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Architecture Commission and would-be watchdogs cost PA taxpayers money and safety

Original post made by J. Habermas on May 23, 2007

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With the exception of Heather Trossman, the example above shows a perfect example of a Council-appointed political commission completely out of control, exhibiting hubris shows how power can be used in petty ways.

Architectural Review Board member Judith Wasserman's statements to developer Harold Holbach were way off base, especially in a public ommission hearing. Her statements were more than statements of odisagreement; they bordered on mocking behavior. Perhaps Ms. Wasserman's "purview" isn't held in such high esteem by all who come before her on this commission that has been set up to politicize design and aesthetics. More Palo Alto Process, anyone?

Perhaps Ms. Wasserman is still steamed about our City Council approving Mr. Holbach's project. Perhaps she shuold walk in a developer's shoes for a time, and wear those shoes to development meetings to learn what happens to the bottom line when unconsciounable delays are forced on developers, and how those losses in the bottom line result in _higher_ prices to home buyers and apartment dwellers - or, materials of lesser quality used to build to make up for delay costs. This is a dose of reality that many who want to put every developer through the wringer shuold experience first hand, with _their own_ money.

If Palo Altans somehow think that "word doesn't get out" to the developer community about the kind and style of abuse that has been visited on Harold Holbach, they should think again.

Also, I wonder if Palo Altans realize that the spiteful use of the law to delay development creates a phalanx of overly clever developers, who quickly adapt to the shenanigans of petty commission decisions. We, the citizens of Palo Alto, are _paying_ for the delays caused by those few in this community who appear to delight in meddling in every little detail and drawing that a developer puts forward.

If Palo Altans don't think that the law used to intimidate, or cause,and/or threaten development delay for projects that don't quite satisfy the falsely elevated sense of architectual aesthetics of a few, whose obsessive gauntlet of snob-appeal aethetics has been used over and over again in years past to _cost our citizens money_, without ANY positive outcome for those citizens, in general.

If there is a way to issue a cross-compalint against Mssrs. Moss and Jordan, with requests made for damages, including attorney's fees, I hope Mr. Holback carries such a complaint through. If he doesn't, maybe someone will, and force Mssr/s Moss and Jordan to think twice before meddling in the affairs of those who don't need their amateur opinion about what is "right" for Palo Alto development.

IN the meantime, the 195 Page Mill area remains a trash heap of currugated metal buildings, with transients making the back yars of those buildings their temporary homes. It's a dangerous place to walk in the evening.

Thanks again, Ms. Wasserman - and you, too, Mssrs. Moss and Jordan, for protecting our right to get mugged this summer, if Mr Holbach's construction is delayed, and that trash heap doesn't get demolished.

When will our everyday citizens learn that those who like to bake "meddle pie" are doing our city more harm than good, and unwittingly continue to make our fair city the laughing stock of the region because of the nonsensical delays that their meddling causes.

Comments (12)

Posted by Forum Reader, a resident of Stanford
on May 23, 2007 at 2:51 pm

I wonder whether you actually read the Weekly story.
The plans he submitted were 1) inaccurate and 2) incomplete and 3) unresponsive.
The developer appears to be arrogant and perhaps more likely incompetent.
Calling Commissioner Wasserman anti-developer is an indication that you don't pay attention to the ARB, but perhaps have some connection to this particular project.
God Bless the Architectural Commission for doing the job we depend on them to do!


Posted by J. Habermas, a resident of Ventura
on May 23, 2007 at 4:07 pm

Forum Reader, In fact, I did read the article.

btw, have you walked in this particular developer's shoes? Do you support the kind of mocking innuendo that was delivered up byy Ms. Wasserman in a public forum, by ann officially appointed political body? Have you had to walk the particular area of Park Bled. and Page Mill Rd that defines the area of this development? Have you done so in the evening?

Have you compared the general tenor of this developer's design suggestions with the trash heap that sits there at present? Do you care whether or not the developer will be compelled to increase rents if durther delays occur, penalizing those who hlive and work in the project, for what will effectively be a finished project that is pleasing to most eyes, and residents of said project?

I have seen this particular developer, who is no saint - and far from perfect transparancy of process - taken to task _in teh same way_ that other developers have been taken to task in Palo Alto. Most of this "taking to task" is performed by a small coterie of neighborhood activists who show up for every single important development, spout their self-important words of wisdom, and somehow (until recently) been listened to by past City Councils.

I have non financial interest in the project, but I do have an interest in being able to watch my kids ride a bike through the area w/o being accosted by transients, or driving by a trash heap eyesore, day in and day out.

Perhaps Ms. Wassermann Mssrs. Moss and Jordan should be compelled to walk the walk and live in that area for a while. Then we might see their attitude and aethetic sense gain a new view on the world.



Posted by Trudy, a resident of another community
on May 24, 2007 at 10:11 am

Gee, I'd love to walk in this developer's shoes. He doesn't live in Palo Alto so maybe he should walk in our shoes. He is a Billionaire. He owns huge amounts of property in the California Avenue area. I used to work in one of his office buildings.
Why don't you ask him to demolish the stuff you call trash structures? That would be very cheap and very fast. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2007 at 10:33 am

I believe that the city regulation of construction should be strictly limited to public health and safety. Anyone who objects to the appearance of a building is invited to look the other direction or, in extremis, buy the building and tear it down. When I wrap a gift it has been my habit these past 40 years to use preliminary drawings for paper. To those who comment I explain that is the most expensive paper they will ever receive. It is especially amusing to hear the city that approved those California Avenue pieces of "art" criticize the esthetic taste of others. The arrogance of these arbitors makes one remember the tumbrils. [I also believe this site needs a spell checker]


Posted by J. Habermas, a resident of Ventura
on May 24, 2007 at 11:10 am

Walter, Spelling is nothing; context is everthing. For the rest of this topic, we are in agreement.

