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Council candidates take aim at chain stores, offices

Palo Alto hopefuls share ideas for protecting retail, neighborhoods from impacts of new development

Candidates for the the Palo Alto City Council vowed on Thursday to do more to protect retail in the city's two main commercial strips, with a ban on chain stores and requirements for ground-floor retail leading the charge as the most popular ideas.

At the same time, they expressed a range of ideas for limiting office growth, which everyone blamed for exacerbating the city's traffic and parking problems.

At a candidates forum sponsored by Palo Alto Neighborhoods, the 12 candidates shared their ideas for mitigating the impacts of recent office developments and for protecting the eclectic nature of the local retail scene. Incumbents Greg Scharff, Nancy Shepherd and Karen Holman made a case for why they should be re-elected to the nine-member council. They were joined at the City Hall dais by the nine challengers: Wayne Douglass, Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth, John Fredrich, A.C. Johnston, Lydia Kou, Seelam Reddy, Mark Weiss, Cory Wolbach.

Moderated by former Mayor Sid Espinosa, the forum focused largely on issues of land use and development, with protection of retail as one of the major themes. When asked about the topic, Scharff said the city needs to extend ground-floor retail protection downtown and get retail that "doesn't break the block." He gave as an example of a block-breaking building the Wells Fargo building on University Avenue.

Holman noted that as a council member she helped lead the effort to extend the requirement for ground-floor retail beyond downtown's commercial core. Further expansions will be needed, she said. She also cited a petition that is going around California Avenue, calling for a limitation on chain stores.

"I support that effort and will be working toward that," Holman said.

Wolbach, legislative aide to state Sen. Jerry Hill, likewise said he would support a limitation on chain stores. He also said it's important that the city makes sure it puts housing close to retail.

Douglass, a Ventura resident who is primarily concerned about the issue of homelessness, also voiced support for controlling chain stores.

"I do like the idea controlling chain stores in Palo Alto, even though I hang out a lot at Starbucks," Douglass said.

Eric Filseth, one of three candidates affiliated with the group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (along with DuBois and Kou), criticized the council for looking at projects on an individual basis without consideration of their cumulative impacts when it comes to things like traffic, parking and school enrollment.

"We're not really looking at the big picture of how it all works together," Filseth said.

Kou and DuBois agreed and both said more data is needed to gauge the impacts of new developments. DuBois also noted that many of the parking and traffic impacts the neighborhoods are seeing these days were caused by commercial developments. That is why, he said, he supports the city's current effort to raise the hotel tax rate by 2 percentage points.

"I think it's only fair that we use the taxes on hotels to help mitigate some of the impacts," DuBois said."

Seelam Reddy, a retired engineer, is the only candidate who has come out strongly against the hotel tax. He agreed with others, however, that the city needs to do more to "manage growth" and taking "a balanced approach to development."

Scharff, meanwhile, reiterated his support for eliminating the "planned community" zoning process, which enables developers to request zoning exceptions in exchange for public benefits. The council agreed last year to adopt a moratorium on planned communities while considering reform. Scharff also supported having a cap on office development downtown and being very selective about what projects get approved.

"We won't be able to say you can have no office development in Palo Alto," Scharff said. "I'd strongly support making sure that we mitigate all of the impacts through some sort of 'beauty contest' to make sure our office development doesn't impact the city."

One topic on which there was genuine disagreement was the city's 50-foot height limit for new developments. Shepherd said it's time to have a discussion about breaking the city's 50-foot height limit. Candidates Mark Weiss, a concert producer, and John Fredrich, a retired teacher, both said they support leaving the restriction in place.

"I believe in a 50-foot limit without exception – no gazebos, no rocket launch pads," Fredrich said. "Fifty feet is 50 feet."

Johnston, a partner at the law firm Morrison & Foerster, was less strident in his opposition. There could be circumstances, he said, that warrant going higher than 50 feet.

"I think it would be a rare exception, but there may be an exception," Johnston said.

Shepherd said she would be willing to consider going above the limit, noting that some of the most popular local buildings (including the University Art building across the street from City Hall) are far taller than 50 feet.

"If people are interested in looking outside the boxy designs, we as a community should talk about it," Shepherd said. "I'm not prepared to go there yet, but I am prepared to have that conversation."

Wolbach said there's an "awful lot we can do within 50 feet" and said he doesn't see an upswell of demand from the community for breaking the 50-foot barrier.

"If we're going to do that, I think it should be a referendum," Wolbach. "We should put it to the public."

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2014 at 10:53 am

> Scharff also supported having a cap on office development
> downtown and being very selective about what projects get approved.

It’s hard to believe that “the building is the benefit” Greg Scharff actually believes what he is saying—but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and see if he has any specific policy changes that he believes can be approved by the Council that are, in fact, legal. Scharff has four weeks before the election—that’s a lot of time for him to explain himself.

