Palo Alto History Museum permit challenged

Parking issues, environmental-review request to be heard by the Planning and Transportation Commission Wednesday

A founding member of a Palo Alto group dedicated to preserving the city's history has filed an appeal of a permit to build the Palo Alto History Museum.

Professorville resident Ken Alsman asked the Planning and Transportation Commission to reconsider a tentative permit for the museum, which would be located at 300 Homer Avenue in the historic Roth Building.

Commissioners will hear Alsman's appeal on Wednesday (June 8) at 7 p.m. at Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

Alsman is a founder of the nonprofit group Palo Alto Stanford Heritage and a former member of the city's Historic Resources Board. But he said the proposed museum would not have adequate parking, thus affecting the surrounding neighborhood, according to a March 29 request.

The 1932 Birge Clark-designed Roth Building was purchased by the city for potential development in April 2000 in conjunction with the South of Forest Avenue redevelopment plan commonly known as SOFA 1.

The renovation would include 19,182 square feet plus a 1,462-square-foot addition at the rear of the building. It would house the museum, gallery space and offices for staff, a community meeting room, gift shop and café. Offices for another nonprofit tenant would be provided on the second floor.

The City Council approved a lease-option agreement and request by Palo Alto History Museum proponents to renovate the site for a museum in 2004. A lease-option agreement was extended to June 30, 2011, and the Historic Resources and Architectural Review boards unanimously recommended building rehabilitation plans in February.

The Director of Planning and Community Environment tentatively approved the conditional-use permit March 21, which prompted Alsman's appeal.

"I appealed something that in general I really support. My concern is the impact that the museum's parking changes and demands will have on the livability, enjoyment and quality of life in this historic Professorville neighborhood and adjoining residential areas," he said in an email to commissioners.

Unless the approval is laden with numerous conditions, he wrote, "the museum would become one more city action adding to the invasion of employees parking that is destroying our neighborhood."

City officials approved a downtown parking study in March to identify the parking problems in Professorville and potential solutions.

Residents have long complained about downtown employees parking on neighborhood streets, leaving no room for residents' guests. They say the commuters have also hit parked vehicles numerous times.

On April 26, the city held a community meeting to discuss recommendations from the parking study.

Alsman said the museum would have no on-site parking. The combination of employees, volunteers, lessees and attendees would heavily impact the neighborhood, he said.

The city's Transportation Division determined a maximum capacity in the Roth Building of 270 people, including 12 employees.

Sixty-eight parking spaces would be required, according to a city staff report. The proposed 14 bike spaces plus three long-term bike spaces are consistent with city requirements, according to the report.

About 60 parking spaces at 260 Homer Ave. across from the museum are available and are required by thge permit. But staff acknowledged the spaces are available for general public use and are not exclusively for museum goers and employees.

The spaces are available during evenings and weekends, and the times do not entirely coincide with the museum's proposed operating hours, staff noted.

Roth Building employees would not take up those spaces, however, since permit approval requires all employees to park in any city parking facility, staff said.

Staff members initially recommended converting more than 30 all-day street parking spaces along Homer Avenue and a portion of Bryant Street near the Roth Building to 2-hour parking. Alsman said that plan would likely push parking three blocks further into adjoining single-family neighborhoods.

But at the March 21 hearing, planning director Curtis Williams determined the parking conversion should not occur until after a downtown parking-management program has been completed.

Alsman also said the project should not go forward until after environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The city should also conduct a traffic study, he said.

Staff said the Roth Building project is exempt from environmental review because it is a reuse of an existing building. Those reuses were analyzed in the Environmental Impact Report prepared for SOFA 1, with a determination of "less than significant" impacts, they said.

A traffic-impact analysis is unnecessary because the museum would generate on average fewer than 50 peak-hour trips per day, according to the transportation division.

Alsman acknowledged the museum might be a relatively small component of the total problem, but it is significant, he said.

"And, it is symptomatic of the lack of concern staff and the council has shown for the cumulative environmental impacts on our residential neighborhood of multiple, incremental land use and development decisions for downtown," he said.

He also raised concerns regarding potential impacts of new downtown development from transfer of development rights (TDRs).

TDR programs allow cities to transfer development rights from one property to another in order to control density or prices in one area of town or another.

