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Landmark deal paves way for transformation of Fry's site

Original post made on Sep 13, 2023

Palo Alto approved on Tuesday a landmark deal with Sobrato Organization that paves the way for redevelopment of Ventura's largest property and that allows the developer to replace a portion of the old Fry's building with townhomes.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, September 12, 2023, 11:50 PM

Comments (28)

Posted by NTB2
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 13, 2023 at 7:08 am

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Demolition, design and dollars. Tokenism is right. Another large historic Mayfield parcel bites the dust.

Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2023 at 9:21 am

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"The development agreement that the council approved was negotiated behind closed doors by an ad hoc committee."

This is one of the ways that local governments get around Brown Act requirements for open meetings. Agreements can be made in secret if less than the required plurality of councilmembers are on a committee, and then bring their work to the full council for consideration. But once something has been negotiated, the council rarely makes significant changes or any changes at all. The problem is that big businesses can get this special treatment to negotiate directly with councilmembers and other city representatives, but individual stakeholders, or just citizens who care, are almost never given this opportunity.

Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 13, 2023 at 9:29 am

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It appears because of fatigue and perhaps fear of a lawsuit the city council
gave Sobrato what he wanted. Sad for the community that the cannery will not be preserved as it is historic. Sobrato has no imagination as the cannery could be used for Asian restaurants. Parking should be underground. A mega wealthy developer gets his way and is not even required to build housing should he feel the market is not favorable. He is allowed to build housing but not required to do so. The council just wanted to move on.

Posted by Tristan Rogers
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 13, 2023 at 9:39 am

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The PACC acquiesced to developer wishes. It's as simple as that.

Posted by BobH
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 13, 2023 at 10:17 am

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This seems to me to be a good compromise, not everyone got what they wanted, the outcome seems reasonable to me.

Posted by The Palo Alto Kid
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 13, 2023 at 10:42 am

The Palo Alto Kid is a registered user.

With no guarantee that any housing will ever be built.

This sweetheart deal for Sobroto (the only winners here) was negotiated behind closed doors over the past year and a half. The negotiated deal was going to be adopted by the City Council last night no matter what the public had to say about it over the past few public meetings. Sorry to tell you all, but your input meant absolutely nothing. The ship had already sailed. The "adults in the room" made an "adult decision" and they simply had to let all of us "children" down as easily as they could. The patronizing was on full display. Watch the video of the last meeting and you can hear it plain as day.

This approved plan will "rehabilitate," "reinforce" and "rebuild in kind" 60 percent of the Cannery in order that the building structure can withstand having the other 40 percent demolished. In this process, it completely removes all historical integrity. What remains of the cannery will be a facsimile of what was there. A replica. City staff is calling this a "rehabilitation" of the building, but in reality, it's a complete demolition and rebuild.

I helped push and educate others on the history of this building for more than five years, a history which the City Council wound up dismissing and downplaying in their final remarks. I entered the fray, hoping that it would help save this amazing old cannery building. It was a relic worth saving no matter who built it. It is the oldest surviving industrial building in Palo Alto. A monument to the old town of Mayfield and the Valley of Heart's Delight (which is what this area was called prior to Silicon Valley). Stepping inside it and seeing the original architecture takes you back 100 years. Photographs have the ability to transport us back in time, but nothing compares to stepping into a physical location like that - it's the closest thing we have to a time machine. So now, it's over. Done. The cannery is going to be demolished.

Posted by The Palo Alto Kid
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 13, 2023 at 11:00 am

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Sobrato will tear down 40 percent of the Cannery building to open up the possibility of townhomes being built. They did not commit to actually building any townhomes. It's nothing more than an empty wish that it will magically happen someday, down the line, if the gods are willing. The City Council did not make them commit or promise that the townhomes will ever be built. But even if the townhomes were built, the architect pointed out that there would be "far less than the 74 townhomes than originally proposed." There simply isn't enough room. So where is the benefit of destroying this historical resource? To anyone other than Sobroto?

