News

Council halts divisive downtown project

Palo Alto officials side with appeal, demand design changes, size reductions

Two months after it seemingly secured the city's approval, a divisive four-story development proposed for the former site of Shady Lane on University Avenue found itself back in planning purgatory Tuesday morning.

Following an exhaustive discussion, a split Palo Alto City Council sided with appellant Michael Harbour and dealt a heavy bureaucratic blow to the mixed-use building planned for 429 University Ave. While the council did not outright support Harbour's appeal or explicitly reject the project, it effectively ordered the project be redesigned, downsized and thoroughly re-reviewed.

The council's 5-4 vote followed the political division from last November's election, with the five candidates most closely identified with the slow-growth "residentialist" philosophy making up the bare majority. While in recent weeks, the council took unanimous stances on limiting office development and protecting ground-floor retail, the old fissure resurfaced on Monday.

Mayor Karen Holman and Councilman Pat Burt, both former planning commissioners, led the charge in crafting a motion that was so long and wide-ranging that it took up two printed pages and would not fit on the overhead projector in the Council Chambers.

At one point, with the clock ticking toward midnight, the council paused its meeting so that the deputy city clerk could go upstairs and make printed copies for council members to read before the vote.

Burt, Holman, Vice Mayor Greg Schmid, Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth all agreed that the proposed 31,407-square-foot building is too dense and too massive for its location.

"This motion would intend to have a building that would have less mass and scale -- by implication, a smaller building -- and have certain design changes that would make it more compatible," Burt said as he introduced the motion.

The dissenters, Marc Berman, Liz Kniss, Greg Scharff and Cory Wolbach, supported a separate proposal that would have required further analysis but that stopped well short of requiring the types of broad design revisions that the majority favored.

The City Council didn't explicitly deny the project. Rather, it continued its appeal hearing but required the project to undergo new reviews by the Historical Resources Board and the Architectural Review Board. The council's motion also included a catalog of issues each board should focus on.

The historic board will be asked to pay particular attention to the modernist building's impact on the largely Victorian block on Kipling Street. It will consider whether the mass and scale of the project would have an impact on existing historic properties, discuss the project's "area of potential effect," and consider whether there should be other "historic considerations" given to the approval.

The Architectural Review Board, which reviewed the project five times before voting unanimously to support it in February, will have a trickier task. Having already determined that the project is compatible with the surrounding area, the board will now be asked to consider the council's concerns about the project's purported incompatibility.

The architecture board's approval in February was quickly followed by a green light from the Planning Department. Normally, this would mean the end of the planning process, but because of Harbour's appeal, the project ended up going to the council.

The question of the project's compatibility was at the heart of Harbour's appeal and of Monday's debate. In the appeal, Harbour likens the building's angular design to a "parking garage." The problem is particularly severe on Kipling Street, he argued, which is narrow and dominated by Victorian buildings.

"The side and rear of the proposed building along Kipling Street is overly tall, massive and architecturally dissimilar to be remotely consistent with the existing one and two story Victorian or Spanish Colonial structures on Kipling Street," the appeal states.

Harbour elaborated during his presentation Monday.

"This design is simply not compatible," he said. "There are no shared characteristics or design linkages with neighboring buildings. ... This is a colossal building being proposed on the narrowest street in downtown Palo Alto."

But the architecture board, project architect Ken Hayes, and the project's supporters all argued that downtown has plenty of tall buildings (this one would be 50-feet tall) and a wide range of styles. Hayes cited Palo Alto's "eclecticism" as one of the city's defining positive traits.

"Palo Alto is recognized worldwide for its entrepreneurial environment, its innovation, its technology, its position on environmental concerns and sustainability," Hayes told the council. "Our architecture should be part of this forward thinking, not stuck in the past."

The development had its share of supporters at Monday's hearing. Brad Ehikian of Premier Properties made a pitch for diversity in architecture and suggested that 50 years from now people might talk about Ken Hayes the way they currently talk about Birge Clark.

"Why are we trying to recreate styles of the past? Why don't we celebrate the designs of the future and the designs that challenge the status quo?" Ehikian said.

But the project drew heavy fire from neighborhood leaders and land-use watchdogs, including members of the citizens group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning. While one supporter of 429 University Ave. analogized the building's forward-thinking design to the Transamerica Pyramid, one opponent likened it to a Soviet factory from 40 years ago.

Randy Popp, chair of the architecture board, noted that the design of the proposed development had evolved significantly over the two-year review process. Ultimately, after much debate, the architecture board agreed that the changes went far enough to warrant a finding of compatibility. Planning staff also confirmed that in approving projects, the department generally takes into heavy consideration how much the project had changed over the process.

Filseth took issue with this logic and suggested that staff is applying the wrong criteria. The findings shouldn't consider what the project plans looked like in the past but on whether they are compatible with the surroundings, he said.

To drive the point home, the council majority supplied the architecture board with a laundry list of issues they should now reconsider in determining compatibility. The overriding focus was on making the building smaller and more like its neighbors. The board was directed, for example, to focus on street building facades and return with "greater reinforcement of the relationship of the street with building mass."

"The upper floors need to have setbacks to fit in with the context of the neighborhood," the motion crafted by Burt and Holman stated. "Specifically, the look and feel from the street should be of a look and feel compatible with adjacent buildings, with the option of a third or fourth floor provided they are visually compatible from the street, requiring articulation or set-backs."

The council also requested a circulation analysis, a study of shadow patterns and "design linkages" between the new development and the "overall pattern of building" in the area.

The council's decision creates a potentially steep hurdle for the project, which included ground-floor retail, offices on the second floor and apartments on the third and fourth floors. The design also included an underground garage.

Yet critics were concerned that the new development would worsen downtown's already considerable parking problems. The project relies on various zoning exemptions, -- including a provision that allows developers to purchase entitlements in exchange for rehabilitation of seismic properties -- to reduce its parking requirement from 92 to 35 spaces. The development would have provided 40.

For many residents, that was far from good enough. Norm Beamer, speaking on behalf of the umbrella association Palo Alto Neighborhoods, cited the parking impact of the project as a reason for why the group supports Harbour's appeal.

"It's high time to eliminate the exceptions," Beamer said. "These exceptions make no sense given the crisis of inadequate parking in the downtown area."

Greg Schmid agreed that parking is a critical issue that should be addressed. But most of his colleagues were primarily concerned with building's size and design.

"It's completely striking how massive and out of scale this building is," DuBois said during the discussion.

The long discussion proved exasperating for applicant Elizabeth Wong, who after a long journey through the Palo Alto process suddenly found herself back at the drawing board.

She called the city's actions a "waste of time." Two years ago, when she began working on the project, she had offered to reduce her development's size by taking out the residential component or the underground parking garage but was deterred by staff, Wong said.

Furthermore, her team already made numerous revisions to the design to address concerns from neighbors and architectural board members.

"Your ARB did not fulfill their obligations," Wong told the council. "Your city did not fulfill its obligation. There is no guidance for a person who wants to do a building in the city.

"They would proceed but they are afraid that they could come back and be faced with this," she said, pointing to the long motion on the screen. "Maybe, they should come back in two years, after a new election, with a new set of people."

Related content:

Downtown denizens split over proposed development

Council to weigh appeal of polarizing downtown development

Development at Shady Lane site faces citizen appeal

Comments

60 people like this
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2015 at 3:28 am

The council decisions make sense on this project.

Thanks Council.

respectfully


27 people like this
Posted by joker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2015 at 4:09 am

[Post removed.]


58 people like this
Posted by One ARB Direction
a resident of University South
on May 5, 2015 at 6:47 am

Hopefully the ARB heard what the council said loud and clear. The long list of points were areas that council said the ARB got wrong, they did not believe ARB followed the ordinance strictly enough. Wong is right- the ARB did the city no favors by rubber stamping yet another massive project. I hope that with stricter following of city code, there will be less appeals. Thank you council to stopping the insanity.


64 people like this
Posted by Rule of law?
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2015 at 7:17 am

we really have no rule of law.

There are a set of council members who were elected because they said that they "wanted to follow the rules". They are not anti-all growth, they are just concerned with the PC process, and intrusion into R1 neighborhoods.

Now, there is a building that is fully compliant located on University Ave. It is smaller than several neighboring buildings. It preserves ground floor retail. It built more parking than what the code requires.

It is rejected because of the whim of council members.

If we have "pro-development councilmembers", would it be right for them to not follow our codes, and just approve developments on their whims? NO! This is absurd that we allow this process to work in this manner.


91 people like this
Posted by Commonsense
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 5, 2015 at 7:24 am

Totally unfair. People may not like the building but it follows ALL the rules and has been through the grueling PA process. To change the rules at the very end is a huge blow to our entire town's integrity. Shame on you, council! Will Wong sue?


45 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 7:42 am

Let's bottle up the "it follows the rules" meme early.

The rules are subject to interpretation. Council over time has passed long and internally inconsistent building and planning codes. Staff and the boards have been lax in interpreting administrative rules authorized by codes. Previous Councils have tolerated and even encouraged lax interpretations, but all applicants know from the outset of a project that the final arbiter is the Council at the time of an appeal.

We'll never have perfect clarity in building and planning codes, but we can do better than today.


67 people like this
Posted by Good faith
a resident of University South
on May 5, 2015 at 8:05 am

Actually, the project followed all the rules. The council members changed them afterwards. End of story.

