Maybell neighbors launch campaign
Original post made
by grassroots, Green Acres,
on Aug 28, 2013
Well, given how completely grassroots this is, I may as well announce this here as anywhere else!
The neighbors who live near the Maybell orchard have qualified a referendum for the ballot, Measure D, which will be voted on November 5. They are a completely volunteer group of parents, seniors, and concerned neighbors, who want to see developments in the residential neighborhood respect the zoning (or even just close to it), and for development to put the safety of kids first.
The other side, of course, is well-funded and has already hired a political campaign consultant to run their campaign. Neighbors have been passing the hat at informal meetings. But now, at least, they have a real campaign fund, overseen by Timothy Gray and complying with fair elections practices. Now they need some funds!
One of the most important and most urgent matters they are facing is the need to ensure an impartial ballot. When citizens want to fight City Hall, they have the democratic check and balance of bringing matters to the vote through referendum or initiative. Unfortunately, as they have discovered, even when the City is a party to the dispute - as they often are for any referendum - the City gets to write the ballot question and "impartial analysis".
How can that be? That Cities, as parties to these conflicts, get to control what goes to the voters as "impartial"? How can an election be fair when even the question voters are asked can be biased (as we believe it is here)?
Maybell neighbors want to ensure the impartiality of the ballot, but it turns out there is no explicit process short of hiring an elections firm and file in court to have a judge decide.
It also turns out that there is very little time to do this, just 10 days, and lacking any budget, a few neighbors spent much of that time trying to just express their concerns and work things out with the City themselves, to no avail. If they are going to file, they must do so by tomorrow or Friday, and the legal time is expensive.
Please consider contributing to the No Rezone Maybell campaign. If you wish to help neighbors ensure the fairness and impartiality of the ballot, please include a note to that effect and donate soon!
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 29, 2013 at 1:38 am
Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.
I am a resident of Barron Park and I support Yes on D, to enable affordable senior housing and 12 market rate single-family homes. I know many people in this neighborhood who also support this project. Yes, there is a lot of people here who are bent out of shape about it, but this sentiment is not unanimous. Further, I hope that project opposition will diminish as people move past the hype and learn more facts. To that end, here's my take on some of this, but it is late so I won't spend a lot of time editing my comments from other threads.
1) Residents are concerned about the size of the development and its traffic impacts on Maybell. But if project opponents defeat measure D, then the development permitted under current zoning is likely to have a much larger traffic impact.
Here are the facts about the current zoning: The larger 1.84 acre portion of the Maybell/Clemo site is zoned RM-15, which means 15 "units" per acre of multifamily residential. Multifamily means apartments. So on that part of the site alone, 1.84 acres * 15 units/acre = 27 units (up to 37 if a certain percentage are low income). Applying the existing zoning to that site, with a bit of rudimentary geometry & math, shows that it is imminently doable to fit 27 appartments within the allowed area, setbacks, height, and daylight plane. Further, the allowable total floor area is 40,075 sq.ft., divided by 27 units gives 1,484 sq.ft. per apartment (including common areas), which is comparable to my house of 1,500 sq.ft. (including the garage) with 3.5 bedrooms.
So what do you think will generate more traffic: 60 tiny one-bedroom apartments for low-income seniors, or 27 large three- or four-bedroom apartments for families?
(One can find the zoning details for RM 15 at Web Link and, more concisely and to the point, this table Web Link which applies to section 18-13-040. The dimensions of the lots in question can be found on the santa clara county assessors map, downloaded in pdf from Web Link. My calculations pertain to lot #109, which is listed to be 1.84 acres == 80,150.4 sq.ft.)
2) Not all "units" are created equal. Zoning refers to housing "units", not bedrooms, which are a more accurate barrometer of how many people might actually live in a home. So a tiny 600 sq.ft, 1-bedroom apartment is called a "unit", but so is a large, 1,400 sq.ft 4-bedroom apartment. The PAHC proposal permitted by Measure D will have 61 bedrooms in the senior unit, combined with 12 houses at ~3.5 bedrooms each give about 103 bedrooms in the PAHC proposal. Under existing zoning, the two sites can accomodate 34-45 units, so let's conservatively say 34 units at 3.5 bedrooms, that's 119 bedrooms, or 16% more bedrooms under current zoning, than what would be allowed by measure D.