> "I think it's only fair that we use the taxes on hotels to help
> mitigate some of the impacts," DuBois said."

And just how does Mr. DuBois expect to do that? Money from virtually all taxes/fees goes into the General Fund—85% of which is used for salaries/benefits. As more money goes into the General Fund, the employees suck it out in terms of higher salaries, with no specific increase in work output to justify these salary increases.

Of course, the Council could target specific improvement projects with new taxes that they propose—but that’s really never been done in the past. At this time, DuBois continues to distinguish himself as a single-issue candidate with no understanding of municipal process, or finance.

> Johnston, a partner at the law firm Morrison & Foerster, was
> less strident in his opposition. There could be circumstances,
> he said, that warrant going higher than 50 feet.

And what possible exceptions might Mr. Johnson envision for these exceptions? And just how much of a variance of this fifty-foot limit would Mr. Johnson be willing to vote for?

> "I do like the idea controlling chain stores in Palo Alto, Douglass said.

This is truly frightening. The idea that people with no idea how business works making decisions that restrict the rest of us from exercising our free will to live our lives as we see fit is truly frightening, even outrageous. [Portion removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Lytton office bldg
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 3, 2014 at 11:50 am

Mr. Scharff repeated once again that Lytton Gateway, his favorite 4-story office building, that the building is fully parked.
Not true. It is 22 spaces under-parked.

Excerpt from Ordinance 5158
.. and payment of $1,476,200 to cover the cost of 22 in-lieu fee parking spaces (at $67,100 per space).

and June 4, 2012:
(2) Financial contribution of $625,000 to the City’s Parking Fund and payment of $1,476,200 to cover the cost of 22 in-lieu parking spaces (at $67,100 per space).


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Oct 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm

"This is truly frightening. The idea that people with no idea how business works making decisions that restrict the rest of us from exercising our free will to live our lives as we see fit is truly frightening, even outrageous."

In that case you're going to have a fight on your hands with the "Residentialists" who think this is exactly what the City's job is, especially when it comes to housing and office development.


1 person likes this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 3, 2014 at 2:30 pm

"retail that "doesn't break the block." He [Scharf] gave as an example of a block-breaking building the Wells Fargo building on University Avenue."

Learn some Palo Alto geography, Mr Former Mayor. There is no Wells Fargo building on University Avenue.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 3, 2014 at 3:00 pm

There's Wells Fargo Home Mortgage at 581 University, but more likely Scharff refers to Wells Fargo Private Client Services at 301 University, the corner of Bryant, across from Walgreen's. It is so non-descript that I am not surprised people are unaware of it.


3 people like this
Posted by 6Djockey
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 3, 2014 at 3:16 pm

in response to Joe and Robert

"This is truly frightening. The idea that people with no idea how business works making decisions that restrict the rest of us from exercising our free will to live our lives as we see fit is truly frightening, even outrageous."

We've seen what happens when the developers have exercised their own free will for the past several years. That is exactly why the residentialist movement is so popular. [Portion removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Lytton office building
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 3, 2014 at 3:19 pm

[Portion removed.] Mr. Scharff needs to explain why 355 Lytton Gateway building was allowed to under-park, and why Mr. Scharff keeps repeating that it is fully parked.

And while he's at it, can he explain why the Below Market Rate office space in that building was given to the CHAMBER of COMMERCE. The Chamber is composed mostly of developers and bankers.
Was there some agreement with developers Boyd Smith and Lund Smith that made that happen?


3 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 3, 2014 at 3:40 pm

For those of you who don't know, the Lytton "Fully Parked" Gateway building Greg Scharff was and is such a supporter of was supposed to provide space for a non-profit in return for being allowed an oversize building. Afterwards we find out that the Chamber of Commerce is the non profit that moved in. A nice little arrangement the public didn't know about until after the fact.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 3, 2014 at 4:19 pm

I must have attended a different event that the one mr sheyner is describing, or by so-called luck I was not asked to answer any questions until forty minutes or forty other candidates/questions were polled, so he must have filed this before I got my turn.

Kudos to Jessica Roth, from a longtime community family, business owner, wife and mom --with esquisite taste, not just in shoes but music -- for organzing the petitions to support local business. That was in my notes "Jes Roth" and more, in case I turned out to be one of the ones to be asked to answer. At times it felt like Rosencranz and Guildenstern flipping heads 111 times in a row.

[Portion removed.]

The "game show format" -- which Sid Espinosa called "the lightning round" trivializes the issue and election. Candidates put more energy into beating the clock than they did to thinking what they wanted to say.

With Democracy, you get what you pay for.