The point is, when the residentialists said they believed in the zoning rules and they just wanted to end exceptions, that was just a lie to sound moderate. We should have known - their other rhetoric was about how four-story condos are "creeping Manhattanization". (Clearly they haven't been to Manhattan. Contiguous four-story buildings would look like Paris.)

In other words, they want our downtown to look like Midtown or Barron Park.

I love our downtown as it is and as it could be. I don't know the developers, but it's a sad day for all of us. We'll see where and if this ends.


54 people like this
Posted by One ARB direction
a resident of University South
on May 5, 2015 at 8:17 am

Council found the project DID NOT comply with our rules. Specially our compatibility and context ordinance. Plain and simple.


77 people like this
Posted by Hooray!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 8:19 am

The City Council made the right decision and should be applauded for having the backbone to do the right thing. I agree the City's process needs to be cleaned up so projects don't drag on and on, but the terrible process in the planning department and the existing boards is not a good reason to allow an awful building to go in that will negatively affect the neighborhood and downtown for a long, long time.

Eric Filseth is dead on when he took issue with the idea that the number of revisions made somehow was a reason for approving the project. This is a tactic developers use - start with a completely ridiculous plan and then "negotiate" it to something that is still awful, all the while wearing the City down while screamingly loudly about how many revisions have been made.

City staff and the ARB were wrong to approve this project, period. Kudos to the City Council for sticking with their election promises. Hopefully over time we can begin to reverse the damage done by the previous council(s).

Wong was getting plenty of "guidance" from the City and neighborhood, she just chose to continue forcing through an ugly, out of place building that is under-parked and incompatible. The outrage is predictable and simply part of the "developer script." As are the threats of lawsuits.


49 people like this
Posted by Downtown Worker
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 5, 2015 at 8:32 am

This sounds like a significant blow to the ability to build new housing in downtown. The hope had been four-story condos in downtown (smaller, of course, than what was built in the 30s, but still something!), which at least some residentialists signaled they were OK with.

An otherwise conforming building on University Ave was found to be "incompatible" in ways that will not let it use all of its height and space as allowed by zoning regulations. It sounds like the residentialists just did a de facto downzoning. If you can't build to the zoning limits across from the President Hotel (what is that, six stories?), you're surely not going to be able to do it elsewhere.

I thought the residentialists were for existing zoning and just wanted to get rid of arbitrary council changes to zoning. I guess they are against arbitrary council changes to the rules only when they approve projects, not when they reject them.

This makes it open season for the next council to create exemptions to zoning as they see fit, too.


31 people like this
Posted by Bike Commuter
a resident of Ventura
on May 5, 2015 at 8:46 am

From Palo Alto Municipal Code for Downtown:
Web Link

18.18.110 Context-Based Design Criteria
(a) Contextual and Compatibility Criteria
Development in a commercial district shall be responsible to its context and compatible with adjacent development, and shall promote the establishment of pedestrian oriented design.
(1) Context
(A) Context as used in this section is intended to indicate relationships between the site's development to adjacent street types, surrounding land uses, and on-site or nearby natural features, such as creeks or trees. Effective transitions to these adjacent uses and features are strongly reinforced by Comprehensive Plan policies.
(B) The word "context" should not be construed as a desire to replicate existing surroundings, but rather to provide appropriate transitions to those surroundings. "Context" is also not specific to architectural style or design, though in some instances relationships may be reinforced by an architectural response.
(2) Compatibility
(A) Compatibility is achieved when the apparent scale and mass of new buildings is consistent with the pattern of achieving a pedestrian oriented design, and when new construction shares general characteristics and establishes design linkages with the overall pattern of buildings so that the visual unity of the street is maintained.
(B) Compatibility goals may be accomplished through various means, including but not limited to:
(i) the siting, scale, massing, and materials;
(ii) the rhythmic pattern of the street established by the general width of the buildings and the spacing between them;
(iii) the pattern of roof lines and projections;
(iv) the sizes, proportions, and orientations of windows, bays and doorways;
(v) the location and treatment of entryways;
(vi) the shadow patterns from massing and decorative features;
(vii) the siting and treatment of parking; and
(viii) the treatment of landscaping.


62 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2015 at 8:46 am

Yes, let's set aside the meme that this followed the rules. Silly.
This plan was overwhelming in size and scale and should never have come before the council in this form. Thank you to Michael Harbour for challenging the project.

And thanks to Eric Filseth for pointing out that starting with something that is grossly in violation and then paring it down to something "better" but still in violation is not a strategy that will continue to fly.

Thank you Council for putting in the work that should have been done previously by staff and the commissions. I hope this corner will eventually be a beautiful and harmonious part of the streetscape, and I'm very grateful for the council's effort.

Hopefully this appeal will inform developers, architects, the staff, and commissions that they have a duty to follow and enforce the Comprehensive Plan and the Downtown Urban Design Guidelines, which WOULD have provided ample guidance had they not been abandoned by staff and the ARB.

uilding should have been noticed as in violation of ALL the above Comprehensive Plan requirements.


84 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2015 at 8:47 am

With all surrounding buildings and storefronts being at most 1 1/2 stories, the proposed 100 x 110 FOUR STORY building was entirely out of scale. Here are just a sampling of the abandoned requirements from the Comp Plan and the Design Guidelines:

Policy L-5 : Maintain the scale and character of the City. Avoid land uses that are overwhelming and unacceptable due to their size and scale.

Program L-3 : Maintain and periodically review height and density limits to discourage single uses that are inappropriate in size and scale to the surrounding uses.

Policy L-6: Where possible, avoid abrupt changes in scale and density between residential and non-residential areas and between residential areas of different densities.

Program L-4 Review and change zoning regulations to promote GRADUAL transitions in the scale of development where residential districts abut more intense uses.


57 people like this
Posted by Hooray!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 8:53 am

People don't seem to realize that maximum zoning limits do not mean that every project can go to the maximum height and size. Context is part of the equation. The comprehensive plan and the ARB are there to ensure compatibility and logical development. The ARB failed to follow guidelines strongly enough, and the planning department caved to the developer (as usual) based on some number of revisions, irrespective of the fact that the project was still inappropriate.

Zoning maximums are like speed limits. Just because the maximum speed limit is 65MPH, doesn't mean it is ok to go 65MPH 100% of the time. Can you imagine people suing the CHP for being ticketed for going faster than it is safe for conditions, traffic, etc?

Bravo to the council for forcing some sanity. Hoepfully we get rid of all of the ridiculous exemptions that have caused a parking and traffic congestion nightmare.


54 people like this
Posted by crazy
a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2015 at 8:58 am

What I'm seeing is a war on the future.

This is a four story building for crying out loud - overwhelming? massive? REALLY?? It's as if the people writing in have lived on farms their whole lives and have never seen a four story building before. What kind of hyperbole would they use to describe SF?

Cities grow and cities change. This building is across from a 4 story structure and down the street from a 6 story structure. We should be encouraging growth in a transit-rich area and discouraging it in areas that don't have transit available - like South Palo Alto. The building is perfectly compatible with what a city's downtown should look like.


48 people like this
Posted by Downtown Worker
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 5, 2015 at 9:02 am

"With all the surrounding buildings being at most 1 1/2 stories..."

If the rule is that you can't be taller than your neighbors, that's a new and very restrictive zoning rule. This building was across the street from a four-story building, down the street from the President hotel, and one block away from the high-rise at 525 University. This is the center of downtown, not an isolated parcel in Barron Park. There's plenty of tall buildings on Lytton that provide a gradual transition out of the residential neighborhoods.

The idea that a four-story building on University violates the "scale and character" of the city or that it doesn't involve a "gradual" transition from the neighborhoods is just ludicrous. It's hard to believe that this is even meant seriously when it comes from residentialists decry every building over two stories as creating "urban canyons".


31 people like this
Posted by Downtown Worker
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 5, 2015 at 9:12 am

"What I'm seeing is a war on the future".

Yes, precisely because the future of the Peninsula is the ability for our children to live here.

A future where my children and yours can live in the towns we have lived our lives in is what will keep the character of our towns as they are. I love the Peninsula for its vibrant small-city life and its culture of innovation where so many amazing things have been created. I want to see the character of the people and the culture preserved for the next generation, not just the character of our buildings.

If we refuse to allow our cities to grow to accommodate our true character, we're going to end up in a suburbanist theme park for billionaires.


7 people like this
Posted by Bike Commuter
a resident of Ventura
on May 5, 2015 at 9:27 am

Here's a listing of all the Hayes projects in Palo Alto: Web Link

I wonder how many of them are considered "compatible with adjacent development" by this City Council?


7 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on May 5, 2015 at 9:36 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


29 people like this
Posted by wow, just wow
a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2015 at 9:50 am

This council really is in the pocket of PASZ. There are a host of things that they have supposedly prioritized (including implementing RPP, TDM, the comp plan), but they have meeting after meeting to restrict the very growth that is allowed by the comp plan.

It turns out that the "Sensible" in "Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning" means "do what ever we wish if we call it incompatible".

I think that they want to make the process so unpredictable that no one would ever try to build anything in Palo Alto again. This is not a conspiracy theory. It is probably quite close to the truth. Scary stuff in the modern day.
[Portion removed.]


60 people like this
Posted by Amen
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 9:56 am

Glad my November vote counted and our voices are being heard - and reflected - by the current City Council.

Context is critical and I appreciate the diligent consideration of Council members and their decision to send this project back for revisions. I know many people put in a great deal of work on this project - and I'm sure it was painful for everyone involved (including Council) to have to send it back for revisions. But it was the right thing to do.

Thank you.


