News

City cracks down on tenants at First Baptist

Therapists, concert groups hit with notices of violation, asked to leave

First Baptist Church at 305 N. California Ave. leases space to a variety of tenants including New Mozart School of Music, iSing Girl Choir and regular dance groups. Weekly photo.

Hear Palo Alto Weekly journalists discuss the ins and outs of code enforcement in the city, from violations of promised "public benefits" to construction practices to retail zoning on "Behind the Headlines."

After more than two years of providing counseling to Palo Alto teenagers dealing with mental health issues out of an office at the First Baptist Church, Jill Cooper received a letter from the city last week informing her that she has until Sept. 30 to leave.

Cooper, whose clients include teenagers who have experienced suicidal ideation, said she was surprised to learn in the letter that the services she provides "are not a permitted use within the single-family residential district and are not compatible with the surrounding R-1 neighborhood." She told the Weekly she found this odd, given that she deals with exactly the type of teenagers that residents have been worried about since 2009, when a cluster of suicides sparked a community effort to promote youth well-being.

The notice from the city's Lead Code Enforcement Officer James Stephens gave her until Sept. 30 to "cease medical services." Failure to do so, it stated, may result in an administrative citation and/or a notice to appear at a hearing at City Hall. The fines for the violation, the letter noted, are $500 per day, subject to go up to $750 per day after a second violation and to $1,000 per day after a third.

Cooper described her job as a "labor of love." After paying the church for her lease and paying her taxes, she estimates that she makes about $5 an hour. She is also well-aware that with Palo Alto's sky-high office rates, the chances of her finding an affordable new location are very slim.

"The sad thing about this is that I'm going to have to close my practice because there's no office space in Palo Alto for the cost of what the church leases me space for," Cooper said. "I'm hoping all my patients will be able to find a therapist."

Cooper, who sees about 15 patients per week, isn't the only tenant of First Baptist Church who is facing tough choices. Last week, the city sent out notices to First Baptist and to 11 organizations that rent space within the Old Palo Alto neighborhood church, informing them that they are violating the zoning code, which "enumerates the permitted and conditionally permit uses for single-family residential districts."

"The City of Palo Alto is a great place to live and work because of our dedicated residents and businesses who continue to show pride, care and concern for their property and community," each letter states. "Palo Alto's Code Enforcement Division has received a complaint regarding your use of the subject property."

The city's crackdown on tenants at First Baptist Church began in early 2016, when it targeted one of the church's largest tenants: the New Mozart School of Music. After initially requesting that the music school apply for a conditional-use permit to remain at the church, planning staff determined that its operation in a residential neighborhood would be illegal even with a permit. Last month, the Planning and Transportation Commission affirmed staff's decision to require New Mozart to leave, though officials also later agreed to give the school an extension of four to six months so that it can improve the space at a new location.

The city also requested the church submit a list of all of its tenants, which the church did. Then last week, the tenants began to receive their notices of violation. Those include iSing Girl Choir, Tuesday Night Tango, Bisheh Toddler Class, Chinese Global Artist Association, Resounding Achord (a concert and musical event organization), Palo Alto Philharmonic, Jennifer Merrill, Joellen Werne (both Merrill and Werne are characterized as "medical services"), Moveable Feet (a folk dancing program), Stanford Folk Dance and Tango Argentina.

Most of the tenants were asked to vacate and cease operations within 30 days. Others, including the three medical-services providers and the toddler class, were given until Sept. 30. In some cases, tenants were notified that they may be eligible to apply for a conditional-use permit or a special-use permit to continue using the church space.

"We're not just trying to put anyone out," Stephens said. "There has to be an end to activities that can no longer be there. However, we are willing to work with people."

Stephens said the city has heard from some groups who had requested more time (much like New Mozart).

From the city's perspective, the issue with these organizations is the same one that it encountered with New Mozart. Even though a church is allowed to operate within the single-family residential (R-1) zones with a conditional use permit, the uses within the church are tightly restricted by city code.

On July 18, Stephens sent a letter to the church itself, notifying it of its own violation.

"Here, First Baptist Church does not possess any use permit that might allow continued use of the church for activities other than regular organized religious worship and religious education," the letter states. "The frequency with which the church hosts such activities and the resulting intensity of the church's use is not compatible with the surrounding R-1 neighborhood, which is ... intended to create, preserve and enhance areas suitable for detached dwellings with a strong presence of nature and with open area affording maximum privacy."

The letter asks Pastor Randle Mixon of First Baptist to "cease operations of all uses other than those that provide regular organized religious worship and religious education, or those uses that are permitted or conditionally permitted in R-1 districts at the subject property to the satisfaction of a Palo Alto code enforcement officer, no later than Aug. 17, 2017."

But for Mixon, the city's decision marks a huge break with past practices and a significant shift in the city's interpretation of the zoning code. And for the church, the decision carries huge ramifications. Mixon told the Weekly that it gets about $110,000 annually in rental income from the tenants, an amount that makes up about a third of its operating budget.

The funding, he said, is critical for the church's ability to maintain the property.

"If we can't rent the facility, we can't keep up the property, and we really can't continue to exist in the property," Mixon told the Weekly. "We'd be forced to do something drastic if the city takes such a hard line."

The problem, he said, isn't limited to First Baptist. Because Palo Alto is dominated by R-1 zones, almost every church will have to face a similar dilemma (there are some exceptions, including All Saints Church, which is located in a commercial zone downtown).

