News

Proposed law could block President Hotel conversion

In correcting zoning mistake, council looks to add restriction on converting downtown residences to commercial use

Watch Weekly journalists discuss this issue on an episode of "Behind the Headlines."

Faced with public outcry about insufficient transparency and misplaced priorities, Palo Alto officials backed away Monday from passing a zone change that would have helped the new owner of President Hotel convert the 75-apartment building at 488 University Ave. into a boutique hotel.

Instead, the City Council decided to leave in place -- at least for the moment -- a law that planning staff believes was added to the Municipal Code by mistake in January 2016 as part of a broader cleanup of the zoning code. The law requires that "grandfathered" buildings (those not complying with current zoning rules) undergoing remodeling retain their existing use. As such, it presents an obstacle to the planned conversion of the President Hotel in downtown Palo Alto.

The council agreed that the mistake should be corrected and directed its Planning and Transportation Commission to evaluate an ordinance that would eliminate the "same use" clause in the "grandfathered facilities" section of city code. Council members also signaled that they would favor an ordinance that explicitly prohibits the conversion of buildings from residential to commercial use -- a decision that may block the hotel's conversion but that will almost certainly invite a legal challenge from the developer, Adventurous Journeys Capital Ventures.

For council members, the Monday hearing presented a highly unusual dilemma: They were asked to fix an error that, despite its dubious origin, is standing in the way of an unpopular project. Planning staff made the case for deleting the provision, which City Manager James Keene compared to a surgeon leaving a sponge inside a patient.

"We're going back to take it out," Keene said.

Staff noted that the provision affects numerous downtown properties, including some that want to shift from one allowed commercial use to another but can't because of this new clause. Interim Planning Director Jonathan Lait cited as one example The Cheesecake Factory building on University Avenue, which has been vacant since the restaurant's May departure. The building owner, Roxy Rapp, wants to convert it to retail but can't because of the "same use" clause in the "grandfathered facilities" section of city code.

But the council's response, in the words of Councilman Cory Wolbach, amounted to this: Maybe half of the sponge should stay there.

The council voted 6-2, with Councilmen Greg Tanaka and Adrian Fine dissenting and Councilman Greg Scharff recused, to make the zoning change but to do so through its normal process, which would entail a review by the Planning and Transportation Commission and is expected to take at least four months to complete.

The council reached its decision after hearing from about two dozen residents, all of whom urged the council to reject the staff proposal to restore the zoning provision to its pre-2016 state. Staff had also proposed the council expedite the adoption of the ordinance by doing so on a temporary basis -- an unusual process that would skip the review by the Planning and Transportation Commission. This method is intended for policies that preserve the "public health, safety and welfare."

Many in the public and some on the council rejected the notion that the zone change meets these criteria. They also criticized city officials for their opaque negotiations with AJ Capital, which in October issued the city a "term sheet" that called for the city to grant it several zone changes by Dec. 18 in exchange for giving the evicted President tenants an extra six months in their apartments.

Though the city didn't agree to the term sheet, it did initially schedule the two zone revisions that AJ Capital had requested -- the removal of the "same use" clause and the abolition of the downtown cap on non-residential development -- on its Dec. 3 agenda (both items were ultimately continued to later dates).

Beth Rosenthal, one of about two dozen residents who addressed the council on the issue, chided city leaders for "working behind the scenes to accommodate AJ Capital Ventures" while ostensibly advocating for transparency.

"How can this council profess their profound sympathy for the soon-to-be-evicted residents of President Hotel while all the while negotiating with the evicters who are facilitating the process?" Rosenthal asked.

Becky Sanders, the moderator of the Ventura Neighborhood Association, said her neighbors are livid about the council accommodating a developer and moving so fast on a policy to aid the conversion of President Hotel. She said many residents resent the city's "double standard" in play when it comes to the city's work with AJ Capital.

"You're bending over backwards to change laws in order to enrich a single property owner and lose forever 75 units," Sanders said. "I've got to call you out on this. ... If you really believe in supporting housing in Palo Alto please do not let AJ Capital and their friends bully you into changing a law to benefit their vested interests."

Midtown resident Greer Stone called the proposed conversion of President Hotel "antithetical to the honorable goal that this city and the council have to create more housing."

"Anything that removes housing and replaces it with labor-intense businesses like a hotel is preposterous," Stone said.

The council agreed that scrapping the grandfathered-facility wording would lead to an outcome that directly conflicts its goal of promoting housing. Councilman Adrian Fine observed that President Hotel, a prominent Spanish Colonial building built in 1929 that initially operated as a hotel before being converted into apartments in the 1950s, is precisely the kind of project that many in the community would oppose if it were proposed as a new development. It is far taller and denser than today's zoning code allows and it only contains 10 parking spots for its 75 small units.

Wolbach, who is concluding his council term this month, also lauded the existing President Hotel and lamented its potential conversion.

"I think it would be a bad idea for us to lose over 70 units of reasonably priced housing. ... We need more President Hotels as apartment buildings, not fewer," Wolbach said.

Fine proposed adopting an ordinance that would remove the grandfather clause on a temporary basis but that would also prohibit conversions from residential to commercial. Most of his colleagues preferred not to adopt anything outright, thus giving planning commissioners a chance to do their own review. They ultimately backed Councilwoman Karen Holman's motion to support an option banning residential-to-commercial conversions downtown and to give the planning commission a chance to vet it before the council adopts it.

