News

In south Palo Alto, a battle is brewing

Plan for hotel on El Camino Real encounters vocal opposition from neighbors

Sharlene Carlson, head of the Palo Alto Redwoods Homeowners Association, stands in her first-floor patio, beside a grove of redwood trees. Beyond the wall is the parking lot of Su Hong Eatery at 4256 El Camino Real in Palo Alto. A 50-foot-tall hotel and three-story townhomes have been proposed for that lot. Photo by Jocelyn Dong.

Just outside of Sharlene Carlson's secluded condominium patio, redwood trees tower overhead and filtered sunlight dapples the cool dirt floor below.

"I love living here," said Carlson of the Palo Alto Redwoods, a 117-unit complex in south Palo Alto built on the site of a former redwood-tree nursery. "I thought I was going to buy and then move up, but I'm in a serene place. It's almost a spiritual place. I look at the redwood trees and feel peaceful and calm."

But that calm has recently been disrupted as plans have emerged to develop the property next to Palo Alto Redwoods: 4256 El Camino Real, the current site of Su Hong, a Chinese restaurant. The proposal to build a 69-room hotel and eight townhomes has galvanized to action not only Carlson, head of the homeowners association, but other Palo Alto Redwoods residents as well.

Seven condo owners voiced their concerns at Thursday's meeting of the city's Architectural Review Board, which held an initial study session on the 51,600-square-foot project.

Developer Mircea Voskerician and a principal architect from Studio T Square of Oakland, representing the owner, described the plans to the board: The building would be shaped like a U with a row of three-story townhomes on the north side stretching from El Camino back toward the rear of the property, the hotel lobby fronting El Camino, and a 50-foot-tall hotel wing to the south reaching from El Camino to the rear.

In between the hotel wing and townhomes would be a courtyard with a fire pit and lounge chairs and tables, according architectural plans submitted to the city. The contemporary hotel façade would feature glass, stone and stucco.

To the homeowners, whose complex wraps around the north side and rear of the Su Hong site, the whole plan would lead to a lower quality of life for them.

"There is not one single thing about the proposed development that benefits our community, but there are many harms," Carlson said at the meeting.

Among those alleged harms: noise pollution from the hotel courtyard and a rooftop terrace, especially from events such as weddings; tall buildings that would block sunlight and views; invasion of privacy, given that the Palo Alto Redwoods' wall is only 11 feet tall; and traffic and pedestrian safety hazards on El Camino, among others.

"A five-story hotel depriving our heritage redwoods trees of light to their lower branches will cause those branches to die off, removing our existing privacy barrier," said homeowner Neil Murphy, who added that by his calculations the hotel would take away 30 percent of daylight in the winter and 82 percent in the summer from 27 of the condos.

The development team and the homeowners have met three times over the past two months as the hotel plans have developed. The residents' objections frustrate Voskerician, who told the Weekly on Friday that he had initiated discussions with the homeowners and has made efforts to address their concerns.

Among the accommodations, he said: A swimming pool that was proposed for the rear of the property has been eliminated; a fire pit that was going to be next to that pool has been moved to the center of the courtyard; the layout of the townhomes' third floors has been flipped so that they don't overlook the Palo Alto Redwoods pool area; the townhomes rooftop "beaks" will be flipped to reduce shadows on the condo pool; and landscaping adjacent to the condo pool's wall has been altered so it protects privacy but does not cast shadows.

The architect has also matched the exterior color of the townhomes and part of the hotel building to match that of Palo Alto Redwoods. Even before meeting with the neighbors, Voskerician said, he decided to distance the underground garage from the rear property line by more than 20 feet so as not to harm the redwoods.

"I understand the worries that Palo Alto Redwoods residents have and want to help, but cooperation has to be mutual," Voskerician wrote in an email to the Weekly. "I have not seen any efforts from Palo Alto Redwoods to 'work with their new neighbor.'"

At a meeting with the homeowners on Aug. 10, attended by more than 30 residents, Voskerician said one man was so upset he started yelling at Voskerician.

"They're not realistic," the developer said. "Everyone has their own demands. ... They're not engaging in constructive conversation with us."

"We cannot be held hostage," he added. "We will not."

Unlike other developments proposed in Palo Alto, the hotel-and-townhome project is not asking for any land-use exemptions and fits into the parcel's "service commercial" zoning, which allows it to be developed with retail, hotel and residential buildings. Because of a City Council decision to prioritize the construction of hotels, the building can also be twice as dense as its lot would normally allow.

But just because it can be built doesn't mean it should, the Redwoods residents argue.

