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High-end restaurant sparks debate over outdoor seating

Original post made on Jun 9, 2017

When Anthony Secviar and Dennis Kelly, alums of three-Michelin-starred restaurant The French Laundry in Yountville, decided three years ago to open a "world-class" restaurant on Palo Alto's California Avenue, they didn't expect to find themselves ensnared in intense zoning debates.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, June 9, 2017, 12:00 AM

Comments (45)

Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 9, 2017 at 9:18 am


"Commissioner Ed Lauing agreed with his colleagues about the project's merits and empathized with the applicants' frustrations.

"It's really unfortunate that it's taken this long to get there, but that's probably a discussion for another night: What can we do internally so that someone who has a great project like this doesn't have to go through nine or 10 months of pain?" Lauing said. "That's not what the message should be coming to potential entrepreneurs who are building world-class restaurants, which this is certain to be."

Actually it was neither the city staff or members of the public that held up approval of the restaurant. It was the incomplete applications from the restaurant owners from last August till this April 5th, when staff finally got a complete application and approved it the very next day on April 6th.

Anyone can verify this by looking at city records.

The members of the public requested a hearing mid April after noticing mistakes and wrong interpretations of the municipal code most which were acknowledged to be correct by staff and the building owner.

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2017 at 9:21 am

This is the Palo Alto process - drag out the "planning process" so that small businesses cannot be profitable in this city. Then people complain when we have fewer and fewer retail businesses around town? The problem is looking at you in the mirror.

Posted by There's More to the Story
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 9, 2017 at 9:22 am

What the story doesn't mention is that the city gave this building at the last minute a brand new exemption of 514 square feet to reduce its parking needs, as the building was underparked for restaurant usage from day one. So that's more developer giveaways and more cars parking in front of homes in neighborhoods. Wait until other buildings start demanding similar free bonuses. Thank you, city government.

Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 9, 2017 at 9:30 am

From the cities website,:


Received Date:
Aug 10, 2016

Request by Studio KDA, on behalf of 260 Cal Partners LLC, for a Conditional Use Permit to allow the sale of alcohol in conjunction with a full service restaurant, as well as Architectural Review of proposed outdoor seating in the public right of way for Protégé Restaurant in the Community Commercial CC(2)(R)(P) zone district.

Project Planner:
Graham Owen
(650) 329-2552

Application Accepted /
In Review
Notice of Incomplete Sent
Application Resubmitted
Notice of Incomplete Sent
Application Resubmitted
Notice of Incomplete Sent
Application Resubmitted
Application Complete-Ready for Decision
Apr 13, 2017 - DECISION:
Requested Public Hearing

Posted by Wistful
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2017 at 9:57 am

I hate that building. It ruined the nice view we used to have of the coast range.

Posted by JA3
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 9, 2017 at 10:14 am

Excited to try the new restaurant; fantastic addition to California Avenue.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2017 at 10:15 am

This issue of permitting, be it in Palo Alto, or nationally, has become too long, too complicated and too expensive for developers, and ultimately, the public. This morning, President Trump, making a speech about his plans for rebuilding much of our infrastructure made a point about this permitting issue--

During the speech, Trump pulled out three large binders meant to represent the paperwork for a single environmental review of an 18-mile road in Maryland, clunking them down on the podium for dramatic effect and thumbing through all the pages.

Trump said the report weighed 70 pounds and cost $29 million to produce — $24,000 per page.

Arguing over a parking deficit of one space is not rational. It does not serve the public to delay projects of this sort of nit-picking.

There have been suggestions in the past for some of the Boards and Commissions to be authorized to do some of the approval work the City Council does. It's easy to see both sides of that discussion, but it makes sense to consider it from time to time. It also makes sense for the public's voice to be heard clearly by the Council when these Boards and Commission members are selected. Palo Alto has had too many ideologues trying to tilt City decisions towards their personal points-of-view, rather than for the public good.

Posted by There's More to the Story
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 9, 2017 at 10:41 am

Just wanted to add that each square foot of commercial building in Palo Alto is worth about $1,000. That means the city's 514 sq. ft. last-minute exemption to the developer of this building is like giving him a present of about half-a-million dollars.

