Senior nonprofits spar over Avenidas space in Palo Alto | News | Palo Alto Online |


Senior nonprofits spar over Avenidas space in Palo Alto

La Comida appeals Avenidas' plan to expand Bryant Street facility

Just weeks after the nonprofit Avenidas secured the city's permission to significantly expand its historic facility in downtown Palo Alto, the city's leading senior-services provider is facing a challenge from La Comida, a nonprofit that has been serving lunches to seniors in the building at 450 Bryant St. for nearly four decades.

The appeal from La Comida, which has been subleasing space from Avenidas since 1978, seeks to overturn the recent approval that Avenidas received from the city's planning department for a dramatic expansion of the city-owned building. In late October, the city's Historic Resources Board and Architectural Review Board each signed off on the project, paving the way for the approval from Planning Director Hillary Gitelman.

Now, La Comida is asking the City Council to reconsider this approval. In a letter to the city, the board of directors for La Comida is protesting the effect that the expansion would have on the dining room of the Birge Clark-designed building. Under the approved plan, the dining area would be reduced to accommodate a stairway and an elevator, and seating capacity would be drop from 120 to 90, according to Avenidas officials.

The appeal from La Comida isn't a total surprise. In late October, several patrons of La Comida urged the review board to reconsider the project. Linda Jolly told the Architectural Review Board at the Oct. 20 meeting that many users of Avenidas and La Comida are questioning the need for a larger facility and are upset about the prospect of relocating to a different facility during the construction period.

"They don't want to be moved to another building during construction," Jolly said. "These are older people with walkers who should not undergo this."

Jolly was also one of 20 users of La Comida who signed a petition that was submitted to the Historical Review Board opposing the expansion. And while the petition didn't succeed in stopping the project, opponents of the plan hope that the formal appeal will. The appeal argues that the reduction in space would keep La Comida from fulfilling its mission. The Avenidas expansion should not be allowed to go forward, the appeal argues, until there is a plan to keep the senior-nutrition program in place after the renovation.

"As we have communicated to the Avenidas Board and management on many occasions over the last two years, we don't believe La Comida can effectively serve its seniors in a space of this size," the appeal states -- an assertion with which Avenidas' executives disagree.

The appeal letter, signed by Davina Brown on behalf of the La Comida Board, claims that the nonprofit was previously told by Avenidas that some space near kitchen would be made available to accommodate a greater dining area. More recently, La Comida learned that the space would not be available for dining.

"Avenidas has been unwilling to firmly commit any auxiliary space to La Comida for use during lunch hours," the appeal states. "We understand that construction is expected to begin in 9-12 months. Thus, La Comida needs to decide now on the relocation of our program during the renovation.

"This decision is hampered by not having a clear and definite commitment from Avenidas for adequate space after the renovation. The expense of relocation of the La Comida Program is substantial, and not having a clear picture of the permanence of the move is financially and logistically impacting."

Avenidas officials strongly disputed this version of events and argued that they had made numerous offers to La Comida over the past two years in hopes of assuaging its concerns. These included expanded hours for the dining room to accommodate an extended lunch service, additional volunteers to help serve lunch and financial compensation. Avenidas has also offered to help pay for a potential remodel of the kitchen at the First United Methodist Church on Hamilton Avenue to accommodate La Comida's temporary relocation to the church.

"We want to make it work," said Kari Martell, vice president of marketing and communications at Avenidas. "It's been a good partnership. We 'get' the power of nutrition and socialization."

Amy Andonian, CEO of Avenidas, said the nonprofit feels bad about the need to reduce the dining room. But Avenidas officials also disputed the notion that it had committed more space to La Comida.

"We don't have any additional space to give them," Martell said. "We're only getting 7,100 new square feet -- devoted to new programming. They're asking for an additional 1,000 square feet."

For Avenidas, time is of the essence. After numerous delays and redesigns, the nonprofit is in danger of losing several major donations, which are contingent on deadlines. Andonian told the Weekly that the appeal places Avenidas at the risk of losing significant gifts.

"We're panicking a bit," she said.

The two nonprofits may yet resolve the dispute through mediation before it gets to the council. They are now in the process of selecting a mediator, a process that is expected to be completed by Dec. 7. If that doesn't work, the appeal would go to the City Council for consideration. Amy French, the city's chief building official, said the council would hear the appeal on Dec. 12.

Even if the council rejects the appeal, it remains to be seen how the recent rupture will affect the long-standing partnership between Avenidas and La Comida. Martell said her organization wants to make sure that "no stone is left unturned" in finding a mutually agreeable solution.

"We want La Comida to be happy in the new space," Martell said.

However, she added, if La Comida decides to leave, Avenidas will find another way to offer its clients a lunch program at the downtown center.


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7 people like this
Posted by JS
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2016 at 6:01 pm

La Comida is appealing the Architectural Review Board's (ARB) recent approval of the exterior appearance of the project, yet La Comida has no apparent issue with any exterior feature of the project. In other words, the interior floor plan issue that La Comida cites in their appeal is irrelevant to the ARB decision. La Comida's action is simply obstructionist in nature. They should instead take their issue to an appropriate forum.

11 people like this
Posted by Rich
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 23, 2016 at 1:00 am

Some inaccuracies in the report. Seat will drop from 140 to as low as 78. Article states 120 down to 90.

