News

City wins grant for crafting new vision for Fry's site

Area in Ventura neighborhood seen as one of most promising sites for housing

Palo Alto received a grant this month to create a master plan for the site around Fry's Electronics in the city's Ventura neighborhood. Weekly file photo.

After years of talking about plans to transform the area around Fry's Electronics in the Ventura neighborhood, Palo Alto officials finally have the funds to start forging the new vision.

The city received earlier this month a $638,000 grant to craft what's known as the "North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan." The grant, which is part of the One Bay Area program, aims to "develop a comprehensive planning document" for the mixed-use neighborhood close to the California Avenue Caltrain station, the city's "second downtown" around California Avenue, the El Camino corridor and the Stanford Research Park.

The planning area will be centered on (though not completely limited to) what's known as the "Fry's site," a 12.5-acre area at 340 Portage Ave. that has long been talked about as one of the most promising sites in Palo Alto for new housing.

According to the project description, potential outcomes are to "identify opportunities for transit-oriented housing and employment in a well-planned and designed mixed-use area of residential and commercial spaces."

The Fry's site currently includes about 250,000 square feet of office and research-and-development space, along with retail and warehouse. Its RM-30 zoning designation allows for multifamily housing, with a "maximum yield" of 374 housing units and a "realistic capacity" of 221 units, according to Palo Alto's Housing Element, a state-mandated document that lays out the city's vision for meeting its regional housing allocations.

Palo Alto officials have been talking about redesigning the Fry's site for well over a decade. The campus was part of the California Avenue concept plan, a multiyear, community-driven master-planning process that was reaching completion before the council opted to summarily abandon it in 2013. That plan was more expansive in scope; in addition to the Fry's site, it included the California Avenue business district and the evolving commercial area around Park Boulevard.

While the council ultimately decided that the California Avenue concept plan is -- among other factors -- too aggressive in raising the permitted commercial density, members also agreed that the city needs to directly focus on the Fry's site. Since then, the city's pursuit of a new "concept plan" has proceeded in fits and starts. In June 2015, the council took the rare step of turning down a $256,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for the new master plan after members agreed that they should first consider the broader 115-acre area around California Avenue.

At the time, Councilman Eric Filseth referred to a potential pursuit of the Fry's plan before a broader vision is adopted as "putting the cart before the horse."

Even so, the planning process has remained on the city's to-do list. The city's updated Comprehensive Plan, which the council plans to approve later this year, explicitly calls for preparing a coordinated area plan for the Fry's area.

"The plan should describe a vision for the future of the Fry's site as a walkable neighborhood with multi-family housing, ground-floor retail, a public park, creek improvements and an interconnected street grid," the draft Comprehensive Plan states. "It should guide the California Avenue area as a well-designed mixed-use district with diverse land uses and a network of pedestrian-oriented streets."

The new $638,000 grant, which Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority approved at its Sept. 7 meeting, isn't the only source of funding that the city is tapping into to pay for the master plan. City Manager James Keene, who announced the grant at the Sept. 18 council meeting, said The Sobrato Organization, which owns the property, had also agreed to provide the city a $112,000 matching fund for the design work, as well as funding for an environmental analysis associated with the plan.

Keene said he expects the planning work on the Fry's site to kick off in late fall, after the adoption of the updated Comprehensive Plan, a document that will guide the city's land-use vision until 2030. The council will still have to sign off on the grant agreement, as well a on a potential partnership with Sobrato, before the process moves ahead.

Becky Sanders, president of the Ventura Neighborhood Association, told the Weekly that she and other members of the association are "delighted" with the grant funding.

"Venturans are eager to play a part in shaping the vision for the redevelopment of the Fry's site and connecting this area to our community, we look forward to building a project that all Palo Altans can be proud of," Sanders said.

The association, she said, already has a committee looking at the Fry's property. The funding will "help us find expression for all the meetings and discussions we have already had," she said.

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Comments

10 people like this
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 12:27 pm

casey is a registered user.

