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Style wars: Is Palo Alto's architecture-review process broken?

Original post made on Jul 18, 2014

Birge Clark wasn't just the most prolific and beloved architect in Palo Alto's history, he may have also been its most content.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, July 18, 2014, 12:00 AM

Comments (79)

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Posted by Balance
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 18, 2014 at 8:31 am

The problem with the ARB is two-fold:
1) they don't feel accountable to the citizens, and are exercising their own personal biases - which tends far more toward the modern than the citizens prefer. The extremes are just a mean box with jarring angles.

2) they don't strike a balance. There is an impression from this article that to be innovative and progressive implies you must be the most modern of modern. The meanest of forms. In fact, there is little comfort in these forms; and technology and progress without some human attachment is a mistake. We should know this best in Silicon Valley - Apple makes technology approachable; Microsoft did not.

There is no reason that new, progressive ideals cannot be expressed in building while retaining an aesthetic, human feeling to them. We need balance.

When you see a modern building which has this human feeling to it, you sense it immediately. It does not look so extreme as to be jarring; no sharp extremities to harm; proportions which are sensible and calming. It is rare, but when done well, a balance between techno-new and traditional gives a very pleasing effect.

Many of us work in high-tech. We go to work in "modern" buildings that are eyesores. It is a plague of our industry that we have no taste. Just look at the "groundbreaking" SGI campus at shoreline. It's awful - all purple and stainless steel and round bits with jagged projections. We have to work in buildings like this. Please don't make us come home to Palo Alto and inflict such visions upon us where we should be comfortable; where our heart is.

Find some balance.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 18, 2014 at 9:38 am

The data about the number of projects that have come before the ARB over the past two years is interesting, but why can't that sort of data be on-line, and flushed out with supporting data such as project architect, property owner, city project planner, ARB votes, by member? Patterns of bias, or possible "coziness" could be better seen by tracking the ARB's actions. Being able to track communications between ARB members and project applicants would better help us to understand if such "coziness" actually exists.

Seems to me that the ARB does not have a firm mission, or charter, that restrains its actions. The idea that this group of construction industry professionals should be given carte blanche to review projects being proposed by other construction industry professionals without any accountability—under the authority of the municipal government—seems to be a problem that needs review, and quite possibly, some sort of solution. It might be fair to even suggest that perhaps the ARB needs to be terminated, if there is little proof that it is fulfilling its mission—whatever that mission might actually be.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2014 at 10:23 am

' "Diversity of architectural styles gives our city life and defines who we were as a community," Hayes said.'

Good point, at face value. But Hayes' designs all look alike. Bauhaus revival desultory: glass-skinned parallelepipeds with occasional prickles. No-brainer design, cheap to build, and adored by architects because they offend the sensibilities of non-architects.


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Posted by A
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 18, 2014 at 10:59 am

My biggest concern is the density of this city. The infrastructure can only take so much. The buildings have to be in context to their surroundings. The ugly Hare, Brewer and Kelly building at Cowper and University is one such example of a bad idea. So is City Hall. We are a small city. We are not San Francisco. We do not have the extra land to put more people on it. We are maxed out. To put more people here will be to ruin life for the rest of us. We may have approximately 60,000 people living here but our population swells to over 100,000 every work day.

I think we have to give the ARB standards to go by.


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Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 18, 2014 at 11:47 am

Actually, we denied 2 projects in my tenure; both were appealed to council and in both cases the council gave the applicants a break and told them to revise their projects and go back to the board.

Elaine Meyer's comments are nothing but insulting, based on no information and no knowledge of ARB procedures or state law. The law requires an ARB member to recuse herself if she is conflicted. That occurs sometime, but not with much frequency. Only in one case was a board member conflicted so often that she resigned. In my 12 years on the ARB, I had NO jobs based on my service.

I find it ironic that people who would no more drive a Model T Ford or wear pantaloons want buildings that look old.

One of the main problems with "derivative" architecture is that it is not true to its heritage. Take Birge Clark's Spanish revival buildings as an example. They are excellent buildings because he understood the characteristics of Spanish architecture. It's not just red tiles and stucco. The roof forms, the massing, the lovely details that no one wants to pay for any more, are what make it sing. If an architect brought a well-designed Spanish revival project to the ARB, it would get approved. In fact, the building at Lytton and Bryant is one such building. Anyone who thinks it's old has no memory of what was there before.

I agree completely with Lee Lippert's statement, "I surely would not like to go for medical advice to somebody other than a medical doctor and surely would not seek out legal advice from any person other than an attorney."