Already, the stretch of El Camino from Charleston/Arastradero Road to the Palo Alto border is home to seven hotels: Hilton Garden Inn, Palo Alto Inn, America's Best Value Inn, Crowne Plaza Cabana, Dinah's Garden Hotel, Homewood Suites by Hilton and the Oaks Motel.

"There is no such thing as an absolute right based on ordinance maximums -- every proposed project must be carefully scrutinized through a lens of reasonableness to assure that it meets the ARB goals of encouraging the attainment of the most desirable use of land and improvements and enhancing the desirability of living conditions on the immediate site and in adjacent areas," Carlson said to the architecture board.

Ironically, one factor working against the residents in their protest is not the hotel site's zoning but their own complex's, which is also service commercial. The identical zoning allows the hotel and townhomes to be 10 feet from the property line – closer than they could be had the condo complex been designated as purely residential when built in 1983.

"If the Palo Alto Redwoods were zoned correctly as multi-family residential, then the developer would have to restrict the height to 35 feet maximum within 150 feet of the Palo Alto Redwoods lot line," 18-year resident Anne Mason told the board.

Apartment buildings on neighboring McKeller Lane and the homes across El Camino behind the Elks Lodge are zoned as multi-family residential, noted Mason, whose large double-paned windows look directly out onto what is now the Su Hong parking lot. She called the project "aggressively dense and offensively taller than any other building on El Camino."

Architectural Review Board member Wynne Furth acknowledged the predicament of the Palo Alto Redwoods neighbors Thursday.

"I'm really troubled by this anomaly, that we have this residential development that's big, and while our code does not protect denser housing the way it protects single-family housing … I want to know that the building we approve does not diminish the quality of life on this parcel," she said.

Board member Peter Baltay noted that the city has design, context and "performance" criteria that also must be met by proposed developments, in addition to the zoning requirements. According to city municipal code, such criteria range from a development's pedestrian- and bicycle-friendliness to parking design to the building's mass and distance from property lines.

"I find most of the arguments we've heard from the community have quite a bit of merit. I find this project has quite a few of issues that need to be resolved before it moves forward," Baltay said, criticizing the building's massing and parking plan.

Sensitive not just to the project's architecture but also to the brewing neighborhood discord, Baltay had words of advice for both sides of the divide on Thursday.

"You'll save yourselves and us a lot of trouble if you can find a way to work together a little bit," Baltay said. "(To) the applicant: This is a challenging project and if you really want this big of a building it's going to be difficult. (To) the community: He has the right to develop this property; you cannot insist on it being an empty parking lot all the time. ... There's a possibility he'll make it better, not worse, as an amenity to you and everybody else.

"Listen to his concerns, allow him some latitude; he's going to build something there. As an applicant, try to make it so it's better for them, not worse," Baltay said.

Voskerician, who is himself a Palo Alto resident, told the Weekly that he intends to go back to the property owner and partners to discuss the architectural board's and residents' feedback and to decide on changes to the plan. He said he also hopes to meet with homeowners again, if they are willing.

Watch the Architectural Review Board meeting (discussion of 4256 El Camino Real starts at 2:15:00)

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Comments

76 people like this
Posted by PAmom
a resident of Mayfield
on Aug 20, 2017 at 6:51 pm

I strongly feel their pain. We bought our house because we loved all of the winter southern exposure. We also had a 3 story tree out back that gave us privacy from the business nextdoor which was a parking lot and minimal office building. The developer tore down the tree which was on our property, and the new office building will go up against our property and block out all of our light. Not to mention the nightmare of living through this construction. Our house shook for 6 months. The entire project has caused our family so much stress. We want to rent it out or sell but feel stuck until the development is over and are afraid our property value has gone down. We feel totally screwed over. Not one is safe here in Palo Alto. get out while you can. ASAP


94 people like this
Posted by here we go again
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 20, 2017 at 8:06 pm

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2017 at 8:25 pm

[Post removed.]


111 people like this
Posted by When does it end?
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2017 at 8:54 pm

Further destruction of the quality of life in Palo Alto at the expense of the people who gave the city its character.

Just so more rich outsiders can move here.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 20, 2017 at 10:32 pm

[Post removed.]


14 people like this
Posted by Because
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 21, 2017 at 1:08 am

[Post removed.]


55 people like this
Posted by sorry charlie
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 21, 2017 at 4:03 am

When there condo replaced the nursery there were a bunch of complaints as well.


22 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 21, 2017 at 7:31 am

Peter Beltay is a local developer. The issue of conflict of interest has never crossed peoples mind?


39 people like this
Posted by al munday
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2017 at 8:14 am

If the City allows this even against resident concerns...the city and the developer needs to pay these residents an annoyance fee say $100k/yr to each resident


31 people like this
Posted by Supply& Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 21, 2017 at 8:34 am

Why everything has to be at the city border? It is unfair to resident in south Palo Alto near city border.


