News

Maybell housing development wins approval

Palo Alto City Council backs 16-home project at former orchard in Barron Park

A former orchard on Maybell Avenue that three years ago was at the center of a citizen revolt in Palo Alto will soon be the site of 16 single-family homes under a development proposal that the City Council approved Monday night.

The project from Golden Gate Homes won over the council 8-to-1, with Councilman Cory Wolbach dissenting. It will be located at 567 Maybell Ave.,a 2.47-acre site near Clemo Avenue that was targeted for a housing development in 2013. The project, which back then included 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes, was approved by the council, only to have that approval revoked by the voter referendum that fall.

Now, the same people who successfully fought the proposal from the Palo Alto Housing Corporation in 2013 have rallied behind the new plan from Golden Gate Homes, a developer that over the course of extensive negotiations with the neighbors agreed to reduce the number of homes from 30 to 16.

In approving the project, the council agreed to allow two of the 16 lots to be smaller than the 6,000-square-foot standard in the zoning code (one lot is 5,000 square feet; the other is 5,682 square feet) and to exempt the two lots from compliance with required lot dimensions.

The council also agreed to not to require a pedestrian walkway that planning staff had recommended and that the developer had opposed. And it allowed Golden Gate Homes not to build two below-market-rate homes, as required by the zoning code, allowing it to instead pay fees designated for affordable housing.

Local law allows the council to allow developers to substitute in-lieu fees (which are based on 7.5 percent of the home's sale price, according to the current policy, which is now being revised) if building units on-site presents a hardship. In this case, Golden Gate Homes maintained that the hardship would be financial.

Despite some reservations about the project and its zoning exceptions, most council members agreed that it merited approval. What may have influenced the council's decision were a giant stack of emails from supporters; an online petition with more than 200 signatures; and a Council Chambers full of supporters of the project.

Yet the council also acknowledged the irony inherent in the neighborhood's support. In 2013, one of the main criticisms of the Housing Corporation proposal was its failure to fit into the parcel's existing zoning (it required a "planned-community" zone to achieve a density increase). In the years after the Maybell election, the council pivoted toward slow-growth policies and a stricter interpretation of the zoning code, prompting Councilman Greg Scharff to observe a year ago that the council had become "fundamentalist."

On Monday, Scharff characterized his colleagues' support for the new project as a welcome philosophical shift.

"I'm really glad we're actually starting to show some flexibility as a council, when a project is made better (with exceptions)," he said. "We don't need to be so fundamentalist about, 'Does it meet code? Does it need zoning exceptions?' and all of that."

Though Scharff is usually more receptive toward new developments than most of his colleagues, he noted some irony with this project's process. The council allowed Golden Gate Homes to claim a financial hardship and not build below-market-rate housing without requiring any kind of proof (such as a pro forma), in stark contrast with the council's usual policies.

"We're only granting the exception because we like the project," Scharff said.

It was the council's most fervent opponents of zoning exceptions who spoke most glowingly of the new project. Councilmen Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth, who were members of the slow-growth citizens group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (which spearheaded the Maybell referendum in 2013) before joining the council, both happily supported the new Maybell project. DuBois made the motion to approve the project, which Filseth seconded.

"I think it's extremely rare that we have a developer and a petition from citizens and a bunch of citizens showing up to say they support a development," DuBois said. "I don't think we should underestimate that."

DuBois and Filseth each praised the neighborhood collaboration with Golden Gate Homes.

"You guys have set the gold standard for neighborhood outreach," Filseth said.

Councilwoman Karen Holman shared their view and urged going along with the neighborhood's wishes.

"Nobody knows how a neighborhood lives better than the people who live in the neighborhood," Holman said.

Though normally one of the council's most fervent sticklers for zoning rules and design guidelines, Holman made an exception for the Maybell project.

"There are exceptions and there are exceptions, and these are the ones that the neighbors are supporting," Holman said. "Most exceptions that we see at the dais are ones that cause the public to react negatively and, from my personal perspective, don't usually make the project better."

While the slow-growth council members praised the development, Wolbach, who is usually the council's most vocal housing advocate, opposed it. He said he believes the city is "rushing" and took issue with the fact that affordable housing is not being provided on-site and that the pedestrian path is no longer in the plan.

Mayor Pat Burt shared Scharff's unease about the council's -- and community's -- philosophical inconsistency about the zoning exceptions. The newly popular Maybell project is not compliant with the city's zoning code or, in some ways, the Comprehensive Plan, Burt noted, but its supporters are the very same people who often berate the council for not complying with the letter of the law.

Observing that the final design of the project was driven largely by homeowners in the neighborhood, Burt stressed the need to include in future projects a broader cross-section of the community, including renters, affordable-housing developers and service providers.

"We need to re-examine how we deal with projects, especially new projects," Burt said. "Even if a new project allows for higher density, if it's different from what has been in the neighborhood, we have to acknowledge that it will have real concerns unless design and compatibility are good and unless there is really participation at the outset of various stakeholders."

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Comments

26 people like this
Posted by Let's all break the law
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 29, 2016 at 5:26 am

[Post removed.]


21 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 29, 2016 at 6:38 am

I'm having real difficulty with the whole premise of this article. What the neighbirhoid rejected last time was a rezoning of the whole parcel that made it the density equivalent of RM-60 in a residential neighborhood. Rezoning the parcel to PC zoning was to spot zone a dense project where the City encouraged the nonprofit developer to ask for PC zoning to make even more dense than the city's own RM-40 zoning, Nothing about the proposal came close to being consistent with the comprehensive plan. Many neighbors at the time pointed out that if the project were to be consistent with the comprehensive plan, only 16 homes could go there - something Joe Hirsch I think (former planning commissioner) pointed out. The PTC approved the plan without the path, I believe, leaving it out was not exactly a zoning violation, it makes a lot of safety sense to avoid creating a cut through an midblock rideout situation for young cyclists. The path was proposed by staff and not a zoning requirement.