Posted by Allan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2023 at 11:04 am

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I hope someone has the forethought to do a 3-D LiDAR survey of the inside of the entire cannery building to at least preserve an accurate digital representation of this historic building.

Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 13, 2023 at 12:10 pm

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Last night we gave Sobrato 74 condos and, not only retention, but expansion of office space. Every plan alternative that the volunteer NVCAP working group -- made up of mostly residents -- developed in the painstaking years-long process had way more housing than that and denser housing to boot and little office space. Last night was a betrayal of the trust of all those folks who devoted hours working up designs and ideas for a livable, walkable neighborhood to be added to Ventura. Business use of the site was supposed to sunset decades ago (prior Councils deemed it prudent) and it had been rezoned RM 30 - medium density residential, 30 units per acre. And what we got last night was even more business on a site that should have/could have been all housing. It helps the vested interests to paint people who actually read the staff reports and do the math as obstructionists when we just want the laws adhered, the code respected and true public benefit when we relax our standards. Change the code, lower the standards, but don't give them away. The financials of the closed-door deal in the Keyser Marston report released to the public last week lowballs the values accruing to the applicant. They get more office/commercial/R&D and we get to keep our jobs/housing imbalance. We do get land earmarked for affordable housing, but with no pathway to realization. I'm for compromise but where is it? Where's the stuff we get to feel good about? We've been sold out again and will continue to be as long as commercial interests trump homes and neighbors down at City Hall.

Posted by One Town Over
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 13, 2023 at 12:39 pm

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Nice to see Palo Alto evolving and moving on. So much of the city is a dump in need of demolition and new development.

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 13, 2023 at 7:21 pm

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Thank you Becky Sanders and most other posters for accurately, IMO, describing another City give away. With the City attorney and others so afraid of being sued, all a developer needs to say is "lawsuit" and everyone folds.

A wonderful opportunity for housing and community revival LOST.

Were the behind closed doors negotiations even legal? And not being required to build the housing? How does that work?

This is the 3rd situation I know of where the City invites the public to attend meetings, comment, and/or serve on Committees in order to "help shape" a project's outcome. The Comp Plan, Cubberley High School and the Fry's site.

Each one has been a complete "shell game" where citizens spend hundreds of hours and thought they had a chance to shape the outcome.

I applaud those residents who still keep showing up on the very off chance that what is being said will occur.

Ms. Sanders references this frustration in her post.

So sad; another opportunity negotiated down and thrown away.

Posted by Comment
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2023 at 7:37 pm

Comment is a registered user.

As acknowledged at council last night, Sobrato may never build the townhomes and there is no way to make him.

And there’s NOT close to 74 anymore - Sobrato’s architect suddenly revealed last night that there would be far fewer, “considerably less” than the 74 townhomes the City negotiated. So at the last minute the billionaire developer pulled a classic bait and switch on us.

And we are supposed to be happy about this?
Hell no.

Posted by The Palo Alto Kid
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 14, 2023 at 7:51 am

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You could almost hear the Sobrato reps snickering in the back of the room as the public attempted to weigh in on this bull___t proposal. And the Council members all had the look of the cat that ate the canary. Everyone in the room knew it was a done deal, except the public.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 14, 2023 at 8:43 am

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Thank you, Becky Sanders and rita vrhel for your efforts and comments.

Why do we need more offices????? Is that the only thing Palo Alto "leaders" and "planners" and developers can imagine?

I guess putting in a little Asian center with Asian markets and restaurants to commemorate our Asian history was too much of a leap of imagination from a city that can install an absurd miniature golf hole and then charge $10 for it on Cal Ave. ($4 extra for a souvenir ball)

Meanwhile, lets hear more from $reet$ense, the town's "retail consultant" about how Palo Alto should become a tourist destination while ignoring the fact that a decade ago Palo Alto HAD an expensive and short-lived Tourism Development effort until it finally dawned on people that offices aren't a major attraction.