65 people like this
Posted by Bambi
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 21, 2017 at 8:41 am

I don't think any of us want to live next door to a five story building.


2 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 21, 2017 at 9:42 am

[Post removed.]


84 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 21, 2017 at 11:07 am

Just say no to yet another under-parked hotel that we can tax to subsidize our bloated bureaucracy at the expense of the residents and our quality of life.

No, no, no.


38 people like this
Posted by Woman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 21, 2017 at 11:24 am

Look at it this way...if all this tearing down and then building continues in fifty years or less no one will want to move here, Palo Alto will be ruined.

But most of us will be dead by then any way so we won't be around to complain or suffer.

Like Yogi once said..."It's so crowded nobody comes here anymore."

GO YOGI.


62 people like this
Posted by kya
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2017 at 11:34 am

I agree with Online Name......

"Just say no to yet another under-parked hotel that we can tax to subsidize our bloated bureaucracy at the expense of the residents and our quality of life.

No, no, no. "

Developer interests should not TRUMP residents interests who live here. Sorry to see another diminishing of our Quality of Life!


48 people like this
Posted by Neighbors
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2017 at 12:12 pm

The fights go on and on all over the city. The basic problem is that we no longer see each other as a community, relying on each other for safety and friendship. Today's mantra is to selfishly get the maximum benefit one can, and to fight anyone who stands in the way of that. No longer do we consider or neighbors and treat them like valuable people whom we care about. No more cooperation based on fairness and reasonable consideration.

The developer mindset (those whose business it is to build) has taken over individual homeowners as well. The question isn't how can I build a nice structure that meets my needs and that will benefit both mine and my neighbors interests, it's what is the maximum I can do that my neighbors can't stop.

Our neighbor is building a new house and pushing every single development allowance and every setback to the max, including keeping a 60 year-old grandfathered structure that would never be allowed now. They have modified it without permits also to benefit themselves. They are maximizing their benefit at significant loss of peace, privacy, and view to their neighbors, simply because they can.

I hope this proposed development can be accomplished with some deference to the impact on the long-time neighbors, even if it means less profit to the developer.


36 people like this
Posted by HXH Owner
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2017 at 2:14 pm

The owner is listed as
Company Name: HXH PROPERTY LLC
File Number: 201630010365
Filing State: California (CA)
Filing Status: Active
Filing Date: October 19, 2016
Company Age: 10 Months
Registered Agent: Huang Huang
2225 E Bayshore Rd Ste 2000
Palo Alto, CA 94303
Mailing Address: 2225 E Bayshore Rd Ste 2000
Palo Alto, CA 94303


22 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 21, 2017 at 2:28 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

It really has to be possible for people to be able to buy and use property deterministically, according to the law. If a property is zoned a certain way, and it is proposed to use it according to that zoning, it just doesn't seem reasonable for anyone to object and hold up the project. If we don't like the potential uses of a property, we should change the zoning - not allow any neighbor to block the entire project

And anyway neighbors chose to live in a 'service commercial' zone, literally on El Camino - the main commercial street in the entire peninsula, certainly within Palo Alto. You have to know that when you move into an apartment in a 'service commercial' zone that your beautiful redwood view might change.


51 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2017 at 3:12 pm

I live at the Redwoods. This really isn't a NIMBY thing, and we welcome a reasonable development. This ain't it.

Every member of the Architectural Review Board agreed that this project is poorly thought out and far too dense for the tiny property they want to develop on. They don't even have any place for delivery trucks or service vehicles to park. What are they going to do when UPS, FedEx, USPS, and a few landscaping trucks show up at the same time? How about an ambulance? How on earth are the exiting hotel guests supposed to turn onto El Camino northbound? Where are their guests supposed to legally smoke?

Hotels don't do a thing to ease the housing shortage. Hotels add precisely nothing to the neighborhood. There's no "there" there and nothing interesting to walk to. We already have an absurd number of hotels here anyway, with 3 more currently going in at San Antonio. This project was designed entirely to maximize profit, with no thought given to the impact to neighbors or surrounding areas.

Re: Voskerician, no one's "holding him hostage." We're just asking that the development be reasonable. As echoed by the City, it's not. Contrary to what he says, we are indeed engaging in "constructive conversation." He just doesn't like that we're pointing out how bad the design is. I suppose he thinks the Architectural Review Board is also "holding him hostage," since they had the exact same feedback we had?

If you're curious you can google "Zuckerberg Voskerician"and see what kind of person the developer is. [Portion removed.]