Cities use TDRs to preserve open space, agricultural areas, historic buildings and housing by compensating property owners who lose the right to develop their property, according to the Cornell University Department of City and Regional Planning.

The staff report noted, however, the Comprehensive Plan caps nonresidential development in commercial districts at 350,000 square feet. It requires a one-year moratorium when that number is reached while the city studies any further development regulations.

TDRs, including the Roth Building's, would be part of the cap and can only be transferred under rules within the Comprehensive Plan.

The staff report recommended that commissioners approve the project, which would be considered by the council on July 18.

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Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2011 at 7:04 pm

A history museum destroying history, "sigh" only in Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Grant-The-Permit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2011 at 8:54 pm

So how far is it from the Roth Building to the parking garages in downtown? Seems that with these garages being less than full (or not very well used), that the permitting rules might take this into account--giving them "credit" for these spaces.

To make matters worse, this museum is not going to be heavily utilized. It's even hard to believe it will survive for five years without a "sugar daddy".

Certainly with it's being a part of the "Visit Palo Alto" nonsense, that people who "might" be included in the 260 headcount will be hotel guests, and would have walked to the facility.

It's really time to rethink the rules for sites like this one.

Like this comment
Posted by Nothing historic
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 7, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Despite what some people say there is little to nothing historic in palo alto. Therefore there is no need to even have a historical museum In the city. I also do not see many people coming to this place.

Like this comment
Posted by George K.
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 8, 2011 at 10:54 am

"nothing historic," you keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means.

Like this comment
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 8, 2011 at 10:54 am

Tut Tut! Nothing historic in Palo Alto, my eye. I'm not in the PAHA but I know a bunch of the folks and they are a great group of dedicated and passionate people. There is so much beautiful history, cultural and even of national and international import around here to be preserved and presented to keep Palo Alto in context. I think using the Roth building is a terrific idea, so I'm all for it. Anyway, okay, so I'm partial to the project, but I can't let the nothing historic comment slide by...

And great article, Sue Dremann.

Like this comment
Posted by Judith
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2011 at 11:00 am

If we don't preserve what we have, there will NEVER be anything historic.

Like this comment
Posted by betterthannewhousing
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 8, 2011 at 11:05 am

No new housing.

Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Wasn't Alsman one of the big cheerleaders for the 800 High condo development in 2003 because it would solve Professorville's parking problems? Has he now repudiated himself?

Like this comment
Posted by Grant-The-Permit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2011 at 3:05 pm

> There is so much beautiful history, cultural and even of
> national and international import ..

So .. make a list for us .. start with say, 1492, and work your way forward ..

Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 8, 2011 at 3:28 pm

If Palo Alto has historic significance, I agree with with Grant-The-permit that someone should list them. I can only think of the Redwood Old Palo Alto, the HP garage, and Stanford University.

Doesn't 800 High St. have underground parking available? What restrictions are there, e.g. limited hours? I don't think many people are aware of them. Maybe the Historic Society could advise visitors of this amenity? But visitors probably would seek parking nearer the Roth Bldg. and still take up resident's curb space.

Could resident's use the 800 High St. Parking?

Like this comment
Posted by Strange opposition
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 8, 2011 at 3:29 pm

>Wasn't Alsman one of the big cheerleaders for the 800 High condo development in 2003 because it would solve Professorville's parking problems? Has he now repudiated himself? <
Yes. He was a strong advocate for 800 High for its parking (and his general support for developers).
Odd that he doesn't oppose other establishments that bring in lots of traffic but he opposes this one. He is quoted saying "I appealed something that in general I really support."
Really weird.

Like this comment
Posted by campanile80
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 8, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Ken Alsman has become cranky and cantankerous after a stellar professional career promoting precisely the kind of urban development and preservation of historic structures that this proposal represents. This site represents one of our most historic places and is fairly close to downtown parking and garages. With the Roth building, park and limited housing units, there is far less traffic around this site than was the case when the PA Medical Cinic was here. And this is a city that has an extraordinary history-birthplace of Silicon Valley, Lee De Forreat and the vacuum tube, Federal Telegraph�s pioneer in work in telecomms and radio, Varian�s work on radar to fight the Nazis in WWII, etc., etc.

