News

Palo Alto may break 50-foot barrier for buildings

City considers changing height limit near rail stations to promote 'sustainable' development

Palo Alto, a city with a history of opposing high-rise developments and promoting the small, eclectic neighborhoods, is now reconsidering its 50-foot height limit for new buildings.

The City Council voted on Wednesday night to direct staff to take a fresh look at the limit -- a restriction long viewed as sacrosanct by neighborhood leaders and other opponents of bulky new developments. The council specified that staff should only consider easing the 40-year-old restriction in neighborhoods that are next to fixed-rail (i.e., Caltrain) stations.

The goal is to encourage new mixed-use projects near major transit corridors -- a strategy that city officials, regional planners and state legislators are increasingly promoting in hopes of reducing traffic and creating sustainable neighborhoods. Councilman Greg Scharff, who made the proposal to reconsider the 50-foot height limit, said reconsidering the "sacred cow" restriction would give the city some much needed flexibility in addressing Palo Alto's housing needs.

"I think if we are serious about transit-oriented development, we do need to have the flexibility to look at 50-foot height limits near fixed-rail stations, which is a very limited area," Scharff said. "I'm not saying we should definitely do it and go in that direction, but it's important to be flexible.

"It shouldn't be a sacred cow," he added.

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But Councilwoman Karen Holman, a former member of the Planning and Transportation Commission, opposed Scharff's proposal and reiterated her support for barring buildings taller than 50 feet, a restriction the City Council adopted in the early 1970s to stave off new office towers and other tall developments. Holman warned that easing the ban could lead to more exceptions and exacerbate the city's "incompatibility" issues.

"The 50-foot height limit has been one of the sacred cows," Holman said. "Once we start exceeding it or making exceptions to something, there tends to be a creep that starts happening."

Holman and Larry Klein were the only council members who opposed Scharff's direction to staff. The council voted 5-2, with Councilman Yiaway Yeh and Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa absent, to take a fresh look at building heights.

Height limit has been a hot topic around the city since at least the early 1970s, when Palo Alto voters rejected a proposed 11-story office tower north of University Avenue and a downtown hospital proposed by the Palo Alto Medical Clinic. The city's current Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted in 1998, states that the limit has been "respected in all new developments since it was adopted in the 1970s, only a few exceptions have been granted for architectural enhancements or seismic safety retrofits to non-complying buildings."

New developments that exceed this limit, including the Taube Koret Campus of Jewish Life (62 feet), the proposed expansion of the Stanford Hospital (135 feet) and the proposed expansions of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital (85 feet), have also been deeply scrutinized by planning commissioners, council members and the public at large. Some, including former Vice Mayor Jack Morton, have been extremely critical of the new developments, calling them too massive for the surrounding area.

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Mayor Pat Burt emphasized Wednesday that the council's decision doesn't outright scrap the city's height rule but merely gives staff direction to reconsider the restriction near major transit corridors. But Burt acknowledged that changing the city's long-standing policy could alarm many residents.

If restrictions are changed, the new limits would be very limited and restricted to areas next to rail stations, he said.

"We're not talking about the height of future Stanford Hospital all around this area or other break-outs from the 50-foot limit that would unduly alarm the community," Burt said.

In other business:

The height limit was one of many planning and land-use issues the council tackled at the Wednesday meeting, which focused on the Palo Alto's ongoing revision of its Comprehensive Plan -- the city's official land-use bible.

Responding to the recent surge of large residential developments along El Camino Real, the council unanimously agreed Wednesday not to rezone commercial sites for residential use, unless the proposed projects are mixed-use development.

The council also agreed to focus on sites within half a mile of transit stations for new developments. Council members also asked staff to evaluate potential sites within a quarter mile of El Camino Real that are well-served (or are likely to be well-served) by public transportation.

The city is seeking to identify potential new housing sites in order to meet a requirement from the Association of Bay Area Governments, a regional organization that allots "fair share" housing mandates to cities around the region. The organization asked Palo Alto to provide 2,860 units of housing, a number the council agreed is impossible for the city to meet.