Here's a mirror of the Bloomberg article: Web Link

We know that something is going to be developed on that site, and we're totally for reasonable development. This ain't that.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 21, 2017 at 3:56 pm

Density doesn't seem to bother everyone.
Kowloon was on about 7 acres, and 12 stories high.
People estimate that there were about 33,000 people living in that small area before it was bulldozed.
Web Link


9 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 21, 2017 at 4:03 pm

"People estimate that there were about 33,000 people living in that small area before it was bulldozed."

Apparently somebody was unhappy with it. Somebody with clout.


31 people like this
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2017 at 4:09 pm

@Resident,

You must be a developer. Palo Alto isn't the walled city of Kowloon. Take a look around. How is this relevant?

Will this new development make Palo Alto look more like the walled city of Kowloon or less like the walled city of Kowloon? I say more.


39 people like this
Posted by Wynn Do
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 21, 2017 at 4:13 pm

The changes the developer has agreed to make to the project are little more than cosmetic. It's still five stories and right up against the condo's. He hasn't agreed to make any significant changes, yet he says he wants the residents to "engage in constructive conversation.' He says "they're not realistic' yet he is the one who inflexible, obstinate, rigid and unwilling to compromise. It's time for him to redesign this project. He should do to the the Redwoods residents what the Hilton Garden Hotel folks did to the condo owners behind their property - propose a project that they like.


10 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 21, 2017 at 6:17 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


31 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 21, 2017 at 7:43 pm

Su Hong piece of land is too small for a hotel, we already have too many hotels within a mile.
[Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by @jerry99
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 21, 2017 at 9:35 pm

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Liberal
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2017 at 10:34 pm

I hope the city does not require the developer to add yet another grocery store to the building as a public benefit gesture:)

Looking at the location the proposed building, I don't think that the building will block the southern sun for the condos of the current owners. So, they will still have their greenery. The new development plans appears sensible to me.


22 people like this
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2017 at 10:45 pm

From the first comment to an article in the Mountain View Voice:

"...the Mountain View City Council (majority) has undermined the education of the community by adopting a resolution stating falsely and irrationally that discrimination in favor of existing residents is evil, get this, "nativism" which is a form of "bigotry."" Web Link

I think several members of Palo Alto's City Council are also drinking this kind of developer friendly Kool-aid.


7 people like this
Posted by Lorraine
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 21, 2017 at 11:53 pm

[Post removed.]


16 people like this
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2017 at 2:47 am

We have a long history of this in America. People with a deep seated need to feel morally superior to everyone else, and an eye for a quick buck. It all started with the Puritans I guess, putting people in stocks or "dunking" any rival they could condemn as insufficiently pious. The women of the Temperance Movement clutching their pearls and and marching to stamp out the evils of the occasional beer or glass of wine. The missionaries that went to Hawaii to do good and ended up doing very very well.


34 people like this
Posted by Unfortunate
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2017 at 10:45 am

These are the very things our real estate agent cautioned us about when we looked at buying a condo!

In the end, we decided to wait three more years until we could afford a small house instead!

In this city, it's especially complex because we have a flaky CC, ARB and PC! They change zoning at will, no thoughtto the people who live in that zone! Only R1 zones are protected.


28 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2017 at 11:01 am

@ Lorraine... If the proposed project was all housing, we'd be all for it. Like I said, we're for reasonable development. As in, something that contributes to the community, instead of a massive and dense profit-making machine like a 5-story hotel on a postage stamp parcel.

To me, NIMBY means "I don't want anything developed near my home." I'll remind you: there's no hotel shortage crisis in the Bay Area.


6 people like this
Posted by James Sagorac
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2017 at 8:42 pm

ARB is right "he has the right to built" and ARB denial actions will be illegal and discriminatory.

This project comes with a lot of what he designed already and meets every requirement of the zoning ordinance and not asking for any variance. At the end of the day city which will deny it has the burden and will be liable and as described cases below developer will win. City of PA is smarter when see something like this coming their way but if it comes to a law suit I would like to support developer's financial efforts.


That is why current SB35 will be taking some of those decisions from the hands of the public and city officials and handed to developers.

a. Los Gatos, July 2017 - the city was sued by Summerhill Homes for denying a
project that met the existing codes, and they LOST the case. The Court concluded that the reasons the city denied the project were discretionary, as opposed to objective or measurable. If Palo Alto pushes to lower the height, it will be a discretionary action because there’s no measurable, objective, reason to do it. In other words, lowering heights because the buildings “seem too high”, when there is no measurable or objective reason, is EXACTLY what the court found illegal in Los Gatos. will be found
illegal here, too.

b. Pleasanton, 2006 - residents voted for a limit on new housing and tall
buildings, to “preserve character”, that was challenged in court and found illegal. Urban Habitat v. Pleasanton is a watershed case and a cautionary tale: When existing residents want to SLOW GROWTH but did not meet the highest standard to do so, it will be found illegal and discriminatory.


