Town Square

City faces legal challenge from Sobrato over former Fry's site

Original post made on Apr 30, 2022

As Palo Alto's plans for the north Ventura area remain murky, the City Council will meet behind closed doors on Monday to discuss an ongoing dispute between the city and the area's largest landowner, The Sobrato Organization.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, April 29, 2022, 12:01 PM


Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 30, 2022 at 5:09 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"Palo Alto is required to identify locations for 6,086 new dwellings between 2023 and 2031."

That's no problem. How many acres of streets does the city own? If it built a 50-ft tall residential structure above each intersection, it could have three to six dwelling units above each, allowing a 15-ft clearance below for traffic. Build one or two thousand of these and we're there.

Or we could de-annex the Stanford Research Park and let Stanford deal with the associated jobs-housing burden. It has lots of land. Why should we continue to socialize the costs of Stanford's profit?

Posted by JS1
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2022 at 7:44 am

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There is no “taking” going on at the Fry’s site. Sobrato knew full well when they purchased the site that the site was destined for housing and the R&D use would disappear.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 1, 2022 at 9:06 am

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I like the way Curmudgeon thinks, especially since I believe jobs at Stanford are factored into PA's housing numbers between Stanford University, Stanford Hospital and Stanford Children's Hospital (Lucie Packard), the number of employees for them is roughly (based on 2019!!) numbers) 25,000, 8,000 and 6,500 -- almost 40,000 when PA's population is 66,000 -- and that's not counting ( 7,645 undergraduate students and 9,272 (graduate students (16,917).

And Stanford keeps telling us its expansion hasn't added a single car trip -- another Silicon Valley miracle.

Posted by Andy
a resident of Stanford
on May 1, 2022 at 2:16 pm

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each of these developments can have far more housing AND any other use by building taller combined with underground or garage parking.

Palo Alto and every community should be required to meet the housing demand until there is no housing crisis.

Posted by community member
a resident of University South
on May 1, 2022 at 4:56 pm

community member is a registered user.

There is no end to the demand. Asian billionaires are buying up almost ALL of the homes for sale, and Stanford is doing the same. Just read the papers.

And Stanford's hiring contributes to the shortage.

End of the housing demand? Not going to happen.
But its a good argument for developers.
And the uninformed.

Posted by EmmaP
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 1, 2022 at 8:03 pm

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For calculations, I'm fairly certain that Stanford is divided between unincorporated Santa Clara county (for most of the undeveloped land and the university proper) and Palo Alto (for the hospitals, research park, shopping center that are within Palo Alto proper and which provide sales tax and some property tax revenue to the town).

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2022 at 12:13 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

I hope the Merc is paying attention. I am tired of Palo Alto being villainized for not building housing when, even when we upzone for housing (as has been done in the Ventura area) developers bring forward projects for more offices and research space for greater profit. (Housing is not a zero-profit endeavor, simply less profitable than the proposed uses--and Sobrato Corp. considers this a "taking" after they have been accruing Prop 13 tax savings benefits for countless decades. How long has ramshackle Frye's been at that location, unimproved in any noticeable way?)

While I understand profit incentives, their proposed projects would add to the jobs:housing imbalance, exacerbating traffic, housing, services and utilities deficits, and other problems. They care little about our community, except for the profits they can extract from it. They are using the press to pressure us to give them what they want. The Merc also gives our community no credit for housing projects that presently are underway--Wilton Court, 525 East Charleston, to name two. If only non-profit developers build housing, who is going to build housing for the workers that for-profit developers are bringing to Palo Alto? The developers attitude of entitlement and backroom dealing in Sacramento is a PROBLEM that is not being deeply investigated and covered.

Posted by Julian Gómez
a resident of Midtown
on May 2, 2022 at 5:48 pm

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"City Council will meet behind closed doors"
Isn't this a violation of the Brown Act?

Posted by Chris C.
a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2022 at 12:00 pm

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I'm not a lawyer, but I believe the Brown Act allows city council to meet in private to discuss personnel or legal issues.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 7, 2022 at 7:39 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I love the comment from Andy - who shows his residents as Stanford. SU has the highest amount of open land. SU should be building the Housing for the people who work at their facilities. Common sense has flown out the door. This city keeps getting tasked by SU residents to fulfill the requirements of the county with a limited contribution by their wealthy management.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 20, 2022 at 7:42 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

It truly is infuriating to read yet another nasty-gram written by a billionaire-financed lawyer in order to misstate our law and public policy.

1. The Supreme Courts of the US and California established decades ago that zoning does not constitute a Taking. That threat is literally like waiving a toy gun. If a billionaire waives a toy gun, do we fear being shot?

2. Even if zoning did constitute a taking - -which it does not -- Sobrato purchased this property knowing that Fry's was a conditional use and that the land was designated to revert to residential once Fry's no longer operated at the site. (If you read the nastygram carefully, you will see that Sobrato is actually taking issue with the conclusion that Fry's (or otherwise 'conforming') is not in happening in the site. I went by the site this morning and no retail is visible, at all.)

3. Because City Council caved both to Castilleja (last week) and AJ Capital (2 years ago) based on "litigation threats," it now has become clear that all it takes to get Palo Alto to change its laws and ignore the community is for a billionaire to threaten a lawsuit. This is terrible public policy. There is no reason to believe that the law firm would file a takings lawsuit, knowing that doing so could result in negative repercussions that lawyers face when they file suits they know are specious. And if the billionaires' law firms did sue, chances are that they would lose.

This is because it relatively easy to win arguments to enforce law and public policy than arguments demanding exceptions to those rules. With President Hotel, Castilleja, and now Fry's, billionaires were able to bully our city leaders into giving the billionaires *exceptions to the law* rather than default to the same zoning rules that govern the rest of us.

Editor: before deleting, please ask a lawyer who does not represent developers -and therefore is paid to push the law in the developers's favor -if I am right on the law.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 20, 2022 at 7:50 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

And to clarify, the reason that City Council is meeting in secret to discuss this is due to the "litigation privilege." The litigation privilege is intended to apply only where city leaders are receiving legal advice from the city's lawyers. There is no requirement that the city invoke this privilege and there is no excuse, in my opinion, for the city to use the very narrow litigation exception in order to exclude the public from an opportunity to participate in the public process. In my opinion, City Council is abusing the privilege in order to exclude public participation in this matter. City Council does this often and it is unacceptable.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 20, 2022 at 9:30 pm

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We know that Sobrato is already having to deal with problems in other areas - EPA sewer connecivity on a project they have going on over there. They have to pay for upgrade and connectivty to a system that is over 70 years old.

I cannot imagince that the Fry's site is any better regaarding the age of the sewer system - and connection to the other utility system functions.
When you look at a site that is very old there are many costs that are required to bring the whole effort up to date. How much is being passed on to he residents and the city vs the contractor. We need more information as to the status of the site and what is required to bring it up to current standards.