News

Controversial Page Mill development up for review

Bolstered by staff's endorsement and a favorable economic report, project heads to skeptical Palo Alto council

Few projects better encapsulate everything that locals love and loathe about new developments than the three-story building proposed for an eclectic block of Page Mill Road.

With its combination of retail, office and apartments and its prime location near California Avenue, El Camino Real and a Caltrain station, 441 Page Mill Road would be a true mixed-use project that adds both density and activity to land where four dilapidated homes currently sit.

But by requesting to build at greater density, seeking two exceptions to the city's design rules, and proposing less parking than would normally be required under local zoning regulations, it is exactly the type of project that land-use watchdogs and the City Council's slow-growth "residentialists" have been railing against in recent months. And for residents in the Ventura, Evergreen Park and other neighborhoods near the congested intersection of Page Mill and El Camino Real, any project that would add more cars to their streets is never an easy sell.

The development proposed by Norman Schwab has already earned the endorsement of the city's Architectural Review Board, the Planning and Transportation Commission and planning staff. Yet given the council's increasingly skeptical stance toward new developments, the application should generate plenty of skepticism when the council reviews it on June 15.

The project has evolved since January, when the council last reviewed it and demanded a fresh economic analysis to justify the requested density bonus. Though its size remains roughly the same, at about 35,000 square feet, the number of apartments has been increased from 10 to 16, which includes five below-market-rate units. Office space has been reduced by nearly 3,000 square feet, while the retail space on the ground floor was increased by about 400 square feet.

Though the developer is not seeking a zone change, he is proposing to exceed the density that would normally be allowed at this property. To do so, he is relying on a state law that grants builders automatic concessions in exchange for building affordable-housing units. In this case, the concessions consist of more lot coverage as well as more density. Normally, the project would be allowed to cover half of the lot. With the concession, it will cover 69 percent.

Schwab also plans to provide 91 parking spaces for the development, 15 fewer than the city's code would normally allow. To justify that, he is relying on state law and a local provision that grants parking exemptions to mixed-use projects. The building would also include 46 bike-parking spaces and a transportation-demand-management program aimed at encouraging tenants to switch from driving cars to using other modes of transportation.

The project won a mixed reception at the Jan. 26 hearing, with many residents arguing that the project would result in traffic and parking problems that the area can't handle. Joe Hirsch criticized the project for its shortage of parking and for proposing more density than the residents want to see there.

"The developer will be reaping a major benefit at the expense of the residents of Palo Alto," said Hirsch, who was one of the leaders of a 2013 referendum that shot down an approved housing development on Maybell Avenue.

Others said the project is just what the area needs. Ian Carroll, who lives in the College Terrace neighborhood, argued that the city badly needs more housing and that the 400 block of Page Mill is perfectly suited for that.

"Change is always scary, but the truth is the place as it exists now is an eyesore," Carroll said.

In considering the project in January, the council struggled to determine whether the applicant is asking for too much in concessions. While an economic analysis commissioned by the city suggested that the cost to the developer of building the affordable housing will exceed the value of the requested zoning exemption, the council questioned the data and requested a new study using a different methodology. The new analysis, performed by the firm Keyser Marston Associates, reached the same conclusion as the first: the expense of the affordable housing exceeds the value of the concessions granted to the developer.

Because of state law, the council must approve the concessions unless members determine that these concessions aren't necessary to provide the affordable housing; the concessions run afoul of state or federal law; or they would have a "specific, adverse impact upon public health or safety or the physical environment or on real property listed in the California Register of Historic Resources, and there is no feasible method to satisfactorily mitigate or avoid the specific adverse impact without rendering the development unaffordable to low- and moderate-income households."

According to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment, city staff does not believe these findings can be made.

The council has plenty of discretion when it comes to approving the "design-enhancement exceptions" proposed by Schwab. Local law states that such requests should only be allowed in "exceptional or extraordinary circumstances or conditions," though until recently the city has been fairly liberal about letting developers exceed regulations regarding building height and distance from the property line when staff and commissioners felt the exceptions would improve the project's design.

That changed on June 1, when the council signaled its intent to follow the zoning code more strictly and rejected a proposed design-enhancement exception for a development it ultimately approved at 2555 Park Blvd., effectively wiping out a proposed roof terrace.

The Page Mill development is requesting two exceptions, both relating to the building's placement. One would allow the building to be set back farther from the sidewalk than the zoning code dictates, creating a wider sidewalk. The second would allow the driveway ramp for the building's underground garage to encroach into the landscape buffer at the rear of the building.