6 people like this
Posted by Juan T.
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 22, 2017 at 11:14 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


16 people like this
Posted by Homeowner
a resident of University South
on Aug 23, 2017 at 9:06 am

The condo owners say they wouldn't object to the development if it was housing, because housing is an imminent public need. I agree with that.

The City Council should offer a spot rezoning to the developer if he converts the existing building height and square footage to housing.

Part of the issue is that we have codified in our zoning that hotels are allowed to be twice as big as apartment complexes. It's no surprise that developers want to build hotels! Given the need for housing, we should allow housing to be built out at the same size as we allow hotels.

Palo Alto Redwoods residents - the new City Council is more sympathetic to housing than the last one. If you suggest this as a resolution, the Council might be willing to take you up on it.


22 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2017 at 2:19 pm

From the look of things, the Palo Alto City Council doesn't seem to stand up for or care much about the look and feel of south Palo Alto - especially along El Camino.
More hotels in South Palo Alto? Pay attention! There are enough hotels. People before profits please!


11 people like this
Posted by R1 Protected? Not!
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 23, 2017 at 10:30 pm

@Unfortunate mentions that "Only R1 zones are protected."

Unfortunately, not even R1 is. Take a look at the recent changes to allow for more accessory dwelling units. Many would claim that the City effectively rezoned R1 to R2 with those changes. Web Link

The City Council is determined to densify. Nowhere in the city is immune.


17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2017 at 1:11 am

It is becoming too dense.
A new hotel was recently just approved on San Antonio across from the new development which looks like the beginning of a new Kowloon-like city to me.
Web Link

The hotels in Palo Alto are way over-priced as well.


17 people like this
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2017 at 2:15 pm

@Unfortunate,

For the members of our community and local governments that believe "discrimination in favor of existing residents is evil, get this, "nativism" which is a form of bigotry." R1 housing is the ultimate evil and the ultimate target of their plan to transform our community through an unholy alliance of convenience with greedy real-estate developers.

Palo Alto still has something called "planned community zoning" (PC zoning) which allows real-estate developers to make up their own zoning. Developers can literally do anything they want, if they can muster a one vote majority of the City Council.

No one is safe from the unholy alliance. Not even R1 homeowners.


7 people like this
Posted by Neighbour
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 26, 2017 at 9:12 am

Rezoning of any site could take years and been there before. Palo Alto Redwoods underline is CS like the restaurant and that was most likely why developer bought it to begin with. If Palo Alto Redwoods would be residential this restaurant would of never been developed in anything but now is too late. Any attempts on rezoning a residential site that will impact the restaurant development would impact the city and make city liable. Clearly a law suit against city and residents.

Spot Zoning is Illegal anybody can research that. Any yes City Council will approve a hotel as the direction from City Council is pretty clear. This project will happen one way or the other and yes residential would be better but the owners have the right to do a Hotel unless city will give them a Big Bone to switch to all residential


15 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2017 at 12:42 pm

DTN Paul - I'm sure the people at the Redwoods wouldn't have bought property if they thought a noisy hotel would be installed within 15 feet of where they live. Get a clue. And in what way are you related to the project?


4 people like this
Posted by Neighbour
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 2, 2017 at 11:36 am

When you buy a residential property next to a CN or CS (commercial zoning) you never know what will eventually go in there...so PAR buyers should of understand the risk in the future when they bought there unit many years ago and those units are cheaper then condos on other areas for the exact reason...you are on El Camino.. which is a Highway not a street. That is what happened when Creekside Inn was built too impacted a few streets in Barron Park.


17 people like this
Posted by Greater Gridlock
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 2, 2017 at 11:54 am

Who could have foreseen the incredible pace of hotel development, office development, 4:1 commuter-to-resident ratio and increased traffic all over Palo Alto even if they bought as recently as 5 years ago?


9 people like this
Posted by Safety Last
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2017 at 1:34 pm

There is a major correction needed to this story:
"Already, the stretch of El Camino from Charleston/Arastradero Road to the Palo Alto border is home to seven hotels: Hilton Garden Inn, Palo Alto Inn, America's Best Value Inn, Crowne Plaza Cabana, Dinah's Garden Hotel, Homewood Suites by Hilton and the Oaks Motel."