This proposal, on the other hand, had to request small exceptions for just two lots - this is typical of any new subdivision, where everything gets divided up and there's a remainder. The remainder of the lots meet the minimum lot size of the neighborhood. The former proposal would have put nearly that many homes - including some three-story homes - on teeny tiny lots that were half the minimum lot size.

This approval last night was a few tiny exceptions to make the whole project consistent with the comp plan - which is what PC zoning was originally intended for - by contrast, the entire previous project plan was a gross exception. There is no comparison.

Also in contrast to what is getting claimed here, during the last community meeting, the representative admitted that they had worked with the City to find a way to put in a denser development and that even the City admitted it was a stretch they might not be able to defend - "too many grey areas", they said. This plan is the one that most closely meets the zoning and comprehensive plan. I find the article's interpretation so wrong as to suggest a correction.


21 people like this
Posted by Sigh
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2016 at 6:50 am

What a wasted opportunity.
So discouraged by this news.


20 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:14 am

Let me be clear that I am not blaming Gennady Shaynor for reportng the misleading framing (intentional or not, hopefully not) of some public officials, but the article goes along with it with no analysis. Because the previous project was a gross violation of zoning in every way, and this proposal is only asking for an exception for two lots that are almost big enough but not quite (but everything else is within zoning), there is no comparison. The exceptions here allow the project to be built mostly within zoning.

Neighbors weren't fundamentalist before. Many letters just asked that proposals be closer to zoning.

As for BMR units - turning two single family homes into BMR units would create major inequity within the BMR program, whereas in lieu fees would help far more low-income residents - the funds could go immediately to apply at Buena Vista.

The driving interest of the neighborhood was always to minimize the development impact of that neighborhood. The internal survey that found neighbors overwhelmingly opposed to a high density development also found the preferred overall land use to preserve the orchard as community space, and the preferred developed land use was affordable housing within zoning. If neighbors had been allowed a working group, I could see both goals being met by creating single-family housing for disabled veterans or families with disabled children wanting to work in Silicon Valley, with collaborations with high tech firms to create a "laboratory" of homes of the future. That would meet both the desire to keep the impact low, while also meeting inclusionary housing goals. People forget that inclusionary housing goals for the City include the disabled, yet the push for density has worked counter to that. New housing stock in Palo Alto has for years been developed with no thought for inclusionary design for the disabled - and has largely meant homes that disabled persons could never live in or even visit.

I acknowledge the value of Mayor Burt's quote at the end: had there been real collaboration at the start, things could have been very different, a lot better for all the time and work by all concerned. Hopefully respecting, as Karen Holman also very aptly pointed out, that residents know their own neighborhoods best.


35 people like this
Posted by The Truth comes out
a resident of another community
on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:55 am

"The driving interest of the neighborhood was always to minimize the development impact of that neighborhood. "


This is actually Palo Alto's driving principle and why there will never be another low income, high density housing development in Palo Alto.

This principle will also impact the BV opportunity.

Low income housing is essential - somewhere else!


6 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2016 at 8:15 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

No mention of an important point, the council was approving a downzoning of the property from R-2 and R-15 to R-1 for the project to go forward. The other variances are trivial compared to this.


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2016 at 8:20 am

The two zoning exemptions were microscopic, the bike path was neither required nor wanted, and the hand wringing about in-lieu fees came from people who routinely approve them for other developers. PAHC made millions on their investment. Maybe the last holdouts can now finally move on from Measure D.


19 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 29, 2016 at 8:21 am

@out,
"This is actually Palo Alto's driving principle and why there will never be another low income, high density housing development in Palo Alto."

That is simply not true. One is being completed right now on El Camino. While the Maybell debates raged, one was completed at 801 Alma. Developers there got it done by working with neighbors to keep the project within zoning. Some of the same neighbors involved in opposing the Maybell proposal were also part of a citizens working group that saved Terman school from development - that effort led also to a 92-unit affordable family housing complex in the same neighborhood. Had the proponents of the then plan been less willing to demonize and run roughshod over neighbors, they would very likely have found a way to meet those goals, just differently as in the Terman case.

The fact is, if advocates hadn't let themselves carry water for developers, they would see the overdevelopment runs counter to their interests. Overdevelopment creates backlash and less willingness to make exceptions for affordable housing. It increases overall housing prices and rents and puts pressure on older stock. It is what finally led to someone wanting to evict BV residents. It is partly what made conditions at the Maybell location untenable for any kind of significant development. But the debates seem to have gotten developers a great strategy for ensuring no one remembers the environment: coming on the heals of the outcry after the Cal Ave trees were removed, here was a lesson in how you get environmental advocates to remain silent or get out their saws to cut down dozens of established old trees in the last historic orchard in town. That parcel would have been far better as a much needed community space on a isde of town that has none. Had neighbors been allowed to put their energy into collaboration - which they asked for - the trees might have been saved,the community space built for little o no cost to the City, AND affordable housing come from the effort, just as at Terman. To me, from a view on the inside, that was the waste here.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2016 at 8:23 am

R2 and R15 are maximum zoning densities. The city has no minimum density requirements.


10 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 29, 2016 at 8:45 am

@Jerry,
I was not there - Was the property actually rezoned? Or is that just your interpretation of the land use? There has always been disagreement about that interpretation, I had not heard of a rezoning request, though. Having to give credence to a land use interpretation within zoning that you disagree with is not the same thing as rezoning. Because R-2 is basically R-1 that allows an in-law second structure owned by the same property owner, and RM-15 is supposed to be on the lower end of the range next to R-1 neighborhoods, meaning, 8 units per acre, which this is for the RM-15 parts. You might be able to argue for more gradual transition, but that would violate other far more important policies in this instance and there isn't much space gor it, anyway.

