News

Council deals a blow to contested University Avenue project

Palo Alto officials agree to send 429 University Ave. back to the drawing board

The bitter tug-of-war between a developer looking to construct a four-story building on University Avenue and neighbors who say the proposal is too massive for the area will extend deep into next year after the City Council demanded on Monday a fresh round of public hearings on the controversial project.

After hearing from both sides of the protracted debate, the council voted unanimously to send the proposal for 429 University Ave. to the Architectural Review Board (ARB) for further refinements.

The council specifically directed the board to focus on portions of the zoning code that relate to context compatibility. This means a fresh look at the building's mass, scale and "design linkages" to other buildings in the area, including the Victorian homes that populate Kipling Street.

Proposed by Elizabeth and Jaime Wong in 2013, the discussion of 429 University Ave. has gradually morphed into a proxy battle in a broader debate over downtown development. The proposed four-story building would replace a pair of one-story buildings, including the one that until recently housed the boutique shop Shady Lane.

After securing the approval of city staff earlier this year, the project faced a citizen appeal and ended up in front of the City Council. In May, the council voted 5-4 to request fresh reviews in front of the city's Historic Resources and Architectural Review boards.

Six months later, the feedback was generally the same. The council agreed that the changes, while somewhat responsive to the council's direction, don't go nearly far enough in addressing some of its main concerns about the proposed building's mass, scale and compatibility. It didn't help that the Historic Resources Board generally agreed that the project didn't consider a broad enough area in determining the impact of the new building on historical structures in the downtown area. Nor that the Architectural Review Board generally concluded that the revised design, while less bold than its predecessor, is also more bland.

Then there was the continued opposition from neighbors, including shop keepers on Kipling who argued that the 31,000-square-foot building would overshadow their businesses and damage the character of their block.

Michael Harbour, a doctor whose office is on Kipling, once again led the charge. Harbour, whose appeal triggered the council's review of the project in May, argued Monday that the revised design amounts to "the same colossal building and footprint on the narrowest street in downtown Palo Alto."

"The new building is not compatible," he said. "The only thing that was done here was the third and fourth floors were moved to the rear of the building and shifted all the massing there. It is the same footprint. It is the same exact square footage."

The project has, however, changed in several ways from the version the council saw in May. The bold, dark masonry frame that once enveloped the building's bottom three stories has been lowered to the second story to de-emphasize height. The third floor, which in the prior iteration modulated between 4 1/2 and 18 feet from the street, will now be a uniform 9 feet from University Avenue. The fourth floor will be set back even further: between 30.17 and 39.59 feet from the street.

Supporters of the project, including the project's new architect Jim Trotter, argued that with these generous setbacks, the four-story building will effectively look like a two-story building.

"Pedestrians and local shoppers will continue to have a similar or better level of retail options with a more contemporary design," Trotter said.

Kent Mitchell, an attorney representing the Wong family, stressed that the building meets all of the city's laws, as well as its goal of encouraging more mixed-use developments in the transit-rich downtown area. The applicant has followed the rules and the council needs to do the same by approving the project, he said.

"The applicant has worked diligently to present a code-compliant project and staff has confirmed that this is a code compliant project. ... It may be that there is a political discussion to be had about the appropriate nature of development in the downtown area but that's a discussion that has not yet been had and the ordinance in place should still be in full effect," Mitchell said.

Others didn't see it that way. Critics of the project argued that the new building remains too tall and too dense; that it would literally overshadow surrounding properties; and that it would affect traffic and parking in the area in negative ways.

Michaela Dieffenbach, owner of Michaela's Flower Shop (formerly Stapleton), said her business relies on an existing alleyway that is used by delivery trucks. If the new building infringes on the alleyway, it would threaten her business, she said.

JC Andrade, whose restaurant Vino Locale occupies one of Kipling's single-story Victorians, voiced concerns about the new building's effect on both parking and aesthetics.

"It's such a massive building that it will absolutely hide us away," Andrade said. "And there will be no more of this hidden gem ... this beautiful Kipling Street."

While the applicant and project supports cited the recent revisions, critics focused on what hasn't changed: namely, height and density. Though no one disputed that the Wongs met the requirements when it comes to height and density (provided one factors in the density bonuses the developer expects to receive through a "transfer of development rights"), several council members argued that the picture is far less clear when it comes to the more subjective criteria of neighborhood compatibility, context and "design linkages" to neighboring properties.