3) Since anonymous posters complain of the density of 60 one-bedroom units on 1.1 acres, it is only fair to point out that, of the 1.84 acres currently zoned as RM-15, 40% is essentially down-zoned to R-2 and road under measure D. That's how Measure D gives us houses on Clemo instead of an apartment building.
4) The portion with four ranch homes along Maybell is currently zoned R-2, which permits two housing units on each lot, so even under current zoning it appears 8 homes would be permitted on those 4 lots. Measure D would have 7 houses on Maybell, with part of the higher RM-15 zone given over to the single-family Maybell lots.
5) Anonymous posters have misleadingly characterized the senior apartment building as being "in the middle of an R-1 neighborhood". It is in fact jammed into the corner of the large lot furthest from the R1, immediately next to an existing 8-story apartment building and a row of 3-story apartment buildings.
6) The so called "50-foot building" is actually a mostly 45-foot building with a tiny part, the top of the elevator shaft, if I recall correctly, at 50'. The wing closest to the R1 areas is actually less than 45', at only 1.5 & 3 stories. (Early plans with drawings [incl. the originally 15 houses which Council later limited to 12 in response to residents' concerns] can be seen in the PTC staff report, see for instance, page 5 of Web Link)
7) People concerned about government spending on social needs may appreciate this project's innovative funding mechanisms to use market forces to pay for affordable housing. The independent non-profit Palo Alto Housing Corporation (PAHC), bought the property, and plans to sell a sizable chunk of that property to a private developer to build market-rate homes. This will pay for a big chunk of the cost of the project, and significantly eliminates the need of direct government funding to address this social need. While the city did loan PAHC money to purchase the property, keep in mind that this is a loan and will be paid back. Further, the project is designed to be financially self-sufficient, paying for the mortgage, maintenance and senior services through the rent paid by resident seniors. The low income units will subsidize the ultra-low income units. So, the only on-going government subsidy, if any, might be a reduced property tax collected from the senior portion of the site, assuming such a reduction is planned (Some say it is, I don't know if it is or not).
The affordable senior project can not pay for itself without the 12 market rate houses to defray the cost. If there were only 45 units not 60 (to fit within current zoning), there would not be enough low-income units to subsidize the ultra-low income units, the economies of scale would not exist, and the project would not be viable.
8) While in general it may be a good idea to mix income levels throughout a community, it makes sense to group affordable senior housing together in one building, so that resources like visiting nurses, shuttles to shopping/doctors, community rooms, a community of peers, and other services can be shared. Here there is the opportunity that seniors could get involved with the school nearby for great inter-generational activities.
I am a private citizen, a resident of this neighborhood, and I am neither paid nor coerced to support this great project which will have a less impact on the neighborhood than what is likely under current zoning. My support for this project stems from an ethic of helping those in need. My commitment to truth and accuracy drive me to speak up because of all the misinformation promulgated by anonymous posters. I post under my real name because I am proud to speak truthfully and politely.
I hope Palo Alto will join me in voting Yes on D.
Posted by A neighbor and parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 29, 2013 at 10:25 am
"But if project opponents defeat measure D, then the development permitted under current zoning is likely to have a much larger traffic impact."
There are so many reasons their claim is UNTRUE, but let's start with a few:
1) If PAHC decides to sell the property, by virtue of the $7.3 million loan contracts the City entered into to buy the property, it has first right of refusal and can pass through the property with whatever deed restrictions are necessary to ensure no burdensome or unsafe development takes place there.
