A backwards process | May 17, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - May 17, 2013

A backwards process

"Not a done deal" defense rings hollow for proposed senior-housing development

Imagine making a substantial family investment in something before determining its value, how other family members felt about it and deciding if it was the best way to meet your family goals?

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Posted by FrankF
a resident of Ventura
on May 17, 2013 at 10:38 am

FrankF is a registered user.

Anyone who has tried to buy property in Palo Alto within the last decade or two knows when a property become available you must move very quickly. The Palo Alto Housing Corporation is no exception and I applaud their quick action in securing the property.

Now we are in the middle of a debate of exactly what the project will look like with some neighbors saying don't build it but that does not mean it should not be built or that it will cause the problems they claim it will.

This article seems to imply the city should not spend any money on this until the plans are approved by the planning commission but if we did business that way noone would ever sell land to the city, it would take far to long.

Suppose the city decides that this is not a good project and will not get built - does anyone believe we will have any problem selling the land - for a profit?

How else does anyone propose the Palo Alto Housing Corporation acquire land besides buying it then proposing a development?

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2013 at 11:31 am

I recommend the City Council come to Maybell Street between 8 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. and observe the traffic going up Maybell for a better understanding of the neighborhood residents' concerns. Do this before school closes.

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on May 17, 2013 at 11:31 am

The City would not be in this mess if they hadn't been so insistent on removing two lanes of traffic on the Charleston/Arastradero corridor. Of course kids going to Gunn on their bicycles and cars heading West have moved over to Maybell.

Open your eyes Transportation Department, this was a dumb move, it simply moved traffic from a road designated arterial to a residential corridor. Unfortunately, this is happening in other neighborhoods around Palo Alto.

Give up on your project on Maybell until you get the traffic off there and back onto Arastradero.

Posted by Sign Me Up
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 17, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Does anybody know if this action can be put to a referendum?

Posted by tiredofallthis
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2013 at 12:15 pm

"When the Association of Bay Area Governments told Palo Alto it must plan and zone for 2,860 new housing units in the current planning period it sent officials scrambling to meet the quota."

Tell ABAG to 'stuff it' with their unreasonable quotas.

Posted by go ahead and build
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 17, 2013 at 12:59 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Fix it now
a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Scharff said it " could be revised later."
How many times have developers and the city said that? countless times.
No! fix it now! This project is an outrage.
Remembering that John Barton's wife's company got to build the market rate ALTAIRE housing next to the JCC. What a deal. This project has a similar outline.

Posted by Corrupt
a resident of College Terrace
on May 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

We do need a referendum that prevents the city from executing this project and any like it in the future. We should also carry around recall petitions while we're gathering signatures. The way the city Council has been acting I imagine it will be an easy sell. Sign me up too.

We need to hold our politicians accountable. It's high time.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 17, 2013 at 1:28 pm

@sign me up,
We can't change the city putting the rezoning into the housing element, but here's what you can do coming up:

1) The City has recirculated the mitigated negative declaration MND for the property. The developer didn't do an environmental impact report, they submitted the MND. Read the MND and point out any ways that it is wrong/ inadequate for the record, and ask your questions about it. Please write a letter with your objections to the rezoning to
[email protected]
[email protected]

2) Send a copy of your email and city's response to [email protected] and download a petition and flyer from the website.
http://www.paloaltoville.com (still under construction)

3) Attend the Planning Commission's May 22 meeting, 6:00pm, First Floor city hall at 250 Hamilton. The Planning Commission votes then on the rezoning. Bring friends and family, including kids who bike.

4) Once the Planning Commission rezones the property, it goes before the City Council a month later, I think June 27, for a final vote on rezoning. Please attend that meeting, too!

Yes, it can be put to a referendum, Bob Moss is going to try to get PC zoning overhauled through referendum. What's the point of zoning in the first place if the city can come in and do whatever it wants, regardless of the huge negatives to the community, especially school kids?

Every one with kids at Terman and Gunn High School should be concerned about a high-density development being proposed right in the heart of the residential neighborhood and at that choke point to the neighborhood between two safe routes to school, Maybell and Arastradero between Terman Middle School and El Camino.

The proposed high-density development on land that is currently an orchard and 4 houses, and new traffic from the 60 units plus 15 tall skinny houses on Maybell/Clemo has no other outlet except to add its to the traffic on Arastradero and Maybell at those already dangerous locations. Clemo, the quiet street beside Juana Briones Park, blocked off to keep through traffic from cutting between Arastradero and Maybell, would lose much of its street parking and would in one way or other be a driveway for the development.

The neighborhood still supports PAHC - in fact has more than one large, integrated low-income development already in the neighborhood - but opposes the rezoning for any high-density development at that location. The Arastradero restriping made things worse, but that location has for many years been an accident-waiting-to-happen for any of the 1,000+ kids who walk and bike to school every day. Maybell was even "improved" because it was so dangerous, but the narrow, congested street is far from safe.

The developer wants to put 15 tall skinny homes right up against the street on Maybell/Clemo to take the place of 4 ranch homes — PC zoning means no limits on height, setback, and daylight plane think Miki's Market in the middle of a residential neighborhood just before the park and school! This is the Miki's Market process all over again, where the predictable damage is ignored in favor of developer-centric interests. In this case, the project is being financed by the developer insisting on rezoning Maybell for those tall skinny houses (they will be market-rate homes).