Councilman Pat Burt remained as skeptical as he was in May about the project's ability to meet compatibility findings. The project, he argued, meets only a "fraction of the code" -- the sections that specify height limit, density and other easily measurable attributes. It doesn't do as well with the "more subjective" requirements of the code -- namely, the the ones that concern themselves with compatibility and that are subject to the Architectural Review Board's approval.

"That's the discussion that we're essentially having," Burt said. "I still have considerable concerns over meeting a number of findings."

Mayor Karen Holman concurred argued that code compliance means more than just meeting the basic numerical requirements about things like density and setbacks. If these were the only factors, she said, the city wouldn't need an architectural board.

"That's why we have context-based design criteria and ARB findings," Holman said. "To say it's code compliant because it satisfies the basic numerical aspects of code is not a complete look at the code."

Councilman Tom DuBois concurred and maintained that the building remains simply too big. The revised building, he said, still falls short on mass, scale and quality of the building.

"The scale just seems really out of place," he said. "While some small revisions were made, I don't think it addresses the fundamental issues that were brought up the last time we looked at this."

Other council members shared DuBois' concerns and made the case that the project still isn't compatible with the neighborhood, even while acknowledging that the criteria is fairly subjective.

"We are between a rock and a hard place on compatibility," Councilwoman Liz Kniss said. "And compatibility is very difficult to define."

Councilman Eric Filseth agreed but concluded that while compatibility is a subjective criterion, the proposal for 429 University Ave. doesn't seem to meet it.

"I hate subjective codes but subjective codes are still codes," Filseth said. "And to my view, this doesn't meet code."

The council's decision shifts the onus back to the ARB for determining whether the proposed building meets some of the squishier, more subjective, criteria around compatibility. And unlike in its review earlier this year, the board was directed Monday to delve deeper into the design and take a formal vote to recommend either approving or denying the project.

Councilman Greg Scharff, who recommended sending the project back to the ARB, stressed that he is "not doing this to delay the project." The board's prior comments on the project, Scharff said, constitute the most "tepid endorsement" he's ever seen from the board.

Councilman Marc Berman agreed that the project would benefit from another review by the board.

"I think a couple of rounds at ARB will hopefully lead to a project we can all support," Berman said.

After the meeting, Jaime Wong said his family will consider the council's direction and whether or not to continue the project that has been two years in the making and that remains many miles away from the finish line.

"We're talking about something that we've been working on since 2013," Wong said.

Harbour, for his part, told the Weekly he was glad that the council recognized the project's incompatibility with the city's code. The applicant, he said, "is very lucky that it wasn't outright denied."

"I think it needs to be significantly scaled back," Harbour told the Weekly. "This building will be see from as far away as Lytton."

Comments

49 people like this
Posted by Mystified
a resident of University South
on Dec 1, 2015 at 7:06 am

When a four-story building is blocked because it "meets the height and density requirements", but is "too massive", and the "objective elements" of the code are fulfilled but the "subjective" ones are not - it like the city needs to prepare for yet another lawsuit from an angry property owner who followed the law as written...


48 people like this
Posted by Real Architect
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 7:12 am

I don't believe I've ever seen a City Council behave with less courage than last night.

The Council denied permission to construct a commercial building in the Downtown University Avenue commercial corridor and THEN gave the Mitchell Park Library an award for Architecture.

This is either a parallel universe where up is down or, the most incompetent display of architectural sensitivity and city planning ever.


46 people like this
Posted by Get a clue
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 7:36 am

This sounds like a repeat of the council shenanigans with BV. Rules are in place . The applicant follows the rules. Then the council changes the rules to appease their owners. Holman, Dubois and filseth are either hypocrites or else they have no sense of fairness.


61 people like this
Posted by obsessed
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 1, 2015 at 8:35 am

Palo Alto is a city of navel gazing. You've got a Council that has wasted 3 or 4 sessions of ARB time already, is sending this back to them again, has already sent this to PTC and is going to look at this at least 3 times. All for what?

