News

Palo Alto to consider appeal of Stanford housing development

City Council agrees to public hearing after resident alleges fire-code violations

Stanford University hit an unexpected hurdle on Monday in its bid to build 180 housing units in College Terrace when the Palo Alto City Council agreed to hold a hearing on a resident's appeal of the project.

In voting to hear the appeal from College Terrace resident Fred Balin, the council went against the recommendation of the city's planning staff, which urged the council to uphold its decision to approve the project. The development already received the unanimous blessing of the city's Architectural Review Board and Planning and Transportation Commission.

The project at 1451-1601 California Ave. is one of two residential developments that Stanford is allowed to build under the 2005 Mayfield Development Agreement (the other project is at a nearby site on El Camino Real). It includes 68 single-family homes and 112 multi-family units and involves the demolition of 290,220 square feet of existing commercial development.

In appealing staff's approval of the Stanford development, Balin alleges that the project violates the fire code and does a poor job in accommodating students' school routes. He and his wife had commissioned a report from traffic engineer Tom Brohard, who concluded that the project did not follow fire regulations relating to street width. While a street with a fire hydrant is required to be at least 26 feet wide, both Columbia and Amherst streets are 24 feet, he noted.

The item was listed on the council's "consent calendar," a catalogue of decisions that members generally approve by a single vote with no discussion. This time, however, the council agreed to pull the Stanford item and schedule a public hearing on June 23.

In addressing the council Monday, Balin noted that the council had recently upgraded its fire code and said his appeal pertains to a "matter of safety in and outside the project." Other cities, including San Francisco, are looking at going beyond the fire-code regulations in approving new developments, Balin said. Why, he asked, is Palo Alto "creating justifications for waivers for the adopted fire code?"

Planning staff and the fire marshal took the position that the 26-foot requirement doesn't necessarily have to be the distance between the curbs. It could take into consideration rolled curbs or certain types of sidewalks as long as the fire apparatus has enough space to operate. The staff report also stated that the width proposed as part of the project "will provide adequate area to park emergency vehicles and operate a hydrant."

Chris Wuthman from Stanford Real Estate told the council that the project has already been modified based on feedback from College Terrace residents and noted that all the commissions have signed off on it.

"In sum, this project has been very thoroughly vetted by city staff," Wuthman said. "It's been responsive to all requirements established by the city and it complies with all applicable codes and ordinances."

Comments

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2014 at 5:49 am

This reflects very poorly on the recently hired planning director, and on the city manager for putting the appeal on the consent calendar. As we have seen all too often, city staff has been approving projects which violate the rules, allowing exceptions for higher density, allowing exceptions for signage and now allowing exceptions for violating fire codes.

Both the City Manager & the planning director need to be reprimanded and placed on notice that they need to have developers follow the rules!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 10, 2014 at 9:01 am

If Stanford is smart they will respond to MR. Balin's concerns by adjusting their project.
Why would Stanford not want to provide their residents with the best and safest living experience? To skimp on safety and quality of life issues undercuts Stanford's Integrity in the community.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by CT empire
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 10, 2014 at 9:08 am

Anon-- the fire Marshall okayed the project. Not sure how that reflects on Stanford's integrity. But you are right, stanford should address the issue and then Let's see what other steps CT takes to try to derail the project. Can Stanford reclaim the soccer fields if palo alto does not live up to their end of the agreement?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 10, 2014 at 9:11 am

It's the principle of the thing, Anon. Stanford does it its way. Now, with the issue now in the open, Stanford has to publicly put the city in its place. Again.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Quercus
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 10, 2014 at 9:12 am

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 10, 2014 at 9:13 am

"Can Stanford reclaim the soccer fields if palo alto does not live up to their end of the agreement?"

They don't want that toxic waste site back. Unless, of course, it comes down to a matter of principle, of keeping Palo Alto at heel.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon 2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2014 at 9:15 am

@CT,
Fire Department in organizational structure answers to City C and Planning and Transportation. Fire should be more independent, but they don't get to be. Do not hold up that input as if they are.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by CT empire
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 10, 2014 at 9:33 am

Queries-- I guess it was too much to expect college terrace to want to honor an agreement they have been benefitting from for years, given their selfish, self centered, " the world revolves around us" mentality.
Curmudgeon-- PA could learn from Stanford-- Stanford puts up nice looking, functional buildings quickly, meanwhile PA cannot get their,library done!!!!
Anon2-- if you are saying that the CC and/or P&T pressured the FD to okay the project, you should provide some proof


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Escondido School
on Jun 10, 2014 at 10:29 am

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PA Weekly reporting descending to Daily Post level?
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 10, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Used to be that readers could count on the PA Weekly reporter having read the staff report, not just the partisan talking points of perennial opponents of projects that have fulfilled the public process requirements in spades. This only feeds the bottom feeders who are coming out with their uninformed attacks, and hinders efforts at civil dialogue!

