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Residents' group challenges Alma Plaza

Original post made on Apr 24, 2009

A Palo Alto group led by Barron Park resident Bob Moss is challenging the City Council's January approval of the long-contended Alma Plaza redevelopment project.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, April 24, 2009, 9:38 AM

Comments (34)

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2009 at 10:07 am

Bob needs to get a new hobby. If I were McNellis, I'd walk away. Enough is enough.


Posted by Alma Plaza watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2009 at 10:22 am

How long will this Alma Plaza soap opera be allowed to continue? I blame the city council for their lack of leadership on this issue. we have lost two neighborhood shopping centers--while we have had a council that talks (emphasis on talks) about walkable neighborhoods. Alma Plaza and Edgewood Plaza require tough action by our council, but they are busy with other issues and do not have the time for potential conflicts.
As I stated in another thread, I sometimes have the feeling that there has been a concerted effort by certain groups of people to keep Alma Plaza barren and desolate (no construction or traffic issues to deal with). [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Vickie
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 24, 2009 at 10:27 am

I agree. There are far to many new developments being built without adequate parking available. The new developments are so compacted in... he gives a perfect example with the development over where the Elks Lodge is/was. Huge buildings/developments are going up every where... where does that leave Palo Alto which was known as a quiant town and really a community?


Posted by norman beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 24, 2009 at 10:34 am

Are there widely accepted standards for how wide a street should be in these circumstances? How does that compare with what has been approved, versus what the initiative asks for?


Posted by There you go again
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 24, 2009 at 10:38 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Alma Plaza watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2009 at 10:44 am

Norman--there is information about that on the website of the people behind the drive (Web Link
Unfortunately when you click on the "About us" tab, you really do not get any idea who are the people behind this--there is just a lengthily diatribe about street width and why Alma Plaza should be held up for another few years.
Also on the welcome page is the following:
"The narrow streets also can be more difficult for fire trucks and garbage trucks to traverse, and can impede responses to public safety emergencies."

How does this point apply to traffic calming measures in the city? Doesn't that also impede responses (I am referring to College Terrace as an example). Will this ordinance affect their traffic calming measures?


Posted by Alma Plaza watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2009 at 10:47 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by it keeps getting more surreal
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2009 at 10:50 am

Whatever intentions they profess, an awful lot of people are fed up with the tyranny of these good people who are stuck in an increasingly negative pattern that is doing more harm than good in the community. Palo Alto is quite dysfunctional in certain areas. Can you look at the decay (now complete and in stasis) of Alma Plaza over the last ten years and see any merit to the process? Value to the neighborhood? This is not a call for laissez-faire for developers, it is a call for a reasonable and fair process. Uh, Mtn Vw looks like it is run and populated by rocket scientists by comparison.


Posted by PointOfView
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2009 at 11:21 am

Aren't these guys all asking for variances - i.e. to do something in violation of the plan for the city?

Objecting to ad hoc changes to the city plan is not obstructionist.

Changing the plan *should* involve consideration of all the things brought up that have slowed or stopped these projects, and it should involve consideration of impact of the neighborhood, adjacent neighborhoods and the whole city as well.


Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2009 at 11:22 am

I for one am grateful that this collective is taking action. I have seen no sign of sincerity in our city council's response to the ongoing concerns of our population. They "listen" and then reflect the fact that their only interest is in building big and satisfying the interests of developers.

The way they permitted the developer to build right up to Alma ensures that the already alarming increase of sirens racing up and down Alma in response to fires, accidents, etc. will see more right at Alma Plaza when cars pulling out of the complex will encounter individuals on foot, bike, etc. without sufficient visibility and time to avoid accidents.

Parking is also going to be a nightmare if they proceed as planned because already the overflow of the area is accommodated by the parking lot they intend to over-develop.

I'd certainly like to know where those petitions are being made available because I'm definitely ready to sign.


Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2009 at 11:39 am

So let McNellis walk. We need someone to respond to community requirements, since the City is not addressing them.


Posted by Alma Plaza watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2009 at 11:40 am

Point of view--let us not forget that the Planning and Transportation Committee, The Architectural Review Board and the City council studied this matter and approved it. So the developer is not doing something that is "in violation of the plan for the city".
I think the city and the various committees have had plenty of time to study the impacts of this project.
It is most unfortunate that Alma Plaza cannot be re-developed as a neighborhood shopping center as it once was, but we have the council to thank for that


Posted by Jack
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2009 at 11:48 am

No one should sign a petition like this that calls for two different things. While setting a future minimum on street width might be a good thing you shouldn't have to include it in a revote on Alma Plaza.


Posted by paloaltan
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 24, 2009 at 11:53 am

Actually I don't blame the city council for this mess. I blame the frivolous few who would not let Lucky's expand in the first place ten years back. Whining about additional traffic. Now you have nothing and waste gas to the nearest store miles away.

If the frivolous few had not complained, you would have had a little bit larger lucky's and the shopping center would still be in action.

*sigh*


Posted by Alma Plaza watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2009 at 11:59 am

But, paloaltan, unfortunately the city council did not have the spine to stand up those that complained about the Lucky and try to reach some kind of compromise. The buck stopped with them and because of that we have lost Alma Plaza as a neighborhood shopping center.


Posted by rem
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 24, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Why don’t we have a honest City Council that will honestly say “Developer (Contractors) Lobbyist, Developer (Contractors) donate and we will approve!!!!”

It would be great if the City Council learned a new word – NO or a new phase – DISAPPROVED….

