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Community debates Sobrato project one last time before council decision

Original post made on Sep 6, 2023

The dominant voice at last night’s hearing came from those wanting to see the two-story cannery building preserved for its potential historic significance.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, September 6, 2023, 12:56 AM

Comments (31)

Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 6, 2023 at 4:35 am

ALB is a registered user.

According to Thomas Chew the permits have been pulled?!! Really? This is not so as it has not been approved.
IMO it appears that the Sobrato organization has gotten to him. Contrast that passivity with the majority of supporters for preserving the cannery. Many are from the Chinese American community including Barbara Hong Li who with the former mayor, Karen Holman, understand the historic significance of the Bayside Cannery to Palo Alto, Santa Clara County and the nation. Chew’s Cannery fed our troops during WWII. It was the third largest cannery in the world. This entrepreneur
rose up against the headwinds of racism to become a multi-millionaire during the Chinese Exclusion Act era. The Sobrato family could and should do the right thing and preserve the Bayside Cannery
and build truly affordable housing on the rest of the parcels.

Posted by Comment
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 6, 2023 at 6:45 am

Comment is a registered user.

Here it notes that the City will gain $37 million, and Sobrato, $25 million in benefits. This makes no sense and must be wrong. Billionaire Sobrato didn’t become such by making such bad deals. We need to know the true figures.

That he’s paying $4 million into our affordable housing fund is not beneficence - developers are required to do so, and it would only fund about 5 affordable units.

The parking should be undergrounded to free up land for the townhouses rather than destroy the Cannery’s entire historic value.

Had it been proposed that only 60% of the HP garage be saved, it would be seen as absurd. So too here, with Sobrato’s plan to demolish 40% of the Cannery. Given Foon Chew’s astounding importance to Palo Alto and Silicon Valley, the entire building must be saved.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 6, 2023 at 8:54 am

Online Name is a registered user.

In addition to the following, Rebecca Sanders was wonderfully forceful in noting all if the omissions-- especially finances -- in City Staff's report report on this project which makes further consideration less rosy than the headline indicates.

Why wasn't consideration given to making part of the Cannery a big Asian market with Asian shops and Asian markets sort of like the Los Altos Food Hall?

"It’s critical to realize that the cannery building “represents a unique piece of California history, of Palo Alto history and of Chinese American history,” said Rebecca Sanders, moderator at the Ventura Neighborhood Association.

Sanders also contended that the Sobrato proposal is really about commercial use, not housing, in an area designated for homes. “Simply put, this proposal is turning what should be land for housing into land for offices,” she said. “We also know that there are plausible alternatives that would preserve the cannery and also create housing -- perhaps even more housing.”

Posted by Mayfield Forever
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2023 at 10:19 am

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One unused building becomes a new development with 74 homes for families. I'm not sure why we're debating this...let's move into the future and enable more young families to move to Palo Alto. Notice the age of the people holding up those signs...I wonder why none of them are under the age of 40.

Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 6, 2023 at 10:55 am

Becky Sanders is a registered user.

@Mayfield Forever -

History is riddled with stories of people moving on and running roughshod over other people, paving over history to get there. Sorry it's not about moving on, it's about moving forward to do the right thing - preserve the Cannery and build lots of housing!

You are correct in that the majority of attendees were older folks. However there were several people below the age of 50 in the audience, I might note. A youngster who attended Palo Alto Schools but who lives and works in SF attended via Zoom and spoke about how much the Cannery meant to them when they did a public service project and learned about the history of the Cannery.

There has always been a cohort of passionate activists working to save the Cannery since Day One. We had a recent surge of interest in the Cannery because finally news outlets are picking up on the story. I am thankful for what's left of our free press. If newspapers don't cover what's happening a lot of people don't find out until it's too late.

Why do elders attend city meetings? Parents of children usually find their evenings occupied with caring for their families. When I had children at home, I would watch Council and read about Council, but did not attend meetings. It was a choice of being at home for my children or not. Frankly, I was cheered and moved by the attendance of a 96 year old who escorted by her son, using her walker attended to show her support.

