Town Square

Alma Plaza editorial

Original post made by Not so fast, Duveneck/St. Francis, on Mar 28, 2007

Today's issue of the PA Weekly has an editorial calling for decisiveness about Alma Plaza:

Web Link

Boy, if only the City Council would listen!!!

The editors say: "We agree with neighbors and the planning commission that a stronger retail presence is called for on this site, other than the market."

this raises some interesting points. As the editors point out, due to a deed restriction, the market can be no bigger than 18,000 sq. ft. Who will want to open a market that size? Remember also that Trader Joes will soon be opening in Town and Country.

What other retail presence would they like to have in Alma Plaza? While it is well and good that they want a strong retail presence, are there really any small retailers/mom and pop stores that will want to go in a new Alma Plaza.

another question is what effect will a market and other retail have on retail in areas near Alma Plaza (JJ&F/California Ave, Charleston Plaza/Piazza's, Midtown shopping district).

I have a feeling, because of the entities involved--a vocal neighborhood group and a weak-willed City Council, this will drag on for a while longer.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2007 at 9:45 am

And in the meantime, Alma Plaza will become a haven for the type of crime we saw last Sunday, and worse.... If I was a local resident, I would want to get things moving fast just to get rid of that derelict look to the place. If gangs or drug dealers move in big time, I would certainly not like to live in that neighborhood.

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2007 at 12:23 pm

For some reason the original link I posted is broken.
Here it is again:

Web Link

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Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 28, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Is there a clearer example of the confusion (hypocrisy?) of some residents re Palo Alto and housing. We have been given a fair share allocation of county housing need and the City and some residents complain that the allocation is unfair because we don't have enough "room" for housing. Just to be clear, this issue has gone to court in some cases and "not enough" is not legally defensible.

But here as in other places (e.g., Edgewood Plaza) there are active proposals for housing and always they are opposed or cut back. It seems like when residents are given feasible housing proposals they are opposed in some form.

Instead residents ask for more retail, which has greater traffic impact, all the while complaining about traffic. At Alma as at Edgewood what residents desire for retail rarely meets any market test. It is a wish list and duplicated elsewhere nearby. I am not aware that the region or city is short of coffee shops or places to get food. I am trying to be open-minded about this but it sure feels like shopping convenience triumphing over our oblogation (legal and moral) to participate in addressing regional issues.

It is hard for me to see how the City Council and local neighbors are dealing in good faith with what regional and business leaders say is the most critical regional economic challenge--not enough housing.

I posted this on the other Alma Plaza thread also. Weekly editor, how do you want us to handle when a post responds to more than one thread.

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 29, 2007 at 6:49 am

Mr. Levy, not true what you said about traffic. A mega-store (60,000 sq ft) grocery might draw more into Palo Alto, but a 18,000 sq ft neighborhood store decreases distance driven to shop, encourages biking, and thus DECREASES aggregate mileage driven in town.

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Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 29, 2007 at 8:06 pm

Well, we will have a chance to see how residents react to an Alma Plaza plan that includes a grocery store and coffee shop and housing. Will residents still complain about the housing and want it reduced?

In response to the comments here and in the other thread.

One, yes a fair share housing allocation for cities is suggested by ABAG (the regional plannning agency) as required by state law for housing in low, moderate-income and maket rate units. A city can appeal and if they win a reduced number of units, they are reallocated to other cities in the county. The criteria for determining a city's fair share are projected job and housing growth and exisiting jobs and access to tranist--where Palo Alto rates high.

Many relatively built out and affluent cities complain here and in every region of the state. Generally they all make the same claims as are made by Palo Alto residents as they, like Palo Alto residents, act to reduce the scope of every housing proposal received.

Part of Palo Alto is a "stand up" city. We are not afraid to stand up for national and worldwide policies that we think are right whether that be civil rights, global warming or wars that residents oppose.

I just wish that some of that "caring about the broader common good" was reflected in votes on housing here.

As far as retail and traffic there are three considerations. First, residents are conflicted as to whether they really want big units like Costco for convenience and tax revenue or smaller retail units. But the Edgewood and Alma examples show that smaller retail is often out-competed by bigger stores and the smaller stores close. Second, once people get on their bikes or walk there are better store options close by, which are likely to prevail anyway in the marketplace.

Finally, I do not drive and lived near Edgewood Plaza for 20 years. I sure didn't see many people walking or biking and carrying groceries back that way. I think it is a fond wish but not reality.

I remain convinced that this is mainly about people wishing the congestion of daily urban life could pass them by and go bother other people and a council caught between the very human emotions of getting beat on by their friends while all the while they advocate regional and worldwide responsiblibty in other areas.

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Posted by interested neighbor
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 30, 2007 at 7:20 am

Are the neighbors of Alma Plaza nimby's because they desire more retail on the site instead of more housing. The area surrounding Alma Plaza has the three-story Stanford Villa apartments on one side. A two-story apartment complex that backs to Alma Plaza but fronts on Ramona Street. A small professional building and a small two-story apartment complex on the corner of Alma and Meadow. Starting from these apartments on the corner of Meadow (including the three-story Stanford Villa apartments)there is an apartment row of one-story and two-story apartment complexes stretching from Meadow until Oregon Expressway.

Other than the 14 BMR units proposed in the Alma Plaza plans the other homes will be large and expensive. With prices above 1.2 million for houses that will be 1800-2000 sq feet on small lots (I believe 2000 sq foot lots but I'm not positive of the figure). Somehow I think in Palo Alto there's more need for additional affordable housing which is not being achieved on this site with the current plan. If the developer were to do all first floor retail with apartments or condo's above(imagine Santana Row on a small scale)it would 1)meet the neighbors need and city's requirement for additional retail and 2)actually make an impact in the housing need of the city.

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Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 30, 2007 at 5:05 pm

Help me out here.

My understanding of the way we get BMR units in this kind of development is from the developer in exchange for more market rate units. So all BMR units isn't in the cards except when there is external subsidy and the land is owned/bought by a public or non-profit entity. So more BMR units on this site means more market rate units.

Has any primarily retail development on this site ever been turned down by the City? Perhaps the kind of retail the neighbors want is a wish, not a real prospect. This certainly seemed true at Edgewood Plaza.

Next, the BMR units are precisely the kind of units affluent cities tell ABAG they can't meet the allocation goal for and usually the kind of units that drive neighbors nits. This was true in the public meetings on Edgewood Plaza that I attended.

Without any emotion attached to the word, yes, I think the neighbors protesting against the housing compoment at Alma Plaza are nimbys. They clearly, right or wrong, do not want to meet a small part of Palo Alto's housing goal (39 units out of 3,716) in their neighborhood.

The reason that there are fair share allocations is that getting enough housing and affordable housing is difficult.

The rights of neighbors have to balanced against broader goals. In Southern California airport expansion to meet the growth in travel and trade has been stymied becasue no one wants a new or bigger airport in their backyard.

When we moved to our new home downtown the City was exploring putting the new police station right across the street. If Palo Alto needs a new police station and our neighborhood was selected, I didn't think we had the right to protest because there would be extra noise and traffic in our neighborhood and I wrote an op-ed in the Weekly to that effect.

Yes, we all have to step up and participate in siting "difficult" projects like police stations, airports, prisons and higher density housing.

I am just sad that higher density housing is seen as an undesireable nieghbor even in sites like 800 High, Edgewood and Alma Plaza which seem about as good as we can imagine in Palo Alto.