News

Divisive downtown project wins approval

Palo Alto council gives green light to four-story building at 429 University Ave.

It took three years, 14 public hearings, four different architects and a threatened lawsuit for Elizabeth Wong to win an approval to build a four-story building in downtown Palo Alto.

And when she finally did so on Monday night, there was little celebration. After the long and contentious public hearing on the deeply divisive project, the applicants, their critics and the City Council all agreed that the project at 429 University Ave. falls short of what they would have liked to see at the site.

For Wong, who has been seeking the green light since June 2014, the design that the council approved by a 5-3 vote late Monday night was the worst of the three options on the table -- so inferior that her attorney maintained that it isn't an option at all. For Michael Harbour, a Kipling Street property owner who led the opposition to the project, the modernist four-story building is far too massive and deeply incompatible with the narrow street dominated by Victorian buildings. And for the council, which had rebuffed Wong on two prior occasions, the latest iteration was just good enough to eke out an unenthusiastic vote of approval.

"This has been a long road for the community," said Mayor Greg Scharff, who made a motion to approve the project. "It's been a long road for the appellant. It's time to put the issue behind us."

Four of his colleagues agreed. Eric Filseth, Cory Wolbach, Adrian Fine and Greg Tanaka provided the votes Wong needed for approval (Liz Kniss was absent), though their enthusiasm was conspicuously muted. Filseth and Wolbach both argued that the building, for all of its problems, complies with the city's zoning code and should be approved.

"Do I love the building? No. But the law is the law and the law doesn't say, 'You must love the building,'" Wolbach said.

Filseth was even more blunt in his assessment of the project, which will occupy a site that for a long time housed the art boutique Shady Lane. He argued that the new building would actually make the city's housing crunch worse and that it's "bad for sustainability." But he acknowledged that Wong has property rights that must be respected.

At prior hearings, the council rejected Wong's proposal on the grounds that it failed to meet compatibility criteria, which members acknowledged is subjective. Filseth said two of the three design options continue to be clearly incompatible with the surrounding area. But for one option, which calls for a building with less square footage and three -- rather than four or five -- housing units, it's a closer call. It's not clear that the slightly smaller building meets the compatibility criteria, Filseth said.

"But it's not quite certain that it doesn't," Filseth said. "And I think we should move forward."

The 28,547-square-foot building that the council approved Monday night will include ground-floor retail, offices and three housing units. Planning staff had concluded in a report that this option has been "the most responsive to concerns about the overall building mass and provides better transition to neighboring properties than others." The building will have a "two-story volume" all along University and Kipling, with the third story set back five feet on both sides (the only exception will be a stairway and elevator area on Kipling) and the fourth floor set back even farther.

All three options under consideration included 20,407 square feet of commercial space. The two that the council rejected would have included four and five residences, respectively. Each would have square footage of greater than 31,000.

The council's approval came despite fierce opposition from many neighbors and some council members. Karen Holman, Tom DuBois and Lydia Kou argued that all of the designs are incompatible with the neighborhood and sided with Harbour, the appellant.

"I really can't see this as a good transition or harmonious to the neighborhood or even fitting with the Victorian homes that are on (Kipling) street," Kou said.

DuBois said that he still can't make the compatibility findings for the project -- a problem that had halted approval in the past. Holman was more specific and argued that the mass of the proposed building clashes with the "rhythm of the street."

"This building has very strong horizontal elements that run the length of the project," Holman said. "There is no attempt to break up the mass and scale of the building.

"It's not the square footage; it's how the square footage is expressed."

The community was similarly divided, with both critics and supporters turning up to make their case. Harbour urged the council to reject the project, arguing that the developer hasn't even come close to complying with the council's prior direction.

"This is a colossal building on the narrowest street in Palo Alto," Harbour said, referring to Kipling.

Many residents echoed his concerns and asked the council to demand more revisions.

"I feel like this applicant is wasting your time, our time," said Rita Vrhel said. "Obviously it doesn't have the approval from most of the community.

"This is an ugly building that will be replacing a charming building next to a charming street."

But Jared Bernstein, who lives downtown, argued that because Wong followed all the zoning rules, she should get the go-ahead, despite the project's shortcomings.

"If I own a property and build a building and follow all the rules, it ought to be OK. ... The building is not too ugly. It's not to pretty. It's OK," Bernstein said.

Some project critics also raised questions about the process and pointed to the $5,000 campaign contribution that the Wong family made to Councilman Greg Tanaka last November. While Tanaka said he returned the money last week, several residents felt the transaction nevertheless tainted the process. Downtown resident Andrew Gottlieb asked Tanaka to recuse himself from the discussion.

"Even though you refunded it, it creates a cloud and appearance of impropriety, which undermines the public's confidence in the process if you don't recuse yourself," Gottlieb said.

Another cloud that hovered over the council is the threatened lawsuit. Prior to the meeting, the council met in a closed session for more than 90 minutes to discuss several letters that Wong's attorneys had submitted in recent weeks, alleging that the city is interfering with Wong's property rights and giving undue deference to Harbour.