The city's planning staff is recommending the council approve these exceptions and allow the development to move ahead, despite its deviation from zoning standards and design guidelines. The staff report lauds the project for providing a "strong street edge along Page Mill Road," outdoor eating, storefront entries facing the street and various amenities for pedestrians.

"Decaying single-family homes would be replaced by new mixed-use development that is better suited to the adjacency of a busy street," the staff report states.

Related content:

New 'density bonus' law put to immediate test

Skeptical Palo Alto council not sold on Page Mill development

Page Mill development to test Palo Alto's new affordable-housing law

Comments

22 people like this
Posted by Mystified
a resident of University South
on Jun 12, 2015 at 8:17 am

This project definitely sounds like an improvement over four dilapidated single-family homes on Page Mill Rd. The Council should get over its zoning fundamentalism and let this project replace the eyesore we have now.


40 people like this
Posted by gnar
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jun 12, 2015 at 8:38 am

Great, because that intersection isn't already a driving nightmare. Let's pump in high density housing, and then assume that everyone is going to either not own cars or park several blocks away to compensate for inadequate parking for residents. Residents can spend 30 minutes each morning in line just to merge on to Page Mill or El Camino.

Have these developers never read "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs? It should be mandatory reading. If they had, they might understand that all these new developments that wall off the street are essentially housing projects. They try to create a private space for residents and no one else, but the result is an ugly and unwelcoming block that doesn't integrate with the surrounding area and puts no eyes on the street to improve safety or create a community.

Why would anyone want to patronize a "strong street edge" on Page Mill? There are nearly no pedestrian along that route, and driving to get to these destinations will become even more awkward than it is now. Also, who wants to watch traffic on Page Mill while they enjoy "outdoor eating"?

This is another dumb idea that will put giant walls up to the street and put stores where they make no sense, just like Miki's original failed location at Alma Village, where we now have a wall of buildings and an arbitrary stoplight that makes no sense.


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2015 at 8:39 am

[Post removed.]


29 people like this
Posted by Annie
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2015 at 9:57 am

Under-parking yet another project is a huge disservice to residents. And trying to sell the idea of that area being bike friendly is ridiculous. Bike access to that corner is extremely limited.


23 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2015 at 10:18 am

"This project definitely sounds like an improvement over four dilapidated single-family homes on Page Mill Rd. The Council should get over its zoning fundamentalism and let this project replace the eyesore we have now."

An obvious PR consultant's talking point. Expect more of this formula.

My response: even if there actually is an eyesore there, don't replace it with an abomination.

This project's support from the Planning Commission and ARB should make Palo Altans regard it very skeptically.


25 people like this
Posted by exceptions
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 12, 2015 at 10:35 am

"But by requesting to build at greater density, seeking two exceptions to the city's design rules, and proposing less parking than would normally be required under local zoning regulations, it is exactly the type of project that land-use watchdogs and the City Council's slow-growth "residentialists" have been railing against in recent months."
The project sounds fine except for the density and parking exceptions. The developer will reap sufficient profit by sticking to the rules, and such a development would be an asset to the community. Why grant exceptions?


28 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 12, 2015 at 10:58 am

Why are they allowing under-parking?

Also, isn't Oregon/Page Mill gridlockced enough already?


21 people like this
Posted by lose-lose situation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2015 at 11:01 am

The affordable housing density bonus comes at the state level out of our reach, but really, 69% lot coverage? It seems like after a point your concessions come at the expense of your neighbors who now have your building right up to property line on 3 sides. Residential lot coverage is ~40%? If I let a homeless person camp in my basement can I triple the size of my house?

Apparently to the developer “the expense of the affordable housing exceeds the value of the concessions granted”
If the expense exceeds the value of the concessions for the developer, and the concessions exceed the value of the benefit for residents, then maybe this concession isn’t a good idea.


20 people like this
Posted by Here we go again
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 12, 2015 at 11:11 am

Those old eyesore houses are probably haunted too!

So build this project as submitted before it is too late! There is not alternative or we are doomed!

BTW: Any ever check out this intersection say between 7-10am or 4-6pm - kind full already, don't you think?


14 people like this
Posted by Larry
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2015 at 11:29 am

One of those "dilapidated" houses incubated a successful high tech startup, so you can't judge a book by its cover. The HP garage is also looking a bit dilapidated these days.


19 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 12, 2015 at 11:43 am

>Though the developer is not seeking a zone change, he is proposing to exceed the density that would normally be allowed at this property. To do so, he is relying on a state law that grants builders automatic concessions in exchange for building affordable housing units. In this case, the concessions consist of more lot coverage as well as more density. Normally, the project would be allowed to cover half of the lot. With the concession, it will cover 69 percent.

