Jay Paul's pitch for office complex meets skepticism

Developer makes his case to community for large 'planned community' project

With tensions running high in Palo Alto over new developments and traffic issues clogging up City Hall agendas, Jay Paul Company had an unenviable task on Wednesday night -- convincing dozens of skeptical residents that its plan to build two large office buildings in one of the most congested parts of the city is the right move.

Judging by the feedback, the company still has plenty of selling to do.

Jay Paul's proposed for 395 Page Mill Road is the largest "planned community" (PC) application in the city's free-flowing development pipeline. The zoning designation allows builders to exceed regulations in exchange for a negotiated set of public benefits. In this case, both the zoning concessions and the benefit on the table tower over those of a typical PC project. Jay Paul is requesting permission to build 311,000 square feet of office space at a site, bounded by Park Boulevard, Ash Street and Olive Avenue, already developed to the legal limit. In exchange, it would build for the city a critical amenity that has been eluding officials for decades -- a new police station.

"We recognize that we're asking for a lot in terms of density from the city. I think we're offering a lot, both in terms of intelligent development for the city going forward and also in terms of the public safety buildings," Ray Paul, executive vice president at Jay Paul Company, told a crowd of more than 40 residents.

The Wednesday night meeting, organized by Jay Paul, came at a time when the city's zoning policies are facing heavy scrutiny and the council is struggling to come to grips with the growing problems of traffic congestion and parking shortages in residential neighborhoods. It took place two weeks after Palo Alto voters overwhelmingly rejected on Election Day a much more modest PC-zone proposal on Maybell Avenue and just two days after Mayor Greg Scharff declared that he will delay review of major PC applications, including Jay Paul's, in order to engage the community and the council is a discussion about zoning issues and new development.

In a particularly awkward twist, the Jay Paul meeting took place on the same night that the Planning and Transportation Commission was discussing a "concept plan" for the area around California Avenue and Fry's Electronic, which includes 395 Page Mill. The timing forced area residents to choose between going to City Hall to discuss the city's long-term vision for the area or attending the Jay Paul meeting at the AOL Headquarters to hear about the new development.

Most chose the latter, prompting the planning commission to schedule another meeting on the concept plan for Dec. 11 so that more people would attend and offer feedback about their neighborhood's long-term future.

"It's our intention to engage fully with the community and get a full opportunity for everyone to express their views and answer any relevant questions," planning commission Chair Mark Michael said at the onset of the concept-plan discussion.

Ray Paul faced a similar task, though unlike the commission he received more than enough input. Residents voiced concerns about traffic congestion, parking shortages and pedestrian safety. Paul freely acknowledged that the project would increase traffic (slowing down the peak-hour drive by between 1 and 2 mph on Oregon Expressway heading toward U.S. Highway 101 and by slightly more than 2 mph going east toward Interstate 280). But he also said the building's proximity to the California Avenue Caltrain station makes it an ideal site to add office space while minimizing traffic impact.

Paul acknowledged that planned-community zoning is a "hot-button" issue in Palo Alto these days, given the voter's defeat of the Maybell housing development. In the Jay Paul case, he said, the zoning makes sense.

"We certainly don't think and are not promoting the concept that this city or any other city do all of its development through PC or very much of it, but we do think there's a place for it for virtually any city's building," Paul told the audience. "We'd like to make the case for why here."

Though the project would stand near the heavily congested intersection of Page Mill and El Camino Real, Paul argued that the company's strategies for encouraging alternative commuting would lead many of the buildings' employees to take public transit and other modes. The company plans to offer a bus service, he said, as well as subsidized Caltrain passes. It also plans to create better walkways for pedestrians between the new buildings and the transit station.

"We're close to the train, we're close to the bus routes and we think we can put together a traffic-demand-management program that could have a significant impact on the amount of traffic we would cause," he said.

Paul told the audience that the company has plenty at stake in getting the traffic right.

"It does us no good to produce an office project where the tenants can't get into the office in the morning and can't get out in the afternoon," he said. "We need a project that makes sense from a traffic point of view. Otherwise we can't lease it.

"I heard a lot of statements about how a developer just wants to make a quick buck and leave town and so on and so forth," he added. "It just doesn't work this way."

Though the proposal has yet to undergo a formal City Council review (it's been a subject of a council study session), it has already had a rocky journey. Just in April, the council's Infrastructure Committee agreed to expedite the review process to make the timing consistent with a potential November 2014 infrastructure bond measure, which may include funding for a police building. But now, with PC zoning under fire, it is out of the fast lane. Scharff said Monday that the council will not review it in early December, as previously scheduled. Meanwhile, the city's traffic consultants are putting together an analysis for the development, a document that the council had hoped would be completed in the fall but that has been delayed until December because of staff's concerns over methodology.

