Town Square

Post a New Topic

Residents irked by change in Palo Alto's 'housing vision'

Original post made on May 16, 2013

As Palo Alto nears the finish line in adopting a long overdue housing vision, residents in one neighborhood are rising up to protest a late revision in the document that would accommodate a controversial senior-housing development on Maybell Avenue.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 16, 2013, 12:16 AM

Comments (26)

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2013 at 1:09 am

From the City of Palo Website:

"The Housing Element is the chief policy document describing the City's housing needs, policies and programs
The Housing Element must cover the following topics:
A site inventory where housing development is allowed, as well as supported by infrastructure and the environment

Six months from now, the council & city staff are expecting most of you to forget or move on, and they will cite the Housing Element as the reason they are approving the zoning change.

And the City transportation manager will keep saying what a success the Arastradero lane reduction is (he's probably already put it in his resume, as his manager is retiring, and he's looking either for a promotion or another city to hire him) - of course no mention that traffic went to Maybell Ave.

Want more of the same - vote for Scharf, Price & Shepard next year. You already got suckered into voting for Berman last year. I promise you more of the same - no listening to the residents, and the "I know best" attitude. After all who do think the council represents - the residents or city staff & special interests?

Like this comment
Posted by Voter
a resident of College Terrace
on May 16, 2013 at 1:53 am

"The fact that the city chose unilaterally to lend $4M of public funds to a city-backed developer for a project before examining traffic and other impacts... Now the city government has essentially put itself into the role of a developer who gets to write his own permits."

When did we become Bell, CA? This seemed on the surface like at worst a a squabble over a poorly conceived development deal, but now it reeks of scandal. Council will have to railroad the project through in order to protect a 4m tax dollar investment that they themselves made way way way too early in the process. If its not legal corruption it's certainly moral corruption.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2013 at 7:24 am

> "What we need is not more housing in our area," Ellman said.
> "We need a supermarket, a hardware store and so on because
> all our purchases go to Los Altos and Mountain View."

How bizarre. When people in Los Altos shop, or dine, in Palo Alto--where do the "purchases" from those folks go? And what about all that traffic that supermarkets, and hardware stores generate? People in the Maybell area don't want more traffic in their own neighborhood--but apparently don't seem to have a problem creatinng traffic in other people's neighborhood!

With so much available via the Internet, it's not clear that any city needs nearly as much retail as it did in the past. Moreover, it's time to rethink the allocation of sales taxes, so that that money goes to the region, not the city, where the sales taxes are collected.

Like this comment
Posted by Kevin
a resident of Green Acres
on May 16, 2013 at 8:53 am

The fact that the city chose unilaterally to lend $4M of public funds to a city-backed developer for a project before examining traffic and other impacts on the neighborhood creates an incentive to dismiss the neighborhood concerns and push the project without affording the neighborhood the benefit of a neutral evaluation of the project (which should be the government's role). Now the city government has essentially put itself into the role of a developer who gets to write his own permits. This conflict of interest needs to be addressed. If the city has already committed itself financially to one party, it cannot be an unbiased arbiter.

It's troubling that the city-backed developer paid a consultant to produce a traffic study that is critically flawed. It's equally troubling that staff accepts it as a basis for recommending the rezoning. Maybell is a corridor for thousands of students, does not have proper bike lanes, and is often clogged by permanent street parking causing further funneling of traffic. The morning school traffic; including cars, bikes, and pedestrians; comes in concentrated bursts over a short period of time (which the developer tried to minimize by smoothing the data over a full hour). The stop signs placed in the middle of the street are run down at a rate of about 1 per month. The developer-paid traffic study, however chose to ignore ALL bicycle and pedestrian traffic. This alone makes it a fatally flawed document, but the list goes on. The developer traffic study focuses on a metric that is based on the hypothesis that already crowded streets can take more incremental traffic because it's difficult to notice more cars on high traffic streets. It claims to establish a baseline traffic load based on only 12 datapoints, of which two were measured two years ago and a third was taken during PAUSD spring break. A manipulated biased document based on insufficient, cherry-picked, and massaged data isn't an accurate reflection of the hazards of adding more traffic to Maybell. The lack of scientific, statistical, or common sense merit in the traffic study needs to be addressed.