2 people like this
Posted by Banana republic
a resident of University South
on May 5, 2015 at 10:15 am

[Post removed.]


64 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 10:20 am

Finally, the council recognized the casual disdain staff and the ARB have for our rules. Last night's testimony spotlighted some of the sophistries our planning officials and the ARB use to ignore them.

How could Hayes, a savvy exploiter of the system, not be aware of this? He's not a victim; he's an insider who's been busted.

You want rules. Here's an applicable one from the Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan:

"POLICY L-5:
Maintain the scale and character of the City. Avoid land uses that are overwhelming and unacceptable due to their size and scale. Scale is the relationship of various parts of the environment to each other, to people, and to the limits of perception."

No way Hayes' Neopaleolithic pile complies with this. It belongs in a low rent Silicon Valley office park.

Calling it "modern" showcases our ARB's architectural ignorance.


23 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 5, 2015 at 10:22 am

This is another example of the spineless council over reaching. there are rules set up for development if they are inconsistent fix them, if they are too open to the whim of interpretation narrow them, just don't make a completely uncertain development environment. It is slowing down what this great city could be because of every complaint that surfaces. We need vision in the city council not nostalgia.


35 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 5, 2015 at 10:35 am

Yeah for the City Council. This is the MAIN STREET of the city - any new building needs to be appropriate for the main street. It cannot be just a building that meets the rules but has no style or presence.
This building could go on El Camino - it would be okay for that location. Or Alma, Hamilton, etc.

I would question any building on Univeristy that is a combination of commercial, business and residence unless a hotel. It is tacky.


23 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 5, 2015 at 10:49 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Anarchy = the absence of rules

The purpose of General Plans and the zoning derived from such plans is to provide a level of certainty for both property owners and citizens regarding how land can be developed.


In Palo Alto it appears that the purpose of the General Plan and the zoning derived from it is to remove certainty for all concerned. The result will be chaos and stagnation.


31 people like this
Posted by gf
a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2015 at 11:15 am

gf is a registered user.

Election victories seem to have given the no-growthers very big heads. They were elected (whether we like them or not) to follow a path but also to follow the rules. Unfortunately they are displaying hubris often associated with dictators of little countries. Wondering when the developers' lawyers are going to start firing shots across the city council bow.


32 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2015 at 11:22 am

Your kids won't be able to live here if there's nowhere left to live. I don't get it. I know people who grew up here who already can't afford to buy and I have no idea how their kids will be able to do so unless they win the lottery.

Every step to make building more expensive and less dense drives up costs for everybody, and pushes these character-changing building projects into the crappy mcmansions all over my neightborhood.


32 people like this
Posted by paul
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 11:24 am

@slow down:

You said, "It is worth it to clarifying exactly which city council members are bought and paid for by developers and Palantir"

I'm not a member of city council, and I don't know any of them, but this statement you made, and many like it made by snarky commenters like you, is offensive to me.

On what basis do you make this kind of ad homonym attack? Do you know something? If so, let us know.

Otherwise, it would be great if you could refrain from attacking people who disagree with you in this in constructive and un-neighborly way.


30 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 5, 2015 at 11:33 am

Crescent Park Mom is a registered user.

All very valid reasons for sending this project back to the drawing board. Well done!


16 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Professorville
on May 5, 2015 at 11:37 am

I second what "Rule of Law?" says above. I'm no fan of the PC process and want downtown development to provide ample parking, etc. but this decision seems arbitrary.


51 people like this
Posted by a step forward
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 11:43 am

The entire Council agreed that just from a circulation standpoint alone this project presented major issues in the alley way and Kipling. This of course is obvious. Yet four Council members just wanted to approve the project and "study" the problem. The staff pushed the project in its present form, the ARB approved it, the HRB was left out completely. Sound familiar? Fortunately this time there was a strong well put together appeal and a new Council majority which came through to stop another debacle. The concept of "area of potential impact" evolved in assessing this project. Last night was a major step forward in Palo Alto. It's more than a decade late but we'll take it in a hopeful sign.



26 people like this
Posted by Brother
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 11:47 am

"Our architecture should be part of this forward thinking, not stuck in the past."

Yes, Ken Hayes, but forward thinking architecture is not synonymous with overbuilt, environment-destroying, and ugly, simply because people before you used their heads and sense, and some semblance of concern for beauty.


27 people like this
Posted by Samson
a resident of University South
on May 5, 2015 at 11:49 am

My problem with the Council's decision is that the applicant (Mrs. Wong) played by ALL of the rules laid down in front of her and she got screwed.

I attended many of the ARB meetings where this project was discussed and Ken Hayes was roundly slammed by the Board for the earlier iterations. Mrs. Wong and Mr. Hayes went back to the drawing board and redesigned the project to adequately address EVERY ONE of the ARB's concerns.

At each of the ARB meetings there were only one or two interested parties who entered an adverse opinion of the proposed project. The ARB carefully reviewed and addressed these concerns with Mr. Hayes.

At the end of the day, Mrs. Wong did everything required of her to re-develop the property.

If anyone should feel misused...it should be Mrs. Wong.


15 people like this
Posted by a dangerous precedent
a resident of Community Center
on May 5, 2015 at 11:55 am

It feels like there will be a backlash against the "imperial councilmembers", who want to believe that their whim is the law.

If Burt and Schmid do get get re-elected, the "new" majority will feel like a precedent has been set: any majority can just do whatever feels right to them. It is pretty clear that the residentialists do not respect any rules. Why should anyone else behave any differently?


19 people like this
Posted by Brother
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 11:55 am

@Dave
"Your kids won't be able to live here if there's nowhere left to live. I don't get it. I know people who grew up here who already can't afford to buy and I have no idea how their kids will be able to do so unless they win the lottery."

Pardon me while I wipe the milk I just snorted out my nose. This place has never been affordable to buy in. I knew the oldest man in Palo Alto some years ago, and he was called crazy for the amount he spent on his house when this place was still Mayfield.

People who raised kids here have kids who already won the lottery, especially if they bought. You can downsize and move your prop 13 exemption, and hand over your house to your kids without it being reassessed or being taxed. They get a nice house in Palo Alto for nothing.

We're considering where to go next. Sure, we'd love to have the option of coming back, but it's a one-way street once you leave. I really don't get this reasoning that we have to build more luxury units and that somehow in an expensive desirable place this will drive costs down? No it won't, ask Manhattan or Hong Kong. What it will do is make the recessions nastier, though.

I live near some older apartment buildings that currently (and usually) have open spaces. Perhaps it's not equal to the lifestyle you wish, but the prices aren't that bad for the area, either.


16 people like this
Posted by Jeff Keller
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Jeff Keller is a registered user.

Tax under parked offices. "she had offered to reduce her development's size by taking out the residential component or the underground parking garage"

It is an out of size office with a little housing and residential thrown in to justify breaking the intent if not the rules.

"to reduce its parking requirement from 92". Tax the building owners every year for every parking space it is below 92.


37 people like this
Posted by Downtown
a resident of University South
on May 5, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Yesterday, the city council created a new system where no normal person will be able to afford to take the risk to design and propose a new building and then start over again at the whim of the council. I'm thinking that, rather than the local palo-alto based small developers and family projects, we'll be looking at wealthy out-of-area developers with entourages of attorneys and lots of litigation.

I have always respected the much-maligned Palo Alto Process because there was an honest intent to analyze the issues and adhere to the rule of law. Now, there are no rules that anyone can rely on. In addition, the parties who were opposed to the project were not engaging in productive dialogue but rather a monologue without any interest in hearing what the project team had to say.

Finally, I think that the personal attacks on the integrity of Ken Hayes are disgraceful. I've known Ken for many years and he is a hard-working person with very high integrity. I was disgusted by the appellant's description of Hayes' drawing as dishonest, intentionally misleading, etc.


40 people like this
Posted by larry
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Thanks and congratulations to the council!!
Your hard work and clear thinking on this decision is commendable. We look forward to more of your capabilities applied to straighten out our city processes and developments.


41 people like this
Posted by Inadvertent humor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm

It was amusing to hear Ken Hayes describing his notion of compatibility. Really funny.
And another supporter was Daniel Garber (Arrillaga"s architect) who designed the garish no-parking new Apple Store for the Wong's.
Love Apple products, but hate the store. It is garish, an inappropriate design for University Avenue, has NO parking, and the piped in noise is really unpleasant. Thank you Mr. Garber.

The Wongs are a huge company owning MANY properties, not the little mom and pop operation they pretend to be. And they were canny enough to hire the most predatory architects.
Thanks to the City Council for standing up for us!


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 5, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If the Council now wants to revise the General Plan and the zoning ordinance then they should vote for a moratorium on all projects until those changes are made. Otherwise the Council is bound by law to not stop projects which comply with the current zoning. If a "clever" architect" can design something that complies with the zoning but which the Council does not want then the problem is with the zoning language not with the architect.


26 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Hoffman
a resident of Mountain View
on May 5, 2015 at 1:16 pm

I lived in Palo Alto and visited downtown for years, and I wouldn't bat an eye at four stories. I'm disappointed to find out that to some four stories in a downtown main street is too monstrous to contemplate. I think the soaring housing costs and rampant displacement of residents is more monstrous, but that's just me.

In an area where housing is not keeping up with job growth and traffic overwhelms us, I think we should approve a project that makes the problem better. People who live in downtown could live car-free lives, which is better for the rest of us who won't have to contend with them in traffic and parking.


18 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 1:32 pm

"Otherwise the Council is bound by law to not stop projects which comply with the current zoning."