Holman said delaying the adoption is a matter of "due diligence" and noted that the option banning residential conversions hadn't been presented to the council by city staff prior to Monday's meeting. It's difficult, she said, to properly evaluate the proposal in real time.

"I want to feel 100 percent confident that there are no negative consequences to this action," Holman said.

Councilman Tom DuBois agreed, rejecting staff's argument for the expedited process, and said following the normal sequence for reviewing ordinances is the "more transparent process."

"I really think the appearance of rushing here is not helpful," DuBois said.

Council members also defended staff from public accusations of shady dealmaking with AJ Capital. Vice Mayor Eric FIlseth, who supported sending the issue to the planning commission, said he has seen no evidence of a "deep state conspiracy."

"Everyone is trying to do the right thing," Filseth said.

Keene also rejected the notion that staff had any improper negotiations with the developer.

"If there is some conspiracy at staff level, it is such deep state territory that I knew nothing about it," Keene said.

At the same time, staff acknowledged that it has made a significant -- if inadvertent -- error in approving the "same use" phrase in the "grandfather facility" section in the first place. The nine words in questions -- "for continual use and occupancy, by the same use" -- also appears in a different section of the zoning code. Lait surmised that they may have been accidentally copied from one section to another.

While Councilwoman Lydia Kou and Holman both questioned whether the clause addition was truly a mistake, Lait noted that the zone change had not been highlighted in staff reports or mentioned in presentations.

"If it were intentional, we would've written about it. We would've talked about it in staff reports. We would've had discussion with the planning commission and council about the change we're making," Lait said. "There's no evidence in the public record that this dialogue ever took place."

City Attorney Molly Stump called the error "very unusual."

"In my time of working with cities, I haven't seen a staff error like this," Stump said.

That said, Stump said it's important to acknowledge that human errors do occur and that, in this case, staff had acknowledged it and recommended a method to fix it.

While council members said they would prefer an ordinance that prohibits the conversion of residential to commercial use, Stump also proposed on Monday that the revised zoning provision also include a clause that allows applicants to request a "waiver" from this restriction on conversions if they can show that it would violate state or federal law.

Stump called this addition "good housekeeping" that could insulate the city from legal challenges. But Jeff Levinsky, the resident who first alerted planning staff to the "grandfathered facility" clause and its implications for the President Hotel project, criticized Stump's proposed policy, which he suggested would facilitate more backroom dealing.

"If our city attorney believes there is some problem or that this law would violate state or federal law, you should know about that before you approve the law," Levinsky told the council.

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Comments

68 people like this
Posted by Let's Keep Fighting for Residents
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2018 at 5:50 am

The six councilmembers who voted for this did the right thing. The Planning Commission will get its chance next. But it's telling that City staff didn't propose protecting residents and housing when they first put this on the agenda. Since before the sale last June, they met privately with AJ Capital and gave it assurances the hotel conversion could take place. They brought this item to Council without a mention that it was really to help AJ Capital. Last night, they continued to claim they have done nothing improper. Stop blaming us, they said. The public and press doing that are the problem. There was absolutely no collusion.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but does this sound like some other story in the news?


40 people like this
Posted by ResidentsofLosAltos
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 11, 2018 at 6:39 am

>“If there is some conspiracy at staff level, it is such deep state
>territory that I knew nothing about it,” Keene said.

Mr Keen, the PACC, and residents know that there is a more-a lot more!--than coincidence involved here. Taking Mr Keene's words at their face value the right thing would be to commission an independent investigation to get to the bottom of this. Why has the PACC not taken that step? Are they not alarmed they too may be misled and misinformed by staff? Or are they complicit in this sham?


55 people like this
Posted by Save Housing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2018 at 6:57 am

Here it says -
Stump had proposed that the new zoning provision also include a clause that allows applicants to request a “waiver” from this restriction (not allowing conversion of residential to commercial) if they can show that it would violate state of federal law.
Stump called this addition “good housekeeping” that could insulate the city from legal challenges.

If this is the case and so benign - just a “housekeeping” matter, why is this provision not attached to the many changes to our codes and to newlaws our Council passes? Yet we have never seen this suggested before by any City Attorney. Stump was asked but never offered more of a reason than what is here.

It makes no sense and seems to open a wide loophole for developers to simply get waivers to go ahead and convert residential buildings to commercial uses.

No wonder people lack confidence in Sr. Staff and insisted this matter go through normal processes at the PTC to be vetted rather than pushed through on a phony, near urgent basis last night.
Thank you Karen Holman - you are leaving Council on a good note.


22 people like this
Posted by ResidentsofLosAltos
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 11, 2018 at 6:58 am

Just so Palo Alto residents are aware of something similar that transpired recently in neighboring Los Altos and now a matter for the Fed and State Courts to resolve.

Staff had communicated a permit for a project would not be issued as it would contravene the Code.
Disregarding that a staff member issued the permit.
The new permit unlawfully allowed: a) change of use of a structure; b) expansion of an illegally erected non-conforming structure with zero setbacks. It was also issued by a person whose job responsibilities had changed and he no longer had the authority to issue permits. He on record denied residents the right to an appeal claiming his decision was final and unappealable!
A history of back channel meetings between staff members and the property owner of that structure.
Council members go all silent when residents express their concern and outrage. One, only one of the five, inquires with staff. Staff begin an elaborate conspiracy to cover up and mislead, misinform, misrepresent to the Council member. Complicit in this sham conspiracy is the Mayor (Jean Mordo) and City Attorney (Chris Diaz).
Lawsuits filed in Fed and State Courts.
City terminates the staff member who issued the permit. No explanation given. Council continues to provide cover for the staff engaged in the cover up.
The Mayor, his cohorts on Council, and staff then AMEND the Code to justify the permit. Their pretext? "State Law requires it...our hands are tied..."
Pure Baloney, as one can imagine.
Mayor and cohorts on Council do NOT respond to residents complaints re: the misrepresentations, deceit, bad faith and their demand for a public discussion and independent investigation.
Innumerable instances of City retaliating and harassing those who complained, all a matter for the Courts.