The council agreed to take the "bottom-up" approach to address the ABAG mandate. This means identifying all of the city's potential sites for new housing and then submitting its housing inventory to the regional agency, even if the inventory fails to reach ABAG's number.

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Palo Alto may break 50-foot barrier for buildings

City considers changing height limit near rail stations to promote 'sustainable' development

by / Palo Alto Online

Uploaded: Fri, May 14, 2010, 4:30 pm
Updated: Mon, May 17, 2010, 8:31 am

Palo Alto, a city with a history of opposing high-rise developments and promoting the small, eclectic neighborhoods, is now reconsidering its 50-foot height limit for new buildings.

The City Council voted on Wednesday night to direct staff to take a fresh look at the limit -- a restriction long viewed as sacrosanct by neighborhood leaders and other opponents of bulky new developments. The council specified that staff should only consider easing the 40-year-old restriction in neighborhoods that are next to fixed-rail (i.e., Caltrain) stations.

The goal is to encourage new mixed-use projects near major transit corridors -- a strategy that city officials, regional planners and state legislators are increasingly promoting in hopes of reducing traffic and creating sustainable neighborhoods. Councilman Greg Scharff, who made the proposal to reconsider the 50-foot height limit, said reconsidering the "sacred cow" restriction would give the city some much needed flexibility in addressing Palo Alto's housing needs.

"I think if we are serious about transit-oriented development, we do need to have the flexibility to look at 50-foot height limits near fixed-rail stations, which is a very limited area," Scharff said. "I'm not saying we should definitely do it and go in that direction, but it's important to be flexible.

"It shouldn't be a sacred cow," he added.

But Councilwoman Karen Holman, a former member of the Planning and Transportation Commission, opposed Scharff's proposal and reiterated her support for barring buildings taller than 50 feet, a restriction the City Council adopted in the early 1970s to stave off new office towers and other tall developments. Holman warned that easing the ban could lead to more exceptions and exacerbate the city's "incompatibility" issues.

"The 50-foot height limit has been one of the sacred cows," Holman said. "Once we start exceeding it or making exceptions to something, there tends to be a creep that starts happening."

Holman and Larry Klein were the only council members who opposed Scharff's direction to staff. The council voted 5-2, with Councilman Yiaway Yeh and Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa absent, to take a fresh look at building heights.

Height limit has been a hot topic around the city since at least the early 1970s, when Palo Alto voters rejected a proposed 11-story office tower north of University Avenue and a downtown hospital proposed by the Palo Alto Medical Clinic. The city's current Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted in 1998, states that the limit has been "respected in all new developments since it was adopted in the 1970s, only a few exceptions have been granted for architectural enhancements or seismic safety retrofits to non-complying buildings."

New developments that exceed this limit, including the Taube Koret Campus of Jewish Life (62 feet), the proposed expansion of the Stanford Hospital (135 feet) and the proposed expansions of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital (85 feet), have also been deeply scrutinized by planning commissioners, council members and the public at large. Some, including former Vice Mayor Jack Morton, have been extremely critical of the new developments, calling them too massive for the surrounding area.

Mayor Pat Burt emphasized Wednesday that the council's decision doesn't outright scrap the city's height rule but merely gives staff direction to reconsider the restriction near major transit corridors. But Burt acknowledged that changing the city's long-standing policy could alarm many residents.

If restrictions are changed, the new limits would be very limited and restricted to areas next to rail stations, he said.

"We're not talking about the height of future Stanford Hospital all around this area or other break-outs from the 50-foot limit that would unduly alarm the community," Burt said.

In other business:

The height limit was one of many planning and land-use issues the council tackled at the Wednesday meeting, which focused on the Palo Alto's ongoing revision of its Comprehensive Plan -- the city's official land-use bible.

Responding to the recent surge of large residential developments along El Camino Real, the council unanimously agreed Wednesday not to rezone commercial sites for residential use, unless the proposed projects are mixed-use development.

The council also agreed to focus on sites within half a mile of transit stations for new developments. Council members also asked staff to evaluate potential sites within a quarter mile of El Camino Real that are well-served (or are likely to be well-served) by public transportation.