Surveys of neighbors show an majority desire to use the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to convert the orchard to parkland or a playing field (it's large enough for a full-sized regulation field), an extension of Juana Briones Park, but neighbors have had no way to even approach the city about working out such an opportunity for the future, because the city committed so early on to rezoning that property for development. One council member has already bluntly told a resident that they won't turn it into a park, even though an extension of the park or a playing field is by far the safest use of that location, and would be far more in keeping with the ideal of putting services where people live to minimize emissions.

Posted by Fact check
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 17, 2013 at 1:37 pm

There is some misinformation here.

It is not correct to say that bikes left Arastradero for Maybell. 19% of morning peak hour trips on Arastradero (which carries about 20,000 cars per day) are bikes. Numbers of bicyclists overall have increased at ALL of the schools served by Maybell and Arastradero and so it is natural that both streets would see an increase in the number of bicyclists.

The additional car trips on Maybell are largely due to an increase in enrollment at Juana Briones and an increase in the percentage of students assigned to that school from outside the attendance boundary. These children tend to be driven rather than bicycling because they live farther away, and there aren't planned safe routes for them.

I understand that the city has plans to make Maybell a Bike Boulevard. This is a recommendation of the citywide Bike Plan. A specific design has not been created yet. The city just initiated the very first outreach meeting this week in the Barron Park neighborhood. I attended. There seemed to be support for this change from neighborhood people at the meeting.

The statement that some ARB member recommended removing the Clemo barriers may be so. However, if they made such a comment, transportation mitigation is not their purview. It is irrelevant. City transportation staff has strongly recommended leaving the Clemo barriers in place.

I like the circulation plan that has TWO access points. I think it will do the most to minimize use of Maybell by drivers at the site.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 17, 2013 at 2:02 pm

How should PAHC find properties? For starters, they should look for properties already zoned for high density. They do exist, and they're being built on at a frenetic pace in south Palo Alto, if you hadn't noticed.

Palo Alto Housing Corporation should not have purchased property in the middle of a residential area that had such severe constraints from the for-profit developer in order for it to be built. They're not building in Old Palo Alto or Professorville because of costs, they should not have gotten themselves into a situation they could not afford unless they got everything they wanted before even understanding the problems of the location.

As a result of the constraints, they had no room to actually mitigate the negatives, and they have made no serious environmental and safety review -- for example, the traffic study failed to study the impact on the thousands of pedestrian/bicycle trips made daily on the streets it impacts.

There are some troubling problems with the narrative about how that property was purchased. It wasn't snapped up the minute it went on the market. It is a low-density transition zone to the R-1 area between two PC-zoned apartments (built when that area was still county). Developers have expressed the sentiment that they couldn't maximize their return (if they bought full-price) building residential homes there, because of the next-door developments, and it would have been difficult to rezone because the square of existing PCzone and the Maybell property is surrounded by R-1 residential. Developers were not anxious to try to build within the existing zoning. Many people have quietly expressed the opinion that PAHC substantially overpaid and over leveraged itself for the property.

It's a sad state of affairs that such a rare opportunity for open space, or a community playing field, couldn't even be considered because the city prioritizes only how to satisfy its ABAG allotment.

As for not having the problems the neighbors claim it will? That's exactly the point of the editorial, PAHC and the city put themselves in a position of having every incentive to ignore any reasonable evaluation or consideration of negatives (as they have done).

The developers claim that putting 60 units (for comparison, the Tan apts have 61) plus 15 tall skinny homes where currently 4 homes and an orchard sit will not increase traffic is delusional. Further, they're planning to put seniors there because they thought it was more palatable to put seniors there, not because it's a good location to put seniors. There are no nearby services, not even medical or grocery. A far better location for seniors would have been nearer downtown, with Avenidas, medical, Trader Joe's, etc.

There have been 20 of 24 "affordable" senior units at Moldaw that have gone unfilled for 3 years, because PAHC didn't work out the logistics to make them actually affordable. Rather than solving that, they're on to the next thing that they also aren't thinking through. Because after all, those unfilled units have already been counted for ABAG.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 17, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Fact check,
Do you understand that strip of Arastradero is the only outlet/inlet of all the neighborhoods to the east of Arastradero between El Camino and Foothill Expressway, and almost the same for neighborhoods to the west (Maybell being the other major outlet)?

There isn't a way to juggle this that puts traffic from the proposed development onto anything but an overcrowded already too congested safe route to school.

As someone who lives in the neighborhood, I can tell you that any traffic onto Arastradero or Clemo right there already faces significant challenges to turning left onto Arastradero in order to reach El Camino. Many people who live along Arastradero already reach El Camino by turning right onto Arastradero to Coulomb, cutting across Coulomb to Maybell at the elementary school, and driving up Maybell at its narrowest stretch to El Camino. That stop sign at Coulomb and Maybell has to be replaced on average once a month because it gets mowed down.

There is no way to parse this that doesn't worsen the safety situation, because that location has no other outlet for the traffic except those two already congested safe-routes to school. No one on the city or planning commission (or the developer or PAHC admin) lives in the area affected, so they don't know what has been happening here the last several years. A six-year-old girl was just killed by a car this week while crossing the street in front of her elementary school, where neighbors had been complaining about traffic for years. We have been complaining about the traffic dangers here for years. Rather than the city doing something about it, neighbors are having to fight against something that will make things worse. It's possible that under today's circumstances, that orchard shouldn't be built on at all, much less at high density.

