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How to avoid another Alma Plaza

Original post made by Resident Ramona Street, Midtown, on Sep 17, 2012

I pass by Alma Plaza every day and wonder how the builder got this passed. I remember 10 years of back and forth and this is the result? The tall structure on Alma is right at the sidewalk and is worse than the JCC since Alma is a small street. The houses are 3 storeys high and packed together. Now I did go to the Town meetings and I remember folks objecting to these "features" but the council passed them anyway. I dont believe democracy is working here. When I remodeled my house I had to follow all kids of rules about setbacks. What happened here? I'd like to understand what went wrong and how we can make sure this does not happen again.

Comments (70)

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Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2012 at 3:01 pm

" What happened here? I'd like to understand what went wrong and how we can make sure this does not happen again."

Just sprinkle in some BMR units, and this city council will accept almost anything. BMR units are a forced welfare housing, driven by the low-cost housing zealots. The basic formula is that market-rate neighbors are forced to pay for their below-market-rate neighbors.

Beam me up, Scotty...this is some crazy stuff!


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Nine years ago Palo Alto voters rejected a referendum to stop the proposed monster structure at 800 High Street. That emboldened our city government to allow these misbegotten developments everywhere.

All PC ("Planned Comminuty") developments like 800 High and Alma Plaza are subject to a voter referendum if citizens collect enough petition signatures within 30 days after the city approves them. If you think enough people feel like you do, get together and vote these suckers down.


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Posted by nImbys rule
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Do not complain about Alma Plaza. We got what we deserved. We let assorted NIMBYs hijack the issue and lost a needed neighborhood shopping center. Thanks for nothing.


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Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2012 at 6:37 pm

> We got what we deserved. We let assorted NIMBYs hijack the issue and lost a needed neighborhood shopping center. Thanks for nothing.

The BMR zealots are not NIMBYs. They are activists, with an intention. Until we all get a grip with the threat that they pose, we will continue to get more absurd projects like the Alma Plaza deal.


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Posted by Remembering
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm

>Nine years ago Palo Alto voters rejected a referendum to stop the proposed monster structure at 800 High Street. That emboldened our city government to allow these misbegotten developments everywhere.>
That's right. I remember it. The final vote was 51.7 in favor of the project, in spite of all the corporate money and a fake survey and fake documents, they won narrowly.
And the support they had from developers, Roxy Rapp, the Santanas, from council members Dina Mossar, Larry Klein, and Bern Beecham, from their attorney Jean McCown (who went on to become Stanford's developer in chief). Judith Wasserman on the ARB loved it. The League of Women Voters wanted the 10 BMR units so they advocated for it. The promises they made and didn't keep....like free parking under the building and public plazas.


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Posted by They'll do it again
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Alma Plaza is an example of a mainly north Palo Alto City Council dumping on south Palo Alto again, just like they did with the JCC.


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Posted by jcc
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 17, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Let's complain about the JCC some more. Nothing wrong with it given its location, but some people will not let go of the issue.


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Posted by Resident Ramona Street
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Well, You may love the JCC but a lot of people feel that the height and the facade right at the sidewalk make one feel hemmed in. In any case lets stick to the issue of Alma Plaza. Its an absolute abomination. I intend to track down the councilors who voted for this and make sure I do not vote for them if they stand again. That's all I can do but I'm really depressed at how the developers are screwing the residents and there seems to be not a thing we can do other than stand for city council and who has the time..


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Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2012 at 11:23 am

Ditto, Alma Plaza is an abomination (just like the JCC).


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Posted by the JCC
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2012 at 2:03 pm

I have no connection to the JCC but I do have to drive on San Antonio Road and its ugliness is unavoidable. If it were set back it would be less obnoxious, or if it was smaller, or a less stark and undesigned barricade, it wouldn't be such a thorn in the eye of the beholder.
It's a tribute to the talent shortage among our local architects.
And, Thanks Jim Baer for yet another ugly building.
John Barton on the council was strongly for it. (not that the fact that his wife's development company got a juicy contract out of it influenced him).