Will Fry's be moving to a nearby location?


12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Does anyone still shop at Fry's? 10 years ago, the parking lot was full all day. Now days, the parking lot is always nearly empty. Most of the products that they sell are from mystery brands that I don't trust or last year's models from the major brands.


17 people like this
Posted by Terrace Antelope
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Terrace Antelope is a registered user.

RIP Fry's. Fondly remember filling 3 different shopping carts with PC parts over the years. Alas, it wont happen again. Bring in some more housing and let change happen.


44 people like this
Posted by Super
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 20, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Yay! More housing equals more traffic gridlock! Hurray! Just what we need!


41 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 1:56 pm

More jobs creates traffic and gridlock. Helping people move closer to their jobs reduces the number of miles they have to drive and thus reduces traffic.


3 people like this
Posted by The potential
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 20, 2017 at 2:22 pm

transit hub - and huge lot for cars!


32 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Jeez. Why is our perennially cash-strapped city hall so eager to trade a prime sales tax income generator for expense-producing housing?


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 20, 2017 at 6:29 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@resident...I'm of the same opinion. And also admit to being a little slow to learn. I struck out twice, the last two times I shopped there. I was looking for a scanner the first time and gray ink cartridges for my Canon multi-function printer the second time. I ended up going to Best Buy just a few blocks from my home and they had them. I'm done with Fry's.

I'm 80 years old so I don't imagine I'll live long enough to see any of the new development finished before I'm gone. But, I do have memories of shopping at Maximart many years ago. We bought lots of things there.


28 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2017 at 8:32 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

"Jeez. Why is our perennially cash-strapped city hall so eager to trade a prime sales tax income generator for expense-producing housing?"

Because they have already planned to replace that income with Hotel Alley in south PA along ECR from the border to Page Mill that will be comprised of a half dozen four story, semi-modern looking eyesores that have neither enough parking nor adequate setbacks.

They will provide frequent flyer points and comfortable $300 a night accommodations for mid level international travelers practicing the art of outsourcing, off shoring and intellectual property thievery that beats in the heart of globalization.


14 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 8:39 pm

Marie is a registered user.

I hope this is not just a way to improve Sobrato's bottom line. Any upzoning should include serious public benefits to share in their good fortune. The only public benefits that should count are extra parking, above what is required (to help reduce the existing parking deficit) and affordable housing. Anything else is just window dressing.

If the city truly wants to know parking requirements, just survey existing multifamily housing (low income and market) next to the train station and see how many people really don't have cars. Another survey that would be useful would be to see how many people in the SRO and the assisted living center near Page Mill and El Camino own cars and how many employees at the assisted living center require parking, especially given that many shifts start or end at times without any mass transit. Once we have real data, we can start coming up with realistic parking lot requirements.


4 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 20, 2017 at 9:31 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

RTD Light Rail handled this problem by elevating tracks and ( gasp ) building a parking garage to the track levels for the many nearby residents that RTD Light Rail has. For bikes, they have lockers to use.

Everything is doable


20 people like this
Posted by PABorn&Raised
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2017 at 10:00 pm

Please don't kill Fry's Electronics. I've lived here my whole life and this is the only store I feel attached to. Since being a child, it was where all of my video games came from, later it was where I bought the parts to build my first PC, and such a tech-centered community needs an establishment like this in the city. Is there nowhere else in town that can be packed denser still?


22 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2017 at 7:01 am

Why people are asking for more parking?! I lived 6 years in Hong Kong, 95% of people don't have a car there, and nobody is complaining about not having one, nor about parking! Be bold and be open minded. Car infrastructure only puts more cars on the road.


6 people like this
Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 21, 2017 at 11:02 am

A maximum of 371 units!? This is an ENORMOUS site, right by jobs, a vibrant downtown and good public transportation. The Fry's site should be replaced with a dense development that makes an example of how Palo Alto can develop. There are thousands of jobs within a short bike ride, and shuttles frequent the area.