Gunn HS was just renovated to take hundreds more students, so that will add to traffic. VMWare is just one of several thankfully booming businesses that is growing, whose workers travel that strip of Arastradero. Those streets are the only exits/entrances to numerous neighborhoods along that stretch - what happens in an emergency? The city should be concerned about its responsibility to ensure the safety of existing residents and should not have put itself in this position to ignore all other concerns except filling ABAG slots.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I just read my post and need to clarify:

A six-year-old girl was just killed by a car this week while crossing the street in front of her elementary school in San Jose, where neighbors had been complaining about traffic for years.

We have been complaining about the traffic dangers here for years. Rather than the city doing something about it, neighbors are having to fight against something (controversial PC zoning the planning commission is already for good reason publicly questioning) that will make things worse. It's possible that under today's circumstances, that orchard shouldn't be built on at all, much less at high density.

The city owes at least as much responsibility to the thousands of families whose kids attend the 4 schools near that locations as it does to filling ABAG slots. The cart-before-the-horse approach above has created unhealthy incentives to ignoring that responsibility.

Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Part of this problem that often gets overlooked is *cumulative_effect*. In evaluating projects and in its "planning", the City studiously ignores this most basic of issues.

The Arastradero corridor is already saturated with traffic, but the City plans to substantially increase that, both with increases in office space in the upper Research Park and with housing and hotels along El Camino that will feed traffic into the Arastradero corridor. There are similar problems around the ElCamino-PageMill intersection (195 PM, 395PM J.Paul, Park Ave Tech Corridor, other Cal Ave developments).

I was a residential representative on the Technical Advisory Panel for the Housing Element and participated in roughly monthly meetings for over 2 years. Trying to get the City to take a systemic view of the proposal was an exercise in futility -- they were focused on satisfying the ABAG numbers and those numbers are so large that there was no rational way to satisfy them.

Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Another part of the intensity of this debate is the total lack of trust in the City resulting from the treatment of residents during the meetings on the Arastradero Restriping Project (ARP)

One of the points that the City rejected was that it wasn't acceptable to transfer safety problems from one place to another. The ARP significantly increased cut-thru traffic on residential streets, yet the City and the ARP advocates dismissed this problem despite it being brought up forcefully and repeatedly. It was a spectacle to have the advocates seeing the solution to having cars doing 35mph on Arastradero to be to have them doing 35-40mph on residential streets that are heavily used by bicyclists and pedestrians (35mph is the cited threshold for where a collision is likely to be fatal for a bicyclist or pedestrian).

Posted by Sign Me Up
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 17, 2013 at 3:54 pm

"Trying to get the City to take a systemic view of the proposal was an exercise in futility ..."

Yes indeed. There is a compelling reason for this: almost none of the city staff live in Palo Alto. They do not have to live (literally) with the consequences of their decisions, which may include bad vibes from their neighbors. Plus, our strong-city-manager government model thoroughly isolates staffers from accountability to our elected officials. They are totally free to take the short view -- the easy one -- doing what suits their own immediate interests, future consequences be damned.

The residents' only effective recourse is to veto whatever they can via referendum.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 17, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Sign me up,
The City Council does have to come from Palo Alto, and historically, few of them live south of Oregon, even though 50% of the residents do. None of the Planning Commission lives in the affected area, either.

Posted by Miranda area resident
a resident of Juana Briones School
on May 17, 2013 at 4:17 pm

It is simply ridiculous that the City is planning on doing something like this with so little planning or notice. They shoved the Arastradero re-striping down our throats and I'm convinced that the data they used to support it was cherry picked because it showed little to no impact when anyone who was a sentient human being knew that it was a disaster. The only thing that alleviated the mess was changing the start time at Gunn HS.

But at least there were some people out there who supported the Arastradero re-striping (bicyclists, mainly). I don't see any support for this rezoning from anyone other that government types trying to comply with a stupid housing quota rule promulgated outside of Palo Alto. I'll credit them with trying, but they're going to have a mutiny on their hands if they push this through, with litigation (pro-bono, no doubt) gumming up the works for years, just like high speed rail. Your tax dollars at work.

Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2013 at 4:25 pm

First 2,600 units plus housing I think it was to much. The communities of bay area will need to get creative in housing and the types that are needed.

Second, most of the communities in the bay area have residents who are opposed to the,mandates yet keep on approving job producing projects. What gets to me?

Third, is when they keep approving job producing projects, expecting neighboring cities to take up the housing slack. .

We are going to need senior housing, more family homes, young couples or non couples. We need schools, parks, college space and road space. Wait til baby boomers like me need burial space.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 17, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Something needs to be clarified here:

This isn't just a simple rezoning fight. When PAHC purchased the property they knew they could only work things out if they rezoned part of it for the sake of a for-profit developer to put high-density tall skinny homes (think Miki's Market) right in the middle of a traditional residential neighborhood. PAHC and the City left themselves no room to NOT be beholden to a developer. They left themselves no room to compromise for the sake of safety or anything else. The City created a conflict of interest when it loaned PAHC the money, which gets repaid only if the market-rate developer gets the rezoning.

