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Alma affordable-housing project doubles

Original post made on Jul 31, 2007

A drastically revamped and expanded below-market housing project at Alma Street and Channing Avenue failed to keep Palo Alto City Council members alert enough to conclude an item nearly all favored Monday night.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 31, 2007, 3:57 AM

Comments (36)

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2007 at 2:22 pm

This is really going to impact Fairmeadow, JLS and Gunn schools. Have the BoE been notified of the additional housing which will mean additional kids. Also, this will likely mean more riders on VTA buses and PA shuttles. These agencies need to be informed also.

I have no problems with more housing as long as the infrastructure is also vamped up. As planning goes into effect for housing, the other involved agencies must also be planning for this growth.

Posted by ProBMRs
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2007 at 2:38 pm

I was in the audience and heard John Barton say that. I was surprised at his demagogry quoting imaginary people who talk about "those people." I have never heard anyone even remotely talk like that.
In trying to pump himself up, he created a straw man to look down on. Shame on him.

Posted by Supporter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2007 at 2:58 pm

Bystander, why would a building project at Alma and Channing impact Fairmeadow, JLS and Gunn? These are apartments, and it is well know to the School District that apartments do not generate children.

Posted by Free Market
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2007 at 3:09 pm

Bystander is just doing what many Palo Altoans are good at--trying to start a scare campaign. Anytime there is talk of new housing or new business in town, immediately a certain group springs into action--the PA fearmongers.
There usual line is that this will create too much traffic, overcrowd the schools, too many riders on public transportation etc. etc. etc.
Forget about any benefits to the city or it's citizens--these people are usually concerned with protecting only their "quality of life".

Posted by Catching up
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 31, 2007 at 3:31 pm

Bystander was probably thinking about Alma Plaza.
It is not true that apartments don't bring children. Many of the apts. are designed for and select families with children.
That really is odd, what Barton is quoted. Did he really say that?

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2007 at 5:57 pm

I do apologise. I was thinking of Alma Plaza. I thought this meant that they were changing plans again. I am sorry for the confusion.

I did not realise they were thinking of apartaments at Alma/Channing. This would then affect different schools, Addison, Jordan and Paly. Addison is already famous for turning away neighborhood kids because it is full.

I am not against growth. I do not mind more housing. It is true I do not like overcrowding our schools. Everytime I hear of more projects I remember the fact that 30 years or so ago we had 22 elementary schools and now we have 12. We are back to having 3 middle schools, but they used to be just two grades and now they are 3, and they are quickly filling. Our high schools do have a task force at present assessing the situation, but once again there used to be three and now there are two.

There has been outcry about one bus route being downsized (although not as bad as was originally projected). People living in BMR homes are often the ones who need public transport. Yes, in downtown they are near the Caltrain station and the shuttle, but we should be looking at ways to improve public transport anyway.

I do not want to be a paragon of doom when it comes to development. I doubt if it will affect my own way of life very much. I know that traffic is going to increase for all sorts of reasons. I just want the city to look at the overall picture and get the infrastructure improved alongside all the other growth.

This is not a scare campaign. It is my opinion. Yes, it may seem harsh. But reality often is.

Posted by Supporter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2007 at 6:47 pm

Catching Up, the PAUSD did an analysis of 800 High Street to see how many children might be attending PAUSD schools in the future; there research showed that 800 High Street generated one new baby. The first year the Greenhouse Apartments were build they generated zero elementary children, there were 4 middle and high school students.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2007 at 6:53 pm


I think you have your facts correct, but these figures relate only to the first year of these projects. Typically, projects like these are completed in phases and these figures relate to the first phase only. Also, accprding to the demographers, it takes a while after completion for the true demographics of a project to materialise, as often preschoolers move in and they take a while before reaching school age.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2007 at 9:11 pm

Its unbelievable that our city counsel calls this a dream project - it wastes $5 million of city assets and will generate little or no tax revenue, while increasing the number of people we need to provide services to. A dream project would be a car dealership or hotel - something that generates a ton of sales or occupancy taxes and doesn't increase the burden on city services.

Affordable housing and environmental projects may make good photo ops and warm fuzzy feelings for the city counsel, but they aren't going to pay the huge unfunded retirement and healthcare benefits that are recklessly lavished on city employees.

Posted by dott31
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 31, 2007 at 10:07 pm

Citizen, thank you for your realism. As I watched from the comfort of my living room last evening's self-congratulatory council meeting, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Councilman Klein's face was a study as his restrained probing and second thoughts brought the response that this was what he'd voted to accept in Sept., 2006. I respected Councilwoman Kleinberg's objection that the citizens of P. A. are "donors" rather than "sellers." I do not trust Mr. Benest's glib dismissal of liability issues. What next?