It's more troubling that staff simply accepted this work product. Do they honestly believe that bikes and pedestrians are not a relevant factor on a one lane street with no bike lanes serving thousands of commuting students? Do they honestly believe that once a street is overcrowded, it's fine to add more traffic since nobody will notice since its already so packed? Staff loses their ability to remain impartial when their bosses' bosses, the city council, has already cast the strongest of votes in favor of the project: a vote backed by $4M tax dollars. Staff's recommendation to approve the rezoning is tainted.

If the planning commission approves the rezone and it goes before the same city council that put $4M of the city's money on the rezone, we're really back to the developer writing his own permits situation.

"At that meeting the commission will have to weigh the residents' concerns about the project's impact against the fact that the city ... has already committed $4 million to the development. "

The city's past unilateral action should not be a factor. Should you be more likely to hire me if I told you, "but I already quit my old job on the assumption that you'd approve my hiring?" The city's mistake with our tax dollars does not make the project's problems less important, but unfortunately it is set up to do so.

Like this comment
Posted by PMD
a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2013 at 10:09 am

Why does all of the low income housing have to be in South Palo Alto? Why can't they put some low income housing in Professorville or one of the other more affluent areas of North Palo Alto. Within a one mile radius of Maybell there are already three huge low income housing projects.
Sounds like corruption if you ask me; how about using some of that public money for a bathroom at Briones Park for the children!

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of Downtown North
on May 16, 2013 at 11:12 am

to PMD who writes:

Why does all of the low income housing have to be in South Palo Alto? Why can't they put some low income housing in Professorville or one of the other more affluent areas of North Palo Alto.

The answer is that there is at 801 Alma St soon to be completed for very low income families. Then there is already built: Webster Wood Apts, Alma Place, Emerson House, Elm Apts, Barker Hotel, Pine Street. But there probably wont be many more simply because there is very little vacant land available to build any housing.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2013 at 11:28 am

PMD - parks don't have rest rooms on purpose, to prevent them from being used by our homeless and car campers. That is also why new benches are not long enough to sleep on.

Like this comment
Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 16, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Has anyone seen a document that outlines additional housing construction opportunities.

Before we start giving out gifts to developers in the form of zoning changes, we need to inventory what additional housing is permitted within the existing zoning.

Everyone sees the manipulation going down, but we seem to be without any kind of representation that will exercise the will of the people.

Let's have integrity and honor our zoning, and build the future that was agreed apon.

By poking holes in the zoning, we are inviting manipulation that will leave Palo Alto indistinguishable from San Jose, and the home prices will become indistinguishable from San Jose. Stop the robbery.


Tim Gray 650 493-3000

Like this comment
Posted by tiredofallthis
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm

When are we going to file suit and tell ABAG to stuff it with their unreasonable housing quotas? Why do they get to say how much housing we need to "supply"?

Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of Downtown North
on May 16, 2013 at 3:46 pm

A number of years ago, my wife asked the late councilmember (and mayor) Gary Fazzino, whose interests do you represent --- the residents, or the Developers?

Gary's answer was, "it's 50-50."

That answer, of course, explains a lot about the explosion of mega development, the effective suspension of zoning laws, and many other anti-resident actions we've seen in the last decade. Tim Gray's word "robbery" may be colorful, but it's an apt metaphor.

The 2014 election will be the most important in many years. The next several years will determine the character of Palo Alto for decades to come. A slate of massive development lies ahead. Will Palo Alto remain a great place to live? Or will another decade of the current practices lock us irreversibly into becoming Los Angeles?

It's crucial the next council be much more resident-centric than the last few.

That means enough people who care about this need to step up and run, so we don't have individuals there like certain of the ones we have now. People who don't run themselves need to understand the issues. There's momentum in several of the neighborhoods now. If you care about this stuff, get involved.

With a council whose answer is, "I represent the interests of the residents who elect me," as opposed to "it's 50-50," we could stop this mess, and maybe even repair some of it.

Tim, I voted for you in the last election, and I hope you'll run again.

Like this comment
Posted by redirection
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Developers and their interests control the outcomes and that's why
the City is in such decline. The values which residents represent and want preserved are being completely lost, overwhelmed by massive over-development, traffic congestion, and ugliness in buildings and streetscapes. We need to change the outcomes 100%. This City is becoming unrecognizable. A complete redirection and roll-back where possible to required before it is all gone.

Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of Downtown North
on May 16, 2013 at 8:17 pm


You mean so-called "New Urbanism" like <pick your recent concrete-box-to-the-sidewalk construction>.

Yeah. My wife had a funny analogy for this: it's the architectural equivalent of wearing your jeans below your derriere ... supposed to be trendy and leading-edge, but actually just ugly and crass.

Pants on the ground!

Like this comment
Posted by What Vision?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2013 at 9:16 am

The new urban vision is building architectural monstrosities that are OPPRESSIVE. Besides being just plain ugly, they affect the viewer/resident/citizen/passr-by mentally, putting one in a depressive state of mind by bearing down and giving a feeling of confinement and intrusion. That alone is absolutely unhealthy and mood-altering as any illicit psychoactive drug!

Like this comment
Posted by pares
a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2013 at 11:25 am

Palo Alto already has many, many, dense apartments, especially in the south. My friends in Los Altos don't have this kind of push for huge dense projects near R-1 residential homes. ABAG needs to go to neighboring cities and urbanize them more before stuffing these developments on us! No, I don't really mean that, but ABAG is our problem. ABAG is not elected and makes up numbers out of their hats! Tax payers and residents should have more say in how our city is developed.

Like this comment
Posted by wondering
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 17, 2013 at 12:21 pm

It appears that Palo Alto & Menlo Park promote higher density & new home development as a way to generate income from developer fees & higher property taxes. Palo Alto's City Transfer Tax on property sales brings in a load of cash. Parcel taxes do too, but those are supposed to be used for schools.

This money is being used to fill existing budget needs. At the same time, the population increases overload existing infrastructures, roads, schools, parks ("public benefit" is another issue) police & fire services, etc. We keep playing catch up to try to provide services for all these new homes & residents & it will explode at some point.

When there's nothing left to "develop" & no way to rake in these fees, what happens? It's akin to paying only partial balances on credit cards until the limit is reached & there's no money left to pay anyone. Schools are overcrowded & "full" now. Transfer taxes, parcel taxes, whats left to tax? City tax on registered vehicles? With more public safety patrols, could you cite jaywalkers & cyclists for added revenue? City sales taxes? How about selling decorating rights for light poles & fire hydrants?

Hello, we're in deficit spending now & increasing housing density is not the answer. Please don't hire anymore consultants to tell us what we already know. Please no more low income housing to stress the community services & require building more schools to accomodate the influx. Kick the addiction cycle for developer fees & eliminate the excuses for more staff (pensions) & bigger facilities. Neither community can afford the downstream results.

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2013 at 8:27 pm

In the prior palo alto online article, it quotes Curtis Williams, the city's planning director as saying "It does help us meet our numbers and we're close enough that if we didn't have that site in there, it would be difficult to meet those," Williams said. "We'd have to go back to the drawing board and find that. Nevertheless, we could work on that some more."

According to the ABAG rules, enough property has to be ZONED for development to their quotas.

So I propose zoning enough of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood as a "PC" zone, put it in the housing element, as a replacement for the Maybell property. A four story, high density development on any number of properties would fit the criteria. This could be done on a 20,000 sf lot, of which there are quite a few in Old Palo Alto, or even Crescent Park. There is an added benefit that there is alot less traffic on the streets of Old Palo Alto, it's closer to train, grocery stores, etc.

Can anyone on the city staff or city council explain why we won't do this to meet the ABAG quotas?

Like this comment
Posted by redirection
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2013 at 9:35 pm

We need a complete redirection and repudiation of the current policies not just shifting the problems from one neighborhood to
another. This would be a basis for challenging the ABAG mandates.
We need to break the cycle and stop the downward spiral of the City. The degradation, the traffic, the ugliness are spreading throughout the city.The downtown neighborhoods are being destroyed by overflow parking and cut-through traffic now. The approval of The Cheesecake Factory on University Ave, an unfettered mall design prototype, ten years ago ushered in a decade of failed government in Palo Alto the effects of which are now overwhelming the City as the market forces have strengthened.

Like this comment
Posted by homeless
a resident of Community Center
on May 19, 2013 at 9:37 pm

homeless is a registered user.

what is 20 000sqft in terms of population occupying the space? Most typical private home is on 80x100 sq ft lot; house being maybe up to 2500 SqFt for one family. In acerage wise one accre has how many square yards? 3, 3560 ? How many sq feet total within the property and in correlation of occupants? Who would live there anyways? Everybody needs space and not to be stack up; being squeezed like sardines in a can.

