Newly hired consultant to shepherd Ventura plan

City commissions firm Perkins+Will to work on North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan

Palo Alto's effort to re-imagine a 60-acre section of the Ventura neighborhood is set to kick off in earnest in September, when the city's newly hired consultant and freshly appointed citizens group hold their first meeting on the ambitious project.

The City Council approved on June 25 a $769,068 contract with the firm Perkins + Will, which will lead the 18-month effort to develop the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan, a blueprint for redeveloping a section of the city that officials believe is ripe for change. Located just south of the California Avenue Business District, the area includes a parcel known as the Fry's site (named after tenant Fry's Electronics), a commercial campus that city planners believe can accommodate more than 200 housing units.

The new plan is also expected to include proposals for making Ventura a more "walkable" neighborhood, with ground-floor retail, a public park and creek improvements, according to the city.

In securing the contract, Perkins + Will beat out three other firms, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment. The firm will work with five sub-consultants, which will be focused, respectively, on transportation, community engagement, economics, civil engineering and environmental impacts.

In selecting Perkins + Will, Palo Alto staff pointed to the firm's experience in formulating similar land-use plans. The firm has also worked on Menlo Park's Downtown and El Camino Real Specific Plan and on the Downtown Concord Specific Plan. It is now in the midst of putting together the Downtown San Mateo Specific Plan and the Tasman East Specific Plan in the city of Santa Clara.

In May, the council appointed a 14-member working group to work with staff, the consultants and the city's various boards and commissions on the new plan.

For the Palo Alto City Council, the formation of the Ventura plan is the most ambitious neighborhood-focused planning exercise since the creation of the South of Forest Avenue (SOFA) plan nearly two decades ago. Spurred by the relocation of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the two-phased SOFA plan created new standards for retail and other types of development in the downtown area and prompted the creation of Heritage Park.

Since then, the city had since pursued "concept area plans" in the East Meadow Circle area and around the California Avenue Business District. Neither of these plans was ultimately adopted by the council.

The Ventura plan is funded largely through a grant from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which authorized a $638,000 grant for the exercise in September. The Sobrato Organization, which owns the Fry's site, has also contributed $250,000 for the effort, of which $138,000 is allocated for environmental analysis.

The funding agreement requires that the project be completed no later than June 2020, according to the staff report.


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13 people like this
Posted by NN
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 11, 2018 at 9:34 pm

To make Ventura a more "walkable" neighborhood, you can start by having sidewalks on Park that aren't constantly closed or obstructed by construction.

20 people like this
Posted by It's Developer Giveaways, Just Renamed
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2018 at 3:16 am

As in a low-budget horror movie series, Palo Alto's evil PC (Planned Community) can never be truly killed but keeps coming back, again and again. In this installment, it's called a "Coordinated Area Plan," as if that slyly different wording is enough to make you not notice it's exactly the same as a PC: promise residents a few paltry benefits while handing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of extra profits to developers.

Recall that pro-growth council members have or are being investigated for illegal campaign contributions from big-money developers.

So what will happen this time? Perhaps we'll be told this plan will create a wondrous minipark or an exciting new boutique shopping area. It may promise to add a much-needed path or maybe a community room. But then the developer will sorrowfully insist that doesn't "pencil out" unless the city lets it add much more office space or exceed height limits or cut back on parking. The traffic impacts will be "unavoidable," but all that will be ignored when a few fawning residents show up to praise the developer for "working so hard."

But once it's built, people will be horrified to see that the huge promised benefits turn out to be minor or non-existent while the negative impacts of the massive new buildings are worse than anyone imagined. The inevitable increases in density, traffic, and parking problems will hurt us forever.

We're just like the new victims in each successive installment in a horror movie franchise. We never, never learn!

13 people like this
Posted by Citizens
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2018 at 9:50 am

What you say is so true. If we are talking anout learning from it, what we know is that citizens will have to be the ones to ensure it doesn’t unfold as you have described. Promises need to have real tangible teeth without citizens having to be enforcers.