The city is seeking to identify potential new housing sites in order to meet a requirement from the Association of Bay Area Governments, a regional organization that allots "fair share" housing mandates to cities around the region. The organization asked Palo Alto to provide 2,860 units of housing, a number the council agreed is impossible for the city to meet.

The council agreed to take the "bottom-up" approach to address the ABAG mandate. This means identifying all of the city's potential sites for new housing and then submitting its housing inventory to the regional agency, even if the inventory fails to reach ABAG's number.

Comments

Evan
Crescent Park
on May 14, 2010 at 4:46 pm
Evan, Crescent Park
on May 14, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Great to hear! Housing in Palo Alto is in short supply, and locating housing near transit will definitey support more healthier, cheaper and more sustainable lifestyles. Not to mention more customers for businesses — all without (hopefully) taking up any more parking spots.


Saarinen
Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 14, 2010 at 6:20 pm
Saarinen, Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 14, 2010 at 6:20 pm

It's about time! Palo Alto is growing up!


Joe
Barron Park
on May 14, 2010 at 7:02 pm
Joe, Barron Park
on May 14, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Yea!

Now we can buy that new aerial ladder truck for the fire department and staff it with 4 extra firefighters.

Please see: Web Link


Question
Crescent Park
on May 14, 2010 at 7:42 pm
Question, Crescent Park
on May 14, 2010 at 7:42 pm

And where will we put all the new kids in town to school them???


Tim
Crescent Park
on May 14, 2010 at 9:25 pm
Tim, Crescent Park
on May 14, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Great news. Look how nice the Four Seasons Hotel looks.


Venturian
Ventura
on May 14, 2010 at 10:40 pm
Venturian, Ventura
on May 14, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Will Mr. Hohbach now get to use all that steel he's stored for building his high-rise on Sheridan Ave?
Web Link


Answer
Evergreen Park
on May 14, 2010 at 10:59 pm
Answer, Evergreen Park
on May 14, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Yeah, right. Look how 'nice' the huge Jewish Center housing on Charleston looks.
And look how 'nice' the sterile new Lytton Plaza looks. And the obscured windows in the new Walgreens. And the Cheesecake Factory building.
You can count on our local developers to screw it up. They'll laugh all the way to the bank. There's some very big bucks to be made in those added square feet. That's what it's about.


Question
Evergreen Park
on May 15, 2010 at 9:36 am
Question, Evergreen Park
on May 15, 2010 at 9:36 am

"Yeah, right. Look how 'nice' the huge Jewish Center housing on Charleston looks. "

The new JCC looks very nice indeed. Nothing wrong with the architecture or size of the buildings there. Do not forget also that that development was built in an industrial area.
I am not sure why people are still whining about the JCC.


anonymous
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2010 at 10:13 am
anonymous, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2010 at 10:13 am

Near the San Antonio Caltrain station along the El Camino and Alma corridors?


Neighbor
Meadow Park
on May 15, 2010 at 10:13 am
Neighbor, Meadow Park
on May 15, 2010 at 10:13 am

The 50' height limit is from the roof line, if it's a pitched roof it can go higher. A building may also have air conditioning units, duct work and elevator shafts that go well over the 50' height limit.

The Campus for Jewish Life on East Charleston and San Antonio was given an additional 12' variance to build to 62'so their parking garages could be at ground level above the water table. Additionally, they took all the height they were allowed for their elevator shafts; in places that building approaches 70 feet.

The 50 foot height limit is already a myth.


mj
College Terrace
on May 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm
mj, College Terrace
on May 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Sounds like Councilman Greg Scharff knows something about the long-term viability of our local railway service that the rest of us don't know. What could it be? And why the rush right now?

Keeping the railway line viable has long been touch and go. And if the high speed rail does go forward using the current railway easement, according to recent reports that will most likely be the end of having local railway service.

So I'd love to hear the rationale for going forward with recommending an increase in the height limit at this time when the future of our local train service may be in jeopardy. Or could it be that those who stand to make a rather large profit want to get this new height limit in place and get these tall buildings built before we find out that we won't have a local train service after all?


chris
University South
on May 16, 2010 at 12:03 am
chris, University South
on May 16, 2010 at 12:03 am

mj,

Local rail will continue regardless of the fate of high-speed rail.
If HSR fails, some of the federal money will be redirected to electrify local rail.


pat
Midtown
on May 16, 2010 at 9:31 am
pat, Midtown
on May 16, 2010 at 9:31 am

>”… locating housing near transit will definitey support more healthier, cheaper and more sustainable lifestyles. … — all without (hopefully) taking up any more parking spots.”

