In a community that prides itself on both its intelligence and the ability to debate issues at a high level, the campaign over Measure D has not been our best work.
The ballot measure allows voters to decide if the City Council made the right decision in unanimously approving a zoning change to permit the development of a four-story, 60-unit low-income apartment building and 12 houses on Maybell and Clemo avenues, across from Briones Park on the southern edge of the city's Barron Park neighborhood.
The referendum is the only item on the ballot for Palo Alto residents, and an expected low turnout means the outcome will depend on which side can do a better job of turning out its supporters.
A "yes" vote upholds the City Council's rezoning of the 2.5-acre property, now the site of four homes and an orchard, so that the Palo Alto Housing Corporation can proceed with its plan. A "no" vote keeps the zoning as is, retaining four two-family homes or duplexes on Maybell and permitting a number of possible options, including new homes, condominiums or apartments on the remainder of the property.
The bitterness and anger of the campaign, fueled mostly by the neighbors who gathered the 4,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot and felt ignored and disrespected by the city and the Housing Corporation from the start, resulted in an ongoing whirlwind of assertions that too often were distortions and exaggerations.
And for their part, the nonprofit Housing Corporation and the city officials who rallied around it to support Measure D have been unable to clearly document and indisputably prove their key point: that defeating Measure D will actually result in a worse and more intensive development than the project being proposed. A barrage of campaign mailings extol the value and need for senior housing.
Sadly, the campaign has pitted friends against each other, divided the Barron Park neighborhood and tapped into a festering unease in the community about how zoning decisions are made, who pays the price and who benefits.
The Weekly urged a "no" vote on Measure D (see our Oct. 18 editorial), primarily because we believe the City Council failed to strike the appropriate balance between mitigating the impacts on the neighborhood and the Housing Corporation's desire to maximize profits in selling half the site to a private home developer. In not recognizing the potential for conflict early on and taking steps to forge compromise, the city and Housing Corporation mistakenly sowed the seeds for this bitter contest and emboldened opponents.
Hopefully, whether Measure D passes or is defeated, both sides will be able to put the emotions of the campaign behind them and unite behind a common goal of supporting the creation of more affordable housing for seniors.
Too glitzy for Palo Alto
In a flash, digital billboard idea panned and discarded
Once in awhile an idea comes along that is so outlandish that everyone runs away from it as fast as possible.
That was the case Monday night, when Mayor Greg Scharff and his colleagues disposed of a loser of an idea in record time. Even calling this a "proposal" is probably unfair to the city staff, which asked for "direction" from the Council on a money-making endeavor that first surfaced when the Great Recession was severely impacting city finances and all potential revenue angles were being pursued.
The staff dutifully looked into operating an electronic billboard on city property along the highway, estimating that it was located in such a prime spot it might generate $1 million a year in advertising revenue.
The idea was immediately ridiculed by residents on Palo Alto Online's Town Square forum, and Council members got an earful through letters and emails.
Why the Mayor and City Manager ever allowed this item to even come before the Council is bewildering. Perhaps they were just looking for something to lighten up the evening. But next time a dumb idea comes along, let's not waste the time.