Posted by Patty
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 14, 2023 at 11:40 am

Patty is a registered user.

I’m confused by Becky Sanders' claims that all she and others want is the laws adhered to and the code followed. What laws or code are not being followed under the plan that the council approved? Contrary to her claim that business uses at the site were supposed to sunset decades ago, in 2005 the then city council extended the nonresidential uses indefinitely. That may have been a bad decision but it is what the code says.

And her claims that the community gets little out of the agreement are especially at odds with the facts. The city gets two acres for parkland and over an acre for affordable housing plus funding to support those projects. At Palo Alto land values, this land is worth 10s of millions of dollars. Further, her claim that there is no pathway to the affordable housing project is equally false. As the council discussed on Monday, when the city is able to provide the land affordable housing developers readily come forward with projects. Along with the proposed Charities Housing project and the teacher housing project on El Camino right nearby, there is already a lot more affordable housing in the pipeline for the area than the NVCAP consultants claimed was possible. This was a key recommendation of most of the NVCAP working group.

I look forward to the groundbreaking for the park and the new affordable housing and I hope Sanders will attend those events.

Posted by CC
a resident of University South
on Sep 14, 2023 at 5:03 pm

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I think it's striking that no one thought of this building as "historical" until someone came along and tried to put the land to productive use. It's...a kind of run down old warehouse, mostly?

Glad a deal happened, but I wish the developers had been more ambitious in scope and scale.

Posted by The Palo Alto Kid
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 14, 2023 at 5:14 pm

The Palo Alto Kid is a registered user.

People who grew up here knew the history of the building. Outsiders and newcomers, not so much.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2023 at 7:30 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

What a complete shame and travesty. I am dismayed and even disgusted that the NEW City Council has sold out the community and residents just as badly and completely as previous Councils. This windfall giveaway to Sobrato is straight from the textbook of the multi-billion-dollar giveaway to Arrijaga that almost happened 20 years ago, back in the day when corruption could be stopped.


Since Arrillaga, there has been President Hotel (windfall conversion from residential to commercial use to AJ Capital), Castilleja (windfall giveaway of public land & unenforced CUP violations) & Frys.

To PACC: I know firsthand that it IS possible to keep your promises after being elected! It IS possible to stand up to pressure from billionaires and from colleagues who do all they can to coerce you to go along with their bad ideas. It *IS* possible to fight for residents and communities, and against corruption and back-room dealings. Although some will do all they can to make your life difficult, there is a value to doing the right thing regardless.

I personally witnessed volunteers like Becky Sanders work hours, weeks, and months to create a set of 100% workable plans for Ventura, which included and addressed the maximum number of community interests and concerns. The NVCAP plans were fantastic, valuable, and worthy! How dare our elected leaders throw this away to give control of our city to another billionaire commercial developer, who won't care a bit of our needs & concerns.

I thank Ms. Sanders, Ms. Vrel, and the many others, several of whom have posted above, for their continued advocacy on behalf of the community-OUR community. Ventura deserves much better than this shoddy treatment, as does the architect of the Cannery. I hope that someone challenges this back-room deal and act of dishonesty and bad faith. Please, please, this can't be the end of our high hopes for a community-led Ventura plan, can it?

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2023 at 8:57 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

(10 years ago, not 20. Typo.)

Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2023 at 1:56 pm

Me 2 is a registered user.

"If (Thomas Foon Chew) was alive today he would be appalled at this analysis of what he accomplished," Holzemer said.

God stop. No one in the Chinese-American community anointed Terry Holzemer as a spokesperson for our heritage or Mr. Chew. It's insulting that he can somehow use an Oujia board and speak on his behalf.

You know what's really appalling? Asian heritage is being weaponized for NIMBYism.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2023 at 7:46 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Corruption junction, what's your function?
Hookin up developers with their buzzwords and clauses
Corruption junction, how's that function?
I got two favorite committee members that get most of my attention
Corruption junction, what's their function?
They got demo teams that will adapt, reuse and repurpose any fraction
Adapt! That's like an attitude designed to befuddle everyone
Reuse! That's like dumpster diving, like, totally
Repurpose! Not just this or that but this AND that and a whole lotta superglue

Must I continue?