Get beyond the propaganda and read the fine print, sir. This building's design uses discretionary concessions in order to exceed the zoning regulations. The key word is discretionary. Talk to a lawyer about that.


27 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 5, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Jeremy - guess what - your city of MV is going to build a lot of new housing - but it will be housing in residential areas - not the main street of MV.
And Peter - Atherton and Menlo Park are very tight on how land use is implemented. No tacky buildings in those towns.

Problem with the ARB is that they don't understand that main streets and downtowns need to have a cohesive theme. The Ken Hayes building can go on El Camino, Alma - etc.

If the ARB does not "get it" then the PACC does and they have no requirement to rubber stamp any ARB's favorites.

We vote for the PACC - we do not vote for the ARB. The whole point of the rule of law is to avoid conflicts of interests and special interests.


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 5, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The whole point of the rule of law is to avoid conflicts of interests and special interests."

The whole point of the rule of law is to have laws which are followed - in this case the Council violated its own zoning ordinance.


23 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 3:29 pm

@Sampson - you went to the meetings but apparently misunderstood the process. ARB, PTC and Staff are not the final planning decision makers. Building code often gives applicants clear rights and entitlements. Planning code often has conditions that need to be reviewed and balanced. Planning code delegates review authority from the City Council to the Planning Director and the Planning Commission, but the Council ultimately retains decision-making authority through a review process. That's what happened here.

It is not unique to Palo Alto that commissions, boards and staff can be overridden by Councils and even directly by the voters. The Warriors are exhibit A as they move through the San Francisco planning process.

It's inconvenient for developers and applicants that staff can't negotiate authoritatively over plans, but all you doomsday predictors are making things up when you say that uncertainty will kill future development. It's more likely to put everyone on notice to bring their A game then it is to kill development. Ken Hayes has an A game, but he hasn't brought it to every project he's designed downtown. When downtown developers start hiring some of the international architects who have worked for Stanford, I expect the projects will generally get approved.

Peter Carpenter is often right in his comments, but in this case he's just wrong. The Council didn't violate their ordinance; they reviewed an application that had previously been reviewed by subordinate participants and made their own compliance determination. No violation; just a notice to the boards and staff that they are not following the council's intent. When we get a new council in a couple years they will be able to superimpose their intent which could be more or less lenient than today's council. That's how real estate works in the real world.


43 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Many thanks to Council Members Filseth, Schmid, Holman, Burt, and DuBois for breaking the cycle and enforcing the context and compatibility portions of the code.

Despite the fact that several projects in recent years have more-or-less ignored these considerations, they are are indeed required by the laws of this city.

It is unfortunate for the Wongs -- and embarrassing for the city -- that Planning staff and ARB members did not guide the project into complete compliance.

We can hope that this experience will lead to improvements in the design, review, and approval process, and as necessary, appropriate clarifications in the code.


21 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 3:58 pm

"The whole point of the rule of law is to have laws which are followed - in this case the Council violated its own zoning ordinance."

And if you want exceptions to the laws, which this building's developers did, you have to justify them. Council didn't think the developers had justified the exceptions. As our nominally supreme legislative body, they decide. Done.

Why aren't you aware of this? Is Atherton on another planet?


35 people like this
Posted by ThankYouHeidi
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 5, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Thank You for stopping this building development. It should have been reviewed much more responsibly by the ARB two years ago.

The current City Council is listening. Thank you


5 people like this
Posted by what exemptions?
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2015 at 4:27 pm

"curmudgeon" states:
"and if you want exceptions to the laws, which this building's developers did, you have to justify them. Council didn't think the developers had justified the exceptions."

This project did not require any exemptions. Cite those that you are referring to, because I think that you are just making this up.


30 people like this
Posted by If not now
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 4:36 pm

THANK YOU

I don't have time to read all the comments or even the story but the headline COUNCIL HALTS this horrendous project is good enough for me.

THANK YOU



34 people like this
Posted by Kerry55
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Glad to finally see a good appeal supported by the city council. Now it's time to re-establish norms for the ARB as well as get the city's planning dept to uphold zoning rules and the Comp Plan. This should have happened 10 years ago,but it's a start!


4 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on May 5, 2015 at 4:46 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

This example of " progress " is mirrored by another well known city. The City of Boulder, Colorado.
The FEDERAL GOVERNMENT wanted to renovate the existing NIST Labs on their own property. A fancy many storied building campus would provide NIST with room to grow and maintain the NIST Labs for many years. One " little problem "; Boulder had planned for possible encroachment problems including residents' ability to view The Flatirons and local views from their property. The City Council was firm and even the mighty FEDERAL GOVERNMENT had to resubmit plans for a lower height set of buildings that kept the " ocean liner " buildings intact. If you drive by the frontage of their properties, you can see what I mean.
The City of Boulder kept their views and laws designed to keep those views intact.

Now about Xcel Energy that USED to supply the City of Boulder's Energy needs, that is another story...


25 people like this
Posted by Beyond feet and inches
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 5, 2015 at 4:58 pm

The above postings are actually a good compendium for understanding Palo Alto rules, a guide to understand common mistakes (especially of the "common sense" kind). 100 years ago common sense made it clear that gravity does not bend light, and that Einstein was an imposter and a fraud.

Unfortunately for judging the positively the rationality of Palo Alto residents (that is an assumption that the following was posted by a resident and not an architect buddy of you-know-who)somebody posted:

Posted by Commonsense
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
8 hours ago

"Totally unfair. People may not like the building but it follows ALL the rules and has been through the grueling PA process. To change the rules at the very end is a huge blow to our entire town's integrity. Shame on you, council! Will Wong sue?"

"ALL" is the operative word here, but you listened in chambers, on TV, or on the Web, to the back and forth arguments in chambers, it was clear that not all rules were followed in the design.

The city building code contains more than rules about heights and setbacks. A building can be under parked even so exemptions were bought, like the Apple Store. We learned to our astonishment you can get 10 transfer rights (for example) by just tearing a historical building, which may have 10 earthquake failure modes, down instead of remedying the problems in situ.

Parking: the building is physically under parked. Legally apparently it was not (even that is subject to argument) because of the corrupt haste of past City Councils to sell TDRs for $5000 who are worth maybe $50,000.

The city should immediately stop selling such rights (TDR) and stop relying on parking district assessments. If needed, buy back the rights or let the owners sue the City for having collected the fees without building the garages like in Bryant (which, IMHO is very good architecture)..

The cry of "good faith" of "Common Sense" is the cry of the scoundrel who does not want to think through the bitter truth (From the secret collection of H.L. Mencken found recently in a New Hampshire attic).

So poster "Common Sense", maybe you want to correct your post above. We all know you are wrong. The rules preventing the destruction of Palo Alto are more subtle than you want to make us believe and contain references to more than heights and setbacks in feet.









16 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on May 5, 2015 at 5:06 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

P.S. : That proposed building looks like the housing typical of the " block of flats " that the Soviets built in East Germany. There are plenty of flat, open spaces that had propaganda posters displayed on them. The " wong way " to go for Palo Alto to go IMNSHO....( pun intended )


Like this comment
Posted by Confused
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 5, 2015 at 5:06 pm

The city council is so inconsistent. In neighborhoods they approve massive, out of context houses saying they fit zoning. Then downtown they argue the other direction. Why do they refuse to protect neighborhoods? Or why don't they at least behave consistently?


21 people like this
Posted by JS
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 5:34 pm

The building owners are capitalists; they want to maximize income from their piece of property ( #LotsOfMoneyInTheirPocket ). They want to take advantage of the tremendous rents being paid by firms wanting to locate in downtown Palo Alto. Secondary to the building owners are context, compatibility, scale, etc. They will bow to context, compatibility, scale, etc., but only to the minimum degree that they have to in order to get their project approved (as apparent from their proposed development concept).

Whatever building is placed at this location is going to be there for 50-100 years and any negative impacts (increased traffic, ugly aesthetics, etc.) the building produces are likely not going to impact the building owners one bit - instead these negative impacts will instead those people living in and visiting downtown Palo Alto.

I would be more concerned with appropriate design than supporting the building owner's capitalist endeavors.

The building owner's have not lost anything to date: they still own a piece of income-producing property in Palo Alto that is bring them a pretty penny in rent. Every redevelopment proposal is a gamble and their envelope-pushing concept got voted down. They can keep their existing building or try again with a concept that has a higher probability of succeeding.


3 people like this
Posted by Skeptical
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2015 at 5:47 pm

I guess I know who I am *not* voting for next election...


32 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2015 at 5:49 pm

Bottom line is that the building is just ugly. It reminds me of drab streets of Los Angles and Tokyo. Purely utilitarian. If this building is allowed, more uglies will follow.

It is good that the council stopped this attempt to Los-Angelize Palo Alto.


21 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 6:00 pm

@Confused - you are absolutely right this is a new direction, but we can't blame the council for inconsistency. Perhaps it's a signal that the council expects tighter scrutiny on residential neighborhood applications. We have new members - Filseth, DuBois and Wolbach - who are all doing exactly what they promised in the election. And existing members who did exactly what they have done for the last few years.

In residential neighborhoods staff have been guilty of repeatedly approving designs that don’t follow the city’s review guidelines. Rather than developing a process for plan review, staff rely on neighbor complaints and ad hoc analysis. Not really fair to developers, neighbors or the broader community, but easy for staff and they frequently play the “approve this design because it's less bad than it could be” card. If it’s a resource problem then the council should address it with contract plan review help we can trim back quickly in the next downturn.