"This is precedent setting," Mixon said. "No church in 2017 can maintain these large buildings without renting space in them. And for us, most importantly, it enables good stewardship of the facility.

"To me, it would be irresponsible for us to hold a large space like that and not make it available for community good," Mixon said.

The church, he said, has been around for about 70 years, since long before anything like the current use-permit had existed. And with the city now clamping down on uses, both First Baptist and iSing — a choir group that was launched in the church — have hired attorneys to potentially contest the violation, Mixon said.

"The city has a very narrow definition of what a religious institution is and what it can provide, and they're making a very strict interpretation of a very narrow definition," Mixon said.

Regardless of whether the church's legal challenge proceeds and succeeds, it'll probably be too late for Cooper to remain in her current location. This week, she was notifying parents of her clients about her forthcoming departure from First Baptist. Some, she said, were pretty upset. Some offered help in finding a new location, either in Palo Alto or elsewhere.

One option, she said, is conducting some appointments at her clients' homes and referring out a "significant portion" of the others. Another is renting in Palo Alto where she would be paying twice the rate she is paying now, which would require her to double the rate she charges.

"For some families, this might not be an issue at all," Cooper said. "For others, it might be."

Related content:

Code enforcement: one of City Hall's most controversial, and misunderstood, jobs

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Comments

76 people like this
Posted by Shame on them
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 21, 2017 at 7:51 am

The city should be very happy with what they are accomplishing here. Music programs, suicide prevention etc. No place for that of a single resident Israel upset. Thanks again weekly for your efforts info this matter


87 people like this
Posted by R. Winslow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 21, 2017 at 9:50 am

The City of Palo Alto's effort to shut down various community services conducted at a church location is reprehensible as the concept not only provides a viable meeting place for counselors/teachers/patients/students but also provides well-needed income for the church itself.

Will the city make affordable, low-rent instructional and counseling venues available on its own accord and at its properties? Highly unlikely.

Curious. Were neighbors complaining about noise or parking issues?



59 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2017 at 9:57 am

[Post removed.]


46 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2017 at 10:04 am

When are the code enforcement officers going to issue a cease and desist order for Castelleja?

/marc


84 people like this
Posted by HT
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2017 at 10:38 am

I live around the corner from the church. They are a good neighbor and I don't see any issues with traffic or parking.


13 people like this
Posted by Hermia
a resident of Triple El
on Jul 21, 2017 at 10:49 am

@R. Winslow There was an earlier article on this issue, and many neighbors were complaining about the cars not just parking, but idling all through the lessons. Each of the activities sounds useful and innocent, but if you have classes changing over every half hour or so, with 40 kids and 40 parents waiting, plus multiple classes at a time... it adds up. I don't live in front of the church, but to hear them tell it, it does sound more like the parking experience of a mini strip mall than a residential neighborhood.

You might want to check the earlier discussion.


36 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 21, 2017 at 11:05 am

New Mozart Music school never had 40 students at a time. The offices are primarily for private lessons and there are not that many offices. Therapists see approximately one client per hour, which would be 2-3 clients per day, or 5 clients per day for 3 days. There are therapists and music teachers who offer services out of their homes (R-1) in Palo Alto. This church used to have a congregation of around 500 people or more. Many of the neighbors didn't live there at that time. There were weddings, funerals, etc. That would create just as much traffic today. Not to mention that there is a bike lane, the train station is up the street, and many residents park on the street. I actually saw a sign posted that someone was applying for a liquor license around the corner of the church.


6 people like this
Posted by Shame on them
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 21, 2017 at 11:16 am

The city should also look at this kind of code enforcement
Web Link

Remember last week's concert story about code enforcement? Read that and you will find the people who support these kind of actions.


8 people like this
Posted by Shame on them
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 21, 2017 at 11:18 am

Corrected link from above
Web Link


55 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2017 at 11:26 am

Of course this crackdown is entirely because of complaints from the church's neighbors. The church should just move and convert their space into low income housing.


38 people like this
Posted by MP
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2017 at 11:34 am

If the neighbors have been having issues, why not talk to the church fist, before complaining to the City?

What about leaf blowers? Were is the enforcement for them? terrible noise 7 days a week


35 people like this
Posted by Marlene Dietrich
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2017 at 11:46 am

What happen with you Palo Alto City ? You use to be one of the best but now there is one plus one plus billion mistakes about you! We are living on an Area where there are a lot of diversity. We need to be tolerant with important matters!
We need to educate our community to be compassionate!

Why there are always issues on Palo Alto School District? On Community Centers for old and young people ? On Hospitals ? On raising water bills and now the Churches?

Those are important places for our community! I think is time to change the people who is on top of that, they are not working for the community but just for themselves!


64 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2017 at 12:09 pm

I live a block from the Church, and have never been inconvenienced or disturbed by the activities that apparently require enforcement.
I am much more upset by lack of code enforcement for gas powered leaf blowers, which are actually harmful to people and the environment due to the toxic materials blasted into the air that we must breathe. And the scofflaws who blow through stop signs; fly down our residential streets at outrageous speeds; the incessant loud construction with the rumbling trucks that bring material to and from the work sites, and of course the many extra contractors' vehicles (many large trucks) parked in front of neighbors' homes. The enforcement people are going after the wrong violations!