Posted by cookie_true
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2023 at 11:41 am

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That’s a great area for housing. We need more families with children in our community.

Posted by Jenna Walsh
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 6, 2023 at 12:39 pm

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If an old wooden garage where the founders of HP created an oscillator can be saved, along with the dilapidated Birge Clark Roth building, Thomas Foon Chew's cannery building should also be preserved.

Posted by Silver Linings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2023 at 12:50 pm

Silver Linings is a registered user.

It’s a good area for new housing, so long as city requirements for open space are actually honored. It’s a good area to preserve some retail, preferably to replace the functions of Fry’s that online cannot do, which is important for Silicon Valley. I even think a well done parking garage is reasonable. Underground parking is not realistic there.

It’s really not a good place for more R&D and office, though. A lot of our problems stem from our having so many jobs we get unreasonable housing allocations and Atherton, Los Altos, and Woodside, etc, don’t. Let them be required to take more offices, or let us use their housing in our requirements, neither of which will happen. We already have too much office space.

Regardless of the cannery’s fate, Thomas Foon Chew and his accomplishments should be better memorialized in the Palo Alto History Museum. Lest we forget, he came here in the era in which CA was the shameful location of the largest mass lynching in the US, in which no one was was held to account for the murder of 10% of the government-limited Chinese population in LA at the time. Thomas Foon Chew died in his 40s of pneumonia. His accomplishments are all the more astonishing in that light.

When my parents married in CA, it had only been 10 years since it was legally possible. Even though my father had served our country in the military and enlisted during a war, my parents had to investigate (long before the internet) which states they could afford to attend college while remaining legally married. When my father (whose own mother was illiterate) had earned a PhD and they tried to look for housing near my father’s (white) half-uncle—who had been a professor at Stanford—the real estate agent pulled out a set of yellow business cards (seriously), saying he couldn’t rent there. This was a whole generation after Thomas Chew accomplished what he did.

That said, I don’t quite understand the need to preserve the building as is. Explain pls

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 6, 2023 at 1:06 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"Here it notes that the City will gain $37 million, and Sobrato, $25 million in benefits. This makes no sense and must be wrong. Billionaire Sobrato didn’t become such by making such bad deals. We need to know the true figures.

That he’s paying $4 million into our affordable housing fund is not beneficence - developers are required to do so, and it would only fund about 5 affordable units."

Only last night was staffed ordered to make public its financial assumptions. Oookay, but why weren't these numbers analyzed earlier by the PTC, CC and the public so intelligent decisions based on reality could be made??

Why all the secrecy in this case and so many others?

Why are we the residents forced to tolerate this lack of transparency? We're the ones paying staff salaries and consultants' retainers!

Will there be a formal review once the figures are discloses as was ordered last night? If not, why not??

And PS: If we've got such a housing shortage with offices/commuters outnumbering residents and allegedly creating a housing imbalance, WHY are projects still being approved with so much office space which the pro-density advocates claim increase competition for available housing and push up housing prices?

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2023 at 4:48 pm

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Native Americans are wondering where the protesters were, when they were being forced to march thousands of miles, after having their land and buildings stolen and being forced to live on reservations. Why, now, are mostly white people clamoring to declare a window an historic site?

Posted by Adam
a resident of University South
on Sep 6, 2023 at 7:37 pm

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All Palo Altans should be proud of the important contributions of Thomas Foon Chew to our city's rich history. He should be part of the school curriculum and the city museum. And the site of his building should be marked.

That said: we should NOT slow down the construction of new homes in order to preserve this building. Our community's number one problem is the housing shortage. We need more homes now.

Posted by Eeyore
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 6, 2023 at 10:47 pm

Eeyore is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 6, 2023 at 11:36 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

Posted by marc665
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2023 at 10:27 am

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Where were all the "Save the Cannery" protestors for the last 35 years? Not a word from anyone until they start talking about building housing. Then they come out of the ground like locusts to stop/slow down the project.


Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2023 at 2:41 pm

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I don't know if the permits for construction have already been "pulled," as the article quotes Thomas Chew as saying, but City staff do sometimes move ahead with procedural steps for impending legislation before the legislation actually passes. In 2020, for example, the City send eviction notices to tenants at Cubberley Community Center well before the Council actually voted to approve the lease which authorized those evictions. So it's believable that the City staff and Sobrato have already started taking steps to implement the not-yet approved development plan under the assumption that it will be approved next week.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 7, 2023 at 3:34 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"So it's believable that the City staff and Sobrato have already started taking steps to implement the not-yet approved development plan under the assumption that it will be approved next week."

Indeed it is, especially since staff admitted they let Sobrato write much of the plan as well as determine the financial benefits the city is supposed to receive. That's why the City Council ordered that the financials be released to the public.

This is the same pattern city staff used when -- after 6.5 years of hearings -- when it was finally ordered to get specific about the TDM (Transportation Demand Management) and how it would be monitored and how violations would be punished, it let CASTI write the whole plan -- until wiser heads on City Council prevailed and insisted that the neighbors be involved.

Why the City Council and residents tolerate this incredible lack of transparency is a subject of much discussion. It's not as if staff is underpaid; in fact PA Human Resources just awarded them another paid day off, this time it's called a Day of Reflection.

Perhaps staff might use that Day of Reflection to contemplate who they work for and who's paying them when they're offloading their work to the people they're supposed to be regulating.

Posted by Local news junkie
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 7, 2023 at 6:58 pm

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People were not protesting to save the historic cannery during the last 35 years because, as far as I know, the cannery was not in danger during the last 35 years. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Posted by Environmentalist
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 8, 2023 at 12:11 am

Environmentalist is a registered user.

There is no need for market rate housing, which will cause the area to become even more unaffordable. Make the area a campsite for homeless people if you actually care about homelessness.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 8, 2023 at 12:52 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Developers have money, so whether they shout, speak normally, or whisper their voice will be the one the Palo Alto City Staff hears - and heeds. Beats me why residents like the dedicated Rebecca Sanders volunteer their valuable time to serve on task forces and committees.

And I agree with Environmentalist about market rate housing and its impact on affordability.

Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 8, 2023 at 3:27 pm

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Annette and Environmentalist are wrong.

Market rate housing, besides being 40% of our RHNA obligation, helps not hurts affordability in two ways.

Market rate projects have 15-20% of their units requires as affordable to low and moderate income residents without requiring city subsidy.

And market rate units provide options for higher income residents so they do not bid up rents on older apartments and displace people as has been happening.

And market rate units use a completely different stream of financing and do not compete with funding for BMR units.

It is a both and not an either or.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 8, 2023 at 4:59 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I thought the justification for densifying Palo Alto and the rest of the state was to provide housing for those NOT able to afford Market Rate Housing? That's how building ADUs was justified -- housing poor grandma and the disabled son -- NOT highly paid techies able to afford Market Rate housing which is of course more profitable.

Why do the new developments have a huge amount of office space?? It sure seems like it would increase competition for housing and thus push up prices -- at least that's what all the deep-pocketed lobbyists keep claiming -- without any proof otherwise Manhattan and Tokyo would be cheaper than Kansas.

Posted by NTB2
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 8, 2023 at 9:26 pm

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@Steve Levy Try being born and raised in the Bay Area, living a life like working a factory line, raising a family — then the gold standard implodes and capitalism and real estate and a highly disruptive engineered tech force hires elites to push all the production to the Far East. Gone the factory, gone the factory worker, gone the “live simply so others may simply live”. All the data crunching in the cubicle Ethernet silos cannot justify the displacement of our American (local) workforce. Look at the Doom Loop that Apple, Google, Facebook, Salesforce who have sent a guillotine down from their fortressed towers, slicing away the most human of us. What’s left: Refugee camps of human cast offs.

