A grassroots effort to reverse City Council's approval of a controversial development on Maybell Avenue is quickly gathering steam in Barron Park, where the neighborhood association just released a survey showing three quarters of the respondents supporting bringing the matter to a citywide vote.
The Barron Park Association released on Wednesday morning the results of a survey that asked neighborhood residents two questions relating to the proposed development at 567 Maybell Ave., which includes a 60-unit apartment complex for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes. The project cleared what appeared to be its final hurdle last Friday, when the City Council held a "second reading" to formalize its approval of a zone change to enable the project.
Now, it looks like that vote may not be the end of the story for the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, the nonprofit developer that manages affordable-housing complexes throughout the city. Residents opposed to the increased densification of the old orchard site have launched a drive toward a referendum to overturn the council's unanimous vote. If the Barron Park survey is any indication, the project still has some steep political hurdles to clear.
The first question in the Barron Park survey asked whether the neighborhood association should "contribute up to $1,000 toward the effort to qualify the referendum for the ballot." Of the 177 respondents, 117 said the the association should contribute, 50 said it should not, and 10 abstained.
The second question asked residents whether they would support or oppose "allowing Palo Altans the chance to vote on rezoning of the Maybell/Clemo property." Of the 176 residents who responded, 128 said they would (73 percent); 14 said they "do not support having a referendum"; 26 said they "oppose having a referendum"; and 8 selected "undecided/no opinion."
The survey was conducted both electronically, using Survey Monkey, and through paper ballots. According to an announcement from Barron Park Association President Art Liberman, the association received 150 electronic responses and 29 paper ballots from members.
"The excellent response from our members is proof of the high level of interest in this issue," Liberman wrote.
While the survey results underscore Barron Park's strong opposition to the rezoning of the site, it's far from clear whether they reflect the sentiments of residents throughout the city. Residents of Barron Park and Green Acres have been the most outspoken opponents of the Housing Corporation proposal, arguing that increasing density at the site would create dangerous traffic conditions on the prominent bike route. While hundreds of residents attended recent public hearings on the project to warn about the project's potential impacts, a large contingent has also come out in favor of the Housing Corporation proposal. Proponents have been pointing to the gaping shortage of senior housing in Palo Alto and arguing that the senior-housing complex would have much fewer traffic impacts than alternative developments that could be built at the site under existing zoning.
Having lost the battle at the council level, opponents of the rezoning are now preparing to flex their democratic muscles in a more direct way through the referendum process. To get the vote on to the November ballot, they need to collect 2,298 signatures.
The fact that the survey results were released just before Independence Day was not lost on the petition organizers.
"It is appropriate that this exercise in local democracy happened at the same time as our national holiday," Liberman wrote.