News

Nonprofit tries to get reprieve for President Hotel tenants

Project Sentinel argues that two tenants with disabilities should be granted 'reasonable accommodations' by building owner

As tenants of President Hotel brace for eviction next week, a local nonprofit that focuses on fair-housing services issued a letter on Friday to the building owner, requesting that two of the remaining residents be granted a temporary reprieve because of their disabilities.

Project Sentinel, the nonprofit that provides housing mediation services in Palo Alto and other jurisdictions, is urging AJ Capital, the new owner of the building at 488 University Ave., to provide "reasonable accommodations" for two tenants who have disabilities, the nonprofit's Executive Director Ann Marquart told the Weekly.

The two residents, Dennis Backlund and Michelle Kraus, had both publicly appealed to the council in recent weeks and months to reach out to AJ Capital to grant them a temporary stay. AJ Capital had purchased the historic building last year with the goal of converting it into a hotel.

"At least two of the current residents at President Hotel have disabilities that are hindering their search for alternative housing," Marquart told the Weekly. "It's going to be very difficult for these people to find new housing and, adding to their difficulty beyond the housing crisis, is the fact that they are disabled.

"We are requesting reasonable accommodations on their behalf."

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Backlund, a former historic preservation planner in Palo Alto, personally addressed the council on Monday and asked council members to request "in a non-binding manner" that AJ Capital extend the lease of remaining tenants until end of June.

He noted that the process for acquiring the city's approvals for the hotel conversion could take up to a year.

"There is not a real need for an eviction to happen now, but I am afraid it will happen unless the council does make a recommendation," Backlund said.

While the city opted not to intervene with AJ Capital, Marquart said her agency plans to do just that. The agency is relying on the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status and disability. The act also makes it unlawful for people to refuse to make "reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford ... person(s) (with disabilities) equal opportunities to use and enjoy a dwelling."

Backlund and Kraus are among the roughly two dozen residents who remain in the 75-apartment building, which was purchased by AJ Capital in June 2018. The new owner had initially planned to evict the residents in November but then later agreed to extend their stay until January if they signed an agreement that commits them to not opposing the hotel conversion. As part of the agreement, AJ Capital also offered to extend the leases until June if the City Council would approve two zoning changes: a removal of the downtown cap on non-residential development and the deletion of a "grandfathered facilities" clause that requires historic, renovated buildings to retain existing uses -- that would help facilitate the hotel conversion.

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The council declined to make these changes by AJ Capital's stated deadline of Dec. 17, though the Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled to consider the "grandfathered facilities" provision this Wednesday..

While the city's position and AJ Capital's refusal to extend the tenancy makes it highly unlikely that most of the residents will see their tenancy extended, Project Sentinel hopes the developer will make an exception for the two residents with disabilities.

"I'm assuming they'll grant reasonable accommodations," Marquart said. "If not, it could be a civil-rights suit."

Related content

• VIDEO: Dennis Backlund talks about eviction from the President Hotel

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Nonprofit tries to get reprieve for President Hotel tenants

Project Sentinel argues that two tenants with disabilities should be granted 'reasonable accommodations' by building owner

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Jan 25, 2019, 6:27 pm
Updated: Mon, Jan 28, 2019, 9:23 am

As tenants of President Hotel brace for eviction next week, a local nonprofit that focuses on fair-housing services issued a letter on Friday to the building owner, requesting that two of the remaining residents be granted a temporary reprieve because of their disabilities.

Project Sentinel, the nonprofit that provides housing mediation services in Palo Alto and other jurisdictions, is urging AJ Capital, the new owner of the building at 488 University Ave., to provide "reasonable accommodations" for two tenants who have disabilities, the nonprofit's Executive Director Ann Marquart told the Weekly.

The two residents, Dennis Backlund and Michelle Kraus, had both publicly appealed to the council in recent weeks and months to reach out to AJ Capital to grant them a temporary stay. AJ Capital had purchased the historic building last year with the goal of converting it into a hotel.

"At least two of the current residents at President Hotel have disabilities that are hindering their search for alternative housing," Marquart told the Weekly. "It's going to be very difficult for these people to find new housing and, adding to their difficulty beyond the housing crisis, is the fact that they are disabled.

"We are requesting reasonable accommodations on their behalf."

Backlund, a former historic preservation planner in Palo Alto, personally addressed the council on Monday and asked council members to request "in a non-binding manner" that AJ Capital extend the lease of remaining tenants until end of June.

He noted that the process for acquiring the city's approvals for the hotel conversion could take up to a year.

"There is not a real need for an eviction to happen now, but I am afraid it will happen unless the council does make a recommendation," Backlund said.

