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City nears construction agreement for long-awaited Palo Alto Museum

City Council finalizes lease terms for delayed project

The Roth building at 300 Homer Ave. has long been eyed as the future site of Palo Alto's history museum. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Palo Alto entered the final stretch in its long journey to creating a new history museum on Monday, when the City Council approved the parameters for a long-term lease with a nonprofit that has been trying to launch the project for more than 15 years.

The council also asked staff to hash out the final details with the Palo Alto Museum over the next three months, a request that could pave the way for construction to begin early next year. The museum would occupy the Roth Building at 300 Homer Ave., a city-owned building that was once owned by Palo Alto Medical Foundation and that has fallen into disuse and disrepair.

Once the lease is in place, Palo Alto Museum will begin the long-deferred work of rehabilitating the 1932 building designed by renowned architect Birge Clark and making it suitable for the new facility. The project has a price tag of $12.3 million, with about $3.9 million coming from a city program that allows builders to buy development rights by providing funds that help restore historical buildings. The balance will be paid for through a combination of impact fees that are designated for parks and community centers, $300,000 in grants from Santa Clara County, a $1 million contribution from the city's general fund and about $2 million in funds raised by the nonprofit.

Rich Green, president of Palo Alto Museum, said it's become almost impossible for the nonprofit to raise money for the project without the assurances that a long-term lease would bring. The nonprofit, he said, is still looking to raise $8 million for museum operations.

"What we're talking about now is rehabilitation of a city-owned building and we've done everything we can toward that goal," Green said. "Now that we have no written assurance of moving into that building, our fundraising has come to a stop."

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While the project has at times struggled to win political and popular support over its tumultuous history, the Monday discussion marked a major turning point, with most of the council enthusiastically backing the conversion of a dilapidating asset into a museum commemorating local history. Mayor Tom DuBois, a longtime supporter of the project, urged staff to move quickly to finalize the deal and suggested that further delays will only add to the museum costs.

"We do have a rich history beyond tech, but even the tech history is truly astounding," DuBois said, citing Fairchild Semiconductor's invention of the first commercial transistor in Palo Alto. "I think the fact that we don't have a museum is a really missed opportunity for us to tell our story — the good and the bad."

Vice Mayor Pat Burt agreed and noted that the deal will bring two significant benefits to the building: a restoration of a city-owned asset and the creation of a museum operated by a nonprofit at no cost to the city. He pointed to Avenidas, the senior services nonprofit that operates out of a city-owned building on Bryant Street, as a model for the museum project.

"Many cities pay for and staff at their own expense senior centers, history museums and the like," Burt said. "In this case, we'll be able to outsource all those functions and derive the benefits of both having such a museum and having a more valuable city-owned asset of this building."

The only council member who strongly opposed the project was Greg Tanaka, who objected to the proposed 40-year term of the lease and the rate of $1 per month that the city would be charging the nonprofit. The museum, he argued, should be required to pay market rate for occupying a prime downtown location.

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"What we have to think about is, 'Do we want to be investing in the past, the history, or do we wanting to be investing in the future?'" Tanaka asked.

Council members also reached a near-consensus Monday on most of the outstanding issues in the lease negotiation. They voted to require a security deposit of only $10,000 for the construction project, well short of the $150,000 initially proposed by staff and in line with a request from Palo Alto Museum. They also clarified that the museum will be responsible for the long-term maintenance of the facility and for paying $15,000 to ensure that the project complies with the city's prevailing wage requirements. And they agreed to reimburse the permit and processing fees for the project, which total about $100,000.

While the council generally agreed that turning the rundown building into a usable community space is generally a good move, some members urged a more cautious approach on the long-term lease with Palo Alto Museum. Council member Eric Filseth requested that staff create a contingency plan in case the museum can't meet its obligations to pay for operations. Council member Alison Cormack, who otherwise supported the council's direction, voted against a provision to reduce the security deposit and to reimburse permit fees. She also opposed the council majority's direction for staff to return within 90 days with a draft lease — a deadline that City Manager Ed Shikada noted may not be entirely within the city's control in a two-party negotiation.

"We are making an enormous investment in an asset that we had let deteriorate — and that is a big change in policy from when we bought it. … Who knows what this is going to look like in 40 years? … This is a time to be careful and thoughtful," Cormack said.

