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Editorial: In city that loves to plan, Palo Alto's creates cynicism

Original post made on Jul 19, 2013

Palo Alto's official and legally mandated Comprehensive Plan bills itself as "the primary tool for guiding future development of the city" that "strives to build a coherent vision of the city's future from the visions of a diverse population."

Read the full editorial here Web Link posted Friday, July 19, 2013, 12:00 AM

Comments (12)

Posted by Lisa
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 19, 2013 at 7:51 am

The Weekly is to be commended for its ongoing concern about PC abuse but by encouraging people who, despite their protestations otherwise, place no value on BMR housing, is a disservice to PAHC, low income Palo Alto residents, and to rational PC reform. Maybell targets low impact non-profit affordable housing for seniors and a few market rate houses rather than a much more consequential commercial project such as Jay Paul at a whopping 300,000+ square feet. And the outcome will have no impact on PC reform. To do that one would need to referend PCs, not housing for elders.

The referendums intent is to prevent maybell from being built. No matter how many times opponents assert they support affordable senior housing, their actions now and statements early on (till they realized it wasn't pollitic to say such things in polite company) revealed naked nimbyism. Statements that seniors were terrible drivers and we shouldn't have any more in the neighborhood, or that seniors would knock children into the streets with their walkers and the kids then run over by cars, or the classic - it's a good project, but just not here. All these statements were made at community meetings to great cheers and applause.

Opposition to maybell is focused on the wrong project with the wrong goals. The Weekly should know better even if the ill-informed opponents do not.

Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 19, 2013 at 10:44 am

If the Maybell referendum fails, R-1 zoning is toast in Palo Alto.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2013 at 11:13 am

[Portion removed.]

It is time that our city council stop supporting PAHC. They could start by adding a measure to the ballot asking what PA citizens think about it, and if any city funds should be spent supporting any PAHC project. Also, another measure asking PA citizens if they want a vote on any PAHC project that is proposed for their neighborhood.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 19, 2013 at 11:36 am

Lisa, if PAHC's Maybell project doesn't get built, PAHC has nobody to blame but themselves. PAHC had a poor plan, did a poor job presenting their idea to the affected community and generated a lot of bad feeling about any future PAHC projects.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that PAHC, or the City Council is yet willing to listen. So. similar Maybell scenarios are likely to play out several more times before everybody gets the message.

I think calling the residents of Barron Park and Green Acres NIMBY's is about as clever as taping large green sheets of paper to their front doors explaining your position. That is, it's likely to have the opposite effect you intended.

Posted by cease and desist
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 19, 2013 at 11:37 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by cease and desist
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 19, 2013 at 12:41 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Eric Van Susteren
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Jul 19, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Eric Van Susteren is a registered user.

The following comments were moved from a duplicate post:

Posted by Zayda, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, 3 hours ago

Bravo for a well written editorial. I won't repost the comment I made about broken promises to the excellent accompanying article by Gennady Sheyner. It's there for all to read. I will only quote the philosopher George Santanya who said "He who does not remember history is doomed to repeat it". Think 1967. It's happened before. It can happen again.

Posted by Dan, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, 2 hours ago

I'm thrilled that "Jim Keene committed to having an independent economic analysis completed for every PC application that quantified the value to the developer and the value of the proposed public benefits." I've been wondering why we don't do that. I've always had the feeling that developers were getting much more financial benefit than the City in these PC deals. I think PA should get at least as much benefit as the developer. I also think the applicant should pay for the cost of the study. When will we actually see one of these studies?

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, 2 hours ago

"simply paying cash to the city was deemed a public benefit"

In other words, favorable spot zoning is for sale. Isn't there a word for for the act of paying to bypass the law?

Posted by PA citizen
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 19, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I'd like to point out to everyone that there are TWO referendums being circulated by Maybell neighbors, and the 2nd and most important one is still collecting signatures.

The one just submitted was because the Maybell rezoning so conflicts with the zoning provisions of the general plan, the City put the rezoning in the new housing element as a provision in order to make it consistent. Because of possibly applicable legal precedent, neighbors are holding a referendum to put to the voters whether to remove it. Neighbors only found out about it through an attorney, and thus had only 2 weeks to collect thousands of signatures. Luckily, the petition packet was small and it was easy for people to print it out and attach it to the signature page themselves.

