Palo Alto plots new vision for Ventura | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto plots new vision for Ventura

City Council to move ahead with the city's first 'concept area plan' in 15 years

For Palo Alto, a city that savors startups and hungers for housing, the Ventura neighborhood is truly a land of opportunity.

Located just east of El Camino Real and just south of Page Mill Road, the neighborhood features a diverse array of housing types, retail establishments and tech companies, as well as the city's largest land-use wildcard: the 12.5-acre commercial campus that includes Fry's Electronics and that city officials see as ripe for change.

The City Council took a critical step toward facilitating this change on Monday night, when it unanimously voted to move ahead with a "concept area plan" for a 39-acre portion of the neighborhood. Over the next year-and-a-half, city officials, residents, business owners will propose, debate and ultimately select their preferred land uses for the North Ventura area.

With its vote, the council finalized the physical boundaries for the area; accepted a $638,000 grant from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and $250,000 from The Sobrato Organization (which owns the Fry's site) for the planning exercise; adopted its goals for the concept area plan; and approved the creation of a new working group that will steer the process forward.

For Palo Alto officials, the planning exercise represents both an opportunity for new development and a sharp break from the city's typical planning process. The city hasn't moved ahead with an exercise of this sort since the 1990s, when it launched its two-phase concept plan for the South of Forest Avenue area (the second phase was approved in 2003).

The Ventura plan got off on a hopeful note, with council members, planning staff and residents all channeling excitement for exploring new opportunities for Ventura. Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said staff is at the beginning of "what will hopefully be a fruitful and satisfying planning effort." Senior Planner Elena Lee, who will be managing the effort, called the new plan "a very exciting opportunity to proactively plan for a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood around one of the largest underutilized housing sites in Palo Alto."

Housing will almost certainly be a key feature of the Ventura plan. The Fry's site has about 250,000 square feet of commercial and research-and-development space. At the same time, its zoning designation, RM-30, could accommodate a maximum of 374 housing units (or a "realistic capacity" of 221 units, according to staff). As such, it is the most promising site in Palo Alto's housing inventory, a portion of the Housing Element that lists properties that can accommodate housing.

Yet housing isn't the plan's only objective. The project's other goals include creating well-defined connections to transit, pedestrian and bicycle facilities; a connected street grid that fills in sidewalk gaps and street connections to the California Avenue Business District; new community facilities and infrastructure; and urban-design strategies that "strengthen and support the neighborhood fabric."

The council also agreed Monday that the new plan should minimize displacement of existing residents and small businesses -- particularly the startups that dot the neighborhood.

Most of the heavy lifting on the new plan will be done by the working group, which the council plans to appoint later this spring. The group will include residents, business owners, at least one property owner and representatives from the Planning and Transportation Commission, the Architectural Review Board and the Parks and Recreation Commission.

The city will also invite representatives from Palo Alto Unified School District, the Youth Council and Stanford University to serve in advisory, non-voting roles.

If things go as planned, the group will be appointed this spring and will start meeting in June, with the goal of completing the planning exercise by December 2019.

Rebecca Parker-Mankey, who lives in the neighborhood, said hopes to take part in the group. The new plan, she said, gives the city a chance to prove that it's able to make real progress on housing -- a key issue at a time when California lawmakers are weighing new laws to spur housing construction. She likened Palo Alto to "a teenager who can't control video game usage" and the state Legislature to a parent threatening to intervene.

"It's time for us to address the housing issue on our terms," Parker-Mankey said. "We need to show that we can get our homework done, we can do our chores and we don't need our parent chastising us."

Becky Sanders, moderator of the Ventura Neighborhood Association, suggested that Ventura residents get more representation on the board (the roster, as approved by the council, would include two residents from the plan area and two more from the greater Ventura neighborhood).

"The purpose of a concept area plan is to give the residents -- and other stakeholders -- a meaningful voice in decisions that affect their neighborhoods," Sanders said. "So why are we given so paltry a standing in the working group?"

The only area of disagreement on the council was over boundaries. The proposed district is roughly bound by Page Mill Road to the northwest, Lambert Street to the southeast, Alma Street to the northeast and a jagged line that runs through the middle of several blocks near Ash Street to the southwest. Councilman Greg Tanaka and Councilwoman Karen Holman agreed that the line should be straightened by making Ash as the district's southwestern boundary -- a motion that passed 6-3, with Vice Chair Eric Filseth, Councilman Greg Scharff and Councilman Adrian Fine dissenting.

