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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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Deny the 429 Univ Ave Project Appeal

Uploaded: Mar 28, 2015
Kudos to the council for accepting Pat Burt's proposal to have staff explore options for metering near term office development. Although I am skeptical that a cap is a good idea, I am sure we all will learn more from the process. I am especially pleased that the council acted with restraint given that night's public comments calling for more drastic and quicker action in the absence of gathering ideas and information.

I encourage the council to continue this careful process and deny the pending appeal of the proposed project at 429 University and not pull it from the consent calendar. I have reviewed the Planning Director's recommendation and attended the final ARB hearing on the project. My understanding is that the proposal meets the legal requirements of the City for redevelopment on that site. In addition the project applicant made several design changes suggested by the ARB.

There are always projects that one or another of us would like to have been done a different way. But resident dissatisfaction with a project that followed the rules is not a good basis for overturning the recommendations of a lengthy and open process. To do so without evidence of a massive mistake in the process would encourage even more appeals of rule abiding projects.

While it may be tempting to pull it from the consent calendar, the council has a very extensive schedule in the coming weeks with the continuation of the development cap/metering proposal, the Buena Vista hearing, input of the Comp Plan summit and process, further discussion of 441 Page Mill, the retail conversion hearings and probably some that I have overlooked.

I believe that issues with regard to the Kipling/University intersection should be addressed but not as a way to delay or deny approval of the 429 project. The opening of the Varsity site to a seemingly very successful café and meeting place and the new restaurant across from 429 merit a rethinking of this intersection but not primarily from anything to do with the 429 project.

Three ideas come to my mind. One is to make Kipling one way. Another is to put a barrier on Kipling right past the 429 and restaurant site so through traffic and parking is blocked. The third is to remove the parking spaces on Kipling adjacent to 429 and the new restaurant.

The applicant has followed the rules, gone through an extensive process, made design changes and received the recommendation of the ARB and Planning Director. Please deny the appeal.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Mar 29, 2015 at 10:46 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Here is the link to the staff report on the appeal

[Web Link ]

Below is some language from the staff report.

Staff recommends that Council uphold the Director?s determination on the consent calendar.

The Architectural Review Board (ARB) recommended approval of the project on a 4-0-0-1 vote after three public hearings. The Director of Planning and Community Environment conditionally approved the project and the environmental document on February 25, 2015. The Director?s determination reflects the ARB?s recommendation, but includes an additional condition requiring a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan for the commercial component of the project.

Posted by anon, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Mar 29, 2015 at 5:18 pm

[mostly deleted] The blog is about the appeal of a project and the deleted post did not mention the appeal. If the poster wishes to discuss the appeal, please post again.

Below is the one sentence not deleted.

"Mr. Levy's position now appears to be pro office development, period!"

I do support this project but also support more housing and infrastructure investments in parks, transportation and public safety.

I wonder if the poster considers the city council "pro office development period" as they just unanimously asked staff to consider a metering of 50,000 square feet a year excluding the research park and possibly offices for non profit organizations.

Posted by Counterclockwise, a resident of University South,
on Mar 29, 2015 at 5:49 pm

You can save your verbiage, sir. The cc always denies citizen appeals, regardless of the egregiousness of the offense.

You should instead be remonstrating against the waste of city resources with this repetitive kabuki theater.

Posted by resident, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 30, 2015 at 9:59 am

That the ARB approved an oversized underparked project is hardly news.

And that Steve Levy likes an oversized underparked project is not news.

(portion deleted)

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Mar 30, 2015 at 10:10 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

The point is it should not matter whether I "like" the project or not. That is why we have rules and process. This project passed all the rules and had a long open process.

It should not be overturned because some residents do not "like" the project.

Both the parking and project size have been evaluated and found compliant with existing rules.

So far I have not heard any mistake made by the ARB or Planning Director that merits overturning the rights of the applicant simply because some do not like the outcome.

Posted by Slow Down, a resident of Community Center,
on Mar 30, 2015 at 11:39 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

When you don't like something, there is nothing wrong with changing the rules.

There is probably no cause to stop this project at this point, but there needs to be a serious examination of the loopholes that allow them to underpark the building by ~40 spots. There would be nothing wrong with changing the height limit going forward to two stories downtown.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Mar 30, 2015 at 12:39 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ slow down

reexamining rules and review processes for future projects is within the ability of the city council as long as the proposed changes are legal.

The city council is currently examining new rules for retail projects and an office development metering proposal.

thanks for acknowledging that it is not good practice to change the rules retroactively.

Posted by Neilson Buchanan, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 31, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Steve, there is an elephant in the room. The appeal process does and will not address under-parked development. The Council will follow the advice of the City Attorney and ignore the laws of physics. Consequently, there will be more and more developments which clearly add to University Ave commercial care parking deficits. This is undeniable fact.

