After months of negotiations that temporarily extended their stays, the remaining residents of President Hotel Apartments in Palo Alto will have to move out of the historic building by the end of January, according to a letter they received from the new building owner.
The letter, which the residents received from Timothy Franzen, president of Graduate Hotels, arrived three days after the council's Dec. 10 decision not to pass an urgency ordinance that would have aided the proposed conversion of the apartment building into a hotel. The ordinance would have removed a "grandfather facilities" provision that planning staff was adopted by accident and that requires historic buildings undergoing renovations to retain the same use.
Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners, the parent company of Graduate Hotels, is also hoping that the city will scrap the existing downtown cap on non-residential development, which presents another obstacle to its conversion plan. On Oct. 26, it reached an agreement with residents that would allow them to stay in their apartments until June 16. The stay, however, was contingent on the council removing both the downtown cap and the "grandfather facilities" clause by Dec. 18.
City officials had initially signaled their willingness to negotiate by scheduling discussions of both items for Dec. 3. The council ultimately moved the office-cap item to Dec. 10 and deferred the downtown-cap discussion until early 2019, effectively dashing the residents' hopes for a June extension.
"From the actions of the City Council on this past Monday night, it appears that the City will not be taking the measures necessary for you to receive the benefits from us of additional time to reside in the building and additional relocation assistance payments for which you had negotiated," Franzen's Dec. 13 letter stated. "Therefore, pursuant to the terms of the Tenant Relocation Assistance Agreement, and unless the City Council takes unexpected action before December 18, 2018, you and all other remaining tenants will be required to vacate your units by January 31, 2019, which date we extended from the original date of November 12, 2018 as a show of good faith."
The letter also informs residents that they will not be getting the "voluntary assistance payments" that AJ Capital had agreed to provide if the council were to change the city's laws to aid the company's conversion plan.
The company's announcement, while not unexpected, dashed the last remaining hopes of the few residents who still live in the 75-unit building at 488 University Ave. Dennis Backlund was one of two residents who urged the council on Dec. 17, its final meeting of the year, to reach out to AJ Capital and try to obtain an extension for the residents.
The timeframe for the evictions, Backlund said, is "at the height of rainy season." He said he doesn't know how he will be able to manage his move with his disability, which requires him to use a walker. A former historical-preservation planner for the city, Backlund recalled the regular salons that he held in his apartment, where guests would discuss art, literature, philosophy and film.
"While we do regret losing our closely-knit community at the President, we are proud of the activities we did there," Backlund told the council.
Iqbal Sarang, an architect who has lived at the President Hotel for 25 years, said the residents were hoping that AJ Capital would extend their stay until June.
"It was a surprise, especially with the holiday season, that this deadline was shortened to January 31," Sarang told the council. "Many of us hoped and were under the impression that we'd get a little bit of a reprieve at least, at the behest of the City Council."
In his letter to the residents, Franzen said AJ Capital feels that the October agreement was "fair to both parties in that each received considerations that were valuable to them, but neither party received everything they had hoped for." The agreement prohibited residents from voicing any opposition to the conversion plan in exchange for more relocation assistance and an extension of their leases until the end of January (or mid-June, if the city approved the zone changes AJ Capital was seeking).
Franzen said the company also plans to pay $15,000 to the residents' attorney, Scott Emblidge, to reimburse residents for the legal expenses they incurred in negotiating the agreement.