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Posted by Land use is not the ARB's job
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2014 at 11:58 am

If ARB members Lippert & Popp want to be advocates for higher density, they are on the wrong committee. Land use is NOT the purview of the ARB. It is the job of the PTC to make those recommendations. They should limit their comments and recommendations to structure and design. Period. That's their job.

If they can't work within the required parameters, they should be asked to step down.


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Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 18, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Diversity of style is one thing and I think most Palo Altans are fine with a mix even if preferring one style over others. What was approved for 801 Alma is another matter altogether. That structure assaults the space it is in - and riled people to pay attention to what the ARB and PTC are doing.


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Posted by Eric
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 18, 2014 at 12:32 pm

I don't believe most Palo Altans object to modernist buildings as such, just the ones that look ugly to them. And as far as the quote about going to lawyers for legal advice and doctors for medical advice, let's not forget that there are some doctors and lawyers who give terrible advice.


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Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 18, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

Fascinating article. Thank you


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2014 at 1:03 pm

The ARB approval of Roxy Rapp's Cheesecake Factory on University Ave
11 years ago blows apart every argument in support of,or apologetic for
the record of the ARB in Palo Alto. And the project at Bryant and Lytton,
the Gatehouse site,which Ms. Wasserman refers to, is not just vastly overbuilt completely overwhelming the small plaza with the Oak tree. This
is not a "well-designed project". The colors used and color combinations are very poor. The Spanish style building is sprayed the standard, ugly "spec brown". The ARB never handles color well if they deal with it at all or even understand it. The Footwear at 463 University is a good example.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2014 at 1:40 pm

"let's not forget that there are some doctors and lawyers who give terrible advice."

I think Ms. Wasserman's point is that we must defer our perception of our built environment to architects, whose possession of a higher innate aesthetic sense that has been honed to an exquisite perfection by an esoteric education the rest of us don't have, enables them to perceive the ethereal beauty in what the masses deem ugly.

Cocktail party hint: Professing a taste for ugly buildings shows your architectural sophistication. Slip in references to "articulation," "fenestration," "treatment," "visual tension," and you're golden. Arrogantly dismiss all challengers. (Hint #2: don't try this in the presence of an ARB member, present or past. They're much better at it that you are.)


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Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 18, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

curmudgeon: brilliant


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 18, 2014 at 1:50 pm

I agree that "licensed architects we're sought out for our professional expertise" but being a licensed architect does not mean you have good taste.


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Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 18, 2014 at 2:01 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

God, if someone could protect us from me-too bleh Spanish/Mediterranean that's blighting Palo Alto. It's almost as bad as the faux-Victorians and bay windows infesting architecture in San Francisco.

Please, can we be more original?

As for curmudgeon's comment - taste by definition is subjective. People are by nature conservative and like what they grew up with. We need diversity in architecture, so I personally welcome those who take risks. Look at all the iconic architecture around - Transamerica building, Eiffel Tower, etc. -- they were controversial when they were erected, and now people see them as classic.

As for the complaints that the style of particular architectures are too consistent - well no kidding. Are you going to complain about the consistency of Eichlers? William Wurster's infatuation with wood paneling?

Give me a break.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2014 at 2:35 pm

"Look at all the iconic architecture around - Transamerica building, Eiffel Tower, etc. -- they were controversial when they were erected, and now people see them as classic."

Great. When does the Cheesecake Factory become iconic?


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Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 18, 2014 at 3:21 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"Great. When does the Cheesecake Factory become iconic?"

Whatever. Anyone can pick one good/bad example. I'd rather be Chicago than San Francisco.


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Posted by Another resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Wasserman says "Actually, we denied 2 projects in my tenure"
TWO in how many years? What other evidence do we need?

While she may not have gotten jobs because of her position on the ARB, others have. Recent news of just 2 architects flip-flopping to work for developers:
Heather Young flipped from the ARB to work on John Tarleton's 3159 El Camino, a very very big project, and
Dan Garber (an architect) flipped from the Planning Commission to work on Arrillaga's 27 University super-project.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 18, 2014 at 3:32 pm

I agree about the beauty and "lovely details" of the Birge Clark buildings, even though I am not a generally fan of Spanish revival architecture. On the other hand, I don't particularly dislike big glass boxes.

The point is that new buildings should have both the lovely details and fit in harmoniously with other buildings around them. A three story glass box looming over a 970 sq. ft. 1920's wooden bungalow just doesn't cut it, and no one needs an advanced degree in architecture to recognize this.