We've got real problems in this city. We need to enhance our infrastructure. We need better public transportation. We need much more housing. We need a new school. And here you have a city council downright obsessed with a 4 story building. Get your priorities straight. When you've got nothing better to do than hand wring about a 4 story building in the middle of your downtown, a downtown that already has multiple buildings 4 stories and over (7 stories just down the street!), things have truly reached insanity levels. Please, solve some real problems for a change and stop allowing yourselves to be led by the nose by a shrill minority that couldn't be more out of touch from the real problems that Palo Altans are facing- like paying out more than 50% of their paychecks just to stay in a community they've lived in for decades, like living in RVs so that you don't disrupt your kids' schooling, like the majority of our service workers who spend well over two hours every day just getting here, like dealing with the fact that we have vacancies in city government and on our police force that we can't fill because we don't pay enough to get people to drive here 1+ hours each way to serve us (and have done diddly about adding the housing necessary to keep things affordable here).

You want to talk about the soul of Palo Alto? You can keep treating Palo Alto like Barbie's playhouse and micromanage the look and feel of every building, but the soul of Palo Alto ain't its buildings. It's its people. And its people are being priced out of here in droves, replaced with only the richest of the rich. So long young families. Goodbye grandmas that have lived here for decades. Adios to all the young people whose energy and ideas made this place so appealing in the first place.

I'm looking forward to a council whose top priority is the welfare of its people, not its buildings.


31 people like this
Posted by Get a clue
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 8:41 am

And the council has done nothing about the potential creek flooding this winter. Obviously not a priority for PASZ


66 people like this
Posted by About Time
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 1, 2015 at 10:59 am

It sounds to me like the City Counsel is finally reflecting the prevailing feelings and desires of the community. How many different ways do the majority of those of us living in PA have to say "stop the overbuilding"? Development and growth can happen, but it should be done with sensitively to the unique soul of a city. Look at Santa Barbara. Growth and development there, but done with pride and a sense of the town's unique originating character. It's a pleasure to walk the downtown area of Santa Barbara, even with all the chain stores and tourist dives. Palo Alto was on it's way to that type of sensible growth until the developers and architects with no concern for the overall picture were allowed to take control. Palo Alto is looking more unfocused and disjointed every day. Welcome to San Jose.


75 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 1, 2015 at 11:03 am

Actually the council made it very clear that this project was NOT compliant with the municipal code.
Height and square footage is not the only measure of compliancy. There are also compatibility requirements and concerns of massing and scale, that the applicant has repeatedly been given an opportunity to comply with and has refused to do so. The height and square footage maximum is not guaranteed it is a maximum that may be pursued, but is not a given.
We have become accustomed to applicants asking for the maximum and they usually get it but it is not a right .

This applicant is very lucky that the City Council was generous enough to give her one more chance to listen and respond to the noncompliance aspect of the project.

Very real concerns now arise about the merits and integrity of the revised architecture as it appears to have been revised in a manner that ignores principles of good architecture in favor of trying to fool the council about the building appearing to be smaller when it is not ONE inch reduced in size.

The Council put the ball back in applicants court the future of the development depends on how committed the applicant is to listening to her council and community versus her need to milk every penny out of the project for herself while ignoring the municipal code and the health and wellbeing of the community.


39 people like this
Posted by LikesTheLibrary
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 1, 2015 at 11:14 am

to Real Architect
Unless I read you incorrectly, you may not like the Mitchell Park Library, but I and legions of other Palo Altans do.


20 people like this
Posted by Get a clue
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 11:26 am

Unfortunately the weekly, in another PASZ- favorable story, ignores the fact that the building meets city code in terms of height and density. However, Holman, filseth and Dubois ( under marching orders from PASZ) are claiming it does not meet subjective code! For the whole story read the daily post


52 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 1, 2015 at 11:33 am

"get a clue"

What you are claiming is absurd, the motion to go back to the ARB was made by Scharff seconded by Berman and was a unanimous vote!


51 people like this
Posted by Needtoworkonmyenglish
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 11:41 am

Should put a very very very high tax on those mass building, for using parking, causing traffic and causing pain, suffering and inconvenience tof its neighbor. Need to make it not worthwhile for people to do things that hurting others, even it is legal. There may not be a law said you should not eat your pet but should one do so?
Money should not be everything.


18 people like this
Posted by Get a clues
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 11:43 am

Anon- read the real story in the post. The building meets city code. Filseth says it doesn't meet code. Dubois also disputed claims that the building is following the rules by saying he doesn't think it does. Holman talks about delicate features!!! Who is being absurd?


28 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2015 at 11:47 am

If projects are going to be judged subjectively by the council and residents, what's the point of even having zoning in the first place?