Paul maintained that the analysis will show that the project's impact, while real, will be far smaller than many fear. The developer, whose large commercial projects include the existing AOL building at 395 Page Mill and many others throughout Silicon Valley, has plenty of experience with high-tech tenants and their parking demand, he said. Even if the donated police building wasn't in the equation, he said, the proposed development would "stand on its own merits" when it comes to parking and traffic.

"We don't want to be pushing our parking into a residential area," Paul said. "We don't believe we have to."

The Jay Paul project consists of two four-story buildings along Olive and Ash streets, each 57-feet high (with another 15 feet of mechanical equipment) and two floors of underground parking. The police headquarters would stand across the street, at 3045 Park Boulevard, and would feature underground parking for police vehicles.

The design of the buildings is still evolving as the project proceeds through a series of Architectural Review Board meetings. Tom Gilman of the firm DES Architects showed the latest version on Wednesday. The revised design features details such as smaller windows, slimmer lines, punched openings and roof overhangs.

"The idea is of introducing smaller-scale elements that start to have compatibility with the smaller scale of the residential neighborhoods," Gilman said.

Not everyone bought these arguments. Bob Moss, a land-use watchdog who was one of the leaders of the successful Measure D referendum, called the project "grossly underparked." He also cited the project's conflict with the California Avenue area plan, which subdivides the area around California Avenue into three subsections. Moss noted that when the city put the plan together, it looked at existing zoning designations and then considered possible changes. The Jay Paul development, by being developed as a "planned community," would dominate the area, he said.

"This project of course is not current zoning and it would consume all the potential development in the California Avenue and then some," Moss said.

Joe Hirsch, who also led the referendum campaign, marveled at the fact that the new buildings would go up in a zone already developed to the maximum.

"I can't believe this massive building will make things better," Hirsch said.

Neilson Buchanan, a Downtown North resident who has been gathering data about the city's parking shortages, was one of several residents who stressed the need for a traffic analysis that accounts for the cumulative impacts of the many projects being planned, including the mixed-use building at 3159 El Camino that the council approved this week and the proposed four-story building at 2755 El Camino Real, at the corner of Page Mill, which like the Jay Paul project is requesting a planned-community zone.

"What's frustrating us citizens is that we can't get our city to (consider) the cumulative impact of all the projects," Buchanan said.


Like this comment
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 21, 2013 at 12:43 am

Rainer is a registered user.

A central police station may be an "amenity that has been eluding officials for decades" --- but it is an idea who's time has passed.
Made outdated of all things by this thing Palo Altan: an iPad, Web Link

To boot, Japan, among other countries has shown the world that the Koban based system leads to much better community policing with the patrol men on foot, bicycle , or bike being present in the neighbor hood, and much shorter reaction times. Central police stations are mainly used to increase the self-worth of the police chief. With few people in his/her direct view the Chief will do what David Packard and Bill Hewlett prescribed many years ago: walking around. Or biking around.

If your house burns, do you want the fire truck to come from a central fire station? And here is the space and financial solution for the police stations problem: add a police floor, or two, to the fire stations. I won't cost $54Million.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 21, 2013 at 9:01 am

I appreciate the fact that the topic of transportation planning is on the table for discussion. It looks well thought out.
Above reference to Japan has no applicability to this situation - they have a different societal structure and all use bicycles. It is imploding other country economic structures on PA. Focus on the Now, Place, PA environment. That is the topic on the table.

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Posted by Palo Alto Grandma
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 21, 2013 at 10:17 am

Read Doug Moran's blog:
Web Link
then let Jay Paul know he needs to build his complex where jobs are needed and people don't have to commute hours to get to work.

Like this comment
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 21, 2013 at 10:18 am

If Palo Alto would pay for its own public safety building, this project would have no legs.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 21, 2013 at 10:34 am

Why do we need to relocate the current public safety building. Can't it be torn down and rebuilt on the same spot?

If Jay Paul's property is already built to its legal limit, why are we considering this at all?

Like this comment
Posted by Flustered
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 21, 2013 at 10:54 am

Judith says:

"If Palo Alto would pay for its own public safety building, this project would have no legs."

