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Guest Opinion: PRO: Retain the 50-foot height limit to protect residents

Original post made on Nov 17, 2012

Palo Alto is a built-out city — it is increasingly difficult and expensive to expand public facilities such as schools and streets. Traffic congestion covers more and more of the day, and more and more of the city. Yet the City continues to approve projects despite having tried and failed to figure out how to handle the resulting over-burdening of these facilities. The Stanford hospital expansion alone is going to make this worse. And the Stanford campus and Stanford Research Park have approvals for substantial expansion.

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Comments (6)

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Posted by Look this gift horse in the mouth, please.
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm

City Council,

Though I live in south Palo Alto, I do not support the scope and scale of this project. It is completely inconsistent with existing city architecture and allowable heights. I don't like the precedent this project sets, and I hope you will require the developer to propose something more reasonable.

Please follow our Comprehensive Plan and existing zoning and muni codes. I am watching the progress on this project with alarm. The promise of a theater seems to have provoked undue zeal for overriding the rules that protect us all from overdevelopment. I am sure Mr. Arrillaga is counting on that. Please look this gift horse carefully in the mouth.

Thank you.

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Posted by Ducatigirl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Scott Herhold, who is a family friend, wrote an excellent article that says it all very well. It is in the weekend edition of the Daily News (not the Post). He thinks Arillaga's project is ugly and cumbersome and will cause far too much traffic. He notes that it will be extremely high rent, not very likely to find many renters. But, he does list its good points, though they are very few.

The article is very well-wriiten and very worth reading. An excellent accompaniment to Doug Moran's article.

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

On the Herhold article: It is currently available on the Mercury News website (but will go behind their pay-wall at some point):

Herhold: Arrillaga project in Palo Alto needs massive revision (Web Link)

Like this comment
Posted by jan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by pricing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm

D. Moran

Thank you for writing this. The next piece I wish someone would write about is City governance.

When Stanford's bid for a NYC campus failed, it was because NY forced the balance in favor of the city.

Stanford Daily quotes Henessy about the failed bid

"Well, the straw that broke the camel's back I suppose, in the end, it was just there were too many conditions imposed on the project (by the city) and I think it just got to the point where the University was being asked to carry the lion's share of risk. The city was dumping risk on the University and wasn't giving us anything in return. It's not like they were saying, "Okay, we're going to give you more land or we're going to give you more money. No, you take all the risk and if it fails, even if it's our fault, you pay us." I mean Â… that was just crazy."

Contrast this to Palo Alto City governance - gives stuff away, practically pays developers for almost nothing in return. Nothing in return for the CIty.

The 50 foot height needs to be among the conditions and pricing in Palo Alto. Developers need to pay up, and if they don't like it, they need to walk away.

How is City governance being held accountable for their give aways?

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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 23, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Doug Moran's arguments to maintain the 50-foot height limit are very compelling.

Since its enactment in the early '70s, the 50-foot limit has served as a crucial backstop that has protected Palo Alto from unfettered development. Together with its City-Charter partner, the public's approval via majority vote for approval of any alternate use of dedicated parkland, the 50-foot height limit has helped maintain Palo Alto as a desirable place to live.

Not that there hasn't been powerful pressure over the decades to bend or break this and other zoning envelopes. PCs of limited public value continue to be proposed and approved; variances and design enhancements exceptions are routinely granted; development agreements create their own rules; and requests for up-zoning are often approved.

Current pressures to scrap the 50-foot height limit have been well-nourished by a chicken-and-egg logic. For years we have been told by city leaders, state agencies, and some housing advocates that we have a very serious jobs-to-housing imbalance and therefore we must build more -- much more -- housing. Now, as the commercial real estate market rebounds, we are told that for various reasons we need more -- much, more -- office space. Blind acceptance of the twin arguments leads to unending development in both areas as well as the mutually-assured destruction of our quality of life.

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