That's called contract zoning, and it is illegal for good reason. "Sign me up", neighbors have retained land use attorney Kent Mitchell, and have a legal fund to help pursue a suit on those grounds should it prove to be the case, if you want to sign on to that, too. Kent Mitchell was able to stop the City from putting a street from El Camino through Greenacres I at what is currently the culdesac at the end of Glenbrook (which would have effectively destroyed that neighborhood).

Even if the City decided to *give* PAHC the money now out of the Stanford pot, it doesn't eliminate the perverse incentives to rezone, it would only make matters worse by using money they promised to spend on an important visionary project for the future in order to try to dodge charges of impropriety.

If the City was going to give out some of that Stanford money for that location, there should be some benefit to existing residents and the community, and there should be a community discussion that includes the benefits of a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get open space/playing field space in a part of town increasingly burdened by rezoning and density. That would benefit existing residents, reduce emissions, and keep people out of their cars driving across town to playing fields.

Because let's face it, there's no benefit to existing residents of the proposed project. That's a poor location for senior housing, as there are no services nearby, not even grocery stores. No one who will live there will come from the surrounding neighborhood, as surveys show they tend to stay in their houses till they die, and if they sold a home they'd be instantly ineligible (even if there were space when they did). Those moving in won't be people working in Palo Alto who will shorten their commutes, since PAHC has claimed the vast majority won't be working. PAHC decided who would live there based purely on what they thought they could push the most easily politically, not what was best for the community or even the residents (who will, again, be sited nowhere near any services they need, not even grocery). There is nothing about this that satisfies the intent of ABAG mandates.

So, to answer your question sign me up, there are legal avenues, there is a referendum, and there is an initiative, and neighbors would welcome your help.

I have heard neighbors wish that John Arrillaga would buy to property to relocate Hostess House, and convert the property to a community orchard across from the existing park, like Gamble Gardens. There are already some 100-year-old oaks fronting Clemo across from the park. The neighborhood is relatively near the Veterans Hospital, and Hostess House could become a place where veterans are welcomed again. Such low-traffic uses should be considered not just because of safety, but because the City should have to consider quality of life, too.

Posted by disbelief
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2013 at 7:40 pm

The Maybell Project and Arastradero restriping together are the
latest example of a completely out-of-control City government,
which is systematically destroying the City. There are examples
all over the place of what is going wrong here, with mistake after
mistake after mistake. It is across the Board starting with the
Council ,the ARB, and the staff and is affecting the entire City
and its neighborhoods. The process is controlled by special interests
with no over-view, no coherence,no long-term perspective, no public interest component played out in a series of disjointed actions.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2013 at 9:07 pm

And why didn't the city staff rezone 27 University to provide for housing? This is right next to the train station, close to Stanford Hospital, etc. etc. Instead, because a big developer wants to build office buildings, they don't zone it for senior housing.

And why don't they rezone some of Old Palo Alto for this BMR housing?
With PC zoning, they could build a 4 story high rise, with a big basement to house the same number of units. And traffic in Old Palo Alto is alot less, and is closer to the train station, hospital, and other services.

That's the problem with you all - you keep re-electing people from the same old clique, and they are ramming this housing down your throats, while protecting their own neighborhood's quality of life.
If you vote for Scharf, Shepard or Price next year, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Honestly, Tim Gray would at least have the decency to represent the residents, and instead you all voted for Marc Berman.

Posted by Displaced
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Much is made of the ABAG housing requirements placed on bay area communities. Forgive my naive question but what are the consequences of non-compliance? How come some cities don't seem to have to build low income housing while others do?

It seems very questionable to me to blindly add so much more housing in the area when public transit is so limited and the existing infrastructure seems stretched to its limit. Shouldn't infrastructure be addressed first or as part of this expansion?

Posted by barron park resident
a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2013 at 1:53 am

I heard Atherton does not accept the ABAG mandates...they do not care if they don't get some funds ..

can't palo alto organize to do the same...

I know there are a few people who are anti-ABAG, and seem to understand the process,

I just do not understand how this "non-elected' group is ruining our community.

Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2013 at 8:46 am

Barron Park Resident - ABAG housing requirements are based on the number of jobs in the City. Atherton has very few jobs so it is not affected by ABAG. I personally think that the jobs should be considered on a more regional basis, for example, Atherton, Portola Valley and Los Altos Hills should be expected to help house the employees working in Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

Common Sense - a 1/2 lot in Old Palo Alto sells for $10 million or so, even with zoning changes, it is cost prohibitive to build there.

Posted by Hold on There
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 8:53 am

If a half-lot in PA sells for $10 million, how come I barely got 1.1 for my rather luxurious two-story house on a half-lot last summer? I had to shell out a LOT of out of pocket cash to upgrade to a bigger house because even though it was nearly paid for, what I got was not enough to get into anything bigger than a 3/2 in a bad location.......

Look again at the facts.

The real issue with Maybell is that the streets are narrow and few, and can NOT handle the traffic that all of this housing will inflict upon the neighborhood. In spite of the fact that few of the retires will drive.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2013 at 9:02 am

Few of the retirees will drive? Wow. Do you expect then that they will stay inside all day or go out in their battery scooters?

No, retirees will need rides from friends, or taxis, or others which in fact double the traffic as each outing for a retiree will cause 4 trips along the nearby streets as the car goes to pick them up and then leaves after dropping them off.