If builders don't want to pay for the lovely details which make a building sing and fit with its environment, perhaps they should take their architects and big boxes and go somewhere else. Can't we insist on excellence, and certain standards? Because we do not insist on this, we don't get projects that include such things.

Downtown Carmel is a wonderful example of buildings of mixed architectural styles and uses but which is harmonious, livable and walkable. Why should Palo Alto settle for anything less?




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Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 18, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

To answer the question in the headline: yes, Yes, YES!


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 18, 2014 at 4:03 pm

I think one of the biggest problems with the process that needs to be fixed is that projects go to ARB first and then on to P&TC for approval.

The trouble is that this gives overzoned projects that really should be rejected offhand a stamp of legitimacy when they pass the ARB and before they ever get to the next step. If they've passed through one City commission review, it's become a foregone conclusion that they'll go through.

We really should have a citizens zoning commission (they exist in some other cities) that just looks at whether the projects are actually proposed within zoning, whether they fit the Comprehensive Plan in all ways including consistency for things like Safety, Noise, and Traffic Circulation. If more projects were simply rejected outright or flagged for being egregious overdevelopment from the getgo, we would be wasting fewer City resources down the pipeline, and the ARB would get projects to consider the *architecture* mainly, that had already been vetted for consistency with our zoning codes.

Additionally, having such a bar from the getgo would also mean fewer developers would propose egregious overdevelopment proposals to begin with, knowing they wouldn't get past the first level of review, saving all of us from having to deal with this constant onslaught. Citizens should be leading their lives productively, knowing the city workers whose salaries they pay are mainly engaged in protecting their quality of life, health, safety, and otherwise doing their civic duties.

So, in order to get such a commission, or even such a step by a City department, we would need a more residentialist-oriented Council. Or residents will have to keep fighting a losing battle against this overdevelopment. Land use is forever. We must ensure a residentialist Council while the Comprehensive Plan is being revised. (Vote Filseth and DuBois!!)


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 18, 2014 at 4:06 pm

It's really also about time that our supposedly advanced town had some kind of simulation tool for looking at cumulative impacts of every development, a kind of Sim Palo Alto. We need to be able to incorporate all the impacts: infrastructure, emergency access, traffic circulation, environmental concerns, resources like water, school impacts, etc etc.

Maybe we're at a point where developments over a certain size need to be looked at and adjusted together in order to maintain consistency with the Comprehensive Plan, because of cumulative impacts, especially given all the overdevelopment we've just endured.


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Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 18, 2014 at 4:44 pm

@Curmudgeon: I agree that your hint is brilliant!
@Greenacres: your Sim Palo Alto idea is also brilliant. If such a program doesn't exist, surely a local tech wizard can create it.


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Posted by Ohhhhh, yeahhhhhh
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 18, 2014 at 4:49 pm

It is broken a.right, but not beyond repair if we figure out a way to get the current ARB and Planning Commission members laid off or removed from their positions.

Same goes for the City Council.

Whose idea was it to hire Ken Hayes? His work is hideous, all of it, but the current structure going up on El Camino between the two ends of El Camino Way just beats all for ugly. Even the contractor's workers think so.


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Posted by Shani Kleinhaus
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 18, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Research shows that 300 millions to a billion birds die each year as a result of collisions with windows and glass buildings. This is 1 to 3 birds for each person in the US. Migratory birds and young birds are especially at risk.

Birds collide with windows that reflect trees, landscaping, or sky. They attempt to fly through transparent, clear glass.

There are ways to design buildings that are safer for birds - to make the glass more visible, to avoid clear walls around gardens, to consider interaction of landscaping with building design...

Speaking as a resident of Palo Alto and the Environmental Advocate for Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society - I believe a Bird-Friendly Building ordinance is needed. San Francisco and Oakland have ordinances, Sunnyvale adopted guidelines, and San Jose is following suit.

So regardless of aesthetics, I hope the ARB and City Council will move towards bird friendly ad safe buildings in Palo Alto


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Posted by Hideous architecture
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 18, 2014 at 6:51 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 18, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Lippert, an ARB member, said at a city council meeting recently, that Palo Alto doesn't have any well known architects. Really??? I guess he hasn't heard of Birge Clark. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by Context
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Gennady Sheyner,

Thank you for writing about the ARB.

I hope you will continue probing the many issues that have come up here, and I would like to add a few.