The City is allowed broad powers when it comes to safety, and has numerous policies that this plan is far more consistent with than the previous. You may disagree with that, but the City strikingly made no effort at concrete analysis, such as the safety impacts to biking children, and still has not. All anyone argues is their opinions, through high-density-rose-colored glasses.

[Portion removed.]


25 people like this
Posted by My cup of Tea
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 29, 2016 at 8:48 am

My cup of Tea is a registered user.

I still do not understand why these "concerned" Barron Park home owners did not put their energy into the senior housing project proposed for this site, to make it work. It would have given seniors a safe environment within walking distance to transportation and a park. So now we have multi million houses going in, which of course keeps value up in the area, and folks have the gall to say this is better????? And we wonder why Trump is getting so many votes?????


2 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2016 at 9:51 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

The topic of the hearing:

"Approval of Mitigated Negative Declaration and Tentative Tract Map with Lot Size Exceptions to Subdivide Four Parcels Totaling 2.47 Acres Into 16 Single-Family Lots, Ranging from 5,000 SF to 6,186 SF, and one Parcel for a Private Street."

"Subdivide into 16 single-family lots." Without a *decision* to redraw the map, the project can't move forward.
Possible positions on this request; a) approve it, because lower density is better and b) think it over when the city is struggling to meet its housing responsibilities

[Portion removed.]


28 people like this
Posted by Alice Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 29, 2016 at 10:15 am

Not just a missed opportunity --

We should NOT let developers buy their way out of their legal and moral obligations.

With a revoltingly priced $5.3 m house on the market on Pomona, and 16 new houses for the rich to move into PA, we again are redlining our community.

I for one supported the senior housing and think the council has made a huge mistake not insisting on the 2 BMP houses.

After all, these houses will go for $2m or more AND they WILL impact the schools, traffic and our lovely Juana Briones park. There is certainly inadequate parking by the way.


22 people like this
Posted by Bruce Heister
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 29, 2016 at 10:21 am

This Palo Alto Online article appears on the same day that the Daily Post had an article on seniors lining up for the waiting list for the 57 units (all currently occupied) of low-income senior housing owned by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation. Some of the seniors now loosing housing are the teachers who educated Palo Alto children.

Bruce Heister


3 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 29, 2016 at 10:35 am

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 29, 2016 at 10:49 am

Annette is a registered user.

Thank you, Bruce Heister, for your post. That photo is disturbing; speaks volumes about what has happened to this community.


26 people like this
Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 29, 2016 at 11:16 am

While the topic is fresh, I wanted to explicitly expose deceptive messages that Scharff and Burt gave in their respective "Sour Grapes" speech:

1. Building less than what is allowed in the zoning is NOT a zoning variance. They were setting the stage to say if we were allowing LESS than what the zoning was, it would be equal to a future request to build MORE. That is LIE #1.

2. The minor variances requested for this project to fit into a optimum win-win configuration set the precedent of requiring a zoning change, and the citizens should be willing to accept future zoning changes. As adults we know that minor adjustments applied in the Maybell case is not the same as major density or change of use variances that the council has made in dealing out favors to property owners and significantly giving away building rights at the detriment of the community for traffic, school crowding, and unfunded infrastructure costs.

Both Burt and Scharff need to be told repeatedly that their antics were as obvious as a toddler's attempt at manipulation of parents. It just didn't fly, and community clearly observed them throwing a temper tantrum!

Finally, while the neighborhood welcomes low-income housing, the number of low-income units in the general area is very close to violating the federal prohibition of "clustering" low income housing. True "integration" demands disbursing affordable housing throughout the community. AND, using $7 million to help ten families is such a greater service than just serving two families on site.

It seems that certain council members like dictating to the neighborhoods in a show of power, vs. cooperative processes that seek input into reasonable growth that address all of the communities needs. Including affordable housing. Including well-located and affordable housing for seniors. If we don't move to solve some of the stated community needs, solutions will be shoved down our throat and become a perpetual battle.

Let's put creating the solution a part of the development process, so that each new development right granted not only carries it's share of the burden, but also makes a contribution to some of the historical deficits our council has created.

I look forward to continuing this discussion. Solutions First!

Best regards,

Tim Gray


4 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 29, 2016 at 11:27 am

Chip, re: "people objected to the Senior housing because ambulances & EMT sirens ... would create unwanted noise in the 'hood;" of course that overlooks the fact that there is already a FIRE HOUSE in that same block!


10 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 29, 2016 at 11:31 am

So we don't want private developers to build nice, new affordable housing next door to apartments that already exist, even if it's for seniors. But we want to spend millions in public money to keep poor people living in dilapidated conditions at Buena Vista? And we'll also pretend that vehicle dwellers don't exist? I understand the opposition to the initial project here, but the City Council has no coherent philosophy on these issues, and it should not pretend otherwise.


16 people like this
Posted by Seniors Line Up to Get Housing
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 29, 2016 at 11:31 am

Seniors Line Up to Get Housing is a registered user.

Front page headline in today's Daily Post, "Seniors Line Up to Get Housing." They report that a "couple hundred" people were waiting in line to apply for affordable apartments through Palo Alto Housing Corp. (PAHC) [portion removed.] PAHC is a non-profit that owns and manages low-income housing in Palo Alto and the surrounding area.

Jennifer Fryhling and Lydia Kou [portion removed] will claim that they only opposed the market rate housing that was associated with the former project, but in fact they supported a for-profit project of 16 single family homes on that site last night and they did not advocate for inclusion of additional affordable units that existing zoning would have allowed. We will get NO affordable units for seniors from that project and greater school impacts from the single family homes.