Timothy V. Kassouni, Wong's attorney, pointed to emails in which city staff were soliciting Harbour's feedbacks about the latest design changes. In one August 2016 email, Current Planning Manager Jodie Gerhardt asks him to "describe what a compatible building would look like."

In these emails, the attorney asserts, Palo Alto staff are giving Harbour "impermissible and illegal veto power over the project's design."

Kassouni also argued that the city's code, which relies partly on subjective criteria, is "unconstitutionally vague and provides no explicit textual limitations on the City's discretion to deny a development project's approval." This, he wrote, "leaves the door open to arbitrary and discriminatory decisions."

"Unbridled discretionary grounds are inherent in phrases such as 'harmonious transitions,' 'rhythmic patterns,' and 'design linkages.' None of these terms is defined, nor could they be as they are so vague as to be virtually meaningless."

Kassouni also argued that any further delay in approving the project "will further violate my client's Equal Protection rights and continue to interfere with its distinct investment-backed expectations."

"The City's utter obeisance to the design whims of the Appellant, coupled with the Municipal Code's unworkably vague standards and the utter disregard for Kipling Post LP's property interest in Transferable Development Rights (TDR's), will only result in further depriving Kipling Post LP's investment backed expectations."

While Kassouni maintained in his letter that Option 3 (which had four residential units and 31,157 square feet) was the only one on the table, the council ultimately chose the design with less mass and density. After the meeting, Wong said she was surprised by the council's decision not to seek the extra housing unit.

Shortly before the vote, her husband, Jaime Wong, told the council that critics of the project have been engaged in "fear-mongering" on everything from shadow impacts to traffic. He also emphasized that even though his family is developing the project, they are also Palo Alto residents and neighbors.

"I live here, I raise my family here, I build here, shop here and invest here," Wong said. "I care about this town and I better, because my future and the future of my family depends on it."

---

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Comments

31 people like this
Posted by Resi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2017 at 6:45 am

"...[T]hree years, 14 public hearings, four different architects and a threatened lawsuit..."

Par for the course with local government in this town!

We await the count on a simple bicycle bridge.


8 people like this
Posted by My goodness
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 7, 2017 at 6:48 am

My goodness, what a process. It's easy to vote no when you know a project will pass and save the city from a nasty law suit, and still keep you constituency. I'd like to say Thank You to Filseth, but I too don't like the project, or the position the last council left this in, as it made up new approval initiatives for compliance. Bad council direction, leads to bad outcomes. I'm hoping that Holman can now lead her residentialist colleagues into creating some good policy for design and compatibility instead of complaints and criticism. Maybe PASZ can join her by lobbying for policy that will create good design outcomes instead of "send it back to committee" and keep staff working on a never ending cycle and eating up staff time that could be spent on policy creation, or new RPPs, or area specific plans. Let's hope the Comp Plan can also find its footing quickly so that as a resident I can have certainty that projects (especially by other cities, entities or state) will need to comply with our vision, and not the old outdated 1998 version. Get this done so that we can work on the neighborhood focus plans that work well, like SOFA that Holman and Burt did for the downtown area. The longer the Comp Plan takes, the more exposed we are to projects we don't want in areas that are not fortified with neighborhood led plans.


96 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 7, 2017 at 7:25 am

Democracy was hijacked again!

Once and for all: the compatibility rule ARE in the code and ARE part of what makes a Legal project.

Greg Tanaka should have recused himself . And the city attorney should have made that absolutely clear to him.
He received 5K from the applicants family, most of it after the election, Part of approx. 46K he received after the election, more than half his campaign chest.
If a candidate receives money after the election the voters cannot use the source of donations to inform their choices.
When a donation is made after the election is it really a "donation" or a personal "gift"to pay back the personal loans
candidates made to their own campaign?
After all the point of a political donations is to give money to a candidate to pay for the campaign events and materials they will need during the campaign period. After election donations smell like the fulfillment of promises made at the expense of complying with the spirit of the fair election laws of.
Tanaka had a gigantic illegal sign high atop Joseph Bellows building on University circle downtown. Illegal by city law and election laws both of which restrict size and placement.
Oh, in case you don't remember Joseph Bellow is the current Architect for 429 University.
So actual conflict, money , and the perception of conflict.

The applicant offered three new versions for council's consideration none of which had been reviewed by the ARB.
The applicant claimed that all three versions had elements from previous iterations which in some other combination or form the ARB had seen.
Buildings need be reviewed in their totality in their setting, mindful of potential negative impacts, especially a building this out of scale with it's neighbors.
The applicant cobbled together elements of other rejected/dead versions making a veritable....
... Frankensteins Monster of a building!

In the end of the meeting Holman was not allowed to express a reasonable concern, instead she was abruptly and rudely cut off by the mayor who instead of considering the concerns of a colleague declared the meeting over!
so much for civility respect and free speech in Palo Alto!


56 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2017 at 8:29 am

I don't find it to be an attractive building, nor did I previously. I don't live or work near it, so this isn't a reaction to a tall building PA, etc. I just have found the project to be fully unappealing. There are so many things one can do to design a project....so many better things could have been done here.