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City nears construction agreement for long-awaited Palo Alto Museum

City Council finalizes lease terms for delayed project

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Nov 16, 2021, 11:55 am

Palo Alto entered the final stretch in its long journey to creating a new history museum on Monday, when the City Council approved the parameters for a long-term lease with a nonprofit that has been trying to launch the project for more than 15 years.

The council also asked staff to hash out the final details with the Palo Alto Museum over the next three months, a request that could pave the way for construction to begin early next year. The museum would occupy the Roth Building at 300 Homer Ave., a city-owned building that was once owned by Palo Alto Medical Foundation and that has fallen into disuse and disrepair.

Once the lease is in place, Palo Alto Museum will begin the long-deferred work of rehabilitating the 1932 building designed by renowned architect Birge Clark and making it suitable for the new facility. The project has a price tag of $12.3 million, with about $3.9 million coming from a city program that allows builders to buy development rights by providing funds that help restore historical buildings. The balance will be paid for through a combination of impact fees that are designated for parks and community centers, $300,000 in grants from Santa Clara County, a $1 million contribution from the city's general fund and about $2 million in funds raised by the nonprofit.

Rich Green, president of Palo Alto Museum, said it's become almost impossible for the nonprofit to raise money for the project without the assurances that a long-term lease would bring. The nonprofit, he said, is still looking to raise $8 million for museum operations.

"What we're talking about now is rehabilitation of a city-owned building and we've done everything we can toward that goal," Green said. "Now that we have no written assurance of moving into that building, our fundraising has come to a stop."

While the project has at times struggled to win political and popular support over its tumultuous history, the Monday discussion marked a major turning point, with most of the council enthusiastically backing the conversion of a dilapidating asset into a museum commemorating local history. Mayor Tom DuBois, a longtime supporter of the project, urged staff to move quickly to finalize the deal and suggested that further delays will only add to the museum costs.

"We do have a rich history beyond tech, but even the tech history is truly astounding," DuBois said, citing Fairchild Semiconductor's invention of the first commercial transistor in Palo Alto. "I think the fact that we don't have a museum is a really missed opportunity for us to tell our story — the good and the bad."

Vice Mayor Pat Burt agreed and noted that the deal will bring two significant benefits to the building: a restoration of a city-owned asset and the creation of a museum operated by a nonprofit at no cost to the city. He pointed to Avenidas, the senior services nonprofit that operates out of a city-owned building on Bryant Street, as a model for the museum project.

"Many cities pay for and staff at their own expense senior centers, history museums and the like," Burt said. "In this case, we'll be able to outsource all those functions and derive the benefits of both having such a museum and having a more valuable city-owned asset of this building."

The only council member who strongly opposed the project was Greg Tanaka, who objected to the proposed 40-year term of the lease and the rate of $1 per month that the city would be charging the nonprofit. The museum, he argued, should be required to pay market rate for occupying a prime downtown location.

"What we have to think about is, 'Do we want to be investing in the past, the history, or do we wanting to be investing in the future?'" Tanaka asked.

Council members also reached a near-consensus Monday on most of the outstanding issues in the lease negotiation. They voted to require a security deposit of only $10,000 for the construction project, well short of the $150,000 initially proposed by staff and in line with a request from Palo Alto Museum. They also clarified that the museum will be responsible for the long-term maintenance of the facility and for paying $15,000 to ensure that the project complies with the city's prevailing wage requirements. And they agreed to reimburse the permit and processing fees for the project, which total about $100,000.

While the council generally agreed that turning the rundown building into a usable community space is generally a good move, some members urged a more cautious approach on the long-term lease with Palo Alto Museum. Council member Eric Filseth requested that staff create a contingency plan in case the museum can't meet its obligations to pay for operations. Council member Alison Cormack, who otherwise supported the council's direction, voted against a provision to reduce the security deposit and to reimburse permit fees. She also opposed the council majority's direction for staff to return within 90 days with a draft lease — a deadline that City Manager Ed Shikada noted may not be entirely within the city's control in a two-party negotiation.

"We are making an enormous investment in an asset that we had let deteriorate — and that is a big change in policy from when we bought it. … Who knows what this is going to look like in 40 years? … This is a time to be careful and thoughtful," Cormack said.

