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Citizen Pundit's Old Ideas Create Delay, Hinder Palo Alto's Future

Original post made by JL on Dec 7, 2006

Doug Moran's condescending (to City Council) editorial in today's Palo Alto Weekly Web Link provides a good opportunity to compare the "new" Palo Alto, a city that is beginning to come to grips with changing times, in a way that's adaptive vs. the "old" Palo Alto, a city that took its good fortune for granted, thought the good times would last forever, and held itself back by submitting to the loud protests of small splinter groups that used public process and legal minutiae to paralyze progress.

Doug Moran 's ideas in the above article clearly represent the "old", fading version of Palo Alto's fast changing political and economic landscape.

In his latest op-ed, Moran's overly hypercritical and borderline mean-spirited prose again points an accusatory finger at Palo Alto's City Council for voting in favor of a development project on a property that is derelict- by comparison to most of Palo Alto. As a side dish, Mr. Moran takes an opportunity to insult the intentions of a local property developer, something that he has developed somewhat of a local reputation for.

Moran begins his latest missive by condescending to the entire Palo Alto City Council (not his first time) in a way that purports to give Council a lesson in negotiation principles. What's ironic about this is that Moran - however ineffectively - is pleading his case in a negotiation; he clearly wants to use his opporunity in print to affect an upcoming vote by Council on the project in question [195 Page Mill, next to the Caltrain tracks]. Yet, Moran seemingly forgets to consider that a principle component of negotiation is to refrain from belittling negotiation partners (in this case, those City Council members whose minds he is attempting to change). Moran's first misstep makes one wonder if he (Moran) should be giving negotiation lessons, or taking them.

If Mr. Moran is NOT forgetting the above-mentioned negotiation principles, one can only surmise that he is using his opportunity in print to raise personal visibility in what might be an upcoming attempt to run for City Council. This might indicate that his thrashing of the intentions of current, sitting Council members is meant to - by contrast through condemnation, lesson-giving, and condescention - place him in an elevated position in the mind of readers (many of whom vote) relative to sitting Council members. Either way, Mr. Moran's not-so-subtle and unsavory attacks on anyone who disagrees with him represent an "old" way of moving forward in local politics. Palo Alto needs more positive, uplifting voices.

In a way, I hope Moran does run for Council, because it will give Palo Altans an opportunity to get a good look at what "yesterday" looked like in Palo Alto (represented by Moran) as they (hopefully) reject "yesterday", and vote for "tomorrow".

About the project that Moran objects to: Sure, there have been manipulations engaged by the developer - no question. So, what's new? All development projects are a combination of optimizing financial leverage, timing, persistent, determined negotiation, give and take, shucking and jiving, etc. In sum, development projects almost always involve a battle between constrained parties - i.e. developers who want to maximize ROI, and municipalities who want to maximize public gain (and ROI). This is something that seems to - in this case - entirely escape Mr. Moran's perception.

What Doug Moran fails to realize is that there *has* been give and take in this process. In fact, a few weeks ago the developer, Mr. Hohbach, agreed during a Council session to even more concessions, as he agreed to increase the number of BMR (below market rate) units in the development.

In a skillful negotiation led by several Council members, those Council members in favor of the project made requests for one more concession in exchange for positive votes. It was a good moment for our City Council (even though four members disagreed, but unfortunately, they too been slammed by Moran's consistently broad and negative brush).

Moran wants to paint the the developer, Mr. Hohbach, as greedy and self-serving because he asked the city for concessions. This attribution of bad intention given to developers who are simply arguing for self-interest is the kind of misrepresentation about development, developers, and commercial progress in general that Mr. Moran and the fast declining number of Palo Altans that agree with him don't seem to understand. Commercial interests are agressively self-interested, and why shouldn't they be? It's those self-interested persons who are largely responsible for the wealth that Palo Alto has handsomely profited from.

Mr. Moran goes on to denigrate every concession that was made by the developer, as if not offering more was a sign of the evil-natured portrait of greed that Moran wants to paint of Mr, Hohbach. Moran's portrait of Mr. Hohbach is a sad personal attack, masquerading as populist appeal for fair play.

Moran even goes on to belittle the developer's plans for public art, because it doesn't quite meet his (Moran's) aesthetic, and then goes on on to use a specific example of one developer who abused the system in an effort to continue to paint his portrait of developers as greedy devils. Sadder still.

Moran then portrays the various ploys used by the developer to gain self-interest as "standard maneuvers". By implying that the latter is wrong, is somehow less than honest, Mr Moran again forgets that "maneuvers" are a part of a negotiation process, a way of getting one's way.

Moran then purports to give us his lesson on the fundamental meaning of zoning, claiming that zoning is a kind of holy grail of democratic "equal access" to landed opportunity. Give me a break, Mr. Moran!

Where have you been as zoning laws have been changed in a timely manner, or made to fit opportunity that would not otherwise grace a parcel of land? Please, Mr. Moran, take a trip to New York, San Francisco, some our smaller regional neighbors, or even here in Palo Alto to see how current zoning laws are made to fit opportunity, as long as there are concessions, and win-win in the balance. In fact, many members of the neighborhoods adjacent to this property support the Hohbach construction. At least two directors of the California Avenue Area Development Association also support this development.

Is there no benefit to the Hohback development? Mr. Moran would have us believe so. Has Mr. Moran taken the time to walk past the property on which Mr. Hohbach wants to build R&D and residential units? It's practically derelict, especially when compared to much of the rest of Palo Alto. The property in question is built out with WWII-era corrugated steel buildings, most abandoned.

I have walked by those properties many times in the evening, on a stroll, or on the way home - occasionally with neighbors (who are almost universally spooked by the demeanor of the current property in late evening). Unsavory characters live behind the buildings in the evening. Transients who live in their cars and vans gather near the spot. It's a derelict property that is practically a disgrace. Palo Alto Central is right down the street. If I was a parent living in that complex, I would fear for my children going out in the evening, given the look, threatening nature, and unsavory population that frequents the current property.

How many more years would Mr. Moran and those that support his latest quest to interfere with progress have those who live near this derelict property wait until it's developed? Should we wait another 2, 3, 4 or more years until a developer comes along that meets Mr. Moran's compulsively exacting standards? Should we wait ntil construction inflation has put the projected BMR requirement out of the question, or severely reduces it, forcing a less dense, less commercially and socially viable development?

What Mr. Moran forgets is that the property in question is adjacent to the California train station, an ideal place to insert small R&D and high density rental properties with significant BMR factor.

In fact, what Mr. Moran tries to portray as a taxpayer rip-off is a boon to taxpayers, as business and commercial residents of Mr. Hohbach's development will frequent nearby businesses, generating tax dollars for the city, and further diversifying the social profile of the naighborhood - all good things.

Mr. Moran further fails to see overbuilding via timely zoning manipulation as bringing any benefit at all. He uses rhetorical techniques that disingenuously marginalize the intentions of developers, attempting to paint a zero sum scenario that implies conceding benefits to a developer that exceed current zoning ordinance allows is an "illegal". Really? (even though our city attorney has given the current agreement his imprimatur - is Mr. Moran now adding perfect legal knowledge to his resume?).

Further, Mr. Moran goes on to say that Palo Alto is a built-out city. He couldn't be more wrong. Palo Alto continues to grow, with populations projected to 80,000+ by 2030, up from the current level of roughly 60,000 citizens (2000 census).

Mr. Moran's fantasy about Palo Alto's size constraints are yet another self-created cognitive barrier to thinking creatively in ways that will help our city grow.

Last, Mr. Moran presumes to know the assumptions and motivatiion of Council members in their decision-making, implying that they are naive in negotiation with the developer. In fact, it's Mr. Moran who is naive in this instance.