If they judge a generation by how they treat their elders, our legacy will be a sad one.


23 people like this
Posted by Seniors Line Up to Get Housing
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 29, 2016 at 11:42 am

Seniors Line Up to Get Housing is a registered user.

I am from south Palo Alto. I failed to hit the "neighborhood" button.

BTW, about 500 people finally submitted applications for that affordable senior housing and they already had a waiting list of 50 people. Average wait time is 5-10 years, according to the article.

I am a long-time Palo Alto resident owner of a single family home. My aging mother lives on the east coast and lost my dad last year. We'd like to move her here, but we don't have room with kids at home and we can't afford an apartment for her here. She is failing and needs our support, but it is far less expensive (though incredibly challenging) for me to fly home frequently than it is to move her here. It's so ridiculous.


2 people like this
Posted by RV
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 29, 2016 at 11:56 am

I fully opposed the initial immensely dense proposal of 60 apartments and 12 single homes for a street that is already narrow, without adequate paths and bike lanes and which is supposed to provide "safe routes to school" access.

However, I also do not support the current proposal because of the exceptions granted. This will again compromise safe routes to school and the city should ensure funding is provided to create a route that is used by hundreds of elementary, middle and high schools bikers. There is no need for this development if the city wants to ensure the safety of the children. It can purchase the land and re-purpose it for suitable development that will ensure the safety for now and the future.


1 person likes this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2016 at 12:43 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

"Building less than what is allowed in the zoning is NOT a zoning variance."

What would be the right word to describe it. Would the term "accommodation" still make it LIE #1? Am I mistaken in saying that the council could have decided to deny the new map, thus scuttling the project?

"while the neighborhood welcomes low-income housing"

It used to, recent neighborhood efforts put that in question.

"If we don't move to solve some of the stated community needs, solutions will be shoved down our throat and become a perpetual battle."

I agree with this. If we don't address the need for affordable housing for seniors, for example, at some point another level of government will intervene and the battle won't be an intra-city matter that can be won by a local faction committed to opposing subsidized housing. Please elaborate on how PASZ would solve the need for affordable housing.


24 people like this
Posted by Steven Rosenberg
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Everyone,

I see here, and on other similar threads in the past, angry posts about the people denying our Palo Alto teachers, or long time older residents, etc. affordable places to live in Palo Alto by not allowing whatever low income housing development is being argued about. Please be clear about the facts before you start trying to punch the PC emotional buttons (i.e. demonizing anyone who does not agree with you as a "not nice person" whose views should not count.)

As I understand it, by LAW, the PAHC and other similar non-profits cannot discriminate by prior location or place of work as to who can apply and live in their properties. They get many, many, applications from people who are not living in Palo Alto, and never worked here, and as a result, most of the people who make it to the top of their list and get this type of housing were never Palo Alto residents, &/or whatever class of city worker you think deserves a spot. There is nothing wrong (in my book) with everyone having access to this type of housing, but please be clear that this housing is not designed to, and is not going to benefit primarily or only needy Palo Alto residents and workers.


8 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2016 at 1:22 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

"As I understand it, by LAW, the PAHC and other similar non-profits cannot discriminate by prior location or place of work as to who can apply and live in their properties.

They cannot discriminate but they can legally prioritize by giving preference to people who live or work in Palo Alto. If no qualified priority applicants are waiting for housing they cannot refuse to open application to people from outside P.A. who meet the income qualifications. That would be discrimination.

" . . .most of the people who make it to the top of their list and get this type of housing were never Palo Alto residents, &/or whatever class of city worker you think deserves a spot."

That's a powerful assertion, and if you can back it up with evidence, I'd have to rethink my support. Failing that, I have to believe that with a waiting list that has only now dropped to as low as 50 after being closed for six years and with another 500-700 names added, the chance that someone without a Palo Alto connection will get that next unit, whenever it opens up, is nil.

The fantasy that there was no legitimate local demand for low-income senior housing was just that, a fantasy. One that was backed in the Measure D campaign by statistical manipulations that demonstrated conclusively that that housing would be going to "outsiders" because no true Palo Altans would qualify and yet the units would have to be rented out.


2 people like this
Posted by Seniors Line Up to Get Housing
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 29, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Seniors Line Up to Get Housing is a registered user.

RV--The city has already developed a thoughtful network plan for the school commute corridors in this area, including Maybell. It's coming soon...


16 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 29, 2016 at 2:19 pm

@Jerry Underdal,
"Approval of Mitigated Negative Declaration and Tentative Tract Map with Lot Size Exceptions to Subdivide Four Parcels Totaling 2.47 Acres Into 16 Single-Family Lots, Ranging from 5,000 SF to 6,186 SF, and one Parcel for a Private Street.""

That does not mean rezoning. Sorry, it's just a confusing way o saying what has already been said. There was a minor as to be able to have a less than mthe 6,000 sq ft minimum lot size. On two of the lots. The lots themselves are the result of a subdivision process that perhaps is part of this, in order to ask for the smaller size lots for two parcel. Anything that is to go there has to be subdivided. The previous proposal would also have had to be subdivided. That is not rezoning to R-1. It says nothing at all about that. The current proposal fits within the current zoning and can be argued to be far more consistent with zoning and the comprehensive plan that the build-to-the-max interpretations the sour grapes crowd have been furthering.

The Maybell referendum happened 3 years ago. What has the sour grapes crowd done since then, since they seemed so willing to alienate their neighbors and take on their stated goals themselves?