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Posted by love the JCC
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Boy, you would think people would let go of the JCC issue already.
The JCC replaced the lovely KFC/Sun facility--seems that people in PA had no problem with those structures--they were so lovely.
It is not near any housing, so the building does not "loom" over anything. there are few pedestrians, so not sure how anyone would be hemmed in--especially with an open street on your other side.
As for the cars on San Antonio Road--not sure when they have time to actually see the JCC--certainly not when they are driving by or do people like the JCC stop and gaze at it so that it becomes a "thorn in their eye".
I bet you there would be less complaints if it was the YMCA.
And the other posters are correct--we got what we deserved with Alma Plaza.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm

The JCC is ugly and too close to the street, but hey it's been there a while and we are living with it.

However, the ugliest component of the JCC is the advertising banners. Why do they have to have these banners? Do they have to get permits for these banners? They are not the type of thing that is easy to miss even if you are driving past.

If Alma Plaza starts advertising the special of the day on the outside of its building I am sure they will get criticism. The YMCA does not have large street to roof advertising, neither do almost any other large buildings I can think of. Why does the JCC need to advertise with these large banners now that it has been open for some time.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 18, 2012 at 4:44 pm

"... I remember it [the 800 High Street referendum] ... the support they had ... from council members Dina Mossar..."

Also remember that was a city council election year, and how the contributions flowed freely. Is it a coincidence that this is also an election year, and that the council approved both the oversized Gateway project and Hobach's monster building during it? Watch the money rivers.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm

You just can't please some people! Whether it is Edgewood or Alma Plaza, sometimes it seems like people actually prefer a blighted, abandoned lot to something that actually generates sales tax revenue, and provides a grocery store at which to shop. Heaven forbid the council approve a project that benefits the whole city, instead of allowing a few NIMBYs to ruin it!

Here's what we, as a community, need to understand: just because we'd like a shopping center to be quaint, small, and traffic friendly, doesn't mean that design is economically feasible. As some of you may recall, Lucky's wanted to expand its Alma Plaza store so they could survive. The NIMBYs cried foul over traffic, the store closed, and here we are almost 10 years later.

Do I like the Alma Plaza design? No. And, when I own a large parcel of commercial property, I can design it however I want. Until then, I'll just mind my own business.


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Posted by Resident Ramona Street
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Bob, Each project has to valued on its own merits. I agree that a larger lucky would've been sooo much better. Still, the current Alma plaza is just criminal disregard of citizen's views. The houses are too tightly packed. The "community center" we were promised is just a small room and we're all going to pay in bad traffic on an already crowded alma. We're getting screwed royally and I do not intend to take it lying down and I hope the rest of you aren't either. Check the backgrounds of the people standing for city council next time around and make sure they know we're watching.


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Posted by Resident Ramona Street
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Is any city councilor who voted for it (or ones who didnt) listening?

Would you like to explain why I had to follow setback rules when I built my house but John McNellis doesn't inspite of many objections from citizens of this city?

Would you like to explain why I have to follow (which I do happily) daylight plane rules for my house but John McNellis is allowed to build tightly-packed 3-storey houses?


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Posted by Time-To-End-PC-Zoning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2012 at 11:00 pm

All of these buildings up against the sidewalk, with no setbacks, are a part of the "new urbanism" that was adopted several years ago by the Planning Department, and endorsed by the Council. It clearly is designed to increase the usable footprint of the buildings, increasing the value of the property for the developers.

The City Council can undo this planning decision. Most Council members know nothing about land use, or architecture--so they tend to rubber stamp whatever comes their way--unless there is a lot of public outcry. Sadly, 30 days isn't a lot of time to drum up public opposition for a referendum, so these monstrosities get built.