While the city opted not to intervene with AJ Capital, Marquart said her agency plans to do just that. The agency is relying on the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status and disability. The act also makes it unlawful for people to refuse to make "reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford ... person(s) (with disabilities) equal opportunities to use and enjoy a dwelling."

Backlund and Kraus are among the roughly two dozen residents who remain in the 75-apartment building, which was purchased by AJ Capital in June 2018. The new owner had initially planned to evict the residents in November but then later agreed to extend their stay until January if they signed an agreement that commits them to not opposing the hotel conversion. As part of the agreement, AJ Capital also offered to extend the leases until June if the City Council would approve two zoning changes: a removal of the downtown cap on non-residential development and the deletion of a "grandfathered facilities" clause that requires historic, renovated buildings to retain existing uses -- that would help facilitate the hotel conversion.

The council declined to make these changes by AJ Capital's stated deadline of Dec. 17, though the Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled to consider the "grandfathered facilities" provision this Wednesday..

While the city's position and AJ Capital's refusal to extend the tenancy makes it highly unlikely that most of the residents will see their tenancy extended, Project Sentinel hopes the developer will make an exception for the two residents with disabilities.

"I'm assuming they'll grant reasonable accommodations," Marquart said. "If not, it could be a civil-rights suit."

Related content

• VIDEO: Dennis Backlund talks about eviction from the President Hotel

Comments

Winter
Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2019 at 11:23 pm
Winter, Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2019 at 11:23 pm
46 people like this

Good for Project Sentinal and the Americans with Disabilities Act. I assume the law will prevail and these tenants will remain longer. And if true, then there is no reason the other tenants could not stay longer. What difference does it make to AJ Capital whether it has 2 or 20 tenants, other than in the latter case it makes more money in rents. A win win.

This Wednesday, Jan. 30, everyone show up at the Planning Commission meeting to ensure the President Hotel can’t be converted back to a hotel use. If it were, we would lose 75 apartments.


Yeah Right...
Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2019 at 7:57 am
Yeah Right..., Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2019 at 7:57 am
22 people like this

> I assume the law will prevail and these tenants will remain longer. And if true, then there is no reason the other tenants could not stay longer. What difference does it make to AJ Capital whether it has 2 or 20 tenants...

The 'law' as it pertains to evictions, doesn't work that way and why would/should AJ open the floodgates for other displaced tenants to stay longer?

The 'disabilities' will have to be clearly defined and to date, most of them do not hold water when it comes to extended stays on rental property past eviction notices.

Lastly, when the remodeling is completed, are you advocating that a handful of disabled tenants be allowed to stay (at lower than standard hotel rates) just because they are disabled? Try pulling this stunt at the Fairmont or Mark Hopkins.

Bottom line...to most 'concerned' Palo Altans, this is more of an anti-development issue than a humanitarian one. If it wasn't, then some Good Samaritan Palo Alto resident would have offered to take these two individuals in.

To date, no one. This is just another 'tree-hugger' controversy using people as olitical pawns instead of trees.


Yeah Right...
Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2019 at 7:59 am
Yeah Right..., Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2019 at 7:59 am
Like this comment

typo/edit...olitical > 'political'


ADA Abuse
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2019 at 8:07 am
ADA Abuse, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2019 at 8:07 am
18 people like this

[Post removed.]


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2019 at 10:18 am
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2019 at 10:18 am
18 people like this

There are plenty of people in the world who need and deserve help. The residents of the hotel may or may not be in that category.

In particular, Mr. Backlund identifies himself as a retired manager for the City of Palo Alto. This suggests that he may have the financial means to find replacement housing. Perhaps he likes his current rental and, after all, who wants to move or pay more money even if he can afford it?

Moreover, the residents have had seven months to find new housing. Suppose a further extension is granted. How will it be used? Will they actually get to the process of moving, or will they reorganize their political and possibly legal efforts to avoid eviction?

Perhaps Project Sentinel needs to reconsider making this a case. A better use of their time might be to help the residents find new housing.


Arthur Keller
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 26, 2019 at 11:09 am
Arthur Keller, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2019 at 11:09 am
39 people like this

The residents were offered a deal to stay until June 30th if they refrained from participating in the City process regarding changing the current apartment building into a hotel. They held up their end of the bargain. Because AJ Capital did not get what it wanted in a rushed time frame from the City, they are taking it out on the residents by kicking them out sooner. AJ Capital has not even submitted a formal proposal to the City of Palo Alto for a hotel with the design of what they propose. So what's the harm to AJ Capital of holding AJ Capital to their offer to the tenants of staying until June 30, 2019? AJ Capital can't do any remodeling unless and until their project is approved. And it will be many months after that, if ever, that AJ Capital's hotel project will be approved.