This is the standard argument: Subsidized housing allows increased density. It is a hidden 'tax' on Palo Alto citizens. It also means more city services, without the tax base to pay for them.

We need to stop listening to the special interests that propose subsidized housing.

Tell the developer to eliminate all the subsidized units (BMR), and then deal with the existing zoning.


27 people like this
Posted by The destruction of LA
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2015 at 12:06 pm

The Architdctural review Board and the Planning Dept approves inappropriate projects because many of its members have ulterior motives.
They are hoping for jobs with the developers when they step down from the ARB and Planning Dept. Everyone on the ARB is an architect, so they are currying favors with developers so they can get lucrative employment contracts at a future date. The city staff has been known to end up working for developers, too. Corruption reigns at city hall. The citizens of PA need to demand an over hall of the ARB.


26 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 12, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Given all of the recent reported problems and scandals at ABAG, isn't it time for Palo Alto to just say NO to their mandates?

According to published reports, they can't even keep track of their projects.

Research it yourself.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 12, 2015 at 2:20 pm

I'm usually late in chiming in. I just wait and listen/read, but then, often times it reaches a point where I can't contain myself anymore. I feel I need to say something, even if it adds nothing to the discussion and falls on deaf ears. It's just my personal way of venting. This will be brief...maybe.

I won't side one way or the other on this project...because I don't really go to that area or downtown anymore. Used to love doing it...not a good experience anymore, but that's okay. Let those younger folks, commuting workers and rich locals, enjoy it. They don't get my sales tax dollars in those old retail areas but they're getting that from others, the new young tech workers who frequent restaurants/bars. I have my little village and shopping centers down hers in SPA, Midtown and Charleston Shopping Center.

What a lucky old widower I am. At least for now, you couldn't drag me downtown to live where Stephen Levy and his wife live. But as we get older things change. Someday I might be happy to be his neighbor. I know he's a good person.

But I do have a question that I hope some of you posters, more knowledgeable than me, can help me out on.

The term BMR keeps popping up. I know what it stands for but what does it really mean in PA in terms of real dollars (rental rates) they talk about? It's talked about a lot and then we hear about ABAG's mandate with it's structured divisions...very low income, low income, medium income, et al, yada yada yada! Would someone please put up some dollar signs for those divisions?

Thanks!


15 people like this
Posted by NIMBYWORLD
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 12, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Unreal. Will the last one leaving the City turn off the lights? This is a CITY. Cities grow, evolve. I drive that intersection a number of times everyday, how many No Growthers on this blog do ? Four old crumbling houses, walking distance to CalTrain I might add, need to go. This is a beautiful mixed use development and my only complaint is it isnt bigger. Cities need high density for their mass transit to work. Let PA grow in a smart fashion with projects like this near mass transit nodes. SO many cities around the nation would love to have projects like this . Grow or Die, there is no stagnation in a City --- keep up the restrictions and you might just get yourself a Detroit , abandoned.


15 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 12, 2015 at 3:29 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

As far as ABAG, Palo SAlto should completely ignore their recommendation s,which are laughable and not worth the paper they are printed on.

There is no way the Page Mill/El Camino intersection is capable of handling this dense development. That intersection will become a nightmare if this project is allowed to go on.


12 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 12, 2015 at 3:36 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

NIMBYWORLD : Yep, if we don't create more density, more urban blight, more pollution, more noise, more traffic jams, the impoverished residents of Palo Alto will flee the town in droves, abandoning their house to rats and vermin. No doubt.


18 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 12, 2015 at 3:52 pm

Once again the Environmental Impact Report prepared by the developer's consultant, which is supposed to include an in depth and impartial analysis of traffic impacts, has been given a pass without much "inconvenient" scrutiny by both the city's Planning and Transport staff and the Planning and Transport Commission.

Is the driveway egress right on Page Mill/Oregon? And what an idiotic place to include retail, which wasn't even there before. There is a Sherwin Williams paint store ust down the road with an entrance/exit onto Page Mill, but they have good visibility as you enter and exit, as well as an entrance on the side street which I've sometimes used..

Having closely followed a number of development applications during the last decade has given me insight into how the Planning and Transport Department staff, Planning and Transport Commission members, and the Architectural Review Board members, appear uncritical and biased in favor of development applications. Appearing to bend over backwards to make as few waves as possible. Planning and Transport staff work so closely with developers they might be mistaken for their advocates. The PT&C Commission and the ARB membership has become stacked with architects, commercial land use lawyers, and those who have an ideological bias toward transforming Palo Alto with high density growth now this is their new green mantra. Regardless that this is a city already just about built out or the impact on infrastructure and schools. When it comes to council some members have or harbor ambitions for a future political career career which leaves them appearing reluctant to antagonize big money developers who might be influential and potential campaign donors.




