It's never over until it's over--Alma Plaza Part 76:
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by Not so fast, Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jun 22, 2007
To paraphrase Al Pacino in The Godfather II
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Posted by Jeremy Loski
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 22, 2007 at 2:34 pm
What's new? Here we have residential activists insisting on a retail mix that _not one_ of them is going to make an investment in. It's absurd.
I've been praising this City Council for its focus in other areas - including settling certain development efforts in shorter times than has been our habit in this process bound municipality.
What's especially troubling about the most recent Alma Plaza tweak is the weakness of the arguments that support it, and the fantastic ignorance (which, as opposed to stupidity, is correctable) displayed about the realities of what it takes to run a _sustainable_ retail establishment in this city.
Beginning with LaDoris Cordell's rationale "I would like to see it embody what the community wanted", while completely disregarding the reality of a "stuck" retail scene here. Lately, Councilwoman Cordell has been backing up her decisions with a soft-sell populist blather that she must think will keep her from being controversial in her last few months of office. This is disappointing from someone who purports (and personally touts) coming from the "Bench", and looking carefully at both sides of an issue. The latter has been sadly missing in much of Councilwoman Cordell's recent grandstanding and somewhat pandering decision-making.
If Ms. Cordell was so concerned about goving community members what they want, then why hasn't she been front and center about helping to create a rational retail base here in PA - one that doesn't result in the kind of retail churn that, over time, tears the heart and soul out of retail longevity and sustainability.
It appears as if Ms. Cordell and - in this case - six other Council members believe that policy-making interference is OK at the long-drawn-out beginning of these nightmare projects (from the developer's perspective), but that rational, after-the-fact control of retail balance once something has been built, is not important. This is most unfortunate, and short-sighted.
For instance, the California Ave. community wants a better retail mix on California Ave., but do we see Ms. Cordell or others suggesting anything to re-balance retail mix there, so that merchants who put out hard cash investments have a fighting chance at longevity? Answer: "NO".
Instead, we hear hand-wringing and put up with delay after delay because a few dozen persistent residents think they know better than the people (developers) who have put up the cash, and taken the risk, and somehow convince
What I would like to see is some hard talkback to small interest groups from City Council on these development issues. Where is the leadership on 'this' issue. Maybe we're getting to close to election time for policy makers to take risks that would alienate several dozen voters, and keep their endorsed favorites from winning - who knows?
Our city and future residents are having their taxpayer and consumer/renter cash outlay revenue _wasted_ by those Council members and never-say-die neighborhood activists, who think they understand development and retail, but in reality don't have a clue.
I have been to many community development meetings, where the same old group of neighborhood, anti-development activists show up, even if the neighborhood in question is across the city from their own, respective neighborhoods. What is that, other than "people-with-too-much-time-on-their hands, or just hobby-horse politics? It's a sad legacy to leave to future Palo Altans, that our policy-makers would listen to the constant whining-about-things-they-don't-understand-and-haven't themselves-taken-a-real-risk-in groups, and then go on to include what comes from that whining in their policy-making.
Right now, McNellis is working on ways to sell whatever he does end up building at that site at the high end of the range, or just over the high end of the range.
Right now, McNellis is looking for ways to cut corners in labor and material quality to make up for the extra carrying costs brough about by unnecessary delay.
Who will benefit from that?
Who will benefit from placing retail in interior spaces?
Note to neighborhood-activists-that-don't-shop-local-anyway (I know, believe me), and our CIty Council: "RETAIL IS ABOUT LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION". If anyone doubts that, take a ride over the the corner of California and Park, where the current Jade Palace restaurant is, or over the the interior retail courtways in Carmel, and Los Altos. Do a retail churn analysis of those spaces. Any walk to neighborhood retail centers easily show the faiilures, one after another - of retail placed in these locations. Learn a few things.
I'm disappointed in Larry Klien and the six others who voted with him, asking that banking, retaurant and retail ne placed in the _interior_ spaces of the proposed development. What are these people thinking?
City Council members voting for these changes, praised by "Len Filppu, a resident of South Palo Alto and a member of the Friends of Alma Plaza...who...said the council's decision reflects his group's wishes". Will Mr. Fillipu share the risk of the small mom-and-pops that plunk their hard earned inventment cash down on retail shops that begin at a disadvantage, from day one, because they are not in a front-facing location? Of course not.
Are Mr. Fillipu, Doug Moran, and Council member Cordell going to be present to protect and advise small, hopes-full-of-dreams-first-time-retailers (even experienced retailers) from the mostly cynical property agents that represent the developer, promising "location", but delivering nothing except the monthly lessee bill?
Mr. Fillipu, like other activists such as Doug Moran want to stick their $.02 into decisions for _their_convenience, instead of thinking about the pain their misguided meddling will cause to well-meaning and hard-working retailers down the road. That's ALL they invest, a measly $.02 of ignorant-about-the-realities-of-commercial-development-and-retail opinions. A sad legacy, indeed.
Just a measly $.02, NOT the millions or hundreds of thousands that the _real_ risk takers in most developments (the developers, future housing residents, and retail/office lessees).
Will the likes of Ken Fillipu, Doug Moran, or La Doris Cordell share the pain and the loss of current revenue (not to mention increased carrying and end-product costs) that they are causing present and future members of our residential and commercial community? Of course not. They'll all be off on whtever their next self-serving personal campaigns are.
Will any of the above help future residents of the housing properties built at Alma help future residents with their housing repair bills down the road, as they occur earlier than the average household due to the use of less-than-the-best materials? Of course not; they'll be long gone.
From the Daily piece: "The council also tried to leave some measure of flexibility for further review by city commissions. The new ordinance permits the square footage of the three buildings to be reconfigured later into a smaller number of larger buildings, if so desired by the city's Planning and Transportation Commission or the Architectural Review Board."
This is absurd, and fully representative ofo why this city fails to attract REAL investment. What person in his or her right mind, wanting to enter a cooperative win-in development with our policy-makers, even think about doing so.
Municipalities area kind of political species; some thrive, others don't do so well.
Palo Alto will not go to hell in a hand basket; the nature of our incoming demographic almost guarantees that. That said, what Palo Alto will suffer from in the future are the enormous opportunity costs (that result in REAL comparative loss) that leak out little-by-little as one optimal decision after another has been delayed because policy-makers were not bold enough to say "enough, let's move on" with _courage and conviction_ in their decisions.
Again, this Council is the best we've seen in years, but it MUST get a reality check on development here, including proactive business development (missing in action in our city, due to a structural (not personnel) flaw in City Hall operational structure).
So, McNellis will wait, commissions with meander, the most radical neighborhood activists will have had their dysfunctional behavior reinforced once again (Phil Zimbardo, Palo Alto needs you), and all the while construction inflation will rise as dependably as our ever-present star, the Sun, burning away the _optimal_ conditions and dollars that would not have been lost if Palo Alto had only learned how to _adapt_.
Yes, we're a great city; what's most disturbing is that a few hundred people (at most) have been given too much power, resulting in a _cost_ to those that follow them. But why should the former worry? They'll be gone, as others bear the burden of their misguided ignorance.