Show me some data that proves people who live near transit (1) actually use it and (2) don’t own cars.

Caltrain is cutting train service. VTA is cutting bus service. Where is all the public transit for which we are building transit-oriented housing?

And how much more money will we be asked for – in bonds and parcel taxes – to support growth in the schools. Or do people in transit-oriented housing not have children?


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2010 at 11:49 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2010 at 11:49 am

> Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, 2 hours ago
>
> >”… locating housing near transit will definitey support
> > more healthier, cheaper and more sustainable lifestyles.
> > … — all without (hopefully) taking up any more parking spots.”

> Show me some data that proves people who live near transit
> (1) actually use it and (2) don’t own cars.

I hate to agree, but, I have to. And, as has been mentioned, many people who are depending on CalTrain now may have to start driving. Unless there is some way to improve the viability of public transportation, this new housing will just generate more auto traffic. We have room for more people, but, we don't have room for more cars.

> Caltrain is cutting train service. VTA is cutting bus service.
> Where is all the public transit for which we are building
> transit-oriented housing?

Good questions all.

I still have to say, though, that the experience in Europe has historically been that moderately dense 3-5 story buildings are a great balance for energy use, dense enough to support public transportation, etc. 50' is probably a little short. Still, there is also the problem of fire protection for taller residential structures. Other things being equal, I might prefer the 50' limit to be a combined limit of 5 stories or 70', whichever is smaller.

> And how much more money will we be asked for – in bonds and
> parcel taxes – to support growth in the schools. Or do people
> in transit-oriented housing not have children?

This is a more difficult question. Does this type of new housing raise enough in new taxes to pay for its impact on schools? I don't know the answer to that. Anyone have good numbers?


Answer
Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 10:43 am
Answer, Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 10:43 am

The reason people keep whining about the ugliness of the JCC is that when driving by there is no way to avoid seeing it huge, immense, intrusive ugliness. It overwhelms.
You cannot trust our local architects/developers to produce a good looking building. I don't know why, but they are exceptionally untalented. For example, the ARB actually approved the JCC, and more recently that Lytton Plaza design.


Question
Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 10:54 am
Question, Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 10:54 am

"The reason people keep whining about the ugliness of the JCC is that when driving by there is no way to avoid seeing it huge, immense, intrusive ugliness. It overwhelms."

It is near the freeway in an industrial area--it is surrounded by gas stations, an empty hanger-like building, other offices/businesses, fast food places, auto shops. It does not exactly stand out in a residential area.
What does it overwhelm? It takes you two seconds to drive by it. This exaggerated outrage over the JCC by a few people continues endlessly. Let's talk about the benefit that the JCC provides to the community.


Timothy Gray
Charleston Meadows
on May 17, 2010 at 11:35 am
Timothy Gray, Charleston Meadows
on May 17, 2010 at 11:35 am

Did anyone doubt that the people that funded the Council member campaigns would get what they paid for?

Hello! Wake up Palo Alto voters.

Respectfully and truthfully,

Tim Gray


Answer
Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 11:45 am
Answer, Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 11:45 am

Benefit has nothing to do with ugliness. Benefits could just as well be provided in handsome buildings.
Ugliness is produced by untalented architects and greedy developers who build up to the sidewalk, who push every rule beyond its limits, and approvals that bow to the contracts (or money) that will come their way later from the developers. Not really mysterious how it happens.


Question
Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm
Question, Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm

"Ugliness is produced by untalented architects and greedy developers who build up to the sidewalk, who push every rule beyond its limits, and approvals that bow to the contracts (or money) that will come their way later from the developers. "

I guess ugliness is in the eye of the beholder and is there opinion. I am sure you will find people who think that the JCC looks nice. Anyway, the plans were out there, there was a public review and comment period and I think it took 2+ years before approval was granted. All this whining now is after the fact and too late.
If you have proof that contracts and money went to members of the ARB, then I suggest that you provide it to the public/newspapers for review


rem
Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2010 at 12:21 pm
rem, Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Why don’t we have a honest City Council that will honestly say “Developer (Contractors) Lobbyists , Developer (Contractors), donate to us and we will approve!!!!”