2 people like this
Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 3, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

Voters - please search the record. Scharff and Shepherd are both quoted on this very site in favor of 27 University, the Lytton Gateway project and the J Paul Project which Greg Scharff said would "increase the vibrancy on California Avenue". This project would have been over 200% of the zoning if it had gone forward. Look for the early articles on each of these projects. Once public sentiment came out against them they "pivoted" in their values.

The revisionist history is truly staggering - the record shows very pro-development behavior.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Lytton Gateway is fully parked only in comparison to 611 Cowper under construction just off the corner of Hamilton/Cowper. This project,approved
last year with TDR's, grandfathered conditions, and bonus, has 28165 sq ft of office space topped by a fourth floor 6500 sq ft single residential unit and is underparked by over 50 spaces even using mutiple parking lifts and is outside the Downtown Parking Assesment District. It is a long walk to Caltrain. Mr. Scharff says he is proud of the record.


2 people like this
Posted by Going Elsewhere
a resident of another community
on Oct 3, 2014 at 7:07 pm

It's fascinating watching how people stress out about any development in Palo Alto. Everybody is worrying about a non issue. As long as the 50 foot height limit is in existence, there's very little development that can occur in Palo Alto. Developers have gone to the south (Mountain View) and are now going to the north (Redwood City). Take a look at what's happening in Redwood City.

Web Link

Palo Alto's growth will always be limited in comparison to neighboring communities. There are too many restrictions and an anti growth movement that will always curtail it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 3, 2014 at 10:17 pm

I was very impressed by Greg Scharff last night. He was poised, thoughtful, and had some new ideas I hadn't heard before.

In particular, he suggested allowing small apartments near transit as a way of providing affordable housing by design rather than with subsidies.

This is a twofer - it provides affordable housing of a type that is needed in Palo Alto while limiting impacts on schools, parking, and traffic. Not a lot of families are going to be renting studios.


1 person likes this
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 3, 2014 at 10:35 pm

At Thursday's candidate forum, Mayor Nancy Shepherd cited as one of her achievements progress on fixing the traffic mess on Embarcadero near Town & Country. On August 29th Palo Alto Weekly ran an article saying short-term fixes like eliminating one of 3 unsynchronized lights were "imminent" yet more than a month later nothing appears to have been done to eliminate one of the lights or to synchronize the others.

I'd very much a appreciate a progress report from Mayor Shepherd and/or the city manager and/or Mr. Rodriquez.


Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Bob @ Menlo Park, Studio and 1 bedroom apartments can have kids. A recent development in South Palo Alto, the Tree House which is 33 studio apartments and two 1 bedroom apartments has kids.

And those who would qualify for affordable housing wouldn't find their dollars going very far when shopping at Whole Foods, or eating out at places where lunch costs at least $10/person, and dinner $25/person. You ever try shopping for 1 week of groceries, using the bus, especially with any perishable items (like ice cream)? it doesn't work very well.

What Scharf doesn't mention is that Palo Alto has the developers fund affordable house - any project of more than 3 units has to have 15% sliding up to 20% of the units for affordable housing; in exchange for this, the developer get bonuses and variances for more density than normally allowed. So for the 100 units of affordable housing, the developer gets another 400 market rate units. You can work out the math with the ABAG numbers where they require not only a certain number of housing units - but of those units, a certain have to be for specific income ranges.


Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 3, 2014 at 10:39 pm

Here's the link to August 29th article Embarcadero Road Fixes Coming:

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2014 at 11:29 am

> We've seen what happens when the developers have exercised
> their own free will for the past several years.

Every project that has been built in Palo Alto for a very long time has required the approval of the City Council. If you want to claim that all previous Councils have been under the control of the developers—then feel free to make your claim, and state your case. And be sure to provide some decent evidence to back up your beliefs.

Please also remember that businesses fail when people don’t patronize them—as we saw with Miki’s.

> That is exactly why the residentialist movement is so popular.

It’s popular at the moment. But part of that popularity is based on the fact that there are no clear objectives stated by this “movement”, which has no clearly elected leaders. Right now, the so-called “residentialists” are all acting in a reactionary fashion—with none of them having any real idea what to do next.


1 person likes this
Posted by iconoclast
a resident of University South
on Oct 4, 2014 at 5:49 pm

"[Scharf] had some new ideas I hadn't heard before. In particular, he suggested allowing small apartments near transit as a way of providing affordable housing..."

That notion ain't new; it's he oldest we got. Nobody dares articulate the real idea behind it: to segregate those low-income people by the tracks, at safe remove from R1 neighborhoods.


