Council rejects appeal of modernist building
Original post made
on Dec 10, 2013
The City Council on Monday shot down an appeal of a modernist development at 240 Hamilton Ave. in Palo Alto that appellant Doug Smith said was incompatible with the historic buildings surrounding it.
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posted Tuesday, December 10, 2013, 9:59 AM
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Posted by Citizen Doh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:41 pm
Unfortunately, in charter cities, the protections are not as strong in regards to suing if cities don't follow the Comprehensive Plan. There are protections, but it's not like with other cities where, for example, a spot zone (as was planned at Maybell) is absolutely illegal and could be overturned in court.
However, charter cities can have their own provisions in their own code to give residents of the charter cities the same rights. Palo Alto citizens just have to get City Council to insert such protection in city code, as I believe the majority of Charter Cities have. Barring that (pigs flying), Palo Altans can put together an initiative to accomplish the same thing. (A referendum lets you set aside an action of the City, an initiative lets you make one, basically.)
With a referendum, you have only 30 days after an ordinance is approved to collect signatures, and you can't start early. With an initiative, you have six months to get the requisite signatures. By the way, you are not forcing an election, when you qualify a referendum or initiative, the City Council can then choose to just do whatever it is the citizens want OR they can put it to the voters, and they can choose to schedule it into the future for the cheapest election. If you start now, you will have the initiative qualified just before the next City Council race, meaning, you can get the issue debated by the candidates, and hold City Council accountable if they put the initiative to vote rather than just adopting it.
Ask the City Clerk for the instructions on how to sponsor an initiative. After Maybell, there are any number of residents who could tell you how to do it, too. The people who did the Maybell referendum were just ordinary people from the neighborhood. Look at the code of other charter cities like ours that require cities to follow their comprehensive plans. Have a government law firm check over your work (that will cost a little, but if you do it well, you may be able to get help from the Maybell folks to raise the money paloaltoville.com, it costs about $1,000 if the work is simple and you've done your job. Then collect signatures!
The caveat is that in Palo Alto, the City Attorney gets to write the ballot, which is a conflict of interest since referenda and initiatives are generally to set aside some action of the City. In San Francisco, they have an impartial ballot committee that holds a public process with both sides. So for example, with San Francisco's Measure C which was almost the same as the Maybell decision, their ballot question asked whether the developer could exceed the height limit by 80 feet. Our City Attorney structured ours to basically ask people whether they like seniors or not. As resounding a victory as the residents got for Maybell, 56 to 44, in SF the split was 67 to 33. This tells me the City Attorney could kill your chances of getting such an initiative through by biasing the ballot.
Take heart, though, someone might do an initiative to give Palo Alto a similar impartial ballot committee as San Francisco. SF is also a charter city, and their code regarding the "ballot simplification committee" is short and simple. They have been doing it for 30 years and have all the kinks worked out. I think getting an impartial ballot committee for Palo Alto will give residents a much better shot at being heard in the future, as Council will want to listen rather than be forced into acting through referendum and initiative. It will certainly give winning an initiative as we are discussing here, or Bob Moss's initiative restricting PC zoning, a much better chance.
Someone could put together a referendum to over turn the approval of this building, too. I'm not sure the architectural style would be enough to make it worthwhile, but the issue of using the mezzanine -- but I think the best chance on something like this is if we get an impartial ballot.
Also contact the Maybell people for names of land use attorneys, we are blessed with some good ones in this town.
You can fight City Hall! (Please do.)