46 people like this
Posted by broken govt
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2017 at 8:56 am

The zoning, Far's, setbacks need to be the starting point for change. And where was the concern for compatibility when The Cheesecake Factory was approved by the ARB and the staff back in 2003, fourteen years ago. The Mayor's resolve to keep this going was apparent in the final minutes of the meeting cutting off Holman who was expressing growing community outrage over the trashing of the Comp Plan process. The City is at great risk here under this new Council majority and a recall of five members needs to go forward as soon as possible. It is not just a broken process but a broken government.That is obvious.


71 people like this
Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 9:26 am

This debate came down to aesthetics. Leaving that issue aside, on nearly every axis you can imagine, this is a manifestly negative project for Palo Alto.

Traffic: it obviously makes traffic worse, including on Kipling which is one of the narrower streets in North Palo Alto.

Parking: anybody can see it’s underparked in reality.

Housing: with 10,000 square feet of new office space, it will accommodate 40-80 new office/tech jobs, plus three luxury condos. Palo Alto’s overall jobs-housing ratio is just over 3; this building’s jobs-housing ratio will be between 13 and 26. Another way to look at it is, 34-80 new daytime employees in Palo Alto without housing, competing and bidding for it along with everybody else already looking for housing here.

Retail: it eliminates 1,500 square feet of downtown Retail.

Environment: at 75 lbs of C02 per square foot, manufacturing the concrete and other materials for a new 30,000 square foot office building will produce 1,125 tons of greenhouse emissions. No level of LEED certification or energy efficiency will ever catch up to that. Every environmentalist knows the green building is the one you keep using.

City Revenue: although it will pay some property tax related to its increased size, the tenants are likely to be service companies and/or investment-mode startups, who won’t pay city taxes. Also, most retail sales taxes in Palo Alto today are paid by residents, and the second-most by destination shoppers; only a small fraction comes from business employees.

How is it possible that a commercial project that worsens traffic, parking, housing, local retail, and sustainability, and doesn’t even help city finances, can actually get as far as an aesthetics discussion? The answer is that our numerical codes, along with our quiver of exemptions to them, have not kept up with the realities and impacts of our densifying downtown. Until the City aligns behind a priority for serious code reform that reflects our current and future challenges, we’ll continue to see oversize developments that benefit their owners but cause harm to the community at large.


32 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 7, 2017 at 10:12 am

The court is the next stop.


50 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 10:15 am

This poor family has gone through enough. I have yet to meet a "residentialist" that approves of any new development anywhere in this town. They should rebrand themselves "obstructionists".

There is far too much subjective criteria as far as context and compatibility. There are so many ugly buildings in Palo Alto that have been approved (again, my subjective opinion) that reasonable people can disagree on aesthetics. The idea of context and compatibility is a guise for the anti-development crowd to hide under. It was sort of the last line of defense for any project which the residentialists didn't like but had no other basis for approving a project that otherwise meets zoning criteria.

[Portion removed.]


27 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:13 am

Didn't this project benefit from TDR parking credits for an earthquake mitagation elsewhere? And haven't the owners already given away 3,000 square feet of floor space to move the building away from the all-important cute old Victorian houses?

I watched the council debate on TV last night. I watched the ARB head and the lead City staffer wiggle around trying to explain how they interpret our subjective buildilng codes, I kept thinking of the Cheesecake Factory, the new high walls at the old Walgreens, the huge modern thing on Waverley behind the Post Office next a yellow private house, the massive Bank of America Tower, the 7 Eleven just as close to the projct as manyj of the old Victorians, and the 6 story Hotel President across the street. They all rambled on about aesthetics and compatibility -- and exactly how does one define our downtown neighborhood's compatibility?! -- I applaud the majority voting to approve a new building at that site. Any building that meets the objective FARs and setbacks which this option does should have been approved long ago.

It's going to be a bumpy ride in 2017 at the ARB, Planning Commission and the Historic Board when the new majority starts approving buildings above the 50' limit and tightens some of the subjective compatibilies rules to avoid these permit fights. Looking forward to seeing the new map for which parcels around town may punch through the 50' limit starting with what happens with the old Police HQ site. Maybe it might be sold to the highest bidder to help pay for the City staff salaries and benefits which eat up over 50% of the annual budget!


15 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:13 am

Anonymous, why don't you tell us first which commercial project in Palo Alto have you ever objected to.


10 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:16 am

Thanks for your comments, above, Eric Filseth. I appreciate that you're focusing on exactly the right issues and that despite concerns, you voted to approve because it complies with the law. "Filseth and Wolbach both argued that the building, for all of its problems, complies with the city's zoning code and should be approved."

I completely respect the right of a city/community to have zoning codes and rules about buildings. I also feel strongly that they must be objective and applied equally to all projects. I really dislike all the time wasted trying to influence projects using unobjective concerns. For the same reasons I hate the Planned Community rules, which encourage exceptions and haggling and bargains that in hindsight end up being bad deals.