11 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 12, 2015 at 4:02 pm

"Let PA grow in a smart fashion"

"Smart" includes planning for infrastructure, including identifying where additional schools can be located. The school playing fields are already maxed out with portables and many of the old school sites were sold off in the 1980's, when enrollment declined for a few years, to plump up the school budgets for a few years.


8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Q: What happens if the "housing" that got the size enhancement winds up as luxury executive office suites with wet bar and private lavatory?

A: The developer makes oodles more money. City hall never verifies whether the developer keeps his end of the bargain in these arrangements. Maybe that's a tacit part of the bargain.


12 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 12, 2015 at 5:07 pm

I smell another JJ&F bait and switch.


3 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 12, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Jane, I gave you a 'like this' hit. Your points are spot on and I might have unwittingly voted for council members who I now regret voting for. My bad. But that can be readjusted at the next election cycle. There are enough newly elected members who are very good watchdogs and good at analysis and numbers. They will help right the ship.


13 people like this
Posted by besides the traffic
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2015 at 6:14 pm

I'm still waiting for an explanation of why lots and lots of new residences are being approved when there's not enough water for the people who are already here. Why do I have to cut back my water use just so a real estate developer can make a pile of $ for himself?


4 people like this
Posted by Baffled in Baron Park
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 13, 2015 at 12:23 pm

Using the word 'controversial" in a sentence with "development", in Palo Alto, seems redundant. I too, agree, that Palo Alto has an infrastruture problem and needs to find good ways to deal with the growth. I too, agree that some projects that have gone up in recent history, shouldn't have been built the way they were. Alma Village and and the multi-family complex on the corner of Arastredero and El Camino come to mind. In my opinion, the buildings are too close to the street and make it feel claustrophobic. Ironically, I think this this is because the laws required them to do so. But those rules backfired, and now for those an other past projects, it seems like the current city council is faced with making up for the "sins" of city councils past. The pendulum is now swinging the other way, making it nearly impossible for anything to be built, reasonable or not. When the sign went up for a propossed project on the site where four run down houses sit on a busy street (About 2 years ago, I think), I was happy. I was looking forard to driving past something fresh and new on such a visible street in what I liked to think was such a prominent town. But those houses are still sitting there. Why? Because people here seem to be reflexively opposed to anything being built, gentrified or updated, EVER! Without considering the project. At least that's what it feels like out here. While the rest of the country would give up a limb to be developed, Palo Altans seem to want to stagnate. Again, I agree 100% that infratstructure needs to be improved to accommodate this boom town. But the solution is NOT to stop growth, it is to work very seriously on the right ways to accomodate it. What I see proposed here is a true mixed use building, on a street where it is totally appropriate, right next to the train station. Why would people object to this? No matter what. I also read the fine print. One of the exeptions is a request to be built further back from the street. Hallelujah! this is GREAT!! Why would anyone object to this? Unless, of course, the idea is to reject everything, all of the time. No matter what the project.


10 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 13, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Be prepared for Oregon/Page Mill to be backed up through at least 2017!!! during the 101 construction.

The backups on alternate routes like Middlefield have been horrendous, totally solid.

You'd think they'd wait before tying up Bayshore, too, but no!


Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 13, 2015 at 4:14 pm

Developers create plans that maximize their own income. They wouldn't build BMR housing unless it creates more income. Wide sidewalks are a way to get restaurant owners and stores to pay more for next to no construction cost. Outdoor seating doesn't show up in density calculations.

Pass an annual assessment on properties that are underparked. The city/residents should be paid by deveopments which consume excessive shares of public infrastructure.


10 people like this
Posted by Ventura resident
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 13, 2015 at 4:42 pm

This project brings up a couple of big questions for me.

Has the city done a traffic study to assess the impact of this project in conjunction with the big building going up a couple of blocks away at 2865 Park Blvd. (at Page Mill)? I think I remember it having 1400 units. What will be the combined impact of the cars from the two buildings on the Park Blvd. bike blvd. and on the Oregon Expressway on- and off-ramps? We already have huge morning and evening back-ups there.

What about park/open space for the residents at this project as well as the one at 2865 Park Blvd? Where will children play? The fields at El Camino at Page Mill are for soccer teams only. Boulware Park is tiny and not very pleasant, as it seems to be a permanent homeless encampment. Peers Park is not that close by.