The very large Courtyard by Marriott is partly in Palo Alto. Additionally, looking at the entire stretch of El Camino from Page Mill (generally regarded as the start of South Palo Alto) to San Antonio, there are TWENTY (20) hotels!! Including some very large ones. The Residence Inn, part of Cortyard, and the Hotel Aria are technically in MtnVw/Los Altos and several more hotels stretching from Page Mill to the Standord campus are techinically in North Palo Alto if we use Page Mill as a divider, but they aren't really practice all that separate from this unbroken line of hotels along El Camino all the way to the border of Menlo Park and concentrated in South Palo Alto. Many of these South PA hotels are huge, just like two more giant ones the City approved on San Antonio, which seems like it's going to swallow up the nearby neighborhood as if people living in neighborhoods is just an inconvenient blight.

This article really doesn't go far enough (20 hotels between Page Mill and San Antonio is a lot more representative than saying there are "just" 7 (two already right next to the Redwoods). Zoning is not just black and whote numbers, there are ranges, goals, and other issues, which this article fails to mention.

Redwoods residents - does the developer need to subdivide in order to build this? Then you may have a lot of recourse you may not realize, protection from the Comp Plan (if it hasn't been utterly gutted by Kniss/Fein/Wohlbach and their overdevelopment faction at PAF) under the Subdivision Map Act. Recommend if you don't want to just complain and waste your time, you all get together and hire a good land use attorney, and figure out what recourse you have. I for one would support you.

Zoning is supposed to help make things fair because there are limits to space and infrastructure. When some businesses push the limits, they constrain what others can do with their properties down the road. With Hurricane Harvey on our minds right now, I just want to warn that this downright negligent attitude toward safety by developers and City Council will one day have serious consequences. Imagine any of our main arteries being evacuation routes now. Or a way for emergency vehicles to reach residents in a major disaster, with the three-times the number if people here during the day. This only worjs if nothing goes wrong. Don't you CC members realize your iwn children could be affected by your negligent disregard for safety in your frenzied interest in giving our town to developers? (Oh, that's right, dangerously confusing thermoplastic green paint magically fixes everything -- not.)


6 people like this
Posted by James Sagorac
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 2, 2017 at 3:34 pm

@Safety Last, Bob...This part of town was "slated for Hotels" many years ago and if some condo residents thought that Su Hong is a Historic site and will never been developed when they saw Hilton and other hotels going up all around that is their mistake.

There is no subdivision required on a site like this for a Hotel. The CS zoning designation (that includes hotels permission as Land use) was put in place over 20 years ago so now residents blaming "we did not know this could happen' is not developer's problem.

a. Los Gatos, July 2017 - the city was sued by Summerhill Homes for denying a
project that met the existing codes, and they LOST the case. The Court concluded that the reasons the city denied the project were discretionary, as opposed to objective or measurable. If Palo Alto pushes to lower the height, it will be a discretionary action because there’s no measurable, objective, reason to do it. In other words, lowering heights because the buildings “seem too high”, when there is no measurable or objective reason, is EXACTLY what the court found illegal in Los Gatos. will be found
illegal here, too.

b. Pleasanton, 2006 - residents voted for a limit on new housing and tall
buildings, to “preserve character”, that was challenged in court and found illegal. Urban Habitat v. Pleasanton is a watershed case and a cautionary tale: When existing residents want to SLOW GROWTH but did not meet the highest standard to do so, it will be found illegal and discriminatory.


14 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 2, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Lemme see ... we need the jobs and traffic that a hotel brings way much more than we need the housing that could be built on this site, right?


7 people like this
Posted by James Sagorac
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2017 at 1:55 pm

That is what Palo Altons voted into City Council Jobs, Traffic and then Housing, in this order.


12 people like this
Posted by Safety Last
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2017 at 10:46 am

@James Sagorac,
You cannot argue that the City planned for the predominant land use for the entire stretch of El Camino across all of South Palo Alto all the way to Stanford was supposed to be hotels; there are 20 now just fo Page Mill, some of them very large. I do not see that in the Comp Plan, can you please refer to that in the old one "many years ago"? In fact, if that is the developer's argument, then it is certainly within the purview of the City Council to recognize that this has happened nonetheless and step in to say that from now on, things have to change because the predominant land use of our entire town on its main throughway was never intended to be hotels.

Correct me if I'm wrong but this project isn't all hotel, it has townhouses - you may be right, but I would still like to know if it requires subdivision because of the eight townhomes? If so, then residents have a lot more leverage than they realize. The article is right, there is no absolute right to build to a maximum under zoning. The Council absolutely should not be vague with the developer, you are right. But the cases you cite don't really apply; there is no court precedent for saying a Charter City cannot insist on consistency with its Comp Plan and design guidelines. Those allow discretion of interpretation, however, they are not nebulous and do not allow an absolute right to build to limits. It would help residents enforce the guidelines and other principles, though, if the other aspects of the comp plan were mandatory rather than just suggestions.