It would be great if the City Council and all the other “Councils” and “Work Shops” learned a new word – NO or new phase – DISAPPROVED….

There is no sane reason for HIGHER than 50 FEET except MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and not caring about the people of Palo Alto or ANY of the other communities …..

Sound to me like DEVELOPMENT, DEVELOPMENT, DEVELOPMENT !!!! Gee, the CITY has messed up “University Avenue.", West Charleston Road & El Camino Real, butchering San Antonio Road and let’s not forget San Antonio and East Charleston Road.

Like I said ABOVE - There is no sane reason for HIGHER than 50 FEET except MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and not caring about the people of Palo Alto or ANY of the other communities …..

Maybe it is time for a RECALL ?!?!?!?!?


Paul
Downtown North
on May 17, 2010 at 12:32 pm
Paul, Downtown North
on May 17, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Some fantasies, like transit-oriented housing, never die. They are articles of faith that are never to be scientifically examined. Nobody has ever done a survey of existing Palo Alto residences near CalTrain stations to see how many of their residents use transit instead oc cars. I expect the result would be very unwelcome.

Any housing project built anywhere without adequate on-site parking is an instant slum. This area was built for the automobile, and you need a car to do anything important, starting with buying the grocerise. Nobody is going to take the train from downtown PA to shop at the Menlo Safeway. And you cannot use it to spend a fun family Sunday afternoon at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

Judging by our councilmembers' newfound giddiness for big developments, it appears our local developers have gotten to them. I say local developers only because they build their creations and make their money locally. They prefer to live in Woodside, Portola Valley, and Los Altos Hills, safely out of sight of their creations.

Or maybe our council has simply developed a case of Sunnyvale envy. It has all those big tall condo and apartment buildings in its downtown, but Palo Alto has only got a few.


Question
Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 12:43 pm
Question, Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 12:43 pm

But, Paul, what happened to the concept of "walkable neighborhoods" that our council has been talking about for decades?


5 Generations in Palo Alto!
Professorville
on May 17, 2010 at 12:53 pm
5 Generations in Palo Alto!, Professorville
on May 17, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I have seen, through my lifetime, this charming, picturesque town submit to the pressures of looking and being like all other cities! What a shame!! When people visit from other parts of the U.S. and other countries, the first thing I have heard is how unique Palo Alto is. Carmel and Palo Alto always have been strongholds of "inidividuality and aesthetic beauty'.
But, what the heck! Let's continue to destroy this and even faster!! It is a shame that people that do not 'get' how special Palo Alto is, are able to muscle in these changes. The design of the City Hall was one of the first steps to turning Palo Alto into 'Blahville'.


resident
Professorville
on May 17, 2010 at 1:18 pm
resident, Professorville
on May 17, 2010 at 1:18 pm

HOUSING!!!! And where will those kids go to school? Let me guess - the people making these decisions don't care.


Resident
Meadow Park
on May 17, 2010 at 2:57 pm
Resident, Meadow Park
on May 17, 2010 at 2:57 pm

I am against exceeding the 50' height limit and I spoke up against the size of the JCC. The JCC building looks like the concrete bunkers being built in East Jerusalem. It is ugly and out of place and people do live nearby in residential neighborhoods. A development this size should be in a city with large undeveloped open space, away from a school commute corridor. We could have had playing fields, a smaller JCC development and tot lots. We could have started raising funds for a branch library for South Palo Alto. Or if a small campus would not work for the JCC, they should have built elsewhere.

An increased height limit is letting the camel's nose under the tent, without the city council or developers being responsible for guaranteeing our water supply at reasonable rates. Has anyone solved the problem of decreased residential water use and increased rates because the water company doesn't make enough money? Has anyone solved the groundwater contamination problem? What happened to the water resevoirs that couldn't be put on JCC land because of the contamination? I've been waiting to hear where in Palo Alto there is uncontaminated land for these resevoirs. I assume the city council will start talking about 3-story schools if more dense housing is built. And then start talking about the need for increasing the size of our water and sewer infrastructure. And then start talking about getting rid of parkland.

