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President Hotel owner applies for hotel conversion

Original post made on Feb 6, 2019

The owner of President Hotel submitted this week its plan to convert the historic apartment building in downtown Palo Alto to a luxury hotel -- a controversial project that continues to face significant zoning hurdles.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 6, 2019, 2:03 PM

Comments (32)

24 people like this
Posted by Rob
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 6, 2019 at 2:28 pm

On average I have 10 guests fly in monthly and visit my home in Atherton for business. I've lately been booking rooms at The Clement Palo Alto Or Stanford Park Hotel. I can't wait to have my guests stay at The President Hotel. They have my business! Let's open it up!


17 people like this
Posted by Conference Planner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 2:42 pm

> I can't wait to have my guests stay at The President Hotel. They have my business! Let's open it up!

Absolutely. We are booking several high-tech conferences/seminars in the Palo Alto area & cannot wait for the completion of this dynamic project. Out with the old & in with the new! And that goes for former tenants as well as the older interior amenities.

> quoting the PA Weekly..."The nonprofit last month requested that AJ Capital provide Backlund with "reasonable accommodations" — namely, an extended stay."

Fine. Let him have a small service room in the corner of the hotel while the contractors are working around the clock on the remodeling project. The excessive noise + the debris & sawdust flying about + the disruptions emanating from countless R&R measures will probably make him wished he had left sooner.

> "I simply cannot lose my apartment at this time, during the rainy season because when it rains, I cannot go out unless ... I am accompanied by another person to keep me falling on wet pavement,"

My 86 year-old grandmother uses a folding walker to prevent falls. These are readily available at hospital supply stores.

Not valid/excuses or reasons.


56 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 6, 2019 at 4:09 pm

eileen is a registered user.

I notice that both Bob and Conference Planner both live outside of Palo Alto.

How many residents of Palo Alto are in favor of this conversion project?

If the city allows the zone change we might see more older, non-conforming, downtown apartments converted
into non-residential uses as well. Do we potentially want to lose all that housing?


14 people like this
Posted by Gimmee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 4:29 pm

Eileen- perhaps greedy palo alto can add this to the list of things they want from Stanford. Stanford should have to buy the building giving the current owner a hefty profit. Then Stanford should have to completely remodel it into apartments for the greedy, entitled residents that think that renting means they can stay forever, despite the owners wishes. Stayed will also have to pay for any future expenses for this building.
That sounds fair doesn't it?


60 people like this
Posted by Outta Here
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2019 at 7:20 pm

Is this some sort of joke about the parking issue? Unbelievable that AJ Capital tried to see if it could get the city to waive $13million, or I heard a whole lot more than that would be owing under our laws. Just wait for the other shoe to drop - AJ will present some scheme of off site parking with a showing of why only a few spaces are even then needed because their paid consultant said so.

And here they say, boy howdy, we are going to paint the outside of the hotel “with a new color palette that will celebrate the historic nature of the building”. Are you crazy? This is a Birge Clark building. You are talking about the heart and soul of Palo Alto architecture. Everyone knows there is one color paint for a Birge Clark building - the color of the hotel now. Off-white. Always off-white.

AJ Capital - you people need to move on now that you have displaced a hundred or so of our towns people, and you threaten ruin on a splendid BC downtown apartment building. You have done enough damage in the name of making a buck. Take your bad taste and disrespect somewhere else.


56 people like this
Posted by JR McDugan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 6, 2019 at 7:37 pm

JR McDugan is a registered user.

Nope, never, not in a million years. What these people did to long-time Palo Alto residents is despicable. The President Hotel must NEVER be used for any purpose other than apartments.


63 people like this
Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 7:42 pm

No, NO, No. this conversion should not be allowed.

I am tired of the Planning Dept, Mr Keene and the previous pr-growth City council giving developers the right to under-park their developments and then stick the parking garage costs to residents. Enough is enough.

