News

City looks to buy land near Boulware Park

Palo Alto ready to make an offer to AT&T, though property has no listed price

After coveting it for more than two years, Palo Alto is preparing to make an offer on a Birch Street property that city leaders hope to transform into parkland as part of a broader plan to redevelop Ventura neighborhood.

The City Council will consider on Monday night its options for purchasing a portion of the 1.65-acre property that AT&T owns at 3350 Birch St., adjacent to Boulware Park. The site includes an AT&T building, which the company is not selling, and an undeveloped 0.64-acre section near the intersection of Ash Street and Lambert Avenue AT&T had put on the market in early January.

If the city buys the property, it would be able to expand the 1.5-acre Boulware Park and add a recreational amenity to a dynamic neighborhood where parkland has been in relatively short supply. The neighborhood barely meets the city's parkland standard, which encourages having park space within half a mile of all homes. The few parks it does have are either very small (Sarah Wallis Park), relatively hard to get to or both (Boulware). Adding land to Boulware Park would help the council meet a Comprehensive Plan policy calling for neighborhood parks to be at least 2 acres in size.

The council has been discussing the possible purchase of the AT&T site since fall 2016, when officials first learned that the company is exploring a sale. Last June, when the council was discussing raising the city's hotel-tax rate to pay for infrastructure and new community amenities, the AT&T site was one of the projects that council members cited in their arguments for the higher rate. Mayor Eric Filseth, who supported raising the hotel-tax rate by 2 percent, pegged the move as a chance for the council "to invest in the community" and add new recreational amenities.

"I really want to buy the AT&T (site) next to Boulware Park, for example, and we have no chance to do that if we don't do something here," Filseth said at the June 18 hearing.

Though voters decided to raise the hotel tax rate to 15.5 percent in the November election, rather than the 16 percent that Filseth and others had lobbied for, Palo Alto has other options to pay for the site. The city collects parkland development impact fees, which will have a balance of $2.7 million after all the other scheduled park-improvement projects are accounted for, according to a new report from the Administrative Service Department.

The city also collects "parkland dedication fees" that are earmarked for development or rehabilitating community parks and the city may have up to $1.2 million available in this account.

Even so, the report notes that the purchase is far from certain. The property currently does not have a listed price and the city's offer will be made "at fair market value, to be determined with the seller," the report states.

"Considerations will be cost and availability of funding, including whether acquisitions should be designated as a priority over other parks improvements and whether this potential acquisition should be prioritized over other City parks and recreation projects," the report states.

Even so, the prospect of buying the property and expanding Boulware Park remains popular at City Hall. The Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council have often talked about the need to bring more recreational amenities to Ventura and had identified the site as the ideal opportunity. The city is also now in the midst of creating a master plan for a large section of Ventura, including the commercial campus currently anchored by Fry's Electronics.

"Acquisition of the property would allow for the expansion of Boulware Park, which could then meet standard neighborhood park acreage and potentially integrate the street right-of-way between parcels," the report states. "The property's location proximate to the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan study area also enhances potential connectivity with the Fry's site."

The property is being marketed by CBRE Group, a commercial real-estate firm that has indicated that it wishes to receive offers by late this month, according to the city.

The council will discuss the Birch property on Monday night and will likely direct staff to negotiate with CBRE about a possible purchase.

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Comments

21 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 20, 2019 at 11:02 am

Annette is a registered user.

Welcome news. Governor Newsom, Senator Scott Weiner and, closer to home, Councilmember Fine are promoting development agendas that center on densification. Too much of that can result in an oppressive built environment, making open space and parkland increasingly important to human well-being. I hope the acquisition plan succeeds.


9 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 20, 2019 at 12:03 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

It is good news to expand Boulware Park from 1 1/2 to 2 acres. By the same reasoning we should try to acquire 7 acres of the former Fry’s.
For a “major” park —that’s a thing.


17 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2019 at 12:05 pm

I strongly support the efforts to buy that parcel for park use. Any other development would seriously diminish the park value of Boulware Park. Due to the layout of the streets and the park geometry, the parcel in question is visually part of the park landscape.


4 people like this
Posted by @annette
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 20, 2019 at 2:40 pm

Yes, there are a whole range of elected officials promoting the densification of housing... to help solve the housing crisis.

And there are a whole bunch of people like you who oppose each and every opportunity to build more housing, resulting in an oppressive social environment.

FFS.


17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 20, 2019 at 5:56 pm

@Annette, you won't solve any housing crisis while huge numbers of new jobs are being created to fill the millions (literally) of new square feet of commercial development which is 3 times as profitable as housing.

All you're doing is adding lots more people competing for housing which in turn raises housing prices.


7 people like this
Posted by Public Facility
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 21, 2019 at 6:48 am

One thing the City has in its favor is the land is currently zoned Public Facilty (PF) so it has limited (to no current) development potential for say single family housing. Hopefully that keeps the price down to a level the Coty can afford.