1. Comments about big thinking, big ideas, big innovators, big adopters are irrelevant in what physically is not a big place. You would think that architects would be the first ones to point out the difference between big ideas and big architecture. Big architecture doesn't have to actually be large, XL, or XXL.

Size is not an architectural requirement, it is the owners who want to maximize square footage. If the client wants small, architects build it. So, please can we stop the silliness about big brains and big buildings, no correlation.

2. We need to pretend we live in a two-bedroom where every piece of furniture we add matters. If we used Ikea furniture for all of our house, that's what it is. The clash is not between modern and traditional buildings, it's the simple issue of space, and whatever pieces you add have an impact. Additions have the potential to overwhelm, and they have the potential to change the nature of the space.

Space is at a premium in Palo Alto, and my hope would be that architects would arguing for more size and instead speak to the other characteristics of buildings which can add to the maximization of space, light, and what actually modern architecture, modern livability seeks.

Owners want modern qualities on the inside (light and space) and residents want the qualities of modern on the outside. The ARB's job is to worry about what the structures do to the town's space.


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Posted by context
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2014 at 7:14 pm

correction

My hope would be that architects would stop arguing for more size and instead speak to the other characteristics of buildings which can add to the maximization of space, light,

The ARB tends to spend more time justifying the owner's interests. This can probably be measured with a look a the minutes of their meetings for any given project.


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Posted by Hideous architecture
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 18, 2014 at 7:16 pm

I intend to do an investigative report on architect Ken Hayes. Why is he getting so much work in Palo Alto? What are his qualifications, background, and, more importantly, who are his friends and what connections does he have in PA? I especially intend to delve into his relationship with ARB members. [Portion removed.] Something doesn't add up. He is getting a suspiciously high amount of work in PA.


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Posted by context
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2014 at 7:24 pm



Ken Hayes is probably getting a lot of work because he reflects the taste of developers - not exactly an endorsement.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2014 at 7:43 pm

It's all an interconnected insiders game between the staff,a small group
of local developers and their architects,the ARB, and the Council majority. As Greenacres suggests, the way to break this system is to establish a new level of citizen review of all projects in the City, public and private which affect the physical environment. Right now it would be hard to find a city anywhere which is producing worse results on the ground than Palo Alto
in both the public and private sector actions. This is an absolute disaster
across the entire City.


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Posted by Vi Sialia
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Glass windows on large modern buildings account for the loss of millions of birds each year. Twice each year millions of birds pass over Palo Alto on the Pacific Flyway.

Palo Alto should join many other communities that require bird friendly designs in their building codes. The U.S. Green Building Council is considering LEED credit for bird-friendly building design and the Living Building Challenge and the Sustainable Sites Initiative place even more value on the connection of buildings to their natural surroundings.

The specifications for bird friendly windows do not add significantly to building cost. Please help Palo Alto to become a Bird Friendly city.


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Posted by Modern is Cheap
a resident of University South
on Jul 18, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Older buildings are lovely with graceful lines, beautiful details and a sense that they fit well in their space. It is obvious that "modern" is just a word for a cheap box with no lovely additions, no sense of beauty and every intention of maximizing square footage to maximize rental dollars. Certain architects may get more business because they design these cheap-to-build boxes.


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Posted by Caroline
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Having lived in Palo Alto for over thirty years now, I've learned to treat the modern buildings the same way I treat our public "art": Look the other way. However we construct our buildings, though, I do agree with a couple of the posters above - all buildings need to be built in a bird friendly way. Birds face enough challenges from changes humans have made to the environment - we don't need to throw up more obstacles to their survival.


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 18, 2014 at 11:11 pm

I agree with Shani Kleinhaus and appreciate her bringing this information to our attention. In a town where the Council has lately been treating "open space" like a dirty word, we desperately need to be thinking about the natural environment, water, and wildlife, especially birds who share our urban space. We should be cognizant of whether building design endangers the survival of so many birds, especially in this town that likes to think it's so green, and especially since the ability to be bird-friendly is eminently within our power.


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Posted by A little common sense goes a lon way
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jul 19, 2014 at 2:00 am

Of course property owners will build to the maximum allowed by the zoning district's development standards. With land values as high as they are they would be foolish to propose anything less than the maximum.


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Posted by Mike Steele
a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2014 at 6:22 am

As a former resident, I think Shani's Bird Safe Design criteria reflect the kind of value system most Palo Altans would support. Sad to say, though, if those criteria pose cost increases for developers then she'll probably need a ballot measure to get them. Things have gotten way too clubby at City Hall.