If we don't get some laws on the books, these guys are going to make things worse for us.


Question
Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 3:04 pm
Question, Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 3:04 pm

"I am against exceeding the 50' height limit and I spoke up against the size of the JCC."
Why are people still harping about the JCC? Is there some underlying issue that is really the problem

"The JCC building looks like the concrete bunkers being built in East Jerusalem."
Please provide us with a link so that we can compare these "concrete bunkers".

"It is ugly and out of place and people do live nearby in residential neighborhoods."
Too bad. too late. Which "nearby" neighborhoods are you talking about. Seems like the nearest neighborhoods are blocks away.

" A development this size should be in a city with large undeveloped open space, away from a school commute corridor."
Too bad. Too late. Which school commute corridor are you referring to?
Is the opening of the JCC affecting school commuting? In what way?

" We could have had playing fields, a smaller JCC development and tot lots."
Too late

"We could have started raising funds for a branch library for South Palo Alto."
There is a branch library in South Palo Alto. It is at Mitchell Park.

" Or if a small campus would not work for the JCC, they should have built elsewhere."
They bought the land. They presented the plans to the city. the plans were approved. You are too late. Not sure why some people are still harping about the JCC. What is the real underlying issue?


resident
Community Center
on May 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm
resident, Community Center
on May 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm

What a great idea! Our new town motto can be "Palo Alto - a slice of New Jersey right here in Northern California" Oh wait - New Jersey invests in k-12 education, so that won't work. But at least, with help from our visionary City Council, we can aspire to look like Trenton.


palo alto mom
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm
palo alto mom, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Question - people are still complaining about the JCC because it is ugly. The final finishes of the building were changed due to budget. The choice of finishes (like the red shingles randomly placed) are strange. Setting the building back even a few more feet from the road would have allowed for additional landscaping. But then again, one of the ARB members has a dragon painted on their garage, so...


Question
Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 5:09 pm
Question, Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2010 at 5:09 pm

"Question - people are still complaining about the JCC because it is ugly."

So let them complain. This took two years before it was approved. The plans were available. There were public meetings and the ARB decided.
People complain about every building in PA. Everyone seems to think that one new building or another is ugly.
Sorry, your time has past. The building has been built--it is not going to be torn down. Time to move on and whine about a new topic. Some PA residents are good about that--constantly whining and complaining.


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2010 at 5:15 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2010 at 5:15 pm

The new gym on Bayshore at the PA Joe/Kiki site looks fine. It is set back nicely, has visible parking and landscaping, and fits in with the look of the nearby office parks.

We don't complain about buildings that are not ugly. Only those that are ugly.


resident
Crescent Park
on May 17, 2010 at 5:36 pm
resident, Crescent Park
on May 17, 2010 at 5:36 pm

I hope Larry Klein and Karen Holden can convince the rest of the council that our beautiful city doesn't need more density. WE DON'T NEED TO KEEP GROWING. We don't want to change Palo Alto from being such a desireable place to live. We seem to have added so many unsightly buildings. How did we go so wrong and when did it start?


Suspicious
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2010 at 6:39 pm
Suspicious, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2010 at 6:39 pm

So, first ease the height restrictions, next the zoning and viola, HSR can run on an elevated structure in between high buildings. After HSR eminent domains the land adjacent to the tracks and demolishes the single family homes, the new eased height restrictions will allow HSR to build huge residential complexes on the land which it will then sell to people rushing to cram their children into our already overflowing schools. I guess that's one way to fund HSR's San Jose to San Francisco money-loser. The Manhattinization of Palo Alto begins.