@My Cup of Tea,
Actually, we did put considerable energy into trying to make it work, the proponents of just that plan wouldn't have it. We got together as small groups and tried to sell ourselves as a neighborhood to the then Councilmembers, for what we could do if we put our minds to it. Others asked in Council for a working group like the one that saved Terman school from development while producing the low-income family housing 92-unit Terman Apt. We already did the impossible, but we could not have done more while being screamed at as nimbys and no one willing to collaborate and work on anything except that exact plan.

@Chip,
No one claimed any such thing. The proposal was not even for frail seniors. Once they needed ambulances, they would hae been forced out. It was not a senior facility, there were no senior services proved. It was just apartments with an age limit.

@Seniors Line,
You are stepping way over the line there in attacking people who could have been great allies for what you claim you want. The City sold the property to a private developer after the referendum, when it had the right to keep it. Where were you in supporting the City keeping the property? Those same people you villify tried to get the City to do that. That's the only scenario under which affordable housing could have been worked out there after the referendum failed. But the CITY COUNCIL chose to ensure the property was sold to a private developer. People from the neighborhood were there to support the current plan of the PRIVATE DEVELOPER and have no say in developing affordable housing there. This is a for profit developer, that has never been on the table since the property was sold to them. The City had the right to acquire the property but did not.


34 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

So much venomous false information. A major reason that the Maybell project that included the senior housing was rejected was that the advocates choose to demonize people with legitimate questions and concerns rather than try to address those issues.

1. False that residents opposed the senior housing. When Planning Commissioner Eduardo Martinez retired from the Planning and Transportation Commission, he lamented how the PTC and City Hall had dealt with residents concerns and speculated that the project could have been approved if there had been a few (2-3 if memory serves) less at market rate houses.

2. False that residents didn't put their energy into trying to make senior housing work (claim by "My cup of Tea"). I was at the first and subsequent public outreach meetings and Palo Alto Housing Corp took the position that that was what they had already decided and there was no room for change. The safety of students bicycling along a major "Safe Routes to School" was ignored to the extent that bicyclists were even considered in the traffic study.

3. False that the developer bought his way out of his obligation (claim by Alice Smith): In-lieu fees are commonly approved and I have heard multiple times from City Officials that they are actually preferable to having BMR units in small developments. Most importantly, the in-lieu fees allow the City build up a large enough pot to have the matching funds needed to go after state and federal affordable housing grants, and thereby get more bang-for-the-buck.

4. False implication that "affordable housing" is needed by Palo Alto teachers ("Bruce Heister" postulates retired teachers in the line). There is a difference between the term "affordable housing" being used in the sense of the units under consideration ("Below Market Rate") and housing that people can afford. Palo Alto teachers (and police and fire fighters) all earn much to much to qualify for BMR housing. Additionally, in various meetings on affordable housing, I have asked PA Housing Corp if they know of any teachers are on the waiting list, and the answer has always been "No".

5. False equivalences: The zoning variances granted on this project were routine and common (re-iterating Timothy Gray). To compare this to zoning changes to allowing a developer to over-build a site goes beyond pedantic to being probably malicious.

6. Who gets BMR units is subject to speculation because PA Housing Corp claims to not know these details and often gives contradictory answers to questions. What is known is that people sign up on many lists throughout a wide area and thus most of the people on a list for a *particular* project never get a unit in that project because they get one elsewhere first, leave the area, die... But PAHC doesn't collect data to distinguish these cases. Nor do they collect the data on the public policy questions that arise time after time.


18 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 29, 2016 at 2:32 pm

@Jerry Underdal,
"What would be the right word to describe it."

Subdivision is not the same as rezoning. Legally it is not the same thing. The change required here is called a "variance" and it was to allow the developer to build on two lots that were less than 6,000 square feet, which the zoning requires. The variance was for two lots, not for the 16.

The other term you are missing here is RANGE. RM zoning designations have a range of densities. You keep applying the maximum and have forgotten that this was never the intent of the code or comp plan, or RANGES would not have been specified. RM-15 is supposed to be built on the lower end of the RANGE next to R-1 areas, so 8 units per acre, not 15. That means the 16 unit plan is within zoning. The variance was required in order to put TWO houses there on almost large enough lots instead of ONE house on a really big lot. The only variance the developer asked for allows for an extra unit to be built there, not fewer.


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Posted by Housing needs
a resident of University South
on Jun 29, 2016 at 2:37 pm

I too noted the irony of the Daily Post reporting 500 needy seniors lined up to get housing while the Weekly reports on Palo Alto's decision to reduce 60 affordable senior units to 16 luxury homes.

When we vote down affordable housing projects for seniors, are we being good children to our parents? As we decide how Palo Alto will look in 15 years, are we being good parents to our future children?

Or are we preventing both from having a future in our city?


22 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 29, 2016 at 3:01 pm

@Housing Needs,
You do realize that it was the CITY whose decision after the referendum meant selling that property to a private developer, and that the private developer never had any plans of putting senior housing there? And that PASZ members unanimously asked the City to buy the property? Where were you, if you care so much? Where have you been the last 3 years in trying to see if any of the dilapidated or vacant lots on El Camino, far more suitable for density, could be senior housing?

Where were you when, during the arguments over the Maybell development, it came to light that there were 20 (TWENTY) EMPTY below market rate SENIOR units at a senior living facility, that no one was taking because the rules had been set up in a way that failed to understand market conditions for seniors in Palo Alto? Where were you when PAHC failed to do any kind of market survey to justify actual need for what they proposed (an apartment complex of very small units that seniors would have to vacate when they got frail) to ensure the same thing didn't happen there? Where were you when neighbors who had previously, through a working group, stopped a developer from turning Terman School into apartments in an almost identical development battle, while seeing the 92-unit affordable Terman apartments into being? Were you one of the people who just called them nimbys and jumped on the angry bandwagon instead of calming down and encouraging collaboration - some of the same people had actually collaborated in a way that created even more affordable housing while honoring the needs of the community - in the same neighborhood. The City Council refused a working group request - where were you then?