Like this comment
Posted by homeless
a resident of Community Center
on May 19, 2013 at 9:47 pm

homeless is a registered user.

Palo Alto is built out! Why go through all headache? What Palo Alto needs is a cemetery for senior citizens, homeless and for the ones beyond normal curve. The final resting place. Any acerage left?

Like this comment
Posted by homeless
a resident of Community Center
on May 19, 2013 at 9:58 pm

homeless is a registered user.

Palo Alto is built out! Why go through all headache? What Palo Alto needs is a funeral services and cemetery business for senior citizens, homeless and for the ones beyond normal curve. The final resting place. Any acerage left?

Like this comment
Posted by Please no rezoning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm

FEHR & PEERS TRANSPORTATION, 3685 Mt. Diablo Blvd. #301, Lafayette, CA 94549

Results from the Final Report South Palo Alto School Commute Safety Study
June 2004

"Narrow travel lanes shared with motor vehicles can present hazards for inexperienced cyclists. Providing travel lanes greater than 14 feet wide increases cyclist comfort and safety."

Maybell Avenue Pedestrian Score:38 Undesirable; Bicycle Score:35 Undesirable
"Three corridors ranked as “Good” while seven corridors ranked as “Tolerable.” Two corridors, Maybell Avenue and Barron Avenue, ranked “Undesirable.” The Matadero Avenue corridor, while it scored as “Tolerable,” is on the threshold of being “Undesirable.” The scores for these three corridors are low because there are no sidewalks or bicycle facilities and there is no priority and protection for bicyclists. "

"Corridors made up of segments that vary in width, striping, presence of parking, or other
characteristics can be confusing to motorists, as well as pedestrians and cyclists. There may be no clear area defined for the non-motorized user groups, so drivers do not know where to expect pedestrians and cyclists to be located."

"The Arastradero Road–Charleston Road corridor carries higher levels of traffic at higher speeds than any of the other study corridors. The higher speeds are generally not observed around school start and end times when traffic turning to and from the corridor is heaviest and traffic congestion levels are substantial."

Full report: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm

@ Concerned Citizen,
Whenever someone asks why South Palo Alto is taking all the high-density, people in the north always answer with some projects DOWNTOWN. This is NOT downtown! This is NOT Alma! This is in the middle of a once quiet residential area across from a park that is the heart of our neighborhood. Where are the high-density projects in the middle of your neighborhood, in Old Palo Alto, or Professorville, or Community Center, 1/3 mile from El Camino or Alma?

This is a new way to finance a high-density development, and those in the north would do well to consider the ramifications of setting a precedent here, particularly since you may be next. The proposed project takes an orchard with 4 houses on it, peels off a strip with the 4 houses to sell to a developer, who will only buy it and make the high-density project financially feasible if the City (who has loaned millions) rezones it PC zoning (no restrictions on height density, or daylight plane). That's because the developer will only remain involved if he gets the rezone, to put 9 tall skinny houses with little setback where currently there are 4, and add 6 adjacent. Tall houses with zero footprint like behind Miki's Market in the middle of a residential area.

And they worked all this out before ever finding out if there were any problems with rezoning at that location.

In other words, PAHC didn't buy that property because it was cheap, they bought it because they via the developer could sell for a premium a bunch of tall skinny, chimney-like houses with little setback (think Alma Plaza) in the middle of a residential neighborhood, in order to finance their high density project (where currently an orchard sits). Just think of all the land in other parts of Palo Alto where this would be possible: buy up a large property, sell of a tiny bit of it for chimney homes, to make a high-density project possible. And you are sitting ducks because if they can do it there, where there are serious traffic and safety concerns, they can do it in your nice neighborhoods, especially with the argument that we must all do our fair share.

Like this comment
Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 20, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I fully believe there are waiting lists, but putting a senior development there just because you can isn't a reason. There are no services nearby for seniors, not even grocery.