52 people like this
Posted by Raw power
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:16 am

Scharff's abrupt cut off of Holman's remarks saying:
"No. The meeting is adjourned."
will live in memory for a long time.
[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:27 am

"Filseth and Wolbach both argued that the building, for all of its problems, complies with the city's zoning code and should be approved.

"Do I love the building? No. But the law is the law and the law doesn't say, 'You must love the building,'" Wolbach said."

We don't have to love it.


24 people like this
Posted by downtownnorth
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:33 am

I guess I missed the memo that this was on the agenda. Kipling is way to narrow to have such a massive bldg under construction. I can't believe the ARB approved it exterior but then again they approved the ugly apple store. I do believe that Tanaka should not been able to vote and for that there should be a re-vote. He is taking money from the hands


33 people like this
Posted by Tired Activist
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:35 am

We voters need to raise some capital so that we can get some standing at City Hall. Palo Alto bake sale here we come. Who's in? We'll need to sell about a million and a half crumpets to attract Council members's attention. Unless there are some pro-bono lawyers out there who could help us bully our way onto the dais. Let's see. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.


15 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:36 am

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:57 am

[Post removed.]




34 people like this
Posted by MP Sub
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 7, 2017 at 12:04 pm

MP Sub is a registered user.

@Raw Power "Scharff's abrupt cut off of Holman's remarks saying: No. The meeting is adjourned." will live in memory for a long time.
[Portion removed.]

Sorry you missed the part where the city attorney told Holman she was wrong and she needed to put her memo in writing to be distributed to all council members ahead of time. He knows how to run a meeting. She needs to learn how to follow protocol


54 people like this
Posted by @Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 12:18 pm

This building is an atrocity and a HUGE problem for people who live on or near Kipling! Residents shouldn't have to deal with more traffic and more parking issues on that narrow street!

[Portion removed.]


33 people like this
Posted by Tired Activist
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 7, 2017 at 12:25 pm

@Anonymous from Downtown - Have no doubt that this is a battle between good and evil. The unlawful use of power on behalf of an oligarchy is evil. That's what we saw last night. And that's what we saw when the work of the CAC, countless individuals and staff was gutted by Council on January 30. Manipulating the law to trump ethics. Stripping away due process.

Due process is the only tool that poor and unsituated people have to protect us against the moneyed interests. With due process gone, the fix is in. Meetings become mere window dressing, a nod and a wink, a game of golf, a glass of wine, make policy.

My only comfort is that I can thank God that I wake up every day to a clear conscience. I say this without hubris. When city leaders grasp at power the way this council majority does, they must be in so much pain. I feel sorry for them and for their families. But I won't let my pity sway me from condemning their actions. I feel sorry for criminals but I want them behind bars all the same. I certainly don't want them steering my city to bedlam.


21 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2017 at 12:29 pm

Let's not forget that this project was approved initially. Approval was withdrawn after neighborhood activists began their opposition and council caved to their demands.

I agree with Anonymous. The family has been through enough and legal and architectural costs to them must be astronomical. Similar to the Buena Vista fiasco and the RPPs going on all over town, the squeaky wheels keep getting greased. This time they lost.


17 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Correct me if I am wrong (really), and I will preemptively withdraw this statement, but if a quorum of those needed to vote were in attendance last night, and only a majority of the quorum had to approve, that puts the required votes at 4 to approve this project.

All this focus on Greg Tanaka then, as relates to this particular project, is subterfuge and misplaced anger. Seems like this project would have gotten approved with a 4-3 vote, unless the residentialists are insinuating something even more sinister - that Eric Filseth would have swapped his vote if he knew that without Tanaka's vote he would be in the majority who opposed it. I seriously doubt this based on Filseth's own statements.

So, complain as you may about Tanaka, his vote quite literally did nothing to sway this approval one way or the other. I can understand the outcry if this thing passed 5-4 or was deadlocked 4-4. Unfortunately, like Anon up there gloss over this simple, yet powerful fact. Not an alternative fact. An actual fact.

It's a wonder the Wongs carried on. Projects like this and delays like this cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and any lesser person would have caved and given in years ago.

As 38 year resident says, let's not forget that this project was previously approved. So the idea that something more nebulous is going on is a little out there.


34 people like this
Posted by 6Djockery
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 7, 2017 at 12:50 pm

To Tired Activist: I'm afraid you are wrong when you say "When city leaders grasp at power the way this council majority does, they must be in so much pain." How could they feel any pain when they take campaign funds after the election then used the nuclear option to gut the Comp Plan and gloat about it? I see no end to the development projects they will approve without public input. These are sad years for Palo Alto.


41 people like this
Posted by eyeswideopen
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 7, 2017 at 1:55 pm

I am disappointed in members of our City Council. Local politics are beginning to feel like national politics. Shame on them.


33 people like this
Posted by Meg
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 7, 2017 at 2:18 pm

What a disappointment our City Council is to the tax payers who they were elected to represent. If the existing laws have not been modernized and aligned to address the issues of our town that is densifying by the minute then all exemptions should be on hold. Not a one granted! Especially one that you state has no financial benefits.