Start organizing your fellow citizens now. It will be possible to referend any ordinance and to create initiatives more in line with what citizens want. There are many allies around town, but someone has to start the ball rolling and connect people. It is time for a citizen response to Correy Wohlbach s astroturf developer-water-carrying PAF. The lesson is, stop waiting for someone else to do it and stop waiting for the worst to hapoen because you clearly know what will happen from your post.

As for the misleading of the public in the developer campaign contributions, many residents will support a recall of those who did. The time is now. If you can, start the petition yourself. If you can’t, talk in the community until you find someone who can.

Citizens should have learned that they have always had the power to fix it. But it will take involvement. And read Ender’s Game. Residents must take a longterm stand, not just keep playing defense.

11 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 12, 2018 at 11:01 am

Please stop building housing in our area that no one can afford to live in. Give us diner on the stretch of El Camino Real between El Camino Way and Fernando Ave instead.

10 people like this
Posted by It needs to be a park!
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2018 at 12:32 pm

The citizen working group that was appointed by the pro-growth majority on city council wants to stack this area with massive developments to line the pockets of developers. We need to stop them.

Residents need to fight back and demand a very large park and dedicated Palo Alto worker housing in this area.

Palo Alto is woefully short on park space that is easy to reach inside the city boundaries. We can drive to Foothills or the Baylands but we don't have many large usable parks that kids and adults can walk and bike to easily in town.

We have added thousands of new residents but haven't added the called for park space that the newly adopted comprehensive plan calls for. We are dozens of acres short on park space for the population of the city. We need more playing fields, more courts for games and more green space for exercise and breathing room. This will take up most of this land if we are smart about it. We don't have a lot of large parcels left to really use for the good of the community.

We also need housing that is dedicated to city workers who are not rich. These properties should be deed restricted to city workers (like Stanford property only for their employees) and when they leave the city job they more out. It needs to be for the middle income people. Not the rich.

Please call or write or protest to city council (once they are back in session in August) for a large park and housing that is not sky-blocking and dedicated to the workers of the community. Also remember that developers win because they stay in the game longer and wear everyone else down. They will drag this out for a year or two and when people have stopped complaining they will be in front of city council saying - look no one is protesting our plan for massive development (that will make us a fortune and house rich people). They are sneaky and persistent and they have allies on the council who support massive development.

When you vote in November - vote for reasonable city council candidates who don't want to turn every inch of open space into a 100 foot tall building.

11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2018 at 1:46 pm

Let's learn from the latest installment of this horror franchise in College Terrace: never believe the developer's promises. Never. Don't trust the developers: verify every single thing. Anticipate what will happen if something goes to court. What happens if the developer reneges? Any legal agreements have to be vetted by super-genious lawyers, just like the lawyers the developers will hire to weasel out of anything inconvenient. If we, the voting public, trust the developers to do the right thing, we will have only ourselves to blame.

Like this comment
Posted by a careful reading
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2018 at 2:49 pm

Shepards should be a full-time position, not consultant. Here or in Ventura.

11 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 12, 2018 at 3:57 pm

"appointed citizens group"

The original Fry's site planning group was long on various interests but short on residents. Fortunately some members of the public noticed, and council expanded the the group to include two or three actual residents. Including a token representative from the adjacent neighborhood.

Which is exactly what happened when the city manager recommended appointments to the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee. Long on representatives from various interest groups but short on citizens to represent residents and neighborhoods.

9 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2018 at 6:17 pm

I salute anon/another Palo Alto neighborhood’s post! Well said.
We went through this in the lovely Duveneck neighborhood with the company that re-developed Edgewood Shopping Center and reneged on providing a permanent grocery. Thankfully, there has now been one the past 6 months, and I certainly hope they will stay, but know this developer got $30M upfront from building homes as part of their special deal with the city....that was to also provide our neighborhood with a grocery (which it historically HAD at that exact spot but which the developer clearly wasn’t interested in....) what a struggle this was - for years.
Edgewood Shopping Center is thriving, thankfully.
But I worry for other neighborhoods - like Ventura.

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