Just Say NO
Community Center
on Jan 26, 2019 at 1:04 pm
Just Say NO, Community Center
on Jan 26, 2019 at 1:04 pm
24 people like this

> ...the residents have had seven months to find new housing. Suppose a further extension is granted. How will it be used? Will they actually get to the process of moving, or will they reorganize their political and possibly legal efforts to avoid eviction?

Yep. They had plenty of time to move out + bonuses. The remaining tenants simply want to 'have their cake and eat it too'.

[Portion removed.]

> ...to most 'concerned' Palo Altans, this is more of an anti-development issue than a humanitarian one.

And the soon to be displaced President residents are milking it like a cow.


Incredible
University South
on Jan 26, 2019 at 5:46 pm
Incredible, University South
on Jan 26, 2019 at 5:46 pm
10 people like this

[Post removed.]


Fred Balin
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2019 at 10:08 pm
Fred Balin, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jan 26, 2019 at 10:08 pm
28 people like this

Just Say No writes:
“What specifically has Mr. Backlund do[ne] to deserve special treatment?”

Well, without the expertise and hard work under pressure of citizen Dennis Backlund in the mid-90’s, the Reid & Reid designed courtyard theatre known as The Varsity would most likely have been reduced to rubble rather than preserved intact, including atrium, and in such a manner that it could in fact one day be returned to its original use.

But on the larger question that relates equally to all remaining tenants, I agree with Arthur Keller. AJ Capital’s suddenly accelerated eviction date is a spiteful move in response to the city’s refusal to meet its demands and schedule, but exacted on the vulnerable tenants. Shameful.


Bailing on balin
Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2019 at 8:59 am
Bailing on balin, Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2019 at 8:59 am
13 people like this

[Portion removed.] The owners are within their rights to ask the tenants to leave.


R.Davis
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2019 at 9:26 am
R.Davis, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jan 27, 2019 at 9:26 am
12 people like this

[Post removed.]


Anon
Evergreen Park
on Jan 27, 2019 at 10:09 am
Anon, Evergreen Park
on Jan 27, 2019 at 10:09 am
10 people like this

[Post removed due to the deletion of referenced comment.]


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2019 at 12:12 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 27, 2019 at 12:12 pm
9 people like this

@Fred Balin,

"Well, without the expertise and hard work under pressure of citizen Dennis Backlund in the mid-90’s, the Reid & Reid designed courtyard theatre known as The Varsity would most likely have been reduced to rubble rather than preserved intact, including atrium, and in such a manner that it could in fact one day be returned to its original use."

As an expert on historic preservation, Mr. Backlund should appreciate the value of the owner's plan for the President. It was originally built to be a hotel, and only became a residence building during the 1960s when the PA downtown had fallen on hard times. [Most people are probably not aware of this history.] Returning it to its original use has many benefits including historical ones.




This Topic Is Going Nowhere
Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 27, 2019 at 12:22 pm
This Topic Is Going Nowhere, Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 27, 2019 at 12:22 pm
13 people like this

> without the expertise and hard work under pressure of citizen Dennis Backlund in the mid-90’s, the Reid & Reid designed courtyard theatre known as The Varsity would most likely have been reduced to rubble

Based on this example of his 'expertise' and 'hard work'...why can't he save The President Hotel and its residents from the proposed AJ retrofit and evictions?

The reason...

> The owners are within their rights to ask the tenants to leave AND
> They [the tenants] had plenty of time to move out + bonuses. AND
> ...identifies himself as a retired manager for the City of Palo Alto. This suggests that he may have the financial means to find replacement housing. Perhaps he likes his current rental and, after all, who wants to move or pay more money even if he can afford it?

if they are going to be considered or granted, 'special privileges' should be unilateral for all renters in Palo Alto.




rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2019 at 12:29 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 27, 2019 at 12:29 pm
5 people like this

@Fred Balin,

"AJ Capital’s suddenly accelerated eviction date is a spiteful move in response to the city’s refusal to meet its demands and schedule, but exacted on the vulnerable tenants. Shameful."

It's just good business.

When an owner wants to repurpose a building with tenants, one of the first steps is to get the tenants to leave. This allows closing the building and saving on operating costs. More importantly, it removes a major impediment to the owner being allowed to move forward with his plans.

Since most of the tenants have found new housing, it doesn't make sense to allow a few tenants to remain, especially when they have no demonstrated intention of ever leaving.

AJ tried to give the tenants more time but the city was not yet ready to get reasonable about the building's future.

Sometimes, buildings have to sit unoccupied for years and become "eyesores" in order for the focus to change to how the building can be renovated and put back into useful service.


Everyone Should Play By The Same Rules
University South
on Jan 27, 2019 at 3:27 pm
Everyone Should Play By The Same Rules, University South
on Jan 27, 2019 at 3:27 pm
6 people like this

> As an expert on historic preservation, Mr. Backlund should appreciate the value of the owner's plan for the President. It was originally built to be a hotel, and only became a residence building during the 1960s when the PA downtown had fallen on hard times. [Most people are probably not aware of this history.] Returning it to its original use has many benefits including historical ones.