24 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Robert,
I agree with your questioning. Palo Alto has done a pretty good job with zoning regulations. There are really interesting buildings throughout the city of different sizes. The city council has just made themselves the new de facto ARB. Do we want trained professionals judging compatibility or a bunch of politicians. This will have terrible results. The majority of Palo Altans do want greater density in our main commercial corridors, they are just not as vocal as the few that dislike more contemporary architecture.


55 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:16 pm

I watched the meeting I know what happened.
You made the claim that Filseth Holman And DuBois were marching to PASZ 's orders…..that is absurd given who made the motion who seconded and that it was in the end a unanimous vote.
The project met the standards for height and FAR but did meet other standards in the code which they enumerated in the motion by detailing what sections of the code specifically the would like to see the building comply with.


So while you have a right to your opinion about the project your claims about the three aforementioned council members are without merit.

I dont recall any one speaking who identified themselves as PASZ


48 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:22 pm

"Do we want trained professionals judging compatibility or a bunch of politicians."

Do we want unaccountable professionals judging compatibility or a bunch of accountable politicians?

Looking around, it seems to me the "professionals" have failed totally.


54 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Like it or not, as Mr. Filseth pointed out, subjective criteria are indeed part of the building codes, and it is the City Council that determines whether or not the subjective requirements have been met.

When the city's Planning and Community Development staff and the Planning and Transportation Commission guide applicants in a direction that is contrary to City Council direction, they are doing no favors for developers or citizens.

If you disagree with the laws, or the way City Council interprets them, you can lobby elected officials, you can promote like-minded candidates, you can make a referendum.

But you can't prevent City Council from enforcing city ordinances, even if this was common practice in the past.


73 people like this
Posted by ugly cookie cutter
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 1, 2015 at 1:34 pm

this development is yet another ugly cookie cutter lazy and boring architecture. yet another development that is killing the charm of palo alto. the ugly bland buildings are quickly multiplying and I think it's the responsibility of the council to recognize this.


72 people like this
Posted by Deal Breaker
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2015 at 2:03 pm

I think it was the sheer, cold, unwelcoming unattractiveness of the design that killed this deal. There is already a surfeit of new but ugly buildings in Palo Alto, and they look dated by the time the paint dries.


30 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Ugly is in the eyes of the beholder. I find our city's ridiculous and arbitrary processes, and our judgemental fellow residents, who are always calling proposed buildings "ugly" and developers "greedy" pretty ugly as well.


56 people like this
Posted by 6Djockey
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 1, 2015 at 4:34 pm

In the last election for council members, the voters made a strong statement that they don't like the developments that for years have been rubber-stamped by the city council. (If you need an example, look no further than the building on the north end of El Camino Way.) The pro -development crowd is bound to be upset when we have a council that finally stands up to developers and tries to keep development in line with the building code, subjective parts of the code included. Don't forget that it was the 2013 council that encouraged this developer to proceed. I hope in the future the current council will stop such developments in their tracks so we're not wasting so much time on something that the majority doesn't want.


41 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 5:00 pm

"Ugly is in the eyes of the beholder."

Too many beholders have tolerated too much ugly for too long around here. It's time for a revolution by our less aesthetically-challenged beholders.


6 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 1, 2015 at 5:01 pm

I think we will see yet another major lawsuit against our city council, which means us taxpayers. We are already facing a major lawsuit regarding the BV fiasco, with a major law firm supporting it. When will we finally understand that the rules are the rules?


57 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2015 at 5:58 pm

The bar for new construction in Palo Alto has been set so low, for so long, that developers have learned to hire the cheapest, most obsequious, no-talent architects they can find, to design their buildings.

As hard as they try, the PACC cannot make up for the lack of talent employed by local developers.


47 people like this
Posted by cm
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2015 at 6:54 pm

To all above who say this building meets code. The code was gratuitously changed by the past pro-growth council and needs to be reset to what residents want. Only the rabid "growthers" want massive development and the attendant overcrowding and diminished quality of life that comes with it. Most PA residents want a stable sustainable city with a stable population.


31 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 1, 2015 at 7:32 pm

People keep talking about "rules'. The initial problem is that the rules are arbitrary. They do not address the location within the city where the building will be built. They are not "rules" - they should be termed as "guidance".

Every building needs to reflect a consistency with what the area is that it goes in. We are talking about the main street of the city. The main street of the city should have stature and some architectural benefit to the city - not simply occupying a space because of rules.