This project has been rejected for the last four years because it is a detrimental one that will truly degrade our way of life in Palo Alto. [Portion removed.] Eric Filseth- We thought you were someone that could stand up to the broken system. This building is on your shoulders.


22 people like this
Posted by Crooked
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2017 at 3:01 pm

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Loser
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 3:05 pm

[Post removed.]


21 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 3:06 pm

Tanaka delivered.


13 people like this
Posted by Sorry...so sorry
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2017 at 3:23 pm

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by MP Sub
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 7, 2017 at 3:25 pm

MP Sub is a registered user.

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


15 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2017 at 3:30 pm

- Where and how much parking is included on this building site? There should be space to accommodate all future employees and any residents using the building.
- Construction on this huge building will certainly impact anyone living on Kipling for at least a year. During that time, there will be NO parking for anyone. Kipling is a short, narrow street. The street will be closed.
- The drawings included trees in the sketch...which hides and softens architectural lines.


5 people like this
Posted by Discusted
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2017 at 3:44 pm

[Post removed.]


66 people like this
Posted by Rainman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2017 at 3:49 pm

@Eric Filseth,

You let the people of Palo Alto down last night. Not because you voted to approve the project, but because you were unable to form an opinion on the aesthetic merits of the project.

"This debate did come down to aesthetics" and you failed to inform that debate. You, along with councilmen Tanaka and Wolback, retreated into the safe-space of inappropriate objectivity and chose the intellectually lazy path of conflating the subjective with the arbitrary. According to this conflation there is no difference between a velvet painting of Elvis and the Mona Lisa. There is no difference between a Beethoven symphony and the Barney song (I love you, you love me...)

Aesthetics are an important aspect of the built environment, and that is why Palo Alto has zoning regulations, architectural compatibility guidelines, and an ARB. If you are unprepared or incapable of processing subjective information, or forming an opinion on subjective matters, don't hide behind inappropriate "objectivity". Just abstain from voting. Don't obstruct members of the council that have the skills and courage to tackle subjective issues.


17 people like this
Posted by No balance anymore
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2017 at 4:17 pm

Normally I would ask why the weekly has not removed the negative comments regarding Tanaka, wolbach and scharff, as well as the blatantly false description regarding the statements by Holman at the end of the meeting. But given how the weekly has been stirring the pot with one sided and biased coverage, all of it n favor of PASZ and the residentialist members f the council ( I.e. Last weeks editorial, Tom Dubois hysterical op-ed etc), I am not surprised that the comments remain


18 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 4:34 pm

@No balance anymore - agreed. You noticed up above a poster post was removed for referring to developers derogatorily. I replied to that to point out the absurdity of framing them as such, and my post was removed too.

The publication tilts completely to outraged residentialists because they empathize more with them. Balanced coverage is a thing of the past. There's a guy who does post often (Stephen Levy?) who seems to be able to counter-balance the tilt, so that's something to commend.

The way in which they write their stories, you can get a clear sense of their bias.


13 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 7, 2017 at 4:47 pm

I'm so pleased that I don't live in downtown Palo Alto.
It's not just the miserable traffic and parking, but the Council abetting the problem. It's not such a difficult problem. An OBJECTIVE (not political) approach would require one parking space per resident and one parking space per "x" square foot of office or commercial space, where "x" is determined by an independent survey of downtown office and business parking needs. Assuming that the survey would have some real validity, objective criteria are possible.
This same objectivity applies to "road diet." The very concept of dieting Middlefield at our northern border based on a limited number of complaints ignores reality. It impacts Menlo Park traffic, it ties up Palo Alto traffic, it shifts the problem to Alma and ECR which are already overloaded and it does nothing to encourage the already disproven bicycling craze. Again, it ignores the reality that the real solution is building another traffic lane to make that corridor compatible with Menlo Park's Middlefied Road and move the traffic through!
How long can we ignore reality?
Oh, yes ... I forgot our new Federal government.


2 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2017 at 4:51 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 7, 2017 at 5:02 pm

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 7, 2017 at 5:02 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I wish I was smart enough to go back and retrieve all my posts on the subject. I think I said, when it was initially rejected, that it should be approved. All requirements were met except the aesthetic one...how it fits into the neighborhood architecturally, with Victorians...ya da ya da ya da. That is so subjective and has no boundaries of where the new architectural style is okay and where it ends. I personally hate the new architecture...square boxes of glass and steel, but there aren't any ordinances in place preventing it, and I suspect there never will be. So, CC move on to the next highest priority item on your list. Let go of the angst you had over this one.


6 people like this
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 7, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Enough is enough!
Don't yield to a few people with hidden agenda.