14 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 13, 2015 at 4:50 pm

How about declaring a hiatus on ALL new developments that will funnel cars onto our streets and roads until December 2017 when the work on 101 will be completed? (That's their target date!)

Go read the related topics about how it's taking people from Stanford 1.5 HOURS to get from Stanford to 101 on the Dumbarton Express Bus.

Also note that the delays on Oregon have led bus drivers to divert onto Middlefield where they're forging their own LANES because they're so rude and impatient!


10 people like this
Posted by Skydoc
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2015 at 4:59 pm

Oregon Expressway is already gridlocked at rush hours. This is insanity.


14 people like this
Posted by blowing up in our face
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2015 at 7:35 pm

The deregulation of development and monstrous giveaways to developers
over the last years is blowing up in our face. I just drove by the Ken
Hayes project going up at 611 Cowper near Hamilton. This underparked building looks ridiculous crammed in that space. Anybody who wants to understand how we are in the situation we are in today should read the staff report for that project.


8 people like this
Posted by Aggravated
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2015 at 1:53 pm

441 Page Mill is just another bad, bad project that needs to be rejected by the city council.
This oversize, under parked project is proposed for a neighborhood that can't take any more additions to the area traffic gridlock.


2 people like this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2015 at 2:42 pm

@mauricio wrote:

"NIMBYWORLD : Yep, if we don't create more density, more urban blight, more pollution, more noise, more traffic jams, the impoverished residents of Palo Alto will flee the town in droves, abandoning their house to rats and vermin. No doubt."

OK, so how do you figure that increased density necessarily equals urban blight, more noise, more traffic jams? There is such a thing as sound urban planning. And impoverished residents in Palo Alto fleeing the town? Surely you jest. There are no impoverished residents left in Palo Alto except for the homeless, and they aren't about to flee a prime panhandling spot.

For some reason, you and some others seem to think the only two alternatives are a frozen-in-amber Palo Alto and replicating 1,500 foot skyscrapers smack dab in the middle of residential neighborhoods. Both extremes are equally unworkable, and we are by no means limited to those two options.


1 person likes this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2015 at 2:53 pm

@Online Name wrote:

"How about declaring a hiatus on ALL new developments that will funnel cars onto our streets and roads until December 2017 when the work on 101 will be completed? (That's their target date!)"

The problem with that approach is that we do not control development in surrounding communities. Believe it or not, Palo Alto is not an island. If development is moved to the places around us, that will still result in an increase in traffic on our streets, and at no benefit to us. If we are between point A and point B, we will be impacted.


4 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jun 14, 2015 at 2:56 pm

@blowing up in our face

What's this recent "deregulation of development" you speak of? Are you suggesting that there's less scrutiny over this Page Mill project than the housing tracts that make up the majority of Palo Alto?


6 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 14, 2015 at 3:14 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

"There are no impoverished residents left in Palo Alto except for the homeless, and they aren't about to flee a prime panhandling spot." Kazu, ever heard of sarcasm?

As far as the inevitability of density and urbanization, tell it to the residents of Woodside, Los Altos Hills and Portola Valley.

A Stanford professor told me earlier this year that at any given time, there are about 5 million people around the world who want nothing more than to live in Palo Alto. The middle ground between skyscrapers and no more density you fantasize about will satisfy only a tiny portion of those desiring to live in Palo Alto. The pressure to build higher and denser will become more immense and more difficult to resist. I guarantee that the developers will apply the kind of pressure the politicians will be unable to resist, not that they ever showed such inclination. In the process, whatever makes Palo Alto unique and a good place to live will be eviscerated.



1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jun 14, 2015 at 3:34 pm

@mauricio

I'm sure that you could find 100 million people who would like to live in New York City. Even if you completely abolished all zoning laws in Palo Alto, you still have the laws of supply and demand.


1 person likes this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2015 at 3:45 pm

@mauricio wrote:

"Kazu, ever heard of sarcasm?"

You're asking me?

"As far as the inevitability of density and urbanization, tell it to the residents of Woodside, Los Altos Hills and Portola Valley."

Those are semi-rural areas even today, not urbanized areas like Palo Alto. Large portions of those regions are open space preserves, on which development is prohibited. And you left out Palo Alto Hills, which is properly grouped with the communities you mentioned. So we should try to blame them for Palo Alto's lack of planning and constructive development?

"A Stanford professor told me earlier this year that at any given time, there are about 5 million people around the world who want nothing more than to live in Palo Alto. The middle ground between skyscrapers and no more density you fantasize about will satisfy only a tiny portion of those desiring to live in Palo Alto."

So you are claiming that the urbanize-it-all approach is the only option?