Posted by An Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2007 at 1:23 am

As I recall the developers of 800 High St always wanted the power substation moved away from their residential development. It was a requirment they insisted on.

Earlier reports by the city said the move of this power site could cost the rate payers and the city up to $10 million in lost rent, the move over to Stanford, etc..

These costs wern't brought up in the vote by the public on 800 High St or in the council meeting on Monday.

This issue hasn't been publicized by the city or the press.

Of course a big issue is the cost of about $500,000 per unit!! If this were not built at this site it could cost half that amount I would guess. It will be interesting to see what the size of the units are. Like 500 sq ft. ??each. $1000 sq. ft.???

Twice as many units built farther from downtown would be a better deal all around.

Also why not eleminate the parking. There are public garages nearby.

Posted by City gone Nuts
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2007 at 4:39 am

Why is the City even thinking of this project. What is the motivation.

Really... Why ????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2007 at 6:15 am

Council is only approving what ABAG say they should - lots more low cost housing. It's nice to see North PA taking their share of BMR after so many have been approved in South PA.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2007 at 9:40 am

Its nice to see a few people agreeing with me. When will we give up the fantasy that Palo Alto is an affordable community so we can devote our limited resources to items that will benefit the whole community - like improving our libraries and infrastructure. BMR units just reward the few lucky winners in the rental lotto at the expense of the whole town.

Posted by good citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 1, 2007 at 10:17 am

how does socioeconomic diversity hurt a city?

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2007 at 10:21 am

I think the reason we want BMR units in our City (if not our neighborhood) is to provide homes for the workers we need. We want our city services, our janitors, our construction workers, etc. and the only way we can have people to do these jobs is for them to live in the area in which they work. I do not think it unreasonable that if we want say our school janitors to work before school, after school, be part of the community etc. that we should have them live in the community also. It is reasonable to think that if we have them live in the community they will take more of a pride in their work and their environs. It is also reasonable to think that if we are paying someone basic wage to do their job, that we do not expect them to travel long distances to get here from their homes.

I am definitely in favor of this. I hope that we will provide reasonable living accommodations for our valued lower income community members.

Posted by Mary Carlstead
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 1, 2007 at 3:19 pm

As more and more below market rate and 'affordable' housing is built - wherever, and especially this new Alma Street project, WHERE are people going to buy 'affordable' food? At Andronicos? At Whole Foods? At other specialty stores in the 'walkable' downtown area? Where do the residents of the Opportuniy Center shop for groceries - if they have no auto? Think of the student housng Stanford has and is planning to build!! Unless grad student housing on campus also has a dedicated dining hall, those students have to go somplace to stock their tiny kitchens.Same for all the apartments on Sand Hill Road. Palo Alto is 'going green', yet buying groceries will take an auto, car trips, using gasoline, and creating more fumes. East Palo Alto residents have no major supermarket, so they come to Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and RWC. Where are all these new residents going to get health care? The PA Clinic is evidently not taking any more new patients for Primary Care and Internal Medicine acc,. to its website. Children? Where will they go to school? This big push for housing will have 'fall out' consequences. Is anyone at City Hall thinking of that? Only so many people can be squeezed into Palo Alto and then the quality of life may be destroyed for every one. Have we reached the limit? The 'breaking point'?

Posted by Robert
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 1, 2007 at 4:19 pm

"Also, this will likely mean more riders on VTA buses and PA shuttles. These agencies need to be informed also."

I've never been on any VTA transit that was even close to full. I doubt this project will have any significant effect on VTA.

Posted by Anne
a resident of Addison School
on Aug 1, 2007 at 8:01 pm

Why are we building affordable housing anyway? Shouldn't the city be concerned with the service level of current residents? Schools are crowded, libraries need work, police station needs updating, etc. We need to focus some energy and funds to fixing what we have, rather than trying to expand housing.

Posted by Harry in Redwood City
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2007 at 11:39 pm

This Alma project seems extreme. Why do all of the units need to be "low income?" What about those of us who commute to work in Palo Alto who are not classified as low income, but also cannot afford to live in Palo Alto? There is a wide range of incomes that cannot afford to live in downtown PA. I feel that it is a luxury that should be distributed amongst various income levels. I believe that grouping income levels within downtown buildings is a potential recipe for disaster.

Also, 800 High St has only 4 stories above ground. Do the 5 stories of the proposed building include the underground parking garage?

Last point... MORE PARKING!!!!!!! PA Alto needs it.

Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2007 at 12:03 am

Palo Alto needs to resolve the situation with the homeless "residents." How about free housing for our regulars! I moved here about a year ago, and I know most of 'our' homeless. And I believe most residents that walks in downtown know them as well. So, let's care for them first!!! Have you have take a time to listen to what they talk about? I was listening to them another day and I was really surprised. They consider themselves Palo Altans, and they love it here. They also have ideas of how to better their living situation. Let's talk to them... let's help them first before we start moving low income people to our city!

Posted by An Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2007 at 12:52 am

The "Opportunity Center" near the clinic is for the homeless.

This Alma street project is for two reasons: 1. to justify moving the power substation that 800 High St. dosen't want next to it. 2 for low wage people to live close to low paying jobs downtown in resturants. It will help keep wages low.

The retail in this development should include a Salvation Army thrift store and a "Co-Op"type of food store. retail is going on the first floor of this development.
Anyone have other suggestions for low cost stores? Maybe a dollar store.
Also bus service to Menlo Park ,Safeway.> and to Mt. View SanAntino Shopping center.

Posted by Publicus
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2007 at 6:30 am

Diversity and change are good and so is population growth. They make for vibrant communities.

Posted by Anne
a resident of Addison School
on Aug 2, 2007 at 11:25 am

Salvation Army? Low cost stores? NO WAY!!! I do not want those types of stores in downtown PA - that is not why I live in the neighborhood.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2007 at 1:44 pm

Observer - excellent ideas, but we really need to truly serve the low income needs - how about adding in a payday loan store, a currency exchange, liquor store, a gun shop and a tattoo parlor -- as long as we have the "opportunity center" and are planning on building low income housing, we should go whole hog and recreate Wiskey Gulch in downtown PA. That would be wonderful. I am sure our city counsel would be so proud.

When are we going to stop the fantasy that this is an affordable place to live. If you want affordable housing, try EPA or Mountain View.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2007 at 3:57 pm

There is a dreary inevitability about this project. Palo Alto just can’t seem to get enough “affordable” housing to feel good about. And this time it's pulled out all the money stops for its hobby, overspending by millions.

We’re getting all the same buzzwords again. It’s said that people who work in Palo Alto should be able to live in Palo Alto. A nice idea, but nobody will check if the beneficiaries of this municipal largesse really work in Palo Alto. And contradictorily, it’s touted as being close to transit, which would mainly make working out of town more convenient for them. Then we hear that people who want to live in Palo Alto should be able to live there. Great. But gee, I’d like to live in Pebble Beach or Aspen, but as a grownup I can't expect them to subsidize my notions.

We are told that our police and firefighters cannot afford to live here. Yet, even though there are already 3 sizeable “affordable” housing projects within 4 blocks of this site, plus a dozen or so much-ballyhooed “affordable” condos cozying with the millionaires at the 800 High, Wednesday’s PA Weekly points out that 93% of Palo Alto police still live out of town. And we may remember how the Palo Alto firefighters union campaigned against the 800 High project in 2003 because, despite its developer’s propaganda touting its supposed benefits for firefighters, they did not qualify for its “affordable” spaces. It seems Palo Alto does not manage its existing “affordable” housing nearly as effectively as it promotes more of it.

Charity is noble. But is charity at the million dollar level really the city government’s business?

Posted by Anne
a resident of Addison School
on Aug 2, 2007 at 8:48 pm

I am enjoying the discussion, but what ACTION can we take to get the city government to listen to our voices? As a new member of PA, I would like to take action - what are the recommendations?

Posted by Ironic
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2007 at 9:38 pm

I'm continually amused at the evidently insatiable desire to build more housing. Has anyone noticed that new homes require more amenities (don't believe the developers who tell you that children never live in apartments) or that real estate prices are crashing throughout the state, partly because of excessive building that resulted in distended markets?

The reason that 93% of police officers live outside the city is that they want real homes, not cubbyholes. They want their kids to have a backyard and some space.

Moreover, as noted above, not everyone who wants to live here can afford to live here. That's what happens when you have a free market economy. If you prefer socialism/communism, there are lots of other places you can live.

Posted by harry in redwood City
a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2007 at 12:45 pm

A project of this size will affect the citizens of Palo Alto. Why does it not go to vote? It seems like a major project, using public funds, with little input from the people. The next town meeting is CLOSED to the public. That does not seem right.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 3, 2007 at 10:03 pm

Harry in RWC - Excellent point. 800 High Street was put to a vote, why not this? Where is the owner of the hardware store petitioning to put this to a vote? Why do we torture private developers who want to do a project but give the city a free pass to waste our assets?