The other thing to remember is that Arastradero is not finished! It is due to have plantings in the middle of the street which will mean that the residents have to drive and do U turns to get them into the direction they need to be. Instead of the U turns, I expect many of them to use neighborhood streets to point them in the right direction.

I like Maybell as a bike route to school and it should be encouraged.
The only way to stop cars would be those horrid barriers they put on streets which stop cars entirely but allow bikes through. Is that what the Maybell residents want?

Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 18, 2013 at 9:35 am

> I recommend the City Council come to Maybell Street
> between 8 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. and observe the traffic
> going up Maybell for a better understanding of the
> neighborhood residents' concerns.

A digital camera could record this traffic quite accurately, easily, and cost-effectively. Why is it that someone from this community has not made video recordings for the public/Council to see? The videos could easily be uploaded to Youtube.

It wouldn't be that hard for some residents to actually count the cars passing this intersection, and post that data both on Youtube, and Scribd.

Posted by worse off with existing zoning
a resident of Green Acres
on May 18, 2013 at 10:01 am

Used to be that we could count on the Weekly for in-depth reporting on controversial issues. But now it seems that “irked residents” are the primary sources for reporters, and undocumented hyperbole is repeated as if it is fact. What's up with this?

Guess what: Total trips predicted for the peak hour in the morning is 16. Yes, 16! Data from existing comparable senior affordable housing projects in Palo Alto shows that the traffic study prediction is solid. Statements made above about "all the traffic this housing will inflict" have no basis in reality, despite the repeated armchair experts' assertions.

There’s more: EXISTING zoning allows 34-46 single family housing units on that site, which would have a much higher impact on peak period congestion than the proposed 60 units of senior low income housing and 15 units of single family homes. This would require no zoning approval, meaning no chance for neighbors to object.

Not only do seniors in this type of housing travel make significantly fewer trips per day, but they are _much_ less likely to travel during the peak AM hours that the irked residents claim to be so worried about. And despite uninformed claims to the contrary, the site is better served by public buses than most of Palo Alto.

But let's assume that all the signers of the misleading and uninformed petition actually would like to help solve existing backups at during the morning school commute crunch on Maybell. Then here's a suggestion: direct your energy to demanding that the PAUSD step up and offset its past and future increased enrollment by seriously promoting carpooling at Gunn, Terman and Briones in addition to walking and biking. Take away 100 impatient drivers on Maybell between 8:05 and 8:25, now that would really improve safety along this corridor so heavily used by bicyclists and pedestrians!

Let’s hope the Planning Commissioners do their homework better than the Weekly did! Read the staff report and do the math!

Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 18, 2013 at 10:27 am

> Not only do seniors in this type of housing travel
> make significantly fewer trips per day

Seniors often have family who visit--these trips need to be added into the equation. There are also vehicles picking up residents in these sorts of projects taking them to specific places. There are also Ambulance/BigRig callouts for medical emergencies--which occur frequently in senior housing centers.

Just looking at resident trips is not sufficient to accurately determine the traffic impact of a development like this one.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 18, 2013 at 11:03 am

Someone has already taken video and has been putting together something for the website. Still, the worst situation is when it rains. Then a larger percentage of the kids get to school in cars and it's a nightmare. Even if you go see the mess we have while school is in, it doesn't begin to approach what will happen in an emergency or a wetter year -- or when construction vehicles start blocking off Maybell or Arastradero to build.

@worse off with existing zoning,
You're not really from the neighborhood, are you? This is a small, close-knit neighborhood, and neighbors have been going door-to-door -- and the Weekly has your IP address even though you are anonymous. Weekly, if I have gotten it wrong, and somehow this person is from Greenacres, then I'm fine with deleting this charge. If not, please leave it, people shouldn't represent they are from the most affected neighborhood if they aren't.

"Data from existing comparable senior affordable housing projects" - Which affordable senior housing project do you mean that has no nearby services at all, not even medical or grocery?

The existing zoning is R-2 and Rm-15, low density residential and low density multifamily. RM-15 allows 8-15 units per acre. If we follow the zoning guide in the city's Comprehensive Plan Land Use guides, it says, "Density should be on the lower end of the scale next to single
family residential areas."

The area in question, the Tan/Arastradero/Maybell block is surrounded by R-1. Tan/Arastradero were built under county rules and grandfathered in. The Maybell zoning is clearly a transition zone from them to the R-1 neighborhood that wraps around and surrounds them. So if we were to do something as quaint as follow the Comprehensive Plan (instead of developer desires), the RM-15 would be built to the lower end of the scale, 8-10 units per acres, i.e., the whole property would be 20-24 units under existing zoning.

Compare 20-24 units under existing zoning to 75 units, including 15 of them market rate, packed in a narrow, tall strip with little setback on mostly Maybell (where currently 4 houses sit). You're the one who is being misleading and uninformed if you think that's going to mean less traffic.

Secondly, under current conditions, it's possible even building under current conditions would create hazardous conditions at that location. The point is, the City hasn't done due diligence in studying the situation, and they are required to given that the only outlets/inlets for the project are on congested "safe routes to school", one of them not even a full-wide street. Since people moving into the high-density development would not be from the neighborhood, they wouldn't know the hazards, increasing the likelihood of serious injury or death to a child.