Given the enormous disclosure already placed IN THE PROPERTY RECORD regarding safety, the City would be negligent not to do the traffic safety analysis for the schoolchildren that they refused to do in favor of pushing this rezoning through, and to place restrictions on any burdensome land use there. The City already faces a $17 million dollar lawsuit because of a claim that "a substantial factor that contributed to this incident is the City of Palo Alto's negligent design, construction, maintenance, signing, operation and control of the roadways,"
Even if the City doesn't think it owes the "heightened scrutiny" of developments on school commute routes their own policy promises, it at least owes the taxpayers some attention to reducing the serious liability they would incur by ignoring this duty.
2) Given neighborhood volunteers qualified TWO referenda for this, one in just 10 days, with 8,000 signatures between them and the first referendum to qualify in 10 years, managed to get two independent traffic analyses of the traffic report, unearthed the $7.3 million in loans (when the City had disclosed only $5.8million), the City verifying the zoning for PAHC more than a month before it would have been valid at a minimum, and conflicts of interest, some neighbors filing a CEQA suit -- believe me now when I say, the neighborhood not only has recourse, but will hold the City accountable for ensuring anything that goes there be safer and better, should the high-density land use be rejected.
3) Some neighbors concerned about the environment and quality of life in Palo Alto have launched an effort to preserve the historic orchard with 100 established trees at the property now. If PAHC chooses not to build there, or the City chooses not to commit the funds necessary to actually pay for the housing there (as opposed to foisting the costs onto the neighborhood through the rezoning/measure), that group already has an alternative plan for a community orchard/small community center/science and learning center for the kids. That neighborhood has none of the community assets of any other part of town. The only asset is Juana Briones Park, which would be an electrical substation if the City had its way and neighbors hadn't protested and gotten it moved nearer to El Camino.
4) Should the property be sold for development, even if the City is completely negligent about its responsibility to safety and neighbors somehow suddenly fall asleep after showing historic levels of participation, developers are going to maximize their profits, not maximize units at the expense of profits. More units in an expensive residential neigbhorhood like that means more materials costs, labor, environmental review from subdividing, turning over units to the BMR program or paying in lieu fees, etc. In this neighborhood, the price homes fetch isn't linearly related to square footage. Going from a 1500 sq ft home to a 2,000 or 2,500 sq ft home is a huge jump in resale/profit. Greenacres tends to have very little turnover anyway, but when those larger homes do sell, they tend to go for $2million - $3 million, sometimes more, especially new or remodeled ones.
An old 1500 sq ft home on a flag lot at Maybell went for about $1.65million in 2013. That's about the limit for that square footage. But that homeowner can expand, anyone in tall skinny densely packed homes on the orchard property could not. There would be a limit to what a developer would make on smaller homes and the building costs would be higher (more bathrooms and kitchens). Building 2,000 sq ft homes or larger would net a jump in prices over $2million each. The maximum profit in that area is larger homes over 2,000 sq ft.
The single biggest influence on resale in that area is proximity to Gunn High School and the other schools. The demand is by families, and comfortable homes for families with some space go at a premium. Any builder would be going for that market because they would have the best profit and most guaranteed buyers. Large homes doesn't mean more bedrooms, it means a lot more money for the builder for the same sized family (and lesser traffic impacts).
5) The specifics of the rezoned development plan put much of the traffic onto Maybell, an overburdened street of substandard width that doesn't even have space for one full-width bike lane or sidewalk on either side of the street. The design was often dictated by their funding scheme and tax credit application scoring system. If the Maybell property had a community orchard on it, obviously, there would be fewer traffic impacts. If it had even two dozen houses on it (which is only a net of 12 over the 12 densely packed market-rate houses in the plan now), the traffic could all be routed onto Clemo and Arastradero, with a light placed there (and tied together with the light at Coulomb to minimize delays). It eliminates any traffic from the development at all being routed onto Maybell.
6) A market developer may not even demolish the existing, perfectly good 4 ranch houses -- it's cheaper to renovate, they are already over 2,000 sq ft each (if the record is correct), and the houses are actually bigger as is than they could be if under the current zoning if they were demolished.