The building is "okay" - just "okay" if you put it on El Camino down by Page Mill Road. It can occupy a space on some other street like El Camino because El Camino is not a Statement for the city of PA. El Camino needs some dressing up in the area Page Mill to Barron Park neighborhood. Now that is an architectural statement as to the negative aspects of PA for architectural prominence.

As to the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center it is filled with people all of the time and all ages have a great time there. And I see teenagers from school using it as a meeting place. It is totally appropriate for the location that it is in. It is the busiest place in the city - it is really appropriate for the place it is located in. I give it a high five.

It gets down to making decisions as to how appropriate the building is to the location - what type of statement it is making. And we want University Avenue to make a very solid, impressive statement for the city. If we are the "money' generating people then we need to look like that. We need a building with architectural substance - like "this is the place to be".

Hey - either you get it or you don't get it. OR - you stand to benefit from some sloppy architectural work that has no "statement".

The "cities" problem is that it does not stop people in their tracks at the beginning so that they do not waste time and money. Get the right people into the mix at the beginning.


37 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 1, 2015 at 8:44 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Boulder, CO has a similar height restriction. The " Flatirons " must be visible to residents. Even NIST, a government agency had to respect Boulder's City Council rules and build no more higher than necessary.
This is not a uniquely Palo Alto building problem. You see more of the application of " subjective " building requirements in more places.
You want massive buildings? The Eastern Bloc nations have plenty of the Russian style " Block of Flats " architecture to choose from.
Palo Alto shouldn't allow buildings like these. They change the character of a city and not in a good way.


8 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 1, 2015 at 9:11 pm

Punnisher - Mountain View is going into a major building boom. Menlo Park and RWC are in a building boom. They have great, taste full buildings that look like "down town". So why are you talking about Russia? No one is talking about massive buildings - we are talking about tasteful buildings that make a positive statement. Why are you drawing such a non-applicable conclusion?


29 people like this
Posted by can't eat more CAKE
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2015 at 9:14 pm

To understand why scale,compatibility,style are
important factors in regulation of development as an important and critical function of responsible
city government which we have not had here these last 12 years here take a look at The Cheesecake Factory a couple blocks down University.


8 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2015 at 9:16 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 1, 2015 at 9:22 pm

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2015 at 9:28 pm

[Post removed.]


30 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2015 at 10:18 pm

I'm with PACC on this one.

Palo Alto made some mistakes before in granting downtown new buildings. Doesn't mean we should continue allowing more bland and tasteless buildings to further degrade the character of Palo Alto. Because if the trend continues PA downtown will be much less attractive than surrounding cities.

Look at downtown Mountain View. Several large new buildings, such as 250 Bryant, while bulky, are much better in aesthetic appeal than the one proposed for 429 University.


29 people like this
Posted by K
a resident of University South
on Dec 2, 2015 at 12:52 am

For me, one of the prettiest Main Streets is in Nantucket, Massachusetts. If one aspires to be an architect; or, one is already in practice, spend at least a few weeks there and be completely honest about how it makes you feel when you walk down that street.


8 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 2, 2015 at 1:41 am

The Post story did a much better job showing what a subjective process this has become.


25 people like this
Posted by Needtoworkonmyenglish
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 2, 2015 at 8:40 am

Tasteless is not a crime, tasteless greed, and force it on public eyes is.


34 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2015 at 8:52 am

[Portion removed.] One of the many false claims is that this project "met the code". It didn't. The pro development previous council changed the code to enable this project, as it, and other pro development councils have regularly done in the past.


11 people like this
Posted by Get a clue
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 2, 2015 at 9:07 am

[Portion removed.] The building met the code. The post story has quotes from council members stating as much. It is the current council that is being dishonest and refusing to change the code. If the current council is unhappy with code they should change it. [Portion removed.]
And Palo Alto will never be Manhattan. Manhattan has diversity, arts, entertainment, culture. Palo Alto has nothing.
And even the current council tell you that Palo Alto is nota small town


13 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 2, 2015 at 9:44 am

"Code" and "Style" are two different elements which from where I an standing have the equal validity in the evaluation of a building plan for a specific site. Also the building "form" and type of "design" relative to a specific site. How about the elements used to create the design - steel, glass, concrete, stone. The end result is more than the "code".
For Get a Clue - if we keep putting buildings up which look like this one then
we are going in the opposite direction from achieving the Manhattan look - of course you forgot to mention that the population of Manhattan is not our goal here. And we do not have the transportation system that they do.