So how do the rest of us get our own half million dollar gift from the city?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 9, 2017 at 10:44 am

How underparked is the Visa office and how many employees do they have? How underparked are all the hotels?

I'm sorry for the French Laundry but glad someone is fighting back,

Posted by Hangry
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 9, 2017 at 11:15 am

This is for a restaurant- which is completely different than a giant office building. It will actually pay taxes to our city- businesses do not. It will serve the people of our community at non commute hours. The building is already built and not going to be torn down. These guys sound like they are going to bring an incredible restaurant. I can't wait to try their food. Hurry up Protege!!!

Posted by Ellen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 9, 2017 at 11:18 am

The business is near the Caltrain station. Instead of one more car parking space, perhaps the price of train tickets for people coming to the restaurant from elsewhere on the Peninsula (as they surely will) could be refunded. We don't need more parking spots. We need more people to use public transport.

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2017 at 11:38 am

Asking people to take a train to dinner is silly. Trains stop at California way too infrequently, especially on weekends and at lunch time and after the afternoon rush hour, for that to be practical.

Posted by Silly Indeed
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jun 9, 2017 at 11:45 am

People going to the French Laundry are much more likely to take limos than the train, especially on weekends. Or maybe you think all the FL patrons should simply bike to the restaurant? Get real.

I'm SO tired of people preaching about the immorality of driving and parking when we do indeed have to get to the doctors, dentists, vets and all sorts of other places in a timely manner and public transit does NOT and will not in the near future serve our needs.

Our city "officials" and councilmembers have done a great job of serving their developer buddies while pitting the rest of us against each other while driving out local businesses and retailers while THEY approve under-parked giant office complexes and hotels that don't have a single parking space.

When the city employees stop demanding that we subsidize their car allowances and free parking, I *might" believe they're well-meaning.

Posted by Logic prevails
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 9, 2017 at 11:49 am

Jeff Levinsky is an extremely shrewd and logical advocate. If he's "holding the developer hostage," it's because something is deeply amiss.

Regarding all the "other projects that are underparked," I say shame on the neighbors for letting that happen.

The City's arbitrary and obstructionist policies need constant scrutiny.

Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 9, 2017 at 12:03 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

Walking up and down California Avenue becomes an obstacle course exercise, dodging other pedestrians who want their side of the sidewalk down the middle; groups who want the whole sidewalk, and expect everyone to step aside; the tables and chairs outside restaurants that narrow the sidewalk to almost single file; the impatient drivers at the cross streets blocking the crosswalk; the occasional "doggie donation". I don't mind outdoor seating as long as it does not block the sidewalk. Restaurants that want to use the sidewalk should be required to widen it so the *full* width of the sidewalk is available to pedestrians. That will impact parking, so the restaurants should also "buy" spaces in parking structures to be built. Parking fees should be collected by the parking structures (and the lots, and parking meters on the street), and restaurants could refund the cost of parking to attract patrons. If the Palo Alto Shuttle stopped at the California Avenue underpass, many who would otherwise drive might take the shuttle. Or bike. Or walk.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Mr Conroe - for shame. You have not served Protege well.

I watched the Planning Commission hearing. The issues (which seemed to boil down to 2 really - 1) whether builders would be required to follow Palo Altos laws or not, and 2) if anyone understood the square footage that buildings owner put in front of the commission that night - different than offered before). But what I want to talk about was the outrageous conduct of the buildings owner/builder, Mr. Conroe, and some of his investor/supporters who spoke.

I was shocked by how they bullied palo alto residents who politely and civilly addressed the Commissioners with specific misgivings about the project. No one spoke against the restaurant and in fact repeatedly said they welcomed Protege. The problem was with the building's owner who could easily fix the problems presented that night. It was clear the restaurant could be accommodated and could have from the beginning had the buildings owner been more forthcoming with Protege about city requirements. Yet Levinsky was made a scapegoat for the owner by the owner and some investors in the restaurant.

