New health clinic, school pitched for Ventura

Residents come out to special meeting to offer ideas about neighborhood's future

As Palo Alto prepares to redevelop the eclectic but underserved Ventura neighborhood, area residents are bracing — with a mixture of caution and excitement — for the wave of change that may soon wash over them.

On the one hand, many are excited about new park amenities, creek improvements and affordable-housing opportunities that the City Council is planning for the area. On the other, some are fretting that these improvements could bring about unwelcome changes of the sort that Ventura has already been experiencing: more tech firms, worsening traffic and more residents getting displaced because of rising rents.

These sentiments spilled out on Monday night, during the City Council's special Town Hall meeting in the Ventura Community Center. More than 100 residents, many from the neighborhood, crammed into the center, filling every chair and lining the walls, to hear an update and offer their thoughts on the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan, a vision document that is now in the works for a 60-acre portion of the neighborhood.

Some came to voice preferences, others to propose specific ideas, including a clinic to serve low-income residents, a refurbished and landscaped Matadero Creek and a new school.

Donald Barr, a longtime proponent of affordable housing, encouraged the council to consider establishing in Ventura a community health center that will allow MayView Community Health Center, which currently occupies a building near the Santa Clara County courthouse, to expand its services. Barr, a Stanford professor of sociology, said such a facility could also provide dental services and other social services to residents in Ventura and beyond.

Barr said the proposal has the support of MayView CEO Ken Graham. Leadership from MayView has also been in contact with Palo Alto Housing, the nonprofit that builds affordable housing and manages the city's below-market-rate program. Palo Alto Housing leaders indicated that they would be interested in building a three- to four-story building of low-income housing above the clinic, bringing about 50 units of such housing to the neighborhood.

Barr was one of the numerous speakers who supported adding more housing, particularly for low-income residents. Kelsey Banes, a psychologist at VA Palo Alto Healthcare System, recounted co-workers who've had to quit because of the high cost of living in the area. Citing the city's astronomic housing prices, Banes described the situation as a "hollowing out of middle class."

"As baby boomers are retiring, I don't know how millennials are going to be able to live here if we're not thinking about how to create spaces for us," Banes said. "I think it's a great opportunity to create housing for people who prefer not to drive two hours to work every day."

While adding housing is one of the central goals of the new coordinated plan, residents also argued that the neighborhoods needs many additional amenities to support both the existing residents and new ones. For many, retail was a key component.

Becky Sanders, moderator of the Ventura Neighborhood Association, said she and her neighbors support Barr's proposal, much like they had supported the recently approved proposal by Palo Alto Housing to build 58 units for low-income residents on El Camino Real and Wilton Avenue, a project known as Wilton Court. They also, however, feel strongly that new commercial development in the neighborhood consists of retail that serves the community.

"I like technology — technology got us our house. But the technology does not do anything for the quality of life of the people in the neighborhood," Sanders said.

For Todd Collins, a member of the Palo Alto Board of Education, schools were — unsurprisingly — a top concern. Collins, who lives in Barron Park, just across El Camino Real from Ventura, channeled the feelings of many in the audience when he called the Ventura neighborhood "grossly underserved" and stressed the need to add more community services. A new school, he said, should top the list of priorities.

"The most important community amenity in terms of defining the community's identity and making everyone feel like they belong is a school," Collins said. "And this area has no school and it had no school in over 50 years and it'll never have a school unless we take steps now to build one for them."

The city's own surveys indicate many residents share Collins' view that Ventura hasn't gotten enough attention from the city in recent decades. The most recent National Citizens Survey showed residents in the geographic area that includes Ventura giving Palo Alto lower grades than residents in other neighborhoods in the areas of walkability, public transportation and quality of new development.

City Manager Ed Shikada noted that 84 percent of residents gave Palo Alto the score of "excellent" or "good" when asked about "overall quality of life." In the area that includes Ventura, 73 percent gave the city high rankings in this category.

The new area plan aims to change that by proposing a host of new amenities to go with hundreds of new housing units, most of which would likely be earmarked for the sprawling, underdeveloped site around Fry's Electronics. At the same time, the council is hoping to add a near-term improvement that many in Ventura have long clamored for: the expansion of Boulware Park. Shikada received an ovation from the crowd when he announced that the city has just submitted an offer to buy a Birch Street site that is currently owned by AT&T.

The need to add more green space to Ventura was a major theme at the Monday meeting, with many calling for the "naturalization" of Matadero Creek, which is currently a concrete channel. Neighborhood resident Claire Elliott, an ecologist at the nonprofit Grassroots Ecology, said she would like to see the city be "more biophilic" — that is, friendlier for nature.

"Opening up the creek along Matadero Creek would be lovely," Elliott said. "Possibly doing something to help Barron Creek as well."

Council members likewise supported this idea, with both Councilwoman Alison Cormack and Vice Mayor Adrian Fine saying that they'd like to see the plan include at least one option that includes a naturalized creek. Cormack also asked staff and the 14-member working group of stakeholders to come up with at least one option that would be "a real challenge to all of our thinking" rather than simply a compromise between stakeholder priorities.