21 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2017 at 12:21 pm

I support code enforcement at this location as I am a cyclist tired of dodging all the cars that park in the bike lane on California Ave. Thank you City of Palo Alto.


21 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2017 at 12:27 pm

I support code enforcement but I oppose putting bike lanes on BOTH sides of a street. Utter idiocy and over-reach.


39 people like this
Posted by Wrong Priorities
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2017 at 12:29 pm

This is a reprehensible move by PA Code Enforcement James Stephens. Kicking out private teen counseling, a service in serious short supply in an area plagued by teen suicides, is DISGUSTING. And yet for a year we have had the Asian Box Corporate Headquarters now located at the Midtown Plaza with a Bakery for a front (an area zoned for retail, NOT for general business use). Yet PA Code Enforcement lets the Asian Box Corporate Headquarters stay. This city's priorities/codes are seriously screwed up.


21 people like this
Posted by Marlene Dietrich
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2017 at 12:47 pm

The Day when we help instead criticize, volunteer instead demanding for best service on something, tolerance instead complaining, acceptance instead rejection, including instead creating walls, loving instead hate, choosing our leader for wisdom instead money and learning to see the beauty in all cultures, be compassionate, that they we can call ourselves "Humans".


36 people like this
Posted by Let's work together to keep our neighborhoods harmonious and safe.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 21, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Let's work together to keep our neighborhoods harmonious and safe. is a registered user.

We have several churches and synagogues in and near our neighborhood. They all house child care programs, meals for people in need, music programs, and other services. These seem to me to be the kinds of community services we want to keep close to homes so that residents can easily walk to them. I do NOT want the city to engage in this way at other churches without complaints.

It sounds like people were driving there and behaving badly--letting their cars idle. Must say, I'm seeing that more and more these days. People, idling wastes gas and money, it pollutes the air impacting people's health and comfort, and it has long-term effects on our environment. Please be considerate! Turn off your engine if you really must sit in your car and wait.

Churches and synagogues would sit empty most weekdays if their facilities weren't rented out. What a terrible waste of built space that would be in a community where low-cost space is so short in supply. Churches have been used this way since colonial times. Perhaps it is time to adapt the code. Does this church not have a parking lot? Why are the neighbors so badly impacted?...and what positive steps did they take to work things out with their neighbors at the church before they complained to the city? Could compromises be worked out?

Dear neighbors, when you complain to the city they must respond, and they will use a blunt instrument because those are the tools they have. Reach out and make an effort to work with your neighbors first. Mr. Minister, that goes for you, too. You should have actively reached out to your tenants and worked to monitor and minimize impacts on your neighborhood. Did you ever do that? You could have encouraged carpooling, enforced a'No idling " policy, among other things. Do what you can to respond to your neighbors'concerns. You can't expect that just because you are a church that you will get away with being inconsiderate to your neighbors to make money. All of us need to work together to find creative solutions that a). keep important enrichment and human services local where we need them and b). maintain neighborhood safety and harmony.

Let's all try harder to be good to each other. And drive a little less. There are very few places a young person needs to go in this town where they can't ride a bike. Try it. Parents, driving your kids everywhere undermines their effort to become more independent and it wastes YOUR time. It's just not that hard--and it's good for our physical health and our planet.




39 people like this
Posted by To Sally
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 21, 2017 at 1:06 pm

To Sally is a registered user.

Sally, Please read vehicle code. Bicyclists are required by law to ride on the right. A bike lane must always be on the right side of the street and, therefore, where there are bike lanes, there must be a bike lane (or some other type of bike facility), on each side of the street. That is required by code for many good reasons--not the least of which is that this practice places bicyclists where drivers and bikers are most likely to see each other.

This is not "idiocy"--it makes it possible for people to share the road safely. Let's all be more considerate in the way we treat each other in public forums like this one and on our public streets.

Thank you.


33 people like this
Posted by PA Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2017 at 1:26 pm

This kind of action will kill our community. What kind of person thinks this is the best target for code enforcement? What will become of Palo Alto? I see a church selling up soon. A place for the community will disappear. Good job folks.


35 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 21, 2017 at 1:31 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

This is just a further step in the decimation of Palo Alto as a community oriented town with good values and high livability. This town is now comparable to the worse aspects of places like Beverley Hills.

The powerful and mighty are left alone to do whatever they desire, the weak get screwed. There has never been a code enforcement against Castileja, Palantir, big land developers and their likes, despite numerous violations and transgressions.


18 people like this
Posted by PA mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2017 at 1:35 pm

[Post removed.]


53 people like this
Posted by Hugo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Just to make sure I am reading this right: The city of Palo Alto, apparently egged on by residents of this neighborhood, is cracking down on singing children and youth counseling?


12 people like this
Posted by Wise old lady
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2017 at 3:03 pm

I may be to old fashion to understand some city codes in general, for example: Why the "Hanky Panky" is it still OPEN in the middle of Redwood City, 2651 El Camino Real around of the family neighborhood?

We complain for a Community Church in PA but in RWC a disgusting place is open and looks that nobody care about it ...?

Hard to understand...


9 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 21, 2017 at 3:36 pm

"People, idling wastes gas and money, it pollutes the air impacting people's health and comfort, and it has long-term effects on our environment. Please be considerate! Turn off your engine if you really must sit in your car and wait."

That goes on a lot in my neighborhood, too. They need to have the engine on to run the air conditioner for their little bubble. Else they'd have to [shudder] open their windows to the community.