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Posted by Walt Hays
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 19, 2014 at 8:57 am

I support Shani Kleinhaus' recommendations on making buildings safe for birds.


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Posted by Emily renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 19, 2014 at 8:58 am

I wonder what the ARB will have to say about a giant white fabric quonset hut covering acres of compost on former parkland in the baylands, immediately adjacent to Byxbee Park. And which requires removing about 2 acres of landscaping previously required for an expansion of the Sewage Treatment Plant.


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Posted by Chris
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 19, 2014 at 9:32 am

This seems like something that shouldn't require too much thought - we don't need to build structures that kill birds, and we don't need to sacrifice beauty or utility of buildings to build structures that don't kill birds - let's build buildings that don't kill birds!


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Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 19, 2014 at 10:07 am

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

I wrote about the birds when the town STAFF raised the specter of lighted advertisement along Fabian Way, and again on issues facing the city (we are a flyway for important migrating birds as well as for our own resident population). We have silly tree rules (non-native Redwood trees are supposed to thrive and be only cut down if you get a permit which are huge water eaters and not a local tree) inviting crows to congregate and destroy the natural balance already. Let's have true environmental impact reviews. I also think we should require the city to not allow people to dig down below, pumping out hundreds of thousands of water, in order to allow more space below ground into the flood plains. It's ridiculous and wasteful). May be our lots can't sustain mcMansions and Eichler understood that? Just wait when we have our next 100 year flood, unknown by many who are building east of Middlefield Road.


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Posted by context
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 19, 2014 at 10:36 am

Chris,

"we don't need to sacrifice beauty or utility of buildings to build structures that don't kill birds - let's build buildings that don't kill birds!"

Utility and beauty is unfortunately within the domain of the property owners, but an ordinance about architecture that doesn't kill birds is something that the City could probably do.

The key issue that we are dealing with is that the ARB has been content to defend what property owners request in terms of utility and beauty. Garbage in garbage out in the newest buildings because evelopers operate on a quick fast food approach to erect buildings not paying attention, or paying the money that is required to bring up and coming architects to create something truly special here. Developer go-to architects are obsessed with hitting the height limit and their office space and retail designs are copies of each other.

If one would look a the top architects of all time, they were known for unique introductions to building structures, and experimentation that was actually new in their time (I think we can all agree that glass is not new anymore).
Up and coming architects today are breaking the mold in sustainability, and environmental responsibility. They are building with a social conscience, they are concerned with infrastructure, finding better ways to use space, and the people hiring them have the same values.

I disagree with Lippert that the professional opinion of an architect is like that of a doctor, or lawyer. And even with doctors and lawyers you can get a second opinion. Mr. Lippert is basically saying "trust us." When that just means, trust developers and their go-to architects.


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 19, 2014 at 12:25 pm

@context,
Agreed. Then we end up a victim of our own lack of scrutiny for one project, as developers and architects use it as a template for the next...


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Posted by context
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Greenacres,

I completely agree with you that citizen oversight is critical, and the use of technology to have simulations and models to test all the variables, environmental impacts and so forth.

The flat little pictures currently on screen at the ARB meetings do not tell half the story. The Arrillaga proposal was a joke in terms of what things actually would look like or impacts, and it shamelessly relied on a host of other changes to that entire area which had not been vetted by the public. A few ARB members chose to make political comments during the public meetings about their views on the future of density and height for Palo Alto, some ARB members had to recuse themselves because they actually worked for the architect!

So, how do we get a citizen oversight of the ARB? I would hope not another ARB. And how can standards be reviewed and changed to avert ARB negotiations on behalf of developers? You know residents lose on that. For example, currently there is no daylight plane ordinance between commercial to commercial buildings. The other thing that is open to interpretation is the matching height to nearby buildings, so the ARB latches on the tallest building around. Couldn't there be some formula to avert that trick? With current ordinances, legally our future on commercial streets can end up as solid walls. Developers only think about the inside, so we're screwed.

Until there are better fixes to the ordinance process, I would want to appeal to developers. Developers aren't exactly getting much love these days, but if they would not be so stingy, they could bring some awesome architecture to town. What they think they would be losing in square footage can be made up by premium buildings which would also demand higher rent.


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Posted by Bird safe
a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Thank you Shani for sharing your insightful comment. Considering our impact on the natural environment and bringing the safety of birds into the equation will help make Palo Alto a better place for all. Let us protect the wildlife around us by designing bird-safe buildings.