When the building owner, Mr. Conroe spoke for his allowed 15 min. he probably repeated Mr Levinky's name at least 8 times, over and over, personalizing his comments, attacking the messenger rather than speaking to the issues, even stating that Levinsky was responsible for bogging the project down for a year and a half in spite of Levinsky having gotten engaged in the project only in the last few weeks - which was pointed out by a Planning Commissioner to Mr. Conroe.

As I watched from home, I wanted to shout at all the bullying stop. One didn't have to agree with what the residents were saying to be deeply offended and disappointed by what happened in chambers that night.That the Vice Chair said nothing was terrible. Commission Summa was the lone voice who said anything to interrupt this unacceptable behavior. It should never happen in Palo Alto where democracy happens in governement. And it should have never happened to any resident on any side of any issue - particularly ones that were civil, reasonable and polite.

Posted by Silly Indeed
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jun 9, 2017 at 12:11 pm

@Hangry, your logic could be equally applied to the Epiphany Hotel downtown for which the City required NO parking spaces for hotel guests, guests visiting the guests, people dining at their wonderful restaurant and all the workers in the restaurant and the hotel.

We just spent $7,000,000 to "revitalize Cal Ave -- and all we did was make it tougher to go there! And now they want to charge us to park there!

The City Council and the City Govt. brought all this on themselves. It's about time the residents started rebelling.

Vote them out. I'm tired of subsidizing businesses and govt. waste like $4,500,000 "wayfinding" systems for City Hall, ONE single building.

Posted by Hey Jeff
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 9, 2017 at 12:25 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 9, 2017 at 12:29 pm

I look forward to the City Council review and resolution this conflict. For over 6 years I have been involved in tedious detail of non-resident vehicles spillover into residential neighborhoods. Citizens should not be forced into such micro-management.

I have been forced to learn about the exceptions, exemptions and lenient code interpretations that have allowed commercial development without sufficient parking. The results are the widely acknowledged negative traffic and parking impact throughout Palo Alto. Fortunately City Council has slowly remedied the most, not all blazen parking entitlements and exemptions.

This project can be a learning opportunity for the Council and perhaps the Planning Commission. The Comp Plan acknowledges that the city supports commerce but not at the expense of residential neighborhoods.

The salient issue has boiled down to which development standard does the Planning Department apply to the project. Is it an established parking standard with proven track record or has it been fabricated for special use to benefit this highly esteemed restaurant?

If a special parking standard has been created, then has it been vetted properly and is it fair to existing property owners, current restaurants and the nearby residential neighborhoods already providing parking for hundreds of non-residents. In my opinion it appears that city staff is recommending a new, difficult to manage exception which will enable this development and future development to compound the parking shortages in all commercial zones throughout Palo Alto.

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2017 at 12:39 pm

What we really need is a pedestrian bridge over the Caltrain tracks from Midtown to California Ave. We stopped walking to California Ave when our crosswalk across Oregon Expressway were removed and signal timings at other crosswalks were changed to give preference to cars over pedestrians. Walking takes so much longer now that we just drive instead. If we are going to drive, we'd rather drive to Los Altos or Mountain View where there is a much better variety of restaurants and other retail businesses than California Ave.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 9, 2017 at 12:44 pm

@Neilson Buchanan, thank you for all you do. Perhaps you can also encourage the City Council to stop pushing for the city to keep adding the maximum number of new jobs in Palo Alto which only exacerbates the parking problems?

They're adding insult to injury by shifting the financial burden of paying for the parking problems and the commuting expenses to the residents from the businesses who are creating these problems.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2017 at 12:50 pm

From my perspective, I would imagine that customers parking for this restaurant are more likely to be evening parkers than all day parkers. Surely in a case like this, the customers are likely to be arriving after office workers have left for the day. Isn't that why we have free parking after 6.00pm?

Somehow, I think someone is making a mountain out of a molehill over this.

Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Marie is a registered user.

