News

East Palo Alto breaks ground on new tech development

Sobrato Organization poised to develop four-story commercial building at city's 'gateway'

With golden shovels dug into the earth, members of the East Palo Alto City Council and developer John A. Sobrato broke ground on a long sought-after office development that city leaders hope will open the door to technology jobs for residents.

The Sobrato Organization will begin construction on a four-story, 209,000-square-foot office building at 2100 University Ave. at the corner of University and Donohoe Street, which the developer hopes to lease to a single tech or social-media company, said Tim Steele, senior vice president of real estate development.

The design and focus of a single company for the entire space is a far cry from its previous two iterations, where ground-floor retail was envisioned with office spaces on top. The new development will have only about 1,500 square feet of retail space, and most will be located at the edge of the parking garage. But Steele said the changes reflect market demand.

"We feel it's the right time," he said, noting that the development has been entitled since 2003.

Chase Lyman, vice president of leasing and acquisition for Sobrato, said a parking structure that will be connected to the building by a two-level bridge will be constructed on an adjacent parcel.

The building will look quite different from its earlier design, which was planned by another developer. That concept was more in keeping with the University Circle development on the west side of U.S. Highway 101 in the city's former Whiskey Gulch area. University Circle is dominated by law firms and the Four Seasons Hotel.

With its brick facade and 10-foot glass panels, the new structure will have a sleek tech feel, Lyman said.

"It's almost like the South of Market area (in San Francisco). A lot of tech companies want that industrial-looking space," he said.

A 4,000-square-foot atrium skylight in the middle of the building will bring in natural light, and the building will feature a connecting, open staircase to facilitate conversation along all of its floors. A 6,000-square-foot roof deck 80 feet above ground will afford sweeping views of the bay and mountains.

Lyman said that a shuttle would run to and from Caltrain so that a tenant can attract talent from up and down the Peninsula. He didn't know how many workers might occupy the building, but based on the average for modern-day tech companies with open-floor plans, there could be as many as five to six employees per 1,000 square feet, he said. That translates to about 1,045 to 1,254 employees.

East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier said she grew up in East Palo Alto and has watched the corner change from small retail to a vacant lot.

"East Palo Alto is a community on the move. ... In one and a half years this building will be done. It's going to change the city. It will be the gateway to East Palo Alto," she said.

Councilman Ruben Abrica said he has been involved with the city since its incorporation. He watched as the previous economic boom pass by the city, but now the Bay Area is in another boom, and the city is poised to take advantage, he said.

"I think this will put us on a map in a different way," Abrica added.

Councilman Larry Moody said the city had a promissory note to its citizens and it was making good on that promise with a potential for many of its educated young people to find jobs.

"I'm so excited that those residents with college degrees, with tech degrees, will have a chance to find work here. ... We are going to use this project as the first of many dominoes," he said. "This is a great starter for us and it will open the door for others to come, and for East Palo Alto to be connected to the region."

Resident Stephen DeBerry, who lives up the street and drives by the empty lot many times, said the

development is "an important catalyst for the community."

"I think there's more to come," he said.

But DeBerry is also aware that change might radically alter the demographics of East Palo Alto. Residents are cautious about gentrification that would push them out, he said, so the city and developers' visions must be balanced.

"We need to build equity for folks here. The building is a piece of it. It needs to be intentionally inclusionary," he said.

Abrica said the city will receive $1.2 million to help the small-business community, and the council will need to decide how that money can best be spent to that end. In addition, the development will generate $600,000 in additional taxes every year.

The building is expected to be completed in 2016.

Comments

7 people like this
Posted by GreatNews
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 18, 2015 at 8:38 am

Yea! Great news for EPA!


10 people like this
Posted by andrew rich
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Jun 18, 2015 at 10:36 am

andrew rich is a registered user.

Better than the empty lot (though the empty lot is better than the scary slum apartments that were there before).


7 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 18, 2015 at 11:17 am

muttiallen is a registered user.

More gentrification for EPA. The schools are getting so much better, and the housing is getting so much more expensive. Those 1,000 employees can live in EPA and the low-income current residents will be priced out. I don't know if this is good or bad. Tough for the service workers who will staff the dining places and janitors rooms in the new building. But more kids are coming out of Ravenswood Schools with computer and tech skills, so hopefully they'll be able to work there, too.


Like this comment
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 18, 2015 at 11:23 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@muttiallen - things can't improve without prices going up. Hopefully it benefits long term EPA residents who own their home, and send their kids to the schools.


10 people like this
Posted by Born&Raised
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 18, 2015 at 11:24 am

Overall a good thing, but I wonder what this will do to the already bad traffic in that area.


