they are very dense. People love them. They give people a chance to buy on campus who couldn't otherwise -- young families can live near Escondido. They don't mind that they don't have any land because they are happy to be there. You will have the same thing -- that's a good thing for them and they will be great neighbors because they are happy to have the chance to live in your neighborhood.

A mixed age, mixed income community in which the children provide some company for the seniors and there is no income segregation. I think this sounds wonderful and really hope it happens. And when it does, I hope that your community makes the new families feel welcome [portion removed.]

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2013 at 4:10 pm

> "I hope liberals who care about housing for the poor will participate in get out the vote efforts on D."

[Portion removed.] It is NOT about senior housing, which could be built under existing zoning. It's about the city's mad march to rezone, to build dense, oversized housing and office buildings, to increase traffic jams and to create safety hazards for school kids on Maybell.

Liberals, conservatives and independents should all be concerned about what's happening to the city when zoning laws become meaningless.

Posted by senior longtime resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 4:20 pm

@resident, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood

[Portion removed.] The PAHC has an apartment house for families at BMR right on Maybell Ave. That hasn't prevented residents from building large expensive houses right on Maybell Ave. and on the surrounding streets in Barron Park and Green Acres II. Check on the recent and ongoing teardowns in the neighborhood to put up larger expensive homes. And do check the prices of recently sold largel andmodest homes in this neighborhood before you make statements.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 4:32 pm

In all this debate, no one in the neighborhood has ever brought up the issue of reducing property values. Go watch the City meetings if you don't believe me. Or actually read what I wrote above -- no argument such as you are trying to claim has ever been made.

No one in the neighborhood is rejecting the low-income housing, either, in fact, people have tried very hard to get the developers to build JUST the affordable housing, more in keeping with the scale of the neighborhood, just pay for it more like at 801 Alma, and lose the burdensome financing scheme.

[Portion removed] people in the neighborhood support affordable housing, already have affordable housing developments integrated into the neighborhood, and because nearly as much affordable housing could be built under the existing zoning, with the height, setbacks, parking, density, and other zoning principles respected.

You know very well what this is about:

- a financing scheme and plan that require giveaways to a market-rate developer on over half the property

- a financing scheme that require serious densification of the neighborhood and seriously inadequate parking

- the overdevelopment of a neighborhood at a location where the infrastructure is at its limits and safety of thousands of schoolchildren is a central issue, and the City and the developers have studiously avoided doing a proper safety study, even though City policy demands it.

Posted by senior longtime resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 4:42 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 4:53 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 9, 2013 at 4:58 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 5:00 pm

@ Barron Parker,

[Portion removed.]

I'm sure it would be great for renters everywhere if we began building dense apartments in the middle of all of our residential neighborhoods in Palo Alto. But the first provision of the comprehensive plan is to protect the character of the existing neighborhoods. We have zoning laws for a reason.

Not only should the City not be setting aside those zoning laws so egregiously, Palo Altans should expect some protections against having to set aside their lives and go to such lengths to try to defend it.

Most of us don't want Palo Alto to be like Alma Plaza. [Portion removed.]

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 5:02 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 9, 2013 at 5:05 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by PAPNZ member, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

[Post removed.]

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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