She has hit the nail on the head, and I completely agree. The root cause of the problem is that the city council has absolutely no concept of fiscal responsibility. Marc Berman is on record as wanting to raise a bond for infrastructure so the general fund can be used for pensions and perks for the city bureaucracy. The council recently approved hiring a Chief PR officer at a cost to taxpayers of over a quarter million dollars per year. We continue to rack up pension debt (if I recall, Scharff promised to address this issue, as well as to stand up to PC zoning abuses in 2010 when he was elected, which makes him 0-for-2) and we still pay a Utility Users tax on top of exorbitant utility rate hikes just so the city can raid the utility revenue for itself. Despite this they still cannot set aside enough money for one of the core purposes of government in the first place: public investment in infrastructure.

It's maddening. Bob Moss, please run for council in 2014. I hope the Zoning coalition folks put up a ticket so I can vote in 5 new candidates who are not tone deaf and arrogant.

Like this comment
Posted by whoownsit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 21, 2013 at 11:43 am

Lets get some addresses right! The article said: The police headquarters would stand across the street, at 2045 Park Boulevard, and would feature underground parking for police vehicles.
2045 Park is near Peers Park and Stanford Ave - 1/2 mile away! Shouldn't that be 2845 Park Ave?
And on that note, does the City own the land where the new Police HQ would be built? If so, where did the money come from to do the current excavation?

Like this comment
Posted by Hypocrisy
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 21, 2013 at 11:54 am

PTC Commissioners Mark Michael and Eduardo Martinez often wax poetic in their gratitude when the public shows up at their meetings.
Then they vote for big development and ignore everything the public says. Martinez said 3159 El Camino is a wonderful project.
The hypocrisy is sickening.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 21, 2013 at 12:23 pm

So, did the JayPaul people give any indication when their data, and analyses, would be available to the public?

Like this comment
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 21, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Absolutely no more new office buildings, apartments or condominiums in Palo Alto. El Camino is a parking lot from : to 6:30. Where is the hell are these people going to park, there is no parking in downtown Palo Alto now. The last three times I went to Palo Alto between 11:00 and 1:30 I could not find parking, especially because the idiots building the new buildings downtown have blocks of parking spaces blocked off.
I went to Mountain View to shop and eat lunch.
Clearly the City Council is in the pockets of the developers. Have a MORATORIUM ON ALL BUILDING IN PALO ALTO FOR 5 YEARS NOW.

Like this comment
Posted by gsheyner
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2013 at 12:30 pm

gsheyner is a registered user.

Whoowns it,

Thanks for the catch. The address for the proposed police building is 3045 Park Boulevard. Sorry for the typo.


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Posted by Eureka
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2013 at 12:41 pm

You are absolutely right. This is a really brilliant point you have made. Please write to the City Council. We should have distributed police around town. I'm very concerned to hear about all the police cars being in underground parking in one place too. It smacks of the kind of thinking that put New York's disaster response center in the World Trade Center even after terrorists had tried to bomb it.

Having less centralized police presence would also allow us to build smaller stations over time rather than having to wait until we can foot one giant bill.

Since we all know they don't listen too well if it doesn't align with their development vision, please share your letter with, it will get distributed around town.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2013 at 12:50 pm

> PTC Commissioners Mark Michael and Eduardo Martinez often wax poetic
> in their gratitude when the public shows up at their meetings.

If these meetings were streamed, and people could speak to the P&T Commission from home, via Skype/VideoChat (or other video chat software), then people would be able to communicate with the Commissioners during meetings, and not have to drive downtown and sit through their meetings.

We have a lot of technology at our disposal that is not being used. It's a shame that this Commission does not understand the possibilities, and call for support from the IT Department.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Wayne Martin writes: "If these meetings were streamed, ...

Wayne, did you try to watch any of the PTC or Council meetings during the Maybell discussion this past spring and summer? For us, it was mostly unviewable with frequent drop outs and disconnects from Media Center's server. It was terrible. I can't imagine that two way video chat would even be possible with Palo Alto's terrible residential internet service.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 21, 2013 at 1:56 pm

@Joe asks:

> Wayne, did you try to watch any of the PTC or Council meetings during the
> Maybell discussion this past spring and summer?

No, I did not.

> For us, it was mostly unviewable with frequent drop outs and
> disconnects from Media Center's server. It was terrible.

Without more knowledge, it's a little difficult to comment. However, I can ask: "Did you complain to the Media Center, and the City Council?"

In my opinion, the Media Center is not the right organization to be responsible for the video recording/display of all public meetings/business. This group (Media Center) has never shown much understanding of the digital world, so I believe this responsibility should be reevaluated and removed from them.