Jeff Levinsky correctly discovered a conversion of the Hotel President is not allowed under current zoning code. The fact tat AJ Capital's Consulting team or Mr. Keene could not read as well as Jeff is not our concern. Let AJ Capital sue.

AJ Capital should really be suing their Consulting team.

If the City Council has any doubts regarding this changing current zoning laws to meet individual developers specific needs, please ask the voters to decide.

Palo Alto residents: please come to the 2/11 City Council meeting and make your opinion known. Thank you.


12 people like this
Posted by Gimmee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2019 at 6:02 am

Jr- sorry, property owners have rights also. The tenants had not signed leases for years. There is no obligation for the owner to continue to rent to them. It is time that greedy people like yourself understand the concept that renting died not grant you a lifetime residence.

Rita- then the code needs to be changed. This was originally a hotel, so the is no real change of usage.


38 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2019 at 8:29 am

Boy, what a bunch of astonishingly ignorant posts above about owner's rights and so on. Zoning laws have long been approved by State and Federal courts, and so owners have no right to ignore them. The zoning simply does not allow what the new owners of the President want to do with it. Their investors have been defrauded, if they were told otherwise.


18 people like this
Posted by Gimmee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2019 at 9:28 am

And now we are getting ignorant comments from some of the bullies in palo alto that try to usurp private property rights. The owner is not ignoring the zoning laws they are asking for a change and do have the right to sue.
Thay said they do have the right to have the tenants vacate the building.
If the plan for a hotel fails, I would suggest remodeling to luxury apartments. I cannot wait to hear the arguments from the usual suspects against that.


25 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 7, 2019 at 10:01 am

Aside from whether AJ Capital will have the right to convert from a residential use (rental or owns) under the “grandfathering” rule for non-conforming buildings, they may not be able to convert to a hotel due to the downtown commercial cap. If the council votes to retain that cap, then AJ could not convert to a hotel or office use. As reported in the Weekly, the recent city council campaign Alison Cormack stated publicly that she favored retaining that cap. If she does not reverse herself once elected, then there will likely be a council majority to retain the cap.
In addition, Adrian Fine has repeatedly bemoaned that the loss of the President rentals would mean no net gain in residential units for the year. If he really cares more about housing than just all growth, he will retain the downtown cap which would preserve the President units while making new residential more viable downtown since it would no longer need to comply with higher ROI office development.


45 people like this
Posted by Greer Stone
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2019 at 10:07 am

It defies common sense for our city council to approve this conversion when it only serves to exacerbate two of Palo Alto's most pressing problems: lack of housing and inadequate parking.

The current law is clear, this conversion is prohibited under the municipal code. Our city council needs to stand up for the rights of our residents, and say no to AJ Capital! Let's not make a bad problem worse.


7 people like this
Posted by CA Love
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 7, 2019 at 10:14 am

Typical Shallow Alto.

Why doesn’t the City buy the apartments like it did the trailer park? HAHA! Someone now wants to upgrade an old apartment building back into its original use and glory. These existing low rents have destined this old classic historic building for long term decay and ultimate demolition one day, albeit far far into the future. It already needs repair and restoration. The buildings life span will be limited in its current non-sustainable economic model of below market rent. These old buildings require tons of maintenance. By converting this building back into its proper use (ie HOTEL), the building is actually being saved for posterity and future generations to enjoy original PA architecture. The people of PA should be thankful for this developer. The City should be providing assistance to the developer to rehab the building AND for relocating tenants.

The operation of a hotel makes it economically possible to maintain this building in top condition...below market housing shouldn’t look like a classic Birge Clark buildings. And they don’t for good reason!

We still have a housing crisis, lack of hotel space, and Shallow Alto is not being a helpful regional player in this. Why would they? Their school district is a mess. They’re so busy squabbling with Stanford, fighting Caltrain and being anti-high-speed rail. Get your act together PA! After 50 years PA figured out how to time traffic signals on El Camino, congrats! By the time PA fixes these problems it’ll be too late and we’ll have moved on to different set of problems (ie robots doing jobs and not needing housing or hotel).