Steve or is this your opine about why Sobrato should get the power to redone 14 acres of RM30? Also a Chinese cultural site in exchange for 74 badly designed boxy multi-million dollar Rowhouses? And then toss the poor a half baked idea of maybe homes? Are you too an elitist, shopping only at TC & Stanford (which by standards of a true native to PA, is not downtown). I hope not. Good thoughts your way.

Posted by HillbillyHeaven
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 9, 2023 at 2:47 am

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I don't get all the fuss about persevering a 100+ year old former cannery. For heavens sake, we're not talking about the Palace of Versailles here. There's nothing architecturally significant about the building. It has all the charm of a century old warehouse. I support tearing it down to make way for badly needed housing. Maybe salvage a board or two for a display at the Palo Alto Historic Museum.

Posted by Bob Newton
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2023 at 7:10 am

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This decision should be left to the residents of the Ventura neighborhood as any developments there will impact them the most.

Posted by Melinda Pierce
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 9, 2023 at 9:42 am

Melinda Pierce is a registered user.

Perhaps the PACC should consider retaining the services of a consultant specializing in Chinese American history and land use planning to shed further light on this issue.

Posted by Dave York
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 9, 2023 at 3:58 pm

Dave York is a registered user.

Would the consultant also be trained in feng shui to ensure the proper placement of doors, walls, windows, and interior accoutrements?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 9, 2023 at 9:33 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Steve Levy and the other lobbyists should reread NTB2's post and think seriously about what was said and what their deep-pocketed backers are pushing while advocating for Market Rate housing at the expense of everyone EXCEPT highly paid techies.

As Steve Levy knows, only 5% of the housing goes for the truly working poor, not 15-20% "Below Market Rate" housing which is considered workforce housing for well-paid techies sulking because they can't afford a $3,000,000 "Market Rate" home at age 28!

What's the difference between BMR and Market Rate apartments: a piddling $200 a month on a $3500 apartment.

Look at what the VCs are funding: startups that cause more unemployment by automating everything from truck drivers, cab drivers, checkout clerks, reporters, lawyers etc.

Existing companies, like Uber, Lyft, etc.spent hundreds of millions of dollars -- literally hundreds of millions of dollars -- lobbying to ensure that gig workers don't get ANY benefits including unemployment or even minimum wage -- while sticking everyone else with the bills for housing for the homeless and destruction of existing neighborhoods.

Every year the percentage of contract workers keeps outpacing the full-time employees with benefits and stock options.

This is after the last few decades outsourcing work to lower-wage countries, causing economic displacement and shrinking the middle class.

So of course Mr. Levy supports Market Rate housing with the developers claiming no one wants cars/parking so they can increase density without worrying how anyone's going to get to work and/or about overflow to neighborhoods. Pay no attention to the fact that there's no public transit!

Whenever you vote, check where the politicians campaign contributions are coming from. Right now the DODOs -- Developer Owned Developer Operated -- politicians are pocketing huge contributions that outpace individual contributions about 10:1.

As Gordon Gecko said, Greed is Good. For some.

Posted by Deborah
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 11, 2023 at 3:49 pm

Deborah is a registered user.

Save the cannery? What's next, save the car dealership?

Posted by Lynette Carlson
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 11, 2023 at 4:05 pm

Lynette Carlson is a registered user.

Outside of the housing options and lucrative developer opportunities, since Palo Alto has taken upon itself to revitalize an old dying redwood tree by the RR trestle and the run-down Roth building, it seems that the cannery building could be saved...for something.

It's no different than Marissa Meyer preserving the old Roller & Hapgood mortuary for a private meeting place or the now-defunct Spago's and The Gatehouse converting an old downtown mortuary into a restaurant/bar.

Posted by Zhi Peng
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2023 at 7:52 am

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Recognition of Chinese history in Palo Alto should be preserved and not subject to housing needs.

If one cannot afford to reside in Palo Alto, they should look elsewhere.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 12, 2023 at 3:55 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

This video, Preserve the Entire Bayside Cannery Building from the History Channel for Chinese Americans just surfaced in one of the Palo Alto Facebook groups.

Web Link

It's pretty interesting.

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