Fine also made a case for extending the border to El Camino Real. Though no one objected to this idea, Gitelman said this revision is significant enough to potentially require fresh approval from the VTA. The council directed staff to consult with the funding agency and, if there are objections, to drop this proposal.

In general, the council was unified in its enthusiasm for launching the 18-month exercise. Cory Wolbach said he is excited to start the planning process and Mayor Liz Kniss said she hopes it will be as successful as the SOFA I and SOFA II plans. Fine said he wants to see North Ventura as a "forward-thinking district," a place where the city can embrace new technologies, construction methods and policies.

"We're giving ourselves a bit of a canvas to look at the community and draw the kind of district we want to see in the future," Fine said.

Related content:

Webcast: New vision for Ventura, housing proposals

As redevelopment looms, one homeowner stands firm


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13 people like this
Posted by Susan Monk
a resident of University South
on Mar 6, 2018 at 4:30 am

Looking forward to a collaborative effort that encompasses input from a broad array of stakeholders as well as making some progress towards our regional housing obligation. According to staff on Monday night, we’re sorely behind - at only 20%.

12 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 6, 2018 at 4:55 am

Finally! This is a great location for housing and mixed use. I am excited to see the working group pound out a specific plan.

20 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2018 at 7:26 am

look out below! Poor Ventura...

5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2018 at 7:29 am

A map would be helpful, because of the southwestern boundary question.

This will be a big test for the city. Will this actually be about housing, or, will more office space be included, putting the city further behind in housing?

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2018 at 8:14 am

<< the new plan should minimize displacement of existing residents and small businesses >> So what happens to those who own homes in the area? Is this possibly going to be another "Milk Pail" scenario?

9 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2018 at 9:06 am

Posted by Eric Rosenblum, a resident of Downtown North

>> Finally! This is a great location for housing and mixed use.

By "mixed use" do you mean (housing +) retail and end-user services (e.g. dentists), or, are you referring to more tech development offices? Because, if you are, that will sink the city further into housing debt with the state/ABAG.

40 people like this
Posted by Bonnie
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 6, 2018 at 9:11 am

I hope the residents of Ventura are not expected or pressured into sacrificing their neighborhood to try to make up for the entire city's lack of home building. Ventura should not have to shoulder that burden only because other neighborhoods successfully kept it out and Ventura is the "last place left" so lets throw all height, density, and open space requirements out the window we have a housing crisis! Ventura residents deserve the public open space and community space that is severely lacking in their community. Be strong Ventura. Going in with an open mind not demanding much is how you end up with a "public park" that has a maximum capacity of 1 Chiwawa and a "community center" the size of a broom closet you have to pay by the hour to use.

3 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2018 at 12:25 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by bikermom
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 6, 2018 at 1:15 pm

poor ventura is right

11 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 6, 2018 at 1:36 pm

I'm looking forward to this. Not a huge fan of whats there now and I am not going to assume the worst. I'm going to stay positive until there's something real to be upset about.

26 people like this
Posted by Leave Fry's alone
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 6, 2018 at 1:55 pm

LEAVE THE FRY'S STORE where it is.
We need at least one real electronic store in this town. Not everything can be gleamed from shopping sites' online pages.

1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 6, 2018 at 4:41 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Leave Fry's alone

I was upset when Red Johnson's disappeared. And Maximart. Time moves on. Best Buy serves all my needs and I can walk to it. You need to explore all of SPA, as far down as San Antonio Rd. Good shopping oppurtunities here without down town traffic madness.

20 people like this
Posted by this is nuts
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2018 at 8:42 pm

@ Gale Johnson
So you can walk to Best Buy. That's great. Obviously your minority position is FAR more important than the vast majority of people who can't do that. And if you think San Antonio doesn't have madness - you haven't been there recently.

As for this entire project in general: Just what we need - more traffic and congestion. Have you ever tried getting from Park to Page Mill NB on a weekday afternoon? Imagine what it'll be like when the new complex on Park is occupied and then compounded by this plan for the Ventura neighborhood.

And one thing I've never understood: there's not enough water now. We're currently looking at a resumption of the drought. Where are all these new occupants supposed to get water? Or are they taking the same old tack about how all the current residents have to buckle down so some real estate developers can make a pile.

19 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2018 at 10:30 pm

God help Ventura residents now that the Palo Alto city government has targeted the Ventura neighborhood for "planning".

Watch out for gigantic developer giveaways and the liquidation and conversion of every conceivable community asset into developer wealth.