2 people like this
Posted by Lytton Office Building is Fully Parked
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 4, 2014 at 6:10 pm

@Lytton Office Building. Greg Scharff is correct, the building actually has 8 more spaces than required by the code. As part of the PC the building was required to have 40 attendant Parking spaces using only 10 actual parking spaces. The owners only got credit for the 10 spaces not the 40 and thus also had to (1) pay $1,476,200 to cover the cost of 22 in-lieu fee parking spaces (at $67,100 per space) and (2) make a financial contribution of $625,000 to the City's Parking Fund which is earmarked for a new Parking garage. Thus the building actually has 8 more spaces than required by the code and contributes 2 million towards a new parking garage.

Also this is the first building downtown to require that 20% of the employees use alternative transportation with sanctions if it doesn't happen. There are also 8 parking spaces open to the public at all times and I think 16 or so on weekends and evenings. This building does improve the parking situation not make it worse. I have parked there on the weekends and its great.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob Moss
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 4, 2014 at 8:24 pm

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2014 at 9:04 am

Scharff has centered the discussion about Lytton Gateway entirely around
parking issues. That is where we are in Palo Alto under this Council
majority- the goal posts have been moved. The scale, the character,
the visual impact of this massive building, what most people associate with the impact of new development-prior to the parking debacle created by this City Council- are not discussed. We need a new vision in Palo Alto. [Portion removed.] We want a quality,aesthetic environment. This Council majority has put us in a survival mode mentality in response to the problems they created.





1 person likes this
Posted by EasyVote
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 5, 2014 at 9:52 am

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Lytton office building
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 5, 2014 at 10:56 am

> As part of the PC the building was required to have 40 attendant Parking spaces using only 10 actual parking spaces. The owners only got credit for the 10 spaces not the 40 and thus also had to (1) pay $$$..<

Double Talk! and exactly why we cannot trust him. Developer got credit for 10 spaces because that is what he built. NOT a fictional 40.


3 people like this
Posted by Real World
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2014 at 11:47 am

" Not a lot of families are going to be renting studios."

Exactly the kind of magical thinking that got us Arbor Real which supposedly was only going to attract the downsizing retirement crowd, but us surprise surprise full of families sending kids to local schools which coincidentally filled on that side of town. If you build inexpensive studios, you have to plan for all the people who will crowd in there to get their kids into Palo Alto schools.

As to the person above bringing up development in Redwood City - that's right, they got our planners who densified Palo Alto, and they're next. RWC still has some actually affordable places where they should now prepare for displacement and massive high density gentrification.


1 person likes this
Posted by Real World
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2014 at 11:50 am

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 5, 2014 at 12:30 pm

This idea that dense housing belongs near rail station, somehow helpful .. Why? Because they'll take the train to the grocery store? They'll send their kids to school on the train? They send their kids to soccer practice on the train? Its just plain ignorant to think that dense housing - because its near train station - is somehow helpful. Those people still need to move around their own surroundings on a daily basis. They still need cars.


Like this comment
Posted by Margaret Fruth
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 5, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Margaret Fruth is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Sea-Seelam REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 7, 2014 at 11:13 am

Dear palo alto citizens:

I request you not to vote for 2% additional tax.

Our economy is just beginning to recover. An additional business tax is going to increase cost of doing business.

Let us get steady job growth and we can reconsider.

We have enough money to sustain; we are Palo Alto.

You know who I want to tax; the litterers near Lytton Plaza. They come late at night, some or drunk; have no decency to even throw stuff in the trash bins.

How are going to be a clean Palo Alto like Singapore?

I would like citizens view on clean Palo Alto.

Respectfully


Like this comment
Posted by Sea-Seelam Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 7, 2014 at 11:19 am


I request you not to propose houses/condos that are of train compartment size.

It may be ok to add one of these as an addition in the back yard; but not as a single family or condo.

These will not fit with Palo Alto life style. They belong in other big cities like NY, Tokyo; not here.

I went to Japan once and stayed in Kyoto. It is very confining.

I think we can do better over time.

Respectfully


3 people like this
Posted by Margaret Fruth
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Margaret Fruth is a registered user.

This appears to have been deleted in error, without explanation:

If elected, Alan Cope "A. C." Johnston will be a second-generation politician, since his father was a state legislator in Illinois. Johnston wants to start at the top, with on-the-job training. Is giving orders in a structured military environment, in the confined space of a submarine, relevant to working in a group who usually don't share the same points of view?

He has said he has no "preconceived idea" what the voters' concerns are, which suggests he may not have been paying attention to the events of the last year. He likes the city's current level of "quality of life," and supports some growth. He is willing to raise the fifty-foot height limit on "rare" occasions, but has not been specific.

He claims to be independent, but his future voting can probably be predicted from the list of his supporters, which includes current pro-development incumbent council members Gail Price, Marc Berman, Larry Klein, and Liz Kniss (who he says convinced him to run, and has been briefing him, perhaps briefly).


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

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