Measure D sides spar over impact of project
Original post made
on Sep 28, 2013
Opponents and proponents of Measure D all say they are in favor of more senior housing in Palo Alto. What they clashed on during Saturday's afternoon's debate was whether senior housing is really what the measure on November's ballot is really about.
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posted Saturday, September 28, 2013, 3:00 PM
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Posted by Vote AGAINST Measure D
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 28, 2013 at 4:15 pm
I think it's really important for voters to realize that Measure D itself is about whether the property is rezoned to high-density from low-density or not. That's all.
It's not about whether the property can have affordable housing on it or not, because affordable housing could be built on it now as zoned, and just as much could be built there if they came forward with a plan that didn't involve selling off more than half to a market-rate builder and shoehorning the affordable apartments onto less than half of it in a high rise.
The City Attorney has not been impartial in all of this, and the analysis and ballot question are heavily biased to get people to think the senior housing is enabled by the vote. It's not, because the senior apartments could be built without the high-density rezoning.
"McCown said the economics for such a project wouldn't work. The greater density and the single-family homes are needed to finance the subsidized housing for the seniors in the lowest-income category."
The way the federal funding grants work, the economics would work better if they had chosen a location nearer to amenities seniors need. The density would also be more acceptable if they hadn't chosen a residential neighborhood. If they needed the density, they should have looked for a location where density is more appropriate, since many have been on the market in recent years especially on El Camino.
And, the neighborhood would not be fighting now if PAHC had proposed 60 units of JUST senior apartments, had done the appropriate traffic safety analysis -- and hadn't made it so that more than half the property is going to a market-rate for-profit as this proposal does. If they built just the 60 units over the whole property, they wouldn't have to make a 50-foot building in a residential neighborhood.
For the Mayor to claim the lots are compatible is emblematic of how the council have twisted the facts at every possible chance to steamroll this rezoning. Talking about the width of the lots is only half the story. The lots will be 3,000 square feet or less, when the R-1 neighborhood is 6,000 square foot minimum. Frankly, if it wasn't for the incentive City Council has to upzone those parcels to get extra in lieu fees from having a dozen or more market-rate homes, if the existing perfectly-good ranch houses were sold off individually, those houses would more likely be renovated, rather than torn down and replaced with two tall skinny houses for every ranch house there now.
The houses on Clemo will be on similar undersized small lots and 3-stories high, very much like Alma Plaza. This is becoming the new norm for home construction in Palo Alto, and voters should reject that, too! There are no 3-story homes allowed under the existing zoning in the surrounding R-1 neighborhood. The main building for low-income apartments will be 50-feet high, when the existing zoning allows only 30 feet. (There are only 36 parking spots for residents, 6 for visitors, and 5 for employees, when existing zoning calls for 104 -- where are these cars going to go for a 60-unit apartment building? This is not an assisted living facility, it's just apartments. There is no capacity to absorb the extra cars there, and significant safety issues with substandard Maybell.)
Palo Alto is a wealthy community that has been able to build affordable housing without resorting to this new financing mechanism that involves selling off as much of the property as possible for market-rate development. If voters approve Measure D, the zoning rules anywhere in town will be meaningless whenever a large property opens up, in any residential neighborhood, especially in Old Palo Alto which has 1/2 to 1 acre properties. Since the need for affordable housing is limitless even if we covered every square inch of Palo Alto in high-rises, this new scheme is a serious threat to neighborhood zoning. City Council has promised to do more of it if allowed at Maybell, and has justified it by saying other communities are doing it.
We don't need such a financing scheme to put in affordable housing in Palo Alto. The development at 801 Alma just went in without needing to sell off more than half the property for a market-rate high rise. If they can do it downtown without increasing the density by four-fold and selling half to a market-rate developer where the land and building are more expensive, they can put in affordable housing in our neighborhood without resorting to such a scheme, too. If the density is a requirement of such developments, they should be choosing properties that are on corridors more appropriate for such density, of which many have gone on the market in recent years along El Camino and other corridors.
The City staff's own reports didn't even say the density made the difference between building affordable housing or not, it just says it's to reduce the cost. The City gets a discount, basically, at the cost of residential character of the neighborhoods all over Palo Alto. It reduces the costs by essentially making neighborhoods bear the burden through densification, inadequate parking, etc.:
Under the staff report "Goals of the Proposed Project" [emphasis added]
"IN ORDER TO REDUCE THE DEVELOPMENT COSTS of the senior housing project, the PAHC is proposing to develop market-rate single-family homes adjacent to the residential building for seniors. PAHC plans to sell the land identified for the single family homes and the entitlements (if approved) to a housing developer ... this is a creative way to help finance affordable housing. It will require less City financial assistance and since PAHC is providing a greater amount of equity, the development will be more competitive in securing other sources of public financing."