19 people like this
Posted by Upset
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2017 at 6:02 pm

Let us think of the big picture.
The church is forced to relocate because of lack of income.
Who gets to buy the land?
Palo Alto stands for tall tree.
Look at the proposed 5 story hotel proposed at the Su Hong restaurant on El Camino, maybe the City should change its name to represent tall buildings.


11 people like this
Posted by Jaeger
a resident of Triple El
on Jul 21, 2017 at 6:28 pm

Pay your taxes, charge rent. Skip paying taxes because you believe in a mythical god story, abide by the rules. Easy peasy.


9 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2017 at 7:23 pm

@To Sally, Thanks so much for citing the bike code but what does that have to do with [portion removed] putting bike lanes on BOTH sides of the street??


30 people like this
Posted by Bill Bauriedel
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 21, 2017 at 9:25 pm

Whose city is this? I like to think that I live in a tolerant community, but apparently I'm wrong, at least as far as this issue is concerned. I use the "stomach" test to see if I am in agreement or not. This issue definitely makes me sick. I'd be in favor of changing the zoning to allow light community services to use this much needed space. Of course, I'm sure that most other churches in Palo Alto are putting their facilities to best uses and are also in violation of these zoning restrictions. Which church is going to be next? If a few neighbors complain can't that be offset by other neighbors who want to see these activities take place in church spaces? Why do complainers have more weight than supporters?


18 people like this
Posted by How about some unbiased reporting?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2017 at 9:51 pm

This is the second story the Weekly has written about this issue, interviewing the pastor and tenants but not the neighbors who have complained. I would like to get an unbiased view of this issue. I know the church in question has basically no parking lot, and is in the midst of a residential neighborhood. 10 years ago my child's music teacher had to stop giving lessons at First
Congregational Church because the church was notified it was not a permitted use, and that church has a huge parking lot and is on a busy street. It was not a big deal- the teacher moved to retail space on El Camino, his rates didn't go up. Churches don't pay property tax if they are used for relgious purposes (which is pretty strictly defined by the federal and state government). These tenants are getting the benefit of that, I'm sure, but that doesn't strike me as fair or legal. Let's hear all the facts, Weekly!


4 people like this
Posted by Allie
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2017 at 6:14 am

The problem at this church is there's almost no on-site parking. I can see how the people directly across from or adjacent to the church could be bothered. (And how the people a block away might not be.) The code should be updated to allow churches with parking to be used in other ways, and maybe some of the beautiful lawn should be paved for parking. (Not ideal, but...)
Perhaps also the church could create a waiting room or patio for parents. Often people sit and idle in their cars because there isn't a good alternative. This would also help create community among the parents shuttling their kids and potentially make connections for carpooling, and cut down on trips overall.


19 people like this
Posted by One group spoiled it for all
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 22, 2017 at 6:49 am

One of the tenants, perhaps iSing, had large classes of girls being dropped off and picked up. The parents would double park in the bike lane, make random u-turns, stop in the middle of North California, etc. to drop off or pick up their children. I drive down that street often and saw several cars almost hit people on bikes with their careless driving. One group spoiled it for everyone else.

@sally, there are bike lanes on both sides of the street because traffic goes two ways and so do bikes. They need to travel in the same direction as cars.


32 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2017 at 8:21 am

I think the deeper side of this is showing that the City of Palo Alto is doing its best to be against faith based buildings since they do not generate taxes for the city coffers.

The point that this particular church makes is that it is unlikely to make enough money from offerings to pay its bills. Therefore the conclusion is that it will have to close and sell up. The likelihood then is that the site will be bought by developers for housing of some sort.

This is getting to be ridiculous. It is clear and has been for sometime that the City wants to close anything that is a community benefit and a place of worship falls into that category. We lose amenities of all sorts, bowling alleys, family favourite restaurants, and now it looks like churches are next on the list of possible contenders.

Living in Palo Alto is becoming harder as we will all soon have to leave town to have some fun. Palo Alto will become a bedroom community with office space and fancy restaurants, but nothing for the average family to do to enjoy life and unwind apart from the parks.

The City is also looking as anti-religion. Churches traditionally provide more than worship and religious education. They provide community services for families, seniors, low income, veterans, homeless, addicts, etc. all of which would not come under the worship or religious education description.

All I can say to that is WWJS, What Would Jesus Say. The church is to help those in need, show love and compassion. It seems the City of Palo Alto will do its utmost to prevent that from happening by those who wish to serve others as part of their religion.


29 people like this
Posted by Jill
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2017 at 8:21 am

@unbiased reporting: the first article about New Mozart School did contain interviews with a couple of the neighbors who filed complaints. As for your child's music teacher, even 10 years ago real estate was different in Palo Alto. My grandparents met at Stanford in the 1930's. My mom was raised in Palo Alto and still lives here. The elementary school she attended was torn down and replaced by houses. We have seen the city change, as many of you have. The only "benefit" I received from having an office at the church was being able to offer services at a reasonable rate to the families of this community. I previously had a office in Menlo Park. Also, over the years many of my clients walked and biked from their schools or their homes to my office at the Church. Soon Palo Alto will have no more art stores, art classes, dance classes, toy stores, book stores, therapists, florists, etc. I will readily comply with the city's zoning code (I never knew it was an issue until last week). However, the city should have given the "medical providers" more time. It has been very stressful to find a solution in 10 weeks. A 90sf office costs $2,000-$3,000 if you're lucky. On top of rent I pay for malpractice insurance, general liability insurance, office supplies, phone/fax, and other overhead, almost 50% in self employment tax, and childcare for my own children. I only see children and teens after school, so I limit my number of clients to about 15 or less a week. You do the math- the cost of office rent in Palo Alto is unsustainable for providers like myself. This is why so few therapists take insurance. The city needs to find a solution or the community will suffer. If the church closes down, it's the community who suffers as well. I agreed to this interview because I believe the city needs to find solutions for the community and the youth. This is part of a larger problem.


