News

Housing proposal looks to aid the developmentally disabled

Community members advocate for more support of Palo Alto Housing projects

Per Maresca didn't let his disability get in the way of his independence.

Maresca, who has high-functioning autism, has spent the past year working at Residence Inn by Marriott. And at a time when young professionals are finding it nearly impossible to find affordable housing, he was able to secure a studio with developmental disabilities support in Mountain View thanks to assistance from nonprofit Housing Choices.

"Having my own place means I could build my own independent life, I still have my parents' support," Maresca, who just turned 27, said at a Thursday community meeting in Palo Alto. "I make meals, I take care of household tasks, I started going to a creative writing class which I absolutely love."

Maresca was addressing a room full of residents and housing advocates in the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, where officials from the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing, which develops affordable housing, and Housing Choices, which advocates for residents with developmental disabilities, offered information about the latest proposal to address the unique housing challenges of disabled individuals: A 59-unit development at 3709 El Camino Real that would have at least 15 units dedicated to adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Palo Alto is home to 460 people with developmental disabilities, according to Housing Choices. Of 216 who are adults, only 40 are living in own apartment, with the rest living in the homes of their parents. Housing for the developmentally disabled is sparse. Jan Stokley, executive director of Housing Choices, said her organization's mission is to allow people with developmental disabilities to "live in the community with a network of support."

"We need a whole community to understand and get on board. It doesn't happen accidentally — it happens because we're intentional," Stokley said at the meeting.

While affordable housing units for the developmentally disabled are identical to regular affordable housing units, services will include living support for each disabled individual to maintain housing, do routine check-ins, provide career advice and help with living skills.

In an interview with the Weekly, Maresca said his favorite part of living independently is constantly being surrounded by friends, who have come to "feel like close family." After the end of a work week, he goes to the mall, goes bowling or plays miniature golf with his group of friends.

Many parents of disabled children in Palo Alto are worried that as they get older, their children aren't able to be on their own. Most of those in attendance Thursday night were middle-aged or older.

"It's crucial for people like my son to learn to live independently. For those of us aging, we only have a couple of years," Maresca's mother and longtime Palo Alto resident Linnea Wickstrom said. "Like all other young adults they want to live independently, and they need to learn how to do that."

Wickstrom said those with disabilities "need affordable housing for the long haul," adding that many of these individuals are already active members of the community who have jobs and engage in many local activities.

Hoping to address commonly raised concerns about the impacts of new housing developments — namely, traffic and parking — she emphasized that residents rely on public transit for almost all of their activities. Even when support staff makes visits, they are only there for several hours during the day, freeing the parking spaces at night, she said.

Wickstrom said she wants her son to be able to move back to Palo Alto where he was born and raised.

The Thursday meeting in Palo Alto was part of a broader effort by Palo Alto Housing and Housing Choices to boost community awareness and engagement with the two projects in Palo Alto and Mountain View, in hopes to see the El Camino Real project through to development.

To date, there have been some signs of progress. In September, the city's Planning and Transportation Commission approved the zone change needed for the project to advance. Despite the small victory, however, a long road lays ahead. Palo Alto Housing's new CEO Randy Tsuda said it can take up to four or five years to see it through to occupancy.

If the Architectural Review Board passes the proposal at its next meeting on Dec. 6, the project will come before the City Council early next year. The development needs to go through design, planning, architectural review, often up to three times. Throughout, the group expects to face pushback from residents about issues from traffic to parking to simply fear of the unknown.

"It is a true commitment, a mission and a labor of love," Tsuda told the attendees.

On his second day on the job, he stood in front of the room, firmly expressing his optimism and excitement about the project, saying he wants to "keep them in (the city), keep them close to friends and family."

The Wilton Court project is Palo Alto Housing's first attempt to develop in the city since 2013, when voters passed a resident-led referendum that pushed the brakes on a proposed housing development on Maybell Avenue. That proposal, which included 60 units for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes, received unanimous City Council support before getting turned down the voters.

"We had a surprise referendum which was on Maybell — which was the proposal close to the fire station that would've put up 60 below-, moderate-units for seniors," Mayor Liz Kniss explained. "Perfect site, done well, and it was referended."