The orgy of predatory capitalism will be applauded by the Palo Alto haters and the cultural Marxists who see the "development" process as a means to achieve their workers utopia by reducing every community to the lowest common denominator.

7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 6, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

How does eliminating Fry's sync with the recent CC resolutions that state that PA is an fine place for technology companies? Have people forgotten Silicon Valley's roots and do they expect us to drive down to the Fry's further south in Santa Clara?

Yes, leave Fry's alone. Support the CC resolution that PA supports technology,

15 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2018 at 8:01 am

Lacking information on what is -really- being planned behind closed doors, I'm -speculating- that the "highest and best use" of that land dictates that is priced in a way that already assumes major office, rather than pure housing. The result will be that it is "uneconomic" to develop pure housing, "requiring" major office space "to pay for" the supposedly subsidized housing. Resulting in a further "jobs/housing imbalance", to be rectified in the next project, which will dig the city in even deeper.

The only solution to this is: No more office space.

If the property is restricted to housing only, then, it will be valued accordingly, and, market forces will work. If office space is allowed, then the land will be valued accordingly, and, the jobs/housing imbalance will only get worse over time.

No more office space.

25 people like this
Posted by We want a park!
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2018 at 6:49 pm

This entire area should be zoned to give back to Palo Alto residents. A large park, playing fields, community gym and activity space should take precedence over everything else.

This city ignores residents while it destroys our quality of life by cramming more people and businesses in. We are woefully short on the park space that is called for in the comprehensive plan (even the watered down version that was just adopted).

Don't let the city build any thing else until they can provide for the people who already live here.

Write your city council that you want a park and fields not more congestion, cars and overpriced homes that just make everything worse for those who live here.

2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 7, 2018 at 8:54 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@this is nuts

I was actually thinking of stores at Charleston Plaza and the Costco area, not the Carmel Village area. That area IS madness, but The Milk Pail is a success story. I used to do some shopping at Fry's but one time, when they didn't have ink cartridges for my printer, a young worker there suggested going to Best Buy. I did and I've been going there ever since. REI and Bed Bath and Beyond are located there also. OSH is just up the street a little ways.

9 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 8, 2018 at 1:29 pm

ABAG, et all, appear to be forcing cities on the peninsula to build on transportation sites. Sounds like a good idea until you look at the SF city and the garbage and waste of livable buildings that litter the place. And now they are going to shut down access to the BART at stations that have too many homeless people. It is time that the major cities are forced to clean up their locations and tear down run-down buildings and replace with livable buildings. It is time that they clean up the BART situation so it can be used at all locations. Bottom line is that they are not solving the problems that you read about in the papers every day so in order to look like they are doing something they are coming down the peninsula and strong-arming everyone. The next time the ABAG people come around ask them what they are doing to clean up the major cities so that existing sites already built on can be fixed up to house more people. And clean up all of the BART locations so there is access at all locations.

13 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2018 at 8:56 pm


You nailed it. Bingo!

Regional cooperation means domination by San Francisco. Our local elected democrats are more loyal to the powerful San Francisco politicians that dominate the party, and the "regional" development strategy that favors San Francisco, than their own constituents.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 9, 2018 at 7:18 am

[Post removed; off topic.]

16 people like this
Posted by Proto-typer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2018 at 3:30 pm


What you fail to realize is that Fry's is on a completely different level from Best Buy. At Fry's you can buy the raw electronic components, specialty tools, blank circuit boards, and other parts to create your own totally new devices. It is like a store for the Maker Faire. All the local High School robotics clubs will have to drive to other Fry's locations.

That is what will be lost when it goes away.

Palo Alto also used to have a lot of people on the cutting edge of new device development. They too are fading away. Now everyone is just doing "Apps" and other software. Remember when the Groupon building was occupied by Danger, Inc? They developed the Sidekick device.

4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 10, 2018 at 10:50 am

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Yes, you're right. I was thinking of the common electronic consumer products, not down to the component level. I guess people missed, or didn't understand, my first comment where I referred to 'Red Johnson's'. You'd have to be an old hobbyist like I was. 'Red' carried components, but they were loose in boxes and you had to know the color code for resistors. That's where I went for 6AU6's. Now your going to ask me what that is, right? Well, young feller, back in the day they had what we called vacuum tubes. You can 'google' it to learn more about it. Also, back in the day 'google' was just a very big number. A lot of things were different back in the day. lol!

And Best Buy is not a candy or magazine store either. And if Fry's would have had the ink cartridges I needed I'd still be going there.

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