There is no sane reason for this DEVELOPMENT except MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and not care about the people of Palo Alto, the surrounding areas or ANY of the other communities …..


Posted by PointOfView
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Alma Plaza Watcher -

If the council duly considered the proposals in the context of the city plan, and made appropriate adjustments in the overall plan to compensate, I stand corrected.

If the city is supposed (required) to follow a process in making this kind of change to ensure that the impacts are fully considered, and did not do that or short circuited the process, then they should be forced to follow the process.

I admit my ignorance of the way things should work and do work here.

I come from a large city where the following happened in my neighborhood:

1. The city made an overall plan to reduce traffic, and allowed light industry near residential neighborhoods, 30 years ago.

2. All the light industry land in one neighborhood area was bought by a single entity.

3. The tenants of the light industry property around the neighborhood had financial problems.

4. The owner tried to sell the property for a few years, and could not. He apparently contributed to the campaign fund of the district city council representative.

5. A developer saw residential prices rising forever and made a campaign contribution to the district city council representative.

6. The city raised to highest priority the goal to limit residential development and balance it with light industry.

7. The district representative proposed a change to the plan to allow the residential development. No other city council member cared enough to object; it wasn't their district and they indicated their willingness to go along in order to get cooperation on other matters at a future time.

8. *No* local residents wanted the change; it doubled the population of the neighborhood with this one development in 1/20th of the area of the neighborhood. It changed what was a reverse commute with the light industry to an added commute in a situation with already congested freeways, entrances, exits, and surface roads. The neighborhood hired a lawyer, who was weak or a subterfuge.

9. The only people who wanted this done were the property owner, the developer, and the city council representative. It got done.


This strikes me as something to prevent. But difficult to prevent.


Posted by Alma Plaza watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Becky
a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 24, 2009 at 2:24 pm

I live some way away from Alma Plaza, and while I have great sympathy for the possible parking problems at Alma Plaza, I don't think there is enough support to stop this project with a referendum. After all the Campus for Jewish Life will have the same parking problems.

Residents in my neighborhood take the attitude, that anything is better at Alma Plaza than leaving it the way it looks right now.

Sorry, but I don't believe there is enough support in other parts of this City to delaying this project any longer. After all Vantage and Echelon developments are working OK.


Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 24, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Most of the info I found on private roads says they should be a minimum of 24 feet without parking and an additional 10 feet for parking. Many of the minimums were 30 feet and were for small residential complexes.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The opponents of plaza development should do the honorable thing and buy the property they have been exercising constructive ownership over for the past decade.


Posted by Alma Plaza neighbor
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 24, 2009 at 9:34 pm

I'm sorry, but what's with you guys? Let someone do some constructive work: Build. Create. Innovate. Change the world.
Don't just show that you have power, use your power for good.


Posted by Here we go again
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2009 at 8:03 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 25, 2009 at 11:23 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Kathleen Dugan
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 25, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Bob, Thank you so much for doing this. I attended the City Council meeting and was shocked after all the presentations that the City Council just seemed to ignore every word and voted for the project. Kathleen Dugan


Posted by Alma Plaza watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2009 at 7:18 am

We have lost a neighborhood shopping center due to the incation of the city council and their refusal to satnd up to certain community elements. That is too bad. As I have stated previously, it appears to me that certain members of the community are interested in NOT developing Alma Plaza at all. otherwsie how do you explain the continues opposition, with an ever changing cast of characters, so that one does not come to think that it is one person/group behind the efforts


Posted by PointOfVIew
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2009 at 9:56 am

APW-

Has anyone proposed developing the property in a way consistent with the way it was zoned when they bought it? Without requiring variances, special zones, etc.?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2009 at 7:32 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

PoV, see my previous letter. Apparently the zoning does not pencil out, and another failure would not benefit the neighborhood. Ultimately, a process that makes a property useless is constructive condemnation. Write a check and put the police station there.


Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2009 at 11:53 am

Bob, Thank you so much for doing this. I found the signature forms at Web Link but don't see where to send the form.


Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 27, 2009 at 11:55 am

It's a predictable cycle: developer pays too much for property, knowing the city will grant zoning concessions to make him whole. Developer pleads poverty to city; city dutifully grants zoning concessions to make developer whole. Next developer pays even more too much for property, knowing ...

And the rest of us wonder why PA property values are so overinflated.

It's good to see Moss roaring again.



Posted by PointOfView
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2009 at 9:41 pm

So the zoning became bad due to changing economics (internet or whatever) and now there's a decade of fighting over what to do with the property? Have things changed so much since the current owner bought, or is Paul's take closer to reality.


Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2009 at 1:06 am

The council grants concessions because they want to support the BMR housing program, because they consider it "Green". The developers need the concessions, because the city requires 15 - 20% of a development to be BMR housing. This leads to denser housing, overcrowding of schools, and loss of retail.


Posted by PointOfView
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2009 at 11:45 am

Does the city require 15 - 20% of all residential developments to be BMR, or just those that require a variance? It may prove counterproductive either way, but it seems draconian to require it in order to use the land as zoned.


Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 28, 2009 at 12:24 pm

"So the zoning became bad ...?"

No. In these cases the existing zoning wouldn't allow the developer to turn a profit after paying an exhorbitant price for the property. Sure, there is a purchase price at which the existing zoning would be profitable, but nobody pays attention to that. Developers buy property at whatever price, then convince the city government to let them way overbuild it so they can make their money. It (almost) always works. Alma Plaza's Nellis was a less skillful exploiter of the system than the others.


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