To those above who think our teachers are in line - Low-income housing is for people with low incomes. There is an income test. Most teachers in Palo Alto make more than the median income, and if married, more than the median household income by a lot. There was just an article about how most teachers make over $100,000. But nevermind, ideoloical ruts die hard. It would help if the Weekly would finally be willing to examine what actually happened at Maybell rather than encouraging the ideological nastiness.


6 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 30, 2016 at 6:00 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Thank you, Cory Wolbach for not capitulating to the pressure for the city to abandon its values and comp plan support for bicycle and pedestrian connectivity. Safety improvements to Maybell to enhance bicycle, pedestrian, and auto safety are scheduled to begin construction soon. [Portion removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Truthiness from the Left
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2016 at 7:38 am

@Cory Wolbach,
A good liberal leader remembers the environment, trees, safety, children's safety and mental health, open space, and inclusionary housing for the disabled, too. [Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 30, 2016 at 11:17 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

"RM-15 is supposed to be built on the lower end of the RANGE next to R-1 areas, so 8 units per acre, not 15. "

Where is the adjacency of the RM-15 parcel to an R-1 area? It's surrounded by R-2 on Maybell, the Arastradero Park Apartments, the high-rise Tan Apartments and Juana Briones Park. Sounds to me like RANGE reduction from 15 to 8 would not apply, and the plan that was just approved does in fact represent a downzoning in effect to "R-1-like" status.


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Posted by Steven Rosenberg
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 30, 2016 at 1:39 pm

Hi Jerry,

I did some research on line last night, and you are correct - contrary to what I was told a few years ago, it is legal to have certain kinds of preferences. Sorry about that - my memory is not working as well as it used to.

However, a preference is not a restriction. It is true, if there is a strong and consistent demand by the preference class for the housing, and they are in a position to take advantage of the housing opportunity each time a unit becomes available (i.e. move at that time, come up with a deposit, if needed, at that time, etc.) then a preference can function like a restriction. Otherwise, many or most of the the units will end up going to people outside the preference class for the units.

The important point is how it works in practice in PAHC's and others' affordable housing units in Palo Alto. Many people are arguing that particular affordable housing developments in Palo Alto should be supported because they are going to specifically benefit Palo Alto residents, Palo Alto elderly, or certain categories of Palo Alto workers. Without any information on what preference classes would apply to the development and how this has worked in the past in terms of the proportion of units currently occupied by non Palo Alto residents &/or workers, you can't know whether the housing units are going to do what their advocates say they will. If your goal is to provide affordable housing for elderly Palo Alto residents, for example, then we should understand whether the proposed affordable housing would achieve this goal.

A few years ago, when the original Maybell development was being discussed, a few of us tried to understand how it would work in practice. As I recall, PAHC, when both called and emailed, refused to provide any data on what, if any preference classes they had for their various properties, and how it worked out in practice -i.e. what portion of the residents in units with preference classes were actually in the preference class, and what portion of residents of units were from Palo Alto. As I recall, someone was able to get some informal answers from a few properties by calling the resident manager, which were relative low numbers of former Palo Alto residents, but the reported answer may not have been accurate or representative.

I don't want to argue what the answer actually is - only PAHC knows - I'm trying to say that without the answer, we are only arguing our opinions on whether an affordable housing development is likely to do what some people say it will do, which is a waste of time. PAHC should provide these answers. Perhaps they do provide them somewhere is some public document, but I can't find it, in the searching I have been able to do. If they don't, then why don't they?

One question for you - re your point below - are you saying that the waiting list you are referring to below has a preference for Palo Alto residents, or is composed mostly of local residents or those with local ties? I don't recall reading that. Otherwise, local demand will be only a small proportion of the applications from elsewhere in the county, and make up only a small proportion fo residents, I would suspect.

"That's a powerful assertion, and if you can back it up with evidence, I'd have to rethink my support. Failing that, I have to believe that with a waiting list that has only now dropped to as low as 50 after being closed for six years and with another 500-700 names added, the chance that someone without a Palo Alto connection will get that next unit, whenever it opens up, is nil."

Finally, re your point below - as I recall the argument, the question of local demand for low-income senior housing at that site was legitimately raised. I recall that people pointed out the number of low income households in Palo Alto and tried to draw some conclusions re how many would want and qualify for that particular development, which had extermely small apartments in a high rise with few amenities or services. It was pointed out that simply going by the number of low-income elderly households in Palo Alto was not necessarily a predictor of need for that low-income housing, as many were already housed in houses they had owned a long time and were affordable to them, and others would not necessarily accept those very small apartments, or qualify if they sold their houses. Can you be more specific about what you are calling "statistical manipulations" by the Measure D campaign?

"The fantasy that there was no legitimate local demand for low-income senior housing was just that, a fantasy. One that was backed in the Measure D campaign by statistical manipulations that demonstrated conclusively that that housing would be going to "outsiders" because no true Palo Altans would qualify and yet the units would have to be rented out."


13 people like this
Posted by less is more.
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 30, 2016 at 8:41 pm

Good job on Maybell. The city gets less traffic. The schools don't get quite as crowded. The neighborhood is not overwhelmed. Less water, energy and pollution is used and produced. The plan is more sustainable than 100s of homes. The only thing better would have been a park or only 3 or 4 giant homes.

Less is the new more. Palo Alto should lead the way to showing how to limit growth and work towards as few people in town as possible and then work towards supplying all our own energy, disposing of our own waste and growing our our food. Show the world how sustainable be can be.

Less growth now! Good job Maybell.


