Guest Opinion: Even without housing, Gateway offers many benefits | April 27, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - April 27, 2012

Guest Opinion: Even without housing, Gateway offers many benefits

by Jim Baer

After eight public hearings with few opposing speakers, we believe the Gateway project, a transit-oriented development with Planned Community zoning proposed for 101 Lytton Ave., is nearing final approval. Both the Architectural Review Board and the Planning and Transportation Commission recommended the City Council approve an earlier version of the project with four floors of office space and a fifth floor of rental apartments, of which half were "affordable" below-market-rate units.

Then on March 12, the City Council, while indicating support for a strong Gateway building, directed the removal of the fifth-floor residences, preferring instead that the 101 Project provide greater investment in transportation and parking innovations. Other PC zones within the downtown area have included many other well-supported "landmark" buildings, including 250 University, 529 Bryant, 531 Cowper, 499 University, 400 Emerson, the Byxbee House, among others. The new direction from the council was largely in response to neighborhoods that have been impacted by obtrusive parking on their residential streets by Downtown employees. The next hearing will be May 7 before the City Council.

Even with the removal of the fifth-floor residences, the 101 Project remains a leader in transit-oriented-development. The new office building greatly reduces vehicular traffic. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission reports that offices near a train station can reduce car trips by up to 42 percent. A downtown office reduces far more car trips than does downtown housing. Few residents ride the train. Instead, because of the high cost of Palo Alto housing, residents choose to live in Palo Alto so they can be near their work in Palo Alto. On the other hand, many employees commute by train to Palo Alto for legal, financial and technology jobs. As the highest train-boarding and departing location between San Jose and San Francisco, Palo Alto is a leader for transit-oriented-development.

The 101 Project offers the greatest variety and value of public benefits ever provided in the downtown. For example:

• Housing benefits include more than $2 million for affordable housing, with a $1.2 million contribution and an $826,000 impact fee.

• Parking benefits include by far the largest in-lieu parking fee, $1.5 million, ever paid in the city. None of this fee would be required if the council allowed the 1:1 FAR parking exemption provided under any standard zoning, without discretionary approval.

In addition, the project will:

• Provide attendant parking for 40 spaces (only 10 spaces are credited).

•Contribute $250,000 to the Neighborhood Preservation and Permit Parking Program for Professorville and Downtown North.

• Provide public access for 22 private parking spaces.

•Contribute $60,000 to downtown parking programs.

•Begin a transportation-demand management program to reduce parking by 20 percent.

•Provide urban design benefits valued at over $500,000.

•To support energy and environmental leadership, provide $250,000 for electrical vehicle charging stations, transit passes for tenants, Zip Cars and exceed building standards for improved energy and water conservation. •

Jim Baer is one of the city's most active developers and real estate consultants. He is representing the three developers of the 101 Lytton project, Lund Smith, Boyd Smith Jr. and Scott Foster. Baer helped the Weekly develop its office building on Cambridge Avenue and co-owned it until construction was completed in 2009, when the Weekly bought out his interest. The Weekly has no current financial ties to Baer.


Posted by frustrated resident, a resident of University South
on May 3, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Basically, Jim Baer is saying that this is a great development because the developers are paying lots of money to Palo Alto. I don't see any benefits intrinsic to the building itself. Is Palo Alto so broke that it's reduced to auctioning off development rights - build it big and give us money? This corner should have been developed according to the comprehensive plan - that plan was carefully thought out, and now every new building flouts it. Why is my city council selling out my city?

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2012 at 12:36 am

Jim Baer is offering to fund several special interest groups and is calling it a "public benefit" - it's all double speak:

- How does the contribution to "affordable housing" benefit the current Palo Alto residents? - it will only overcrowd the neighborhood schools.

- How does a one time parking fee create more parking spaces? all the additional office space granted above what the current zoning allows will only make a difficult parking problem worse.

- A one time funding for a parking permit program - how will the parking permit program be funded for the following years? it won't be funded.

- Urban design benefits? how does this benefit the current Palo Alto residents?

- Funding for enivronmental leadership? caltrain passes for the people renting the offices - that's not a benefit for the Palo Alto residents, it's a benefit for the people renting the offices.

Of course Jim Baer donates to many of the city council members campaigns, and he gets his pals in the special interest groups to support those candidates; I predict that except for Holman & Schmidt, the rest of the city council members, will be falling all over themselves to thank Jim for being so generous to these special interest groups and approve all the zoning changes. Shame on them.

Posted by Watching the vote, a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2012 at 1:30 am

Another name for those monies is bribery. That's what it would be called if we read about it happening in another city.

I'll be watching to see which council members vote for this underparked oversized McOffice.

Posted by mmmMom, a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2012 at 10:52 am

"McOffice?" Ha-ha.... what a perfect description.

And "urban design?" Yeah, BAD urban design.

And P.A. does NOT need any more very low income housing - there are too many as it is, & the huge eyesore being built @ Homer & Alma is adding to it. (To say nothing of the section 8 housing that is also available.) What we need are more BMR units that the lower middle income people can actually purchase themselves. Rents are outrageous in P.A; & the middle class is being forced out. Compare the numbers of available poverty level units with those for only marginally higher incomes - it is unfair. And don't forget: that dying middle class, & lower middle class are the ones shopping in town, spending our $$ here AND PAYING TAXES to subsidize the housing we make just a wee too much to utilize. Totally absurd.

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2012 at 11:46 am

By spreading money to outside groups, Baer is basically buying their support for his latest moneymaker.

City policy used to be that a PC project's "benefits" had to be on the site itself. I wonder if they changed that just for Baer. He does have a way of getting his way at City Hall, maybe because he, his relatives, and his associates, give lavishly to the city council candidates who do his bidding. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff]

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