Posted by Poor baby
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 3, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Citizen, you are confused. The developers have only to live within the law and not ask for so many exceptions and they would sail through the system. They keep insisting on more and more and bigger and bigger and denser and denser and taller and taller, and that's what slows them down. They know this council will eventually say ok.
People who want peaceful lives try to avoid breaking the law and asking the legislature for special privileges. They don't let greed control their lives and then whine about 'torture.' (on the way to the bank)

Posted by Voter
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2007 at 10:01 am

Citizen, in case you didn't notice when 800 High Street went to a vote it lost! It will take many signatures on a petition to get on the ballot, are you willing to go out and collect them?

Posted by Anne
a resident of Addison School
on Aug 5, 2007 at 1:41 pm

How many signatures? And what requirements must be complied with in order to make them valid?

Posted by Voter
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2007 at 4:43 am

Anne, to answer your questions read the City Charter it's on line or call the City Clerks office,

Posted by EPA Resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2007 at 7:40 am

I have worked in Palo Alto and lived in East Palo Alto for 4 years. I do not feel entitled to subsidized housing in Palo Alto and do not understand the mentality of those who do. I live on the border, commute a mere 8 minutes to my office, and do all my shopping in Palo Alto. I love living close to Palo Alto but don't want to pay the rents/housing costs that are justifiably high because of the great schools. People who work in Palo Alto but can't or don't want to pay the housing costs have many options for nearby, more affordable housing in EPA, Redwood City, and Mountain View, and in my opinion they are not entitled to substantial subsidies from the taxpayers of PA, who frankly are already doing a lot for the surrounding communities by providing great libraries, lovely parks, farmers markets, and shopping areas with free parking, which are all open to the public regardless of residence. I'm not an expert in the PA budget process but surely money going to subsidized housing for the lucky few who win a housing lottery is money not being spent on schools, parks, libraries, roads and public safety. Also, as another poster pointed out, these units are not going to be restricted to those who work in PA. (I would feel differently if these were units for PA teachers and firefighters, but they're not.) If I were a PA resident, I would be outraged. What can you do? Contact all the homeowners associations and suggest a city wide meeting of homeowners/taxpayers concerned about this issue. Find a place to hold a meeting (church hall, school auditorium), and post announcements on this web site. The HOAs can publicize through their own networks. And, P.S., I don't think the ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) requirements are mandatory - merely advisory. I believe that several communities have opted out. I don't know what the consequences of opting out may be, but Palo Altans should research this issue since the cost of opting out (if any) may be a lot less than spending millions on subsidized housing and associated services.

Posted by another mother here
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 21, 2007 at 9:44 am

I can hardly believe the attitudes that this thread is bring about! The redness of your neck is sure showing people.......How about if the low income workers take a week off and let those with the attitudes make their own peanut butter sandwiches instead of having their favorite restaurant chef cater to their extravagant whims....make them mow their own lawns and park their own cars, bag their own groceries for a change. Wipe the drool off their own faces. Take their own tempatures and blood pressures. Balance their own checkbooks. Clean their own toilets.

My relatives have lived in Palo Alto for generations and have helped make it the town it is today....I'm sure that they would have been horrified to know the attitudes that some have today.

If there is a "problem", let's try to fix it, not whine and complain and curl our lips up so that our teeth show. That's pretty unhealthy and ugly. For the unfortunate few, there are ways to keep them in check and I suggest that others realize that their problems are going to continue unless someone works with them. In todays society, you can not shove them into closets under lock and key because you do not like the way they dress or the way they smell. They have to be delt with in a humane way. They obviously will never be the brain surgeon that their mothers may have hoped they would become. But they could be the person who is bringing your food tray to you or emptying your bed pan.......those are jobs for the few who are only a step away from homelessness...for those who can actually function. There are those who can not function to hold a job. God bless us all, they are still human and they do have to be taken care of. Like it or not.
Also the fact of the matter of the subsidized housing...Palo Alto does NOT pay for the rental of those tax money is coming out of the kitty for those units of "the lucky few".....those units are subsidized by the Federal is the "fortunate" few real estate mongels that have built those units at interest free rates that are the ones making money on the deal.......Ask the Palo Alto Housing Corp how that many people in this town don't realize WHO is making the money off these projects...What kind of "deals" are done to build will be surprised and amazed.
HUD ( Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) have been involved in several projects in town and helps those "fortunate few" live a more respectable lifestyle by subsidizing the rents on some units. Some towns, like Los Altos, Portola Valley,(there are a few) choose to pay an extravagant amount of money NOT to be involved in building of any HUD units. It's call opting out. Not in our backyards. But apparently they can do that. FYI. Money does talk evidentally.

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