The second referendum is the main one: putting the actual rezoning of Maybell to the vote. Volunteers are collecting signatures for that one until July 28. Because the petition packet is 60 pages long, it's harder to collect the signatures for that one -- it's easier to do in person. I don't know where and when the signature collecting events will occur -- can neighbors clarify?

Anyway, I just wanted to let everyone know. The editorial is a much needed look at how are general plan and the zoning provisions are being so casually disregarded, and how staff essentially act as advocates for particular projects (and how anti-democratic that can be). But it accidentally makes it seem like the referendum signatures have been collected -- they have been only for the first referendum, not the second. They are both necessary.

Posted by Margaret Fruth
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 20, 2013 at 4:09 pm

The City of Palo Alto is not required to change zoning for any project. The city is not required to facilitate developers' profits. If a project is not viable without government subsidies and accommodations, the developer is paying more than the site is worth, and asking the city to make up the difference with a hidden, indirect subsidy. Density increase is often just a gift to developers.

The government subsidies for operating existing housing for low income seniors have been almost eliminated. The secret about existing low-income housing for seniors is that in order to pay for the Iraq war, the Bush administration almost completely eliminated Section 8 funds for subsidizing operating expenses. For example, the last time I checked, the waiting list at Lytton Gardens was a few months for full-pay middle class residents, but five years long, & closed for all but two weeks of the year, for subsidized housing. PAHC insists it cannot build Maybell without the gift of a density bonus in the form of some market-rate townhouses. If that is true, they paid too much for the land. Before Maybell is approved, reliable, permanent source of funds for an operating subsidy (in addition to to start-up costs) should be secured before approving this project, unless PAHC wants to get into the market-rate housing business. They already plan to do so--the townhouses are just that. The corporation which owns Mabell has an extensive real estate portfolio; it should be able to find funds to cover start up and operating costs.

This project has been fasttracked by City of Palo Alto staff. There have been so many errors in the planning process that it may not be legally defensible. The City Council has already accepted the project in concept, by giving public funds to them in advance. The worst effect of this decision is not the giveaway of public funds, but the giveaway of advance approval of more intensive land use. If the news reports are accurate, the City Council comments so far are not credible, but instead insulting to Palo Alto's citizens.

These giveaways increase the likelihood that both decisions would not survive a court challenge; they may be decided in court or at the ballot box. To avoid these, the best option would be to figure out what the neighbors could be satisfied with.

Mayor Greg Scharff has insulted the electorate with his claim that the Council can make an "impartial" decision about projects they have already committed funds to.
The Mayor in particular should know better, since he is an attorney specializing in land use. His arrogance is one justification for keeping term limits.

Governance by lawsuits, referenda, and recalls is very expensive and time-consuming Because of the errors, the City would make better use of scarce resources by negotiating with the neighbors. In the case of Maybell, start by eliminating the market-rate housing, which has impacts far greater than senior housing. If PAHC wants to build the senior project, they should find outside funds to make the construction & operating budgets balance. Eliminating the market-rate housing entirely would reduce the impacts, especially traffic impacts enough to make the project more defensible. The City could require more comprehensive permanent project-based transportation. Existing senior housing varies greatly in number of trips and quantity of transportation provided. If the facility provides more transportation, the residents drive less, with younger, more qualified drivers. The project approval could require residents who drive to complete a DMV road test once a year as a condition of their residency.

Anyone who wants to keep Maybell as open space needs to start raising money now, to compensate the owner at fair market value. Of course, the property is not worth now what it would be worth with the gift of a zoning change.

Posted by Margaret Fruth
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 20, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Show Me the Money

I have been following with concern the proposal for low income senior housing for seniors coupled with 12 units of market rate housing. Is this project worthy of receiving taxpayer subsidies from our limited funds?

We need low income senior housing in Palo Alto, because right now there is almost none. The secret about existing Section 8 senior housing is that Section 8 operating subsidy funds to subsidize ongoing operations, (as opposed to start-up funding) have been almost completely eliminated. As a result, existing complexes, like Litton Gardens, have been converted to middle class housing. This has created an artificial scarcity of low income housing for seniors. I have been unable to find out how PAHC plans to overcome this shortage of funding for operating expenses. Of course if there is no funding for actually operating low income housing, the approvals constitute a windfall for the developer getting increased density & a sweetheart loan from the City to build what will, in fact, be market rate housing.

What we do need is more funding for subsidizing operations. Then we can figure out whether we need new construction.

This is aside from any NIMBY concerns.

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