The appeal process is the only way that negative parking impact could see the light of day. City policy for appeals assures that parking deficit wont see light of day.

The law of intended consequences reigns. Classic Catch 22.

The Council is now in the "final" 11 months of its ambiguous search for a residential permit parking program. This program is now re-scheduled for design/trial period April 2015 thru March 1, 2016. The real parking fix for Univ Ave neighborhoods is Spring 2016 at the earliest.

The appeal process as summarized by Steve Levy promotes commercial parking deficits and commercial parking intrusion into neighborhoods. Nobody can deny that cumulative parking deficits push more and more non-resident parked vehicles into residential neighborhoods.

When will the current Council address the Comp Plan which states that city policy encourages commerce but not at the expense of residential neighborhoods? Common sense and sense of community are melting down in front of our eyes.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Mar 31, 2015 at 12:19 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Neilson for your post.

Yes parking is a concern in your neighborhood and I support the RPP and applaud your efforts.

The applicant at 429 University followed the rules in regard to parking spaces on site and in lieu payments. It is not her fault if the city has not addressed parking capacity more rapidly. The rules allow in lieu payments.

The implication that the city does not see "the light of day" re parking issues downtown is demonstrably false as you well now as you have made the city staff well aware with your diligent work.

I do not remember you raising objections or suggesting an appeal when the cafe across the street was planned--a cafe with many more daily visitors than the 429 property will have.

The appeal is simply unfair and the existence of parking challenges cannot be solved by reckless challenges against proposals that follow the rules.

I am sorry the RPP process is delayed. However, in now way is this the fault of the 429 applicant just as it is not her fault if it is taking time to build new garages downtown.

It is fine to be upset but not okay with me at least to take one's frustration out with this appeal. The applicant is not at fault here.

Posted by Don't just watch the train wreck, a resident of Gunn High School,
on Mar 31, 2015 at 2:43 pm

If you see a train wreck about to happen and can change to outcome, you should. We are stuck for decades with every outcome of a lackluster proces (portion deleted) No parking - no build. Destroy local businesses for the sake of national chains - no build. (Portion deleted-- did not speak to the appeal.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 31, 2015 at 4:49 pm

We patronized both Lululemon and Vans last weekend...

Posted by K, a resident of University South,
on Apr 2, 2015 at 3:00 am

As a citizen of this community, I wholeheartedly support the appeal. Please do not deny the appeal. Thank you.

Posted by agree-no more wrecks, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 2, 2015 at 7:26 am

(Portion deleted-- not related to this appeal.

.Now with a new Council they need to draw that line in the sand for all the reasons cited in the appeal of 429 Univ. But just the potential for a possible dewatering of the site should take this and all basement excavations off the table in this critical drought situation.

Posted by A View from MView, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Apr 2, 2015 at 8:05 am

Somehow this Palo Alto story is present in the page, with no mention of the city of PA. Confusing.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Apr 3, 2015 at 10:03 am

Good article concerning this property in the Dailey News.

The whole concept of having apartments along with commercial space and business space in one building I think is a very bad idea. It compromises the security of all of the entities' that are housed there. Housing units need to be secure without people on the property at all times for other purposes. Same for businesses. This design is mixing on the third floor.

I am noting in the papers the "police blotter" section is growing with break-ins, stolen property, and some assault cases. And those are in the busy downtown area as well as the residential areas.

The design is ugly, the parking insufficient. Why is the city buying in to this type set-up? Somehow the direction the city is going with mixed use is suggesting a major security issue and we have enough problems in that area as we increase the population. It is especially noted that the businesses we are attracting are super sensitive to controlling the security of their product development.

Posted by like it, a resident of Professorville,
on Apr 3, 2015 at 11:21 am

I like the building actually. I like that it combines retail, office, and housing. This is how we need to build in the future if we want to have walkable neighborhoods. This is what we need so that people aren't constantly driving everywhere and creating traffic. I just wish the project was more housing-heavy. This building isn't "underparked" - not according to the law. They law only requires 35 spaces here and they're putting in 40. If you don't like the law, then you can go get the law changed, but you can't be punishing people for doing the right thing- which is following the law.

Posted by Beverly Fields, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 3, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Instead of focusing on a project that has met the requirements for redevelopment, I think the City?s and resident?s time would be better spent in trying to solve the homeless problem in Downtown Palo Alto. The VTA and Cal Train Stations, the City parking garages, and numerous office and retail buildings in Downtown Palo Alto are having serious problems with this issue. Parking Lot R is now the home of several homeless people who cook, bathe, sleep, drink alcohol, do drugs, expose themselves, and urinate and defecate wherever they feel like in this lot, which is a serious public health issue. We have clients who said they are afraid to park there.