36 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 7, 2017 at 5:52 pm

Regardless of how one may judge the conformance of this project to the subjective criteria in our codes, it is disappointing and wrong to hear false claims that the project approval hinged on aesthetic criteria. Mass and scale, as well as other architectural review Findings are not principally aesthetic, but they are subjective design criteria put in place because such decisions are not made best based on whether a building fits within a specific box or set of check marks.
This claim is akin to the canard that the selection criteria under our office cap constituted a "beauty contest". Those criteria were about traffic and parking impacts (through trip mitigation), building sustainability, and architectural quality measured by design quality and material quality, as well as compatibility with surrounding buildings, but not architectural style. Council members who characterized these criteria as a beauty contest employed an effective tactic of misrepresenting the criteria to rationalize dismissing the best opportunity we had to improve the quality and reduce the negative impacts of new commercial buildings.
Many of our most important decisions are subjective in government and society. Quasi judicial decisions, like 429 University, can enhance our community if administered thoughtfully and knowedgably. Sadly, we seem to be losing sight of this value.


24 people like this
Posted by strengthen the code
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 6:25 pm

What this boils down to is decades of exemptions and hand outs that are all used to increased the allowable floor area ratio (FAR) of a development. Legally this building should be two stories tall - FAR of 2. But due to exemptions that have been put in place today's developments don't really take the entire building into consideration when calculating the FAR (ie they don't measure the envelope of the building for a true area). Parts of the building are left out. Added to that developers can use transferable development rights that they get from other projects and apply them to areas of town and buildings that will make them more money. Plus there are now state laws that this city (and most other cities) have not fought in court that essentially allow an entire extra floor of development if it is for housing. That is why you now see an extra floor on all huge developments that have 2 or 3 apartments. It is basically a free giveaway to the developer that allows an even bigger building that exceeds code. And we all know that housing another 5 or 6 people will never make up for the hundreds of tech workers in the offices below.

All of these are legal and in our code. The problem is the code. Residents need to demand that city council go back and clarify our building codes. Everywhere that it has been weakened or increased or allows exemptions or add-ons it needs to be fixed. If is says an FAR of 2 that should be the biggest that the building can be - no exemptions for any reason. If we had a straight forward zoning code, with no exemptions and no add-ons, that was strictly applied then we would not have these hideous over-sized buildings.


28 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 7, 2017 at 8:04 pm

Disappointed that council member Greg Tanaka kept the $5000 campaign donation from the Wong's development company for several months and ONLY returned the $5000 AFTER this donation became public knowledge. He had obviously intended to participate in the council discussion and vote because he returned the $5000 in order to do so. Otherwise he would have kept the money and recused himself.

Unfortunately by keeping the Wong's $5000 donation until it came under public scrutiny, we are left wondering about the possibility of a conflict of interest. Which leaves us wondering if there is an understanding with the Wongs that they will reimburse his campaign fund with another check at some point in the future?

An unfortunate way to start a council term.




13 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 10:07 pm

@margaret heath, again, this project passes with or without Tanaka's vote. Peddling any other information and expressing disappointment as relates to campaign contributions and the link to this project simply reaffirms preconceived notions about which lens residentialists want to view him.

No matter how you cut it, Tanaka's vote on this project had zero impact. In fact, go ahead and assume Tanaka recused himself. The vote is still a 4-3 winner in favor of the Wongs. Vilify Tanaka if you wish, but the implication that this project passed as a result of this "improper" donation, as those who bark the loudest on this forum tend to believe, is flat wrong.

Seems to me the residentialists have grasped onto a narrative which they wish to believe in and will do anything to ignore the reality that with or without Tanaka, this project was getting approved. Peddling false linkages and innuendo only serves the false narrative that IF Tanaka recused himself, the result would have been different. Sorry, it unequivocally would not have.

Notice how "residentialists" on this forum skirt this inconvenient truth. People like to read and hear what they want to read and hear and believe what they want without exploring logic. They find the truth to be an inconvenient thing. Another "residentialist" strategy. Peddle loose connections and divorce yourselves of reality, then attack a person's character until you get the desired outcome. It is amusing to see "residentialists" grasp at straws on this one..."but...but...if only Tanaka had recused himself"....the result would...oh right, only been the same.


19 people like this
Posted by @anonymous
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 7, 2017 at 10:46 pm

Your point about Tanaka seems to be: Big deal that he is corrupt. The vote would have carried anyway. I think we all understand the latter. We're still reeling about the former.


21 people like this
Posted by Raw power
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2017 at 10:47 pm

People criticize Tanaka because of the appearance of corruption, accepting a huge pile of money from a developer whose project is imminent, concealing the donation until it became public. It doesn't pass the smell test.

Liz Kniss has been mentoring Tanaka and Wolbach (no secret there) and they are using her tactics. Duplicity has worked well for her, so these newbies follow her lead.

I wish it were true that they wake up with a troubled conscience, but I think they quickly remind themselves of the money they are making and push the guilt aside. The example on the national stage is instructive.


10 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 8, 2017 at 12:58 am

Whatever the aesthic merits of this project, we need to get the vague aesthetic and other provisions out of the building code and related regulations. They allow our wealthiest citizens to get by the development office, while the average Joe can't afford to fight these unlawful impediments. Lets make our law transparent and unambiguous.