Since then, Palo Alto Housing has focused its efforts on neighboring cities such as Redwood City and Mountain View, where a residential community planned at 950 W. El Camino Real would also offer units for those with developmental disabilities.

Now, the group is preparing to return to its hometown to help address what every member of the City Council acknowledges to be a pressing priority: the city's significant housing shortage. In February, the City Council set a goal of creating 300 units every year through 2030, but the city hasn't met half its goal with the year nearly over.

Those attending the Thursday meeting, which included city officials and many Palo Alto parents of those with disabilities, spoke personally on the dire need for more housing in the city catered to its disabled population. Together, they tried to flesh out potential fears the community may have about these types of housing projects.

Gita Dedek, a longtime resident of Old Palo Alto, also wants housing in Palo Alto for her daughter with high-functioning autism who volunteers and sells art to local restaurants.

"In Palo Alto, she can walk everywhere. It's her community," she said. "For her to move to Sunnyvale or somewhere else, it'd be heartbreaking. Her friends are here."

One parent from Barron Park who declined to give her name said there needs to be more association between the people Palo Alto residents see every day at local businesses and around town, and the people who would be moving into these housing projects.

Housing projects for the developmentally disabled are deducted from corporate taxes, housing fees collected by the city and other resources such as the recently passed propositions 1 and 2 that set aside $6 billion for veterans' and homeless' affordable housing, respectively.

Katie Talbot, a parent of a Paly student with autism, asked Kniss if in-lieu fees are available for use toward these types of projects. These are fees that developers are required to pay to support the city's affordable-housing program.

"Does the city have any leftover in lieu fees they can shake out? Should we be making noise about that?"

In order not to prevent another "Maybell incident," the two organizations have been holding neighborhood meetings in the Ventura neighborhood, introducing themselves to every household on Wilton Court, inviting neighbors to tour their treehouse project and trying to get neighbors to see what could be on the site way ahead of time.

"It has taken moving heaven and earth to make this happen," Kniss said. "The night we vote, please show up."

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Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Yes!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 20, 2018 at 8:33 am

Yes! I am all for it <3


8 people like this
Posted by I agree with Inclusive Affordable Housing
a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2018 at 10:03 am

This project is so important for people with developmental disabilities! Keep up the GREAT work, Palo Alto!


6 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2018 at 11:52 am

Sorry, but for all of the benefits, the Palo Alto Housing Project on El Camino between Wilton and Curtner is much too dense, has too little parking and should include ground floor retail.

Palo Alto Housing and the City are doing everyone a disservice by pushing this out of scale development on the Ventura neighborhood. Of course the meeting took place at the Mitchell Park Library, miles from the actual development site. The City has no community meeting space in our part of town.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2018 at 11:59 am

I'm fine with it-- as long as no one who lives there, works there, or visits there uses Wilton Street for parking.

In the real world, this development is underparked and will have parking that is slow and awkward to get to. So, people will use Wilton if spaces are available nearby.


2 people like this
Posted by Monroe
a resident of Monroe Park
on Nov 20, 2018 at 12:18 pm

This is a great housing opportunity not only for the developmentally disabled, but for people who work in our community every day, earning up to $50-$75,000 a year in schools, medical offices, stores. We all depend on these members of our community and need to make space for them.


1 person likes this
Posted by Michael Underwood
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 20, 2018 at 12:39 pm

Housing for individuals with disabilities is a pressing need in the community. With that said, the idea that there are only 460 individuals with developmental disabilities in Palo Alto is ridiculous. That would indicate that only 0.6% of the population of Palo Alto has a developmental disability. The CDC reports: "During 2014–2016, the prevalence of children aged 3–17 years who had ever been diagnosed with a developmental disability increased from 5.76% to 6.99%." The idea that Palo Alto has less than 10% that national average of individuals with developmental disabilities is not creating an accurate representation of this problem. I am delighted to see that the community is taking some steps to increase housing availability for individuals with special needs, however this problem requires many more resources than are currently being allotted.

The work of organizations like housing choices and life services alternatives (Web Link) are doing wonderful work to improve the lives of people with special needs.


12 people like this
Posted by PA Inequality
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 20, 2018 at 12:47 pm

Economic disabilities should also be acknowledged and provided for.