It's also not the only way to fund, and we've never had to do it before in Palo Alto, making such major giveaways to market-rate for-profit developers and violating existing residential zoning like this. I hope voters see through the steamroller and vote against this.
Lastly, it sounds pretty attractive to do something that would make PAHC more competitive, but who is PAHC competing with? Much less affluent communities who are providing far more housing, for far less money, to people who really would be homeless without it. Are we really this selfish, that we need to reduce our own costs by taking money away from communities that don't otherwise have the means to provide the low-income housing?
Lastly, if voters vote against Measure D and prevail, there is a group ready to step in with an initiative to turn the land into a community orchard that will be accessible for all kids, both the disabled children in the 3 programs for disabled kids in the school across the street, and the mainstream elementary kids (and to provide funding for it). It will preserve the last patch of heritage agriculture land in Palo Alto - other communities around us have done this, it would be a great community asset. PAHC and the City will then be free to work for affordable housing without the greenlight to repeat this funding scheme that so seriously violates residential zoning (or maybe learn a lesson and look for parcels on major transit corridors instead).
If Measure D passes, neighbors are only going to continue escalating battles in court: the CEQA suit, holding the subdivision to the general plan through the subdivision map act (not the cherry-picked version of the council, but the actual plan via a judge), pursuing any cause of action related to corruption and conflicts of interest, etc. It's not a given that it will be built by any means, and encouraging them to pursue it will only mean PAHC continues to spend money fighting rather than working to provide affordable housing at more appropriate locations (even just steps away in the same neighborhood).
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Posted by Vote AGAINST Measure D
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 30, 2013 at 5:21 pm
You wrote, "Also the value of the "single family" housing has gone up at least $250K/unit since PAHC did their financing calculations, so they should be able to finance the project with fewer "single family" housing units than PAHC originally proposed."
The ordinance does not allow for fewer single family homes, because the financing setup depends on the "in lieu" fees collected from the for profit developer as a result of there being large numbers of market-rate homes. The financing scheme is too rigid to allow significant reduction of the market-rate home density, PAHC has admitted it. So you see, the violation of the zoning on the market-rate portion is an integral part of the plan, not just for the value of the upzoned properties to a developer, but also for the in lieu fees generated for the City. Zoning for sale, basically. PAHC never had the discretion to significantly reduce the number of market-rate homes because of the way the financing scheme is set up to work.
If the City had chosen a nonprofit developer with the means and experience to just pay for the development, rather than resorting to this new financing scheme, then the low-income complex could have been built within existing zoning or close to it and we wouldn't be going through this.
Thanks so much for the link about Mountain View choosing to save a similar patch of orchard. The Maybell Orchard fruit trees are fully established without irrigation at this point, it's really a shame to tear out 100 trees (including 2 100-year-old heritage oaks which conveniently became unsalvagable at just the right time and place for the Maybell development). All the other communities around us have preserved at least one patch of agricultural heritage. There are grants to be had to do this, by the way.
If Palo Altans do vote down Measure D, there will be an initiative to preserve the heritage orchard, since City Council will clearly not do it of their own accord. The City's own appraisal of the orchard in the loan docs is $6.7 million, and if the ranch houses have gone up in value, that may mean the orchard itself is effectively even less in terms of cost.
I live in this neighborhood, please don't vote Yes for Measure D believing you are somehow protecting us from something worse. First of all, many neighbors are prepared to continue to fight this battle on many fronts even if Yes prevails (as it may because of the City Attorney writing such biased ballot materials), so if you want to protect the neighbors, then protect us all from the ongoing battles by voting No.
The safety problems of that location are real and serious, because of the limits of the infrastructure and neighbors know it because they spent 6 months working hard with Cal Trans on a safety improvement of Maybell within the last few years if you are serious about wanting to protect us, protect the thousands of school children who take the school transit corridors to school on either side of that property, and vote AGAINST measure D.
That property is just catty corner to 3 long-time school programs for seriously disabled children from all over Palo Alto and the county. If you are serious about wanting to protect us, then protect them from having to deal with the overflow parking from a development that has only 36 parking spots for 60 residential units (that are twice the size of other senior units and will likely have 2 residents per unit in many). Disabled children use the park open space daily -- protect them from having to stare up at a dense row of brand new housing they could never live in, symbolic of how the City doesn't consider the disabled when it claims in its comprehensive plan to have diversity as a goal. Protect them by giving the neighbors a chance to save the orchard as a fully-accessible, green, heritage orchard open space designed with them in mind.
The Tan apartments have been used as an excuse to upzone the orchard, even though the RM-15 to R-2 low-density zoning IS the transition zone from the apartments on Arastradero to the R-1 neighborhood. Given how City council nevertheless tried to mischaracterize the dominant land use of the R-1 surrounding neighborhood by those exceptions, if they are allowed to "spot zone" that whole block for high density into the neighborhood, then we will have no defense against other high-density developments in this neighborhood. If you want to protect us, Vote Against Measure D and protect us from that, because we feel the high-density is a huge hit to our quality of life.