9 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 6:32 pm

" "curmudgeon" states:
"and if you want exceptions to the laws, which this building's developers did, you have to justify them. Council didn't think the developers had justified the exceptions."

This project did not require any exemptions. Cite those that you are referring to, because I think that you are just making this up."

2 TLAs for starters:
FAR
TDR

Now go forth and educate thyself.


8 people like this
Posted by Samson
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 5, 2015 at 6:52 pm

#Inadvertent humor

Wrong. The Palo Alto Apple store was designed by BCJ Architects of San Francisco and Apple Retail in Cupertino.

The building was removed because it was an un-reinforced masonry structure that could not be economically reinforced.

What else are you wrong about?


11 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Congratulations on the empty store front Palo Alto, with this council I have a feeling we'll get to see even more of these in the future!


4 people like this
Posted by what exemptions?
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2015 at 7:15 pm

@ curmudgeon

you are still wrong, and spreading mis-information.

This project was fully compliant with both FAR and parking (which is what TDR impacts).

TDR use is part of our municipal code (used to pay for things like historical preservation). It is not an "exemption".

This developer was not looking for ANY exemptions.

This is clear in the all of the documentation. Council objected because they claimed that it is "out of character". You should read the staff package before you post


21 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 5, 2015 at 7:29 pm

I am happy that we have people who contribute their time to support various commission activities. The city derives great value in those contributions. I am also happy that a "commission" is advisory only - it can help guide potential activities / projects to work through the requirements of the city. However - no commission constitutes a legal authority for final decisions on city projects. Commissions are not employees of the city and are not elected by the city residents.

The Comprehensive Plan is work in progress which will go through a number of changes which have to address the outstanding legal requirements that are imposed on the city by the county and state. Those legal requirements are continually changing how cities do business.

The PACC is entrusted to guide the city through those changing requirements and balance current needs against the projected needs that will be imposed by outside agencies.

The Planning Department needs to have a web site - possibly internal only - which has on file all projects submitted and status of those projects as they wind through the system. The Planning Department needs to have a revised guideline that states what type buildings will be reviewed for any section of the city. Downtown is not the same as El Camino near San Antonio - which is the commercial zone for hotels and multiple unit buildings.

Down town is a unique location that has to have a very unique set of requirements. Thank you to the PACC for making sure that the downtown is a location we will be proud of 10 to 20 years in the future.


11 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 7:39 pm

"This developer was not looking for ANY exemptions."

I said "exceptions" not "exemtions." They are not the same thing. You should read my posting before you take exception to it.

"This is clear in the all of the documentation. Council objected because they claimed that it is "out of character". You should read the staff package before you post."

This action didn't happen in the staff package (actually it's called the council packet). It took place in the city council meeting, which I followed live with an educated ear. The issue was not the fact the building was "out of character," but whether the process to allow it to be so was properly executed. The intelligent, objective members of the council legally made the finding that it was not.


6 people like this
Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on May 5, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Can we make elected officials personally liable for bad decisions that trigger justified lawsuits against the city and drain taxpayers' funds? Blocking a building design that complies w/ existing regulations and ignoring contract law to blackmail the landlord of the BV park are two examples that come to mind.

I do regret voting for some of these people.


3 people like this
Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on May 5, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Can we make elected officials personally liable for bad decisions that trigger justified lawsuits against the city and drain taxpayers' funds? Blocking a building design that complies w/ existing regulations and ignoring contract law to blackmail the landlord of the BV park are two examples that come to mind.

I do regret voting for some of these people.


17 people like this
Posted by a step forward
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2015 at 7:48 pm

@Beyond feet and inches
There is more. The building at 524 Hamilton, completed last year, and the one around the corner under construction at 611 Cowper, both use TDR's, grandfathered conditions, bonuses,to reduce parking requirements and are outside of the Downtown Parking Assessment District. So even when somebody says in the most narrow view,off the top of their head, "Oh,the project complied with the rules", remind them whose rules we are talking about.

@confused
Yes, in the neighborhoods the FAR's are too high, the setbacks too narrow,
parking requirements too minimal. So here is another area the new Council needs to address fast.


6 people like this
Posted by what exemptions?
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2015 at 7:51 pm

@ curmudgeon

okay... exceptions (I had corrected this, because I don't think that "exceptions" are a thing in planning. Maybe I'm wrong).

Can you point me to the "FAR Exception" that the building was seeking? If your contention is that "the FAR Exception only came out during Council discussions, and is not documented anywhere", then you have completely lost credibility. Everything that comes before council is recorded. This is not a set of oral histories that we're debating.


24 people like this
Posted by Iconoclast
a resident of University South
on May 5, 2015 at 7:52 pm

This building reminds me of the "Superblock" proposal that would have wrecked our downtown with an ego-serving ultramassive concrete structure in the 1960s. That rubes' proposition also was stopped in the nick of time.


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 8:07 pm

"Can you point me to the "FAR Exception" that the building was seeking? If your contention is that "the FAR Exception only came out during Council discussions, and is not documented anywhere", then you have completely lost credibility."

There you go again. I did not write "the FAR Exception only came out during Council discussions, and is not documented anywhere." Can you read?

I am not going to do your homework for you, but I'll make one attempt to tell you how to go about it.

Get a copy of the council packet from the city website and search for the acronym FAR. Don't just stop at the first instance; try to read all about it.


2 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 5, 2015 at 8:23 pm

@ Curmudgeon

Relax.


10 people like this
Posted by what exemptions?
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2015 at 8:32 pm

Sigh.

I actually went back and checked.

Indeed, permitted FAR is 2.91:1; The building is below this at 2.86:1.

I knew that you were lying, but I still couldn't help myself. There was no "FAR Exception" being requested (but you seemed so confident, I just had to check).


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 10:01 pm

Good start. That includes the exception granted this building that was part of last night's contention. Now look up the FAR entitlement on that property per the existing zoning.

@Neighbor

Thanks. I will relax. Come on over and have a beer.


28 people like this
Posted by K
a resident of University South
on May 6, 2015 at 1:39 am

Council Rocks!

Thank you.


6 people like this
Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2015 at 1:54 am

Four stories is nothing for a suburban downtown setting and one could even argue there should be no parking requirement considering proximity to Caltrain. It shouldn't be forgotten that requiring 100% on site parking would result in more, not less projects of this scale. The projects will just expand in size horizontally (not just vertically) as with 429 University which was going to take up about half a blocks worth of street frontage. Accommodating just people is easy and allows for greater flexibility in architectural design and works with smaller lot sizes. Accomodating each person plus their 4,000# car is what would really change the character of the downtown. As an example think about what downtown San Jose looks like. Is that what Palo Alto wants for itself?

I think the biggest problem with the 429 University project was it's clumsy generic design. I wouldn't even describe it as modern. At best I think it would fall into some nebulous category like Traditional Contemporary (like a banal architectural equivalent of "smooth jazz"). It's not like every building needs to "make a statement" but this one seems to have "nothing to say". It also has nothing to contribute to the architectural character of the downtown.

I agree the project needed more contextual sensitivity but there are many ways that could of been achieved through modern design. The last thing it needed was an historical revival style. If anything it should of been more modern in design. A Fake Historical building there would of disrespected the true historical buildings nearby. Imagine a Fake Victorian there? It would not only be out of context for University Ave. but lead to the impression all those Victorian residences on Kipling were also fakes.


13 people like this
Posted by elizabeth Wong
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2015 at 3:29 am

Fellow Americans and fellow Palo Altans: Thank you to many of you who see the pitfall of council's decision on 429 University Ave. When the law becomes subjective, there is no way to follow it. Council's subjective dictates not only hurt me, but they hurt all of us. It is scary to propose any project, construction or other, residential or commercial, large or small, to the City nowadays when the rules can be changed by a populist council. And this is the reason why we Americans stand for what is right, what is the law. It is because only with firm laws we can feel safe and protected. For aspects of the building that were more complex and needed expert advise (such as traffic, massive, scale), Planning and ARB commissioned independent consultants and used their results to approve the project. 8 Revisions over 2.5 years to vet all issues including context and compatibility. All rejected by the residentialist council members that pretend to know more than the professionals.
Some good must come out of all this: (1) Please submit your contact information to amyewong99@gmail.com so that we can coordinate our support for council candidates that will uphold the law. (2) Also email me names of Land Use attorneys that I may contact to deal with the aberrant council members. Thank you.


29 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2015 at 7:31 am

Good Job city council. It may be to late, but it gives many of us hope.


31 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 6, 2015 at 7:40 am

That was some kind of theater on Monday night. I don't think the current council is responsible for the problem. Those who voted in support of the appeal essentially took a step towards returning development approval from Staff to Council. I think the basis for the controversy is recent history of Staff assuming an ever-increasing decision making role and slipping darn near everything on to development-friendly CCs for a perfunctory final approval. Residents screamed out to get the last few CCs to slow down and tackle problems exacerbated by rampant development, to no avail. Had there been even a slight move in the direction of reasonableness the election outcome would probably have been different and the current division less polarizing. Also, I think Staff relied on past approvals that arguably should not have happened b/c they were not compliant. Past wrongs do not make a right and should not be perpetuated. And residents should be able to rely on CC to recognize this and vote accordingly.


18 people like this
Posted by Charmed
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2015 at 7:47 am

During the May Fete parade, I was charmed by the attractive building at 429 University. It stands out in its unique decoration and approachability while housing four different businesses. Even better, was a diversion along Kipling, where I haven't been for years because it is impossible to park long enough to get to a destination and return to the car within the given time. This made me realize how much I miss going downtown because it is not a place for residents, but for workers.


