Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 11, 2011

South Palo Alto to gain more senior housing

City Council OKs Palo Alto Commons' addition of 44 rental units to its existing 121-unit facility

by Gennady Sheyner

Faced with a graying population and a shortage of housing for seniors, the Palo Alto City Council swiftly and happily approved a plan Monday night (March 7) to expand the Palo Alto Commons development on El Camino Way.

Calling it a desperately needed project, the council unanimously green-lighted a proposal by Palo Alto Commons to build a three-story addition to its existing 121-unit facility on El Camino Way, between El Camino Real and West Meadow Drive. The new 44-unit building will feature eight studio apartments, 17 one-bedroom apartments and 19 two-bedroom apartments, as well as a lounge, a fitness room, an indoor pool and a dining room.

The new building will also include an underground parking garage with 38 parking spots. Another three parking spots would be available outside.

To make the project possible, the council approved a proposal by applicant Steven Reller to extend the "planned community" (PC) zone at the site of the existing Palo Alto Commons to incorporate the proposed 0.8-acre addition. The zoning designation allows developers to build at a greater density than the city normally allows in exchange for "public benefits."

Though PC-zoned projects typically entail lengthy negotiations over public benefits and, at times, community opposition (Alma Plaza and the College Terrace Centre are two recent examples), the senior-housing proposal sailed through the city's approval process at a comparatively brisk pace. Both the city's Architectural Review Board and the Planning and Transportation Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the project, and the city's planning staff also advised the council to approve it.

While PC-zoned projects typically include such benefits as new public plazas, landscape improvements and public art, in the case of Palo Alto Commons, the main public benefit is the project itself. Palo Alto's shortage of senior housing factored prominently in staff and the planning commission's decision to support the project.

"It is so dog-gone difficult to get rental housing, let alone senior rental housing, and there's clearly a strong demand for it," Planning and Transportation Commission Chair Samir Tuma told the council.

Councilwoman Gail Price said the project helps the city achieve its goal of providing diversity in housing. Councilman Greg Schmid called it a "terrific project," while Councilman Greg Scharff said the city is lucky to get a project like this.

"Senior rental housing is something that's very difficult to build," Scharff said. "I don't think people realize how difficult it is to get a project like this."

While the senior units constitute the primary public benefit, the proposal includes a scattering of secondary benefits, including pedestrian improvements along El Camino Way, upgrades to the bus stop on El Camino Real, landscape improvements and new walkways and a crosswalk in front of the addition. Palo Alto Commons will also contribute $100,000 to the Palo Alto nonprofit Avenidas to fund an age-at-home program for low-income seniors.

Though land-use watchdog Bob Moss urged the council to require the new building to include low-income housing, every other speaker who addressed the council on the subject favored the proposal.

One of these speakers was Bill Hahn, who moved into Palo Alto Commons in 2007 with his wife. Hahn said his wife suffered from dementia and from arterial fibrillation. After she died in 2009, Hahn fell in love with another Commons resident, Colleen Coleman. The two got married last year.

"The Palo Alto Commons has taken care of us in a very good way during this time together," Hahn told the council Monday.

Both Hahns called the proposed addition an answer to the shortage of senior housing in Palo Alto.

The council agreed and voted 8-0, with Karen Holman recusing herself, to support the proposed expansion.

"This is an important project for this community, and I'm glad to see it will move forward this evening," Mayor Sid Espinosa said just before the vote.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Bob, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 7, 2011 at 11:58 pm

It was gratifying to see the developer work with concerned neighbors to develop project features that all could live with. The thoroughness of each staff, commission and council member showcased the 'Palo Alto Process' at its best, unanimous favorable votes all.

As long term members of the Palo Alto community, our family has greatly benefited from the availability of Palo Alto Commons and the wonderful services offered there.

We are pleased to see the Commons permitted to expand in a cost-effective manner to benefit our community.


Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 8, 2011 at 8:31 am

The Reller's have been dedicated to community service, and deserve this quick response. More importantly, the community needs this housing -- and we were able to provide it without taking down a grocery store or a bowling alley!

So nice to see our Government perform its fiduciary responsibility without the usual drama. Nice job Planning Commission and Council. Thanks for the solid community service project Mr. Reller.

Tim Gray


Posted by PA resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 8, 2011 at 11:10 am

Why don't I see all the rants about seniors not being a productive members of the community and taking away resources? :-)


Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2011 at 11:11 am

I'm pleased to see a bit of compassion at work in the city council as well, but combined with that traffic nightmare they created on East Charleston, I'm horrified.

I can't tell you how many times I've been behind some darling gray-haired person driving 15-20 miles an hour with no option to pass on the left because now there is only one lane per direction.