"The pressure to build higher and denser will become more immense and more difficult to resist."

It sure seems that way.

"I guarantee that the developers will apply the kind of pressure the politicians will be unable to resist, not that they ever showed such inclination. In the process, whatever makes Palo Alto unique and a good place to live will be eviscerated."

If Palo Alto is destined to be eviscerated, then why do you even waste time complaining about it? Palo Alto is by no means destined to be eviscerated, and to concede defeat in handling population growth is defeatist. By concentrating development in a few well defined areas, and by building up, we can handle substantial population growth and still have shady, peaceful neighborhoods.


Like this comment
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Jun 14, 2015 at 5:33 pm

"By concentrating development in a few well defined areas, and by building up, we can handle substantial population growth and still have shady, peaceful neighborhoods."

In other words, put it elsewhere, not in my meighborhood.

The brutal fact is that land use is least efficient in our R-1 neighborhoods, especially in Crescent Park and Old Palo Alto. That is where new housing can be most readily developed, and ought to be.

Here's what we do. Permit teardown and rebuild in R-1 zones only to build multifamily housing, with the number of family units set by a formula based on lot size. That will instantly solve three problems: shortage of land, construction financing, and excessive teardowns.

ABAG could expand that requirement to Atherton, Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley, and so forth.

If you're serious about housing I dare you to get behind this. Even, or especially, in your own backyard


11 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 14, 2015 at 5:45 pm

@ Ventura resident.

You asked if there had been a traffic study that takes into account projections for future traffic generated by other developments under construction or about to be.

At a recent council meeting one of the council members asked this question. The "Planning" director testified that the planning and transport staff review each commercial development application in isolation.

When planning for the repaving and relandscaping of California Avenue a consultant was hired to do a traffic study
prior to reducing the lanes to one in each direction. This was presented to the public in a well attended meeting. I asked if the consultant's traffic study took into account the recent "rezoning" of the area for high-density. The traffic director, Jaime Rodriguez, looked taken aback and didn't know how to answer. So Russ Reich, the other member of the planning and transport staff member present, quickly stood up and said, "We don't have any development applications before us so we can't take that into account." I was dumbfounded. Mr. Rodriguez quickly stepped in to answer another question. That is the attitude we are up against. You might ask for whose benefit it is not to alert the public as to the traffic congestion that lies ahead with all this new construction coming.

At the time of the Cal Ave "rezoning" the city manager and his planning and transport staff were directed to undertake an overall plan for the redevelopment of the Cal Ave area. When asked about this at a recent council meeting the city manager answer no, it had not been done. The new planning director, to give her her due, inherited this culture and seems to be very responsive to the concerns of the new majority council members about planning and data driven decisions. She has her work cut out for her, in fact I'm not sure when she has time to sleep.


Like this comment
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2015 at 6:17 pm

@Counterclockwise wrote:

"In other words, put it elsewhere, not in my meighborhood."

Your attempt to put NIMBY words in my mouth is ridiculous. If my neighborhood, or yours, is the best place for a given development, then so be it. If worse comes to worse, I can always hide behind the sofa. Commercial development has already crept into Downtown North, by the way. Why should those developments be limited to three or four stories? It would be much more efficient if they were allowed to go two to three times that height. And why not put high-rise residential developments nearby?

"The brutal fact is that land use is least efficient in our R-1 neighborhoods, especially in Crescent Park and Old Palo Alto. That is where new housing can be most readily developed, and ought to be."

And the point of building high-rises in Crescent Park and the Seale Addition would be...? Those are precisely the areas that should be kept as is. Development should be concentrated along University Avenue west of Middlefield, California Avenue, along El Camino Real, and San Antonio Road.

"Here's what we do. Permit teardown and rebuild in R-1 zones only to build multifamily housing, with the number of family units set by a formula based on lot size. That will instantly solve three problems: shortage of land, construction financing, and excessive teardowns."

So would building up in specific locations, and it would be a far more efficient use of land. R-1 teardowns replaced by townhouses or duplexes are a waste of time. Two or three story buildings are ineffective in helping Palo Alto achieve its housing goals.

"ABAG could expand that requirement to Atherton, Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley, and so forth."

Why? As I noted before, those towns neither need nor would benefit at all from increased development. Besides, they probably want to keep all the whiny, uncouth rabble from Palo Alto out of their living space. Rather than trying to get POST to let us create Palo Alto West on their open space preserves, perhaps we should focus on our own problems, hmmm? ABAG has mandated that Palo Alto build over 2,000 new housing units, or approximately 21 per month. We need more places like The Marc and Laning Chateau (or whatever it is called now), not a bunch of teardowns replaced by dual two-story townhouses. That would be a very inefficient use of land.