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Posted by Mimi
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2014 at 4:26 pm

All the new buildings in Palo Alto are ugly and very distasteful....eeeeyuk

The new architecture in PA.

B. I. T E. S. BIGTIME


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Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2014 at 4:42 pm

> Burt observed that new buildings almost invariably get developed to the maximum density as is allowed. In some cases, they go beyond the city's threshold, thanks to state laws that grant automatic density bonuses for provision of affordable housing.

If you're against the state's automatic density bonuses, sign the petition at Web Link


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Posted by Bev
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 19, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Keep the birds safe. They are as precious to us as our trees.


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Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2014 at 5:21 pm

> Lippert observed that the city, "does not have an icon, a symbol of the city, a piece of architecture that stands out that defines our community."

In spite of what Liz Kniss says about the 101 bike bridge – it will be "a landmark for Palo Alto" – Stanford is the city's icon. And it's a good one.
No bike bridge, even one that we know will cost more than the current estimate of $10M, is going to be a "visual marvel."

> Size is not an architectural requirement, it is the owners who want to maximize square footage.

In some case, architects declare size to be important. Architects Northway and Young are quoted as saying the city's height limit is often too restrictive and can hamper beautiful architecture.

A recent example from the SF Chronicle shows how (1) money talks, (2) developers ignore zoning regulations from the get go, (3) architecture "critics" applaud oversized projects:
Sometimes zoning adjustments make sense for housing towers
Web Link

The developer knows zoning allows a max height of 300 feet. But he hires a notable architect to design a 400-foot building, presents it to the city and says, "I'll give you $19M if you let me have my oversized building. If you make me stick to the zoning laws, I'll only give you $14.6M."

And John King, urban design critic writes, "the taller tower would be preferable in terms of city-building."


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Posted by PAGardener
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2014 at 10:54 pm

I would only support new buildings that incorporate bird safe design, regardless of style. There is no reason to build buildings that are traps for birds.

I do think modern buildings can be beautiful and fit in with other styles of architecture if thoughtfully done. But unfortunately, in my opinion, many of the new modern buildings in ths city are not in this category.


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Posted by context
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2014 at 8:24 am

History Buff,

Thank you for pointing out Stanford to Mr. Lippert's comment that the city does not have an "icon, a symbol of the city, a piece of architecture that stands out that defines our community."


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2014 at 10:14 am

Actually Palo Alto does have "a piece of architecture that stands out, that
defines our community". It's The Cheesecake Factory on University Ave approved by the staff and ARB 11 years ago. It is a powerful and stark symbol of everything that has gone wrong here in the last decade in terms of land use and design control. A few years ago, a prominent techie
from NYC in town for a conference said to me when he saw Cheesecake Factory-
"I was surprised, I thought a place like Palo Alto would have design control".


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Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 21, 2014 at 11:48 am

Shani Kleinhaus should be commended for her work to get bird-safe architecture. It's a great idea and should be supported. We should also be supporting a bird and wildlife safe community by maintaining viable habitats - not writing them off when it suits us.


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Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 21, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I feel like this message board is being astroturfed.

As for style, my personal preference would be to stop developers from ripping down the mid-century modern structures which make Palo Alto unique, and putting up taco bell style architecture. Do we really need another building which looks like it was made out of mud with a red tiled roof?


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Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2014 at 1:25 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"Shani Kleinhaus should be commended for her work to get bird-safe architecture"

On the other hand, dems good eatin'


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Posted by context
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm

PatrickD,

"my personal preference would be to stop developers from ripping down the mid-century modern structures"

I always find this funny - that mid-century is modern, and modern is what has been modern for decades now.

While there may be a winner or loser in terms of "style" in the style wars, usually style is not necessarily about the way something looks. Style reflects values, and it can reflect an attitude. What actually comes off depends on how much time, effort, and expense has been put into something. Craftsmanship is expensive, something truly original is more expensive than boilerplate. Unique materials are expensive, not so much because of how they look, but their environmental impact, and how they contribute to health and energy efficiency. Lots of ways to be unique, and innovative without the need to be outsize and glaring.

Like most people, I'm not married to a particular style, it just has to make sense. I asked a young friend what she thought about tall buildings for PA. Her reply was "I love the city look, but not for Palo Alto" Gut reaction from a young person who has not had time to be "stuck" in time or her ways or architectural style.

There must be a way to come up with Palo Alto's style without the ARB making that decision for us, and without getting stuck in trade definitions of style.