33 people like this
Posted by Grouchy
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 22, 2017 at 8:46 am

If the problem is cars, then just enforce traffic /parking codes. Ridiculous to close down valuable programs for kids because a few neighbors are unhappy. Did yo not know a church was there when you bought your house?


28 people like this
Posted by Jack Barry
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 22, 2017 at 1:27 pm

I've attended AA meetings at Jerusalem Baptist Church (on Sheridan) and Grace Lutheran Church (on Waverly) in the past.

If the city of Palo Alto is determined to crack down on these kinds of meeting places, perhaps we can gather at the City Hall lobby during lunch hour to conduct our meetings.


70 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2017 at 1:46 pm

Agree that if the problem was reckless driving or illegal parking, that is easily solved by police enforcement. I have to imagine there is something more involved here, like friends of the city council pressuring them to kick these community groups out of their neighborhood.

How is the church going to afford to maintain that huge building if they can't rent out their meeting rooms? A lot of small new Christian churches have sprung up around town and attendance at these big old churches is way down. Maybe they should just convert the space to a high density apartment building? That is a perfect location, just a 2 minute walk to the train station.


21 people like this
Posted by Hugo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Bike discussion here is very one-sided. It's true some drivers here are idling and pause in the bike line, and that should be enforced by PAPD. However, the next time I see a bike stop at the very busy intersection at this church will be the first. PAPD should enforce that as well.

Seems like this is a win-win-win for everyone.

The church keeps its tenants. Safety is improved. City gains revenue.


28 people like this
Posted by See the BIG PICTURE
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 22, 2017 at 2:28 pm

I've been following this story since the first article on Palo Alto online. As a resident of Palo Alto.. this is highly upsetting. A church is a place of meeting and socializing. If parking and driving were the issue.. why not simply enforce the parking and drive issues? If cars are double parked, and doing u-turns, give out tickets.

When people buy homes near churches or schools... it should be expected that people will be driving TO that building and congregating there.

As we continue to ensure churches and their activities are stifled, this will decrease the make-up and morale of the city and what makes this a breathing beautiful city to live in.

It's a sad day.. when a volunteer teen outreach program is kicked out of a church. It's a sad day when a music program for young girls are kicked out.

Let's now kick out AAA from the churches too. Then... lets kick out the churches... and then sell the land to home developers.

Where is the eye rolling emoji around here.


18 people like this
Posted by See the BIG PICTURE
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 22, 2017 at 2:42 pm

Furthermore.. ONE MORE THING. I bike down California Ave early in the morning with my 2 young children on the way to school.

Even when as a biker you follow ALL the laws.. you will find STUPID IDIOTIC DRIVERS EVERYWHERE who are DISTRACTED and do stupid driving. I'm sorry.. it's NOT JUST near this church.

Early this fall, my 6 yr old son (who was just in front of me on his bike) almost got run over by an entitled driver driving his car. He was distracted and not focussed on driving but drinking a cup of coffee while simultaneously backing out of the parking spot and not watching for bikers (on the road). I had to scream "STOP!!" to get his attention to prevent him hitting my son. And even then.. he had no remorse of the near miss of having almost run over my child on his bike (who was biking on the right hand side of the lane).

The reality is.... as you bike around the city.... regardless of bike lanes... things happen because people are preoccupied on their phones and doing things they shouldn't be.

The more you bike a certain path.... where there is traffic.. the higher the instances of bike-car "near misses" on that particular route. And as people increasingly don't pay attention and look down on their phones... or sip their starbucks coffee.. or do something distracting.. the more those instances will increase.

To say because of this instance here.... that all the residents of that church... and all those services must be kicked out is... rather short sighted.
That is like me saying, one should get rid of the Starbucks, where that driver had come out of and was sipping his coffee, while backing out.... to prevent those near misses.

A little over reaction perhaps?

I think... if parking near the bike route IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH were the issue... then put up cones, and get rid of street parking in front of the church and near the church. There are side street parking at the side of the church where there is no bike route.

The city should think bigger and larger than simply kicking out the services inside the church.

Way to go... in making a worse city.. and serving a few entitled folks.
While you're at it.. lets get rid of all the businesses on California ave.. cause well... those drivers who park and drive out of their spaces... also almost hit the bikers on California ave.

(insert eye roll emoji)


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2017 at 5:34 pm

[Post removed.]


28 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 22, 2017 at 6:02 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Let's see-the leaf blower ban is not enforced. Gas leaf blowers produce deadly toxins sent into the air, our bodies and blood stream, and produce awful noise pollution. Construction hours code is not enforced. Fake retail is ignored and hardly ever punished. I could go on and on. I'm an atheist and believe churches should pay taxes, but this is ridiculous.