Mayor Mordo booted out in the Nov elections.

We residents are waiting to see how the new Council would be any different. Would they bring to account the public servants and the City Attorney involved in the unlawful acts and subsequent cover up? Is there going to be a reckoning for those that lied and acted in bad faith to the public and its elected representatives? Time will tell.


27 people like this
Posted by midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2018 at 8:34 am

our Palo Alto leaders dont seen to be able to shoot straight.....

first they fight for YEARS to stop a private trailer park not to convert to a new use cause of affortable houseing....

Now they are ok to kick out affordable housing tennants for this project??

I wonder why this one is ok.....it smacks of favortisim to me.


31 people like this
Posted by Manzanita
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 11, 2018 at 8:44 am

Manzanita is a registered user.

Thank you PA Weekly for such great coverage of this issue!!!

I tried to listen to the meeting and didn't hear anything that justified the urgency to change the code without going through Planning and Transportation Commission. This is definitely NOT a matter of “public health, safety and welfare” but of a developer's threats of a lawsuit.

BTW- small typo in third to last paragraph (change "state of federal" to "state or federal")


38 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2018 at 8:54 am

Annette is a registered user.

I'll be darned! I surely did not expect to read that our CC voted as they did. I know the issue isn't over but it is reassuring that this CC didn't ram this through before year end and without the usual review. I'm not sure what to make of Stump's waiver idea. Why would a NEW zoning provision be in violation of federal law in the first place?

As for the details that resulted in this tangled mess, they will no doubt be revealed in time. AJCap paid $65M with the expectation that they could revert the property to a hotel. I think it likely they will respond to this development.

Thank you to those in this community who took the time to attend the meeting and address Council.


14 people like this
Posted by An Attorney For Developers
a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2018 at 9:14 am

From the PA Weekly article...

"a law that planning staff believes was placed into the Municipal Code by mistake in January 2016...The law requires that "grandfathered" buildings undergoing remodeling to retain their existing use. As such, it presents an obstacle to the planned conversion."

"The council agreed that the mistake should be corrected and directed its Planning and Transportation Commission to evaluate an ordinance that would eliminate the "grandfathered facilities".


This oversight can be easily corrected/overturned by the city and the AJ conversion allowed to proceed.

It amounts to a temporary delay in the reconstruction of the facilities and the primary impacts will be those pertaining to any subcontractor agreements that already have been signed as per a specified starting date.

Since agreements have been made with the soon-to-be former tenants via generous remunerations and extended departure dates, there should be no problem proceeding with this project regardless of any parking issues.

The city along with the developers are moving ahead and any appeasements to non-residents of the hotel facilities will not stand up in court. Any civic protest is akin to holding up signs and chanting, "Save People's Park" and we all know how far that one got.

The PACC and CPA apparently want this project to proceed and antagonzing those who are against it is counterproductive to objectives. The key is to simply pacify the detractors with an "I understand" response and then proceed as planned.

In a nutshell, that's how it works for those who apparently do not get it.


15 people like this
Posted by Oboogie
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2018 at 10:14 am

Hey Developer...

I think People's Park turned out differently than you think...
"signs and chanting, "Save People's Park"" works


23 people like this
Posted by A Tip
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 11, 2018 at 10:23 am

Familiar with what's going on in Los Altos (as noted in postings by ResidentsofLosAltos) here's what I can say about us in Palo Alto and what to expect from PACC and City Hall next.

City staff would (mis)present to Planning Commission which would rubber stamp staff's proposals.
Staff would then take them to PACC who, on the basis that Planning Commission already approved, would rubber stamp them.
Voila! AJ would get to do what they wanted in the first place.

What can block this erosion of the rule of law in our city? The vigilance of residents in picking out staff's misrepresentations, proposed amendments and changes to the language that you know would end up permitting "change of use", etc. Watch out for language that, however benign as they seem, are meant to permit the AJs of the world to do what they planned to in our city with the connivance of ex- and current staff and CC members.

This fight just started. Let's not celebrate yet. The next 1-3-6-12 months would be critical.


33 people like this
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 11, 2018 at 11:17 am

re: “@An Attorney for Developers"

Unfortunately the Weekly still has no button for "dislike". Let the record show that I think the contribution of this "Attorney" is the slimy shill work of a Developer's troll, which I tremendously dislike.

I also dislike the shill work of Mr. Laith.

His handiwork here is worse even than the shill work of the Planning Department 3 years ago with 2555 Park Blvd. [Remember - or look it up with Google - , they used an equation from the Institute of Traffic Engineers, designed for projects with millions of square feet, to calculate car trips. It had 80 rush hour trips for “zero square footage”, and very little increase with square footage.

So numbers looked reasonable as such at 8,000 sqft, but a 300% increase in square footage effected only a 20% increase in traffic. Genial!].

I think the "typo" was no typo, and I agree with the "two dozen residents, all of whom urged the council to reject the staff proposal to restore the zoning provision to its pre-2016 state." Differently expressed, I like the “typo-defective” ordinance, and if I would write a new one that would be it.

