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After resounding defeat, the lessons of Maybell

Original post made on Nov 8, 2013

Housing advocates clashed with neighborhood preservationists in Palo Alto on Election Night. When the dust settled, it wasn't even that close.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 8, 2013, 12:00 AM

Comments (25)

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Posted by Voter
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2013 at 10:27 am

Great job Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning. You have my gratitude for all of your hard work and my support for any slate of candidates you vet and run in 2014.

Scharff, a consummate politician who is facing reelection, is already backtracking and trying to do damage control, perhaps hoping voters will forget that he was the one front and center debating for Measure D.

Kniss (safe until 2016) and Klein (termed out, despite his desperate attempts to remove term limits) showed how much contempt they have for the will of the citizenry with their grudging reaction to the strong message the voters sent them.


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Posted by A neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 8, 2013 at 10:40 am

Gennady,

You said:

"The Maybell project was different. Shepherded by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, a nonprofit with a four-decade history of providing affordable housing, it sought to address one of the city's greatest needs by building 60 apartments for low-income seniors. In a city where rents are sky high and where nearly 20 percent of seniors live near the poverty level, affordable housing was widely seen as a legitimate benefit."

Could you please consider the following questions:

1- How did you quantify that these 60 apartments are one of the city's greatest needs?

2- What is the financial profile of the P.A. seniors who live near the poverty line? Do they own their houses, that have appreciated a lot, or are they currently renting?

3- Does the 20% of seniors who live near the poverty line include folks who are already living in a senior facility such as Channing House, Stevenson House, etc.? Does it make sense to include them?

3- Given that state law doesn't allow it, how will we guarantee that the apartments will go to long time Palo Alto residents and not any senior who will be happy to move to P.A. to get the low rent unit?

4- Did you ask PAHC to give some details, of course without giving private data, on who all the seniors on their waiting lists are?

5- Did you calculate the sky high cost of each Maybell apt.(in tax payer funds) and do the analysis of whether it makes more sense to build a new facility or give subsidies for rent?

That said, thank you for your excellent work. You are the most through reporter on this issue.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2013 at 10:50 am

>it (PAHC) sought to address one of the city's greatest needs by building 60 apartments for low-income seniors.

That is an editorial statement by Gennady Sheyner. He needs to defend it.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:01 am

I think it's clear from history that the lesson to the City and Developers is likely to be - be as opaque, be as secretive as possible, give the public as little input in the most difficult and inconvenient ways possible, and then plan on a certain percentage of these proposals being found out and reversed and look at it as a cost of doing business instead of trying to meet the needs of the community ... because let's face it, this is Palo Alto, meeting the needs of the community is difficult and even impossible in most cases.

Some things that I started out thinking were awful are not so bad or I can live with. The Mitchell Park Library for me is going to be fine, maybe even very nice when it is done and the plants grow in. Others not so much ...just last night on my way down to the Mountain View Whole Foods I noticed another block of condos/townhouses/something on El Camino down near the South part of town with almost no setback. What kind of quality of life is housing that has your living room window a yard away from El Camino supposed to provide?

If Palo Altans really want to have some say in this it may be up to the them to find a way to be more involved and assertive, but then we all have differing ideas too.

At a minimum we need to decide are the things we can agree on and insist that some rules be followed. There are some nice developments with minimal setback, there is greenery and trees planted that still look nice while allowing expensive land not to be wasted.

What are Palo Altan's "MUST HAVES" in terms of development? Whose responsibility should it be to find that out and try to enforce it?


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Posted by coooper
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:14 am

I wonder how many votes were swayed by Liz Kniss' support of the project, and anti-Kniss comments of "follow the money". Clearly Kniss is out of tune with the voters. It's too bad she can't be voted out now. But, she could resign.


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Posted by A-Question-For-Palo-Alto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:26 am

> the election results spelled a bitter end to a project that promised
> to expand the city's sorely needed supply of affordable housing for seniors.

This is a pretty vague statement. There was an incessant drumbeat about the need for more housing for seniors during this campaign, but very little in the way of data about how many dwelling units actually exist, and how many Palo Alto seniors are actually unable to live in Palo Alto without government assistance.

It's a shame that reporters can't stick to the facts, and not insert their personal opinions, or agendas, into the articles.