Mr. Hohbachs development will pay off handsomely to this community, as it adds needed rental housing _now_,; creates space for new IP-based businesses, and replaces a dangerous, run down, derelict series of corrugated steel shacks with a lively commercial/residential space. This is a good thing!

It's important to point out how wrong Mr. Moran is as he misses the mark in condemning Council. He has not shaken loose from his "old" Palo Alto thinking. He, and the (thankfully) declining number of Palo Altans that agree with him would use the minutiae of public process to create interminable delay, and thus manipulate process to gain their preference for stagnate ANY development (as they have in past years) that doesn't meet overly obsessive needs for some kind of mythical development perfection.

In closing his Op-Ed, Mr Moran plays the safe route by claiming that "bad decisions like this are easy for politicians to make". What hubris! Talk about condemning with a broad brush; Mr. Moran takes the cake. He tries to have it both ways, by claiming that bad decisiions today will not be encountered by today's politicians, when they are out of office tomorrow. This is perfect "Catch 22"-speak, and quite clever, as it insulates Mr. morann himself from being shown wrong. In fact, the same lack of long-term memory in the citizenry applies to all the wrong opinions he has held and promoted over the years. In making his statements that universally condemn our politicians, Mr. Moran takes on his familiar tone of subtly condemning in toto the intentions of all who disagree with him, as he propounds from on high.

In fact, Mr. Moran, and those that have helped him stop our city's progress in the past, have not had to account for _their_ failures, and the many tax dollars, disgraceful waste of public process, forced misuse of staff time, and lost useful progress that have been caused by his (and his supporters) ill-considered and short-sighted actions.

In a last attempt to use his print forum to gain populist appeal, Mr. Moran attempts to ingratiate Palo Alto citizens by pointing to their "over-busyness", as he positions himself into the role of public watchdog for the beleaguered citizens of this great community.

Please, Mr. Moran, forget about all the pedagogy on city process, "helping" us beleaguered citizens, your various myths about how cities grow, and your unsavory representations of developers, who are real people just like me and you.

Palo Alto is turning a new leaf; you're either with it, or not. If you're not, you (and those who agree with you) will be left behind, because as Palo Altans begin to get a taste of reality relative to the current state of development and constraint here, and how frustrating housing and other development over past years has nearly cost them their municipal future, they will begin - slowly and surely - to reject the kind of obfuscation represented by those who have helped to create the Palo Alto Process - i.e. those who would use the minutiae of public process and purposeful marginalization of anyone called a 'developer' to hurt the future of our city.

This project is good enough to meet city standards, In fact, that's what a majority of Council members and our City Attorney said at Council proceedings last week. My hope is that Council will see through Mr. Moran's transparent manipulations and attempt to shame through condescension, and vote to let Mr. Hohbach continue his development.

Last, I and many of my neighbors look forward to Mr. Hohbach breaking ground next spring, and replacing the unsightly and dangerous structures that currently lie in place with a refreshing new buiulding that will serve commercial and housing interests alike, and help take our city forward to the future. I look forward to being able to walk past Mr. Hohbach's development to hear the sounds of children playing, families living, and businesses creating. That's a standard that we can all be proud of.

Comments (55)

Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 7, 2006 at 12:29 pm

Unfortunately, both Moran and J.L. make valid points. It's quite true that developers use influence, subterfuge, and the use of hired guns to make specious arguments in attempt to sway the political decisions made by the City Council in their favor. But it's also true that no-growth zealots like Moran use the political influence and the available governmental processes to throw ridiculous roadblocks up even to very reasonable development.

The problem is that our system in Palo Alto is set up for this kind of conflict. Zoning restrictions are set so stringently that most reasonable development is prohibited. And at the same time, variances of the sort Hobach wants are handed out freely to favored developers. The result is that almost every building project becomes a political football in Palo Alto. No wonder both sides try to use the political process to their advantage.

We'd be much better off with a reasonable set of restrictions that were not subject to easy change by the Council. Everybody could have a say during the development of these restrictions - and then that's it. Developers would have to live under them - and so would the no-growth crazies like Moran. Then maybe the City Council could do something more productive - like pave the streets.


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 7, 2006 at 2:59 pm

Chris, You make some good points. I would like to add that making form rules that are not flexible re: development - from the perspective ofo both sides, citizens and developers - would not serve the general insterest in the long run.

Creativity that presents win-win solutions should have an opportunity to trump rules.

That said, I think the spirit of what you're trying to get it is better than the current system.

In the Hohbach case, the entire process has taken years, with construction inflation eating into profits. As certain neighborhood no-growth zealot like Moran get in to cause delays, developers become less and less flexible relative to their ability to make concessions.

Thus, I think another thing that we could do to speed this up is have better prepared advocates in house (City Hall) that have their ears closer to the ground in terms of citizen concerns. Right now, too many development projects come out of the chute as almost a complete surprise to citizens, who are often the last to know about pending development prior to official diligence. Incidentally, Palo Alto is not alone is having an application process like this. Something needs to be done to make the process less opaque, so that things get done faster.


Posted by Lori, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 7, 2006 at 10:19 pm

Anyone who writes in such an overwrought, emotional tone as J.L. does, is not in a
position to call other people zealots.
In fact, as I recall, J.L. conducted a personal vendetta against Moran
on another thread not long ago. There are not-so-subtle hints of the same
vendetta in this post.
J.L. got so abusive the newspaper had to remove some of his verbal vitriol.

The project at 195 Page Mill violates almost every zoning rule in the book. It even evaded some normal processes that other projects go through. The neighbors spoke and
submitted petitions to the council. If that is J.L.'s idea of progress, HE's a zealot.


Posted by A concerned resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2006 at 11:42 pm

I am concerned about large variances being given out to "connected"developers. Variances are changes in the rules and they should be given out to everyone in the neighborhood or even the entire city. The way they are currently given out is what you would expect in a "thirld-world" city where money can buy anything. The city has a history of "down-zoning" property where the owners don't have influence at city hall. I think this project also has a high sound wall which will reflect the train noise to the neighborhood across Alma St..


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 8, 2006 at 2:49 am

'Lori', No vendetta, just another perspective (that many people agree with, btw) on Doug Moran's opinions. Moran largely represents the fast-disappearing "old" way of Palo Alto thinking, that has needlessly wasted and delayed much of Palo Alto's municipal capacity, and future.

'Concerned', prove that Mr. Hohback is "connected". Show me the evidence. Until then, I suggest you try to abide by your elected representative's and city attorney's opinion in this matter. As for the sound wall, what you claim if far from necessarily true.

The Hohbach building is going to breath new life into a derelict strip of land; it's about time.


Posted by Janet, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 8, 2006 at 3:19 pm

1. Doug Moran is not from an "old school" of thought, just a school of thought different from J.L.'s. Even though the PA process can be long, it is respectful of differing opinions. It would be better for JL to have omitted his ranting and written solely on the basis of his disagreement with Doug Moran.

2. One could say there are two groups of people in PA. One group talks in terms of growth, and for some of these, they seem to want a lot of it. Another group has another vision for Palo Alto, little or slow growth, or no growth. These are both legitimate points of view. BTW the projected population growth is not inevitable, it significantly depends on the balance we strike in this debate!

3. One reason the slower or no-growth people seem to have diminished (I doubt this is true) is that some of us are just weary. I participated in the 800 High St. Referendum. I would have been fine with a vote against my view if it had been based on an honest campaign of true facts. However, the developer's campaign materials were full of misrepresentations and even photos with incorrect dimensions. The voters weren't really allowed to vote on the facts. Not to mention that he spent about $300,000. and we only spent $30,000. Money does buy elections, especially when the spin and hype are not true.
We are still there, J.L., but it's unfortunately difficult to have an honest debate.

4. Please, let's use facts and opinions in a way that honors those who disagree with us. If that happens and I am in the minority, then I'm satisfied with that.