Judging by the approved June ballot initiative of halving the commercial cap, which was a compromise because there was a strong minority among the initiators for a zero cap, I believe I am in good company.

So leave it alone! Thus avoiding the terrifying idea of a possible lawsuit by AJ Capital.

Which is what the Palo Alto City Attorney does best, not daring and winning law suits for the citizens of Palo Alto, but caving in in advance and so keeping the immaculate record of never losing a lawsuit.

Lack of due diligence by the applicant? Do not worry, the City Attorney and former mayors stand by to fix it! Downwards and backwards!

Unfortunately, the defensive crouch has spilled over to the City Council if I to believe the Press: City Councilors felt gagged to speak out because of the possibility of future law suits. So AJ Capital successfully blackmailed not only vulnerable retirees and single parents, they managed to black mail the almighty City Council.

The City Council of my hometown in Germany has done better even in 1622, in the middle of the War of Thirty Years, when the poles of contention were Pub vs. Inn. Shame on you!

What concerns the Cheese Factory and the 70 like it, let Mr. Rapp argue for a more broad use of the concept of "use" (remember: what is the meaning of "is"?). He will find a sympathetic ear as long as he does not try to trick the citizens to approve conversion of residential space into non-residential.


38 people like this
Posted by Pants on fire
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 11, 2018 at 11:47 am

Manager Keene's denial of backroom dealings with the developer were so skillfully delivered, it was tempting to believe him. But the facts prove otherwise.
He is a skillful dissembler.


28 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2018 at 12:14 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Wow! I hardly dared hope our lame duck council majority could be thwarted in their efforts to accommodate AJ Capital. They seemed to have actually heard what residents of this town are saying.


2 people like this
Posted by East Bay Developer/Danville
a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2018 at 1:27 pm

> So AJ Capital successfully blackmailed not only vulnerable retirees and single parents, they managed to black mail the almighty City Council.

It's called doing business. Danville was once a stagecoach stop and a farming community. Look at it today!

No one there wants to see it go back to Hickville.


30 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 11, 2018 at 1:28 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

The city staff offered a reasonable explanation last night for why they believe the grandfathering provision was placed in the current code inadvertently, but their explanation was just a good supposition. No one seems to actually know or has offered how it got there or why.
Either way, it is the current zoning law and with greater impact than was appreciated until recently. The council majority took the right actions last night to deny the debatable legal claim that it qualifies as an urgency ordinance. The PTC and council should carefully review the option of preventing residential to commercial conversions of non-conforming buildings as so well put forth by Jeff Levinsky and Winter Dellenbach at the meeting.
While this and the other zoning changes are being considered, it would be foolish for A.J. Capital to expel the remaining tenants which would simultaneously further inflame opposition to their interests while reducing their rental income in the near term.


3 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 11, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

The city staff offered a reasonable explanation last night for why they believe the grandfathering provision was placed in the current code inadvertently, but their explanation was just a good supposition. No one seems to actually know or has offered how it got there or why.
Either way, the current zoning law remains in place and with greater impacts than was appreciated until recently. The council majority took the right actions last night to deny the debatable legal claim that it qualifies as an urgency ordinance. The PTC and council should carefully review the option of preventing residential to commercial conversions of non-conforming buildings as so well put forth by Jeff Levinsky and Winter Dellenbach at the meeting.
While this and the other zoning changes are being considered, it would be foolish for A.J. Capital to expel the remaining tenants which would simultaneously further inflame opposition to their interests while reducing their rental income in the near term.


37 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 11, 2018 at 1:40 pm

jh is a registered user.

Was it disingenuous of our city manager, James Keene, to deny that he himself had had any direct contact with AJ Capital when his former assistant had been hired by AJ Capitol as their intermediary with the Planning staff? Then the the innocuous sounding clause Molly Stump tried to insert, "... that allows applicants to request a "waiver" from this restriction if they can show that it would violate state or federal law." Yet under questioning Stump admitted that it had not been necessary to include this phrase in previous changes to zoning or code. What was that really about?

Apparently, the mention of opaque dealings hit a raw nerve with our mayor, Liz Kniss. And I was disappointed that our vice mayor, Eric Filseth, felt it necessarily to weigh in since I should like to think he had no personal knowledge of what went on between AJ Capital, their intermediaries, and city staff.

Many of us remember the behind door dealings that went on for months between James Keene, his staff, and the development company proposing to build the cluster of zone-busting multi story office towers behind the train station. And, similarly, a former senior staff member of the planning department had been hired as the insider to negotiate behind closed doors with city staff. Or Keene's proposal to sell off 7 acres of city land to the same developer who wanted expand his private estate.


8 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 11, 2018 at 3:17 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Pat Burt,
Again, you offer some sanity into this discussion, just as you did on CC and as mayor. Others just snip away at the edges and blame so many for all of this happening. Staff did make a mistake and CC did make the right decision last night for a way to correct it. Cory's swan song comments and appeal were welcome and showed where his heart really is, and has been, as a supporter of housing. And yes, all those commenters, fussed up about the CC's direction on this issue that are counter to what they campaigned for, needed to be said. Come on CC, do penance and get on with doing what you said you would do for housing when you were on the campaign trail and finally elected into office. It will be a tough task, and maybe impossible for low and very low income housing, but much easier than getting the grade separation problem solved and financed...I think.


43 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2018 at 3:35 pm

When Ms. Kniss last night began her Apology Lecture, I thought, "Right, the Ms. Kniss of decades of political experience who promised to take no developer cash in her last City Council election but did so anyway. So close to the election day she could file State campaign cash reports late using legal loopholes."