James
Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2010 at 9:17 pm
James, Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Hmmm, regarding changing the 50-foot height limit for new buildings...DON'T do it!!! Perhaps it should be noted that this challenge is a cyclical sort of story, I don't know why, but developers never really let go of this. The issue ineffectively hides itself behind popular notions such as "Affordable housing" and, I love this one, "...much needed flexibility in addressing Palo Alto's housing needs..." Since there is no real "need" for everyone to live and work in the same city, why allow developers finally win so that Palo Alto may soon resemble Mountain View? There is a reason for the consistent amount of residents in Palo Alto, and this limit is key to this magic formula. Housing prices are often mentioned but that hasn't created a real estate crisis. Growing up in Palo Alto it was already well known to me and my friends that buying a home in town was not likely, unless you fell backwards into cash. Some of us actually built careers that afforded a return to town, without the city growing ugly tall buildings and packing downtown, California Ave. and Midtown with condominiums (and LOTS of cars with traffic and expensive parking like SF). Ok, so here we go again. It's developer money versus residents for a better tomorrow. Which is your side?


JO
College Terrace
on May 18, 2010 at 12:16 pm
JO, College Terrace
on May 18, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I gather that the 5 Council members who voted to reconsider the 50-ft height limit were Burt, Price, Scharff, Schmid, and Shepherd.

I would have hoped that the Council would focus its energy on the really critical and difficult issues facing Palo Alto at this moment in time; instead, they have unnecessarily re-opened a can of worms that will waste the community's time and energy. Maybe that is the point, to distract the community from all the bad decision-making that has gone on at City Hall that has brought us to our current fiscal situation.

Palo Alto recently approved a big, dense affordable housing project at 801 Alma St., and the City poured millions of dollars into subsidizing that project. (Some of the millions was money collected specifically for affordable housing; but a large chunk of the millions was money that was re-directed from the general fund (e.g., proceeds from miscellaneous parcels of City land that were sold), the value of city land donated to the project, and money spent re-locating the electric substation. The City was given an "A" rating for its affordable housing efforts, compared to nearby-cities with "F" ratings. So why does Palo Alto have to be the Peninsula's "leader" in providing affordable housing, at a huge cost to its citizens in terms of money and in terms of lower quality of life? Why do we keep having to bend-over-backwards for ABAG, when other cities have done so much less than we have with no dire consequences?

It is obvious to me that Palo Alto doesn't really need to do more than we are currently doing for affordable housing, but that developers want to build bigger buildings to make more money, and that affordable housing is just an excuse to push the current limits on what can be built.

Voters should take note of which council members vote to reconsider the 50-foot height limit, and which council members ultimately vote to change the 50-ft height limit. And, at the next City election, voters need to pay closer attention to where candidates are getting their campaign money from. Candidates that get a large chunk of their campaign money from developers and real-estate professionals should raise a red flag for voters, because those candidates will likely be the Council members who end up making proposals such as the reconsideration of the 50-ft height limit.


Anon.
Crescent Park
on May 18, 2010 at 12:59 pm
Anon., Crescent Park
on May 18, 2010 at 12:59 pm

The problem is not any limit, the problem is that the council cannot enforce or make judgement worth a damn.

The monstrosity at Charleston and San Antonio is not so much high as it is imposing, ugly and obnoxious.

The other thing is that tall buildings make sense in certain context, but remember the movie "Up" where the little house had to live under all that construction, the rights of homeowners should be upheld. Downtown is fine and could even be nice, or California St. or some other Palo Alto areas, but Midtown would not be so nice,

I don't want to live in the shadow of some big ugly building, and the council has proven they do not care and could not perceive ugly if it crawled up their posterior orifice.

This town's government is a clone of what we have too much of that is wrong in the state and federal governments, unthinking fools who talk progress but really just mean money for them and their buddies.


Question
Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 1:02 pm
Question, Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 1:02 pm

"We don't complain about buildings that are not ugly. Only those that are ugly."
Who is we? Are you speaking for everyone in Palo Alto?
As I said--build something new and you will find people who think it is ugly. If people want to continue to whine about the JCC--more power to them. I think it is amusing that some people want to still complain about a project that has been built and is fully functional. Do they think that it will be torn down and rebuilt to their specifications? How funny.


Answer
Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 1:39 pm
Answer, Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 1:39 pm

No one is tearing down buildings so please stop the red herring arguments. What we want is to avoid repeating that awful development. Please try to understand what people write instead of just repeating yourself.
The JCC would be less ugly if it had setbacks from the street and on the upper floors. It maximizes construction on every square inch and yes, that creates ugliness.
If you don't know what ugliness is, just check your dictionary. Mine defines it as repulsive, unpleasant.