I remember seeing one PA bicyclist (typical) blocking a traffic lane at a traffic light with a row concrete trucks behind him trying to make a delivery to a nearby job site. All the guy had to do was move over 2 ft to let others pass, for the sake of humanitie’s progress, but he wouldn’t budge. Made everyone wait 4-5 minutes just for him. I remember thinking this is exactly the typical Palo Alto Shallow Alto resident: selfish anti-progress mindset. Let’s watch it play out on The President Hotel!


16 people like this
Posted by Conference Planner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 7, 2019 at 10:43 am

> What these people did to long-time Palo Alto residents is despicable. The President Hotel must NEVER be used for any purpose other than apartments.

>> Jr- sorry, property owners have rights also. The tenants had not signed leases for years. There is no obligation for the owner to continue to rent to them. It is time that greedy people like yourself understand the concept that renting died not grant you a lifetime residence.

^^^^This.

> Why doesn’t the City buy the apartments like it did the trailer park? HAHA! Someone now wants to upgrade an old apartment building back into its original use and glory. These existing low rents have destined this old classic historic building for long term decay and ultimate demolition one day, albeit far far into the future. It already needs repair and restoration.

Finally the voice of reason...or tear down this old decepit hotel & erect a new glass/steel building reflective of the new millennium.

These ubiquitous Birge Clark designs are highly overated and not even original in concept...as 'revisionist Spanish-style architecture' simply implies a copycat approach.

Let's get this President Hotel remodeling underway ASAP...future lodgers are awaiting confirmation of their reservations.

The remaining tenants simply have to go...even if AJ must file Unlawful Detainers (eviction proceedings) against them. Sympathetic 'do nothings' can simply offer to put them up in their PA granny units or homes. Highly unlikely.




8 people like this
Posted by Your Name Here
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 7, 2019 at 11:05 am

Wantingto change a building called a hotel into a hotel seems to be head scratching.


28 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 7, 2019 at 11:25 am

Annette is a registered user.

Small wonder "rebuilding trust" didn't quite make it to the priority list.


29 people like this
Posted by Atherton host Rob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2019 at 11:46 am

[Post removed.]


19 people like this
Posted by Tear Down the President Hotel!
a resident of University South
on Feb 7, 2019 at 1:33 pm

> tear down this old decepit hotel & erect a new glass/steel building reflective of the new millennium.

Yes. The President Hotel is just a square building with windows & hardly an aesthetic design concept. It might have been OK in the 1930s-50s but today it looks antiquated & no one in their right mind would call the building quaint or of any architectural significance. Besides, Birge Clark afficionados still have the old PA post office and the Hamilton Building (among others) for nostalgia purposes.

Watching the building come crashing down via modern demolition techniques would be very entertaining and worthy of local TV news coverage.




6 people like this
Posted by Gimmee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2019 at 3:55 pm

Will based on a daily post story, it looks like we cannot allow anyone to live in the apartments at the president. It appears that the building is not seismically safe, not fully sprinkled and not in compliance with accessibility laws. How come none of the people screaming in support of the tenants or the city are addressing this issue. Rita? Jr? Norman? Winter? Lydia? Eric?


5 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Reality
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2019 at 5:38 pm

> It appears that the building is not seismically safe, not fully sprinkled and not in compliance with accessibility laws. How come none of the people screaming in support of the tenants or the city are addressing this issue.

Because they are on the downtown NIMBY bandwagon...actually more concerned about traffic, parking & added congestion than displaced tenants.

It's like showing empathy for seagulls during a landfill proposal at the baylands.


7 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2019 at 6:11 pm

Re:
> What these people did to long-time Palo Alto residents is despicable. The President Hotel must NEVER be used for any purpose other than apartments.

What is despicable is all the single family home owners that have no problem with selling THEIR property at market value and then complain that owners of multiple family properties OWE it to their renters to rent below market value.

This problem would be easily solved if some single family home owners sold their property to the last few tenants of Hotel President and BELOW market value as a good deed.