Like this comment
Posted by Grant-The-Permit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2011 at 7:47 am

> history-birthplace of Silicon Valley, Lee De Forreat and the
> vacuum tube, Federal Telegraph�s pioneer in work in telecomms
> and radio, Varian�s work on radar to fight the Nazis in
> WWII, etc., etc

To the extent that this work went on here, as it did in places all over the country, much of it was in secret, it was performed by private individuals without the knowledge of the local government, and in many cases, still is not fully revealed to the public. If this museum were to be a "technology museum", or at least focused on the history of Palo Alto in light of the corporations, or businesses, that were seminal to the development of these technologies, then this museum has a chance of becoming something interesting. But .. that is probably not what is going to happen.

The history of Palo Alto, such that it is, is tied into the evolution of California as a series of land grants from the Spanish throne, to the nation-state that California has become. For the most part, Palo Alto was working farm land, during most of that period of time. If Palo Alto does have any unique history, it is the history of individuals were were more likely associated with Stanford, not Palo Alto, itself.

As for De Forest, he was as much conman, as he was inventor. There are numerous claims that he did not actually "invent" the vacuum tube, but capitalized on the work of others.
Web Link

De Forest filed another patent in 1916 that became the cause of a contentious lawsuit with the prolific inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong, whose patent for the regenerative circuit had been issued in 1914. The lawsuit lasted twelve years, winding its way through the appeals process and ending up before the Supreme Court in 1926. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of De Forest, although the view of many historians is that the judgment was incorrect.

LEE DE FOREST ARRESTED.; Promoter Is Accused of Fraudulent Use of the Malls:
Web Link

SAN FRANCISCO, March 27. -Lee De Forest of the American De Forest Wireless Telegraph Company was arrested at Palo Alto, Cal., to-day on an indictment from the Southern District of New York charging misuse of the mails.

De Forest had quite a knack for creating some new "technology", taking a company public to exploit this technology, and then bankrupting the company to the detriment of the investors. If any history museum were to make mention of De Forest as a "local boy made good", then if they don't also make mention of him as a "local boy gone bad", they won't be helping people understand what really went on around here in the past.

From a technology and business development point-of-view, a lot of interesting work has been done behind closed doors here in Palo Alto. With a Technology Museum in Mountain View dealing with all of the Santa Clara Valley, it's unlikely that the Palo Alto History Museum will actually do much with the theme of "technology".

So .. that leaves us with starting over with a "technology-free" list of "history" that will be a source of interest in people visiting this area.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2011 at 8:11 am

Local history is important, but it is only important in its local context or in the context of the history of some of its interests. In other words, locals might like to see historical pictures, etc. of how the City looked in the past, and those interested in the history of specific technologies within the City.

Yes, of course it is nice to have a place where these things can be collected and viewed by those interested. But of course it is not going to be of interest to many people outside those specific areas.

I don't think we are going to get hoardes of people coming to see the history of Palo Alto. We may get people who live here desiring to spend an hour or so perusing local history and possibly student groups, but to think that having Palo Alto as a destination for history buffs in general is completely unrealistic.

Like this comment
Posted by Tessa
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 9, 2011 at 11:03 am


Palo Alto was one of the only truly dry cities during prohibition.......

.... and I always wondered if that wax Colonel Sanders encased in glass outside KFC (now Wahoo Tacos) might be the real guy himself - that was creepy. Maybe that can go in the museum

......and what about the Barbie Doll museum - remember that? Maybe some of that display can be salvaged

.....and didn't there used to be trees on California Avenue?

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm


There's a lot of interesting pre computer technology history we could cover. Cyril Elwell Web Link

is the grandfather of Silicon Valley. Early work in vacuum tubes and transistors took place here. The Homebrew Computer Club met next door in Mountain view.

Is the PAHM setting out to tell any of those stories?

Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 9, 2011 at 1:14 pm

"As for De Forest, he was as much conman, as he was inventor. There are numerous claims that he did not actually "invent" the vacuum tube, but capitalized on the work of others."

De Forest never claimed to invent the vacuum tube, which was already well known to all radio pioneers as the Fleming Valve anyway. But nobody disputes he invented the triode by adding a third electrode. That third electrode was what enabled his "Audion" to function as an amplifier, which he worked out at 913 Emerson Street in 1912. That achievement was the true birth of electronics and all that derives from it, including, as a footnote, Silicon Valley. There is a stone monument at the site commemmorating the fact.