Ms. Stump. Oh, please, stop advocating for these loopholes and waivers to quash clear voter will. At last have the integrity to present all legal options and not advocate for which ones make things easier for staff to have more power than the voters or City Council. The federal government rarely prevents any town from saying what sort of land uses its local zoning code allows. The only local example I know is when Moffett was all military, the Feds asked Sunnyvale and Mountain View to leave its zoning maps a white blank for Moffett land to prevent land speculators and city halls getting ideas.

Town zoning is a local "police" power for local health, welfare and safety. It is not about picking which people get what gold in them thar ground by upzoning map changes from cheaper land uses such as from efficiency apartment use to ultra luxury commercial hotel use. But, developers who give cash to politicians and ex-city hall staff lobbyists play the long game of wait for a "friendly" City Hall and then push through their new gold mine plans. Only the free press and diligent voters can stop that game.

The founders of Atherton forbade forever all commercial storefronts and all industrial zoning, too. Does anyone think the Feds would force that town's zoning map to change? Many of those founders knew the poker game of city hall + land speculator greed v. quality of life for those who live in the town.

The newest game for Bay Area city hall staffs is one-off State laws written by developer lobbyists like the one which is now forcing super dense redevelopment of Vallco Mall against the wishes of a voter referendum. There has been a dizzy revolving door between Cupertino City Hall staff and landowner's employees and lobbyists. The profits to be made by these local dense redevelopment projects in the Bay Area is so high, cash flow from current renters is irrelevant. Recall how long most of Vallco Mall has been empty in recent years.





22 people like this
Posted by MD Mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2018 at 3:58 pm

MD Mom is a registered user.

@Attorney for Developers
> So AJ Capital successfully blackmailed not only vulnerable retirees and single parents, they managed to black mail the almighty City Council.

>It's called doing business. Danville was once a stagecoach stop and a farming community. Look at it today!

>No one there wants to see it go back to Hickville.



How is allowing a community of people to remain in their homes "going back to Hicksville?"


2 people like this
Posted by A Vision For Downtown PA
a resident of University South
on Dec 11, 2018 at 6:09 pm

Downtown Palo Alto is no longer a shopping hub. It has become a business & entertainment district where people primarily go to bank, meet with an attorney, dine-out and maybe catch a movie at one of its smaller theaters. On a far lesser scale some might still go there to get their hair done or have their eyewear prescriptions filled. Hotels fit right into the scheme of things as they accomodate visitors and travelers passing through town.

There is no going back and the PACC realizes this. The residents on the other hand, are clinging to the past even though 90% of them rarely venture into downtown anymore except for maybe some of the above reasons.

Stanford Shopping Center now gets the bulk of the retail sales commerce and foot traffic along with some of the smaller strip malls in the surrounding areas. As a result, the downtown district no longer serves the residents in a regular 'much-needed' capacity.

While some of the dealings behind the President Hotel may have been clandestine to the public, the public does not own the President Hotel and neither does its tenants. Anyone who has lived in a rental unit that changed ownership will clearly understand this.

3-4 downtown PA hotels should pretty much fill the bill in terms of guest lodging needs as there are always alternative and substitute lodging options outside of the downtown area.

So why not just run with the new President Hotel and focus more on preventing further developments of this kind. The displaced tenants will eventually find new places to reside and they have received sizable pay-outs to do so. It's a lot more than others have received for being in similar situations.

Anyone who has studied local government in Political Science is already aware that adequate public parking is in the top 5 of problems most cities face. This is nothing new so you either build high-rise parking garages or force drivers to park farther away and make them walk to wherever it is they're heading. Parking has been a major issue now for 50+ years now as cities continue to grow and various businesses assume a major portion of the urban landscape.

> "going back to Hicksville?"

Impossible as you cannot go back in time, only forward. At one time, the entire American landscape was Hicksville but not any more.

On a closing note, it appears that some here have never heard of that old adage, "You cannot fight City Hall". It's true as others have learned...the hard way.











24 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 11, 2018 at 7:35 pm

“If there is some conspiracy at staff level, it is such deep state territory that I knew nothing about it,” Keene said.

It's not a conspiracy; it's business as usual--policy.


"While this and the other zoning changes are being considered, it would be foolish for A.J. Capital to expel the remaining tenants which would simultaneously further inflame opposition to their interests while reducing their rental income in the near term."

Somebody is being disingenuous here, or is a newcomer to the city hall scene. In its future dealings with city hall, A.J. Capital will plead undue hardship because of that selfsame revenue loss, and it will receive the customary sympathetic ear.


11 people like this
Posted by Litigate
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2018 at 8:29 pm

>"You cannot fight City Hall". It's true as others have learned...
>the hard way.

Sure, sure. When someone fights City Hall and prevails the payout is accounted for by the taxpayers. And if they don't the litigation costs (for defending City Hall) are paid for by...the same taxpayers. I get it, I now understand why "You cannot fight City Hall."

Guess what, that adage won't apply if staff at City Hall and elected representatives at City Council are required to pay for their own attorneys. It is the default immunity they enjoy that gives them the privilege to abuse the system (as in this matter of Hotel President and AJ Capital) and have shills such as you spouting adages on their behalf.

Oh, I long for the day someone takes City Hall and PACC to court and the judges rule staff and Council members violated the boundaries of reasonable conduct and the qualified immunity they enjoyed does not apply. Come that day and may it soon!