"If you're serious about housing I dare you to get behind this. Even, or especially, in your own backyard."

I am serious. Are you? If you are, you will support high-rise housing and office buildings. If you are not, it won't matter. It is going to happen anyway.


Like this comment
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Jun 14, 2015 at 6:53 pm

@Kazu

Shrillness <> Persuasiveness.

@Every reasonable reader

I think Palo Altoas a whole would benefit greatly from the mixed development that enlivens both Kazu's and my neighborhoods. R-1 is where the necessary available real estate is, and it has the room for for the traffic needed to service our new residents.

I emphatically reject ghettoizing newcomers in ultradense sacrifice zones, regatdless of the mantras prated in favor of that dismal proposition.


Like this comment
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2015 at 7:46 pm

@Counterclockwise wrote:

"Shrillness <> Persuasiveness."

Then don't be shrill.

"I think Palo Altoas a whole would benefit greatly from the mixed development that enlivens both Kazu's and my neighborhoods. R-1 is where the necessary available real estate is, and it has the room for for the traffic needed to service our new residents."

OK, but your and my neighborhoods are not Crescent Park or the Seale Addition, which is where you were proposing high-density development. Look at what is happening now to both neighborhoods. Detached single story, single family dwellings are being displaced by townhouses in University South. It is trashing the neighborhood, and is a very inefficient use of space. Why not replace the single family dwellings with places like The Marc, Laning Chateau or Channing House instead of a bunch of ugly, very low density, no yard townhouses? While we are at it, replace the teardowns slated for University Avenue with such structures. Mixed use or adjacent housing and office/retail buildings would be nice.

In both University South and Downtown North, commercial buildings are spreading out into the neighborhood, a block at a time. These are three story developments that have often displaced what used to be housing. A sea of three story office buildings and townhouses? Now *that* is ghettoization.

"I emphatically reject ghettoizing newcomers in ultradense sacrifice zones, regatdless of the mantras prated in favor of that dismal proposition."

"Ultradefense sacrifice zones"? What the heck is that? It sounds like something out of a superheroes graphic novel or an online game. And we're not in the Warsaw ghetto here. You make it sound like a lot of "old timers" vs. newly arrived residents. The truth is that many of the NIMBYs who want recent newcomers to get lost and get out have only been here 10-20 years. They are as annoying to a lot of folks who have been here far longer as they seem to be to you. If you don't believe me, look on Town Square for the posts railing against the 'nouveau riche' and 'arrivistes. If you think this is an Old Guard vs. Young Turks thing, then you are fighting a war against a nonexistent enemy. High-density housing in Palo Alto is not the same thing as housing projects in a ghetto.

Then again, maybe it is I who am missing the point. People do not post in online comments sections to discuss issues. Even in Palo Alto, they come to places like this because they love to fight. Think I am wrong? Look at the the various comment threads in Palo Alto Online / Town Square. It is just one big mud-slinging contest, apparently by design.


Like this comment
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Jun 14, 2015 at 8:14 pm

"It [Palo Alto Online] is just one big mud-slinging contest, apparently by design."

Mudslinging <> Persuasiveness.


13 people like this
Posted by Ventura resident
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 14, 2015 at 9:07 pm

Jane,

You said that "the 'Planning' director testified that the planning and transport staff review each commercial development application in isolation." Wow. It's time to change that. Thank you for the information.


Like this comment
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2015 at 9:13 pm

@Counterclockwise wrote:

"Mudslinging <> Persuasiveness."

Then don't sling mud if you want to be persuasive.


7 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 15, 2015 at 6:26 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Kazu, your comments are the most acerbic, aggressive and dismissive of those you disagree with, yet you complain about mudslinging.


8 people like this
Posted by Rational
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 15, 2015 at 4:32 pm

The article states, "To do so, [the developer] is relying on a state law that grants builders automatic concessions in exchange for building affordable housing units. In this case, the concessions consist of more lot coverage as well as more density." The implication is that the developer has a right to more lot coverage and greater density in exchange for building Below Market Rate units. In fact, a city has some discretion which concessions it will provide. It could grant ones with much less impact.

Palo Alto long has been governed by those who believe that the city and its citizens have a societal obligation to house more persons--even if that negatively and significantly impacts current citizens, including school children, taxpayers, and the local environment. Perhaps that is true--that there is an overriding societal obligation--but at least Councilmembers, commissioners, and staff members should be transparent about what each is doing rather than implying or stating that there is no choice.