The quote that La Comida is asking for 1,000 additional square feet is misleading. The 1,000 square of space they are seeking is much less than the amount of the existing dining area that they will be losing.

The author of this article would do well to visit the dining area during lunch and observe that their are far more people going to Avenidas for lunch than for anything else. They're kicking out their #1 attraction.

8 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 23, 2016 at 10:31 am

The appeal to the ARB is appropriate as the very design itself is taking away program space the do to the actual construction,
The appeal stated..."Avenidas has been unwilling to firmly commit any auxiliary space to La Comida for use during lunch hours,"
This is what appeals are for.

7 people like this
Posted by JSSS
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 23, 2016 at 12:01 pm

JS is obviously some inside City person who is privy to a discussion which occurred between La Comida and the City, this past Monday. For the most part Avenidas is not an attractive organization for seniors. It's incredible that the City puts so much emphasis and support to an organization that operates only 9 to 5 weekdays with senior activities. When I do become a senior, I have no plans to attend anything at Avenidas. The place is so uninviting. Renovating the building will just be putting lipstick on a pig. I really do not see what it offers to the senior community of Palo Alto, and surrounding communities. It seems like a waste of city and county funds. Just one person's opinion.

21 people like this
Posted by Haves vs. have nots
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 23, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Haves vs. have nots is a registered user.

This sounds like a battle between haves and have nots at Avenidas. People who go there for meals are hungry or disabled enough they can't cook for themselves easily any more.

The program improvements that will replace La Comida seats are classes on how to use technology--read: for people who can afford fancy gadgets.

Who is Avenidas serving? There are plenty of low-cost tech classes in town. Is it possible Avenidas program priorities are misplaced?

Like this comment
Posted by Goody
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 23, 2016 at 2:37 pm

Lots of needs out there. How to balance....that is the question.
But, to me this is an issue of ownership. Avenidas owns it and subleases to the lunch program. That is their choice and right. That's the law about ownership. Not respecting that fundamental right is THEFT of their property.
Don't undermine that concept.dbgsc


15 people like this
Posted by Rich
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 23, 2016 at 3:41 pm

There is a relevant design issue. The dining is very visible from the outside of the building on the north side. The future view will be changed substantially for someone walking along that side of the building.

And Avenidas is not the owner of the building. The city of Palo Alto is the owner.

The kitchen was donated to the city by the rotary club for the purpose of serving seniors. Now they getting pushed out.

This is just another example of gentrification. We give lip service to helping the needy, so long as it doesn't get in the way of other priorities.

It's a shame that research connected to profit making activities will have priority over La Comida regarding space allocation in a city owned building.

It is also outrageous that Avenidas intends to compete with La Comida if the resulting space is too small and La Comida has to relocate This could result in diner volume levels insufficient to sutain the program.

The city council will soon have the opportunity to demonstrate where their priorities lie. If they are looking for a design issue necessary to express their will, they can point to the altered and inferior view from the north side of the building.

13 people like this
Posted by Concerned citizen
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 23, 2016 at 5:14 pm

My parents attend the lunch program at La Comida regularly. It is not a place that only provides nutritious hot meals to them , but also a wonderful place for them to socialize and pushes them to get out of the house.
I urge the reporters and the City Council members to pay a visit to La Comida! The place provides warmth to all sorts of seniors.
The volunteers know you by name and treat you like family.
Please help reach a plan to satisfy both sides of the party.
There must be a win win solution.
The management at Avenidas, please think carefully, yes, you can operate a lunch program on your own, BUT,
Can you provide the same friendly environment?

A note to the City Council members, please think carefully before you make a decision! Provide the best to our seniors!
Ask Avenidas to work out the space issue.
Development, parking, these issues are important , but we are talking about real humans, our beloved senior citizens now!
We will all become senior citizens one day!
Pay more attention to La Comida needs!

7 people like this
Posted by Move to cubberly
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 24, 2016 at 7:38 pm

More space, easy and plentiful parking. Avenidas should move to cubberly permanently, not temporarily.

5 people like this
Posted by Gentrification
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 25, 2016 at 9:12 pm

A good number of people on the Avenidas board are involved in development, construction, money, and such, including Liz Kniss,(Council rep) long time friend of development. Web Link
So yes, gentrification is very much their style.

The sizable amount spent on Marketing, -the multicolor brochures, several newsletters, many emails, regular mailings, the website - is more appropriate to a big moneymaking enterprise.
There are a number of free classes but many are in the $60 - $110 range. The fees climb regularly.
And of course, developers make big money on the design and construction.

5 people like this
Posted by cynical
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 28, 2016 at 6:58 am

The ARB ought to question program and would have discovered that La Comida was being reduced in size in the Avenidas plan. Looking at the photograph in the article indicates that just won't work.

Agree with Move to Cubberly. Add to the reasons:much better for elderly; much cheaper construction with no underpinning of existing building or special earthquake retrofitting, better planning possibilities,no displacement of existing building program (plus easier parking planning). Pretty obviously a significantly better idea for Council to consider.

Entire Avenidas presentation was manipulated through the review process with the cooperation of CPC and the illogical use of unjustifiable historic studies to create an inappropriate solution that should have been denied by the ARB. Too bad Birge Clark lovers were not paying attention. The final threat of loss of funds was the nail in the coffin.

Is it possible that the Council will see the light?

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