22 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2018 at 8:59 pm

A Vision,

Can't fight City Hall? That's a laugh. Of course we can fight City Hall and win, too. The "residentialists" stopped the high rises; stopped the hotels, offices, houses and second boat port in the Baylands; demanded lands for parks and schools as the track house suburbs expanded; fiercely protected park lands from encroaching buildings and illegal land sales; fought to preserve the most significant historic buildiings in town; and will continue those fights.

Palo Altans and landowners will find ever more creative ways to modernize our city. For example, what if the President Hotel's parking garage was all allocated for densely packed autonomous ZipCars? Could 30 such cars fit there? Could the President have a mix of efficiency apartments and long term "residential" hotel rooms?


33 people like this
Posted by Hugh MacMillan
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 11, 2018 at 9:58 pm

I propose Gennady Shanyer be named citizen of the year.
Without his vigilance we would be "toast,"


18 people like this
Posted by Office hours
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2018 at 10:21 pm

Sure glad that we will now only have 7 council members to keep an eye on.

Tanaka bugs me the most because he has those awkward office hours that look transparent (streamed on Facebook) but I get the feeling that the public’s business is not really done based on those speed dating office hours electeds give. Somebody remind me how Tanaka got elected?

Too many “coincidences” which office hours do not begin to explain what’s going on at City Hall.


25 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2018 at 10:41 pm

To Pat Burt: Any comment on the practice of former senior staffers like the former planning director lobbying current staff, some of whom they hired and supervised? It would seem to me that this kind of revolving door is fraught with problems and should be banned by the city.


12 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 11, 2018 at 11:19 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

@Stephen
I hope that the incoming council will review and strengthen our revolving door policies for staff and elected officials. Some cities have stronger lobbying rules than ours.
However, I am not sure that such changes would have altered what happened. The former staff members who consulted for AJ Capital had not worked for the city for several years and I don’t think the former planning director hired or supervised staff that he lobbyed.


11 people like this
Posted by Vision
a resident of University South
on Dec 11, 2018 at 11:51 pm

“While some of the dealings behind the President Hotel may have been clandestine to the public...”

“the public does not own the President Hotel and neither does its tenants”

This is a one-sided perspective.

The city staff work for the public, right?

As if keeping the principal of one side of a deal in the dark is OK.


16 people like this
Posted by office hours
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2018 at 1:05 am

@Pat Burt

Your logic is like the cut and paste story. Steve Elmslie has been working “with” the City for years (since he left), perhaps more closely and with more agility since he’s been on the outside, but not really.

Why would Marissa Meyer hire his firm to help her with her project? Surely word gets around about who has pull.


12 people like this
Posted by Which Way For the President Hotel?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 12, 2018 at 9:08 am

> Could the President have a mix of efficiency apartments and long term "residential" hotel rooms?

Probably not. Mixing higher-cost guest lodging with lower-rent residential usage conflicts with the concept of running an exclusive hotel.

Why would a hotel guest pay Fairmont/Nob Hill prices when Tenderloin residents are occupying the same building for considerably less cost?

Now if the President Hotel were to establish a limited number of costly suites for its long-term residents (e.g. The Mark Hopkins/Nob Hill) that's another story and a concept that could possibly fly. But keep in mind that those suites at the Mark Hopkins cost around $150K a year in rent.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out... AJ/PACC/CPA vs residentialist outrage. The lawyers involved should do quite well.





9 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 12, 2018 at 9:34 am

@pat burt

You were part of the problem during your years on council. [Portion removed.]

I contribute the traffic congestion to you with the stupid road diets, bicycle lanes with the sticks in the street and bulb outs that are now keeping me from getting out of my driveway. [Portion removed.]


16 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2018 at 9:40 am

Posted by A Vision For Downtown PA, a resident of University South:

>> So why not just run with the new President Hotel and focus more on preventing further developments of this kind. The displaced tenants will eventually find new places to reside and they have received sizable pay-outs to do so. It's a lot more than others have received for being in similar situations.

The -situation- is that the current CC has shown that "housing" is just a smokescreen. Developers don't want to build any kind of affordable housing anywhere in the state that any commercial use can be conceived. This has been blamed on "NIMBY"s, residentialists, the weather, whatever.

The city doesn't own a bunch of developable land-- I don't know why that keeps coming up in these arguments by pro-development forces. A lot or two here or there, and, parks of course. Developers must seethe every time they see parks and schools.

The only known methods for significantly increasing affordable housing are:

1) The city and/or county build it themselves. This seems like it should be the simplest way, but, it has a major flaw: every private development is maintained and in some way policed by the owner. As seen in public housing projects like the infamous Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, or, the "Pink Palace" in San Francisco, it is much easier for public housing authorities to build something than it is to maintain and police it.

2) Zoning. This works better when there is more land to start with. Palo Alto is already built out, and, as we keep seeing, with no undeveloped land to work with, developers are constantly finding new ways to corrupt the zoning system.

>> Anyone who has studied local government in Political Science is already aware that adequate public parking is in the top 5 of problems most cities face.

So, let's let developers develop without addressing it for their developments? Why?

>> Impossible as you cannot go back in time, only forward.

Forward in time could mean anything. To you it means building high-rises. Not to me.

>> On a closing note, it appears that some here have never heard of that old adage, "You cannot fight City Hall". It's true as others have learned...the hard way.

Give in to corrupt office developers? No thanks.


12 people like this
Posted by Another day/Another Dollar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2018 at 9:56 am

> it would be foolish for A.J. Capital to expel the remaining tenants which would simultaneously further inflame opposition to their interests while reducing their rental income in the near term.