Posted by We need development, a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 8, 2006 at 4:37 pm

It seems everytime the no growth crowd loses a costly election (that they forced upon us) regarding some development, they always eem to blame the developer, claiming that he spent too much money on the election and misled the voters.
Perhaps the voters are smarter than people like Janet think--maybe they were aware of the facts and voted for the development.
The problem is that no growth people [portion removed by Palo Alto Online] have been holding development in PA hostage because of their selfishness.
It is time for these minority voices to be silent and let progress finally come to our city.


Posted by Janet, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 8, 2006 at 4:50 pm

Wow! I think the voters are plenty smart. I think they deserve to vote on facts. Perhaps they did. In spite of the campaign. We are not selfish. We just have a diffeerent vision of Palo Alto than you do. Why should minority voices be silent? Is this a democracy? What are you saying here?! It's actually outrageous! You just want people who disagree with you to be silent? How about stating your case and then winning or losing gracefully, while honoring all the people, the concept of freedom of speech, and the notion of a democracy. Now, to digress from my own standards, you sound like a little kid who always wants to get his way! The process matters, my fellow citizen, and as adults we need to respect each other and work out compromise, muddling through our disagreements, and hoping everyone is thinking about the greater good, not just their own profit. Profit is fine, but not to the exclusion of many other considerations. Silence the minority?! Never! Who else would you like to silence?


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 8, 2006 at 7:53 pm

Janet, Read Moran's post again; it's written from "on high", and what's most amusing at a deeper level, Moran's article unwittingly contradicts itself. As for "two sides" to the development story, you're absolutely right. There are two sides. The problem with Moran is that the "other side" is always painted as "manipulative" or "greedy". The distortions painted by Maroan and others about dvelopers, and the intentions of developers, are often absurd, and not shy of hurtful. Read his Op-Ed again;put yourself in the place of a City Council member who voted to approve the 195 Page Mill application. Do you think Doug Moran's article will help turn them around? Be honest. The High St. development is going to be a _boon_ to that neighborhood, and be a catalyst for _more_ development. St. Michael's Alley is about to move over there; just watch that little corner of Palo Alto thrive. New Palo Altans want to see LOTS more people here, with great public transportation, with a dynamic, aggressive retail and service sector, etc. The Ace Hardware store management was against the High St. development to begin with; watch business in that little Mom and Pop accelerate. It's already beginning to boom from increased downtown residency. We need to get a grip on the need to _build_ houses and commercial infrastructure. Silicon Valley's salad days - especially the hegemony we've enjoyed for so long, is _gone_. We have to adapt, and we have to adapt _now_, or lose out. Moran represents a relatively small group of people (declining) that has used every trick in the book to make development here _expensive_. Look at the results of the anti-development crowd: insufficient housing - especialy low income housing; almost zero big box retail (look at the new Charleston complex with REI, etc., in Mt View - I'm jealous), decaying public infrastructure (for lack of revenue), etc. etc. All these things can be significantly traced to the "holier than thou" approach the anti-development crowd has been putting forward for years. I, for one, have finally had enough of this. I'm a neighborhood advocate, but tired of the extremist and condescending nature of the no-growth zealots. There are creative and proactive ways for neighborhoods to co-exist with big development. But the no-growthers won't step aside and let this city grow, so that it can thrive in the future. Again, this is not a big group in Palo Alto; it's probably no more than 100 people at its core, and they've had far too much influence relative to their real numbers. It's time to stop the nonsense and grow up. Palo Alto is going to grow. If the no-growthers won't step aside, they will get pushed aside by events. That's what's beginning to happen, and as it happens more and more, we'll probably see more articles like the one Moran just wrote - nasty little thrusts of condescension and condemnation representative of the writhing, dying throes of the dinosaur of Palo Alto's rabid anti-development crowd, just before it sinks for good, into the bog.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 8, 2006 at 7:53 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online] We, the residents of Palo Alto, have to pay to service those big developments such as the illegal one at 195 Page mill. Those 84 illegal housing units will cost the rest of us over $105,000/year in city services that won't be piad by the property owner (see Bern Beecham's Weekly column last month). Yes, it's illegal because it violates the zoning ordinance. That property is in the GM zone which expressly forbids housing. The zone change was made more than a year ago, Hobach was aware of it before it was approved, he had the option of asking to develop under the old GM(B) zone that did allow housing, and he voluntarily otped not to. JL should read the staff report that shows in Appendix B that 195 Page Mill violates 9 of 11 zoning and land use restrictions including density, lot coverage, FAR, setbacks on almsot all sides of the site, height, etc.

The excuse for approving 195 Page Mill was that SB1818 requires concession in zoning requiements for every 10% BMR units in a development. THe majority said we have to allow this because we have to give Hobach 2 concessions to the zoning requirement. In fact SB1818 specifically says that the concessions must be based on the zoning and land use in effect at the time the project is submitted. That zoning for the GM zone forbids housing, so the city is not required to give Hobachany of the approvals he got, or to approve a project that violates existing zoning.

If JL thinks Moran was negative about the project, he should have listened to the council meeting where Mayor Kleinberg, vice-mayor Kishimoto, and councilmembers Barton and Mossar strongly opposed approving something that violates the zoning ordinance, comprehensive plan, and rational land use.
Asking that a developer obey the rules is neither unreasonable nor short-sighted. We have a zoning ordinance - JL should read it some day. It was discussed and re-discussed for years. Many of us, and I include myself, worked actively with staff, the planning commission and council to try to get reasonable regulations and rules. The 195 Page Mill project violates almost all of them.

JL heaps praise on Hobach for agreeing to add 3 more BMR units, which made him eligible for a concession in the zoning and land use requirements. Hobach got something of great value, like higher FAR or more lot coverage or less setback, in exchange for reduced profit on 3 units. That wasn't a gift from Hobach to the community, it was a shrewd developer getting paid back in concessions for a minor loss of rental income.

Moran was much too mild in his column. What 5 members of the council did when they approved 195 Page Mill was irresponsible and very likely illegal. Approving that project was an insult to all who actually follow the laws and the rules and try to comply with regulations. When trash like 195 Page Mill is approved it cheapens the process, and discourages compliance with any reasonable level of performance by honorable developers.

JL is trying to excuse blunders and bad land use and unsatisfactory development by attacking people who call out the errors of council actions. He hopes that the gross blunders and lack of valid justification in the approval of 195 Page Mill will be overlooked if he just attacks the messenger. The community should be attacking those who enable violations of reasonable planning, land use and development, not those who identify such gross errors.


Posted by we need development, a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 8, 2006 at 7:58 pm

Janet: [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online] The voters decide--you lost--get over it (gracefully). You assume that the voters are just sheep, led along by the developer. hardly--I think the residents of PA are very intellingent and are able to separate fact from fiction.
As for silencing the minority--what is happeneing in PA is that a vocal minority is able to delay important decisions that have adversley affected the majority of PA citizens--that is why we lost the Hyatt on El Camino, the Albertsons at Alma Plaza and why Alma Plaza is still in the pipeline.
I hope that JL is correct and that things are changing in PA--I think we have reached a time when minority naysayers to every building and development in PA will no longer be able to dely, without end, progress in this city.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online]


Posted by Howard, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 8, 2006 at 8:01 pm