It's the greedy single family home owners that have raised the property values in Palo Alto. Blame them.

/marc

/marc


7 people like this
Posted by Gimmee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2019 at 6:34 pm

True Marc. These are the same people that complain about " greedy landlords and developers". Actually they ate the greedy ones. Now greedy palo alto is trying to extort $82 million from Stanford.


12 people like this
Posted by Arnie
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 7, 2019 at 9:04 pm

In following this story, I've seen more than a few comments that plainly state as fact that the proposed conversion back to a hotel isn't allowed by city code (like the one in this comment thread from Greer Stone "The current law is clear, this conversion is prohibited under the municipal code."). My question is how can people say that with the same assuredness as saying the earth is round? Just because the Palo Alto Weekly says so? Or just because the city staff says so? Have city staffs never gotten something like this wrong before? AJ Capital sure must think the city has it wrong.

If I read an earlier article correctly, former city manager Keene and planning director Lait told the city council at a public hearing immediately after it was announced that AJ Capital had bought the building that there was nothing the City could do to stop their proposed conversion back to a hotel because the city code permitted the change in use by right. And it wasn't until several weeks later, and the public outcry that ensued, that the city staff re-read the city code and then announced a new interpretation of the code that prohibited the conversion. That sounds like bending to political pressure and creating a prohibition.

If that's what happened, then the city is playing a dangerous game that could very well lead to the city losing some really costly litigation at our (the taxpayers') expense. What really scares me is that I'm certain there are a large number of my fellow citizens reading this that think such a lawsuit would be a good use of our tax dollars.

Preserving housing stock and encouraging more housing development are goals worth fighting for, but risking tax dollars on shaky legal grounds isn't the way to do it.


26 people like this
Posted by Are You Smarter than an AJ Capital Attorney?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 8, 2019 at 7:05 am

Here's a law that AJ Capital and all its attorneys and advisers seem to have overlooked .. it's part of the rules governing the Downtown area:

18.18.060 (d) Hotel Regulations (2) Hotels, where they are a permitted use, may develop to a maximum FAR of 2.0:1

In simple English, the law means a hotel can't be more than twice the size of the lot it's on. The city says the lot is 9,425 square feet, so the hotel can be at most 18,850 square feet in size, even if the other laws preventing the conversion disappear.

However, AJ Capital wants to redevelop all of the existing building as a hotel, except for a few of the existing stores on the ground floor. The hotel would be over 50,000 square feet in size. The law above says that's way too big.

If you understand the above, congratulations. You are smarter than AJ Capital and its attorneys. And also our city staff, who originally said the project was OK.

Which leaves the $65 million question, namely why did AJ Capital pay $65 million for the building? Perhaps, just perhaps, it's becasue they hired some utterly incompetent advisers. AJ Capital may be able to sue for such stupid advice, but to do so they must first try to get the hotel approved and fail. So we get to witness that stupidity played out on the front pages of our newspapers -- and the enormous tragedy of the tenants being kicked out as part of this legal charade.

But at the end of the day, AJ Capital isn't allowed to have a 50,000 square foot hotel at that location. Just don't expect them to admit it.


11 people like this
Posted by Blair
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2019 at 9:35 am

Last time I checked our economic system is Capitalism. People have the right the buy and sell their privately owned property as they wish. Renters are not owners and have nothing to say about this transaction so let's stop all the crocodile tears.

The bottom line is if people can't afford to live here, they should do themselves a favor and move somewhere they can afford to live. Yes the Bay Area is out of control and ridiculously expensive but that can't be fixed by passing laws taking away the rights of those who own the private property.

No one subsidized me when I moved here and worked hard to buy a house and establish my life here. We're not doing anyone a favor by subsidizing them to live in a place they can't afford to live. It's called reality.


13 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 8, 2019 at 10:27 am

Blair.

having a zoning code that allows and regulates uses is not considered a taking of property rights.

You wrong to say it is. If it was illegal,there would be no zoning codes anywhere!!!!!