4 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 30, 2016 at 11:20 pm

@Jerry Underdal,
R-2 is essentially R-1, but you get an in-law unit. Across the street is all R-1. More to the point, the predominant land use in the entire neighborhood and area is R-1. In fact, much of it is R1(10,000) on the Barron Park side. Being across the street from a park in an R-1 nighbirhood does not change the predominant land use - it's a park surrounded by R-1 neighborhood.

The RM-15 is the transition zone to the apartment, and is supposed to be on the lower end of the range by R-1, i.e., 8 units per acre. When that parcel was originally zoned, the range was even lower. What's between the apartments and El Camino? More R-1.

[Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 30, 2016 at 11:36 pm

@Jerry Underdal,
"It used to, recent neighborhood efforts put that in question."

How do you think the many residents in low-income housing in this area feel to keep hearing that? Feeling different and inferior can be a consequence of living in subsidized housing, according to HUD. That's why, as Tim Gray points out, HUD recommends not concentrating affordable housing. Just because people disagree on a plan, does not make them against affordable housing or evil nimbys. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2016 at 3:06 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Hi, Steven,

Thanks for taking what I said seriously and fact checking it to come to your own conclusion. What I regretted most during the whole Maybell controversy was that this direct way to address a disputed claim was not commonly used.

Your analysis of the difficulty of knowing the breakdown of who is in subsidized housing at a given time is a good one. My expectation would be that the county Housing Authority monitors projects to be sure that only qualified applicants get housed in programs that they oversee, but I wouldn't count on the Housing Authority to be aggressive in monitoring the extent to which an entity like PAHC fills its apartments with applicants who live or work in Palo Alto. It seems to me that it's data that would be available internally, and I can see possible arguments for and against making it available to the general public.

About the waiting list, I would assume, supported by the article, that the list was open to anyone who qualified, whether in the prioritized categories of prior resident or employee in Palo Alto or not. As you suggest, neither of us knows for sure whether the next unit that opens up will go to a Palo Alto resident/employee, but it seems to me that at least one out of 750 applicants is likely to be a priority applicant and get the apartment.

To your last question about "statistical manipulations," I was referring to Bob Moss's breakdown of income/wealth data. I think the data came from a government survey, though I'm uncertain about the details now. Searching the many threads on Maybell proved tedious and unproductive so I gave it up. Maybe someone in the neighborhood can point it out to you. Anyway, the takeaway was that it showed that there couldn't be a significant number of Palo Altans who qualified for the project if the government statistics were correct.

PAHC is the place I would start off now if I were researching this. At the time, I didn't know much about PAHC and was trying to guard against being seen as tied to it in my comments and the actions I took. I came to find out that they actually would answer questions from the public--part of my learning process in getting involved, first over the Maybell bicycle safety plan and then over the housing proposal.

I hope I've answered your questions adequately.


2 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 5, 2016 at 9:00 am

@Steven Rosenberg,
There is a periodic review of PAHC by a consultant, which is a thorough and unvarnished look at the good and the things in need of improvement. If I recall correctly, they do cover the waiting list and make suggestions for improvement. You can find it using search or calling the City. The waiting list does not check people's qualifications. Anyone can put themselves on the waiting list. If you think about it, that only makes sense because the resources to check are better spent when people accept a unit. But this brings into question the use of the list as data for anything except the most general interest in the range of housing managed by PAHC. (Not all of the housing is low-income, there are BMR units that low-income people could never afford. People may start making more because of job changes - the reality is they won't usually notify PAHC.) Given that anyone working in Palo Alto is eligible, potentially the number of eligible could even exceeds current applicants. The report also pointed out that units have gone empty for long periods of time - with the reason given that low-income people can be choosy, too. So, there are times when units are offered to everyone on the list but are not taken. What happens when someone qualifies for working here and gets a unit but stops working in Palo Alto? They continue to qualify because they now live here. Of course, it would be inhumane to kick people out because of changing jobs. But it does make a case for giving preferences to low-income people already living in Palo Alto. Is that the case now? I'm not sure, but I don't think living here already gives a higher preference. Please post if that is incorrect.

I am only pointing this out because, unlike a lot of self-proclaimed proponents, I do not equate transparency and honesty with attacking the program. On the contrary, I think checks and balances ultimately protect an important public service which could be at risk if practices become corrupted or outside the program's mission. Times change, too - the rule about allowing those employed to get on the list was made in a day when the size if the City didn't triple every day with workers. Given all the housing being built on transit, the reason for that rule might best be re-examined relative to the agency's mission and resources. The impulse to do such hard work could be made even harder if the waiting list numbers are so heavily relied on as proxy data in lieu of more direct and accurate data.


6 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 5, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

I haven't checked yet to see what the routine procedure is for handling a situation in which a person who qualified for affordable housing at time of occupancy experiences a rise in income. I did check a while back, though, with PAHC's executive director Candice Gonzalez for a response to a claim expressed in Town Square, regarding unfilled BMR units at Moldaw that: "The Moldaw units were under PAHC's management for a long time, empty. They were empty when the Maybell referendum began. They were empty while PAHC was planning to rezone Maybell."

Her response was that PAHC has never managed the Moldaw units, that its responsibility is limited to helping with the BMR units (units that sell for several hundred thousands of dollars) by confirming that the applicant is BMR income eligible. She added that PAHC is not and never has been responsible for managing the wait list, marketing, or any kind of property management. I'm glad that she cleared up the confusion.


1 person likes this
Posted by M. Blue
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 5, 2016 at 2:27 pm

"R-2 is essentially R-1, but you get an in-law unit. Across the street is all R-1. More to the point, the predominant land use in the entire neighborhood and area is R-1....<clip...> The RM-15 is the transition zone to the apartment, and is supposed to be on the lower end of the range by R-1, i.e., 8 units per acre. When that parcel was originally zoned, the range was even lower. "

"Red is grey and yellow white.
But we decide which is right.
and which is an illusion"


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 6, 2016 at 9:01 am

@ Douglas Moran: Thank you.