I just carefully read the city's materials on this project. I was particularly interested in what variances from the zoning regulations were granted. Doug Moran's opinion piece, and some other comments, made it sound like the variances were extreme -- in effect eviscerating the zoning regs. But after reading the city's materials, I don't think the variances are unreasonable. First, there is a height variance. The max height is 45 feet (I may not remember the absolute figure, but whatever it is, the building is 5 feet higher in one corner as described below). There is one corner of the building that has an air conditioning enclosure that is 5 feet above the max. The city architecture board wanted this additional structure there for aestheitc reasons. So the developer is in effect saying -- "OK, I'll put this additional structure on the roof, but let me exceed the height by a few feet in this one corner of the building." It does not seem unreasonable. Most of the building is actually well below the max height. Next, there are various setback rules that the building does not comply with. The city's analysis explains that, given the fact that this building is not next to residential property, or indeed any other substantial buildings, but rather is plopped down in a somewhat desolate tract next to the RR tracks, the whole issue of setbacks is kind of irrelevant. For example, the building has zero rear setback, and instead goes along the rear property line. Normally, this would be a flagrant violation. But in this case, it is along the RR tracks. There is a large amount of "green" space between the property line and the actual tracks, owned by the RR. So no harm done. This seems like preceisely the kind of circumstance that variances are made for. Next, there is the daylight plane. Again, the city points out that there are no adjacent residences that would benefit from observance of the daylight plane regulation. Again, the exception is reasonable. Finally, we have the lot coverage. The coverage is exceeded by some rather small percentage. The city ecplains that this is a design tradeoff between height and footprint. The developer has a lot of additional height to play with (not counting the corner that exceeds the height limit discussed above). But as a matter of aesthetics, the architectural board encouraged the broader coverage rather than the higher building. It had something to do with a better proportioned building. Once again, it seems OK. So I conclude that this is not a major undercutting of zoning regulations, but rather a routine example of the interplay between a number of design factos, where the role of variances plays a very salutory role. Maybe there are other reasons why this project is bad, but it is not because of any zoning issues.


Posted by Janet, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 8, 2006 at 9:44 pm

Howard,
I'm wondering why you left out FAR as one of the variances. My understanding is that the FAR is three times what is allowed by zoning. Doesn't this seem like sort of a big zoning issue? I read the city stuff too, but didn't get an answer to this question. Thanks.
I'm still wondering why people who disagree with " we need development" should keep quiet. I'm also wondering why he/she won't identify him/herself.


Posted by Howard, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 8, 2006 at 11:25 pm

The city report did not mention FAR, to my knowlege. If it is really three times what is allowed, that certainly calls for an explanation. Does anyone know?


Posted by Just So You Know, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2006 at 11:43 pm

This project didn't have any variances. It had been granted Design Enhancement Exceptions. Read CMR418-06's attachment yourself Web Link (page 5):


1. Project has mixed use, which is prohibited in the GM zone. DOES NOT CONFORM. Concession requested per SB 1818.


2. Floor area ratio. GM allows 58,486, project has 157,202 sq ft. DOES NOT CONFORM. Concession requested by SB 1818.


3. Parking. 366 spaces required, 293 provided with 9 spaces in "landscape reserve." DOES NOT CONFORM. 20% reduction for shared parking requested.


4. Building height 40 feet, plus 15 feet for mechanical screen (55 feet) allowed. 38'8" with mechanical screen up to 59'4" (4 feet over). DOES NOT CONFORM. Design Enhancement Exception requested.


5. Daylight plane. 10 feet at each side and rear lot line and an angle of 45 degrees required. Entire building length of both sides and rear encroach. DOES NOT CONFORM. Design Enhancement Exception requested.


6. Maximum Site Coverage. 47,237 sqft allowed, 51,729 sqft used. DOES NOT CONFORM. Design Enhancement Exception requested.


7. Front Setback. 20 feet required. 9 feet setback in design. DOES NOT CONFORM. Design Enhancement Exception requested.


8. Rear Setback. 10 feet required. 0 feet setback in design. DOES NOT CONFORM. Design Enhancement Exception requested.


9. Street Side Setback. 10 feet for the first story, 19 feet for the second and third stories required. 6 feet setback provded. DOES NOT CONFORM. Design Enhancement Exception requested.

What other projects will now ask for similar "Design Enhancement Exceptions"? If they had been called variances and the standard variance process followed, that would be one thing. But "Design Enhancement Exceptions" of such magnitude and so many of them, is a problem of consistency.


On September 11, 2006, the City Council voted to initiate the process of applying Pedestrian and Transit-Oriented Development (PTOD) Zoning to this parcel. See item 10 Web Link pages 7 and 9. The vote was 7 (Barton, Beecham, Drekmeier, Kishimoto, Klein, Kleinberg, and Mossar) in favor and 2 (Cordell and Morton) against.


On November 24, 2006, the City Council approved the project at 195 Page Mill Road by 5 votes (Beecham, Cordell, Drekmeier, Klein, and Morton) in favor and 4 votes (Barton, Kishimoto, Kleinberg, and Mossar).


It is therefore reasonable to wonder why Beecham, Drekmeier and Klein voted to initiate the rezoning to PTOD on September 11, 2006 and then voted on November 24, 2006 to approve a project that did not conform to PTOD and had so-called Design Enhancement Exceptions that should have really been variances.


What changed in this project and the site during those dozen weeks between those two votes?


Posted by Howard, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 8, 2006 at 11:54 pm

I am confused, because the link that you post is not consistent with the following: Web Link


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 9, 2006 at 12:08 am

Current scene: corrugated steel buildings, mostly abandoned, with dangerous hunks of scattered metal junk, transients and other undesirables present.

The Hohbach project promises a nice group ofo spanking new R&D offices, with almost 100 living units above the offices, a nice interior court, close to mass transit, and most importantly _people_ who live and work there; _people_ who will shop nearby; _people_ who will pay taxes and enhance our community with their diverse presence.

btw, this project also gained approval from the PA Architectual Board. It's a nice project.

Howard, looks like your good information just blew "Bob's" argument out of the water. In fact, what the objections to this project are _really_ all about is that the some portion of the anti-development movement didn't get time to nitpick it to death; to force redesign after redesign after redesign (as construction inflation eats up profits, and build options); to use the minutiae of zoning regulations and other city ordinances that waste taxpayer dollars (all the way to forcing a housing development on the ballot, for heaven's sake!); to frustrate developers that become the target of ugly threats, de-personalization, etc. etc.; to simply have their way.

The High St. development is a great example of how the anti-development crowd can get it wrong. It's a wonderful project, adding to the urban quality of life in our city.

The anti-developers have managed to use their hypercritical intimidation tactics, near-obsessive reading and interpretation of city code, and a constant presence at city council meetings to have their way. Sorry guys, game over! You may win one or two going forward (maybe even the 195 Page Mill project - although I doubt it), but the trend is swinging away from those who see municipal development and politics as their personal hobby horse, and claim to power.

As it is, the developer made a number of concessions along the way on that property. Does he get credit for from Doug Moran, "Bob", "Janet", etc.? No way - because the property doesn't meet _their_ standards. To them I say "buy some property, so you can develop it the way you want", but leave others who want to do the same, mostly alone.

Most of the developers I know really care about this city; they're not perfect, nor do they always get it right the first time. But we need to start working in a cooperative way with developers, while making an effort to understand the fiscal reality of development.

Bob's note about the project costing the city $105K annually is - once one looks at the project in terms of cost benefit - flat wrong. Tell me, Bob, what's the opportunity cost of waiting to develop on that property in 4-5 years, when whoever develops that property will be forced to build _less_ units? The tax and other revenue that will derive from 195 Page Mill will far outweigh any drain on city services, and help get that part of Park Blvd. back in business. What's that worth?

Palo Altans - especially the new Palo Altans, quickly climbing into the majority - want dynamic retail (including big box), affordable housing, great mass transit, a sufficient tax base to pay for services, a heathly environement (that developers should be held partially accountable for), good schools (run competently), and so on. 195 Page Mill, although it's not perfect, is a very good development - well thought out, and _wanted_ by local citizens and merchants. I can't wait to see it completed.

Our City Council did the right thing to approve this project, and my hope is that they will put their final imprimatur on ot next Monday.

In a few years, I would see to heat Doug Moran, "Bob", etc. walk into that project and talk to the businesses and people who are using it, then take a walk around the neighborhood to see how much more invciting and friendly it is.


