An overflowing crowd of Barron Park and Green Acres 2 residents vented their frustration with dense housing and traffic problems and told Palo Alto Housing Corporation officials Wednesday night, April 24, to build a proposed senior housing project elsewhere.
Residents, who spilled out of a meeting room that holds 200 people, said they feared the Maybell Homes and Senior Housing Project would become a traffic and safety nightmare for a neighborhood that is already plagued by cut-through traffic from Arastradero Road.
The nonprofit housing corporation wants to develop a 2.4-acre parcel at Maybell and Clemo avenues with up to 60 one-bedroom units for low-income seniors and 15 single-family homes that would be sold to fund the senior housing.
But residents gave housing corporation representatives an earful, saying the city has repeatedly ignored their feedback on traffic in the past. The recent Arastradero restriping project, which reduced the number of lanes in stretches along Arastradero to slow traffic, sent 25 percent more cars onto Maybell as a result, according to the residents' Barron Park Association.
Currently, 3,320 cars on average use Maybell each weekday, according to the traffic study by Hexagon Transportation Consultants, Inc. The study estimated 120 more vehicles per day would use the street if the Maybell project were built a figure well below the study's criteria for what would be a "noticeable" increase. Traffic could increase by 20 to 30 percent before residents would perceive an increase, according to the study.
But leaders of the Barron Park Association said there's already more traffic on Maybell than is acceptable, according to Palo Alto's neighborhood traffic-calming program. That daily limit is 2,500 cars.
Maybell is also a designated bike route to four schools, residents noted. Mixing senior drivers with kids would be "a disaster waiting to happen," said one resident who has 86-year-old parents.
Hexagon consultant Michelle Hunt admitted the study doesn't take into consideration how pedestrians and bicyclists slow traffic. The city has guidelines about how traffic studies are done, and currently the rules don't require that pedestrians and bicylists be accounted for, she said. There are newer guidelines that could be adopted that do take consider pedestrians and bikes, she said.
Penny Ellson, co-chair of the Palo Alto Council of PTAs Traffic Safety Committee, said streets along the housing site, as designated school corridors, should get greater scrutiny when it comes to pedestrian and bike safety.
"To say that you're not looking at bikes, I'm really concerned about that," she said.
The heart of residents' frustration are city policies they deem arrogant toward residents and harmful to quality of life.
Doug Moran, a neighborhood association board member, said the meeting reflected the level of distrust residents have toward city policies that allow tall, dense housing on narrow streets, with buildings pushed up close against roadways, and with traffic studies that underestimate potential problems. Some residents mentioned the Alma Village development and Arbor Real housing on El Camino Real and Charleston Road as two examples.
"People are tired of the (use of) national averages when there is plenty of local experience that those averages aren't applicable here. There's this arrogance. I worked in safety. They warn you that you don't plan for what you want people to do; you plan for what people will do," he said.
The plan calls for two exits from the housing development: one on Clemo and one on a driveway that leads to Maybell.
Currently, there's a barrier at the end of Clemo near Maybell, so all traffic on Clemo goes to and from Arastradero. But a plan to move the barrier to the east would cut off access to Arastradero and direct all traffic onto Maybell.
The single-family homes would have garages at the rear. Homeowners would exit and enter through the development's Clemo and Maybell exits.
But residents expressed dismay that the two- and three-story homes would be pushed toward the streets with only 12-foot setbacks instead of the usual 20 feet.
Incoming Barron Park Association President Art Liberman questioned the need for such large homes. The housing corporation could finance the project with smaller units that would fit in better with the neighborhood, he said.
Candice Gonzalez, housing corporation executive director, said the 15 market-rate homes are necessary to fund building the senior housing. The corporation paid $15.5 million for the 2.46 acres. The property was paid for through the city's Affordable Housing Fund, which market-rate builders pay into.
But residents said the project isn't suitable for the community, given the other traffic and school considerations.
"What this community is telling you is this is a site problem," a woman said.
Gonzalez said the need for senior housing is great in Palo Alto and the Maybell property is one of the few open parcels still available.
"Twenty percent of the city's seniors are living below the federal poverty limit. Some are homeless; some are living on couches, and some are living at the (Buena Vista) trailer park," she said. The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park is slated to close next year, displacing about 200 residents. Gonzalez said the hope is to provide housing at Maybell for 20 seniors from the mobile-home park.
The proposed project was scheduled to be heard by the Planning and Transportation Commission on Wednesday, May 1, but that discussion has been postponed to May 22, according to the city.