Councilman Tom DuBois, meanwhile, focused his comments on housing and said the city should do what it can to ensure that some of the new housing target specific types of employees, including teachers and city workers — workers who make too much to qualify for below-market-rate housing but not enough to afford local market rates. Councilwoman Lydia Kou concurred and said at least 20 percent of the units should be below-market-rate housing.

DuBois made a motion that, among other things, calls for the city to evaluate the idea of bringing "workforce housing" to the site and increasing the "inclusionary housing" requirement, which requires developers to devote a percentage of their units as below-market-rate housing. The council approved the motion by a 6-0 vote, with Councilwoman Liz Kniss absent.

DuBois also stressed that need to ensure that existing residents do not lose their homes because of the plan. His motion included a provision for preventing resident displacement.

"If we end up gentrifying the whole neighborhood, forcing people out, I think we'll have failed in this plan," DuBois said.


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27 people like this
Posted by Don't Let Developers Screw This Up
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2019 at 8:32 am

The real Palo Alto process:

1. Residents ask for wonderful things: below-market and workforce housing, a health clinic, a naturalized creek, extra parkland, a community center, retail expansion, bikepaths, ..

2. Developers say "yes", but that it only "pencils out" if they get greater density and taller buildings.

3. Neighbors entranced by the promised benefits say "OK" and support the developers.

4. Actual benefits turn out to be marginal. Traffic and parking get much worse. Low-income tenants are forced out. Residents regret having ever backed this. Developers profit nicely.

Moral: Neighbors must insist that traffic, parking, and gentrification not worsen and that offices be replaced by housing and community-oriented services. Don't let developers run the show.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2019 at 8:36 am

From my recollection the former school site is still there and being used presumably to serve our community in various ways. The last time I saw it, the fields and buildings were busy being used by various groups, the reason why I had reason to visit.

If this is still PAUSD land, can more be said about how this site will fit into the proposals.

13 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2019 at 10:29 am

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> From my recollection the former school site is still there and being used presumably to serve our community in various ways.

The Ventura school buildings are heavily used for daycare. Part of the site is a park. The main site in question regarding development is a ways away-- the Fry's site, which is in the Ventura neighborhood, but, not particularly close to the school.

And yes, as the Crescent Park poster above notes, this and any other major development anywhere in the city only "pencils out" if either the housing is high-end or there is office space (or both). But, it only takes a small fraction of the development to be used for office space and it makes the net jobs/housing balance worse, not better. Don't fall for it.

-Just say NO to more office space.-

19 people like this
Posted by Truth to power...
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2019 at 2:07 pm

The suggestion that Becky Sanders and the Ventura Group she represents "supported" Palo Alto Housing's affordable housing project known as Wilton Court is a real stretch. Review the minutes from the Planning Commission meetings ahead of the final City Council meeting and you will find her making statements that clearly demonstrate her dissatisfaction with Ventura having to (and I quote) "bear the burden" of being home to such projects. Only when it became clear that the project was going to get support from Council and it had also become quite unpopular to continue to voice opposition to it did Becky finally relent and meekly speak in support of the project.

One of the greatest challenges facing Palo Alto is that many residents who feel strongly about slowing the tide of change in this community feign support for the concept of affordable housing and use multiple tactics to argue that specific projects, while well-intentioned, fail to satisfy obtuse criteria like being compatible with the neighborhood's context. The prime example of such attacks were the numerous comments lobbed at the Maybell project, an affordable housing project for senior citizens. Ironically, many of the 70-80-year-old Barron Park residents that spoke up during public meetings suggested that the site (in Barron Park) was not well suited for elderly individuals.

The residents who came to voice their opposition frequently began by suggesting they are supporters of affordable housing. These statements of support were almost always followed with a caveat specific to the project. And in the case of Maybell, the laughable suggestion that Barron Park was only suitable for elderly single-family homeowners, and certainly not suitable for elderly low income multifamily renters.

What prompted me to comment is the Weekly's use of broad strokes to reimagine the past. Re-writing history serves none of us.

19 people like this
Posted by ..on Technology
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2019 at 3:07 pm

Completely agreed with "Truth to power" above. Palo Altans LOVE to talk about housing, but they never miss an opportunity to slow down, minimize, or make a project less likely to happen. It's double talk, that's all. You can hear it very often: "I support housing, but..." and then go off on some rant about data, shadows, green space, historic resources, traffic etc. IE we can only build housing if we solve every other problem.

As for the comment that "technology does not do anything for the quality of life of the people in the neighborhood" - what is that woman smoking? Everything here is built on technology on innovation. That's how you got your house! But I guess you just don't want that for the next generation, huh?

31 people like this
Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2019 at 4:45 pm

"As Palo Alto prepares to redevelop the eclectic but underserved Ventura neighborhood"

If you translated this phrase from the upside-down world of developer-speak to plain English it means developer are underserved by the eclectic Ventura neighborhood, and want to run a redevelopment scam to squeeze more profits out of the neighborhood by liquidating residential quality of life.