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Posted by Susan M
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 21, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Really? The city does not have an "icon, a symbol of the city"???
But we do - its a tall tree
And whats better than a tall tree to stand out and define our community?


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 21, 2014 at 4:41 pm

"Actually, we denied 2 projects in my tenure"

Not ugly enough?


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Who submitted the two projects which were denied? Conversely, who submitted
projects which were never denied? Let's see a list of all major
projects approved.


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Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2014 at 6:20 am

How about stopping development altogether before this small city is indistinguishable from an ugly sardine can?


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2014 at 9:31 am

It is clear that the entire process- planning, zoning, design control- is broken, because the same value system and dynamics are driving all the
decision-making in City Hall. Drive around Palo Alto- take a look at it, what is happening - this is what government failure looks like on the ground.



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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2014 at 10:25 am

> Glass windows on large modern buildings account for the loss of
> millions of birds each year. Twice each year millions of birds pass
> over Palo Alto on the Pacific Flyway.

Hard to know for sure how many birds actually die because they fly into buildings.

> Palo Alto should join many other communities that require
> bird friendly designs in their building codes.

Why? Do millions of birds fly into Palo Alto windows every year? Anyone have any experience with true casualty rates for birds that flew into Palo Alto buildings? Probably not very many—so, what's the problem here?

Before the City starts folding into its zoning, and building, codes, the political agendas of every whacko group that comes down the pike—there really ought to be a problem that the zoning changes actually fix. No problem—no genuflect to this political group, or that.

There are estimated to be between 100 billion and 400 billion birds in this world. They are live fairly short lives —and most die from natural causes, or from being a part of the food chain. Moreover, Birds can inflict great damage on crops, and reduce the food supply for humans. The role of birds in being carriers for lethal human diseases is a fact So—bending over backwards to avoid the deaths of a few birds by increasing the costs of buildings in our town makes no sense at all.

> Palo Altans will support ..

Isn't that just like Palo Altans—there is no evidence that this is a problem with birds being killed in Palo Alto by any big, bad, buildings, and most people couldn't provide even an estimate of the number of birds killed by buildings in any city .. but they are ready to support anything that is touchy, and feely.

BTW, it's estimated that cats kill upwards of 4 billion birds a year. Seems to me that perhaps getting the City Council to ban cats from killing birds would save far more birds than new building codes might.


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Posted by context
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2014 at 10:32 am

Balance,

"When you see a modern building which has this human feeling to it, you sense it immediately. It does not look so extreme as to be jarring; no sharp extremities to harm; proportions which are sensible and calming. It is rare, but when done well, a balance between techno-new and traditional gives a very pleasing effect.

Many of us work in high-tech. We go to work in "modern" buildings that are eyesores. It is a plague of our industry that we have no taste. Just look at the "groundbreaking" SGI campus at shoreline. It's awful - all purple and stainless steel and round bits with jagged projections. We have to work in buildings like this. Please don't make us come home to Palo Alto and inflict such visions upon us where we should be comfortable; where our heart is.

Jagged, sharp, flat, cold, and industrial look are common for office buildings, and Palo Alto has been turning into an office park. The ARB has failed to see how the proliferation of office space is changing the overall look of town, and they simply don't understand the loss of that balance.

SO, if the ARB can't do much about what is presented to them, what is their job? I get the feeling that their job is to give developers more than what they are entitled to.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 22, 2014 at 10:52 am

"but they are ready to support anything that is touchy, and feely."

Then let's take hardheaded look at the economics. Birds leave a mark on the windows they collide with. Yeah, you get it. Even executives don't like looking at it, so they bring in window washers more often than they would otherwise have to. That costs money which could go to the shareholders, which drives up the price/earnings ratios. Those birdkilling buildings are murdering your stock portfolio, Joe.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 22, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Ms. Judith Wasserman appeared in the SJM letters to the editor today - "Drop Lawsuits, ensure best high-speed rail". Her message fails to note that the removal of buildings is in Fresno, but the first train is suppose to be Burbank to Bakersfield. Note that the tear down of buildings in Fresno due to eminent domain is where the funding will be generated to build the first leg of the train. The funding is not specific to the peninsula.
So let it be noted that Ms. Wasserman will be front and center as a lobbyist for HSR. Any one that has a law suit on HSR pay attention.


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 22, 2014 at 2:31 pm

.Reflective glass buildings are a problem. Luckily, not one a creative, smart architect couldn't solve.

