Editorial: Investing in Avenidas

Palo Alto senior center deserves city support but not by selling development rights to others

A proposal by City of Palo Alto staff to raise money for the renovation and expansion of the city-owned building that houses Avenidas in downtown Palo Alto by auctioning off to developers the ability to exceed zoning limits on future projects got the reception it deserved Monday night.

The council defeated on a 4-4 vote an attempt to use TDRs (transferable development rights) to raise at least $2 million of the $5 million of the city support granted to Avenidas for a project that will cost almost $20 million. Avenidas is raising the balance through fundraising.

As the four dissenting councilmembers (DuBois, Filseth, Kniss and Schmid) pointed out, this funding mechanism would make the impacts of Avenidas' expansion even greater by allowing developers who purchase the development rights to build elsewhere downtown larger buildings than otherwise allowed under the zoning.

Filseth correctly argued that if the city wants to support Avenidas with funding for the project, which all agreed it did, then it should do so directly, not through a scheme to sell density bonus credits.

Proponents (Berman, Holman, Scharff and Wolbach) argued that the TDRs are available to owners of other buildings that need costly seismic upgrades, so why shouldn't the city take advantage of the same rule in financing the seismic work on the city-owned Avenidas building?

By that convoluted reasoning, the city takes an incentive intended for private property owners, uses it for its own financial benefit, and grants development rights elsewhere downtown that violate our zoning limits and impose additional impacts. How does that possibly advance any public purpose?

The Avenidas expansion, if ultimately approved by the City Council (the funding request has preceded the approval of the actual project, itself a messy little problem), already comes with significant parking impacts that can't be solved. Since there is no ability to create parking on the site, Avenidas must aggressively look to expand transportation alternatives to minimize the added parking burdens on an already bad situation downtown.

While Avenidas' plans will face more public scrutiny and debate in the months ahead, few question the important senior services it provides or the need for renovation and expansion. The city gets a bargain by having a thriving, well-managed and largely self-sufficient nonprofit senior center while most cities operate them at great cost. The $5 million is appropriate but using TDRs is not.

— Palo Alto Weekly editorial board

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9 people like this
Posted by Anciana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2015 at 11:30 am

Why can't the City put its money toward a second Avenidas in South Palo Alto? The expansion of services would benefit those who live in the south part of the City, and we wouldn't have the hideous excrescence planned for the historic Bryant Street building!

6 people like this
Posted by mutti allen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 23, 2015 at 1:07 pm

I like the idea of services in South PA. Meeting rooms at new Mitchell Park center are largely unused during the day.

5 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 23, 2015 at 1:11 pm

Don't forget that we have Cubberly with available space. We need to make sure that the facility is kept up. It may need to be made back into a high school.
We need to make sure that it is being used for community organized groups

3 people like this
Posted by Never Would Use Avenidas
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 24, 2015 at 8:16 am

Avenidas in its current state is uninviting. I am not certain why any senior would want to take time to go there, and participate in anything other than the lunch services. I cannot imagine even with a renovation that the place will be inviting. As I get older, and become a senior, participating in Avenidas (what a name) will not be on my bucket list. The city does know how to waste our money and resources.

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