Struggling millennials and the homeless ought to get cost-effective housing options as well.


6 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 20, 2018 at 1:33 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I wish I had more confidence in the people entrusted to improve our built environment so that it meets the needs of the various communities. A recent report about BART's plans to add a bore under the bay in order to meet future ridership demand touched on a huge problem that is not being addressed: our failure to truly acknowledge infrastructure shortcomings and what they mean (or should mean) via-a-vis planning. In the SF/BART example, SF plans to add more jobs (I think the report said 40,000) so BART wants to be able to get those people to work. Good idea. But where are all the newcomers going to live? And park? And get medical care? And go to school? What about the increased demand on utilities such as water, electricity, garbage, the sewage system? What's the plan for accommodating all that?

Adding housing for the disabled and low income residents is laudable, but we must begin to ask what we must forfeit in order to achieve that w/o creating more problems. We cannot have our cake and eat it too. Those days are over. We over-indulged our appetite for commercial building and now we have to make hard choices. We also have to think full picture. Single factor decision making only makes problems worse.

I question if we have the right people legislating and planning. Especially those who are tenured. If they are so all-fired smart and right and effective, wouldn't at least some things be improving at least a little?


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 20, 2018 at 3:03 pm

While Palo Alto Housing builds, it squeezes out investment in market-rate housing that continues to put housing out of reach for the majority of the population.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 20, 2018 at 5:53 pm

How does this euphemistically disguised asylum address our crying need for workforce housing?


1 person likes this
Posted by Leora
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 20, 2018 at 6:44 pm

This is a wonderful proposal. As a Palo Alto resident, I'm very supportive of this building. We need homes like this in Palo Alto!


Like this comment
Posted by @Annette
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2018 at 1:24 am

"Adding housing for the disabled and low income residents is laudable, but we must begin to ask what we must forfeit in order to achieve that w/o creating more problems. We cannot have our cake and eat it too. Those days are over."

Unless Prop 13 was suddenly repealed last night, you're literally face first into that cake while wondering if more housing for the disabled is going too far.

Golly gee, you mean you might just have to suffer not having that extra housing built? What a sacrifice for you to make. I'm sure those disabled folks who need affordable housing will understand.


3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 21, 2018 at 7:04 am

Annette is a registered user.

To @Annette - I don't think Prop 13 is the root of the problem that I think is not getting sufficient attention, but I guess I was not clear enough. When development is approved it should be for what we need most, not what we need least. I applaud the plan to build the kind of housing that is proposed. In fact, we should have started down that path before now.

What I think we have to at least begin to do is acknowledge that we cannot go forward building everything we want to build b/c we have essentially built ourselves into a corner. We have some serious infrastructure shortcomings to address. I think those entrusted with planning responsibility need to make sure that all growth is smart and sustainable. If we look at the obvious circulation problem as a bellwether or as our "central nervous system" it doesn't take much imagination to see what's in store if we continue to ignore certain realities.


16 people like this
Posted by Pro/Con Prop 13
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 21, 2018 at 8:40 am

> Unless Prop 13 was suddenly repealed last night...

Prop 13 should be repealed for commercial businesses and retained for residential property owners.

Landlords who owned their properties prior to 1978 should be renting their apartments, duplexes, cottages et al at 1976 rates (not the current rental rates) as they are still paying the minimal in property taxes. Charging excessive rent is based on pure greed and contributes greatly to the displacement of older PA residents.


8 people like this
Posted by repeal Prop 13 loopholes
a resident of Barron Park School
on Nov 21, 2018 at 9:30 am

>> Prop 13 should be repealed for commercial businesses and retained for residential property owners.

At the least, remove the loopholes for commercial property. But the argument is always: "you're trying to kick Grandma out of her house!"

It's a very well funded opposition.


8 people like this
Posted by R.Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 21, 2018 at 10:03 am

R.Davis is a registered user.

QUOTE: Prop 13 should be repealed for commercial businesses and retained for residential property owners.

Agreed. That would be the first step and a sound one.

QUOTE: At the least, remove the loopholes for commercial property. But the argument is always: "you're trying to kick Grandma out of her house!"

The last time I checked, Grandma isn't residing in a commercial or industrial site.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2018 at 10:46 am

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North

>> How does this euphemistically disguised asylum address our crying need for workforce housing?