How do you know what residents voted for? The three most overdevelopment crazy ran against that, even excoriating their opponents for claiming they were, even while all of them after the election shockingly were found to have engaged in exactly the same deceptive hiding of significant developer contributions to their campaigns.

Safety continues to be an afterthought in planning here. Is no one listening to what is going on in Houston? We have earthquakes and earthquakes usually mean fires, and we continue to have no attention to traffic circulation and the fact that we are not prepared for protecting four times the population during the day, much less evacuate people. I don't think this project is the straw-meet-camel's-back one, but that gargantuan new hotel on San Antonio might be. Hey San Antonio neighbors, get a land use attorney - developers don't have recourse if they started digging while you still had the right to file a dispute.... there's court precedent against them that is pretty strong. They dug to intimidate you from complaining, but this gives them no rights as they want you to believe. (Not sure if the residents have complained or if the timing is over, I'm just mentioning it since the developer started digging while residents still had rights.)


4 people like this
Posted by James Sagorac
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2017 at 3:00 am

SafetyLast...Bob

1. ARB commissioners clearly stated twice in their meeting while reviewing this project " this is Political and we have clear direction from City Council to approve Hotels." It is on record..check it out.

2. I met with developer last week to offer support to hire best land use attorney but they already have the most powerful land use law firm in the area on retainer. As I understood, developer had a bright idea and transformed the town homes into "time shares" so now they will have 100% Hotel, so no more subdivision... PURE GENIUS! no more residential so no CONDO MAP...period. Not helping any legal case for residents, I know.

3. The majority of city residents elected the Council so if PAR did not vote last time maybe next time they should.

4. The two court cases apply directly to what surrounding residents complain about it, the Los Gatos case attorney fees that were reimbursed to the developer/Summerhill homes by the city was $600K...check the news. If you think city of Palo Alto will pay developer 600K on a law suit when it is clear what developer can build and City Council are in support to get a Hotel on that location, you have to think again...

Web Link

Web Link

a. Los Gatos, July 2017 - the city was sued by Summerhill Homes for denying a
project that met the existing codes, and they LOST the case. The Court concluded that the reasons the city denied the project were discretionary, as opposed to objective or measurable. If Palo Alto pushes to lower the height, it will be a discretionary action because there’s no measurable, objective, reason to do it. In other words, lowering heights because the buildings “seem too high”, when there is no measurable or objective reason, is EXACTLY what the court found illegal in Los Gatos. will be found
illegal here, too.

b. Pleasanton, 2006 - residents voted for a limit on new housing and tall
buildings, to “preserve character”, that was challenged in court and found illegal. Urban Habitat v. Pleasanton is a watershed case and a cautionary tale: When existing residents want to SLOW GROWTH but did not meet the highest standard to do so, it will be found illegal and discriminatory.


5 people like this
Posted by Safety Last
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2017 at 12:00 pm

@Safety Last,
I do not recognize you from Barron Park. Your relationship with this developer/development is ...? You seem to be arguing a court case.

Maybell and Buena Vista neighbors were alao told repeatedly, even by the City staff, of the hopelessnes of their cause and how legal precedent went against them. Not so. Redwoods residents should do their research and not trust someone happy to play games like calling townhomes "timehares" to get around subdivision laws. I think there is a legal case for residents right there.

The developer isn't improving his reputation with this. He came across as untrustworthy in his suit against Zuckerberg, no wonder he had such trouble making connections.


5 people like this
Posted by Safery Last
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Argh, typing on a small screen..

I MEANT,
@James Sagorac,
I do not recognize you from Barron Park. Your relationship with this developer/development is ...? You seem to be arguing a court case.

Maybell and Buena Vista neighbors were alao told repeatedly, even by the City staff, of the hopelessnes of their cause and how legal precedent went against them. Not so. Redwoods residents should do their research and not trust someone happy to play games like calling townhomes "timehares" to get around subdivision laws. I think there is a legal case for residents right there.

The developer isn't improving his reputation with this. He came across as untrustworthy in his suit against Zuckerberg, no wonder he had such trouble making connections.


5 people like this
Posted by Safety Last
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2017 at 12:03 pm

Question: in their analysis, did the City staff understand that these "townhomes" are really designated as short-term rentals and not housing?


2 people like this
Posted by James Sagorac
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2017 at 9:02 pm

@SafetyLast Bob... My role on Su Hong development is that I am supporting any new large development and my goal is to protect the rights of developers and encourage them to pursue legal actions, raise funding from other developers when their "built by right" right is violated by city or residents while developing within the "CS Zoning" requirements BOX.