Forcing Council candidates to demonstrate some knowledge of land use concepts/policy, as well as what constitutes appropriate architectural principals for a Palo Alto setting before awarding our votes to candidates would go a long way towards stopping these monstrosities from being built.

Making an issue out of PC zoning would help. It might be interesting to qualify a ballot issue to terminate this zoning type. After 800 High, it would be hard not to make a case that PC needs to be terminated.


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Posted by Bruce
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 18, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Those huge JCC banners clearly violate Palo Alto signage regulations, but somehow the JCC is getting a pass from city officials. I wonder why?

Alma Plaza is in the running for the ugliest building in town. JCC and Arbor Real are close contenders.


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Posted by love the JCC
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 6:16 am

"Those huge JCC banners clearly violate Palo Alto signage regulations, but somehow the JCC is getting a pass from city officials. I wonder why?"
Bruce, since you are making the claim can you provide facts to back up your claim that the signs are in violation and that they are getting a pass form city officials.

BTW, Arbor Real is another example of Palo Alto getting what it deserved, since it let a vocal few hijack the process (some of those people also deserve "credit" for Alma Plaza)


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 10:20 am

"The BMR zealots are not NIMBYs. They are activists, with an intention. Until we all get a grip with the threat that they pose, we will continue to get more absurd projects like the Alma Plaza deal."

It's already happening. See the early praise for the big project on Maybell: Web Link

"when I own a large parcel of commercial property, I can design it however I want. Until then, I'll just mind my own business."

You don't think it's your business what gets built in your neighborhood and your city? I think most residents would disagree with you.

"Is any city councilor who voted for it (or ones who didnt) listening?"

They're not listening to what's said in this blog. You have to send them and email or go to council meetings, and even then there's no guarantee they will listen.

"Those huge JCC banners clearly violate Palo Alto signage regulations,"

I don't know if that's true, but you can bet there will be signage on the stores at Alma Plaza. How else will people know what's behind the barricade?

"Making an issue out of PC zoning would help."

For sure! Every developer who wants to violate zoning asks for PC zoning and promises some kind of public benefit in return. PC zoning is ruining the city. See Why Planned Community zoning makes so much trouble at
Web Link


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2012 at 10:22 am

Buildings look good on paper, when built a whole another story, but then again trees grow, landscaping gets mature. Most projects are designed for ROI, like anything in building the owners have a budget. Alma Plaza is not great but it is not that bad. Armchair planner in me would have done it different and much pleasant.


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Posted by Arbor Real Fact Check
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2012 at 11:19 am

FYI to the commenter on Arbor Real. The original developer proposal for the current Arbor Real site was for a 320-room hotel PLUS 302 housing units. Thank goodness the so-called "NIMBYs" got involved. (by the way name calling is not a civil or very mature way to participate in public dialogue) Instead, 187 housing units were built. It would have been far worse. The nearby intersections could not have supported the level of density that was originally proposed. Even so, important transportation mitigations had to be negotiated. The fight took seven years because the developer stubbornly refused to make any compromises. They wanted to fund their hotel project with profits from housing sales, despite the insupportable impacts the high density would have created for the community. They only changed their plan when the bottom fell of the hotel market after 9/11.

Before you criticize, please do your homework. And please be more polite.


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Posted by love the JCC
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Arbor Real Fact Check-- I was polite. The term NIMBY has become an accepted term to describe certain groups of people. Claiming that it is name-calling and not being civil or mature is an example of you not being polite on your part. I guess criticism is in the eye of the beholder
ANyway, you have your version of the events regarding Arbor Real and I have mine, but at least you do not dispute their "contribution" to the Alma Plaza issue.
Finally, maybe that is the problem in Palo Alto--everyone feels to need to be "polite"--that is why candidates are never challanged on the issues, why a vocal few seem to use our broken "process" to drag out issues for decades and why we are hundreds of millions of dollars behind on our infrastructure needs.
Maybe it is time for a little "impoliteness" in Palo alto


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "love the JCC" on NIMBY
You need to fact-check your claim about NIMBY (Not In My BackYard). Every source I found (eg Wikipedia) describes it as pejorative, contrary to your claim of being "polite". Furthermore, its definition is that of people fighting to avoid their fair share of sacrifice for the common good, not as you appear to believe people fighting an outside party attempting to profit at their expenses with bad projects.