The impetus for greater density comes from an alliance of developers, housing advocates who believe it is inequitable for there to be places that are too expensive for all to afford, and large Valley corporations who want more housing for their respective employees. All have legitimate points of view.

So, who should decide the look and feel of Palo Alto? What are the guiding principles? It is interesting to watch Palo Alto wrestle with these issues. Whichever way it comes out, it is about time.


6 people like this
Posted by Gone on a long time
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 15, 2015 at 6:40 pm

If developers and architects built housing like The Marc and Laning Chateau people might not be so hostile. What we do get are buildings like 611 Cowper/Hamilton and 801 Alma. The current crop of architects seems surprisingly devoid of imagination,skill, or perhaps they are simply focused on money, maximizing rentable space.

The staff's alliance with developers has been going on for years. The previous City Council had no problem with it. The alliance reflects longstanding corruption that will take a whistleblower to uncover.
The Manager's behind the scenes dealings for a year with Arrillaga without the Council's knowledge is just the tip of the iceberg. A Grand Jury was needed to uncover those secret dealings. Very educational reading.


Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2015 at 7:00 pm

@Gone on a long time

Uh, those would be illegal to build under today's zoning laws.


1 person likes this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2015 at 5:38 pm

@mauricio wrote:

"Kazu, your comments are the most acerbic, aggressive and dismissive of those you disagree with, yet you complain about mudslinging."

Now if that isn't the pot calling the kettle black, I don't know what is. And I didn't complain about mudslinging, only noted that it existed. If you want to sling mud, I won't get my widdle feelings hurt. Promise.

A small, vocal anti-growth minority seems to go ballistic if anybody dares challenge their views. If that is the case, then so be it. My take is that their position is often unrealistic, unworkable, and potentially harmful to Palo Alto in the long run.

@mauricio wrote:

"As far as ABAG, Palo Alto should completely ignore their recommendations, which are laughable and not worth the paper they are printed on."

This is a perfect example, and is a very impractical response. We don't just get to blow off ABAG. Doing so comes with a whole raft of very negative consequences for both the city and its residents. We have seven years to plan for nearly 2,000 new housing units. Should Palo Alto fail to do that by halting growth, it will be done for us. Which do you think is better for Palo Alto, development planned by us or development planned by someone else? I vote for us.

Demonizing developers, as some have done, is also way off the mark and highly counterproductive. They are our partners, not our enemies. That does not mean letting them do absolutely anything they want, but it does mean working together with them for our mutual benefit.

Change is coming whether we like it or not, and in fact has continued to occur over the years. We can be negative and pitch a fit or we can embrace it and move it in a positive, beneficial direction. What say you mauricio (and others)? What do you think is the best way to build 2,000 new housing units?


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2015 at 10:15 pm

"Should Palo Alto fail to do that by halting growth, it will be done for us."

Oh really now. Just where is ABAG going to conjure up developable land? Remember that ABAG has no more exemption from the takings provision of the Fifth Amendment than the Federal Government does.


3 people like this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2015 at 4:04 pm

"Oh really now. Just where is ABAG going to conjure up developable land?"

In Palo Alto, of course. Pretty much all of it has been developed, so it is only a matter of redevelopment.

"Remember that ABAG has no more exemption from the takings provision of the Fifth Amendment than the Federal Government does."

The takings provision of Fith Amendment mandates that private property will not be taken without compensation. And your point with respect to Palo Alto development? I never claimed that ABAG was going to seize land.

Here is the State's response to Palo Alto's progress on the issue so far: Web Link. Note especially the second page. If Palo Alto were to simply say "no more development" and tear up the plans, the city would almost certainly get sued. You might try reading this Web Link especially this part:

"What happens if Palo Alto gets sued?

Mandatory compliance – The court may order Palo Alto to bring our housing plan into compliance according to external guidelines and requirements.

Loss of local control on building decisions – The court could suspend Palo Alto’s ability to approve of building permits, zoning changes, or variances.

Expensive legal fees – If Palo Alto is sued due to lack of compliance and either loses or settles the case, it could owe substantial fees ($100,00 or more) to the plaintiff’s attorneys and its own attorneys."

Do you even know what SB 375 / Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 is all about? It doesn't sound like you do. Believe it or not, having people live near where they work and minimizing commutes is a good thing. Being cranky, stamping one's feet and hollering doesn't change that one bit.


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 21, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Time to read up on all the scandals at ABAG: embezzlement, a, ABAC official who resigned after getting caught using ABAG funds to buy himself a multi-million dollar oceanfront house in Oregon, an internal audit that showed they had no idea which projects had been approved and funded....


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

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