30 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2015 at 9:54 am

Palo Alto has nothing? Shows you that the pro-growthers do indeed live in a parallel universe. Those who crave Manhattan style living are free to move to Manhattan or to any large pulsating city they wish and good luck to them. Palo Alto could should never become another Manhattan, although it will if the the pro-growthers have their way.


26 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 2, 2015 at 9:58 am

the_punnisher is a registered user.

The " subjective " parts of the building code have not been met. A clear statement about zoning is stated. Meet these requirements and you can build your building.
That is why the ARB exists.

These are FACTS that cannot be debated or spun. You might not like them but they exist.

Evergreen, CO had a similar situation. A landowner wanted to build condos and rejected a reasonable offer from Jeffco Open Space. After the landowner found out about the tap fees to develop the condos, they accepted the Open Space offer.
Instead of another set of condos ( only a few condos that blend into the mountainsides have been approved ), there now is a multi-use park.
A compromise for everyone.

That is how " the system " works. Forcing the issue does not work, cooperation with " subjective " rules does.

I made a valid comment about the building aesthetics and compared it to the Russian housing buildings to make a point: Dropping this type of building into the area is NOT keeping the area "feel" intact. The landowner may not like the facts but needs to deal with them. more setback and underground parking is needed to keep the "feel" of the neighborhood intact. That policing is done by the government. A landowner wastes everyone's time and money by ignoring the rules.


13 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2015 at 10:03 am

I wish they applied the same principle of preservation to Midtown Palo Alto.. The new Mitchell Park library is an abomination that has drawn overpopulation to the area.

As is the "magical playground". Where once we had a few kids climbing trees and tossing a football. Now the trees are gone, there is no shade and there are screaming children everywhere.


16 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 2, 2015 at 10:17 am

Hey - they can move to downtown San Jose - they got I all - population, transportation, diversity, etc.


2 people like this
Posted by Get a clue
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 2, 2015 at 10:25 am

[Post removed.]


26 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2015 at 11:26 am

I don't think this is about pro or anti-development.

Downtown space is shared by many shops, companies, and restaurants. Each building participates in creating an inviting environment. A new gigantic tasteless building would be a statement to the world that Palo Alto is a city with no appreciation for aestheticism, or art, or culture. It is bad for other businesses in downtown, and bad for the image of Palo Alto.

Downtown should evolve towards a high-end, cultured and sophisticated environment, because that is the kind of downtown people want to go to.


21 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2015 at 11:46 am

The Manhattanization of Palo Alto is not in the imagination of those trying to save Palo Alto's core, livability, soul and character. I keep hearing more and more PAF members and likeminded urbanization fans who see Manhattan as the model Palo Alto should follow. and strive for. [Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Get a clue
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 2, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Mauricio- [Portion removed.] Palo Alto has nothing that would make it like Manhattan. And clearly with a 50 foot limit no buildings will ever be as tall. Nice talking point for you but completely bogus comparison. [Portion removed.]


36 people like this
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 2, 2015 at 1:32 pm

I'm glad the project was rejected. The owner of that building is seeing dollar signs only. She's not seeing what's best for Palo Alto. She is the reason Shady Lane is gone from downtown, one of the last original businesses left on that street of generic mediocrity.

We already avoid downtown Palo Alto like the plague, and the dearth of parking and interesting retail makes that decision an easy one to make.

[Portion removed.]


15 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 2, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Get a clue, Every one - if you want to disagree then put out a realistic alternative.
[Portion removed.] We are not Manhattan. we do not have a super transportation system, we do not have a giant population. We are 26 square miles - that is it. And much of that is not buildable. We are on a flood plain.
If you want to put up an idea then put up something realistic.


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Posted by Get a clue
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 2, 2015 at 1:54 pm

[Post removed.]


29 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2015 at 2:36 pm

If the vision of people like Kate Downing and her fellow travelers at PAF is ever accepted, the height limits and most other limits on development will be removed and Palo Alto will become another Manhattan. We can't be a Manhattan of course, we are a suburban college town with very basic public transportation, no available land, and most of it isn't even buildable, but that doesn't stop the shills for the developers from demanding more, larger, and more big city like development projects and population density increases, as if Palo Alto could absorb even a fraction of those wishing to live here.

No one is telling others to move elsewhere, but those who want to live in a very dense urban environment , are frustrated that Palo Alto isn't becoming one and keep agitating for such density and urbanization, are living in the wrong place. Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and so many similar cities are the place for them.


Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow

on Dec 2, 2015 at 3:05 pm


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1 person likes this
Posted by @university
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2015 at 11:38 pm

@obsessed: very impressive post. I hear you!


3 people like this
Posted by @resident2015
a resident of University South
on Dec 2, 2015 at 11:54 pm

By the way, those people who reminisce about nice quint downtown, they should take a walk in downtown of many small California cities and see how depressing they can be in the absence of crowd even during the holidays. Thank the young people who give some life to our downtown. I like to see more of them be able to find affordable housing close to downtown even at the expense of tall buildings.


26 people like this
Posted by About Time
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 3, 2015 at 10:21 am

@Resident 2015: are you talking about small towns like Menlo Park, Los Altos, San Mateo, Carmel, Napa, Sausalito, Petaluma, Mill Valley? All seem to be thriving and the majority of the residents happy with their towns as they are. Only developers want to keep developing with no thought to future impact. I think you'll find that few of us "no-growthers" are against thoughtful development done with a sense of cohesiveness and pride. What most of us are against is the type of in and out money making schemes and back door politics that are changing our town for the worse.


21 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 3, 2015 at 11:09 am

@About time, i would add Bolinas to the list of small towns that curb development and population growth and enjoy incredibly high quality of life and livability, and preserve their character and soul.

Developers and people who either fall for their incessant propaganda or want a dense urban style where it doesn't belong, keep pushing the notion that endless development is the only barrier to "depressing downtowns" and decline. Nothing could be further from the truth. And of course, let's add Atherton, Woodside, Los Altos Hills and numerous other towns and cities around the nation and world which have been absolutely devastated by lack of development and urbanization.


19 people like this
Posted by Lovin It
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2015 at 12:39 pm

"By the way, those people who reminisce about nice quint downtown, they should take a walk in downtown of many small California cities and see how depressing they can be..."

Like, maybe, Santa Cruz, which rebuilt its downtown into an eminently inviting, people-friendly retail center after the quake demolished a major part of it? And not a Palantir in sight.


11 people like this
Posted by WhatAreYouAskingFor
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 3, 2015 at 11:06 pm

429 is primarily an office building. I don't understand why the Paughers come to the defesnse of a massive, out of context and scale office building. It will do nothing to help the housing situation - it makes it much worse. If there was some consistency and specifics in the arguments, it would make much more sense. Instead of more housing, more office, more busses - present a balanced plan. I believe council is trying to take the pressure off of housing as much as they can by limited office, particularly massive offices in an area that was never meant to be a office park.




12 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2015 at 4:20 pm


When the Weekly writes, apropos of 429 University proposal, that the discussion is a “proxy battle in a broader debate” over development, don’t they actually mean that there is inscrutable and undue resistance here because leadership is unwilling and afraid to say no to any whim of establishment landlords and developers such as the Thoits brothers, Chop Keenan, Jim Baer or Roxy Rapp, and that Jaimie and Elizabeth Wong are in effect a scapegoat or whipping boy couple, and or subject to a type of bias or discrimination?

And when you say “Victorian homes” on Kipling, don’t you mean office and retail? Michael Harbour’s argument is dubious in that his building, likewise is more office space, for a venture capital firm (and not his practice, as you state).

My understanding is that the Wongs suggested to pay in lieu fees for example to eliminate the problem of under-grounded (sic) traffic exiting onto Kipling north but staff told them they could not do it. Merely hindering or repressing the redevelopment of 429 does not in itself turn Kipling into a pedestrian mall.

Also I had to chuckle when commissioner David Bower made some ludicrous speech about Ms. So-and-So’s button shop his dear mum used to drag him to, on Kipling, and his opposition to the changes. Bower was the one who, when I suggested we push Keenan into having a cultural tenant at nearby 456 University (The Varsity, now a “co-working space”) and his reply was, as reported herein, “This is America! Go ahead and buy your own building”. Even if we’ve moved Bower off his jingoism, I doubt that means that there’s anything more Democratic about our policy downtown. Or show me.

Let’s see how they treat the similar pipeline proposal at Lytton and Kipling before we crow over taking back commissions and council from the powers-that-be.

The Wong’s proposal fits under the “downtown cap” and before the moratorium.


7 people like this
Posted by Uh-Uh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2015 at 5:45 pm

[Post removed.]


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

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