So, a question for all Palo Altans--just how many so-called affordable dwelling units should their be in Palo Alto?


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:55 am

How many should there be? How about putting a moratorium on high-density building that's making it hazardous to drive and leave your home?

So tired of the traffic backups and the ridiculous claims that all the development won't add one single car to our traffic gridlock.

How green are your exhaust fumes?


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Posted by curious
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:59 am

I still want to know if seniors can bring their grandchildren into PAUSD. Any answers for that question?


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Posted by Allen Edwards
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Just get rid of the Planned Community process. The zoning exception gets build and the public benefit goes away. Just go look at the public park behind the now empty Miki's.

Council members: Pleas state your support or opposition to the Planned Community rezoning idea. I need to know how to vote.


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Posted by Inside view
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm

"The Maybell project was different. Shepherded by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, a nonprofit with a four-decade history of providing affordable housing, it sought to address one of the city's greatest needs by building 60 apartments for low-income seniors. In a city where rents are sky high and where nearly 20 percent of seniors live near the poverty level, affordable housing was widely seen as a legitimate benefit."

That's right, but the Maybell project was designed to serve those in the 30-60% of AMI bracket, which is well above the poverty limit. PAHC began their quest telling us about homeless seniors, and when that didn't work, they moved on to those below the poverty limit, none of which would be served by this property as proposed in the ordinance.

They also promised us that the seniors wouldn't be working, wouldn't have cars, and would want to live in small rental apartments paying a third of their income in a place that is this expensive for everything else. If we're talking seniors who are retired, 30-60% of AMI in retirement or social security means we're talking about people who were fairly high income earners but who don't have assets. How big a group is that? PAHC had a huge credibility problem because they seemed to have simply gone after the property because they could, not because they had done a careful study of the local need and then tried to meet it.

Given how unusual the senior demographic in Palo Alto is, there were just too many leaps to make, especially since they were trying to leverage the zoning exceptions based on the need. They didn't make their case, and in trying to push through such a tenuous one, they hurt their own reputation - badly - in the community.

One thing this article doesn't bring up is the role electronic communication played in what happened. Much of the opposition happened in cyberspace and translated to action in the real world. Because of the controversy, the interconnections have increased and strengthened. Any of those politicians involved in this better realize, we know a lot more about what happened than they seem to think, and they have a big job ahead of them re-establishing trust if they think their political futures are anything but toast.

The results here have everything to do with the fact that Palo Altans are much more connected in many ways than we once were, and we talk to each other. Even the heavy-lifting senior volunteers who weren't online were reached because of online communication.


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Posted by Many
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2013 at 12:24 pm



Among the lesson I have learned is that if the amount of energy that goes into housing would go into infrastructure, we could actually maybe build more housing.


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Posted by Reality check
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 8, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Another thread betraying the real reason for the outcome. No concern for the needs of these seniors, combined with robust NIMBYism.


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Posted by JerryL
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm

We need to completely eliminate the lie that is inherent in the so-called
Planned Community zoning. It is not "planned" (any more than any building project has to be). It is not a "community" but rather an office building,
a handful of condos or a few row houses. I know what real Planned Communities are and the PC approvals in Palo Alto in recent years are not worthy of being call that. Let's abolish the euphemistic term forever.
Palo Alto is already fully (over?) developed. There is no possibility of turning it into a "Planned Community" short of bulldozing the city flat and starting over. So let's get honest and stick to well defined terms. Let's stop disguising zoning changes with misused fancy sounding names that don't apply.


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Posted by Many
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Reality check,

Actually I am concerned about seniors.

But I'm not concerned about millionaire seniors, or 62 year olds driving Teslas.

and I don't care who builds in my back yard as long as I don't have to pay for it.

Especially not going to pay to help out millionaire seniors.



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Posted by Insider View
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 8, 2013 at 12:41 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Scharff amazes once again
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Scharff's comments continue to amaze, in a bad way.

Scharff represented the Palo Alto Housing Corp in the debates and championed the effort in favor of Measure D. It hasn't even been a week and he's now praising the No on D leadership team and taking up their messages. It's outrageous! Even more offensive is his new found desire to protect residential neighborhoods when that has not been represented by his past actions nor his votes on prior Planned Community projects.