But as is becoming a pattern, Gennady does not include any reference to the staff report, just cites Fred Balin's latest assertions as if they are facts. In the current environment, this is extremely partisan.
Readers who want a balanced picture of the merits of this appeal should also check out the first 8 pages of staff report here -- which also includes Fred's full appeal as well as refuting evidence: Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 10, 2014 at 12:09 pm

I am not under the impression that CT is trying to derail the project. My understanding is that the goal of the appeal is to assure the the fire code is followed. I get that this could result in some modification if Brohard's findings are accurate but that's a far cry from a derailment.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by CT empire
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Annette-- this is probably step 1 in a well thought out strategy by CT to delay and/or derail the project

PA weekly- do you actually expect balanced reporting from the weekly and/or competent reporting from gennady?

I am wondering if the weekly has looked into who the person that Balin commissioned for the study and what his credentials are.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Frankly
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 10, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Sometimes, more and more often, I am ashamed to say I live in College Terrace. Terrible NIMBYism, selfishness, and insularity. Not everyone agrees with these constant petty objections (the 2' fire margin can easily include curbs, come ON), and many of us welcome more diversity, especially of income and skill level. Stanford is a great neighbor - we are lucky to have them.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Just a thought
a resident of Escondido School
on Jun 10, 2014 at 1:01 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 10, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

Some people have a lot of time on their hands. Or maybe it's just fun for them to constantly challenge and criticize Stanford.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2014 at 6:47 pm

From what I've read, Balin has proposed a solutions to the meeting the fire code. So why not incorporate what Balin suggested, instead of trying to steamroll a decision via the city council consent calendar? It's because the City Planning Director & the City Manager have the egos involved, and are acting very petty that a resident would dare to call them out on not following the rules. It's as simple as that. It's very clear cut the solutions to moving the project forward, but instead what we are seeing is a pissing contest between city staff trying to put down a valid issue raised by a resident.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Wasn't this project approved in like 2006? If I get a building permit and decide to do nothing for 8 or9 years, am I protected from bringing my construction to code when I start? (No)

Stanford had its reasons not to build, and they are clearly big boys and girls who know codes can change. They were probably quite aware of what they were doing. Shame on them.

The discussion of where the fire department and safety are in the City pecking order has been discussed ad nauseum and a prime example occurred during the Maybell debacle. That has been written about,how the fire department takes its cues from CC and P&T. They only evaluate if P&T finds a problem with a development and tells them to,not the other way around. Of course, P&T always finds no impact no matter what is proposed, so fire department gets used with little recourse. They should have more authority and independence, and frankly should have the power to place safety above everything else but they don't.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2014 at 7:00 am

"Some people have a lot of time on their hands. Or maybe it's just fun for them to constantly challenge and criticize Stanford."

I can assure you that it's no fun to have to do the city's job of enforcing the city's zoning, safety, and other rules and policies in the face of the city's all out assault on neighborhood character in favor of developers. Come stand under that monster hotel going up next to Hobees, and you will see why people on this side of town appreciate when residents take their own time and money to do job the city should be doing.

On the other hand, replace the word " Stanford" with "other people" and it might explain your post, which clearly was done with little direct knowledge if the people or situation here.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2014 at 12:30 pm

I wonder if the Ohlone considered filing an appeal to regulate the incursion of the Spanish back in 1769


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2014 at 12:41 pm

I don't think so. They and their way of life were essentially destroyed, weren't they? Not sure if that makes your point, since our system of government is different ... And they were essentially destroyed.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jimmy
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 11, 2014 at 7:58 pm

The soccer fields are toxic!?!?! My kid plays sports there. What's the background please?

If true, I'm a little confused why we'd let Stanford donate toxic land in exchange for a very valuable ability to convert commercial land into residential (which will pressure the neighborhood & schools).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2014 at 11:28 am

Jimmy,

Remember the movie Poltergeist? The soccer fields were built on top of a super fund site. The artificial turf was supposed to keep the toxins from coming up out of the ground.


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