For people who want to learn a little more about people with disabilities in our midst, here is a nice report designed for exactly that purpose:

Web Link

I have no problem with facilities designed for people with disabilities. I am only concerned about this one because of -parking-. What will likely happen is that inconvenient parking in the facility will go unused, while staff, visitors, and tenants will park in the street.


3 people like this
Posted by Prop 13 Is A Con
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2018 at 11:29 am

"Prop 13 should be repealed for commercial businesses and retained for residential property owners."

Prop 13 has been abused by residential property owners who show up at city council meetings to decry new housing projects while their own property values skyrocket from lack of supply at no expense to them. Removing it would make them have to face up to the cost of their own actions rather than externalizing it into everyone else.


21 people like this
Posted by A Millennial View
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 21, 2018 at 12:08 pm

> Prop 13 has been abused by residential property owners who show up at city council meetings to decry new housing projects while their own property values skyrocket from lack of supply at no expense to them. Removing it would make them have to face up to the cost of their own actions rather than externalizing it into everyone else.

The Prop 13 property owners have been getting away with this loophole for far too long. It's time for them to pay the piper as others have. What makes them so privileged?

It's easy for them to tell others to find somewhere else to live while they're paying 1970s property tax rates and living high off the hog in many instances. If they were displaced or forced to relocate, they'd be singing a different tune.

When Boomers ridicule Millennials for a false sense of entitlement, they are being hypocritical as it's easy to point fingers when you yourself have got it made.


13 people like this
Posted by Yeah But...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2018 at 7:41 pm

>>Economic disabilities should also be acknowledged and provided for.

>>Struggling millennials and the homeless ought to get cost-effective housing options as well.

It doesn't work that way in PA. The established residents do not want to accommodate others because it will disrupt their way of life.



12 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 21, 2018 at 11:35 pm

Marie is a registered user.

I am so tired of articles characterizing the proposed project on Maybell Avenue as a perfect project/

""We had a surprise referendum which was on Maybell — which was the proposal close to the fire station that would've put up 60 below-, moderate-units for seniors," Mayor Liz Kniss explained. "Perfect site, done well, and it was referended."

This is about as accurate as her statement that there was no real problem with traffic in Palo Alto.

The Maybell project was to be funded by allowing 12 new homes to be built on tiny lots on a narrow street without sidewalks, heavily used by schoolchildren,which would have significantly worsening traffic on an already overloaded street.

The perfect site included no services onsite. The site was perfect since it was so close to a grocery store (whole Foods - because it is so cheap) and medical care for seniors (Planned Parenthood???) and so on. The apartments required at least one occupant to be 60 or over. What were the chances really that people living there would not own a car? Had there been at least one parking place per bedroom, and no new homes, there would have been no opposition.

The neighbors opposed the development only after many meetings where the PAHC refused to listen to their concerns. Had they just wanted the 60 unit complex, it would have gone through. It was adding the 12 additional houses, a true giveaway to developers, that led to the opposition. This same neighborhood facilitated a low income complex nearby years before, that was built with the collaboration and support of the neighbors.

I have a friend who is a senior living in a subsidized apartment in Mountain View - and she has a car. Per Maresca sounds like a fine young man and I'm so glad he was able to find an apartment and live independently. However, the article did not mention whether he has a car. As far as I know, there is no reason a person with high-functioning autism cannot drive.

So I am very much in favor of additional low-to-moderate income housing as long as it has sufficient parking. It would be easy enough to survey existing low-to-moderate housing projects in Palo Alto and Mountain View to find out how many residents have cars and how many park them on the street. Being of moderate income, or disabled does not automatically mean you don't have a car, in our car-centric society. It is condescending indeed to conclude that without proof.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 22, 2018 at 10:03 am

Very disappointed that Liz Kniss continues to distort what happened at Maybell.

I sometimes think she is just out of touch, but other times (like when I remember the FPPC investigation, still open) that she just tells lies for her own purposes. The lies in this case serve to drive a wedge in the community over housing. I hope she is making money off this somehow, otherwise it seems like just a total loss.

Thanks @Marie for setting the record straight. Everyone who had any contact with the project knows your account is correct.


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

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