Updated: Mon, Aug 12, 2013, 9:38 am
Uploaded: Fri, Aug 9, 2013, 3:20 pm
Maybell opponents accuse city of 'fraud'
Critics of proposed housing development scrutinize developer's and city's applications
When Palo Alto officials agreed Thursday to send a controversial housing development on Maybell Avenue to a November vote, they urged both sides to stick to the facts and to be respectful of one another.
Judging by the comments made by project opponents at Thursday's meeting, that request may be a bit much to ask.
Shortly before the council voted unanimously to schedule an election for this November, one speaker after another levied accusations of fraud against City Council and Palo Alto Housing Corporation, the nonprofit behind 567 Maybell Ave. Two charges were repeatedly brought up during the meeting. First, the city was premature in reporting to the state Tax Credit Allocation Commitee that the Maybell project has received a needed zone change. Second, the city had repeatedly reported that it had loaned $5.8 million to the Housing Corporation for purchase of the 2.4-acre site. Yet a June 18 letter from city planner Tim Wong to the Housing Corporation states that the council "has approved a funding commitment totaling $7,320,2000" for the development, which includes a 60-unit complex for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes.
The rhetoric over these two issues became heated, with numerous speakers calling for the council to correct these errors and not proceed with an election this year. Many urged the council to delay the election until November 2014, in order to clear up these perceived discrepancy. Among them was Tim Gray, former City Council candidate and treasurer of a new group, Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood zoning.
"This is a fraudulent information that the developer has represented to the state Tax Credit Allocation Committee and failure to immediately correct it with a written correction will make you all co-conspirators to a fraudulent act," Gray said.
Jennifer Fryhling, an opponent of the Maybell proposal spoke for a group of 10 people, and claimed that Palo Alto Housing Corporation is "under penalty of perjury" for representing to the tax committee that the zoning had gone through before the change became effective.
The council voted unanimously on June 17 to rezone the site to "planned community," which allows greater density at the site. That change, however, did not become final until a formal "second reading," which occurred on June 28. The letter from Wong to the tax committee, which states that the project will be located in a PC zone, is dated on June 26.
For opponents, this letter was premature. For the Housing Corporation, the rhetoric from project opponents was much ado about nothing. Accusation from opponents, "simply aren't true," said Candice Gonzalez, the agency's executive director. In an interview with the Weekly, Gonzalez said the Housing Corporation had a July 3 deadline to submit its verification of zoning to the tax credit committee. It submitted the application in late June, after the council unanimously approved the change. The application, Gonzalez told the Weekly, was "completely honest."
The fact that the "second reading" hadn't yet happened didn't change anything, she said. The Housing Corporation was obligated to submit a second application to the state committee within 30 days, stating whether anything had changed with the zone change. Had the project not been cleared on the second reading, the Housing Corporation would've reported that on the supplemental application, consistent with the process. In this case, the approval cleared the second reading with no complications.
Gonzalez pointed to the complexity of putting together an application and said everything in the Housing Corporations's application was "above board and honest."
"Unless you're in the industry, picking out bits and pieces doesn't give you the full picture or understanding of how to put the application together," Gonzalez said.
She attributed the perceived discrepancy over the city's financial contributions to the project to the different funding sources. The city approved a $5.8 million loan to the Housing Corporation for the purchase of the orchard site. But the approval also requires the private developer who would be building the 12 homes to contribute an "in lieu fee" to the city for affordable housing. That fee was added to the sum, even though it would come from the developer
"The $1.5 million that is dedicated to the project that was part of the condition of approval," Gonzalez said.
The accusations from project opponents gained little traction with the council. Only Greg Schmid asked staff for a response to these claims. Senior Assistant City Attorney Cara Silver said the tax committee is "well aware that the zoning did not go into effect right away" and aware that there are two referenda now challenging the project. The city's planning department had been in contact with the tax committee throughout the process and had given the committee an update as recently as Thursday.
That explanation appeared to satisfy the council, which voted minutes later to proceed with an election in November. Numerous council members urged the two sides to stick to the facts and respect each other's points of view, whoever prevails in November.
"My plea to the people involved in these campaigns and who've already been making statements is that you make informed statements," Councilwoman Karen Holman said. "That you make statements that are informed and accurate. That we be respectful of each other and respectful of the democratic process and the people's rights to have their own views."
Posted by PAcitizens,
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 11, 2013 at 11:18 pm
PAcitizens is a registered user.