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 9, 2006 at 12:23 am

"Just so you know" says..." "What other projects will now ask for similar "Design Enhancement Exceptions"? If they had been called variances and the standard variance process followed, that would be one thing. But "Design Enhancement Exceptions" of such magnitude and so many of them, is a problem of consistency." "

Consistency? You're barking up the wrong tree. How about "creativity"? How about giving a policy making board (Council) an opportunity to be "creative"? How about that? Take a look at the diligence that was done on 195 Page Mill. Name even _one_ big project that doesn't receive variances - one. What's so horrible about the fact that this one received more than a few, _especially_ given the uniqueness of the site (practiaccly a derelict propert, back up to RR tracks, no light plane constraints, etc. etc.

I respectfully disagree with the Council members (in the minority) who voted against the project, because there is a greater community benefit to be gained by constructing this development (with a few remaining iimprovements promised by Hohbach), than there is by not letting it go forward. Here's hoping some of them will see the big picture, and change their vote to enlarge the minority.

All said, there is a need to better define the "rules of the game", but let's not define them in a way that gives more opportunity for the anti-development crowd to stop this city from getting where it has to go to be competitive and viable in the 21st century.


Posted by we need development, a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 9, 2006 at 7:05 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online]


Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2006 at 8:55 am

This thread is a palimpsest of the Palo Alto process - and an object lesson on why we need reforms of our zoning and development regulations that would remove most development projects out of the political arena.

I express no opinion on the Hobach project itself. But it's clear that this is another in a long line of examples of a developer finding he needs exceptions from the rules to build sensibly on his parcel. And so, he does all of the bad things you no-growthers allege to influence the outcome. And the no-growthers use similar tactics and influence to throw sand in the gears. And we end up with big political fights over almost every individual project - most recently and painfully exemplified by the 800 High Street election.

The rules we have now are vestiges of those set when the 'residentialist' anti-development faction controlled the city. They do make it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to develop commercial property profitably. (Otherwise, developers wouldn't spend so much money trying to get around them.) Janet likes this state of affairs. But the results of the 800 High street election, for example, gives strong support to J.L.'s argument that her vision of Palo Alto is no longer shared by a majority of residents.

Wouldn't we be better off if we had our fight over what kind of city we wanted on first principles and use them to pass a reasonable set of building rules that were MUCH more difficult to get around? Wouldn't it be better to let the factions represented by J.L. and janet fight it out and then we all - developers and no-growthers - live with the resuts, rather than fighting each and every project tooth and nail, one-by-one? This isn't good for our city: look at the acrimony and name-calling in this thread caused by arguing over only one particular project!

As commenter 'concerned resident' above says, "Variances are changes in the rules and they should be given out to everyone in the neighborhood or even the entire city. The way they are currently given out is what you would expect in a "third-world" city where money can buy anything. The city has a history of "down-zoning" property where the owners don't have influence at city hall." He's quite right: the system we have now corrupts all those who participate in it, and our city is worse off for it.



Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2006 at 9:32 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online]


Posted by Sheri, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2006 at 11:18 am

As one who has been interacting with Mr. Hobach on this project for several years, let me respond to some of everyone's comments:

"Current scene: corrugated steel buildings, mostly abandoned, with dangerous hunks of scattered metal junk, transients and other undesirables present."

True, and we need housing there, but the "something is better than nothing" attitude is a dangerous one. The potential to create a forward-thinking, integrated live/work/retail complex there is great. The proposed project is not.

"As it is, the developer made a number of concessions along the way on that property."

What concessions? 4 extra BMR units? For a project way out of compliance? Mr. Hobach was repeatedly encouraged by the City to follow the PTOD standards and by the residents to modify the structure to break up the 400-foot monolithic structure. With all due respect to Mr. Hobach, he repeatedly refuse to modify any but the most minute details of the design.

"The rules we have now are vestiges of those set when the 'residentialist' anti-development faction controlled the city. They do make it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to develop commercial property profitably. (Otherwise, developers wouldn't spend so much money trying to get around them.)"

Given that we're in the midst of the Zoning Ordinance Update, the rules are hardly vestiges. Developers want to–understandably—maximize their profits; that's the reason for trying to get around zoning laws.

The Planning Department does not often reject a project. It is therefore disconcerting to have the Council overturn its experts (Planning Dept & Planning Commission) on a project that so egregiously violates the rules. The threat by a developer to sue or walk away if he does not get his way should be stood up to by Council, not acquiesced to.

Mr. Hobach is a very nice man, and I applaud his willingness to build rental housing, but he is also a very savvy businessman who has chosen the path of building only what he wants, not necessarily what is in the best interests of the City.

And let's have some civility here. Those of us who favor SLOWER growth are not anti-growth, but are advocating for well-thought-out intergarted growth of residential AND retail AND commercial. We need the balance or we'll have no retail/commercial space to support the residential services.


Posted by Just So You Know, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2006 at 11:28 am

There is nothing wrong with granting a developer variances as part of a regular development approval process. The problem is when concessions that should be variances are instead considered "Design Enhancement Exceptions." There is a process for granting variances, but that process was not followed for this project. And that's a problem, whether you like this project or not.


Posted by Just So You Know, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2006 at 11:37 am

Howard, your link (the City Manager's Report for City Council Agenda of December 11) is based on the vote taken on November 24, 2006. See Web Link for details on that meeting, as the minutes are not yet available.


Posted by Just So You Know, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2006 at 11:43 am

I think the following excerpts from the Weekly article sum up the feelings of those opposed to this project.

But Kleinberg said the apartments are not a reason to support a project that does not comply with city zoning regulations.

"As much as I would like to support a mixed-use project with rental units, I can't make the leap," she said.

"I don't think we should be jumping through this many hoops to approve a project that is out of conformance," she added.


Posted by Howard, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 9, 2006 at 1:16 pm

Re "Howard, your link (the City Manager's Report for City Council Agenda of December 11) is based on the vote taken on November 24, 2006."
I still don't get it. How could a council vote cause the FAR exception that you refer to (which I agree seems to be a huge exception) not even be mentioned in the latest council package, whereas the other exceptions (height, setback, etc.) are dealt with in detail?


Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2006 at 2:58 pm

Sherri, you make good points, and I don't necessarily disagree about your desire for "Balance" in future development. My only point is that this balance should be the result of a rational process in which all sides have their say - and then the resulting zoning and building standards should be more rigorously adhered to than they are now.

Currently, much of our development is completely ad hoc. Each project is fought over by developers and the (slow-, no-, anti-..you choose your label)growth crowd. Because there are so many exceptions to the rules, the rules really don't have any effect.

Maybe our current rules do make sense (I don't think so personally), but if they do, we should force everyone to adhere to them. If they don't make sense - or if they don't reflect the sentiments of the community - they should be changed. And then we should all have to live with them. We'd have a much more rationally-planned city - and much less conflict among groups.

What we have now is a system that's bound to produce not only conflict, but tremendous risk of corruption of the process as each side attempts to influence the political process to its advantage.


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 9, 2006 at 3:04 pm

Chris makes some good points, we should be creating a new set of rules that help as "general" guuidelines, with *built in flexibility*. Tthe latter is a necessity for community, and good devleopment.

As an aside, we lost somethingn in America when zoning was implemented back in the early part of the last century (I think the first zoning regs were put into effect in NYC). What has happened since then is the rise of "planning" as a profession, disconnected from the larger vision that a city can realize, base on Chris' "first principles".

I entirely endorse what Chris is saying; in fact, I've lobbied for the same things here, and elsewhere - mostly to no avail). In a very real way we're not being comprehensive *enough* in our vision for Palo Alto. A general set of rules *with built-n flexibility* is the way forward, but it won't happen until policy makers start listening to people with a vision of our municipality that makes sense given what most future trend lines are portending. Of course, this begs the question of whose vision we're talking about, and what trends whoever is making whatever argument is attending to.

