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.