Google's laying off again. Meanwhile, PACC is making more deals with the devil. Who's to benefit? Hordes of laid off Google workers? No. Don't follow the people with empty pockets. Follow the money. Rinse and repeat.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2023 at 9:33 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Me 2, I just want to clarify that as far as I read these comments, Mr. Chew and Asian Heritage is not being weaponized for NiMBYism. The NVCAP Plans (created by the city-appointed group of residents, small business owners, and other stakeholders) all included far more housing, and notably included far more *affordable* housing, than what Sobrato suggests (yet does not promise).

This is something that really irks me. There is a portion of the YiMBY community (of which I am part, but not the portion I describe here) that conflates commercial development with housing development, which are diametrically opposed. Commercial development increases the jobs-to-homes ratio, brings SOVs into a neighborhood (increasing pollution and noise, while decreasing safety and livability), and gives control of a community to billionaires over residents. Housing designed by commercial developers in 100% of all cases in Palo Alto includes only tiny apartments barely big enough for one person to live, let alone a couple, nuclear family, or (g-d forbid) extended family. A review of every housing development in the works, from 660 University to every proposed development on El Camino consists ONLY of tiny apartments so that the commercial developers can squeeze every cent out of our community and its residents.

Meanwhile, equitable housing proposals like those proposed in the plans produced by the NVCAP, included housing across the range of family sizes and income levels. These housing developments usually have to be funded in coordination with nonprofits or by use of one of numerous state and federal fair housing funders. Commercial developers simply do not create equitable and affordable housing. It is not part of their business plan.

There is nothing NiMBY-ish about fighting against the nonstop giveaways that our City Council continues to award billionaires, who then gain the control to use our land to maximize their profit.

This is particularly disconcerting given that there is evidence that Sobrato acquired most of his Ventura property through potentially improper means, working with a partner, possibly, to pressure minority homeowners into selling. There were some articles about that in the press approx 10 years ago. Over time, we seem to forget.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2023 at 9:39 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Actually, this was from 2017:

Web Link

PALO ALTO (KPIX) - A Palo Alto woman is determined to hold on to her home and her neighborhood's history.

The area known as Ventura was once one of the few place African American families could buy property in the city. Now, there's pressure to redevelop the area near Page Mill Road and El Camino Real.

Those forces may have met their match. Lakiba Pittman could sell her home for a lot of money, but she doesn't want the cash, she wants to keep her home.

"I grew up most of my life on this street," she says.

Pittman has called Olive Avenue her home since the 1950s.

"My parents rented this house," she said.

It took years, but her parents saved enough money to eventually buy the home she now lives in. Now she sees many of the homes around here getting rased.

Now she fears what city leaders will do to Olive Avenue as they make plans to revitalize the area.

"I guess the worst thing that it could mean is tearing down all of the houses," she says.

Pitmann says she's not only concerned about the city, she also questions the motives behind two people who have been buying up her neighbors' homes, slowly but surely.

"I have been approached by both at various times over the last decade," she said. "As soon as that house sold they came knocking on my door to see if I would sell – 'we'll give you a million dollars' but I said well it's my home," she recalled.

Some may wonder why Pittman wouldn't want to cash in on all that money. Her answer: the home doesn't just hold memories of her family, but it also represents a part of Palo Alto's history.

"I believe the whole area still means something to the African-American community."

According to Pittman, Olive Avenue was one of a few streets in Palo Alto where blacks were allowed to buy homes several decades ago. Now she is the last African-American homeowner left on the street.

That's something she says money can't buy.

"I mean it's my house and it's my home and it's my legacy and it's what I want to leave for my son and my grandchildren.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2023 at 9:49 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Palo Alto Online's article is even better. (Thanks, Palo Alto Online!) In the comments you will read our community's fears, all of which basically came true, thanks to the horrible judgment of our Palo Alto City Council:

Web Link

Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 19, 2023 at 1:29 pm

Me 2 is a registered user.


