Top 10 Spurred by skyrocketing housing prices, Palo Alto was on pace for a record number of home demolitions</em> in 1996--52 through Sept. 13. But when two cherished historical houses were torn down--a Julia Morgan-designed home at 1201 Webster St. Aug. 13 and a 97-year-old Victorian in College Terrace Sept. 3--residents called on the City Council to pass a demolition moratorium to preserve the character of the city's older neighborhoods. After a heated public hearing, the council unanimously approved an immediate ban on the razing of all pre-1940 homes at 1 a.m. on Sept. 17. Developers and real estate agents said it was a violation of property rights. But council members said it was a necessary timeout to strengthen Palo Alto's 20-year-old historic preservation ordinance. On Oct. 28, the council adopted interim demolition regulations, which superseded the all-out moratorium and will remain in place until permanent regulations can be adopted next summer or fall.
Publication Date: Wednesday Jan 1, 1997

Top 10 Spurred by skyrocketing housing prices, Palo Alto was on pace for a record number of home demolitions in 1996--52 through Sept. 13. But when two cherished historical houses were torn down--a Julia Morgan-designed home at 1201 Webster St. Aug. 13 and a 97-year-old Victorian in College Terrace Sept. 3--residents called on the City Council to pass a demolition moratorium to preserve the character of the city's older neighborhoods. After a heated public hearing, the council unanimously approved an immediate ban on the razing of all pre-1940 homes at 1 a.m. on Sept. 17. Developers and real estate agents said it was a violation of property rights. But council members said it was a necessary timeout to strengthen Palo Alto's 20-year-old historic preservation ordinance. On Oct. 28, the council adopted interim demolition regulations, which superseded the all-out moratorium and will remain in place until permanent regulations can be adopted next summer or fall.

On Jan. 15, Palo Alto police announced they had arrested Romel Demetrias Reid, the man they believed to be responsible for terrorizing Midpeninsula women in a string of rapes from Menlo Park to Sunnyvale between Aug. 21, 1995, and Jan. 13, 1996. At 7 a.m. Jan. 13, a police officer spotted a white van that matched the description of a van victims said was used by the suspect. When the officer attempted to stop the van, it sped away. About eight minutes later, with police in hot pursuit, the van crashed into an embankment in East Palo Alto and the driver fled. Two days later, police arrested Reid after finding his ID and clothing belonging to victims in the van. Reid, a 26-year-old East Palo Alto resident, has been charged with 23 counts of rape and robbery and is being held in lieu of $10 million bail. According to a grand jury transcript released in early September, Reid confessed to two Palo Alto attacks and to driving the white van. Reid has not yet been charged with two attacks that occurred in Menlo Park, and a trial date is pending.

Rental rates rose out of control in 1996, responding to a hot Silicon Valley job market and an almost nonexistent supply of vacant rental units. Some residents of Palo Alto and Menlo Park suffered double-digit percentage rent increases. The situation prompted Palo Alto Mayor Lanie Wheeler to convene a roundtable discussion on the issue in March, and send a letter to local landlords in July asking them to show restraint. The Human Relations Commission noted that 43 percent of Palo Alto housing is rental units. Calls to the Palo Alto Mediation Program quadrupled.

The Palo Alto school district began the first phase of the $143 million school bond construction project, with the school board approving the master plan June 18. The board also voted to reopen a 12th elementary school, if funding can be found, to handle the increasing district enrollment. Among the plans, the board approved blueprints for a circular two-story building to replace Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School. Neighbors living behind the proposed school, to be located on Charleston Road on the old Ohlone School site, raised strong concerns about the impact of the tall school on their homes. The school board tried to appease the neighbors by agreeing to provide landscaping and limit vehicle traffic on a school road that parallels the homes. Work on JLS will begin in March with the demolition of old Ohlone School.

The debate over Stanford University's Sand Hill Road projects continued to build in 1996. The $342 million project heads to the Palo Alto City Council for final hearings in January and February. In Menlo Park, Sand Hill was the defining issue in the race for two City Council seats. Challengers Chuck Kinney and Paul Collacchi, vocal critics of the project, were elected Nov. 5, defeating incumbent Dee Tolles, who had supported the plan. At a joint meeting between the two city councils on Dec. 12, Menlo Park council members noted their concern that the current project would invite more traffic and development activity, and damage the sensitive environment along San Francisquito Creek. Proponents say the expanded road network will ease traffic flow and the shopping center expansion will provided more tax revenue for Palo Alto.

The father of Silicon Valley, David Packard, died March 26 from pneumonia and complications. He was 83. The co-founder of Palo Alto-based Hewlett-Packard was remembered by 1,300 people at Stanford Memorial Church for his leadership in the electronics industry, in business management, in philanthropy, community service and political life. Stanford alumni Packard and Bill Hewlett started their business in a garage at 367 Addison Ave. in 1939, with an order for eight oscillators from Walt Disney Studios. Packard's generosity was legendary, from company profit-sharing (part of the "HP Way"), to the donations of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which has assets of $2.5 billion. He also was known for giving of his time to the community, having served on the Palo Alto school board from 1947 to 1956.

East Palo Alto officials had an up and down year with their long-planned Gateway 101 redevelopment project. In June, Sportmart dropped out of the project, reneging on its previous commitment. Without the sporting goods store, the city couldn't move forward with the large shopping center until it got a fourth major tenant. That was accomplished in September, when CompUSA signed on to join Home Depot, Office Depot and The Good Guys in the project. But some last-minute changes requested by The Good Guys delayed the final approvals into December. City officials had been hoping that the stores could be built and open for the 1997 holiday season, although that may not be realistic now.

How to deal with the problems of homelessness downtown continued to vex Palo Alto officials in 1996, both in terms of law enforcement and social services. On March 27, City Council member Micki Schneider was assaulted by a street person while touring downtown with other city officials, including the police chief. On April 8, in response to complaints of aggressive and unruly behavior, the council added two more cops downtown. In the first month and a half, police arrested more people downtown (88) than they did in all of 1995 (80) and 1994 (77). At a July 8 council hearing, speakers blasted a proposed ordinance banning sitting or lying on University Avenue. Despite Police Chief Chris Durkin's claim that the law is needed for public safety, speakers said it was an attempt to sweep street people out of downtown. The proposal was sent back to the city attorney for some fine tuning and is scheduled to return to the council Jan. 21.

Bloomingdale's of New York created a sensation when it opened its first store west of the Rockies at the Stanford Shopping Center. Parent company Federated Department Stores Inc. announced its plans to close Emporium and open Bloomies in the last week of 1995. Bloomies threw an extravagant opening party on Nov. 6, and during its first few weeks drew curious people from the far reaches of the Bay Area. The department store was one of three dozen retail stores to open in Palo Alto this year. The list of newcomers includes Borders Books and Music, which resides in the former Varsity Theater, virtual reality games center Cybersmith and Petroglyph pottery painting studio.

On Nov. 15, the UC Regents and the Stanford Board of Trustees approved a merger between Stanford University Hospital and the two UCSF medical centers. The merger, effective July 1, will combine the clinical efforts of both Stanford Hospital and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital with UCSF Medical Center and Mt. Zion Medical Center in San Francisco. A new corporation, UCSF Stanford Health Care, will run the four hospitals. The two boards also approved $16.5 million in initial funding for the new venture. While physicians support the move, five UCSF labor unions are taking legal action to halt the merger on the grounds that UCSF hasn't turned over detailed financial data about the merger. The plan must also overcome one other hurdle--several state legislators have promised to hold hearings about the public University of California hospital becoming a private nonprofit hospital.



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