Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - November 23, 2012

Guest Opinion: Will Palo Alto rise up to defeat mega projects?

by Dick Rosenbaum

September was quite a month for development proposals in Palo Alto. First there was Jay Paul's proposal for 311,000 square feet of office space in the California Avenue area, and two weeks later, Stanford proposed 263,000 square feet downtown. Each of these proposals is larger than any commercial development that has ever been built here.

It has been over 40 years since any developer dreamed that projects of this size might be approved. You have to go back to the 1960s to find anything comparable. A number of large office buildings were built then, but opposition soon developed to what was called the "Manhattanization of Palo Alto."

In 1970, a council-approved proposal for an 18-story hospital in Professorville was defeated in a referendum election, and in 1971, a proposal for two 10-story buildings at University and Bryant, dubbed "The Superblock", was turned down by the voters. After a new council was elected in 1971, growth limits, including a 50-foot height limit, were approved and Palo Alto has enjoyed 40 years of relative peace on the development front.

That is, until now. Developers, perhaps emboldened by recent council decisions, and certainly encouraged by the city planning staff, now feel that Palo Alto is once again open for super-sized development.

The Jay Paul proposal is straightforward. He has developed large office complexes in other cities and sees a good opportunity here, even if he has to give the city a building shell for a new police station. On the other hand, the audacity of the Stanford proposal boggles the mind. They not only want to exceed the height limit by a factor of three, they want to convert parkland to commercial use. In addition, the traffic from a thousand new workers would be added to the campus. All this for a development that has no relationship to the academic mission of the university. What can they be thinking?

My sense from listening to council comments is that they will approve both projects. Councilmembers will express concern about one thing or another, and the developers will respond with cosmetic changes. But in the end, a majority of the council will vote "aye."

If I am correct, these projects will only be stopped by referendum. The residents who fought the battles 40 years ago are elderly or no longer with us. Where do today's Palo Altans stand? Do many support the view articulated by former planning commissioner Owen Byrd who said about the Stanford proposal, "I look forward to this project being a part of a pattern to urbanize Palo Alto?" Or is there a critical mass of residents who will come together to do the hard work required to organize a successful referendum campaign?

I certainly hope so, because otherwise the Owen Byrd vision will surely come to pass.

Dick Rosenbaum served on the City Council from 1971-75 and 1992-99.

Comments

Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm

The question: Will we willing to mount a Referendum to stop the greed and out of control development. Web Link
City is spending huge amounts on this private boondoggle. So forget about asking for money for city projects. No thanks.


Posted by Horselady, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 27, 2012 at 9:57 am

I think that Palo Alto residents WOULD be willing to mount a referendum to stop this from happening. These projects are destined to make Palo Alto a less desirable place to live.

The very thought of these projects going through makes me want to put my home up for sale.


Posted by Indra Saul, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm

We could put some very high end office space, perhaps temporarily, into El Palo Alto itself. They did something like this at Columbus Circle in New York.
Web Link

Everything is temporary from the perspective of us humans if you compare it to the age of the universe (measured in billions of years) and the nature of infinity and expanding universe (as proved by doppler effect, the redshift, and affirmed by some folk understandings of cosmology, especially the Joseph Campbell tales about reincarnation of great leaders as members of marching armies of ants, "Indras all"), yet even so for my renter's dollar I say act now before things get any worse.


Posted by Residentalist, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 27, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I worked with Dick Rosenbaum many years ago to keep mega projects out of Palo Alto. I still do not want to live in the "leading business center of Silicon Valley". I hope someone younger will spearhead the movement to defeat this and other mega projects. I will help again. I love the Palo Alto I live in. I sacrificed a great deal to live in a vibrant community. Enough over building. Enough increased traffic. Enough! Keep to our density and hight limits.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 29, 2012 at 10:37 am

Kudos to the Park and Rec. Commissioners.
They all pointed out the tremendous defects in this plan. Traffic impacts, excessive complexity, lack of integration with any neighborhood, unnecessary height of the theater, not enough parking in general and not enough parking for the theater, inappropriate use of park land and reduction in size of park. Buildings on park land are supposed to be related to park use. Inappropriate location and use of MacArthur Park building.
Kudos to a Commission that does its job and advocates for their mission!


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