1 person likes this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 8, 2017 at 8:08 am

[Post removed.]


17 people like this
Posted by SameBuildingDifferentResult
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 8, 2017 at 8:19 am

This is largely the same building that Council found did not meet our laws on a 9-0 vote last time including Scharff, Wolbach, and Filseth. By inconsistently applying our compatibility laws these three have done enormous damage to our ordinances. Filseth in particular has never seemed to appreciate the weight of those compatibility laws. Perhaps he needs to take an architecture class.


23 people like this
Posted by Embarrassed citizen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 8, 2017 at 10:19 am

I can't even begin to say how I embarrassed by the number of council members who have made so many unintelligent decisions in this new term which has barely started! I really thought that we the citizens of Palo Alto elected our members to serve the needs and the wishes of the citizens. Is the city council doing that? Despite vocal opposition to many of these development projects, many city council members are completely ignoring the will of the people! Must we stage a city wide protest to maintain the character of our city, or what's left of it intact? Must we file a state of emergency because our roads are completely blocked before you listen. Please I urge all the citizens of Palo Alto to write letters, come to city meetings, flood the halls to voice your opinion, because apparently the filled chambers at each meeting don't seem to be doing any good. Please citizens of Palo Alto, let's put our collective heads together and figure out what to do if our elected officials are not working in our best interest. Let's hold them accountable!


1 person likes this
Posted by Corruption
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 8, 2017 at 10:32 am

[Post removed.]


29 people like this
Posted by Embarrassment
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 8, 2017 at 10:45 am

This abomination leaves no room for parking, and defaults it into a residential area that has no room for traffic or parking

Shame on the city council, Greg Tanaka in particular! He should have recused himself, but did not have enough morality to do so!

The wealthy Wongs win again, because money talks!


11 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2017 at 11:19 am

Marie is a registered user.

What happened to the loading dock? I thought zoning required an onsite loading dock and the proposal suggested using the alley behind as a loading dock, which required an exemption. If so, it did not meet the required zoning. How was that resolved?


19 people like this
Posted by Forest for the trees
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2017 at 11:57 am

Arguing over the aesthetics of this one project misses the many issues raised by the process.

1) The City Attorney owes citizens a public written explanation as to why Tanaka did not have a legal conflict of interest here.

2) Regardless of the legal framework, there is a moral obligation to avoid conflicts of interest in civic settings, even if that conflict is only the perception of conflict. Tanaka has badly failed this moral obligation, and has set a precedent where he never has to recuse himself for any developers project no matter how much money they have given him. If our conflict laws don't prohibit behavior like this, then they should be updated. Not to pick solely on Tanaka, none of the CC should be voting on projects where they have received donations from a party who stands to gain financially.

3) @Eric Filseth, when the council has recently been hijacked, that is not the time to take a principled stand on whether our codes need to be updated. Plenty of time in your term for that, all you accomplished here was to give the Tanaka apologists cover for the vote total.

4) When are the next campaign donation statements due, and anybody want to wager on whether the Tanaka contribution has magically re-appeared by then?

5) Campaign finance reform. Just because our state and national politicians refuse to act (because it's in their own self-interest) doesn't mean we have to put up with it at the local level. There should be a $50K cap per candidate, that's plenty to run a local campaign. You want to take it all from one developer or one wealthy family - fine. But if we don't stop the nuclear fundraising race we're all gonna get steamrolled by commercial special interests, residentialists and growthers alike.


14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2017 at 12:02 pm

According to today's print newspaper (Wednesday), Karen Holman is protesting this.


25 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 8, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Tanaka may have returned the money, but surely he got the message: take care of us and we'll be there for you.

Same for his colleagues in this matter.


9 people like this
Posted by biker mom
a resident of Mayfield
on Feb 8, 2017 at 2:25 pm

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Lizard
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 8, 2017 at 2:59 pm

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 8, 2017 at 6:57 pm

@anonymous

"this project passes with or without Tanaka's vote"

No way to predict this ahead of the meeting.

Without Tanaka's participation there was a high likelihood their project would fail on a 4/4 vote without Tanaka's vote. There was no way to know Filseth would end up as he swing vote. Previously Filseth had been against this project and going into the meeting it could quite reasonably assumed he was very likely to vote "NO' along with Holman, Kou, and Dubois. So the Wong's project would fail on a 4/4 vote would fail unless Tanaka participated, hence the return of the Wong donation and his insistence he participate and vote.

With Liz Kniss being unexpectedly absent, the Wong property company were very fortunate that Eric Filseth ultimately supported their project, because right before the meeting with Liz Kniss being unexpectedly absent, there was once again a high likelihood of a 4/4 split, even counting Tanaka's vote.



3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 8, 2017 at 9:02 pm

"I have yet to meet a "residentialist" that approves of any new development anywhere in this town."

You just did. Resume breathing.


6 people like this
Posted by Robert Neff
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2017 at 10:29 pm

Hey Eric Filseth, Pat Burt, Gale Johnson, and Margaret Heath -- Thanks for using your own names in a Palo Alto Online forum!