5 people like this
Posted by Dozens of parents
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 23, 2017 at 8:20 am

@big picture, The New Mozart School meets Wednesday thru Saturday, 2-4 classes a day. iSing meets Monday thru Thursday, 2-4 classes a day so there are literally dozens of parents dropping off and picking up students every hour or so, every afternoon except Sunday.


29 people like this
Posted by Grouchy
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 23, 2017 at 9:09 am

@Dozens of Parents So where are all these kids supposed to go? They'll still have to be dropped off somewhere. Killing kids programs because of a few self-centered neighbors is not a good solution.


26 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 23, 2017 at 10:46 am

This is a much bigger issue than a single church, or even Palo Alto. Churches all over the country make their facilities available to community groups, both for-profit and non-profit, because they strive to be central to the communities in which they reside. Almost every scout group I know meets in a church and most now house preschools. Recovery groups, youth choirs and instrumental groups, mental health advisors and support groups, summer camps, and support services for homeless and other marginalized populations are activities that vibrant churches everywhere provide to their communities. These are not new activities. A central mission of "The Church" historically has been outreach to the community in which it resides. Though churches would love to provide their facilities free of rent, they often cannot financially cannot afford to and must charge some fee. However, the fees are usually much less than market rate. Unless the city is prepared to make many, many more community facilities at city-subsidized rates available for these displaced community groups, and unless the city is prepared to fight this perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court, they may want to reconsider their approach.


2 people like this
Posted by Dozens of parents
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 23, 2017 at 10:57 am

@grouchy, programs with hundreds of students belong in a building with a safe drop off and pick up spot. Many of the local churches have a good size parking lot, the church has just a few spots. The careless parent drivers caused this problem by stopping in bike lanes, double parking and letting young kids out in the street instead of parking and walking them to the schoo.


3 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2017 at 11:19 am

@Wow

Yeah, but traffic.


11 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 23, 2017 at 11:24 am

Also, please consider the alternatives. Does anyone think that a large campus like a church will or should be quiet on Mon-Sat? With space at a premium all over the peninsula, that is unlikely to happen. A current trend for churches in our area is to share a campus. In other words, 2 or 3 different churches meet on one church campus with various times/days for services. I know of 5 such churches who are currently looking for space to meet. Some of these are new churches with new congregations. Some hold services in other languages. Others are part of an existing large church looking to expand operations to other neighborhoods. These shared campuses often have church services on Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoon or evening, with youth groups and choirs meeting on other nights of the week. These uses would perhaps be more in line with the city code. However, I'd like to encourage city officials and neighbors of First Baptist to perhaps consider themselves fortunate and to work with the church to address the underlying concerns in this situation, which appear to be traffic and parking.


25 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 23, 2017 at 12:44 pm

I'm also wondering how this differs from our school campuses, which are also located in R-1 residential neighborhoods. I have lived near several elementary schools, with all the same issues relating to use, traffic, and parking. Our public schools are now used almost 24/7 for education, but also for athletic events, summer camps, scout groups, outside instrumental groups, etc. In other words, public schools rent out their space to outside individuals and organizations. Many of the uses are not directly in line with the express purposes of the school. These "extra" uses generate a lot of extra traffic and parking issues in residential neighborhoods. Parents park all over the place - on neighborhood streets, in private cul-de-sacs, anywhere they can find a spot. And they wait in their cars for long periods with engines idling. It's a more widespread problem than just First Baptist or Castilleja. The city needs to be consistent in enforcement. And the community needs to be patient and accommodating if we want recreation and youth services to exist in our area. And in my opinion, the cities need to reconsider adding more jobs until we can find solutions to the space and services shortages that already exist in our community.


15 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2017 at 12:47 pm

I agree with @Wow. Isn't this church simply doing what every other church does in PA? Renting out their spaces to local community organizations and non-profits to benefit the community. Isn't a church entitled under the 1st Amendment to determine what their mission is and whether that involves community usage and outreach? PA has put themselves into a very sticky situation here with possible huge ramifications. Is the city prepared to go after every other church in PA? This church, like most other churches in the area, is trying to provide for the community through its mission. If traffic and parking are the issues that started this whole problem, let's work on that. New Mozart is leaving, which is unfortunate, so that should solve a lot of the problem right there. I think I understand why NM was asked to leave, from what I can gather they are a for-profit business in an R1 zone. But for the city to tell a church flat out that all their remaining tenants, most of which are non-profits that serve the community, have to go, that's really crossing the line. There's got to be a more peaceable way the city, church, and neighbors could work this out. Prepare for a big fight PA. I don't see this one going away very quickly.


10 people like this
Posted by Grouchy
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 23, 2017 at 1:03 pm

@Dozens of Parents I understand your comment but the value of land in Palo Alto will see many of those churches sell off land for housing (e.g. Corner Stone Community Church, Middlefield Road/East Meadow) If First Baptist doesn't have some income from leasing to community groups, their only other option would be to sell the land, no doubt for high density housing with little or no parking. Neighbors knew there was a church there when they bought. Traffic codes need to be enforced.


12 people like this
Posted by HMMM
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Of course, you all agree that Castilleja should stay and be granted a new CUP for a larger enrollment. And, when that school, half way house, group home, whatever wants to open next to your house, you will stick with these same principles.

Seriously, the Church has rented space for years and the neighbors never complained. However, it reached a point where rather than "activating" the space with social justice and community groups, the Church began to operate more like a mini strip mall. And, management (the pastor) seems to have told neighbors who raised concerns to lump it. Had the management listened and been a considerate neighbor it might never have reached this point.