Lost rental income from low-rent President Hotel tenants = a drop in the bucket for AJ and an easy tax-write-off.


> "I hope that the incoming council will review and strengthen our revolving door policies for staff and elected officials. Some cities have stronger lobbying rules than ours."
> @Pat Burt
Your logic is like the cut and paste story.
> @pat burt
You were part of the problem during your years on council.

Amazing how some opt to rewrite their own history.


4 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2018 at 11:27 am

Marie is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 12, 2018 at 11:39 am

Online Name is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


25 people like this
Posted by A Solution To This Mess
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2018 at 2:28 pm

Why doesn't the PACC and CPA just buy the President Hotel back from AJ and become a municipal landlord for low-income housing?

Let AJ make some profit on the deal and then send them packing to...Danville! There's still plenty of room for development remaining on the East Bay and that particular community is developer-friendly to boot. Let them grovel over the projected hotel revenues.

And while we're at it...the CPA should impose some restrictions of any and all Google-related developments.






9 people like this
Posted by @ A solution to the mess
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2018 at 4:36 pm

@ A solution to the mess is a registered user.

LOVE that idea!


11 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 13, 2018 at 9:05 am

@Pat Burt: Apparently Mr. Elmslie worked for PA up until Feb 2013. If you are correct that none of his hire are working for the city now, that would mean that none of our planning department has been employed there for more than 6 years. That would seem extremely doubtful to me. So, what mechanism exists for getting a lifetime ban for former city employees lobbying the city on issues related to their former city employment? A citizen's initiative?


18 people like this
Posted by Double-Dipping Has Changed
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 13, 2018 at 9:17 am

At one time, double-dipping meant retiring with full CALPers and then re-working for a municipality on a consultant basis for even more money one was getting paid as a full time employee.

Today it involves getting a 'heads-up' on various proposed projects and then changing jobs to promote the developer's interests.

Not exactly clever but certainly lucrative.


2 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 13, 2018 at 9:28 am

The President hotel belongs to the owners. California is practically the only state that doesn't recognize this reality. The owners are trying to do Palo Alto a favor by increasing property taxes for the city and state. Think numbers rather than motherhood. Only one woman has ever won the Nobel prize in economics. How politically incorrect. You've got to pay to play if you live on the peninsula. Too many complicated rules lead to chaos.

George Drysdale a social studies teacher


12 people like this
Posted by Zoning?
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 13, 2018 at 11:56 am

George -

Doesn’t zoning limit what owners can do with their property everywhere? Are you denying the reality of zoning?


6 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 13, 2018 at 1:01 pm

george drysdale wrote:

"Think numbers rather than motherhood. Only one woman has ever won the Nobel prize in economics. How politically incorrect."

Mr. Drysdale: This topic has nothing to do with motherhood. Your repeated misogyny adds nothing to this -- or any other -- discussion. I fail to understand how someone with your views is allowed to teach social studies -- or any other subject -- in this day and age.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Posted by george drysdale, a resident of Professorville

>> The President hotel belongs to the owners. California is practically the only state that doesn't recognize this reality.

California is one of many states that uses zoning heavily to regulate development. It must be torture for you to live here. I'm surprised that you haven't bailed out and moved to a more developer-friendly less zoning-friendly state, like Florida. Last time I was there, it looked like developers could do anything they wanted, including build houses on top of sinkholes. I'm sure you would be much happier living there than here.


Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 13, 2018 at 1:29 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

With all this controversy going on, just change the name to the President Obama Hotel.
Kick the B*****ds out. Just don't elect a different set in.


2 people like this
Posted by he Logic Behind the Anti-AJ Movement
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2018 at 1:49 pm

> The President hotel belongs to the owners. California is practically the only state that doesn't recognize this reality.

You tell 'em George! Ownership comes with certain rights and privileges. This entire President Hotel issue is like some PA resident telling another neighbor that they cannot build a tree house in their own backyard because (1) it will attract other playmates and (2) their parents will clog up the streets with their cars when they come to pick their children up. (3) Or arguing that some children will not be able to play in the tree house because their parents can't afford the gas to get them there.

The legal use and application of private property supersedes whatever the neighbors think. That's why zoning laws are enacted...to pacify the complainers.




3 people like this
Posted by Pants on fire
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 13, 2018 at 2:56 pm

to Pat Burt:
Yes it is true you contributed to the problem when you were on the Council. You have been dubbed "chameleon" because you frequently change your views to suit your current ambitions.

And you sound so sincere. (like the Manager does too) Chameleon is right.


8 people like this
Posted by Pants on fire
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 13, 2018 at 3:05 pm

Pat Burt: It isn't relevant that Emslie didn't supervise the current planners. He worked CLOSELY with the City Manager.He was Deputy CM.

Some think Emslie took the hit for the Manager when the city was exposed for behind the scenes dealing on the huge Arrillaga office project 27 University.

So the Manager owes him. This project could be part of payback to Emslie.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2018 at 3:11 pm

Posted by he Logic Behind the Anti-AJ Movement, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Ownership comes with certain rights and privileges.

One of the rights and privileges of living an area an with certain zoning is that everyone agrees to abide by that zoning. To take your example:

>> is like some PA resident telling another neighbor that they cannot build a tree house in their own backyard because (1) it will attract other playmates and [etc.]