> I can't imagine that two way video chat would even be possible
> with Palo Alto's terrible residential internet service.

OK, but I can.

The suggestion that two-way video would be provided is certainly possible. I was assuming that the current mode of people getting a few minutes (2-5, depending on the topic and people wanting to speak.) However, there really is no reason that two-way communication with the people on the Dais should not be the goal of the City. My sense would be that a PC with Skype installed would be cabled to a large screen on the wall, where the caller's image would appear. Also, small screens on the Dais for each Council Member/Commissioner to see the caller is another possibility. Getting the video technology installed in the Council Chambers would not be difficult, nor expensive.

You speak about dropouts from the MC server is interesting, but you then seem to be blaming the residential network. Why? Are you aware that server software often is limited by the number of licenses paid for by the server's operator? Server capability is also an issue. Suppose Google were the provider of these services--do you think that Google might be able to do a better job than the MC? Most streaming works at fairly slow speeds, but obviously, higher speeds are better.

City Manager Keene rambles on about Palo Alto being a "digital city", but he has yet to produce any plans that would allow for the integration of existing Internet/WEB-based technologies to be utilized by the city and the residents intelligently today.

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 21, 2013 at 3:29 pm

In November 2014 we MUST get rid of some of this council, and that means that qualified residents must come forward to run for council. Yes, the $$$ from the developers and architects AND the unions crowd will pour money into the campaigns of THEIR candidates. But Measure M showed that the 'little people' - the residents can fight back. And being a bright light on the school board doesn't mean that he/she will shine on the council bench. Gail Price is an example. In the meantime I'm starting to clean closets and attic and garage and reading the real estate ads - someplace else. I have to be careful when I schedule a hair cut, grocery shopping, a doctor's appointment. Allow extra time. The traffic is obscene. The last time I went to downtown Palo Alto to shop or dine was two years ago. Stanford Shopping Center - five years ago. Menlo Park is getting to be just as bad. YES , stand up to ABAG. Did anyone ever take its mandates to the State Supreme Court???

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 21, 2013 at 3:40 pm

> “Why do we need to relocate the current public safety building. Can't it be torn down and rebuilt on the same spot?”

The current public safety/police building is on the first floor of City Hall. The city tells us that it’s seismically unsafe, which is why a new building is needed. But if the police department is unsafe, that means the whole City Hall is unsafe. Yet the city manager has asked for $2.1M to upgrade JUST THE FIRST FLOOR.

Jay Paul can easily afford to buy the city a new police station from his pocket change. Here’s one of his other projects: Dirt starts flying at Jay Paul's $500 million Transbay highrise
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by george
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 21, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Before suggesting on how to decentralize police and its services, please learn the constraints under which the police work. Many factors affect the ability of police to provide safety which should be understood before making changes to present procedures. For one the amount of equipment each officer uses is very large and needs a central place to be stored. It can't be carried on a bicycle or even in a patrol car.

There is no present Public Safety Building to raze and rebuild. The present quarters are a small part of City Hall, and several studies have already been done to investigate this idea. Also read the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon's report on what is needed for a Public Safety Building.

We are not Japan or any other country which has one or more characteristics such as a large population of bicycle users, flat country, and densely built up living units.

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Posted by citizen palo alto
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 21, 2013 at 4:34 pm

We do not want to see the white of jay Paul's eyes nor do we want to see his large Planned Community. WE DO NOT NEED HIS PLANNED COMMUNITY!! We do not need more congestion. We do not need further development that makes one man rich and leaves the res of us in our cars to pollute the atmosphere while we sit in traffic Jay Paul caused by building his Planned Community. The city council and all the other that would-like-to-be powers need to get the message. Palo Altans are a bit fed up with the constant granting of variances to build and build and build.

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Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 21, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Developers seem to consider the maximum to be the minimum. Lets see, the maximum height allowed is 50 ft so we will build 57 feet high and describe the additional 15 feet as mechanical equipment = 72 feet. City planning will surely go along with that.

Two stories of mechanical equipment doesn't need parking, and we should be given an exemption for how beautiful our "gateway" to Palo Alto will be...

Maybe the developers should make sure other developers aren't abusing the system if they want to build anything themselves.