16 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 6, 2015 at 8:10 am

If I am mistaken please correct - the ARB is not staff - who are employees of the city. The ARB is unpaid residents who have the desire to support the city through volunteered time to help facilitate the process so that any project has at least completed the city requirements for presentation to the PACC for approval. The ARB within it self has no legal authority to approve property issues. Nor does the staff have the legal approval process within itself but is dependent on the City Manager for final approval to put forward a recommendation.

We voted on the PACC - not the ARB. From where I am sitting the PACC has the legal approval process in which the city moves forward. I can appreciate that people get caught up in "the process" but the process is only a path to the approval by the PACC - it has no legal rights within itself.

I suspect that this situation got very emotional - as documented by the current and prior tracks on this subject. But the emotional content itself has no legal rights in the final approval by the PACC.


9 people like this
Posted by renee
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 6, 2015 at 8:48 am

Council is not entitled to commit illegal acts. It is illegal to not to provide equal treatment under the law when many similar buildings were approved and will be approved in the future.


4 people like this
Posted by what exemptions?
a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2015 at 9:29 am

@curmudgeon is now exposed as a fraud, just throwing out misinformation. The building did not require any exceptions. It was fully compliant. The one example he raised, FAR, is easily measurable and compliant. I feel a bit silly that I went back and checked, but I think of it as a public service.

Now you can disregard his future statements. You're welcome!


23 people like this
Posted by Hooray!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2015 at 9:48 am

@renee:

So, if the last three white guys weren't given a speeding ticket when they were pulled over, but a fourth white guy is given a ticket for speeding, that's illegal? Love the logic. "Equal treatment under the law" is not an issue here.

@Elizabeth Wong:

Why did it take eight revisions? Is it because your architect continually made minimal changes that did not fully address the first round of reviews? Is it because your architect, who knows the City process and staff very well, knew the staff would eventually be worn down and approve it, and then you could cry "poor me" over having to make "eight revisions?"

And seriously, a wealthy business woman asking an online public to recommend land use attorneys? I bet your architect knows them all. Clearly only meant as a threat to stir people up. That's a bully tactic.


7 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 6, 2015 at 10:28 am

You all will note that the George Lucas Museum in the Presidio - which got voted down by the Presidio Trust because the style was inappropriate for the location - is now surfacing due to FOIA in the paper as to the convoluted negotiations that went on - resistance to a change in design. The Lucas project in Chicago is meeting similar problems.

I think the design for the PA building got caught up in the "Apple" configuration - a lot of glass - which over the long term is a negative in the event of a major earthquake - which we can expect over the next 20 years. Can we please forget the "glass feature" in heavily used pedestrian and auto areas. In the event of an earthquake we need a building that can sustain the event. We need to think through where the building is going to be relative to foot and auto traffic.

The bottom line here is that rejection of a design is not a new idea - it is
the right of a city - or other land use organizer - to eventually create the best design style for an area - in this case despite the heavy lobbying of noted individuals.


10 people like this
Posted by Inadvertent humor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2015 at 10:48 am

Samson, I suggest you look at Web Link
to verify that Daniel Garber was involved in the construction of the Wong's new Apple Store at 340 University.
You know, the egocentric, ostentatious, lookatme, charmless cave at the terminus of Florence St.

About its Parking exemption it says:
"Parking Spaces - None required - additional floor area from TDR and seismic bonus are exempt from parking requirements"


13 people like this
Posted by water waster
a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2015 at 10:50 am

YEAH!!!! finally some sense. stop the incessant building and additional strain on our scarce water supply. palo alto needs to wake up-- we have no water in California--we are not special. our watering needs to be on an only if necessary usage. more bathrooms, sinks, showers, lawns (all lawns should be non-existent at this time-they will come back quickly when we see more rain) are totally unwelcome and unwise. what we need is more dams and reservoirs--not more high-rises--


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Posted by elizabeth Wong
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2015 at 10:54 am

There must be clear direction (laws) to follow. We followed the existing law as interpreted by City, ARB, City's consultants and used for many similar projects downtown. If you want to change the laws, do so; but, not after the game has played.


17 people like this
Posted by Hooray!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2015 at 11:03 am

>> If you want to change the laws, do so; but, not after the game has played.

The City Council is the only legal body that can approve the project, so clearly the "game" has not already been played. We're not even in over-time yet.

Don't confuse "laws" with "guidance." The laws are being followed completely here. BTW, you also got plenty of "guidance" from the community but you refused to listen.
[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2015 at 11:09 am

"The building did not require any exceptions. It was fully compliant. The one example he [curmudgeon] raised, FAR, is easily measurable and compliant."

Sigh. OK, one final lesson. Table 3, PAMC 18.18.060(b), applies in the CD-C zone on this site. [Portion removed.]

BTW, why do you refer to me as he? Curmudgeonery is equal opportunity these days, you know.


6 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 6, 2015 at 11:19 am

You cannot keep saying that the city requirements as to design are a "law" - they are guidance only. There is no "law" that was broken because no "law" existed concerning the appropriateness of the design.
You cannot legislate good design for the location. You cannot implode bad design upon the city and say that is a "law". Sorry - that dog does not hunt.


4 people like this
Posted by what exceptions?
a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2015 at 11:45 am

@curmudgeon

[Portion removed.]

"(5) FAR may be increased with transfers of development and/or bonuses for seismic and historic rehabilitation upgrades, not to exceed a total site FAR of 3.0:1 "

From the very table you cited.

And no, this isn't an "exception". This *is* the code. This is how it is supposed to work. FAR is a ratio. The ratio permitted for a given building is subject to a formula. Given the formula, this building had a maximum FAR of 2.91:1 (while the site is subject to a maximum potential FAR of 3.0). This building is lower than both of these numbers.


30 people like this
Posted by Insider
a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2015 at 11:47 am

@ Elizabeth Wong

Any inquiry of city staff will clearly show their endless backbending expended to accommodate in a professional manner not just your project but also your work style. Not only did they guide you through the requirements and repeatedly express reservations about not just the mass/bulk of your project despite your already being plenty familiar with the city process from your Apple building experience, but they also had to reign you in on your direct solicitations of ARB counsel outside of the public forum. A careful study of the documentation reveals that it would not be a stretch to say that staff was almost bullied into their affirmative findings.

Further, a review of the documentation will also show @ Hooray! to be spot on -- the eight revisions could have been significantly less had more of the comments of the ARB been incorporated more fully earlier on in the process. While it could be interpreted as "true" that 429 design team responded to each of the items of concern raised by the ARB, in many cases the "response" to a stated concern was "We didn't change anything because we feel that what we have is best for the project". Which helps explain why council had to get involved.

@ resident 1
You are correct. ARB members are board members, not commissioners, and they community volunteers, not paid, and they are not a decision making body. However, of the current ARB membership, only the youngest is a Palo Alto resident [remaining members live in either RC or Mountain View] Sadly, there are a few currently serving on the ARB that are intent on pursuing their own political agendas which will come as a detriment to Palo Alto if these are realized.

While it is fact that 429 does comply with many of the existing codes/regulations, it is in blatant violation of guidelines that exist specifically to prevent these kinds of projects from being constructed, which, unfortunately, are subject to interpretation -- [just as, law is also subject to interpretation.] Yes, while TDR's exist, under parked buildings will be able to become "approved" as meeting all the regulations and perpetuate the parking shortage. [btw, the only reason 429 ever made it to commercial viability is b/c of TDR's provided via the purchase of the adjacent building.] While it is unfortunate that Ken Hayes has become well known as an expeditor -- one who knows all the loopholes and how to exploit them to commercial advantage -- this may explain why his firm's name is now on many of the El Camino/University Ave projects and why we should all be on alert when his buildings come up for approval.

No doubt 429 as currently designed is a greedy building. With almost 72 water consuming devices [replacing now qty. = 4] it is designed as a legacy building to provide almost a ~ $80,000/mnth revenue stream into perpetuity. It clearly violates the guidelines for development on University Ave as set forth in the Comprehensive Plan and it's revisions currently in draft.

Maybe those of us grateful we don't have to look at this for the next 50 years can start a fund to reimburse Mr. Harbour the $400 for the cost of his appeal.


Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2015 at 11:57 am

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Abuse of power
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 6, 2015 at 12:00 pm

This ruling by the council is a shameless abuse of power. Period.


12 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2015 at 12:25 pm

As someone mentioned earlier Ms. Wong owns a number of ultra premium properties, both residential and commercial, in Palo Alto. She is definitely not an inexperienced developer unprepared and fooled by the process.

If I recall correctly years ago there was another dispute with neighbors and the City on an Old Palo Alto residential property. Once approved it took four (or five) years to built, deliberately or not, to the point that neighbors had to file complaints to the city about the years of excessive noise and blight.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2015 at 12:34 pm

I think the discussion of how to work with the applicants to optimize their investment in 429 University should be held in companion and simultaneous with the discussions of plans submitted nearby at 437 Lytton (at Kipling) and 500 University.

I like the idea of a Kipling Pedestrian Mall but merely obstructing or killing off the current plan hardly accomplishes that.

Per the Grand Jury Report of June, 2014, I fear that much of the enactment of our policy on development is left out of the Weekly and out of the public deliberations.