"Arbor Real Fact Check" provides a good account. If you want a sense that you have been given faux facts, check out Web Link by local primo developer Jim Baer

And on ARFC's non-response on Alma Plaza: Just because someone doesn't reply to every statement should not be taken as evidence that they agree with you. When someone such as you seems intent on being misinformed, the best one can do is try to let them know such, and not waste time trying to correct them: Faux facts can be generated so quickly that it is impossible to keep up.

And you need to look up the definitions of "civil" and "polite" -- you will discover they are quite different, again contrary to your beliefs.


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Posted by love the JCC
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Doug--thanks for your insight--everyone is entitled to an opinion, including myself, you and Jim Baer. As for NIMBY--I would not consider wikipedia an always reliable source--but that is my opinion.

Here is another set of definitions:
Web Link
"Used to describe a person or an attitude, NIMBY is an abbreviation for Not In My Back Yard. A NIMBY might agree that a community or a neigborhood needs a half-way house for convicts transitioning back to society, but doesn't want it placed too close to his or her own home or in the neighborhood. property values. too much traffic. ugly woobly boxes "

or
"Not In My BackYard: a person who opposes particular construction or projects in their community"

Are you saying, Doug, that the Charleston Avenue moratorium--pushed through in the dead of night by the city council at urging of one of the NIMBYs did not influence the outcome of the Alma Plaza project??

I also see that certain things never change with you--either you are in complete agreement with Mr Doug Moran or else you are subject to the following statement:
"When someone such as you seems intent on being misinformed, the best one can do is try to let them know such, and not waste time trying to correct them"

Then you are lectured about being civil and polite--we have seen on other threads the responses that Mr Moran posts to those that disagree with him.


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "love the JCC"

On "I would not consider wikipedia an always reliable source": Your alternative is a website where many of the posters use aliases and rating is determined by anonymous voting of a relatively small set of visitors.

On my classifying you as "intent on being misinformed": When you insisted to ARFC that you were going to stick with your own facts--facts contradicted by readily accessible public records--this seemed uncontroversial. A critical part of civility is calling out people who insist upon abusing the process, such as arguing from fabricated facts and opinions unsupported by rational interest.

On the "Charleston Avenue [sic: Road] moratorium" and Alma Plaza: Again you have separated yourself from actual events. Before going to Council, the moratorium was widely discussed and there was near universal agreement by staff and residents that there was no reason to include Meadow. At the end of the public comment section of the Council meeting, two (not one) _individuals_ advocated for including Meadow. Meadow as included by Council member Bern Beecham who had strong ties to the business community (and was a rare Republican in local office). Council asked no question of staff about this, simply following Beecham. It is disingenuous to characterize two such individuals as "pushing" the measure through when the bulk of those who "love the JCC" classifies as NIMBYs testified for the moratorium without Meadow included.

And it is disingenuous to characterize the moratorium as effecting the decisions on Alma Plaza. Any claim of any type is largely pure speculation: There is so little known about the owner's decision processes over the years, for example, they repeatedly would start something and then without explanation fail to followup.


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Posted by love the JCC
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm

You see. I rest my case regarding disagreeing with Doug Moran and his version of the "facts".
If you use Doug's perferred site (Wkikipedia) it is okay--an alternative website that gives a differing opinion--wrong according to DM.
An op-ed by Jim Baer is considered a "readily accesible public record". Having a differing opinion from DM about the events regarding Arbor Real and ALma Plaza--wrong according to DM.
Claiming that the Charleston Road moratorium negatively affected Alma Plaza is wrong--it goes against the DM version of events

Fionally we have DM's definition of civility:
"When someone such as you seems intent on being misinformed, the best one can do is try to let them know such, and not waste time trying to correct them"
which translated means--agree with DM or else you are not civil.