I never claimed the 12 houses were the only thing wrong with the rezoning. You did, I didn't. If PAHC built just the senior units, and under the existing zoning, they would get almost as many units, while minimizing the impact on the neighborhood by respecting height, setback, density, parking, and other rules. It provides the senior housing without essentially foisting the cost burden on the neighborhood. Everyone wins. Oh, except the for-profit market rate developer. They won't make the millions they were counting on from PAHC getting them rezoning for houses they could never otherwise build there.
Other reasons to reject the rezoning that have been brought up by neighbors:
1. A 50 foot building in the middle of a residential neighborhood, where the current zoning allows only 30 feet tall buildings max.
Only 47 parking spots for a 60-unit complex, for residents, employees, and visitors, at a location with no nearby services or even walkable grocery for seniors. Even transit isn't as accessible as I'm sure PAHC portrayed it in their application.
2.The lack of a traffic safety study when the development sits between two safe routes to school traveled by thousands of school children every school day, even though city policy promises "heightened scrutiny" for developments on school commute routes.
Already overburdened roads already, Maybell of seriously substandard width with no room for a full bike path or sidewalk on either side of the road. No way out of those developments except via those roads.
3. Two and 3-story stovepipe houses, two houses in the place of one ranch house there now, when no one in the neighborhood could build such housing under the neighborhood zoning. Worse, they're going up practically across the street from our longtime school for the most disabled students in town, the OH, a wall of completely inaccessible homes the children could never live in or probably even visit, reminding them the city doesn't really think about the disabled in its major anti discrimination goal in the housing element.
4. Dishonest tactics affecting health and safety, such as the city and PAHC's claims that the fire department had done an independent review of traffic and emergency response times, when all they did was look at the deveopment itself (the fire station is across the street) and relied completely on the traffic department to tell them if there were other problems. (city staff have been blindly advocating for the rezoning, another major complaint of the neighborhood)
5. The City loaning PAHC $7.3 million to buy the property, then upzoning it for a market rate developer's benefit. The City voting on the rezoning with such conflicts of interest. The City not telling the public the actual amount they had loaned. The city ignoring the many provisions in the general plan with which the rezoning conflicts, and inserting a provision in there specifically making the rezoning a provision in the general plan so they could get away with it.
6. The City blaming all the traffic problems on Arastradero and Maybell on the Gunn start time, when one reason given at the time was to improve traffic [portion removed.]
7. The PC zoning has no binding promise that the property will ever be affordable or senior housing, PAHC could sell it the next day, or rent to market rate renters. This is a serious concern, as PAHC has in the past had to convert affordable units because they misjudged their clientele and spots went unfilled. Especially since their main claim of the need is that 20% of seniors live below the poverty line, and not a single person in that income range would be served by the proposed income range they need to support the project. And that if they build it and they got it wrong? Oops, they rent to those who don't really need affordable housing, or younger people with kids (adding potentially hundreds of students). They've done similar in the past when they misjudged. After all, they didn't initially propose the development as a senior complex. (Plus, they had 20 out of 24 senior BMR units go vacant for three years at Moldaw and didn't fill them until thscontroversy forced them to work at it.). There is absolutely no way for the neighborhood to ensure the development will remain affordable or for seniors, and the City staff report ominously spells that out.
8. They keep making more and more exaggerated claims about what could be built there if PAHC sells. If PAHC sells, the City has the right to buy the property before anyone else, and could place deed restrictions to avoid any scenarios they deem unsafe as they obviously do, before reselling. Problem solved. Whereas if PAHC builds such a massive development, claiming seniors have lower impact, but changes because of the many reasons (such as lack of any adjacency to senior needs), the residents have no recourse.
9. Studies of affordable housing show that it works best for everyone when spread out across a city and integrated, rather than concentrated in one area. Real affordable housing advocates know this. Interestingly, PAHC used to state this as a goal, yet somehow I can no longer find it on their web site as of this rezoning.
10. I once respected PAHC as well, this experience has been very disillusioning. Luckily, there are other affordable housing operators in town that I can support, such as the people who run the Terman apartments.
Residents have been asking the City to build JUST the senior housing, under the existing zoning. If this was really about seniors for PAHC, there were many times they could have compromised. Yet they stonewalled and stonewalled, and the reason their own planner gave was because of the financing arrangements. [Portion removed.] They could build for the seniors under the existing zoning and get almost as many units. If those other few units were so needed, they could have worked to fill the unfilled senior BMR units at Moldaw that went empty for three years.
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