10 people like this
Posted by To heck with the poor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 18, 2015 at 11:28 am

muttiallen says >the low-income current residents will be priced out. I don't know if this is good or bad

You don't know if this is good or bad? Perhaps the moral compass needs readjusting.


1 person likes this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 18, 2015 at 11:33 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@To heck with the poor - nice out of context quote there - take half of one sentence, and half of another, and make it mean something different. Mutti was clearly questioning with the net effect is good or bad - it is bad for those displaced, but the city and schools improve for those that remain.


6 people like this
Posted by STHernandez
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 18, 2015 at 11:35 am

This is good news for the young folks who will be able to work in the tech field. However, as I recall when this project started, with other people, it was stated that there would be some low income or affordable housing as a part of the project. What happened? I'm certainly all for progress but not at the cost of turning our backs on the direct needs of our EPA citizens.


14 people like this
Posted by Jeff Rensch
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2015 at 11:43 am

It is important that the shuttle be available for non-employees of that building.


6 people like this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2015 at 1:01 pm

@To heck with the poor wrote:

"You don't know if this is good or bad? Perhaps the moral compass needs readjusting."

You're talking about Palo Alto, where most moral compasses point only to their own self-interest. And that is after they were readjusted. East Palo Alto is in Palo Alto's backyard, an inconvenient and apparently much disliked truth.

Good for East Palo Alto! They do seem to be a "community on the move", and are channeling development in a positive direction.


6 people like this
Posted by Ajc
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 19, 2015 at 4:08 am

Good bye Bay Area... If, like me, you don't code - you will be moving soon. The only jobs with livable wages that are being created are for the tech crowd. Rent is already ridiculous, but the people with the power to help are making so much off the .com world will not lift a finger if it means they will lose out.


28 people like this
Posted by EPA has rent control
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2015 at 10:34 am

Since EPA has rent control, long-term tenants will not be priced out of the area despite the likely influx of tech workers. Their kids will continue to benefit from the improving Ravenswood schools.


2 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2015 at 1:30 am

What percentage of houses in EPA are rented. Those are the people who will be priced out when their landlords sell to tech workers.


1 person likes this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 20, 2015 at 11:50 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Bill - it is not a pretty picture - over 33% of single family homes and condos in EPA have gone into foreclosure since 2008. a lot of those may have become rental properties.


3 people like this
Posted by Where Oh Where
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 24, 2015 at 12:52 pm

As EPA gentrifies, won't low income families need to move even farther away from their jobs? Causing them to join the ranks of the long-distance commuters, adding to traffic congestion and air pollution?

It seems like this may be bad for everyone but the developers. Why not put the developments where people can afford to live, instead of where they CAN'T?


Like this comment
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 26, 2015 at 12:57 am

@Where Oh Where wrote:

"As EPA gentrifies, won't low income families need to move even farther away from their jobs? Causing them to join the ranks of the long-distance commuters, adding to traffic congestion and air pollution?

It seems like this may be bad for everyone but the developers. Why not put the developments where people can afford to live, instead of where they CAN'T?"

What makes that comment so sad is that it is so Palo Alto - an elitist, "just make them go away" attitude. Why not build plenty of affordable housing in East Palo Alto and Palo Alto so they can afford to live NEAR their jobs instead of commuting long distances? East Palo Alto has no reason at all to forego business development and its economic benefits, and every reason to build affordable housing.


2 people like this
Posted by East Palo Alto Resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 3, 2016 at 2:25 pm

I feel this is a decrease to the East Palo Alto community. There are long tim residents being forced out of what they knew to be home, East Palo Alto. There are Investor, money and people that have no roots or do they care about the East Palo Alto community is coming and moving us out. An what I mean by us is Blacks, pacific Islanders, Hispanics anyone of color for that matter. Its a shame that there are new homes in East Palo Alto that are priced at $1 million dollars, not within reach for any resident of the city to apply. So this is all one big game and they are moving everyone to the valley because the home prices are cheaper, but they there is not enough space left in the bay area and East Palo Alto is one of the city that is left that is now being fixed up for other people to come in an take over and feel at home. This town that we have dedicated our entire live to is being converted to push everyone out unless you are WHITE, in Bio-Tech, Facebook or Google.


2 people like this
Posted by I hire in tech
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2016 at 2:55 pm

The companies you speak of would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have many more qualified people of color working for them. It's not a white thing, it's a qualification thing. Tech firms have entire departments looking for those qualified people of color, and they are HEAVILY sought after. If you are a person of color with the needed education/qualifications for the jobs, you can pretty much write your own ticket here.


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

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