If the city had been clear with the developer from Day 1 about the parking requirements for a restaurant, and been consistent, there would be no problem. The developer spent most of a year asking for concessions and the city and the planning commission rolled over and finally gave in. The delays are because the developer knew if he pushed hard enough, the city would once again agree to an underparked structure. And to let the developer bully a citizen at a public meeting who is only asking for the city to enforce its own codes, is despicable.

I hope the city council will fix this problem once and for all by requiring the developer to meet the parking requirements for a restaurant of this size as specified in Palo Alto's municipal code. And I hope for once, the city planning staff, the ARB and the PTC, are sent a message that they need to do their job properly and enforce Palo Alto's code. This is not a problem because of the "Palo Alto process." This took so long because the developer knew he could bully the city staff, ARB and PTC, to give exceptions and enrich him by hundreds of thousands of dollars at the expense of quality of life to Palo Alto's citizens.

Please don't let him succeed.

Posted by Logic prevails
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 9, 2017 at 7:28 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 10, 2017 at 6:46 am

Mark Conroe did intend to have a restaurant there. He told me so during the building process. That is for sure.

Posted by Common Sense
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 10, 2017 at 10:51 pm

If the Planning & Transportation Commission and Architectural Review Board have both agreed unanimously that the building is in compliance, then it seems there is no justification to delay the project.

The building was completed years ago and the space has been sitting vacant. Explain to me how that could possibly be a win for the community.

"Land use watchdogs" should not be allowed to delay business from serving this community without proving non-compliance. We are sending the message that Palo Alto is closed for business.

Posted by Robert
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 11, 2017 at 12:25 am

Insisting that restaurant patrons should take public transit is incredibly naive. It does not solve the problem of nearby neighborhoods becoming overflow parking lots for businesses that have bullied the city into ignoring the city's own rules.

A restaurant like this should actually have much higher parking requirements because patrons will be having much longer meals.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 11, 2017 at 7:07 am

"We just spent $7,000,000 to "revitalize Cal Ave -- and all we did was make it tougher to go there! And now they want to charge us to park there!".

You can thank Mayor Gregg Scharff for pushing through the revitalization if Cal Ave. After all his office is in the area.He should have recused himself from the project in the first place. Talk about conflict of interest.

Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 11, 2017 at 10:17 am

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

As the vice chair who presided over the hearing: my view was the real issues never even came up because they’re completely legal.

The hearing revealed that parking retail and restaurant to different standards leads to problems. This is the first ground floor tenant in a new building and we’re already debating if it meets parking standards. That’s something we can fix and I hope we do that as we revise codes after the comp plan update.

The bigger issue is 260 Cal Ave needed 97 parking spaces and only built 41. The developer paid in-lieu fees for the other 56.

Have 56 new spaces been built by the parking assessment district since 2012? Not that I can see. But the missing 56 spaces are completely legal and not even part of the discussion. Evergreen Park RPP hearings show the missing parking spaces are not a phantom issue.

If this were a new building I’d be interested in a detailed FAR review. The building is built and I wish the restaurant team the best of luck.

Posted by Pay Us the In-Lieu Fees
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 11, 2017 at 12:31 pm

If the city is still allowing the in-lieu fees for under-parked buildings maybe they should use pay those fees back to the residents instead of using them to pay for the city's inflated salary and benefits.

We certainly waste enough gas circling trying to find parking or driving long distances to places we can park while their developer buddies and big companies get away with destroying Cal Ave businesses and our quality of life.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 11, 2017 at 1:27 pm

@Pay Us, let's first apply any spare parking in-lieu fees to our $65 million cost between the newly approved parking structures downtown and off Cal Ave.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2017 at 3:58 pm

It would be interesting to learn how the city determines the parking needs for a restaurant, or all restaurants, for that matter.

A world-class restaurant on Cal Ave most likely would not serve breakfast. At lunch, it would most likely serve more walk-in traffic than patrons who drove to the restaurant. Come evening, while it stands to reason that more people would drive to the restaurant than walk in, the available parking in the lots surrounding the businesses would be mostly empty, particularly after 7:00PM, or so. During the day when the restaurant is not open for service, there would be virtually no need for parking spaces.