Comments

Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2021 at 3:51 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 16, 2021 at 3:51 pm

Really? Is this extraordinary, unprecedented time of COVID and slow recovery and near economic collapse the time to squander millions of dollars? All we need is a museum to store all the bad and historic housing decisions for the past 100 years. I am skeptical about the bulk of the money coming from said "impact fees". I believe it's the money coming from the Federal Cares Act. Parks and Recreation ? Meanwhile the Jr. Museum is now charging a $15 per person entrance fee. And Parks and Recreation have little to no cost offsets for low-income, cash strapped, working poor families who are investing in our community, volunteering and other. Our children are suffering from the impacts of COVID and the lack of organized programming for kids at 80% to 100% scholarships. Where does the city get off by continuing to ignore its youth at risk and youth as our future? Bullying on our school campus' ... children and teen programming could really use the $12million dollars for active, positive supervised arts, music, sports, etc/ How about a teen center or a better, safer skatepark for our kids. I am sure the Williams Sisters and their Dr. dad who started the Palo Alto Medical Clinic would feel the same. So much time spent going on about a $10,000 community room set aside... I am embarrassed for our CC leaders who are ignoring the very people they are supposed to care for, not an old broken down building that will house no people, but things. Looks like all are on a Tech High, far removed from the essential values of living surviving right now.


felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2021 at 4:07 pm
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 16, 2021 at 4:07 pm

I am so over Councilmember Tanaka's knee-jerk nickel-and-diming of worthy proposals, seemingly without discernment. It's not fiscal responsiblity, it's too often a lack of good judgement while ignoring reality about a subject, as seen with his no vote on the Museum last night.

He wanted to charge the Museum market-rate rent, though the City actullly charges many non-profits way less in other City owned buildings which surely he knows.

He said, "What we have to think about is, 'Do we want to be investing in the past, the history, or do we wanting to be investing in the future?" We want to invest in both, Greg, which is why we need this Museum. It is critical to our present and our future, not just our past. We can't know who we are or what we may learn from to enlighten our future aspirations unless we know who we were and how we all got here to this moment.

Given how much you talk about your family history under the Janpanese-American World War II imprisonment, I think you know something of the power that history has on the present. This subject may well be one the Museum could take on - how the rounding-up of the Japanese-Americns happened, who they were, where they were imprisoned, and how it touched our town then and now. Understanding that specific history could shed understanding now on Asian/API hate - it could make a difference.

Next time, Councilmember Tanaka, try making it a priority to value something more than only the nickel and the dime.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 16, 2021 at 4:39 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 16, 2021 at 4:39 pm

"I am so over Councilmember Tanaka's knee-jerk nickel-and-diming of worthy proposals, seemingly without discernment."

Absolutely. Also quite removed from reality.

A month ago he berated PA staff and council for letting El Camino Real deteriorate and spoke at great length about the various needed repairs, their schedule, how to determine priorities, the costs, etc. etc.

Watching staff and council struggle not to laugh while informing him that El Camino is not a Palo Alto road and hence not a PA project was priceless.


Curmudgeon
Registered user
Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2021 at 5:38 pm
Curmudgeon, Downtown North
Registered user
on Nov 16, 2021 at 5:38 pm

I am sure the Williams Sisters and their Dr. dad who started the Palo Alto Medical Clinic would feel the same."

Projecting your attitudes onto the deceased is very low politics.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2021 at 7:30 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 16, 2021 at 7:30 pm

To Curmudgeon. The sisters were neighbors and friends of my husband’s and his family for years. So we knew them and their attitudes to be more about caring for people and not housing “things”.


tmp
Registered user
Downtown North
on Nov 17, 2021 at 10:49 am
tmp, Downtown North
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 10:49 am

Given the complete lack of motivation on the part of the group that fronts for the PA History museum and their inability to move this project along for 15 years I don't think the city should let them have this building. It would be better for the city to rehab the building - we taxpayers are paying for it anyway - and then give them a small portion of the building to see how they do. The rest of the building can be used for city business or rented out at market rate to pay back the cost to fix the building. I would rather use this money to buy more parkland in the city - something that has not increased with our increasing density. Done correctly this building could house a small museum and also be a source of revenue to support other civic good works. If the museum improves they can get a larger share or start to pay for the space at a reduced cost.

It should not just be given to a group that can't seem to get itself organized after decades and just keeps coming whining to the city to give it everything and pay for everything for it. This handful of museum people do not represent the bulk of Palo Alto taxpayers.