"But at least one thing about Measure D changed his thinking regarding planned-community projects — the campaign's focus on preserving the "neighborhood feeling." Unlike most PC projects that the council had been considering, the Maybell proposal was in a residential area, albeit bordered by two apartment complexes. This resonated with many residents, including Scharff. "I'd be much more hesitant frankly about a PC in a residential neighborhood," Scharff said.

There are three PCs that Scharff voted to approve during his tenure on Council: Lytton Gateway, Edgewood Plaza and Palo Alto Bowl. All three of these projects are PCs on busy streets at the edge or in the middle of residential neighborhoods, just like Maybell. So are College Terrace Centre (JJ&F) and the homes behind the Elks Club.

Lytton Gateway is adjacent to lots zoned R-1 at the transition between commercial University Ave area and residential Downtown North. The Municipal Code (Section 18.38.150) for PCs required that the new building not exceed 35 feet within 150 feet of R-1 and R-2 lots. Scharff is the one who figured out and championed the legal maneuver to violate the height limit in the PC Ordinance that protects low density residential lots. Scharff most certainly knew that the Maybell project was again violating the height requirement in a residential neighborhood.

The degradation of residential neighborhoods from dense, ugly, under-parked, poorly planned PC projects is exactly what the residents are angry about. Maybell was not the first, but rather the straw that broke the camels back. No lesson will be learned by Scharff or other Council Members until they understand that virtually all the past PCs were at the edge of or in our residential neighborhoods.


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 8, 2013 at 1:33 pm

PAHC has 12 BMR units at Sunrise Assisted Living. To qualify for one of those units, your assets must be under $500,000 and you income must be under$58,800 a year. That qualifies for BMR Housing?

Web Link

All but one of their BMR rental properties seem to have income levels of around $60K a year. In other words, if you make less than $60K you qualify for a Below Market Rate property? Seriously?


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Posted by Thanks Weekly!
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 8, 2013 at 1:42 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 8, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

On Mayor Greg Scharff:
When he ran for Council in 2009, one of the things I found promising about him was that he used words like "fallacies" and "delusions" to describe "Smart Growth" and related issues (from a note I sent out assessing the candidates). Once in office, he bought into and supported those policies.

I should have been more skeptical. Remember the Charles de Gaulle saying "Since a politician never believes what he says, he is surprised when others believe him."


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Posted by pecuniac
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Oh no! I've lived for 75 years on this planet and have a low income so I Deserve to get a low cost apartment in Palo Alto. Really.

The Below Market Rate (BMR) system is a scam to provide:
A big project to make sure that the Planning and Building Depts have a secure job.
Developers have a profitable stream of projects.
The City Council ammunition to guilt trip Palo Altans comfortably placed in their homes.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 8, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Can't anyone arrange their income and assets in such a way as to qualify?


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Posted by Fairmeadow progressive
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm

It's pretty obvious reading these comments that we don't need to resort to highminded ideas about growth vs. stability, etc., to understand what happened. Hostility to the poor is good enough. It's not the Palo Alto I love, that's for sure. But it is the one that I seem to be living in.


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Posted by A neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 8, 2013 at 5:02 pm

@musical

You asked : "Can't anyone arrange their income and assets in such a way as to qualify?"

The answer: Absolutely yes.

The following link will have answers to some of your questions:

Web Link

I Know of many very wealthy immigrants with considerable assets in their old country who rent this kind of low rent apt.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2013 at 5:03 pm

The City Council hasn't learned anything.

They'll pay some lip service ("hooray for democracy"), but in reality they think this is some kind of wild fluke. It was a small turnout, the neighborhood ran the most brilliant campaign in history, Palo Altans are senior-hating tea-partiers, PAHC fell down, something. Greg Scharff, Liz Kniss et al will either rationalize it away, or else just ignore it. The sad reality is: most of them like being on Palo Alto City Council, but they don't like Palo Alto residents.

That's why most of them need to go in 2014 and 2016.


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Posted by PA Dweller
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 8, 2013 at 6:21 pm

PA Dweller is a registered user.

This is truly a great victory for democracy and civic engagement. Many of the more controversial topics around the city really aren't very tough decisions if the City Council is in tune with the will of the residents. Otherwise, we ought to give the residents more opportunities to vote.


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