Maybe he could become a live-in curator of the 'new' President Hotel. A historical concierge of sorts.


Mark Weiss
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2019 at 4:55 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jan 27, 2019 at 4:55 pm
5 people like this

Maybe they could buy The Cardinal Hotel or partner with local hoteliers like Ellis Alden, Denny Levett or Clement Chen III that does not entail using our neighbors like pawns.

Or buy something in Redwood City, AJ Capital.

Or there are some sub-prime motels on El Camino.

I think leadership should be engaging them on this level.


Shady from the start
Downtown North
on Jan 28, 2019 at 12:51 pm
Shady from the start, Downtown North
on Jan 28, 2019 at 12:51 pm
15 people like this

The city's connection to AJ Capital has been corrupt from the beginning.
* "in a June 7 meeting of AJ Capital's application team, Lait and City Manager Jim Keene — a company consultant had indicated that AJ Capital would "only need to address parking and obtain design review approval" for the conversion to go ahead, according to Lait.

Keene himself told the council in June that hotel uses are permitted downtown "by right."
Web Link


* AJ Capital hired TWO men who worked for City Manager Keene
* Steve Emslie, had been Deputy City Manager and long time Planning Director, and
* Richard Hackmann, who used to work under Keene in the city manager's office

so Mr. Keene was comfortable giving development privileges to his former staff.


Shady from the start
Downtown North
on Jan 28, 2019 at 3:28 pm
Shady from the start, Downtown North
on Jan 28, 2019 at 3:28 pm
5 people like this

And don't forget, Steve Emslie took the hit for Keene on the public disgraced backroom negotiations for Arrillaga's multibuilding office plan for 27 University.
[Portion removed.]


margaret heath
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Jan 28, 2019 at 4:37 pm
margaret heath, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Jan 28, 2019 at 4:37 pm
4 people like this

My recollection is that Emslie then went to work for Arrillaga.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jan 29, 2019 at 9:10 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jan 29, 2019 at 9:10 am
14 people like this

Those concerned about this and the bigger issue of how much discretion (read: power) should be in the hands of the City's Planning Director (currently Lait) should:

1. read the Staff recommendation regarding the Grandfathered Facilities Ordinance and the waiver process that Staff (Lait) is proposing AND
2. write the Planning Commission TODAY about this AND
3. attend the PTC meeting in Council Chambers tomorrow (Wed 1/30).

The Hotel President issue has exposed some practices that ought not to be SOP here or anywhere. And particularly not now when we should be preserving housing. What was said and done by the former City Manager and Lait prior to AJ Capital's purchase of the hotel may never be fully disclosed, although Keene did give a pretty big clue when he declared at a CC meeting that AJ Capital could "by right" return the property to a hotel.

I suspect the Hotel President deal is a fait accompli, but if the proposed waiver process is approved it will live on and potentially impact other properties. If it weren't going to be used by Staff there'd be no point in proposing it. I think it is a tool best left out of the planning toolkit b/c it precludes public participation in the planning process. There's no question that sometimes public participation is a pain, but there are safeties in it that should not be forfeited.


PA Travel Agent
University South
on Jan 29, 2019 at 8:28 pm
PA Travel Agent, University South
on Jan 29, 2019 at 8:28 pm
12 people like this

My overseas clients who are make frequent business trips to the SF Bay Area are looking forwarding to experiencing the new President Hotel. Many have been staying at the Stanford Court and this project provides yet another high-end lodging opportunity for well-heeled travelers.

Let's get the ball rolling on this dynamic restoration project. Out with the old and in with the new. Bookings awaiting.


musical
Palo Verde
on Jan 30, 2019 at 1:22 am
musical, Palo Verde
on Jan 30, 2019 at 1:22 am
2 people like this

^ ... and our fair City's new 15.5% TOT revenue!


Book Me a Suite At the New President Hotel
Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 31, 2019 at 2:21 pm
Book Me a Suite At the New President Hotel, Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 31, 2019 at 2:21 pm
4 people like this

> My overseas clients who are make frequent business trips to the SF Bay Area are looking forward to experiencing the new President Hotel.

Us too and we live in Palo Alto! + There's nothing like a romantic weekend getaway in a nice hotel. Staying at a PA motel in Barron Park doesn't quite cut it.

> Let's get the ball rolling on this dynamic restoration project. Out with the old and in with the new. Bookings awaiting.

Yes. The longer-term tenants had their stay and it's time for them to move on.
Let the new lodgers enjoy all the amenities of the AJ refurbished building as we certainly wouldn't want to lay-over there now in its present state.


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