Plans for seven-story office building face questions over traffic, 'public benefits' | News | Palo Alto Online |


Plans for seven-story office building face questions over traffic, 'public benefits'

East Palo Alto City Council delays vote on proposal at University Avenue gateway

Seeking more information regarding traffic impacts and public benefits, the East Palo Alto City Council on Tuesday delayed its vote on a proposed seven-story office development and six-story parking structure at one of the city's major intersections along University Avenue.

The Phase II University Plaza project proposed by The Sobrato Organization would build offices at 2111 University Ave. Sobrato wants a variance from the city's 35% retail space requirement and proposes to lease the city 4,500 square feet of rentable retail space for 20 years. The development, originally planned as an eight-story building, would bring about 815 employees to the area.

The revised project has two options. Option A, which is recommended by the Planning Commission, would have 695 parking spaces and offer 4,500 square feet of ground-floor office retail for use by nonprofit organizations. Option B includes 709 parking spaces and 8,690 square feet of retail space for nonprofits. Option A, at 4,500 square feet, would require a variance from the city. The latter meets the city's 35% retail requirement and does not require a variance.

Each option offers certain public benefits. If the city accepts the 4,500-square-foot retail option, it would receive new restrooms and lighting at nearby Bell Street Park, and Sobrato would forgive a $1 million loan to the city for Hetch Hetchy water-rights purchases from Mountain View. The city would control the ground-floor retail space for 20 years.

If the city rejects the variance and Option A, Sobrato would pursue Option B and select a retailer for the space, which the developer suggested could be used for businesses other than retail, such as law offices. The city would not get new public restrooms or lighting at the park or the $1 million loan forgiveness.

The City Council is taking a cautious approach to the project. Sobrato's Phase I University Plaza development on the south side of University Avenue, across from the proposed development, caused several small, longstanding retailers to leave and they were never replaced.

During the council's review of the Phase I project in March 2017, the developer surprised the council with a last-minute request to drop a good-faith effort to hire 30% of employees from East Palo Alto, as required by the city. Amazon, which was a proposed tenant at the time, said it would not move into the building if the city did not drop the requirement. The council needed to make the decision at that night's meeting and ultimately approved the change. In exchange, the developer agreed to fund and open a small job-counseling and placement center in the ground floor of the parking garage.

Mayor Lisa Gauthier said Tuesday that she didn't want to rush the approval of the Phase II project and wants to make sure the city gets the best deal.

Vice Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones, who participated in the meeting via teleconference from Australia, asked for the council to continue the decision until the project's benefits could be further studied. The city has relatively few buildings that could serve multiple uses, and the proposed project is largely office space.

She was also in favor of analyzing traffic implications of Phase II University Plaza in addition to other planned projects in the city, such as the 2020 Bay Road office complex. Wallace-Jones said the city should look at not just containing traffic but at reducing it.

As part of the project, the developer would pay to move the northbound U.S. Highway 101 entrance on Donohoe Street 30 feet to the east to link up to its driveway. It would also pay for two synchronized traffic signals — at Euclid Street and at the parking-structure exit. The proposal would also change lane striping on the westbound approach to Donohoe Street. A consultant's traffic analysis found the building would generate 1,520 daily trips to and from the building, but with the signal, lane changes and a transportation-demand-management program, the added traffic would have a less-than-significant impact on traffic flows, according to computer models.

Councilman Carlos Romero said he would be happy with a compromise project that would allow the developer to revert back to the eight-story building and give the city 8,690 square feet of flex-space retail for nonprofits and other retail. It could help make up in a small way for the previously lost retail space from other projects. Without the eighth story, the city would lose $301,000 in developer impact fees and $2.2 million in Measure HH funds over 30 years. Those are significant revenues, including earmarked funds for low-income housing, he said.

Councilman Larry Moody recused himself because of his connections with JobTrain, which will be a beneficiary of another Sobrato development. Given Wallace-Jones' absence before the planned vote and Moody's recusal, Gauthier said she was not comfortable deciding on the project with only three council members able to vote. (Wallace-Jones was not able to take part in the vote from Australia.) The council plans to resume its discussion on the project on Dec. 17.


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4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2019 at 10:45 am

As a resident of another city, I applaud the project. The more office space that is built along University, the harder it will be to get to Palo Alto and Menlo Park via US-101 and CA-84/Dumbarton Bridge. If you like to watch the Warriors, just think of EPA "blocking out" traffic towards the west and south.

Of course, if I were a resident of EPA, I would not be happy about the increased traffic. Shouldn't new office space developments have accompanying housing? What does this do to the jobs/housing imbalance? Don't we need more kids for the schools? When is that rebuilt railroad right-of-way going to be done that was promised 30 years ago or whatever?

But hey. I don't live there. I don't even live in San Mateo County. They can do whatever they want up there and don't need my advice.

2 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 9, 2019 at 11:23 am

Sorry East Palo Alto, too little, too late. Your rich neighbors to the West have already oversold their land to developers leaving you little room to make your own town miserable with underparking, unreasonable amounts of office space, and pointless bicycle "improvements". Better luck during the next bubble.

7 people like this
Posted by Jose
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2019 at 2:43 pm

PLEASE, Please get rid of that Chevron gas station on the corner! Gas cars will be obsolete in 10 years anyway, Please! One idea would be to move it perpendicular, across by the Amazon building in the empty lot, that lot has been empty for nearly a decade - I thought the mortuary was moving, what about there?! PLEAAAAAAAASE!

4 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2019 at 3:43 pm

EPA has more people than jobs (unlike Palo Alto, which has far more jobs than people). Seems like a wise move to build an office building there, although retail would probably create a broader spectrum of opportunities for those who really need them.

1 person likes this
Posted by Steve Riley
a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 17, 2019 at 5:13 am

I was camping last weekend with family. Had a great time. Thanks

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