Meanwhile, there are 20 of 24 affordable units set aside at Moldaw that have gone unfilled for three years! Why? Because PAHC acted on the "opportunity" with the general idea that they need more affordable senior housing, without responsibly working through the details. So the housing they got has problems, in that case, it isn't affordable for the population they serve. Rather than try to renegotiate or figure out how to make existing, empty units serve the people they say are waiting, they're on to the next thing, putting the cart before the horse. They decided to put seniors there purely because they thought it would go over better politically, not because it was a good idea (not even mentioning the crazy conflict-of-interest-ridden financing scheme to rezone for the market-rate developer).

Another ugly thing that has become clear to the neighborhood, is that PAHC has gotten used to getting its way based on ideological arguments that may have nothing to do with the people or project at hand but are like kryptonite in this community, and really have stopped doing any kind of due diligence to understand and mitigate negatives. They treat all opposition as opposition, no matter how appropriate, and just plow over the neighbors with tried and true, ugly tactics.

When neighbors complained about the traffic, PAHC said they were just against affordable housing, even though many people in meetings and letters voiced support for PAHC and even support for building the project under existing zoning. (Even a preference for PAHC building there over a market developer - under the existing zoning.) PAHC sent out a newsletter to their residents telling them to turn out to support affordable housing because a vocal group had come out against affordable housing, and to go to the planning commission rezoning meeting, without ever once mentioning the rezoning! Even though there has never been any movement against affordable housing or anything negative about PAHC from those same neighbors! The concerns have focused on traffic and safety, serious concerns before this was even proposed, and more on the tall-skinny market rate homes than anything else.

This really was an attempt to sneak this by the neighbors, because of ABAG. it's not going to help congestion, or put people near their jobs, or even encourage biking (just one serious accident and imagine all the people driving their kids to school all of a sudden). I'll believe in the process if I see the Planning Commission put it on hold for further study, or just turns down the rezoning. What are the odds?

Like this comment
Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm

@concerned citizen,
"But there probably wont be many more simply because there is very little vacant land available to build any housing."

You really better start worrying. There are plenty of large tracts of land in the middle of north palo alto neighborhoods, where someone could rezone, sell off a strip to the side for tall skinny high-density townhome-like houses like behind Miki's Market in order to pay for a high-density project on the rest of the property. There it would only involve tearing down one home, rather than four. I would think properties along University Avenue, especially near the existing apartments, would be even more suitable than Maybell, which is far from any services or businesses, but University is not. How about Old Palo Alto along Lincoln? Nice big properties, nice wide street near the freeway... No one has any concerns about whether there are any "empty" lots, it's about selling a small part to a developer to build without restrictions after rezoning, then putting up the high density on the rest of the project. In fact, it's probably far more feasible in the north, since the high-density market rate homes will go for more.

Like this comment
Posted by Grass Roots
a resident of Green Acres
on May 21, 2013 at 8:31 am

Per ABAG and jobs in Palo Alto - people move to Palo Alto to be close to the schools, more than because being in Palo Alto (which can be easily reached by train) puts them next to their jobs. Many, many people who work outside of Palo Alto move here for the schools. There's no guarantee the new housing would reduce emissions by locating housing in Palo Alto where the jobs are, it's just as likely to attract more people who work outside of Palo Alto and put even more pressure on the schools. In fact, Palo Alto tends to create tech jobs, which people don't tend to work for decades in the same company as in years past, so focusing on transportation flow and efficiency, rather than creating congestion by sticking housing in every possible space, is a better strategy to reduce emissions.

Congestion creates more emissions, not fewer. This project at Maybell puts seniors where there are no nearby services at all, and as PAHC has claimed virtually none of the residents will be working, doesn't seem to put workers near their jobs.

Like this comment
Posted by A Very Concerned Mom
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 11, 2013 at 9:18 am

How can we make sure all the residents in proposed affordable housing are ALL seniors? If there are any school age kids living there, it's going to significantly impact the school. The project need to be held or go elsewhere until there is an appropriate study on that or prevention measures on that. Palo Alto School District already has huge overflow issue, which proves current enrollment forecast/study inadequate. Please do NOT make bad situation even worse.

If council members cannot represent residents' interest, the only thing make sense to do is to recall or re-elect them

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Burger chain Shake Shack to open in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 15 comments | 3,772 views

Eat, Surf, Love
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 1,242 views

The Cost of Service
By Aldis Petriceks | 1 comment | 864 views

One-on-one time
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 267 views