I think you will find varying opinions about the Arbor Real/Alma Plaza issue, but those opinions are wrong unless they conform to the opinion of people that have consistantly opposed any and all development in Palo Alto (and that is my opinion which I am entitled to despite the insistance of some)


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Posted by Wah!Wah!Wah!
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 7:06 pm

For the JCC and Alma buildings turn out at the Architectural Review Board level of the City Meetings could have made a difference. Asking for set backs, trees to be kept like they do on some new buildings in North Palo Alto is one answer.

I am not upset we lost a big box store although I dislike the look of Alma Plaza wall facing the tracks and don't think that was the design I last remember. The neighborhoods forgot the trees! The new development has no trees and the height of the BMR's block the views for the new homes. Get out to the ARB meetings it makes a difference. Also there's not much bike improvements and the wall along Ramona breaks the walk thru which could have added charm.


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Posted by Asknotthis
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Sep 19, 2012 at 7:16 pm

You should begin asking the new city council candidates their views on these projects and what buildings they support --- consider if any of the candidates were in support of those who put these projects in or actually supported by those that put these projects in at the city.


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Posted by Asleep at the Review board
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Both the JCC and the Alma plaza development show the architectural review board is so busy with self glorification and insightful commentary that they can't see the real impact of the crap they are approving. The JCC sits at a southern entrance to our city. It is an absolute eyesore. Who wants urban streetscapes? Wake up! This is the suburbs, we live here for a reason. Rearrange the building, set it back from the curb and act like you are part of the neighborhood. This isn't brain surgery. Stop the pompous acting and WAKE UP!!!
Driving north on alma you are greeted by the imposing BLANK wall of the behemoth's ass end hanging over the sidewalk further reinforcing this as a place that is about as uninviting as it possibly could have been. I am waiting to see how many people get rear ended trying to get in or out of the driveway closest to E.Meadow! Oh and lets have another traffic light!!! I am fine with the development over all but just for a moment imagine LIVING in the area that the building is in. Set backs and daylight planes are useful tools in maintaining character in a neighborhood. Then again its south of Oregon Expressway so who really cares....


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Do cars or big trucks ever hit these buildings which are right on the sidewalk? Also, what if (God forbid) the high speed rail comes to pass, and they need to widen Alma on the east side? Does the building get torn down?

I live nearby, and no one asked me, but I really, really would like a small shopping center (like the one which was there). We are supposed to all be green and athletic and bike or walk, but we can't, because we can't have neighborhood shops.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2012 at 10:09 pm

What the JCC, Alma Plaza, several other new developments, and these new proposals have in common is that they are all too close to street, with narrow sidewalks, pedestrian unfriendly, no street trees, and to top it off most are the ugliest postmodern style that makes me want to mandate any kind of Arts and Crafts/Mission or Art Deco as a defensive mechanism. Where do they find these architects?


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 19, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Boy, I couldn't agree more. The Alma Plaza is horrendous. As is the JCC. I am so dismayed by what the City Council has done to the charm of our wonderful city. Just because it's on Alma doesn't mean it should be ugly. In fact, more people see buildings there. It's really criminal what's happening. If someone could suggest who is so pro-developer on the council, it would be useful to know.


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Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 20, 2012 at 5:36 am

I'd bet that the developers build right up to the lot line in areas like that (future HSR expansion or widening of Alma) so that the city cannot "take" any of their property through eminent domain.