Given that you are an attorney, I'm not surprised that you're splitting hairs. I'm not speaking about the comments on the story. I'm commenting on the article itself, as well as the stories about "preserving the legacy" of Mr. Chew.

Your willful ignoring of the obvious use of Mr. Chew by residents to demand preservation of a building so that any redevelopment would not pencil out is ludicrous.

And, BTW, demanding affordable housing is also a classic NIMBY tactic to ensure development doesn't pencil out.

You may claim YIMBY credentials, but what you propose is classic NIMBYism.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 19, 2023 at 11:34 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

So now you are calling supporters of affordable housing NiMBYs? I recognize that you are a troll, but that is silly. Per above, affordable housing DOES pencil out when built in coordination with nonprofit affordable housing NGOs and/or state, federal, or county funding vehicles, of which there are numerous. The fact that affordable housing does not pencil out for billionaire commercial developers is exactly why we must stop putting billionaire developers in charge of affordable housing!

You can go ahead and attack the motive of Palo Altans seeking to bring housing across the economic spectrum to Palo Alto, but even if some folks might be acting with motives you consider bad, the undeniable truth is that those of us who fight for affordable housing being handled by entities actually capable of building affordable housing are doing the right thing ... while those attacking our motives are preventing the progress we seek from happening.

Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2023 at 12:17 pm

Me 2 is a registered user.

"So now you are calling supporters of affordable housing NiMBYs? "

NIMBYs and affordable housing advocates have an unholy alliance that inhibits development. The poster child for that is San Francisco and now it's happening here in Palo Alto.

"Per above, affordable housing DOES pencil out when built in coordination with nonprofit affordable housing NGOs and/or state, federal, or county funding vehicles, of which there are numerous. "

Your solutions always involve government funding of some sort. If the government has to step in, that's a sign of a policy failure. And it creates a self-perpetuating ecosystem of NGOs that spend all their time getting money from government without any accountability for what they're spending on. Again, look to the failures in San Francisco to see how well NGOs don't help with the homelessness or building of adequate housing. Regulatory capture is the name of the game for these parasitic organizations.

The focus on affordable housing pushes out the middle class. The well-to-do (like you) can afford expensive market rate housing and their help can get BMRs, while the middle class gets pushed to Mantica and Mountain House. Why do you see so few families with children in SF?

Your motives may be pure, but what you're pushing is bad policy.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Sep 22, 2023 at 8:46 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

@Me 2, Mountain House should have never been developed. It's a disaster waiting to happen. Very few ways to get out of town in an emergency. The Altamont was already a parking lot even before that. Mountain House was once a roadside oasis, and now it's become a "planned community". I hope that plan includes trees because the sun and the heat during sunset there is unbearable. As for Manteca, it is teetering on the edge of becoming Stocktonized in the worst kind of way. Less murder, but less work available for mortgage holders. The road from Stockton to Ripon used to be nothing but agriculture. Titans like Alex Spanos (who eventually bought the Chargers) first took out a loan for a truck to go into the fields of San Joaquin Valley to sell sandwiches to the ag workers, and then he used the profits buying up their homes. Now, you can't even smell the aroma of dung when you drive through Manteca. The few orchards left are mostly almonds, but there's a new crime -- bee box theft -- threatening the orchards. What I'm wondering about since you mentioned M & M, what kind of work do the people do, who can afford those new homes? This is a "last stand" of sorts. Developers vs. People Who Need Housing. People will resort to bee theft to make a living. "Affordable Housing" is code for "Tax Credits". The worst aspect of that is the new buildings escape the rent cap. What may seem affordable at first becomes less and less as "non profit developers" raise the rent in order to recapture their investment and then gouge the renters until they can't afford them anymore. Unholy alliance, indeed. > Web Link < LIHTC Affordable Housing For Dummies website.

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