That said, it all boils down to LEADERSHIP. I'm so far impressed with the current Council onits straightforward focus, and willingness to begin to mesh policy with where this city appears headed *within the context of regional trends*.

Finally, the Hohbach property is a VAST improvement over what currently exists on that site. The fact that it isn't broken up may actually be a _good_ thing for both facing neighborhoods.

Aesthetically, I don't feel that enough creativity has been brought to bear from either side on some of the things that appear to be the most contentious. the fact that the property isn't broken up has not been approached from the perspective of being a _good_ thing.

Moran and others have tried to shout it down based on some antiquated idea of what the "good" in architecture is, without (as usual) considering that others may have valid ideas.

All that said, there is probably no appeasing Moran and the steadily declining few specifically still left in his camp. They can be approached, but in my experience (watching them work for years), they are mostly intransigent, and an example of the more extreme and strident side of the no- or slow-growthers here. They use stridency and finger wagging to shame, and public process to cause interminable delay (wastig tax dollars in the mix).

What's needed here is a more measured voice and tone, some leaders who are more aware of the larger view of development, and have a more congenial manner. Moran needs to tone down his invective, or get called on it; then, he and his followers have to be willing to sit down with people who disagree while trying to understand the development issue from a perspective from other than their own. A meeting somewhere in the middle is possible.

That said, if something like this doesn't happen, then Moran and the rabid no-growthers that agree with him will simply be marginalized and left behind. This city is going to change and grow and develop and most importantly, adapt.


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 9, 2006 at 3:10 pm

oh, and by the way, why isn't this thread on the main board, certainly the topic asnd number of posts warrent it as a viable community issue, with multiple opinions expressed in detail. Tyler?


Posted by Just a citizen, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 9, 2006 at 4:01 pm

J.L., do you own property or have any financial interests in the area around 195 Page Mill?


Posted by we need development, a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 9, 2006 at 4:36 pm

Sorry Janet, but my response to you was removed by the editors (censors) of this forum--apparently it was not genteel enough for sensitive PA residents.
So to rehash in a manner that may be acceptable to purveyors of good taste--Most people on this forum and other blogs do not identify themselves--that is our choice.
I am not saying that you should keep silent, you should have your say and then allow the process to move on. Look at 800 High Street--you lost in the city council, you forced a costly special election and lost--now the 800 High Street development is a positive for that area. The hardware store owner that threatened to close up shop and leave town is still in business- a thriving one now that there all these new residents in the area.
The problem is that certain people use the PA process to delay and nitpick every project--that is why the city is losing tax revenue and some of it's service are in a bad state (street repairs, library etc.)--becuase they are anti-development--any development. It is time to speed the process up. I thin we are heading in the right direction.

There, is that more acceptable, Tyler????



Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 9, 2006 at 7:07 pm

"Just a Citizen", I live in a neighborhood that adjoins the Page Mill project. I and most of my neighbors are really excited aobut seeing it developed, and we're mostly pleased with the Hohbach development. Sure, there will be some trade-offs, but the building design and mixed use are more than acceptable.

I've watched Mr. Hohbach walk the Palo Alto Process gauntlet on this project - as I've watched other developers on other projects; it's disgraceful what we put _anyone_through that; how isi a developer supposed to make a profit if every project is challenged to a faretheewell, until all but the most marginal profits are wrung out of it? It's even more disgraceful that just a relative few voices are able to cause so much delay. (they do have a right to speak; I welcome their voices, no matter how how seemingly misguided)

I think we're going to see a LOT more people coming out to challenge the extreme no-growthers like Doug Moran.

Heck, even though we're beginning to see challenges to our wonderful services, for lack of revenue, this no growth crowd seems to have no answers - they think that keepig population down will keep services from being pressured; with respect, that's retro thinking - this city is _growing_. I've had it with the delays they've caused, and how they've already compromised our future.

Look at Alma Plaza, Edgewood, etc. What a mess! Why? Because a small group of people "want it their way". Enough! From now on, we're going to elect Council members whho understand and have a measured sense of growth, who are capable of hearing both sides, but who are not swayed by the loud voices of a few who are well-meaning (and too often strident in their tone), but whose actions limit our future

and,

"We need development", I agree 1000% - spread the word!


Posted by Just a citizen, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 9, 2006 at 7:18 pm

Thanks to Just So You Know for some facts rather than anger and insults.
I can figure out where most of the writers are coming from but one relevant fact is missing.
J.L. do you own property or have any financial interests in the area around 195 Page Mill?


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 10, 2006 at 12:05 am

Just a Citizen, How about telling us where you live, and what financial interests you have in the area, if any. My answer is above.

And, please chill with the "holier than thou" innuendos about "anger and insult". Anger is a healthy emotion when directed toward action instead of bitterness (the latter is corrosive). If you're afraid of anger, you're afraid of life. Anger, properly channeled, leads to constructive action, and change. Beleieve me, there are a LOT of angry Palo Altans out there who are sick and tired of seeing their city hijacked by less than 100 hobby horse Council-goers.

They're starting to take action in the housing sector, education, transportation, commerce, and other areas. Watch them, as they start to turn this city around, away from "preciousness" and more toward real progress.

btw, if you want to see some real bitterness, re-read Doug Moran's Op-Ed in last Wednesday's Weekly. Moran is bitter about a development project that has run to the end of the "Palo Alto Process" line, in spite of his and a few others efforts to scuttle it.


Posted by Carol, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2006 at 10:30 am

"Old Palo Altans" like Janet and Doug are the people who voted for and passed the bond issues giving Palo Alto the infrastructure without which developers couldn't make the profits that are driving this hyperconstruction.

Developers don't pay into Palo Alto's fund at a rate sufficient to replace those structures at today's appreciated land values, nor do they pay at a rate that covers maintaining structures built with yesterday's taxes.

Recent development has degraded our roads (especially with the new enormous machinery), filled up our dumpsters, added traffic, polluted our air, and damaged the baylands.

All new development is a tax on existing development. Residential and office development don't pay their fair share of the costs they impose. It's a hidden subsidy, provided by Staff and City Council.

Children are already being sent to elementary schools not in their neighborhoods. Not for special programming; just for bad planning. Spot zoning has provided expansion where there were no facilities to accommodate it.

For those who are interested only in the Palo Altans who will come to live here, not those who already do, fair enough. Don't you think those of us who care about the residents already here should be excused from paying a subsidy to developers who build environmentally destructive, over-size projects in the wrong place? I don't want to pay for or live in your Brave New World. At the very least, Palo Alto should oppose an assessment on each building that is indexed for inflation, covers all its costs to the community, and goes with the property indefinitely.

Suppose every new over-sized development means fewer votes for the next bond issue? I like cities; I like towns. I don't enjoy towns that have all the noise, pollution and violence of cities without any of the complexity and color.


Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2006 at 11:35 am

Carol's concern that costs imposed on the city by new development be supported by revenue primarily generated by that new development is valid. However, she seems to engage only in wild unsupportable suppositions concerning the costs and benefits of new development. Developers pay substantial fees - and I wonder if any real cost-benefit study has been done to see if what Carol worries about is true. And she doesn't even consider the benefit of (some kinds of) development. One might just as reasonably speculate that the no-growthers like Carol have cost the city needed revenue by keeping out tax-generating businesses like big box stores and auto dealers that have gone to neighboring cities instead.

A bigger cause for the infrastructure degradation Carol rightly complains about than 'over'development is poor management by the city. Recently there was a city report about newly paved streets being dug up and patched for utility replacement = a common situation in Palo Alto that could be avoided with only a little coordination and planning. Carol might also have asked herself why she and other "old Palo Altans" haven't kept their eye on the ball better as city employees loot the treasury for lavish retirement and benefit plans, leaving nothing left for infrastructure improvements, let alone Palo Alto's cherished programs and amenities.