This case, which I’ve been following for months — I spoke against it at ARB but actually now support it — is anomalous and confounding. Something about this whole mess reminds me of the George Clooney character, Ulysses Everett McGill in the Coen Brothers epic “Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?” trying to buy hair product from a general store located “two weeks from everywhere”: ain’t it an oddity?!

To me the Palo Alto Process is equal parts our Comprehensive Plan and Coen Brothers’ tropes.


7 people like this
Posted by in the know
a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2015 at 12:41 pm

@ m2grs

You're spot on. It was a mess. But it speaks volumes regarding foundational context.

Here is the link to that debacle

Web Link


27 people like this
Posted by Hooray!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2015 at 1:22 pm

>> This ruling by the council is a shameless abuse of power. Period.

The council is doing what they were elected to do, and are completely within their purview!

Regarding approvals by the ARB etc, please note that the last council appointed new ARB and PTC members, so if they are not aligned with our current ELECTED city council it is not surprising. At least in the case of the PTC, they deliberately removed moderate members and replaced them with PAF and high-density proponents.

The last council is who put us all in the situation where the current council will be forced to deny projects that are approved by these appointed boards that were stacked with people antagonistic to the will of the voters. Don't forget that!

Karen Holman, Greg Schmidt, Pat Burt, Eric Filseth, Tom Dubois: Don't back down - you ARE acting in the best interests of the City and the voters that elected you! Keep it up!


2 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2015 at 1:50 pm

"(5) FAR may be increased with transfers of development and/or bonuses for seismic and historic rehabilitation upgrades, not to exceed a total site FAR of 3.0:1"

So far so good. This is progress. Now get familiar with the Palo Alto TDR program.


8 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 6, 2015 at 5:36 pm

This certainly has been an experience in city government. Recommend the following:
1. All projects should be in a city data base which is updated as each project moves from a category of approval to the next category of approval.
2.Any project that is continually being updated based on recommendations should be reviewed by the city PACC to determine the amount of change to the project. Is the project appropriate for the designated area.
3. Guidelines for specific districts should be provided - the Main street of the city needs to have a different design recommendation as El Camino - hotel, multi-family district. We have distinct business areas and city use areas the require different type buildings based on foot traffic and auto traffic.
4. Define the limits of the ARB authority - they are there to assist the projects to prepare for presentation to the PACC for approval. The PACC should be interjecting throughout the process so that there are no surprises as the end.
5. Why are the ARB members from other cities? Is that a conflict of interest? It sounds like they are there to support the specific contractor which suggests a kick-back.
6. Make it clear at the start that the PACC will be voting on the project, the project must be consistent with the guideline It is unfortunate that people think the ARB constitutes a legal entity - that is an error that city management has made and needs to be corrected.


27 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 6, 2015 at 7:38 pm

The problem is that the ARB does not represent the current make up of the CC. In fact, it did not go unnoticed that the outgoing CC slotted in a couple of ARB members after the election but before the new CC was seated.

What also t's me off about the ARB is that the board is not 100% residents. Some of the ARB are non-residents who think they know better for us.

ARB should be comprised of residents only - there's no way this group should have any influence if they are not 100% residents.


10 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 7, 2015 at 9:16 am

I agree - the problem is that Commissions are not defined as to roles and responsibilities which is leading to confusion. They are not a legal entity - they are advisory only.

I stopped into a different meeting of the parks and was taken back by one outspoken member who only wanted non-profits to be able to rent space for a party. Since we are surrounded by for profit companies in our city then that thought did not make sense. My feeling at that point was that things are out of control here. The commission for parks does not run the parks or establish fiscal policy regarding the use of parks.

People on commissions should not be not driving the train - they somehow have trumped the city manager and the people who are on the city payroll as managers to set and coordinate policy for their area of expertise.

Please city manager and PACC restructure how this city works. And put a comprehensive data base in place to help make the job easier - it should point up any project that is being re-shuffled to reach compliance so that everyone gets involved right away.


25 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 7, 2015 at 9:33 am

Good for the current City Council.

The outgoing City Council did made a concerted and shameful effort to load up all the commissions with its toadies on its way out the door.


19 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 7, 2015 at 9:58 am

The boards and commissions have had a clout way beyond their charters because the city council has traditionally abdicated its responsibility to review, guide, and check them.

That is especially true of the ARB. It is much easier to wax eloquent about "accepting the expert judgement of the professionals who have volunteered their valuable time in service to their community for which we are extremely grateful" and move on, than to stand up against yet another ugly oversized pile that's not in their own neighborhood anyway so why care.


Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on May 7, 2015 at 1:32 pm

resident1,

which projects require a vote of City Council? I thought a vote was only required for certain projects.


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 7, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Chris - I do not know the answer to that question. However I do watch the CC meetings via TV and they vote on a lot of issues. If you read the SJM for all cities they all seem to vote on all controversial subjects.
Suspect that should be spelled out somewhere.

Land use, fiscal policy and architectural design are big topics now across the peninsula - note Mountain View is making major decisions now on that topic.


9 people like this
Posted by Hooray!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2015 at 3:47 pm

I believe the council has the opportunity to approve all building permits, but in the interests of time they only get involved when there is controversy (well, sometimes anyway).

The process is that staff and the ARB etc do there diligence, and then "approve" the project and place it on the "consent calendar" for the council to approve. The council can approve everything on the consent calendar without discussing any of the projects. Once staff puts a project on the consent calendar, the only way to get council to look at it directly is to pay $400 to appeal it being placed on the consent calendar. When an appeal is made, it then requires at least three council members to vote to remove the item from the consent calendar and take it up directly as a legislative action.

I believe this is the path that Michael Harbour took. He had to pay $400 to get this removed from "automatic approval" and have the City Council weigh in.


27 people like this
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2015 at 4:30 pm

I would like to sincerely thank Mayor Holman, Vice Mayor Schmidt, Council members Burt,Filseth,& Dubois for recognizing what a bad project this was and putting so much thought into addressing the problems and stopping it.
It gives us hope, but you have your work cut out for you because I am sure there are more bad projects in the pipeline that everyone will have to look at.


5 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 7, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Hooray - I suspect you are correct. That is what gives the commissions the control over a majority of what goes on in the city. I think that should be changed and the Comprehensive Plan update in process is the time to correct this process.

I realize that the PACC members cannot be involved in every action that goes on in the city. However there needs to be a ranking of fiscal issues, and major impact projects that are not involved in that process. We are arguing over every downtown issue, every downtown building, parking, changes to major thoroughfares, etc.

The city is in great change right now, as are all the cities surrounding us, much of which is imposed by county and state requirements. We need a top down control system as opposed to an anonymous bottoms up operation.
Most do not know who the commission individuals are, what their point of view is, and now we know that some in the ARB do not even live in the city.
That is an open door to conflict of interests and possible kick-backs.


11 people like this
Posted by insider
a resident of Downtown North
on May 8, 2015 at 8:43 am

There are no kick backs going on in the ARB. It is just seated with a majority of folks that don't live in Palo Alto so they don't really have to wrestle with the projects they review. Their projects/voting records are online. Documentation review will show that at least one of them, Alexander Lew, even though he lives in MV, consistently has sufficient scruples to uphold the five tenets of why the ARB exists.

It is true that three of the currently four members live elsewhere. The one that does live in Palo Alto is a young architect-in-training who tried twice to get seated on the ARB and finally was after 5 rounds of CC voting last Nov. when the pool of applicants was miserable, works with the ARB chair, and has not yet passed his licensing exams.

Unless there is someone/some party sufficiently impassioned to bring a specific project forward, much to their chagrin, the CC does not ever SEE many of the projects via the "normal" process. The appeal process as explained by Hooray! exists precisely for this reason.


7 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 8, 2015 at 8:55 am

Insider - Thank you for the info. However - the overall workings of the city across the board needs some work. The CITY is grappling with a lot of issues that need top level management and decision making.

We are seeing all kinds of expenditures of money which are applied to functions that will be replaced or are not needed. The fact that all of these expenditures are rippling through with no apparent over sight is horrible management of the city assets.

We need to turn the way this city works back up so more overall management of city assets is coordinated and controlled at the top level vs from the bottom up.

We can do better than this.


20 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2015 at 9:18 am

The other issue about the ARB is that there is a built-in conflict of interest with any project up for review. It is essentially a peer review. And who wants to annoy their friends and/or friends-of-friends? Especially if you may need a future favor or already owe a favor?

I want to be clear that I am not insinuating that there is anything corrupt going on at the ARB. But it would be human nature to be as helpful to your brothers or sisters in the industry.


17 people like this
Posted by a step forward
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2015 at 11:25 am

The results we are getting tell you that there is a problem. Other cities have successful design review and for that matter city planning and zoning functions. The problem in Palo Alto has been at its root an imbedded and accepted culture of favoritism toward development interests, owners, architects, and political influence, which starts at the staff level, consciously and even subconsciously it has been going on for so long, and has been carried out through the ARB with a nod from the CC or outright Council approval of projects. The ARB is rubber-stamping staff recommendations which are finding cover through interpretations, and loopholes and policies and lenient ordinances. In the current strong market the negative impacts kept piling up until the breaking point finally was reached and a new Council majority took over, which is now trying to refocus the whole process and deal with the mess.




13 people like this
Posted by Downtown resident
a resident of Downtown North
on May 8, 2015 at 12:02 pm

[Portion removed.] Horray for the council. Direct democracy in action. The council is doing exactly what they were elected to do. Good work. Let's start planning the re-election campaigns.