17 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 8, 2019 at 11:10 am

Are You Smarter than an AJ Capital Attorney? wrote:

"Which leaves the $65 million question, namely why did AJ Capital pay $65 million for the building? Perhaps, just perhaps, it's becasue they hired some utterly incompetent advisers."

----------

Perhaps AJ Capital's advisors were indeed incompetent, but this is not the complete picture.

Former City Manager Jim Keene and then interim Planning Director Jonathan Lait told AJ Capital and/or their advisors that they could convert the apartment building to a hotel "by right".

Thanks to citizen Jeff Levinsky, we learned that Mr. Keene and Mr. Lait were incorrect, evidently ignorant of actual city zoning code.

Of course, this would explain why Mr. Lait seems so eager to change city law to allow AJ Capital to convert the building to a hotel. Perhaps he doesn't want the spotlight to shine on his error, which is likely to happen if AJ Capital sues the city.

New City Manager Ed Shikada just promoted Mr. Lait to permanent City Planning Director, which given the above, would seem to be a rather questionable choice.


25 people like this
Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2019 at 2:35 pm

Real-estate is one of the easiest ways to make money, so it tends to attract people who are very ambitious, but may not be the sharpest tools in the shed.

AJ Capital made a big mistake by depending on then mayor Scharff, Keene, Liat, Emslie, etc., for legal advise. I hope the City doesn't end up paying for their incompetence.


20 people like this
Posted by An Even Better Idea
a resident of University South
on Feb 8, 2019 at 3:04 pm

What really should have happened...

Wealthy overseas investors should have purchased the President Hotel & after terminating the residencies of the now former/remaining tenants, turned the building into family rental units for newly arrived people from overseas.
[Portion removed.]

Palo Alto is known to be a town that welcomes diversity & the President Hotel would provide a viable point of entry & residence for those arriving from overseas.


16 people like this
Posted by H. Le
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 8, 2019 at 7:39 pm


An excellent idea as residential housing is very expensive in Palo Alto.

The President Hotel also would have provided a sense of community for elders unaccustomed to American culture.


21 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 10, 2019 at 2:11 pm

It's worth rereading this article re the new hotel owners seeking exemptions from being required to furnish 200 parking spaces in view of 1) the question of funding a downtown garage, 2) the proposal to expand -- not limit -- downtown commercial development, 3) programs/goals to cut single-occupancy car trips and 4)the costly programs to fund commuters' commuting expenses.

How does this compute when we're seeing tens of thousands of new workers at Google, Facebook, Stanford etc. all jockeying for less space given our traffic diets?


7 people like this
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Mayfield
on Feb 11, 2019 at 4:18 am

Rainer is a registered user.

Here is one of my favorite factoids about zoning [I hasten to add my fear that the spineless Palo Alto City Attorneys will handle this in their usual defensive crouch: give the developers all the want so that they do not sue us and spoil our perfect record of never having lost a lawsuit for the city, because we never entered into on.

So here is the wisdom of the Supreme Court, I dug out for the 2555 Park Blvd scandal (and which if I am right originally originated from a lawsuit from the now defunct (because to practical for Palo Alto Citizens) Court House on Grant Avenue:

"We all know that property may not be taken for public use without payment of just compensation to its owner (Cal. Const., art. I, § 19; U.S. Const., 5th Amend). But in the case of zoning changes in practice the courts have for 200 years deferred to the police power of Cities and Counties.

Particularly difficult to overcome is the threshold that a ""mere diminution"" in property value due to a zoning action is not compensable. (Agins v. City of Tiburon (1979) 24 Cal.3d 266, 273-274 [157 Cal.Rptr. 372, 598 P.2d 25], affd. (1980) 447 U.S. 255 [65 L.Ed.2d 106, 100 S.Ct. 2138].)

The “mere” for the Supreme Court cases has meant diminution up to of 80%. Under these circumstances it is hard to understand why 2555 Park zoning was not changed to PTOD, the zoning with the greatest benefit to Palo Alto. "


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