We have heard from countless office and retail users that this population has taken up residency in stairwells, alcoves, bushes and garbage enclosures at their buildings in Downtown Palo Alto. Many of their employees have been harassed or threatened by these people when they arrive to work in the morning. When we have called the Police Department to report these incidents we have been told there is nothing they can do about it. The City needs to provide guidance and tools to our police to help enforce this serious issue.

If this continues I don?t think that worrying about a project for a beautiful building with many positive elements to enhance the Downtown corridor will be an issue because there will not be any potential tenants interested in locating Downtown because of its new image.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Apr 3, 2015 at 6:21 pm

Beverly - residents will require security - they cannot have homeless people lurking around at night, along with people in businesses who will be working 24 hours. If you assume people will be going home at a reasonable hour in a hi-tech operation then you are wrong. All businesses typically require some type of security measures to prevent people on -site who do not belong there. This is mixing residents, their guests and visitors, and miscellaneous business people in an area that you have indicated is risky.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Apr 3, 2015 at 6:51 pm

When someone says retail I think a cute restaurant on the ground floor. If this is a cafeteria then what is the retail suppose to be? A Starbucks?
The cafeteria is for the business people - not the people walking up and down the street. If the "retail" is really about the business then that is a very foolish decision on the part of the city. You are putting a building on the main street that serves no purpose for other then the businesses.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Apr 4, 2015 at 12:40 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

This was posted on the other thread on the appeal by a poster named "good faith and respect". I like the thought and wanted to share it here--SL

"Central Paris is almost entirely four-story buildings with parks and monuments - no setbacks, just continuous building facades. Paris is a beautiful city. I think Palo Alto could do worse than to aspire to be Paris.

The building at this site is fine. But it's hardly the equivalent of central Paris. And Palo Alto is also full of five, eight, and ten story buildings that were built in the 30s, 60s, and 70s before it became illegal. Today, those are as defining of the character of downtown Palo Alto as the others. I'm not saying we should build more ten-story buildings downtown by any means - I'm just saying you have to look at the context of the whole neighborhood.

Downtown is not Barron Park, and we shouldn't be trying to turn it into Barron Park. Most of the residents of downtown live in buildings that are four stories or higher. Just as we aren't putting four-story buildings in Barron Park, we shouldn't require every building in downtown to be one or two stories. That not what the residents of downtown wantt. If you want that, you can get that anywhere else in Palo Alto.

But the key thing is that Palo Alto has a code and this building followed it. We shouldnt change the rules of the game at the eleventh hour when people are following those rules in good faith."

Posted by Elizabeth Wong, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 1, 2015 at 5:10 pm

My family owns 429 University Ave and we would appreciate your support for 429 University Ave. This project has been submitted to the City and ARB nine times over the course of 2+ years. The appellant has been heard at each meeting and many changes have been implemented to accommodate him with no avail.

I am American, I am Palo Altan, I followed all the rules. Our project should not be singled out when the City approved other similar projects in downtown Palo Alto. If you would like to see a different downtown, then change the codes and the rules so other projects will not have to go through this appeal ordeal. We followed the existing rules; you cannot change the rules after the game has been played.

I would appreciate your support. Please email and the city planner at as soon as possible. I can get a copy of the email from the City and will thank you personally via email.

Have a great weekend!

Posted by larry, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 4, 2015 at 8:00 am

Most of the residents of downtown live in buildings that are four stories or higher.?? I question this- give me the facts. What are you defining as downtown?
This project is not what we want in downtown palo alto. The allowing of the parking exception is a huge mistake-correct it. Stop this type of parking exception now.

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 6, 2015 at 10:37 am

I agree with you here, Steve.

I think more can be done, however, to optimize the plans for 429 Uni, 437 Lytton (at Kipling), 500 Uni and The Varsity to possibly establish a Kipling Pedestrian Mall.

I would further under-park 429 Uni to eliminate the underground parking (that as it stands will exit onto Kipling via the alley). My understanding is that the applicants wanted to to this, and pay in lieu, but staff talked them out of it. (And isn't it also true that another controversial building, at Lytton and Alma, the applicant says that staff early on talked them out of things that council later said would have helped the approval process?)

I think the applicants here are being scapegoated.

And by the way, I believe in a Downtown Cap and a moratorium; I think this projected fits below the Cap and before the moratorium should kick in.

Any by the way, I think you did a good 3-minute version of this Monday night at Council. They should have listened!

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 6, 2015 at 10:50 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Mark.

Hope things are well with you.

Our big news is that we our son and daughter-in-law are expecting their first child in the fall.

And I am hearing more music downtown when we walk. Hope there is more--moratorium or not.

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