And, by the way, PACCC continues to operate behind the church. As far as I know, it's a legal use, and, I don't think the neighbors have any issue with it.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident PA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2017 at 4:54 pm

Really @HMMM? A mini mall?? I wish there was a mall there, would've made getting my nails done a lot easier.

I live close by and I love that it's full of musical life! PA schools, along with most of the Bay Area, don't provide the elementary music experience that parents want and children need. My child only gets music once a week at her "world class" PA school. All we do as a city, state, and nation is bemoan the fact that our education system isn't up to par with the rest of the world. So when small organizations come to fill in the gaps we all love it....as long as it's not in MY backyard or disrupts MY life.

It takes a village to not only raise a child but to educate one as well. We're all in this together.


13 people like this
Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

This is a tragedy for all sides.

We have neighbors who are rightly concerned about traffic and parking. A church with a shrinking congregation and a failing business model. And therapists who are about to lose their offices. We should be able to fix this with a simple program to certify low-impact not-for-profits and licensed professionals to rent space in churches. It will take a zoning change, but I can’t see why we shouldn’t be able to put a program together.

I’m really disappointed with how little empathy some commenters are showing for the neighborhood. R1 has a simple purpose: “to create, preserve and enhance areas suitable for detached dwellings with a strong presence of nature and with open area affording maximum privacy.” Yet every time one of the neighborhood congestion issues comes up there’s always a contingent going off on how “selfish” the neighborhood is being for expecting a bias toward peace and quiet. We have districts zoned for creating the future and other districts zoned for people to live and shop. We should do a better job making sure the quest for the future doesn’t break the present. (As a long time tech entrepreneur, tech advisor, innovation consultant, planning commissioner and design school professor I have some reasonable credentials to understand and work these issues)

The music school, as a for-profit, should never have been in the R1 neighborhood. Low impact services are something we probably want in the neighborhoods. I’d really appreciate hearing other people’s perspectives, either online or directly.


12 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 23, 2017 at 8:40 pm

@Asher: As a neighbor of three schools (two of which share a campus), I really do empathize with those affected by the traffic and parking that go hand-in-hand with having a school or a church located in the neighborhood. The organization that is most impacting my own R-1 neighborhood this summer is Camp Galileo, a for-profit organization that operates throughout the summer on several public school campuses. As I stated above, the city will need to tread carefully because for good or bad, both for-profits and non-profits currently operate in many of the public schools and churches located in R-1 residential neighborhoods. If the city decides to not allow the music school, it will likely need to discontinue other for-profit youth programs that presently operate in R-1 neighborhoods, programs that enrich the lives of our youth and our community and that cannot afford to operate elsewhere in this crazy bubble. Traffic, parking, and rents are bad and getting worse everywhere. Let's work on the root causes and not the symptoms.


10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 23, 2017 at 11:38 pm

"R1 has a simple purpose: “to create, preserve and enhance areas suitable for detached dwellings with a strong presence of nature and with open area affording maximum privacy.”

So how do McMansions in R1 promote "a strong presence of nature and with open area affording maximum privacy”? Seems to me they work squarely against it. That rationale for R1 will soon be obsolete through avid popular activity.

Now, how does a part-time music school in a long-established House of God contravene "a strong presence of nature and with open area affording maximum privacy”? I cannot come up with any example. Can you?


10 people like this
Posted by Plain Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 24, 2017 at 3:32 am

Seems like a bad decision. I guess only perfect people with unlimited money live in Palo Alto now.


20 people like this
Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 24, 2017 at 7:58 am

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

I apologize for bringing up the music school. The article is about therapists and other small scale users, and I think we all agree there needs to be a way to accommodate those users.

Cities have cheap spaces to accommodate uses like music schools, youth programs, maker spaces, art studios, music clubs, etc. One of the purposes of zoning is to make sure cheap spaces go to the right users. One nearby example: San Francisco designates lower Potrero as a light manufacturing district, and they are ruthless about keeping high-paying office users out of the light manufacturing district.

Palo Alto has not been ruthless about enforcing zoning district uses. We have office use in retail, R&D use in general office and general office in R&D. I agree we should tackle the “root causes of why rents are so bad,” by getting serious about our land use districts. We know that music schools can’t compete head-to-head with tech firms. We should use zoning to separate them. (We also know that seed stage tech can’t compete with big tech, and we need zoning to accommodate early stage tech. You can start a company in your garage, but as soon as you have employees you should move to an R&D district. Which is not a burden if you can find cheap rent.) Point is we don’t need to put for-profits in R1 districts if we get our land uses right. We need codes that say what we want and where we want it, and enforcement that can get what we say.


4 people like this
Posted by Penny
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 24, 2017 at 11:43 am

Penny is a registered user.

Sounds to me like this church doesn't have a parking lot or other facilities adequate to serve the tenants they are serving. The church could work with the city to look at that and develop a traffic plan that works. They might have to kick out one or two of the tenants who use the space more intensively (or who generate more car traffic).

[Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Retired Guy
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 26, 2017 at 7:50 pm

I attend an activity at the First Baptist Church.

Like all other cities, Real Estate Developers' big money controls city planning, and everyone else loses. Now we need "a pound of cure".

Instead we should have made "an ounce of prevention":
* Real public transportation.
* Cities should own community centers, located every few blocks.
* Community centers should provide extremely low rent for small non-profits and small, low cost, beneficial services.
* Churches should pay taxes.