1 person likes this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 6, 2016 at 10:12 am

@Jerry Underdal,

Thank you for clarifying that PAHC is only one entity of several involved in helping to provide affordable or below-market-rate housing in Palo Alto.

You have missed the point about the 20 empty senior units at Moldaw relative to Maybell, though. The response to residents' legitimate concerns about safety were met with dismissal: the housing was in such short supply, proponents said, the concerns like safety and whether there was any adjacency of amenities for the site (which the government wanted) or whether the type of units would help solve the need for Palo Alto residents were dismissed. Putting in the housing was such an emergency, it was represented, nothing else was important.

And yet at the same time, there were 20 empty BMR units that could have housed up to 40 seniors in an actual senior facility, units that had gone empty for YEARS. The units at Maybell were smaller and weren't even in a full-service senior facility, residents would have had to vacate the units (where to?) when they became frail. The point is, if the need was so great that all sense and safety needed to go out of the window at Maybell, why weren't the government and housing advocates doing whatever it took to make those 20 empty below-market-rate senior units at Moldaw available to meet the need? Since they accomplished that once the spotlight was on the situation, clearly, it was possible (the lack of doing anything wasn't because it was so hard).

Whenever this comes up, you still default to saying the units were expensive. But when city hall finally had so much egg on its face during Maybell that they were forced to examine why the 20 below-market-rate senior units had gone empty for so long, they found that it wasn't because they were too expensive, they found that 1) lower-income people didn't want to make the investment under a contract that didn't give them half of their initial downpayment back, since regular residents had those conditions, and 2) the seniors who needed the units and qualified because of income limits had GREATER (not lower, greater) assets than the program allowed. When the contract allowed the same percentage return on the initial payment as regular units, and RAISED the amount of assets the seniors could have, the units filled.

The consultant report about PAHC also says that **PAHC** BMR units have also gone empty for long periods of time, because low-income people also weigh their options and those units were deemed too undesirable (it wasn't about the price, though some of the higher priced units - I think - have suffered the same problems). The consultant report also found that PAHC had difficulty enforcing their own restrictions - limits on the number of people living in the units and even whether the low-income person was living there (instead of illegally renting it out to someone else). This was the consultant report, Jerry.

Saying that things aren't perfect isn't a proxy for saying PAHC is terrible. It's the reality of trying to provide that very important service. To do it well, it's always necessary to keep improving, and very necessary to be honest and open, and deal with problems not obfuscate. To gain the trust of residents near Maybell, residents' very real concerns needed to be addressed. IMO, that was a terrible location to propose such a dense project, but they would have gotten no such pushback if they built something over zoning on El Camino - the low-income project going up now on El Camino saw no outcry at all even though it is over zoning and being built after the Maybell referendum.

Relative to the Maybell situation, residents' concerns were about the plan and conditions at that location, not PAHC. PAHC never did any market surveys of Palo Alto seniors and provided no hard data to show that particular product was worth overlooking all the serious problems, as residents were being asked to do (you seem not to understand that a market survey is a totally different thing than "marketing"). The government usually REQUIRES a market survey to be included with their grant applications, but PAHC used only their wait list, which is really not good proxy data, because anyone can put themselves on the list, and it's for ALL the products, including the more expensive BMR units. The consultant report even discusses how problematic the waitlist is. At Maybell, a market survey would have been necessary to understand whether the product being offered would meet a Palo Alto need: very small units without services, that residents would have to vacate when they were frail, with no adjacency or walkability to any amenities. These are all things the government looks for in granting money for projects. The grant money is in short supply and competed for with other low-income projects around the state. It's not okay to overrule safety, zoning, and even far more other poor people's needs to say the need is so great here, if no one is willing to even look specifically at the need of existing residents.

The 20 empty senior BMR units at Moldaw units were an object lesson in exactly that circumstance (it had nothing to do with PAHC specifically, do you get it now?) An organization like PAHC really should have done those market surveys. It would really help in the future if they would do them. If they want to succeed and get the public on their side the next time, the surveys have to be trustworthy, too. I do think there was a real lost opportunity to take the swell of opposition to that plan and direct it toward saving the orchard and producing perhaps several close locations on El Camino for low-income senior housing (close to each other and the existing senior developments on El Camino Way now.) If the public had been allowed to use their energy toward a positive outcome, I think really great things could have come of it (that's what I, at least, initially worked for) and PAHC (and low-income people) would have seen a tremendous boost in support. The drumbeat of accusations, most of them false from what I could see, completely prevented that from ever happening. The opportunity is gone now, it was gone right about when residents felt their only choice was to just oppose the previous plan. From where I'm sitting, anyone keeping the political divides open even now, and the false easy nimby narrative that served a political battle over a specific plan long lost, is only hurting the very cause you say you support.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 6, 2016 at 11:42 am

So we went from 60 apts for low income seniors and 12 sfh to 16 market rate sfh with nothing towards bmr housing? What a disgrace.


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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

My understanding, from Candice Gonzalez's comments, is that at the request of the city, PAHC stepped in to recommend changes to the regulatory agreement Moldaw had with the city so that the BMR units would be filled. I don't know if they had been requested earlier to pitch in and help bail Moldaw out prior to 2013. It's not at all clear to me that they would feel an obligation to do that since it wasn't their project.

What funds would have covered putting low-income seniors who qualified for the one bedroom apartments at Maybell into the BMR senior condos at Moldaw? A subsidy big enough to cover all the top-notch amenities that Moldaw provides for the life of each occupant?

The Moldaw argument, like the save the orchard argument, wasn't picked up by many of the opponents to the Maybell project so far as I could tell.


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