Posted by Just a citizen, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2006 at 12:08 pm

>please chill with the "holier than thou" innuendos about "anger and insult"
Sorry if I appear "holier than thou" In your case, it's just too easy.
I do not live near the project and have no financial interest in it. Apparently you do. Yes, it does matter.


Posted by Howard, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2006 at 4:01 pm

This is further to my comment above regarding the reasonableness of the variances that the city has granted to this project. I dealt with height, setbacks, and lot coverage, and tried to reason them out. A comment from "Just so you know" pointed out that: (1) I ignored the fact that the FAR (floor-to-area ratio) was three times the max alowed; (2) the zoning did not allow mixed use; and (3) these were not variances, but rather design enhancement exceptions (DEE), which is subject to lower standards (and, therefore, more objectionable if you are opposed to the project in the first place; and harder to defend if you are in favor). I went back and looked into this, and I adhere to my conclusion that this is an example of the city council making a reasonable decision. In response to the three points in reverse order: (III) Taking the last point first, the difference between variance and DEE is a procedural difference that is not important to this analysis. I was looking at these exceptions by applying my basic understanding of the standards for granting variances, or more basically the standards that reasonable people use when deciding whether or not to grant an exception to any rule. The exceptions in this case appear pretty reasonable, and as far as I am concerned that is the end of it. Now, it appears that there is a certain school of thought in Palo Alto that thinks, "If a developer wants an exception, no matter how resaonable, we should nevertheless use that fact as leverage to either block the development althogether, or at least extract max concessions." I actually have some sympathy for the "extract concessions" approach. And indeed, in this case, some good concessions were extracted. The size of the project was whittled down considerably. And additional below-market units are now thrown in. (II) As to the second point, the zoning in effect when this project was first applied for allowed mixed use. It did not allow R&D as one of those uses, but rather other business uses (e.g., stores), plus residential, including appartments. During the time that this project was winding its way through the process, the council changed zoning for this area to bar housing (in order to keep Frys Electronics at its nearby location). But the council specifically grandfathered this project, given that it was already applied for. This is a standard approach and beyond reasonable criticizm. So the only issue is, should the mixed use include R&D? I don't think the R&D aspect is what is controversial here. The issue is the number of apratment units, and the zoning exceptions. To me, the allowance of R&D is not a big issue. There are plenty of stores nearby at California Ave. so this is not like some of the other areas of Palo Alto that have lost stores to housing. (I) the last point was the FAR exception. I had missed it before because it is not even mentioned in the latest report to the council. But the reason is that under new state law, any developer who offers sufficient below market housing in a project is entitled to one zoning "concession," independent of the DEE or variance process. So that's how the FAR issue got resolved. Neither the council, Mr. Moran, or anybody else really have anything to say in the matter insofar as that concession is concerned. In sum, I think the project is OK and should be approved.


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 10, 2006 at 4:41 pm

Just a Citizen - - it's unfortunate that you first, by implication, attempt to paint those that disagree with you as "insulting", and then when they ask you to stop, you insist on continuing to do the very thing that you accuse others of - more on that in a minute.

btw, I have no financial interest in this project; none other than yours, and all Palo Altans - that is namely that Palo Alto will _gain_ revenue from this project; we will _gain_ social diversity; we will gain "people on the street" where there was once a derelict property; we will ALL _gain_ as the property acts as a further catalyst for nearby growth; we will gain as the people who use that space pay taxes, etc. etc. This will all profit YOU, citizen "Just" :)

Yes, that's right, it will profit YOU, whether you like it or not. So, please, try not to be bitter, even as your city improves around you, in spite of every attempt by those you agree with to stop progress and growth in a city too long held hostage to a small group of no-growth zealots.

That said, there's another thing I want to point out about "Just's" post; it's important, and not meant at all towards personalization. It's rather an observation that was pointed out to me a few years ago, and got me thinking about the rather small, rabid anti-development core of citizens here who study city code like there's no tomorrow, and use city process to cause delay, financial loss, waste staff time (and our tax dollars), and risk our city's future in the mix.

Most of this group means well, and some of their beliefs about urban growth actually have some merit. Beyond that, the vitriol that they have served up to developers, business owners, and city staff over the years is really something to behold. IN fact, a large part of what is now infamously called the "Palo Alto Process" is directly due to just a few citizens, many in this core group of anti-growth zealots who have used every trick in the legal and procedural book to have their way with housing, trasportation, commercial growth, etc. etc. The other part of this is that past City Councils didn't have the challenges that this one does. IN gathering focus toward dour real revenue constraints, this city Council has decided to startt looking past the luxury of pleasing everyone, and interminable delay, and get things done. Bully for them! This has really made the controlling no-growth people (roughly 100 of them) very bitter. You can see this bitterness play out at city council meetings.

I wish more Palo Altans had the time to attend City Council meetings. I rarely do, but manage to watch then on TV when certain issues are discussed. I was watching when the last decision about the property in question was discussed and voted on.

Many citizens spoke on the matter; there was a clear difference between those who favored the project, and those who didn't.

In general, those who favored the project expressed _why_ they favored it - from wanting to have an affordable place to live in, to being able to have access to small office space nearby public transport, to wanting to see the surrounding neighborhood saved from the unsavory nature of the current structure, and those who congregate around it, and so on.


In general, those who were against the idea of this property were condescending to the developer, accusatory in tone to Council, even threatening in some of their remarks that predicted dire legal actions of the project went on to approval. In fairness, there were some people who had genuine concerns about the size of the wall, but even those citizens wouldn't buy in when it was pointed out that the reality of audio physics doesn't at all coincide with their fears.

A good discussion followed, and a vote resulted in approval.

Then, the following week, another zealous no-growther spoke in a way that directly threatened the city with a lawsuit. That speaker was aggressive, threatening, and accelerating his bitterness and anger to a point that, when his three minutes was up, it made one wonder what possible persuasive effect his rant could have had on Council. Maybe it did have an effect, but I would hope not. His message was almost extortion - i.e. "vote 'yes' on this project, and I will sue the city". Of course, he had a right to say that, but his comments were _very_ similar to ones that I have seen in Council meetings over the years from many of the _same_ core group of people, Doug Moran among them.

There is a hostile, threatening, condescending tone to emmanated by this small group of no-growth zealots. They speak and act like they know more than Council, our city attorney, city staff, consultants, etc. etc.

As well, _they_ are not held accountable for wasted, time, process, and monet wasted as one city staffer and developer after another is brought to his knees with overwork, or lost profit - just to satisfy demands that usually don't mean a thing.

I wish someone could do a study of all that this group has _cost_ our city in lost opportunity, delay, etc. etc. I also wish we could do a study that shows how projects - housing and commercial - that this group has worked to defeat, and failed, have ultimately profited out city and citizens. Of course those studies will never be done, because this small group of zealots, Doug Moran among them, are insulated from accountability.

There's a difference between civil disagreement and outright abuse of process that this group has yet to learn. What's ironic about all this is that the end runs made by developers in so many projects are a direct result of doing everything necessary to avoid the extreme no growthers, as they use city process to have their way, no matter the cost to fellow citizens, or commercial interests who have (and continue) to go down the road to make their profits.

Hopefully, we're seeing the last gasp from the extreme no growthers, and will begin ti see a more ordered, civil group of neighborhood interest that looks at both sides of an issue, with better-written rules of constraint, and our city will finally begin to progress


Posted by Just a citizen, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2006 at 6:54 pm

J.L. says >> I was watching when the last decision about the property in question was discussed and voted on.
That's funny, I was sure I saw you on TV speaking to the Council that night, favoring the project. There weren't that many in favor and there were many neighbors against it. Not a group, just regular people who felt it was a bad oversized project.
You expressed the same ideas there as you do here. If it wasn't you, it must have been one of the silent majority whose cause -- more big development -- you represent.