IF the zoning calls out a tree house and says that you can't build one, you can't build it. Not because tree houses are immoral or fattening. But, because when you buy a property, the zoning is the assurance that no one will fill the yard with a smelly hog run. IF you don't like city zoning, don't live in that area. It is simple. Conversely, IF the zoning permits hog farms, don't buy a property and then complain that your neighbor is raising hogs. The zoning is in effect a multi-lateral agreement among people in a neighborhood with certain zoning to abide by the zoning. IF you buy a property with that zoning restriction, and THEN, don't abide by it-- you are a -cheat-, pure and simple, and the victims are your neighbors.

The state of Texas used to brag about its lack of zoning, and, some cities in Texas, such as Houston, used to brag about their lack of zoning, but, the reality is that they created zoning through a different means-- the "covenant". Covenants rightly got a bad reputation because they were used to enforce segregation. But, the idea is basically the same-- I don't want to buy a property without some restrictions to prevent people from raising hogs next door. That is part of -my- property rights.

>> The legal use and application of private property supersedes whatever the neighbors think.

Actually, it doesn't. Zoning has been found by the Supreme Court to be constitutional. Specifically:

Web Link.

"In doing so, the court accepted the arguments of zoning defenders that it met two essential needs. First, zoning extended and improved on nuisance law in that it provided advance notice that certain types of uses were incompatible with other uses in a particular district. The second argument was that zoning was a necessary municipal-planning instrument.

"The Euclid case was a facial challenge, meaning that the entire scheme of regulation was argued to be unconstitutional under any set of circumstances. The United States Supreme Court justified the ordinance saying that a community may enact reasonable laws to keep the pig out of the parlor, even if pigs may not be prohibited from the entire community."

Web Link

Seriously, if zoning is morally objectionable to you, you should consider moving to Houston, Texas. If you move to Houston, though, don't expect that your hypothesis, "the legal use and application of private property supersedes whatever the neighbors think" will work any better there than it does here. Because, the usage of your property will be restricted by a private covenant and you will be sued for breaking the covenant if you build a hog farm on your suburban property.



15 people like this
Posted by Wu Shen
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 13, 2018 at 3:16 pm

In China, zoning established by steering committees. No arguing unless you want to go to prison.

Palo Alto is not as strict.


5 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2018 at 11:21 pm

Wondering what our Planning Commissioners and the 2019 City Council think of State Bill 50 discussed in Ms. Diana Diamond's latest blog. At least we know what Tanaka and Fine think.

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 15, 2018 at 11:00 am

Zoning suits the time of the need of the demand. Palo Alto is developing at warp speed. The new Manhattan. We must look to the future not the tired past. A trillion dollar unfunded liability for California's governments? Housing investment must come from the private investor. Special interests own California to its great detriment.
George Drysdale land economist


8 people like this
Posted by The Future Is Now
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 15, 2018 at 2:28 pm

> We must look to the future not the tired past.

PA Preservationists = the past.

Even John Muir couldn't prevent Yosemite from becoming what it is today...a over congested tourist trap.

Overpopulation (i.e. suburban population density in PA) is the culprit.

We cannot return to yesteryear.


Like this comment
Posted by Ocasio Cortez
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2018 at 4:41 pm



roll over preservationists....

Sounds like OC has made it to Palo Alto.


2 people like this
Posted by Huan Le
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2018 at 6:49 pm

Hotel is good for Palo Alto. It brings in added tax revenue and makes city more renowned. In Viet Nam, people don't challenge new buildings. They move somewhere else if they must. Tourism is very important to the local and national economy. Not always so when Viet Nam War was escalating.

Now people want to visit the new Viet Nam...just like some people want to experience the new Palo Alto. What is wrong with that?

Not many Vietnamese live in Palo Alto. Too expensive. But some Chinese friends say Palo Alto people are very unfriendly because they resent people from overseas with money. It's too bad because some of them would like to build fancy downtown hotels too.

Why is Palo Alto so old fashioned? In Jose, new buildings are always welcomed. People call it progress.



13 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2018 at 8:26 pm

Posted by Huan Le, a resident of another community

>> Hotel is good for Palo Alto. It brings in added tax revenue and makes city more renowned.

Palo Alto doesn't need to be any more renowned. It needs to be less renowned. It also needs -less traffic-. Hotels need staff, staff that usually is paid modestly, and therefore, staff that can't afford to live here, creating more traffic as the staff commutes from elsewhere. Palo Alto does not need more jobs; there are too many jobs here already.

>> Not many Vietnamese live in Palo Alto. Too expensive. But some Chinese friends say Palo Alto people are very unfriendly because they resent people from overseas with money. It's too bad because some of them would like to build fancy downtown hotels too.

Palo Alto does not need more expensive houses, or, fancy hotels. Palo Alto is a small place with limited land.

>> Why is Palo Alto so old fashioned? In Jose, new buildings are always welcomed. People call it progress.

San Jose has 177 -square miles- of land area. Palo Alto has 23.8 square miles, including large areas devoted to its well known parks.


2 people like this
Posted by Selling Out to Equality
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm

> Palo Alto does not need more expensive houses...

If most of the PA old timers were to sell their homes at below-market (say 35-40% less than normal listing) would we be able to return to a quieter, less-congested Palo Alto?

Since many of these homes were initially purchased for under $75,000.00, capital gains taxes would also be reduced considerably.

I'm trying to think of a way of turning back the clock to a certain extent but also wondering if overseas buyers with CASH would over-run Palo Alto in some of the more exclusive PA neighborhoods. I wold hope that they would play fair by allowing others to buy reasonably-priced Palo Alto homes as well.


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

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