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 9, 2017 at 10:01 am

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by MP Sub
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 9, 2017 at 10:18 am

MP Sub is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 9, 2017 at 11:23 am

[Portion removed.] It would help the community if residentialists were more transparent about their issues with development. When the same arguments are used for each project (traffic, quality of life, density, public benefits), the objections tend to fall on deaf ears.

Contrary to residentialists beliefs, some developers do value community input to hear their concerns. Palo Alto is not an easy place to get entitlements, so the smart ones know to seek community input before proceeding.


12 people like this
Posted by Nailed it
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 9, 2017 at 1:33 pm

This. Is, in fact, the problem.

Complaints, about important, impactful, and very real problems, fall on deaf ears.

Traffic, quality of life, density, and public benefits have been seen to be swept away, when they should have been addressed to follow the plan, or addressed even more as part of mitigating plan violations.

Now, developers think they can worsen the situation around these problems as a matter of course.

They only need to respond to new or special problems!


6 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 9, 2017 at 7:59 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by P A Native
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 9, 2017 at 7:01 am

Kassouni also argued that any further delay in approving the project "will further violate my client's Equal Protection rights and continue to interfere with its distinct investment-backed expectations."
Well well...just like a three year old, thinking that if you kick someone over and over you eventually will get your way..(least that is a proven fact occasionally!!)
Typical "investment expectations"....Everyone has their eyes on our town looking to enrich a personal bonanza of wealth.
The call of "Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines" has made millionaires from little start up companies .. ask Facebook and others who had moved in here .... "Build and they will come" was another shout out....The goose that had laid the golden egg may someday run out of energy...meanwhile causing havoc for others ...it's like waiting for a turn at the brass ring.....
By the way, wonder what kind of "investment" money this project was to bring in on each one of the condo rentals?

The thought of the neighbors beautiful Victorian houses~though on such a short street and being subjected to the bigger project around their corner..Trump would suggest building a wall I assume and close off the street. City Council closing this project for various reasons was not in the public interest. Our youngest Mayor was "tired" and wanted to go on to other agendas..Wow..Four years of going back to the drawing board was determination but still not correct in many peoples thinking of what our City should be in the future.


Like this comment
Posted by Progressive
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2017 at 10:44 pm

To all those citing traffic, quality of life, density, and public benefits as reasons to oppose development, consider the following.

Do you know that Palo Alto is in a budget deficit? That means we are spending more than we are raking in as a city.

And where are we spending all this money you may ask? Do you know how much Palo Alto city employees get paid? Without development, there is no economic growth. Then how do you propose that the city meets its budget and pay all these people. Actually forget about city employees, guess how much the city is paying its "consultant architect" Arnold Mammarella? Take a wild guess. How about close to a million for coming in once a week and basically be an obstructionist in residential projects, raising absurd and counter-productive suggestions to justify his employment even when neighbors are completely and fully supportive of such projects.

There is no free lunch in life. Quality of life is not a free lunch. Government revenue, including local government, comes from tax. Economic growth increase tax revenue. Imagine, if Palo Alto comes to a stand still and the buildings crumble, residential stock keeps getting older, can tax revenue keep up with the big bucks that the city is paying its people?

Food for thoughts.




12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2017 at 11:13 pm

@Progressive,

I'm thinking you are not a progressive, but another out of touch Clinton style corporate democrat (or a developer) desperately attempting to defend the corrupt relationship between democrats and the industries that fund their campaigns and careers.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 11, 2017 at 6:06 pm

"desperately attempting to defend the corrupt relationship relationship between democrats and the industries that fund their campaigns and careers."

When did Charles and David Koch become Democrats? They've always been prolific purchasers of willing Republican pols.


4 people like this
Posted by Watergate
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 11, 2017 at 6:14 pm

To quote Deep Throat's advice to Woodward and Bernstein in All The President's Men, "Follow The Money."

Re the Koch Brothers et al, read "Dark Money" by Jane Mayer. We've come a long way, baby,


4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 11, 2017 at 6:42 pm

@Progressive, many of us are well aware that Palo Alto has a budget deficit but A) that shouldn't empower the city to keep picking our pockets and B) to keep wasting time and money on expensive retakes on failed projects.

They don't even read their own studies and then waste a few hundred thousand dollars duplicating them a few years later. They don't brief new employees on past projects and initiatives. New managers are always surprised to hear about, say, a night meeting attended by a few hundred citizens and 10 staffers getting paid overtime to get feedback on project priorities. They ignore earlier findings and have no clue or why a project was opposed the first time. They can't find emails sent to them. They aren't even staffed to issue parking permits!

It's hard to believe that every single worker deserves the maximum raise. It's hard to believe it takes the Utilities Dept. 2 months to issue a refund for over-charging and/or to notify residents in a separate and costly mailing.

Stop the waste. Stop gouging us with extra charges. The drought's officially over. Stop charging us the drought surcharge that costs each household $300 extra year.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Walter Hays School

on Jul 26, 2017 at 6:55 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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

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