Having some bird-friendly design guidelines is probably no sweat off anyone's nose and could lead to better design anyway. We've been getting too much lazy ugly design in this town. If we can , ahem, kill two birds with one stone by insisting on bird-friendly design that also then spares us from more ugly glass cubes, Palo Alto will be better off for it.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 22, 2014 at 2:43 pm

The sacred Eichler style homes are all magnates for bird collisions with the large panels of glazing.


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Posted by keenplanner
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 23, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Citing a showy Cheesecake Factory building as an example of, er, what, exactly? While the derivative building is a bit fun, who else but a corporate national chain could afford to put up a flashy new building? And having the same chain restaurant represent the town's "individuality?" As what, a shopping mall disguised as a main street? Or vice versa? Please!


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Posted by Joke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2014 at 8:01 pm

I'll proactively apologize to ARB members past and present, but one need look no further than 797 Mayview Avenue to see that the ARB either doesn't care or has no control over enforcing neighborhood character. Even my eight year-old thought this "house" looked like a dentist's office.

If the ARB can't do a good job with one house in a residential neighborhood, I have zero faith in their influence over the entire city.


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Posted by Joke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Crescent Park Dad: Put a plastic owl or hawk on the roofline and you will have few, if any, birds flying into your windows.


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Posted by Polly Wanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 23, 2014 at 9:00 pm

"Put a plastic owl or hawk on the roofline and you will have few, if any, birds flying into your windows."

That's because the birds are perched on the plastic owl or hawk.


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Posted by One hand clap
a resident of University South
on Jul 23, 2014 at 10:04 pm

@Joke
FYI, the ARB does not review single family homes.


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Posted by Joke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Polly: funny.

One hand clap: Really? That explains a lot. In Portola Valley they review everything (and still make sub-par decisions based on individualistic taste).

I'm not sure it's true that the ARB does not review SFR so please provide a link to that fact if you are certain.


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Posted by One hand clap
a resident of University South
on Jul 23, 2014 at 11:31 pm

@Joke
Not my job to find the links to refute your false claims. Look it up yourself on the city website underSingle Family Review.


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 24, 2014 at 8:39 am

SteveU is a registered user.

One hand
the ARB does review (medal) single family homes and adds requirements to the permit.

One neighbor was required to use a specific color and style of Garage door.

Another had to have a wooden '8 inch Belly band' between the (exterior) floor levels.


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Posted by One hand clap
a resident of University South
on Jul 24, 2014 at 1:32 pm

@SteveU
Sorry, the ARB does not review single family homes. The city Planning Dept staff reviews them if they are two story under the "Single Family Review" process and the staff decision can be appealed to the city council. I don't recall the specifics of the process, but it's on the city website. I think that the ARB reviews residential projects if they are three units or larger developments.
It would be nice if posters would characterize their opinions and speculations as what they are and not claim them to be factual when they're not. We have plenty of important stuff to debate without making things up.


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Posted by Terrence
a resident of University South
on Jul 24, 2014 at 1:39 pm

@PatrickD wrote:

"I feel like this message board is being astroturfed."

PatrickD, virtually all message boards are astroturfed. And why not? They have a ready-made, easily accessed and often unquestioning audience.


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Posted by context
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2014 at 2:02 pm

One hand clap,

"It would be nice if posters would characterize their opinions and speculations as what they are and not claim them to be factual when they're not. "

So there was a misunderstanding of one poster who thought the ARB is responsible for residential. It's been clarified, corrected.Getting back to what the ARB is responsible for or not responsible for, is the ARB able to do much to steer "style" in Palo Alto?

On the one hand they appear to say, they can only do so much with what the developer/ property owner presents. On the other, ARB members spend all their time defending these structures. Every approval seems to be a love fest ARB with the developers. By not having a public opinion about style, it's pretty clear that the ARB is steering style towards the developer style.

Is the conversation really about modern vs traditional? Of which centuries? Seems to include a futuristic rendition, where we look like one with our batteries. Does that make sense? Even movies make that look unappealing in the end.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 26, 2014 at 11:37 am

Any building that will be in the Alma / HSR corridor needs to be built to withstand the impact of the train going by. The impact will be substantial. Density near the tracks will be a mistake, unless the buildings incorporate more expensive requirements to offset the impact.
I suspect that is why the newest buildings on Alma in downtown look like fortresses. But you still do not know if that is superficial or incorporated into the actual building materials.
I was at an older hotel in Burbank near the Metro-link train and when that went by at mega speed it impacted the older building.

The ARB needs to project where things will be - where the train will be - and how much impact it will have on the are next to the tracks.


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