2 people like this
Posted by parks and city worker housing to help residents
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2019 at 10:38 pm

This area needs to be utilized to address concerns for all of the under served residents of Palo Alto. We are 100 acres behind in park space per resident according to the comprehensive plan. We need more community spaces. We need housing for city workers and teachers.

This are is not zoned for massive office space development or high rise housing and if the city council sticks to the zoning and only allows what the city wants we will get it. If they up-zone and give it all away to the developers, then we will get massive development that will make the developers rich and the city poorer for it. We will get more traffic, more crowded city facilities, more crowded schools and diminished quality of life.

Zone this for housing restricted for city workers who actually help the residents, zone for parks and zone for community serving amenities. The developers can just leave Fry's alone if they don't like it. But they can make a profit even with restricted zoning given what they are getting these days. They just won't make the obscene profit that they have become used to when the city up-zones the land and hands it to them.

20 people like this
Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2019 at 12:47 am

An underserved community in Palo Alto... seriously?

It is hilarious to watch the developers and their quislings in city government roll out the rhetoric of oppression in an attempt to justify the raping and pillaging of this neighborhood by our real-estate developer overlords.

Redevelopment is just another word for gentrification, and that never turns out well for residents who want to stay in their homes. The real purpose of redevelopment/gentrification is to set off a vicious ascending real-estate price spiral that will drive residents of moderate means out of the neighborhood, clearing the way for developers to profit from the viscous cycle of rising real-estate prices.

The most affordable real-estate we will ever have is the real-estate we already have. Do the math. For developers to turn a profit, the redeveloped property HAS to sell for a HIGHER price than the original property.

6 people like this
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 13, 2019 at 12:50 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

This was the vision I shared at the meeting:

I would like to invite us all to envision the multi-faceted benefits that come from systemic, wholistic designs which take care of people and planet.

I hope we will do the following:

- Restore Matadero Creek on the edge of Fry's to a park and flood control basin, removing the concrete channel in that stretch so our native frogs can breed again
- rooftop gardens on all new buildings to cool the area, create habitat, and open space for building occupants
- Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) throughout the new development to capture and clean urban runoff
- native plants and pesticide free
- green buildings
- carbon negative buildings and site

- a large central car-free core, where cars come in only as deep as they need to access under-building parking.
- the existing roads can be kept for emergency access but otherwise not be accessible by cars, to create a safe healthy car free space where children can roam free off leash...

- a public square sourounded by a few cafes, restaurants and bars, but crucially including ample public space where people of all ages and incomes can gather in community. Cities in Europe have such spaces and they are important ingredients of healthy life.

- a community center serving homeless, seniors, children, and day care, community medical services, publicly available, showers, laundry facilities and restrooms open 24/7.

- mixed use development, with retail at ground level, office and services above that, and residential above that and on the sides facing towards residential areas.

- wide variety of housing types and affordabilities, including very low or no income levels

- if height limits are relaxed to enable more housing, require step backs of the buildings every one or two stories, again with rooftop gardens at each step back, to avoid imposing urban canyons
- minimize office space, maximize housing

- office space that is added should support small and locally owned businesses and services
- structures of local community ownership or share of increased value from the development so that existing residents benefit from the changes rather than getting pushed out by gentrification.

13 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park

>> This was the vision I shared at the meeting:

Nice "vision", but, please do the arithmetic. How many housing units does your vision add?

>> mixed use development, with retail at ground level, office and services above that, and residential above that and on the sides facing towards residential areas.

A small amount of office space will negate the housing. The -average- amount of space in new offices is around 150 square feet per employee, Web Link and, less for the software developers. Open space work areas can be as low as 60 square feet. (See above.) Do the arithmetic.

-No more office space.-

Side subject regarding Matadero Creek: sure, we would all love to see a broader, more nature-filled Matadero. Just be aware that it will require some extra width to do it, and, most importantly, these areas need maintenance ($$). Otherwise, bushes grow, and then they get clogged with debris that gets caught in the bushes, and then you have local flooding. I would much prefer a natural-looking creek, but, it will need policing and maintenance. That is ongoing cost that somebody has to pay. As I said, I'm not against it. Just that too many times in my life I've seen such plans go awry because people didn't consider the ongoing costs.

12 people like this
Posted by Don't Let Developers Screw This Up
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 13, 2019 at 7:51 pm

Here's a radical proposal. Ventura has acres of software offices that don't serve the community at all. Some offices, such as those clustered around Fry's, are on land zoned for housing, not software companies. How about we take away the residual right to have offices there so that the land owners will want to replace the offices with housing?

Think of all the advantages:

* This will improve our job / housing imbalance in two ways: it will reduce jobs and increase housing.

* Although each housing unit generates more traffic than each office worker, housing typically generates less traffic on a square foot basis. So if we replace say 100,000 sq. ft. of office with 100,000 sq. ft. of housing, neighborhood traffic will likely go down.

* Again, on a square foot basis, housing needs less parking than offices, so we can have more open space and greenery.

* Because we'll just be replacing offices with housing, this won't make the neighborhood any denser.

* We'll show the state that we take housing seriously and are moving in the right direction - unlike our pro-growth City Council majority who keep approving more commercial growth despite lip-service to housing.

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

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