8 people like this
Posted by Bridget
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 21, 2019 at 8:33 am

I hope that this will draw attention to the fact that this park is not safe--it's full of drug users instead of children! I walk through about once a week and EVERY SINGLE TIME there are people there doing drugs with their children present. Last week, my husband and I walked through and there were two groups of people--One of the people had a needle sticking out of their arm and the other was shooting up along side of him. The other group was smoking out of pipes--it was not marijuana. It was scary and it also happened to be 4:00pm. This is unacceptable. I really hope someone can help draw attention to this issue.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 21, 2019 at 8:50 am

@annette

Must we stoop so low as to swear at each other on this forum?


11 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 21, 2019 at 11:20 am

Pat Burt is a registered user.

An additional aspect to the story is the current zoning for the land the city hopes to acquire. It is now zoned PF or Public Facility. This means that a private developer would not have a specific right to develop the land for high value commercial use. Consequently, the fair market value of the land should reflect this condition.
Also, a site map of the parcel for sale along with Boulware Park would show whether Birch Street could be closed if the city bought the new parcel which would allow the street to also be added to the park, a leveraged bonus for the city if the city acquired the land.
Expanding Boulware should be a priority. The Ventura neighborhood has long had fewer community amenities than other parts of the city. At the same time, Ventura has provided much of our more affordable housing, including the upcoming 100% affordable project on Wilton Ct which the neighbors supported to their credit.


2 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 21, 2019 at 3:14 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

1) if the land is zoned PF, how did it end up in private hands?
2) Why did we cave when Pollack asked to build on the VTA lot?
3) why don’t we own the Post Office already?


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2019 at 4:23 pm

Posted by Bridget, a resident of Ventura:

>> I walk through about once a week and EVERY SINGLE TIME there are people there doing drugs with their children present.

>> It was scary and it also happened to be 4:00pm.

That is a serious incident. You should call the Palo Alto police business line, 650-329-2406, M-F 8 AM - 4 PM, and ask to talk to a uniformed officer about this. I expect that an officer will call you back to discuss it.


5 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 22, 2019 at 2:50 pm

Jonathan Brown is a registered user.

The City Council should seize this opportunity to do the right thing for all of its citizens. Palo Alto’s Parks Master Plan directs the city to expand parkland inventory so that it keeps up with population growth and is fairly distributed across the community. Acquiring the parcel at 3055 Birch St. represents a unique opportunity to meet this objective. The Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously agreed. The City must not waiver. Campaign slogans, master planning, and lofty rhetoric are nice, but the time for action is now.

3350 Birch is zoned Public Facility, a designation reserved for recreational facilities and community-serving uses. Expanding the park would help address the current lack of size of Boulware Park relative to the large neighborhood it serves, and it would fulfill the City’s stated objective to add parkland on a corner lot.

There are lots of tie-ins to other City goals and initiatives such as making our creeks more walkable and natural (see, e.g., Section 5.2.2 of the California Avenue Area Concept Plan), the Healthy City initiative and the North Ventura Coordinated Action Plan that will only increase the need for more park land near what is proposed to be a large new source of housing at the Fry’s Site.

AT&T is ready to sell at a fair price, and they'd love to sell to the City. Let's hope the City proves to be a willing and motivated buyer.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2019 at 11:44 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I plan to attend tonite to rise during open forum to honor Jeff Adachi the SF Public Defender who died last week at age 59. When I ran for City Council in 2009, his work was brought to my attention by Aram James, who works for equal justice in the South Bay (actually, Aram James and Doug Minkler, both Gunn grads, made a poster that year in support of Jeff's campaign to increase the budget for his office, that tries 2,000 cases per year).
I worked briefly for Jeff's 2011 campaign for SF mayor that yielded 15,000 votes (6th place, to Ed Lee's 84,000); I handed out campaign literature in front of Whole Foods. Atlhough he was a liberal, his platform was opposed by labor. (It would address pension reform by requiring civll servants to contribute more to their pensions, progressively, or weighted).
Jeff was also a film-maker, father and husband.
He was not a Palo Altan, but maybe we can name the new park parcel for Jeff Adachi.
Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Lock Them Up
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2019 at 12:53 pm

"I hope that this will draw attention to the fact that this park is not safe--it's full of drug users instead of children! I walk through about once a week and EVERY SINGLE TIME there are people there doing drugs with their children present. Last week, my husband and I walked through and there were two groups of people--One of the people had a needle sticking out of their arm and the other was shooting up along side of him. The other group was smoking out of pipes--it was not marijuana. It was scary and it also happened to be 4:00pm. This is unacceptable. I really hope someone can help draw attention to this issue."

Contact the PAPD 911 & have them arrested. All of the illegal drug users should be rounded up and thrown into lock-down detention/rehab centers.

It's not a safe environment for community residents & their children.


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

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