That's why a long survey of Greenacres II residents found 94% are against the rezoning, against Measure D.
The market-rate houses still have to pass a hurdle of being subdivided, and that's an evidentiary process not a political one. The fact that the rezoning isn't really consistent with the general plan (by anyone in the real world who isn't cherry picking through it like City staff did) will allow neighbors to fight it with good standing through that process.
If you want to protect someone, protect PAHC from throwing good money after bad by voting Against Measure D and moving them on to more positive projects where they have hopefully learned a lesson to start by working with the community. (And PAHC doesn't keep damaging their reputation by continuing to fight this battle over that particular property which isn't that suitable for seniors anyway. Recall they didn't originally propose to build there for seniors, this was really about them wanting to stay on top in Palo Alto after Eden got 801 Alma.)
You should also realize that because the City loaned so much money for the purchase of the property, it gave itself lots of protections. So if Measure D fails, the City has the right to the property, it does not have to be sold to a private developer. And again, neighbors will be ready with an initiative to save the heritage orchard and the 100 trees.
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Posted by Vote AGAINST Measure D
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 1, 2013 at 2:09 am
I wish you luck getting PAHC to build under the existing zoning -- if you could do that, it would head off all the damage they're going to continue doing to their own reputation in the community in the coming months.
In case you hadn't noticed, you don't speak for almost anyone else who lives right next to you, because almost unanimously the adjacent neighborhood is AGAINST Measure D. Nice try, though.
You also don't live on Maybell, either, and frankly, I and a lot of Greenacres II live closer than you do. You don't have to ever see or pass by Maybell, they do. Since you are clearly not very familiar with life for people in Greenacres II, many people take Maybell because there are these 3 schools, Terman, Bowman, and Gunn, on Arastradero, and Arastradero was narrowed even though the City Council had passed all kinds of developments increasing traffic on that corridor. The only ways out of the neighborhood for Greenacres II is Maybell and Arastradero, both affected by the proposed high-density development at that critical juncture.
You keep trying to flog this idea that there will be greater traffic from a hypothetical low-density development under the existing low-density zoning than under the high-density rezoning that puts 3 times the density on the market-rate portion (more than half the property) and 4 times the density in the 50-foot highrise on the low-income rental apartment portion. Or that living with the height, parking, density, daylight plane, and setback restrictions will somehow be worse than violating them all by many times. By the way, the wider neighborhood will be affected when the overflow parking ends up taking all the street parking by the park, the school, the rehab program for the disabled, and our homes. Making all of your neighbors have to stare at a big parking lot of cars from a plan that has only 36 parking spots for the residents of a 60 unit development isn't very nice, either. Especially since all the parking on Maybell will be forbidden under this plan during the day so the low-income residents of Arastradero Park Apartments have to move their overflow cars into the neighborhood, too.
You just spent a lot of time trying to convince everyone that no one in the neighborhood would even see a 50-foot high-density building, now you want me to believe it's going to be so much worse if a low-density development at half the height, and with all the appropriate setbacks, density, parking, and other restrictions of existing zoning went in? Well, you don't have to worry about it for a number of reasons anyway.
If people vote AGAINST Measure D, and they prevail, there will be an initiative to turn the orchard into a heritage park, accessible to all children, including the disabled children in the 3 programs across the street.
That is, of course, unless PAHC decides to get some sense and propose a more reasonable development at that site, and build just the affordable senior apartments within the existing zoning, which they very well may if the City is forced to give up on this high-density scheme. In which case neighbors would probably defer to it unless they've gotten really far with the heritage orchard plan initiative by then. This has happened in Palo Alto, where neighbors got fed up and kept a parcel from being overdeveloped by initiative to parkland.
If that somehow fails, there is little thing called the comprehensive plan. If Measure D fails and you aren't working so hard to ignore all the many ways the overdevelopment of that parcel is incompatible with the comprehensive plan, you will realize that there is recourse to prevent an inconsistent development under the Subdivision Map Act. In order to put the high-density portion of that development there, as well as to put anything market-rate there under a hypothetical market development situation for the whole property, it has to be subdivided. Any subdivision has to comply with the Subdivision Map Act, even charter cities'.
Since this is not about rejecting affordable housing, but rejecting the overdevelopment of that parcel, don't worry, the many thousands who signed both of those referendum petitions (it wasn't an identical list for both, by the way) will continue to be active to ensure that parcel is not abusively developed. Remember, there is 6 months to collect signatures for initiatives, not just 30 days, as neighbors accomplished for the 2 referenda (actually, one of them was like 10 days, wasn't it?)