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 10, 2006 at 8:32 pm

I haven't been to a Council meeting in months! :) Are you taking notes? :) I love your characterization of the group that objected to the project; it's laughable, and quite inaccurate. And yes, there is a slinet majority in Palo Alto, tired of a relative few controllingi their future that is going to crush the extreme anti-development crowd. Get used to losing, and watching the rest of Palo Alto win for a change! :)


Posted by Carol, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2006 at 9:47 am

Correction: I meant to write that the City should impose, not oppose, an assessment on developments to cover the environmental costs they impose on residents in the future. Residential development produces no sales tax. The first year, the fees cover staff costs. After that it's all downhill. The City's share of property tax is negligible.

Chris, if you're my neighbor across the street, you've seen the big rigs tear up our street and knock branches off our trees. Lucky you - the damage was all on our side. Walk across the street and look at the potholes. Or ask for the City Auditor's report. It's so good that she was asked to apologize publicly for embarrassing staff.

Start a new thread about government. This one is about Doug Moran's Op-Ed. The Palo Alto Weekly did a great job on the Utilities Department and the ongoing coverup by the City. I believe the Council's response was to give Frank Benest a raise? You could call it "A Fish Rots from the Head."

Anyway, JL makes it too difficult to find anything of interest here, so knock on the door, and I'll give you my copy of the reports.


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 11, 2006 at 11:32 am

Laughable. Residential developoment produces no sales tax? Tell me, Carol, do residents shop? Do R&D facilities stimulate local economy? Time for a reality check.

Your post is a perfect example of the shortsightedness of the extreme no-growth crowd, in that there's a tendency to spew criticism and invective in all directions - toward anyone on city staff, or towards Council, or wherever - just because you can't have your way. You're globalizing the argument, dragging the city manager into the mix, City Council. The sky isn't falling Carol, just look up.

Also, look again at your post above, it has almost nothing relevant to the issue at hand.


Posted by Janet, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 11, 2006 at 12:18 pm

Here are John Barton's comments on why he can't approve this project. He is a strong affordable housing advocate, as well as an advocate of good mixed use development. It is reasonable to be against this project. It is not about being no growth or from any "old school". It's about whether this project is compliant with our zoning, and whether it's a good project. This project would even exceed the FAR of PTOD zoning, if that were the zoning here, which it isn't. It's not good planning. Let's advocate for changing the zoning in that area to what is good for Palo Alto, and then allow project that are compliant with the zoning. Watch John Barton yourself: Web Link


Posted by Janet, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 11, 2006 at 12:26 pm

And here are Judy Klienberg's comments. She is also a strong supporter of affordable housing and mixed use development in that area. This project is just too "out of compliance" on too many points.
Web Link


Posted by we need development, a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 11, 2006 at 12:39 pm

Please post links to comments by the council members that voted in favor of this project. Why just post the comments from the losing side?
Even though this is a democracy and the majority voted in favor of the project, I guess some people are hoping that they can still ge their way--maybe a lawsuit or a ballot measure. or we could bring in more consultants and discuss the issue for another 3-4 years. The, I am sure some people are hoping, thatthe developer will get fed up and abandon the project, so that the site can be derelict for another few years.


Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Carol, I indeed am your neighbor I believe, and I don't think we necessarily disagree on the principles involved. Like you, I do think developers should pay for the incremental costs they impose on the rest of us, whether those costs are infrastructure damage or increased traffic. My only point is that these costs, while real to be sure, need to be quantified and offset by whatever benefit a particular project provides before we can issue blanket statements that new development isn't paying the fair share of costs. I believe this point is related to the Moran Op-ed and to this thread as its developed.

To the extent you blame infrastructure degradation on new development, I believe it is also an apposite point. While the large equipment you complain of does its share of damage, a much bigger culprit is the absence of adequate maintenance, and poor planning by the various city agencies who alternatively pave and then tear up the same blocks with no heed to the damage they do. I believe the auditor's report to which you refer makes this clear. I don't recall the auditor blaming developers - but rather city staff (and inferentially the Council and us voters for letting this state of affairs develop.)

On the topic we seem most to agree on, I will gladly be the first name on your petition demanding removal of Benest from any position at City Hall.


Posted by Anonymous Coward, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 11, 2006 at 5:48 pm

John Barton and Judy Kleinberg's remarks were well expressed, and valid points of view. Where I come down in disagreement with them is that the project is - overall and on balance - a good project, and one that _will_ benefit the neighborhood, and adjacent neighborhoods.

In all, I think that's the intangible that was mostly missed by those voting against. There are many, many projects that break rules, but still add to community. That's the case with this project, so I hope ouru City Council will finish with this by putting a final "yes" vote on it this evening.

J.L has made some great points, so have others - but Carol, I respectfully disagree with what you say about Frank Benest. I think it's unfair to drag him into this issue, and so many people in twon are wont to do when things don't go their way. It's too much in the mold of sour grapes.


Posted by Howard, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2006 at 8:38 pm

The majority of the council adhered to their decision to allow this project to go forward. They made the right decision. This is NOT an example of ignoring zoning or one person getting around zoning -- it is an example of the process working, with snesible exceptions allowed where warranted.


Posted by David, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 12, 2006 at 1:34 pm

J.L. writes about the "old Palo Alto" and the "new Palo Alto." I didn't realize that Donald Rumsfeld had moved here. I know nothing about the details of the project under discussion. But I do know that impugning the motives of your opponents on a board convinces nobody and just leads to more and more noise. Best regards, David


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 12, 2006 at 2:00 pm

David, Well said, except for the Rumsfeld reference, unless the no-growthers are somehow attached to him to. :) Now that you're finished impugning me, maybe we can work together to find some common ground. :)

Coming full circle, you might re-read Doug Moran's post again. That's where the impugning began. Moran needs to read more criticisms like mine, instead of continuing to condescend to those he is attempting to sway.

We're all concerned with what's best for our community; we often have different ideas about what the "best" is. When someone writes a public Op-Ed that inappropriately and unfairly impugns an entire group of people, as Doug Moran did, that someone should expect a strong response, in kind. When one is cooking over high flame, the kitchen can get hot; knowing that, one needs to consider the consequences of turning up the burner.


Posted by A Fan, a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2006 at 2:18 pm

Oh, J.L. I was so glad to see you at the City Council last night!
You showed them how to make a wall disappear by putting a mural on it.
What a miracle worker you are! I'm full of admiration.


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 12, 2006 at 4:09 pm

What? I was soaking in a hot tub last evening, with a good cabernet, a ciabatta, and some cheese. :)

That said, bully for the person with the mural idea! Wish I'd thought of that.


Posted by Concerned about traffic and access, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2006 at 11:23 pm

Maybe this project will help bringing Oregon/Page Mill to becoming a freeway as it should be and also widening the underpass at the train tracks and putting a full underground/overhead interchange at ElCamino as it was proposed at least 25 years ago. With a new police station in this same area the police will need fast access to East of the train tracks. Also Park Blvd should be opened up all the way to Charleston Rd as it was in the past.. Maybe city bus service to Mountain View/SanAntonio shopping center, would help the low income people living in this development


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Dec 13, 2006 at 1:19 am

Page Mill/Oregon doesn't need to become a freeway. What we need is better, cheaper, affordable, easy-to-access mass transport. Long-term, that's what we should be shooting for. We need to make the jobs/housing imbalance less prominent.

You're assuming more people in cars; that's not necessarily where we're going (not if we're smart).

Charleston may open up again, with appropriate safeguard to prevent speeding. the Ventura neighborhood is going to fill out and get developed in the next10-15 years; a walk through the neighborhood reveals that this is already in progress.

If we get smart and really diversify retail (and incent landlords to do so), we can have many inexpensive shopping possibilities in PA.

btw, the police are usually "out" in the neighborhoods, they don't dispatch from the police station.


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