Rebecca Eisenberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 17, 2021 at 11:21 am
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 11:21 am

The proposed Palo Alto Museum is a profound waste of limited resources and conflicts with Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan in virtually every way. Here, in a perfect location for housing near jobs, Palo Alto City Council chooses to create more *jobs* without any accompanying housing. That building, near a park, is ideal for families with children and seniors.

Instead, Palo Alto City Council has decided to give a windfall to large campaign donors, yet again.

Our community deserves better.


Jesj
Registered user
Barron Park
on Nov 17, 2021 at 12:19 pm
Jesj, Barron Park
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 12:19 pm

From this article: "Vice Mayor Pat Burt agreed and ... a restoration of a city-owned asset and the creation of a museum operated by a nonprofit at no cost to the city." Earlier in article: "The project has a price tag of $12.3 million, with about $3.9 million coming from a city program that allows builders to buy development rights by providing funds that help restore historical buildings. The balance will be paid for through a combination ...and a $1 million contribution from the city's general fund." ?? =>> "AT NO COST TO THE CITY" ???? Typical of this council....


Online Name's mom
Registered user
Community Center
on Nov 17, 2021 at 4:26 pm
Online Name's mom, Community Center
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 4:26 pm

Yay! Fabulous to see!


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 17, 2021 at 7:19 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 7:19 pm

Where is the Federal Cares Act money that came to the city of Palo Alto to help all of the people? It is around $12Million dollars. Back in April 2021 a bogus PA City, third party survey was sent out. It was emailed on a Saturday. Asked residents to Check a list of where we thought the Care’s Act money should go. We had 48 hours to respond before it “self destructed”. Within the 48 hour Sat/Sun period, the following Monday was also a National Holiday. How is this even a legal as a public process? Or maybe it was just a courtesy city survey.


GeoffPaulsen
Registered user
another community
on Nov 17, 2021 at 10:30 pm
GeoffPaulsen, another community
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 10:30 pm

Now that progress is finally being made on the building that my grandfather, Dr. Russel V. Lee, built to house the clinic he founded, it might help you all to understand that this building has national significance. Not only did Grandpa put into practice the heretofore heretical concepts of group practice and prepaid medical plans, he was one of the architects of Medicare. His son, Dr. Philip R. Lee, who was also a Palo Alto Clinic doctor, actually implemented Medicare and in doing so, desegregated every hospital in the country that received federal money. These practices - desegregation, health insurance, group practice, care for the elderly - actually touch the lives of Americans as much or more than the tech contributions for which Palo Alto is so well known.


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 18, 2021 at 9:15 am
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 18, 2021 at 9:15 am

I certain that we can find a community group that can make better use of this asset. There's a reason it's taken this group 15 years to get no where.

I want to see kids smiling, playing, spilling out to the lawn and park. If this goes through, we'll see nothing but old, self-important Palo Altoans and super-bored kids on the field trip they wish didn't happen.

... and at what a price tag, too.


PA Resident
Registered user
Midtown
on Nov 18, 2021 at 2:05 pm
PA Resident, Midtown
Registered user
on Nov 18, 2021 at 2:05 pm

As a long time resident of the town I am in no way shocked to see so many anti museum people in these comments. So many residents are so blatantly racist yet act like their aren't but try their best to shove people of color and wealth out of this town in order for their comfortable "progress" shows this towns true colors


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 18, 2021 at 3:56 pm
Native to the BAY, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Nov 18, 2021 at 3:56 pm

The Duveneck name has lived up to a more true purpose as well and lives on. If there was such support for the founding of Palo Alto Clinic then, why doesn’t Stanford take medi-cal or how come not one therapist in Palo Alto takes medi-cal payments for psych services. Lock up the history of a once altruistic philosophy that served a balance of social good. Or recreate now, a vision and services for those alive . with all the money spent to produce a singular key that only fits one vision — all to house things and not react rational services for the many. $12 million will be sucked up in as long as it takes to utter the words Palo Alto Museum in a completed sentence. Since it’s next to a lovely Park , I see an incredible teen center there. Our children are our future and it’s been a dismal and horrid COVID pandemic experience for our young. Invest in the fire, not the past. Give a couple of rooms to the storage of history and the rest as a legacy attributing to our children’s health and prosperity.


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