Related, though, RIP Fry's. It's the closest I ever got the Old West :)


19 people like this
Posted by Alma Plaza
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Don't forget the air quotes around "public park". So they are not satisfied with completely ruining Cal Ave and retail in Palo Alto or making the civic assets on the north side of town amost inaccessible to half the residents who live in Hotelville, I.e. South Palo Alto, but they want to destroy the only opportunity to create walkable civic space on this side of town, especially for our youth.

Why must we accept this utterly Laissez fairs attitude toward corporate takeover of our town, of what the public built? Why must we build housing our infrastructure can't support, instead of having policies that encourage overgrown companies to move where they can grow? Facebook kindly moved instead of taking over. We don't even allow overly large grocery stores, yet we allow companies to take over our downtowns. We need to make our town safe for residents, startups, retail, and growing young people again.


9 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2017 at 12:33 pm

Annette is a registered user.

To those posters who have expressed concern about the inevitable density related issues, particularly traffic and gridlock: what am I missing? Isn't the whole point about this grant that those entrusted to handle planning now have an opportunity to do some serious, SMART planning for a large area? The City really does have to get this right b/c we cannot afford to squander the opportunity and develop the area in a way that exacerbates existing problems.

I happen to think that this should be achievable even without a grant but what the heck, what's important is the outcome.


3 people like this
Posted by Bad Dog
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 21, 2017 at 1:19 pm

Please consider putting a new trailer park there.
The demand for it is visible along El Camino, park, etc.
Buena Vista was a good start but it only benefited current residents. We need more low income options and support for a diverse economic workforce.


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 21, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Annette, you've got more faith in our planning officials and their consultants that I do.

Since we're going to be losing the sales tax revenues Fry's generates for the city, maybe the developers of the site should forced to contribute the average annual sales tax revenue to the city coffers with the proviso that the city doesn't keep raising our utility rates and inventing new fees to make up for the lost sales tax revenues.


20 people like this
Posted by Invisible Hand
a resident of another community
on Sep 21, 2017 at 1:58 pm

This is insane. How does Palo Alto think that the solution to the crippling overcrowding in parks, on streets, in schools, in stores, is.... to add more people?!?

Housing prices suck because Palo Alto and its sister cities have been encouraging job growth for years. Until housing projects like this are stopped, companies will not feel the full weight from their unabated growth in this very expensive market. And they need to.

They need to feel the pain that their already insane salaries will soon not be enough. The magic of the valley has always been about the start. The new idea, the turn, the epiphany, the launch. Want to keep HQ here? Fine. Keep your innovation centers here? Fine. But for your sake, and for sake of the rest of us, once you're on you feet, look for better pastures.

If companies really want to stay, that is fine to, just be ready to pay for it. Palo Alto needs to stop this de facto subsidization of job growth on the peninsula and begin to push for the opposite.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Barron Park

on Sep 21, 2017 at 2:51 pm

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


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

""Jeez. Why is our perennially cash-strapped city hall so eager to trade a prime sales tax income generator for expense-producing housing?"

"Because they have already planned to replace that income with Hotel Alley in south PA along ECR from the border to Page Mill that will be comprised of a half dozen four story, semi-modern looking eyesores that have neither enough parking nor adequate setbacks."

Jeez. You'd think a sane city government would want BOTH revenue sources.


"To those posters who have expressed concern about the inevitable density related issues, particularly traffic and gridlock: what am I missing?"

You're missing quintessential city hall logic. It goes like this: Traffic is already carmageddon in the area, so adding more traffic cannot possibly make it worse.


12 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 21, 2017 at 5:12 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

"You're missing quintessential city hall logic. It goes like this: Traffic is already carmageddon in the area, so adding more traffic cannot possibly make it worse."

In addition, city hall might also be confounded by those pesky serfs, I mean residents, who still continue to use personal cars in any fashion. Any good socialist knows that cars and dachas are reserved only for the apparatchik.

If they can just gridlock the traffic a little more then the populace will be forced to walk, ride bicycles, take Uber or simply stay home and wait for drone deliveries.