Curiously, the Palo Alto Historical Society tends to ignore this incredibly momentous accomplishment that happened in Palo Alto. Maybe they need some actual local historians in their group.

BTW, De Forest was not a "Palo Alto boy," he was only here a few months as a guest researcher for Federal Telephone.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Federal Telegraph started in Palo Alto in 1909 but moved to San Francisco in 1912. Web Link

My understanding is it took another 20 years for Hewlett and Packard, encouraged by Frederick Terman at Stanford, to start another electronics company in Palo Alto.

Varian got started in the 1940s.

Fairchild invented the silicon integrated circuit on Charleston Road in Palo Alto in 1960.

These are events that changed the world! Is PAHM telling them?

Like this comment
Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 9, 2011 at 6:06 pm

"Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it."

We should all be lucky enough to forget Hewlett|Packard, Varian, Fairchild, Google, and Facebook, and repeat their good fortune and success for generations to come ...

Like this comment
Posted by FYI
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2011 at 6:10 pm

anonymous wonders:These are events that changed the world! Is PAHM telling them?
PAHM is just trying to get the building approved and raise the money to remodel it. If you are knowledgeable why not offer your expertise to them. From your comments however, it sounds like you don't even read the newspapers.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 9, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Herbert C. Hoover, US Secretary of Commerce and the grandfather of modern American zoning would be very proud.

Oh! and besides becoming the 31st. President of the United States he graduated Stanford, and retired to Palo Alto.

But then, nothing of any great social consequence happens in Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 12, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Sounds like we have some history snobs here. No mummies? No presidents? No bright, shiny attractions costing lots of money?

Local history is just that. Local. Whatever went on before Grant-the-Permit and Nothing came here is history. Sorry it is so dull and domestic. Maybe Grant and Nothing would enjoy themselves more in SF with Dede Wilsey's version of culture and history. They might even get into the esseff social pages patronizing it.

As I said. History snobs.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident&European
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 8, 2011 at 3:09 am

Any place has a history—that I imagine is of importance and interest in any healthily connected, responsible and meaningful life within it—and certainly Palo Alto has a history, with local, national and international aspects.

Ohlone indians, Spanish explorers, ranches, Stanford, Silicon Valley... Palo Alto's modern history does seem very but not solely intertwined to the history of Stanford. And I wonder how East Palo Alto fits in.

New history is made every day and it helps in making the right choices when being in touch with one's past.

Like this comment
Posted by Katie Christman
a resident of University South
on Sep 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Dear folks,

I do not object to people asking 'what history?' in Palo Alto. Curiosity is good. That they are asking seems to me a good reason to support the museum!

Of course, history means more than 'what happened'. History is never impartial and whether there is a History or not depends upon who is interested in telling it.

I can think of many, many subjects to fill a Palo Alto History Museum. I want to know more about the USO at Macarthur Park during the war, I want to know more about the Stock farm that WAS Palo Alto in the late 1800s, I want to preserve and make accessible the massive amounts of photos, film, and documents about the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, Children's Library, Lucy Stern, the Briones house. I would also welcome material about the Riots at Stanford during the sixties, sadly departed and missed places such as Old Uncle Gaylord's Kosher Ice Cream Parlor, the Bijou and Festival Theatres, the Varsity (did you know they were performing live Shakespeare there in 1912?), Bergman's Department Store, Zak's Electronics (my dad and I built a computer from a kit we got there in 1978), Peninsula Scientific, Liddicoats...

The list goes on. And not everything historic is gone...knowing the history of what we have makes it more valuable and increases the likelihood that we can agree to preserve it.

Palo Alto is of historical interest to many people. Whether we get 'droves' of tourists is not the point, in my opinion. I believe that this museum is for anyone interested in a very important time in California History (What history? Much of that history is being written as we sit pondering these questions). That we have a dedicated group of historians...well, that means that someone cares. In my opinion, caring enough about the past to talk about it is what makes history. Handing down stories, dates, objects, concepts and an understanding of WHAT WE VALUE is part of being responsible parents, scholars, and community members, and culture is, practically by definition, that which is handed down.

A Palo Alto History Museum will be above all an opportunity to share and maintain the stories and artifacts that are from the past but have meaning to us now and, we hope, to the future. My suggestion for those who have opinions about what should be included is, become involved.What do you remember? What shall we preserve?

Sincerely, Katie Christman

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