Like this comment
Posted by nobody goes there too busy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 21, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Sorry to hear that some folk are avoiding Downtown Palo Alto, Cal Ave and downtown MP because it is too busy. Driving/parking is a big pain so I ride a bike for short trips. The bike racks are pretty full so there are plenty of others cycling. Palo Alto (and Menlo Park) have among the highest rates of bike commuting in the country, the terrain is flat, the weather is great most of the time. If you want to avoid the traffic/parking hassles, use a bike. If you are elderly or disabled - but the rest of us who are able-bodied use a bike for short trips - that would be less traffic and more parking for you.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2013 at 9:23 pm

The pipeline is gushing projects into a City which is already suffering
severe effects of overdevelopment. The just approved 4-story Ken Hayes office/penthouse project at 611 Cowper would require 115 parking spaces but with the credits and grandfathered conditions needs only 62 spaces leaving a deficit of 53. The project is not in the parking assessment district.
The "environmental review" assured us that "the proposed project would not result in any new significant effects relating to traffic...". And overflow parking down Hamilton into Crescent Park does not constitute a "traffic" or environmental impact apparently.

The City of Palo Alto is being pounded. In boxing this would be ruled
a "technical knockout" and the fight would be stopped. We need a moratorium
on new office projects while we undertake a review of all our zoning.

Like this comment
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 22, 2013 at 12:39 am

Rainer is a registered user.

Hm, on top of the comments "resident", "a resident of Charleston Meadows",
claims that my reference to Japan’s Koban community policing system has no applicability to this situation – “they have a different societal structure and all use bicycles”. Does that mean they “all” use bicycles and export their Hondas, Nissans, and Toyotas to the US?

How long has "resident" lived in Japan? It is amazing how some people just throw out claims about facts which they think will kill what they do not like. But in the age of the Internet you do not need to have access to Stanford Library (which I have).

So here we go after the facts: According to the OECD the US has 0.8 cars per person, Japan 0.6 – ahead of car crazy Germany. And the US is mainly ahead here because in the empty states like North Dakota, where the average household has 5 cars, the numbers are double. In cities they are more equal.

And even if the “all” use bicycles, which they do not, it is easier in a city to catch a thief on a bicycle a bicycle than with a patrol car. But this is not what community policing is all about.

So in summary the claim by "resident" is, without any grounding in facts or theory is that a distributed police station system based on getting around on foot, bicycles and motor bikes (and squad cars parked locally and ready to go if needed), would not work in the US, because we are...what? exceptionally different and other BS. Just because Japanese speak Japanese?

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Posted by Rainer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 22, 2013 at 12:52 am

Rainer is a registered user.

There is "George" above who thinks Japan is a flat country of bicycle users. Naturally on Google Map we do not see the bicycles, but where are the flat areas like the mid-western plains? But where are all the bicycles on Goggle Street? And why would it matter?

He must confuse Japan with The Netherlands, or maybe even Palo Alto?

Maybe the problem is that policemen here carry around a ridiculous amount of gear on the belts instead of policing. I have never seen French Gendarmes walking around with that much stuff, but they know their neighborhoods..

I am sure there are lots of studies which tell us we need a $100Million "public safety" building. But maybe we do not. Just look around what other cities and countries do. And the location: at least now the police station is in the middle where most of the after hour robberies happen. On Park Boulevard....?

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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 22, 2013 at 10:19 am

My mother used to work at Parker Center in LA. That was the central control point for containment of sensitive information concerning activity on the streets. Yes - LA does have a Japan Town section. They are Americans. Oakland is building a central crises center from which to get a grip on their problems. They have a vibrant China Town. The bay area has every type person and community represented here. We do not have to go across the ocean to pick up clues as to how to function - they come here to pick up our clues. You can watch NCIS-LA, any current police/detective show. We are not in the middle of a crime wave but that is because there are technological tools being used to monitor the safety of the streets. Those tools are evident on TV shows - not is your face. Please let the police force run their show with the best technology available - that is their job. They go to school for this.

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Posted by In the words of...
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 22, 2013 at 10:24 am

Read our lips: NO new developments!

Like this comment
Posted by NO!
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm

My guess is Mr. Paul doesn't live in Palo Alto so this massive building means nothing to him except $$$$$.

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Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Every PC project should be put up to a vote paid for by the developer. Then we will see if the perceived benefits mitigate the next 50 plus years of pain. We are slowly being boiled in oil here.

Like this comment
Posted by paly mom
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 25, 2013 at 6:51 am

I agree with the poster up page. STOP BUILDING IN PALO ALTO FOR 5 YEARS!!! At the very least, stop approving bungalow tear downs that are replaced by crappy Spanish style delios.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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