To the Liberal Progressive mindset, waiting in queues is a virtue for the masses regardless of whether it be in bread lines, traffic lights or around the block of Apple stores for the latest gadget.


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 21, 2017 at 7:17 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Sanctimonious City, I was right there with you until your phrase "the Liberal Progressive mindset" which seems to be ignoring what's going on in DC these days.

What you're describing defies political labels and many political affiliations are meaningless opportunistic gestures.


11 people like this
Posted by Just housing
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 21, 2017 at 7:28 pm

I would love this to ge just or primarily housing with a small amount of retail. We do NOT need any more commercial buildings in Palo Alto. Our problem is more too many jobs than not enough housing. I would also love to see rhe ABAG include any town that houses an officer, board member or investor of a local company be required to have affordable housing (locally that would mean Woodside, Portola Valley, Atherton, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills).


12 people like this
Posted by No downsides to density
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 21, 2017 at 7:53 pm

No downsides to density is a registered user.

There was a show on NPR this morning about the cost of housing in California, and no one (the experts or the callers) seemed to acknowledge any downside to housing as many people in the state as we can. They said that zoning is something you need to work around, or push to change, and there was no discussion of why that zoning might be there in the first place. Anyone who wants to retain lower-density residential neighborhoods in desirable areas was characterized as a NIMBY, and not in keeping with the times. It was eye-opening. I would have called in, but didn't know how. I don't understand why our elected representatives keep insisting that we live with more and more crowding, noise, traffic, etc.


16 people like this
Posted by AP
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2017 at 9:03 pm

1. Build a wall around the entire site.
2. In the center, build three, 10 story apartment buildings and three, 10 story condo buildings for sale. The first 2 floors on each building will be for low income people, with progressively higher prices as you go up in floors. These 6 buildings will house at least 20,000 people (including all the children living in the micro condos/apartments).
3. Assign a new Palo Alto zip code to Fryville.
4. Build new elementary, middle, and high schools in the 7th 10 story building.
5. Build an 8th 10 story building to house all the jobs that the residents will work at. Google, Facebook, Oracle, etc, will have branches in the 10 story building.
6. The 9th, and final 10 story building will house a mega food store, department store, hardware store, and all other stores for large purchases. All other goods will be ordered through and delivered by Amazon.
7. Many Pros: A) the expanded Palo Alto will satisfy the regional mandate for more housing in Palo Alto. B) No parking lots will be needed since the residents will have no reasons to venture beyond the wall in a car. But if they do, they can use the train station a few blocks away to visit SF, or call Uber/Lyft to visit other places off the train line. C) No additional cars in the city, so will reduce carbon emissions per resident of Palo Alto. D) Residents of Fryville will have the prestigious Palo Alto zip code and access to the internationally famous educational system. E) water will not be wasted on grass, drip irrigation only for the natural weeds to grow. F) the pro-business city council members will have the opportunity to reward their developer friends, and increase their self worth by bringing more people to the city.


11 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2017 at 9:44 pm

"I don't understand why our elected representatives keep insisting that we live with more and more crowding, noise, traffic, etc."

Extrapolate the local scandal at Web Link to the county and state level, and you'll have your answer. They're paid co-conspirators with the development interests that stand to make make mucho money by trashing sacrificial towns like Palo Alto, while themselves living in their de facto safe zones: Woodside, Atherton, Portola Valley, ... .


8 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2017 at 1:04 am

@Curmudgeon,

Your are correct. It's not just the PACC that has been corrupted by real-estate developer money. The corrupt Palo Alto council members are supported by a party hierarchy of county supervisors, congressional representatives,state senators, etc, that have also been corrupted by real-estate developer money. The real political power in the Bay Area is in San Francisco and San Fancisco is even worse than Palo Alto. Diane Feinsteins's husband is a billionaire real-estate developer and Nancy Pelosi's husband is a multi-millionaire real-estate financier.

NPR is just towing the party line by giving pro-development voices a exclusive platform.


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

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