Does the city require a set number of parking spaces based on size of the restaurant or number of tables, or does it recognize that different times of day might require different numbers of parking spaces?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 11, 2017 at 4:13 pm

Motorized vehicles will never go away. These vehicles need places to park. The residents should not have to pay for a parking structure. Local businesses should pay, starting with Scharff and Associates.

Posted by Pay Us the In-Lieu Fees
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 11, 2017 at 4:51 pm

@Joe, I highly doubt a world-class restaurant like FL will be serving any walk-in traffic. People book their reservations MONTHS in advance. There's a long long waiting list. When there's a cancellation people immediately change their plans to take advantage of those rare cancellations.

I'm disgusted with Palo Alto continuing to inconvenience residents by continuing to allow under-parked businesses that force us to waste our time and money trying to find parking.

I'm tired of them constantly trying to wring more money out of residents to subsidize businesses when they're leaving millions of dollars of extra revenue on the table by their totally illogical refusal to collect money from any marijuana-related businesses even though marijuana is legal in California.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2017 at 5:50 pm

I hasten to add to the discussion that not only are high class restaurants likely to have most of their customers in the evening, due to the excellent wine lists and cocktail menus, it is quite possible that the customers will come by Uber!

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2017 at 7:41 pm

> Joe, I highly doubt a world-class restaurant like FL will be
> serving any walk-in traffic

So would it be fair to say that you don't believe that this restaurant will be serving many Palo Alto residents?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 11, 2017 at 8:28 pm

Maybe valet parking for $3500 bicycles, and a dress policy that includes spandex.

Posted by Pay Us the In-Lieu Fees
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 11, 2017 at 9:30 pm

@Joe, I hope Protege does really well in Palo Alto and expect it to. I'm looking forward to going there but at $1,000+ per couple before tax and tip, dining there isn't an everyday walk-in event for most of us. I'm sure lots of Palo Altans will eat there at least a few times for special occasions and/or more often if they have lavish expense accounts.

For comparison, Manresa is $252 pp prix fixe plus $200 for wine pairing so for a couple you're looking at $910 per couple BEFORE tip and tax. Dinner at the French Laundry is $310 prix fixe per person before wine pairings and tax and tip.

Posted by ams
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2017 at 4:48 am

This discussion is why I freaking hate this town so much. So much energy expended for nothing. Both sides.

Posted by Deep Sigh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2017 at 2:24 pm

Between people who walk their bikes on the Cal Ave sidewalks and people who walk their dogs on it, outdoor dining on these sidewalks is a miserable experience!

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2017 at 2:42 pm

@Pay-Us-the ..

Thanks for your impressions. Doesn't sound like any of Palo Alto's retired population will be dining there, does it?

Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Typical 20th century thinking. If they're paying that much for food and wine, chances are they're taking a car service (or Uber) there, not driving.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 12, 2017 at 6:50 pm

Ok, serious question now -- how are panhandlers regulated in this City?

Can I sit on the curb outside this restaurant with a sign "No job, 3 kids, please help"?

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2017 at 1:34 pm

I used to take the train to Cal Ave frequently. It'd be great if others did so, but a car service is probably the better option.

Posted by Cares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2017 at 2:05 pm

An appreciation to Mr. Levinsky - he works to keep City Hall honest. My condolences to the new restaurant owners. It is probably not their fault, the problem lies more with the council, city manger, multitude of "committees and commissions they have to go through - because the power that be always try to figure a way to change rules to meet the next project that they want to be passed. Fortunately there are people like Levinsky that study the issues and understand the consequence - even of one parking spot.

DSFNA has been fighting for a long time about Edgewood. The city gave away parking for multi million dollar homes and now renting the grocery story has turned into a nightmare. and ongoing lawsuit. Jeff Levinsky;s skills and concern has helped keep the project alive

For people who can afford a French Laundry style establishment - great- Another new building blocking the sky, not so great. If someone can afford FL - they can afford Uber or taxi. I just hope that Calif Ave atmosphere of "low key" doesn't get lost in the process.

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