Trudy, Were you ever a lessee in one of his buildings? He was and is a very caring and understanding landlord; far more than most. Do you live near 195 Page Mill? Do you walk past it every evening? Are you walking in _those_ shoes? Do you have or know kids who avoid that area, because of nameless transients?

The amount of diligence that this property has been put through is unreal, and that's mostly because some few people have never liked the Holbach design. They have pulled out all the stops to defeat the Holback plan, and seemingly don't mind letting that property lie fallow for another 30 years.

Again, I have watched this process closely. Holback has not been forthcoming as much as he could have been, but those who have opposed his plan have done so for the most spurious reasons, using the "rules" (which in the end have been crafted to serve obsessive micromanagement of things like landscaping and architectual facade) to cause delay after delay.

Why should I be compelled to have Ms. Wasserman's idea of aesthetic forced into my community? How about a little color? Yeah for Heather Trossman, the only one who seemed to "get it" as far as facade design and landscaping go. For heaven's sake, the project borders CalTrans track - you have to do SOMETHING to amelirate the stree of living so close to the tracks, but no, we have arbiters of taste who want everything to "look" a certain way. Innovation? ha!

My sense is that this structure is going to be built, over the cries and screams of the few-left-standing "neighborhood watchdogs" that are (thankfuly) becoming more and more irrelevant to Palo Alto's future.


Posted by Trudy, a resident of another community
on May 24, 2007 at 12:13 pm

Actually I think driving by the corner of Charleston and El Camino will shock some people into a realization of what is going on.
You have said this again and again on various threads:
"neighborhood watchdogs" that are (thankfuly) becoming more and more irrelevant to Palo Alto's future.
What evidence do you have for your predictions?


Posted by j. Habermas, a resident of Ventura
on May 24, 2007 at 3:46 pm

Trudy, The evidence I have is that developments are being built, and the time-to-market for many other projects are suffering somewhat shorter delays than in past years, and finally that the often non-sensical NUMBYISM that had for some 20 years or so dominated Plao Alto's development scene is beginning to fade away.

I and many others I know look at that corner with big smiles.

A few questions:

Isn't it wonderful to see homes built where people will live, where children will be raised, where life will be filled with wonder (and, to be realistic, occasional travail), where flowers will bloom, where residents will live and cooperate, from where citizens will shop and participate and thrive as members of a more diverse Palo Alto - instead of a hotel filled with the comings and goings of mostly strange faces, never to be seen again?

Palo Alto is growing! What city has survived and _thrived_, that hasn't grown?


Posted by An Observer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2007 at 11:22 pm

With all of the high density rental housing that seems to be coming it going to be easier to get a rent control passed by the renters. San Francisco and other cities have it in the bay area. Rents can be fixed at a cost of living increase each year.

I live near the El Camino and Charleston intersection and think this is an example of a horrible development. It should have 25' setbacks at Elcamino, 40 % open space, a large public park, etc,etc. . There will probably be hundreds of cars parking in the adjacent single family neighborhood.

The cost to the taxpayers will be horrendous for all of the services required for this and the other high density development in South Palo Alto that are in the works.

This is what we get when we have supporters of high density developers running the city.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2007 at 7:57 am

If we get rent control, can we also get landlord cost control?


Posted by Charles, a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 25, 2007 at 8:41 am

I thought the major objections were that the proposed building did not conform to the city's zoning codes. Why all this red herring about color diversity? If the plans are incomplete and inaccurate each time they are submitted, that is the fault of the developer, not the ARB.

Mr. Wallis. Your remarks on the various blogs are usually cogent and appropriate, but I really don't understand the ones you added here - in particular the comment about preliminary drawings. And what has the terrible public art that has been foisted on us got to do with building health and safety?

A spell check for forum responses is a very good idea.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2007 at 11:11 am

When the drawings have to be redone for other than health and safety reasons, specifically to satisfy esthetics, it imposes costs on the project that I consider excessive and unwarranted.


Posted by J. Habermas, a resident of Ventura
on May 25, 2007 at 2:05 pm

In fact, there is a small, determined coterie of residents, probably totaling no more than 15-20 people, who have been against this development for aesthtic reasons from the beginning. Some of them may have gotten to a few ARB members, and put a bee in their bonnet.

The pair of residents - Mssrs. Moss and Jordan - that are suing Holbach have been two of the most vocal in objecting to the development. Everything from the size of the parking lot, to the trees, to the color of the building, to the landscaping behind the building (it borders CalTrans tracks), and on and on and on and on.

Again, Holback hasn't been that foorthcoming, and had the good luck to make certain decisions coincidental with changes in code. That Holbach was able to do this has really steamed up those who were against the project. Now they're using a lawsuit -that will cost their fellow citizen's taxpayer dollars - to try to halt the project.

Like I said above, the use of the law in this way leaves the plaintiffs wide open for a cross-complaint by the developer, and maybe even neighborhood residents that want the development built. Those residents have endured lower property values because of the current trash heap at 195 Page Mill; they have also endured a less safe environment due to the continued presence of transients who live behind (even in front of) the old buildings there.

What needs to happen here is a series of counter suits, directed at Mssrs. Moss and Jordan, to teach them a lesson. There are clauses in the law that put a cross-complainant at risk, but there are others that leave the current plaintiffs wide open. Perhaps a real revenue hit on the plaintiff's pockets will deliver the lesson that meddling too long and too far in something that is essentially OK with 99% ofo one's felloe residents - and is costing the latter money, as well - shuold ALSO cost thohse who are causing delay.


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