Senior drivers are also the most likely to hit pedestrians/bicyclists of any demographic, most likely (except teens) to have a collision at an intersection, and most likely to be hit themselves as pedestrians. Has the city looked at how the actual risk to the children on bikes and pedestrians would increase because of the demographic, where there are NO nearby services? Remember, PAHC only decided to make it seniors for political reasons, not because it was a good place to put seniors. A lower number of trips with a higher risk per trip needs to be viewed differently, particularly since none of the data are comparable to sticking seniors way out where they have no accessible services or grocery.

Lastly, more evidence you are not from around here is your last paragraph. 40% of kids going to Gunn HS and Terman already bike. In the next few years, Gunn will house hundreds more students, meaning hundreds more bikes and cars. They come from a very large swath of Palo Alto, and the routes are definitely not all "safe". Even when Maybell isn't crowded, it's often effectively a one-lane street. I find myself driving on the opposite side of the road to share it with bicyclists, parked cars, etc at least once a day. The bicyclists themselves can be a hazard for pedestrians, and that's another issue that hasn't been examined. We have made many attempts in the last few years to get packs of bikes to stop at signs, to no real effect. I've seen large packs of bikes swarm elementary kids crossing in the middle of the street, rather than waiting for them to cross. A collision between a small child and a bike could be serious or fatal to the child. As Maybell becomes more dangerous, more older kids use the elementary school as part of their "safe route", another safety issue that has not even been considered in the plan.

Thank you to the Weekly for taking a look at the facts, rather than just being an arm of the Planning Commission, where they seem to know as little about what is going on in this neighborhood as "worse off".

Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on May 18, 2013 at 11:32 am

In a case like this, where city officials no longer represent the overwhelming interests and needs of the neighborhood, it's up to us to take the necessary steps to get our voices heard.

Previous posters have already highlighted some actionable steps to express our opposition, and get legal counsel to address this. Get involved, and do not just assume somebody else will do it for you.

Given how difficult and strict the Palo Alto 'process' is to just get a residential remodel permit, it's extremely shocking that developers and the PAHC got their wishes granted so easily in this case. It's also time to probe into the 'ties' between our elected officials and the stakeholders at PAHC.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Palo Alto Parent/Palo Alto High School - there was a house on a 20,000 sf lot on Seale Ave that sold for the same price as the Maybell lot in 2012.

With PC Zoning, a 4 story building could have been built on that lot, with the same number of units of senior housing as what is proposed for Maybell, and this would be closer to the Caltrain station, Stanford Hospital, PA Med Foundation, and other shopping needs.

So why didn't PAHC buy that instead? Everything about that lot is better for senior citizens.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 18, 2013 at 2:12 pm

@palo alto parent,
The property in question was purchased for $15 million, because of the proximity to the grandfathered-in apartments (the reason it is a transition zoned area). Get off your high horse. A 3-bedroom 2-bath rundown rancher on a flag lot in Greenacres, 6,000 or 7,000 sq ft lot goes in the area of$1.5-1.8million. Any home over 2,000 sq ft on a reasonable sized lot goes for over $2million.

The property in question was only so high-priced because the seller wouldn't sell just the orchard. In other words, the 4 houses on Maybell, if renovated, are $2million rancher houses and cost much more per square foot than the orchard.

I'm sure it would be possible to buy up a nice enough part of Old Palo Alto for $16million, put a couple of tall, skinny houses with no setback on some residential part of it to make the cost of the project back, and build a high-rise. You're closer to the freeway than we are, after all.

I'm not suggesting anyone do that, I want you to realize that's the equivalent of what is happening over here in Greenacres.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Doug, and everyone else,
The city has recirculated its Mitigated Negative Declaration. Even if you already wrote a letter with your points, it's important to write another one, elaborate with your person experiences or observations if you can, but please get it on the record now while the MND has been recirculated. State that you want your comment added to the public record of the property.

Send emails to:
[email protected]
[email protected]

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 19, 2013 at 8:57 am

@hold on,
People on the north side of town maybe should be worried if this project sets a precedent for "creative" ways to finance high-density projects. Any time a large tract of land goes on sale now, the city or the housing corporation will be eyeing it to purchase, peel off a section on the edge and put completely incompatible ultra-high-density market rate homes with no proper setbacks, height, or other restrictions (PC zoning), and with the sale of those, finance the purchase for the high density project. Anything within a 1/3 mile of Middlefield and Alma would especially be fair game.

That's in the Mitigated Negative Declaration, the description of this exact process to be done to our neighborhood, as a "creative" (their words) way to finance the project.

For those who think it won't happen in their backyard, come over and drive (slowly, and not during school traffic) through Greenacres, up Georgia from Arastradero, turn right onto Donald, then right onto Willmar and back to Arastradero. The neighborhood isn't that different in feel than many in the north (between that and being next to Gunn, it's why the real estate costs are not that terribly different either), and it USED to be quiet. We've hit a breaking point with the traffic at certain times of the day, especially if anything little disrupts it, like construction, rain, etc.

Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on May 19, 2013 at 11:22 am

SteveU is a registered user.

The Arastedero re-stripe has made a negative traffic impact on Los Robles. It is not now uncommon to see 5 or more cars at the Los Robles stop signs during school commute hours. Even 5 years ago, that would only happen if there was a big rig needing to make a corner.