Question
Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 1:45 pm
Question, Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 1:45 pm

"What we want is to avoid repeating that awful development."
Who is we? Who do you claim to be speaking for? A majority of Palo Alto residents? I am sure we can find many people that like the development. It is all a matter of opinion and that is my point,

"The JCC would be less ugly if it had setbacks from the street and on the upper floors. It maximizes construction on every square inch and yes, that creates ugliness. "
This is again an opinion and I am sure we could get multiple opinions about what "ugliness" is.

"f you don't know what ugliness is, just check your dictionary. Mine defines it as repulsive, unpleasant."
That may well be, but as I am sure you will agree--ugliness, in this case, is an opinion. You do not like the JCC--that is your right. Others do like it. Do not go to the JCC, do not drive by it if it offends you that much.

Maybe to avoid these kind of developments that you find "ugly" you should take part during the public response period. I am sure you will see that the planning and approval of the JCC was all above board--there was no bait and switch.

Look in Downtown PA--some people find the new Walgreen building to be ugly, some like the way it looks--who is right? Neither side--since it is a matter of opinion. Same with the JCC. Get over it.


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2010 at 2:40 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Questioner?

You asked who the "we" are, is it all Palo Alto? No, it is those of us here who are complaining about ugly buildings.

Some people may like the JCC, but they don't seem to be saying that they think it is a beautiful building, they just seem to be saying that they like the facilities inside, or they don't find it particularly ugly.

Who are "they"? They are the ones posting here.

No one has done a survey in Palo Alto about what buildings they like and what they don't like. The only thing that any of us can go by is by using common sense when reading the posts of others here rather than splitting hairs.


Question
Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 2:53 pm
Question, Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I think the vast majority of people in Palo ALto do not care one way or another about the JCC. there are more important issues facing the city these days.
I think a very small vocal minority cannot seem to get past the fact that the JCC was built, as per the plans presented to the city and are harping about it. Maybe these people are bitter because they did not take part in the stage when comments and suggestions from the public were welcome.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


palo alto mom
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 18, 2010 at 3:17 pm
palo alto mom, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 18, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Question -

People aren't whining about the JCC, they are saying they think it is ugly, too massive and is too close to the street. Opinion, yes, whining, no. They are also hoping that new developments do not resemble the JCC. And yes, it a a valuable resource.

Incidentally, it was NOT built as presented, the final finish materials were altered (to the existing, plastic looking exterior) for budget reasons.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Question
Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 3:22 pm
Question, Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 3:22 pm

PA Mom--glad that you agree that it is an opinion--some people state as if it is a fact that the JCC is "ugly".
If they do not want any new developments to look like the JCC then they need to act when the time is available for comment. Also remember that the JCC was built in an industrial area--I do not think that we have many of those kind of places available for building

Regardless of whether they switched to other final materials--the JCC looks fine in my opinion. I am not working in design. If the people find the JCC offensive, then work to make sure that it does not happen again.


Answer
Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 6:50 pm
Answer, Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2010 at 6:50 pm

A great many people did object.
Have you ever tried to object to a mega project developed by Jim Baer, John Barton's wife (her company built the low income part and also the big market rate development Altaire which is adjacent to the JCC).
And Judith Wasserman on the ARB kept saying it would be Gorgeous, and the low income housing people and the people from the JCC who raised the money?
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


TimH
Old Palo Alto
on May 22, 2010 at 10:28 am
TimH, Old Palo Alto
on May 22, 2010 at 10:28 am

Wow, this thread turned away from "to 50 feet or not to 50 feet" as soon as some dragged in their resentment about the JCC, which sure appears to be a defensive topic. YES, the JCC is an ugly monstrosity of a structure, but if it fits the letter of the law then it isn't part of the 50 foot discussion. Leave the JCC alone, or should we begin a list of "legal but offensive" buildings?

Palo Alto doesn't need to build more low-income housing, except for senior citizens. People of working age should live where their income will support them. You don't need a consultant to tell this to you, honorable members of the City Council.


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