There are some highly beneficial services that will be lost (I hope not). There's never enough money for education, healthcare, community enrichment, etc. But there's always plenty of money for big business deals, war, oil companies, etc.


9 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 26, 2017 at 8:41 pm

"Isn't this church simply doing what every other church does in PA?"

Other churches are not located in a premium high-end snowflake neighborhood like this church is. It would not have this grief if it were downtown.


"Churches should pay taxes."

Governments recognize that most congregations are heavier on faith than on finance. Market-rate taxes would kill many, likely most, of them. Churches cannot offshore like corporations do.


4 people like this
Posted by ToTheNeighbors
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2017 at 10:57 pm


Heard mentioning of neighbors' complaints.

To be honest---when the neighbors bought their houses, did they not know that there was a church nearby?

And how many people would a typical church session host? Why would the neighbors complain that they had to park half a block away and carry their grocery home now?

Beats me.

There are quite some famous people who live within the block or two. They never complained. Why are the rest of the neighbors so petty.


4 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 27, 2017 at 9:03 am

Be Positive is a registered user.

@ToTheNeighbors, the church activities are not the problem, nor is the therapist who I think should be allowed to stay. The problem is a couple music schools that have 3-4 classes daily with dozens of parents dropping off and picking up kids every hour or so. The parents double park, make u-turns into the bike lane, hit garbage cans and leave them knocked over, etc. Rude parent drivers caused the problem.


3 people like this
Posted by Marlene Dietrich
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 27, 2017 at 10:38 am

I'm seriously thinking to buy a house on Portola Valley, far away right on the mountains, since there are a lot of traffic here in East Palo Alto too, a lot a people, noise and lot of kid's activities, the right solution for my problem it will be to sell my car and my house. I'm gonna buy a cabin and a horse and live far away from everything that bothers me. But please, nobody follow me, I called that spot first ! If people start following me this issue will start again.

Good Luck finding another spot !


8 people like this
Posted by ToTheNeighbors
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2017 at 12:19 pm

@Be Positive

How is it positive that the tenants who are providing services to the community got kicked out? First the music school and now the therapist.

How is it rude drivers' problems that these tenants get kicked out? Would it be positive to the community if our kids do not have the much needed therapist, or that everyone has to drive their kids to other cities for music lessons?

When or where was the bad traffic or rude driver issue ever tackled?

How do all these add up, if nobody is lying here...Really curious who will be buying the church land after city clears the house...


3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 27, 2017 at 12:33 pm

Let's cut to what everybody knows. This church would have no problems in its location if it were Episcopal instead of Baptist.


3 people like this
Posted by Speculation
a resident of University South
on Jul 27, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Everyone seems to be assuming that these tenants are not-for-profit organizations. That is not my understanding. For-profit businesses should not be permitted to operate on tax-exempt church property in a residential zoning district. Period. Would you like it if your neighbor rented our his pool house to a music school? I think not.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2017 at 6:59 pm

It seems to me that the City is anti-church, of whatever flavor!


2 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2017 at 11:58 pm

This is typical of the Bay Area at large. Pew Research in Washington, DC (one of the most respected research firms in the United States --and "Pew" has nothing to do with respect to any church since they are only a research firm) states the Bay Area is the most unchurched region in all the country. And San Mateo County in particular has the least faith-based church attendance nationally at about 34% of the population. Palo Alto is not the only local city run by council people and bureaucrats with a bent on writing new zoning laws which restrict and discourage the free exercise of religion guaranteed in the Constitution.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 29, 2017 at 1:15 am

There was a gentleman this past evening evangelizing at Lytton Plaza.
Amplified voice. Most passers-by ignored him.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2017 at 9:02 am

I think many neighbors of churches all over Palo Alto will state that parking in their neighborhood is impacted by churches on Sunday mornings (and possibly other times as well). The same could be said for any elementary school (also within a R1 zone), many parks, community centers, etc.

R1 zones have amenities in their neighborhood, it is part of what makes that neighborhood desirable to live in. Unfortunately those amenities are likely to bring in traffic, parking problems, noise, litter, or what have you. People who do not respect others is the problem here, whether these people are those visiting the church and disobeying traffic and parking rules, or people who complain about "the church next door" being vibrant.

I feel sure that there are times we are all in a neighborhood not our own and we should ask ourselves if we are respecting those who live there in our behavior while there.


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 29, 2017 at 12:42 pm

"Palo Alto is not the only local city run by council people and bureaucrats with a bent on writing new zoning laws which restrict and discourage the free exercise of religion guaranteed in the Constitution."

Oh really now.

What is the connection between the free exercise of religion and "Tuesday Night Tango, Bisheh Toddler Class, Chinese Global Artist Association, Resounding Achord (a concert and musical event organization), Palo Alto Philharmonic, Jennifer Merrill, Joellen Werne (both Merrill and Werne are characterized as "medical services"), Moveable Feet (a folk dancing program), Stanford Folk Dance and Tango Argentina"?


3 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2017 at 10:38 pm

@Mr. Curmudgeon: Church sponsored Boy Scout Troops, Explorer Scouts and Cub Packs are also sponsored by many churches including the Latter Day Saints, Methodists and Catholic parishes. Where would you like for them to meet?
Your NIMBYism is not going to solve anything.

Seems if you are not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.


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

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