Maybe it is time to consider some One Way streets to ease the flow (no need of stopping/blocking and waiting to make a Left across traffic). Make Clemo one way to Maybell and Coulombe one way to Arestedero

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm

The trouble is that Arastradero is pretty clogged, too. That strip of Arastradero is too hard to turn left from to go to El Camino much of the day, so people tend to turn right and go around the block. If Clemo were one way to Maybell, it would mean people going to the school from Arastradero would have to turn onto Clemo then make a left onto Maybell right in the midst of clogged traffic - traffic would then back up turning right onto Clemo. The people needing to get to El Camino who go around the block would get stuck in that, too.

The other problem is that streets in these neighborhoods are not really on a grid. The neighborhood has limited routes out and in, and basically, Maybell and Arastradero are it. Both are already problematic, and adding a development right at that critical juncture will make things much worse.

The City may be right that putting a market-rate development there under existing zoning may be too much traffic. In that case, we should be thinking of other uses to put that property that will enhance the community and not make unsafe circumstances worse. It is currently a historic orchard and 4 houses, we should consider making it an extension of the park.

Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Time to build housing in the Foothills or go east. Sunol will be perfect for high density housing. Connect a BART like system from there to 280 and Sand Hill Rd.

Build over the bay from Niles to North Whisman via Google.

Posted by simple logic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Of course the City should contest ABAG prescriptions. But when you
routinely over-ride zoning to allow massive job-producing projects you totally undercut your position. It's obvious the City has made a choice- continue the over-development, keep the game going. The office market is going crazy, this is no time to stop.

Posted by Scandal
a resident of Downtown North
on May 20, 2013 at 8:32 am

This absolutely reeks. What an awful misappropriation of my tax dollars:

First, investing in a project that is only "viable" if the city itself gives out a giant favor (zoning change) at the expense of neighborhood safety.

Second, trying to railroad the project through (sneaking it into the housing element; producing garbage "studies" that are shallow, incorrect, or incomplete but are supposed to placate everyone; having staff rubber stamp it)

Will the city also use my tax dollars to pay for court costs when the CEQA and conflict-of-interest issues blow up? I think so. At least they have a $175K/year PR person to try to convince me otherwise, though.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 20, 2013 at 10:23 am

The irony is that this is a fairly welcoming neighborhood, planners are just ignoring the hard facts residents face every day. In many places, even building under the existing zoning would be controversial, but neighbors have far more issues with the market-rate homes that will be packed along the edge of the project, and welcome senior housing built within the existing zoning.

I keep hoping because of that that maybe this is a kind of warped strategy, where PAHC decided to avoid potential opposition to building within the existing zoning by coming up with something so outlandish and unsafe for that location through proposed rezoning, that a reasonable compromise within current zoning would be readily accepted. Or maybe it's a game where the City gets PAHC to try to rezone such an inappropriate location for density that residents give the City the evidence it needs to go back to ABAG and tell them to stop. Unfortunately, this is not a game for residents of the neighborhood, or indeed of the rest of Palo Alto, should the developer succeed in pushing through this financing scheme and it gets repeated elsewhere.

You're right, scandal, this won't just blow over for the residents who face the problems every day.

Posted by Please no rezoning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Response to "I understand that the city has plans to make Maybell a Bike Boulevard. This is a recommendation of the citywide Bike Plan. A specific design has not been created yet. The city just initiated the very first outreach meeting this week in the Barron Park neighborhood. I attended. There seemed to be support for this change from neighborhood people at the meeting."

The city did a plan for traffic calming/ Safe Route to Schools when Terman reopened. That study showed that there was not enough room for a bike lane then and there still is not. They concluded with the "best" they could do for Maybell which was to add speed tables and stop signs in the middle of the street to calm the cars at the intersections (since they would have to manage around the cement curbs holding the stop signs). That was all that could be done. Those stop signs are run over on an average of once a month. The next solution, according to the City, is to move the stop signs back in the intersection so that they do not have to replace the stop signs so often. That will only make the stop signs safer.

The point is that the City of PA can call any corridor anything that they want to but it will NOT change the facts. Maybell is an accident waiting to happen. If 65-70 new residences are added in the 2.5 acres then we are potentially adding 70-150 more cars that will be traveling the "safe corridor" all day long when students are returning from schools.

And please, council members, do not say that low income seniors will not all have cars. You may be right, some will have two because each of the residences could have more than one person living in them. Then there are the caregivers, the deliveries, the family visitors. Folks are not against seniors they are opposed to the density and they are for protecting the students.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Dear no rezoning,
Please send your very coherent points in an email to the City Council and Planning Commission. Please state that you would like your comment to be included in the record for the property. (If you write before 10pm tonight, ask also that it be included in the record for the Housing Element.)

Send your letters to:
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]g

And please attend the Planning Commission meeting Wednesday May 22, when they vote on the rezoning! (There is one more vote of the council after this, but the planning commission doing the right thing would be a surprise move and frankly show they're actually listening and responding to neighbors! But it will be necessary to show there is a lot of support for the city to not rezone! Please attend!)

Posted by Misha
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 20, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Here's another thought to consider:

If plans go through to build high-density units and overcrowd this neighborhood, home values may fall. Would the loss of home value be akin to an unlawful "taking" by the government?

If the PA Housing Corporation chooses to purchase land based on affordability, there is a self-fulfilling spiral downward in home values, making additional purchases in the same area even more affordable because the quality of life in the area is diminished by the overcrowding. Meanwhile, other parts of Palo Alto are spared the burden of meeting the housing needs of seniors and those of low income. Their home values are preserved if not enhanced, but at the cost borne inequitably by those in South Palo Alto.

Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 21, 2013 at 11:57 am

The homes right across from the development might be affected, but I actually don't think home values for the area would be affected, because they are mainly related to the proximity to the schools.

What might be affect, though, is the City's immunity in the event of a death or serious consequences because of safety or emergency response problems predictably resulting from rezoning to suddenly put hundreds of people and cars at that bottleneck to the neighborhood (which has limited routes in and out, basically just the two safe routes to school which are also the only routes in and out for the project).

Although property values are unlikely to be affected in a hot market, it could make it very difficult for existing residents to refinance and access their home equity. Appraisals in this neighborhood are typically very difficult because there is so little turnover of the homes. Suddenly, 15 non-comparable homes go on the market bringing down the appraised value of every thing else. (And given their inaccessibility to the disabled and elderly, are likely to turnover more frequently.) It will happen, it happened to us - when there were no comparables in the neighborhood, the appraiser went all the way to an area near Stanford, using homes the real estate agents who listed them said weren't comparable. When we refinanced just after someone sold a home here, suddenly our own appraisal shot up nearly a quarter million. It's easy to say appraisers know better, but they don't, just ask the real estate agents who specialize in this neighborhood. While it won't affect property values, there are other consequences to people's lives and finances.

Of course, those are secondary to the serious safety issues of putting more cars onto two already overcrowded safe routs to school. (There are no other routes out of that development.)

Posted by Please read
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2013 at 11:02 am

This is a great article with a review of some of the issues for those who are still deciding how to vote on Tuesday.
It points out why it is important to vote Against Measure D.

Posted by Margaret Fruth
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 2, 2013 at 10:53 am

Margaret Fruth is a registered user.

Maybell Middle Ground

Everyone agrees that the Maybell site is an excellent site for senior housing, which could be the start of working toward consensus. No one wants to see the land sold to a for-profit developer, but an alternative to the rezoning overdevelopment will not emerge unless Measure D fails to pass.

The corporation backing Measure D, the proponent of rezoning, claims that they cannot obtain all of the grants & loans with just a 41-unit apartment building at Maybell. But they can build the 60-unit building they want to build, without any modifications to to the existing design, through a density transfer from the rest of the land. They also claim that their budget will not balance without the twelve luxury homes planned for two-thirds of the land. I have been attempting to obtain evidence which prove or refute this claim since July, 2013; when and if I receive any I'll get back to you.

If Measure D fails, the financial issues can be put on hold while the neighbors & the corporation negotiate a solution everyone can live with. Preferably directly, without the City Council playing emperor. If a compromise is reached, the pending lawsuits will disappear before the next City Council election. Otherwise the discord will continue to be expensive for all in both time, money, & additional damage to the social fabric of the community. This much-needed reconciliation will not happen unless Measure D fails, so please vote NO on Measure D.

Posted by Barron Park resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2013 at 11:08 am

Opponents of Measure D including the Weekly are positing an unlikely series of happy events. That is either naive, or designed to obscure the fact that this is a vote against senior housing.

Posted by Barron Parker
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Every smart liberal in Palo Alto is on the side of building this project. Why is the Weekly against PAHC and with the Post? I just can't understand it. Your October 18 editorial is a rag-tag mishmash of conflicting assertions and unsupported allegations. You say, for example, that selling market rate homes to finance the affordable housing "is inconsistent with the goals of the Comprehensive Plan." Which goals? What page? Where shall we look for support for this statement in the Comprehensive Plan?

The Comprehensive Plan is a big document and its goals are broad. It contains something for everyone and so is not the best document on which to rest such a flat assertion -- particularly without specifics and evidence. But on chapter 4, page 1, under the "vision statement" for the 2007 Housing Element, it states "The City is committed to increasing the development of affordable and market-rate housing."

It is very hard to say that the Maybell project is "inconsistent" with that goal, at least.

Weekly, what is really going on here is that you have your underwear in a twist over 27 University and you are willing to see Measure D pass because you are far more interested in sending a message to City Hall than you are in having affordable housing. You proclaim that you aren't really being forced to make a choice, because somehow by magic (MAGIC! Who doesn't love MAGIC?) it will all be great after Measure D loses and we will end up both sending the message and getting the affordable housing through a process of happy negotiation.

That is incredibly unlikely to happen. Finding a golden ticket to ride a unicorn in your crackerjack box is more likely. The most likely outcome of the imminent Measure D loss --thanks in part to you-- is that it will very hard to build affordable housing anywhere in PA in the foreseeable future because it all requires PC zoning and the PACC will be undertandably gun shy; and because PA is expensive and without using creative funding mechanisms like this one it is becoming impossible.

Many PA residents want to stop development because they want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to live in a the bright center of the universe, with all the money, jobs, shopping, transportation, great schools, etc. But they don't want anyone else to come here, and they can't understand that those two goals are inherently incompatible. Urbanization and increased density is what success looks like. Just ask all the towns that were bypassed by the railroad in the 19th century. This Measure D thing is the equivalent of some backwater town in Kansas forming a citizens committee to keep the railroad out in order to keep out increased density. I wonder how that would look in the light of history?

Editor, why have you done this? You have cut off the nose of one of our best nonprofits to spite John Arillaga's face. Not your finest moment in any way.

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