Again you need to Read this right ...Initially were 8 Town Homes as Residential but recently after ARB review they were converted to "time Shares" and will follow all requirements of a "time Share" within a Hotel Development it is just a larger place that you can rent on site. Pure Genius idea. It transforms the entire development into 100% HOTEL and No Condo Map...Eliminates TONS of concerns about "residential development" raised by ARB and PAR. Tons. Obviously, you do not like Genius Ideas you always see something wrong on anything proposed. Not constructive and nobody is trying to satisfy you.. just the zoning code.

You are wrong on Maybell...that developer asked city for Variances and for too much more. I never supported that project for this reason since they went outside the Zoning rights allowed.


I think you should stop advising on legal stuff and let the residents hire an attorney which will tell them the Los Gatos and Pleasanton court cases applies Exactly to this site as far as residents complaints specifically on Height.

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by James Sagorac
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2017 at 9:13 pm

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Safety Last
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2017 at 10:08 am

@James Sagorac,
[Portion removed.]

The reason Mr. Sagorac finds the notion of avoiding subdivision so exciting, is because subdivision allows residents to enforce zoning principles that in Palo Alto' charter city code, are only treated as suggestions and can be enforced because the Comprehensive Plan is not enforceable here. But if a property has to be subdivided, then it is possible to enforce the principles in the comp plan. What this essentially means is that Mr. Sagorac knows this proposal does not meet zoning requirements, it means it only meets the enforceable ones but not all the requirements that are only enforceable if they subdivide.

If part of the residents' concerns is environmental, if someone sues and/or threatens to sue as a means of intimidation, would SLAPP suit laws apply? I don't know Redwoods residents, but I hope they know where they can find other residents who will support them across Palo Alto. There are many in every neighbirhood and neighborhood association. [Portion removed.]

@Neighbor,
NIMBY doesn't mean "I don't want anything developed", and although you make a good point, it doesn't even mean "I don't want anything developed near my home." NIMBY was coined for the hypocrisy of people who for ideological reasons are all for certain progressive things like racial integration, low-income housing, large-scale composting, the environment/wildlife preservation and wetlands, etc, but when something is proposed near them that would support those things, they don't want them because they only want those things in principle somewhere else. Not in my backyard overtly states the hypocrisy, but it can apply equally to things that have nothing to do with urban development or are even the opposite. Someone could be a NIMBY for opposing a wetlands restoration project near them, for example, or a wolf reintroduction (which could involve habitat restoration), or any wildland restoration near them, or a composting facility, instead of a nice copascetic housing development, urban park, or shopping mall. People can even be NIMBYs about schools being built near them. It is a gross misuse of the power of the term against hypocrisy when people like the person you were responding to co-opt the term to mean "against all development". People can be against overdevelopment for all kinds of legitimate reasons. Being against development and overdevelopment are not in and of themselves NIMBYism. I hope people will remember that, because it does a disservice to those who are impacted by actual NIMBYism to corrupt the meaning that way, and thus eventually make it lose its power and meaning.



5 people like this
Posted by Safety Last
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2017 at 10:19 am

I think the really important question is why were the townhomes converted to "timeshares" after the ARB review, was it on the suggestion of anyone in the City?


2 people like this
Posted by Safety Last
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2017 at 11:25 pm

If these units will be treated as townhomes, this scheme will also have been used to avoid inclusionary housing rules. I think it is illegal to call townhomes "timeshares" in part to avoid providing the requisite below market rate units that would be required if this property were subdivided.

If the City allows this, they should put a really specific, high penalty in place should the units be treated like townhomes to discourage this kind of gaming the system,


3 people like this
Posted by saichai
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 25, 2017 at 1:06 am

Listen to all this bickering! In any other part of the country this would be considered ridiculous! I doubt anybody complaining is under 40. The younger generation are used to density and they desperately need density if palo alto is to remain a place for young families. You know the reason why the uber-rich are moving into Palo Alto? B/c you've all tried to keep the city in this bubble of time and so has the rest of the Bay Area! It's full of selfish people!

"Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." I am challenging you to look beyond your self-interest and think of the future. I know most of you are probably environmentalists and live and breathe "sustainability". Why doesn't your generation at least leave us with a decent living environment if you can't protect us from the natural environmental catastrophe that will happen in our lifetime (and that you lot caused!). This NIMBYism will only lead to sprawl (which is horrible for the environment), mega-commuting, and an unsustainable lifestyle. In conclusion, turn the redwoods into locally sourced dining tables for the millennials, some of your children no doubt.


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