I wish there was an intelligent population sitting in the city chambers!

Yes, to more senior housing and please can we have the former configuration for East Charleston. This one is madness!


Posted by Well done., a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2011 at 11:28 am

Totally disagree with you on Charleston. It is vastly improved over the awful freeway it used to be. I have been driving, biking and walking that street for the 15 years I've lived here. It is sooo much better and safer. I wish they'd get the landscaping in, though. When does that happen?

Safer walkable street environments are great for seniors who can't drive anymore. Helps to keep them connected with the community. Folks from Stevenson House walk along and across Charleston to Piazza's for groceries and Cubberley for senior programs.

It is so much better. Thank you, City of Palo Alto, for BOTH of these projects! It is good to see city leaders planning ahead.


Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Marie is a registered user.

As a senior, I fully support more senior housing! I'm glad this has been approved so quickly. My only concern is that once again a builder has been allowed to build with inadequate parking. There is no way that 44 units will spawn only 41 cars, not to mention there is no guest parking. El Camino Way already has too little parking. Frequently I've given up eating at Fuki Sushi because of a lack of parking.

You would have thought they would have learned after the debacle of the assisted living building near California Avenue where the city planning bought the idea that people in assisted living would not own cars and therefore provided enough parking only for employees - wrong again, and one more parking mess.

The reality is that seniors who can afford market rate housing are not going to be taking public transit. It rarely goes where we need in a timely fashion and, other than during commute hours, it is frequently unpleasant and potentially unsafe. The last time I was waiting for an 8pm train, I was harassed by drunks. I called up a friend to get a ride instead. Who needs this when driving is not really less expensive if you own a car anyway. And the consequences of a bike accident at my age are too grave to take that chance either. I fully support mass transit and making it more available and using my tax dollars to subsidize it - but don't expect me to use it.


Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Oops - I meant to say that driving is not more expensive than mass transit if you already use a car, especially if more than one person is in the car.


Posted by Tell-The-Truth, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2011 at 2:09 pm

> It is vastly improved over the awful freeway it used to be.

This is the kind of misinformation that poisons discourse in Palo Alto. Charleston/Arastradero were more empty than not. Drive-times of 7:30 AM to 8:10 AM were hectic, and maybe 3:30PM to 6:00PM (most work days) were also hectic. But the rest of the time (particularly on the weekends), these roads were barely used. Sadly, the city of palo alto never bothered to adequately measure the traffic on these roads, so people were able to make all sorts of claims based on drive-time numbers.

Backups at traffic lights are a lot worse now, than they were in the past.


Posted by Brian, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Tell-The-Truth

You may disagree with "Well Done", but your characterization of his/her comments as poisoning discourse and misinformation are ridiculous. Many of us are quite happy with the results of the Charleston/Arastradero changes, and I can't see how someones support of these changes in a positive manner can be described as poisonous or misinformation.


Posted by Tell-The-Truth, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2011 at 2:39 pm

> but your characterization of his/her comments as poisoning discourse
> and misinformation are ridiculous.

Statements are either true, or false. When statements are false, they can be clearly characterized as such, and also as "misinformation".

> Many of us are quite happy with the results of the
> Charleston/Arastradero changes,

Just because you agree with something, does not necessarily make it true. The statement that C/A was a "freeway" was absurd on face value. Highway 101 (a freeway) carries about 160 cars a day. C/A (an arterial) maybe 25,000 vehicles/day. The hyperbole employed by the poster to elevate 25,000 vehicle trips to the level of 160,000 is how one can characterize the posting as "misinformation", and "poisonous".

> I can't see how someones support of these changes in
> a positive manner can be described as poisonous or misinformation.

See above.

Logic 101 teaches us that "assertion" is not proof. Sadly, most people in Palo Alto seemed to have not taken that course when they were in school.


Posted by Tell-The-Truth, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm

> Highway 101 (a freeway) carries about 160 cars a day.

should have been:

Highway 101 (a freeway) carries about 160,000 cars a day.


Posted by Peter, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Mar 8, 2011 at 2:59 pm

How many trees are being removed for this project?
Maybe the current seniors might appreciate a little park instead with birds chirping in the trees?


Posted by Paul, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2011 at 4:40 pm

PA Commons has been a godsend for my parents. The care they received there has been wonderful, and I am very happy that more seniors will get a chance to experience this terrific environment. Hooray for the process working so well. As for leaving the trees for the seniors to hear the birds, I think they would prefer a roof over their heads where they can be taken care of. Lookup Maslow's hierarchy of needs and I believe birds will come lower than food and shelter.


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