5 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 8, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Is there a way to get a listing of other "commercial" projects in the system - and what level of approval they have completed at this point in time? I keep seeing announcements for architectural review of projects listed in the newspaper - I guess it is time to go to those. The main concern is buildings in the downtown area which have heavy foot and auto traffic.

I remember at one CC meeting no one seemed to know how many projects were in the works or what level of approval they were in. That should be on the city data base as a matter of good business.

There should probably be an interim level of review by the PACC so we do not keep repeating this experience. It is a waste of everyone's time and money.


10 people like this
Posted by Aggravated
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2015 at 2:58 pm

It appears to me that the ARB & Planning are ignoring their goals and purpose (ARB) and ignoring a number of guidelines (both of them), yet approving projects that are bad for the city. Then the City Manager rubber-stamps them and puts them on the Consent Calendar, even with an appeal pending.
Perhaps some of these people need glasses or some of them don't understand the meaning of the words in the guidelines they ignored ?
Perhaps PACC should try a Saturday School with a Stanford English Professor to teach them the meaning of the words in the guidelines they ignored !


4 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 8, 2015 at 6:18 pm

We have a meeting on the Comprehensive Plan up date coming up - this should be a topic.

If the city is passing on projects to the consent calendar and trying to muscle these through the system then note who the individuals are and call them out on it. I notice that some of the PACC members try to call for a vote with no discussion - duly noted - don't plan on a great future in politics.


9 people like this
Posted by Aggravated
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2015 at 6:48 pm

Resident #1 is right, but it would be even better if the CC would call them out ! I wonder if any of the people who approved that project will be ashamed so many people found the guidelines they ignored ?Would someone tell me please what interest would a person have in the Palo Alto ARB who lives in San Mateo ? According to the regulation only 3 out of 5 have to be either an architect or similar, yet we are getting all these out of town people who are architects. What is going on ? And yes, someone commented on Andrew Lew, I believe who lives in Mountain View, but it appears he did live in Palo Alto at one time and it appears he has a good interest in Palo Alto. 4XDKG


5 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 9, 2015 at 9:54 am

Maybe the consent calendar should be limited to specific topics. Any land use or ARB related efforts would not be subject to the consent calendar and requires total review by all parties at various steps in the development of the project.

If you look at the Searsville topic I don't get the feeling that a paid city representative is involved in this - yet if a major climatic problem arises the city will have to be involved. And the city properties next to the creek outflow are city assets.

Likewise the bridge over 101 seemed to run on a separate track yet it directly affects and land use on either side of the 101. There is the appearance of a disconnect between the city management, PACC and commissions on major topics. Is that unique to Palo Alto? I don't get the feeling that Mountain View or Menlo Park are organized in that manner.

This is a perception problem as to how the city works - the perception of which generates much controversy that is costly to correct.


3 people like this
Posted by Aggravated
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2015 at 10:23 am

Yes, I think you are right. Any land use or ARB related matters should not be subject to the consent calendar, and especially with a resident's appeal pending! Wasn't the City Mgr trying to blow off the Harbour appeal ?
I also strongly support Norm Beamer's (P.A.N.) public statement, "It's high time to eliminate the exceptions !" Actually, it's past time !


2 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2015 at 12:54 pm

I've never quite understood why a neighbor can appeal a project. Give input during the approval process, yes. Appeal, not if the project follows the rules. If the project follows zoning laws, is approved by the appropriate City groups, it should be approved. If we keep running into issues (which we do) lets make the guidelines a lot clearer - not just a vague "appropriate scale" types of guidelines.

As an example - a neighbor of a 2 story residential project should certainly be able to request that windows don't align with their 2nd floor windows, that perimeter planting be provided for screening but unless the neighborhood prohibits 2 story homes, they shouldn't get to appeal a 2 story home.


1 person likes this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2015 at 1:17 pm

If I was part of the Wong family, I would slap a very large lawsuit on the city of Palo Alto. They followed the rules, and took advice from the various committees...and still they are denied.

Lawsuits, like war, have a tendency to focus the mind.

BTW, I don't even like the design of the proposed building. But the Wongs have property rights that have been denied.


5 people like this
Posted by Aggravated
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2015 at 2:32 pm

PACC didn't deny the project. They continued it and sent it back for more compliance to address the deficiencies.Even the ARB seemed to indicate they knew it was still a bad project, but it was way worse at the beginning.Council felt it didn't comply yet.


Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2015 at 2:48 pm

>PACC didn't deny the project.

Indefinite delay is a de facto denial. A lawsuit could settle the issues.


13 people like this
Posted by Hooray!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Actually, I think the City should charge the Wongs for repeatedly bringing the project back when it still did not meet the guidelines. There is a good deal of cost associated with staff time to repeatedly review plans where feedback is ignored and the project is simply submitted again, still not meeting the required criteria.

As stated earlier, this is a tactic that developers use knowing that eventually staff will be work down as their caseload backs up. They finally have to approve it and let the City Council have a say.

Perhaps the City should give the Wongs one more chance to comply or deny them any more chances to build anything on this site. Maybe let them try again in five years or so.


Like this comment
Posted by Hooray!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2015 at 4:28 pm

Sorry, "Worn down, not work down.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 9, 2015 at 5:06 pm

"If I was part of the Wong family, I would slap a very large lawsuit on the city of Palo Alto. They followed the rules, and took advice from the various committees...and still they are denied."

Nah. Lawsuits cost money and do not always turn out right. If they're smart, the Wongs will follow the lead of McNellis Partners at Alma Plaza, and ignore city feedback until the city council inevitably caves. Works every time--ask Mr. Hohbach. And just look what a gem McNellis built at Alma Plaza.


9 people like this
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on May 9, 2015 at 5:14 pm

"I've never quite understood why a neighbor can appeal a project. Give input during the approval process, yes. Appeal, not if the project follows the rules."

Tha main purpose of an appeal is to spotlight the rotten city process in public. Actually winning an appeal is much, much rarer than winning the Powerball.


6 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 9, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Folks - you keep trying to insinuate that the ARB is "legal process". It is not a legal process. The people who are on the ARB are not employees of the city - they are donating their time.

The PACC are the elected officials of the city.

The big error came in "the process". Please update the Comprehensive Plan
to take the ARB actions out of the consent calendar and impose intermediary steps by which the planning department advises the PACC as to status of all "in process" applications and if problems are arising on those applications.

There has to be a priority assigned to applications based on location and size of effort. Any activity on THE MAIN STREET of the city is a top priority item - all of the issues should have been reviewed and statused at the mid-point of the application process.

The PACC needs to get involved up front on these high visibility items.


8 people like this
Posted by Insider
a resident of Downtown North
on May 11, 2015 at 11:59 am

Concur that the ARB process could benefit from either an examination, a re-design, an overhaul or some combination of all of the above. Absolutely we need to retain the design review process. Absolutely the ARB is extraordinarily valuable [although could be more so if it or it's members were tweaked slightly] --- you should see some of the projects that first come through that pipeline. I do think that having to have CC remind them of their goals/reasons for existence might have been sufficiently humiliating for them to return more consistently to their charter.

Regardless, someone besides Breena Kerr of the Daily Post writing the story on the office space grab should be on point for tracking projects in the pipeline. Mapping them. And their pipeline status. Making the database searchable by various attributes [like location/geographical area/architect name/owner name/etc] Making the link available online. And keeping it open sourced so people can add to it.

@ resident 1
There are a # of current CC members that would love to have appealed ARB items automatically make it to their AGENDA and not to their consent calendar. This already has more than a current of support. It just needs a lead. Becoming the evangelist for this change would be a helpful role for someone [you?] to take on.

@ Crescent park dad
You're right. While Alexander Lew has shown himself to be definitely in the clear w.r.t. his own unadulterated merits, others appear to be far more influenced by their standing in their respective trade circles as architects or architect wannabe's. It's unfortunate, for example, that one works @ same firm as the chair so how will he ever vote differently than the chair? As a review of the films will show, on multiple occasions, the [MV residing] current chair has made it abundantly clear that he thinks a 50' height limit is a "ridiculous" building restriction.


6 people like this
Posted by Aggravated
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Isn't that an obvious conflict of interest for another ARB member to work at the same firm as the Chair who believes that some of the rules are ridiculous ?
Is there any way to correct this or does this current city council have to exercise more vigilance ?


2 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 12, 2015 at 9:52 am

Talking to residents of surrounding cities who are involved in city politics it is generally agreed that Palo Alto has a dysfunctional system of governance. What a reputation to have among your locals on the peninsula.

Note the SJM 05/12/15 = 'Editorial "Want more police? Keep land for jobs".
It is noted here that the San Jose City Council is the approver of land use issues. That is true in our adjoining cities. How land is used determines the tax base of the city. Note here that non-profits do not add to the city tax base so they need to be allocated a balanced appropriation in the city tax base make-up.

People here are trying to assign approval rights to committees, etc. No - committees do not trump the city council.
That means that the Planning Department has to have a data base that is continually updated on all projects in the system and status of changes and approvals as the projects move through the system. That data base needs to be universally available so that there are no surprises, wasted money and time.


2 people like this
Posted by Bobbyhwy1@icloud.com
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2015 at 11:31 am

This comment is all you need to know:

"Palo Alto is recognized worldwide for its entrepreneurial environment, its innovation, its technology, its position on environmental concerns and sustainability," Hayes told the council. "Our architecture should be part of this forward thinking, not stuck in the past."

Make Hayes explain this word, for word and you'll begin to see it's a very coded message that means just the opposite.
Grill him on it. [Portion removed.]


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

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