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Posted by love the JCC
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 6:08 am

More complaints about the JCC!!! Where were these people during the review process???
Let's not forget the JCC is in an industrial area. You woul dnot be hearing all this whining if it was the YMCA


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Posted by Time-To-End-PC-Zoning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2012 at 7:33 am

> You woul dnot be hearing all this whining if it was the YMCA

You would not see a big, ugly, building like that if it were a YMCA.


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Posted by love the JCC
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 8:23 am

Time-To-End-PC-Zoning:

Why do you say that? But thanks for proving my point.
What aspect of the JCC are you complaining about? The whole thing? Or just the large structure on the corner.
Do not forget that the JCC is very LEED-compliant--something that Palo Alto officials are pushing.
Bottom line--the JCC went through review, was approved and has been in place for a number of year. Are people saying that what was appoved was not what was a built??
Perhaps people in the city should be more concerned with our crumbling infrastructure and the inability of our city leaders to manage our finances, instead of complaining about something that will not be changed or maybe we should tear down the JCC and rebuild the KFC and SUn facility


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 20, 2012 at 8:30 am

Alma plaza is the ugliest structure I have ever seen in Palo Alto, period. It is such an ugly, tall structure with no regard to the surrounding community, no regard to setback rules, no regard to green energy, protection of trees, liveable spaces.


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Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 20, 2012 at 11:00 am

Take a peek at the big old boxy walls that are now going up right against the sidewalks at San Antonio and El Camino. U-G-L-Y!


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm

"I dont believe democracy is working here."

I'm curious to know what you think democracy is. Democracy does not mean that each and every person everywhere has to be happy with everything. and it certainly does not mean that it's democracy as long YOU are happy. I hate to tell you but just because you and some of your buddies don't like the way something worked out does not mean that democracy failed. Odds are good there are just as many people on the other side of that table who think the project is great.

With some effort, you could probably find something better to do with your time than spending it complaining about something you personally find ugly. What you are really saying is "how can we make sure nothing is ever built again that I don't like."

The level of entitlement that runs rampant in this community is amusing.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Can we please not go to the inferred religion vs. religion argument of the JCC vs. the YMCA? That just is an awful tactic and unwarranted.

I am not a member and do not use the facility at all...but the Ross Road Y did do a remodel and expansion a few years ago. And it seems to have worked well with the surrounding neighborhood.

Let's hope that the Edgewood Plaza project works out OK.


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

During the 2009 Council election, outgoing (termed-out) Council member Jack Morton produced a hardcopy-only booklet "Palo Alto at a Critical Crossroad" that although error prone had some interesting reveals about how Council fails to listen to input from residents. From my critique of that booklet (Web Link):

----
Morton states "I, for one, did not appreciate the environmental damage that five stories up to the very edge of the street can do to a suburban horizon. ... In the future, staff needs to provide Council with better visuals so that no other projects overwhelm their sites as these do." First, the overwhelming size of the project was one of the major criticisms of the project. That it didn't register with Morton, and various other Council members, is indicative of how little active consideration such Council members give to such approvals. Second, the criticism of staff is accurate but unfair: Council has repeatedly demonstrated that it will ignore such information from staff and residents and rely on the representations of the developer (despite the developer's obvious bias). Example: On the 800 High project, a resident, David Bubenik, using the developer's numbers and standard computer software generated a diagram that showed that the developer was substantially understating the size of the building in its visuals, but he was ignored by Council. After the project was built, reporter Sarah Wykes of the Mercury News did a story with a photo that demonstrated that Bubenik's diagram had been accurate.
----

And during the final hearings for Alma Plaza, Council member LaDoris Cordell told residents that that they should have brought their concerns to Council earlier. Problem is that they had -- more than a year ago during the pre-screening hearing for the project. They had presented those concerns to the Planning & Transportation Commission and the transcript of that hearing was in the Council packet for the project. And they testified at the pre-screen hearing. The pre-screening hearing was scheduled for 1-hour before the regular Council meeting, but went on for over 2 hours before it was interrupted for the regular meeting and then it resumed for roughly another 2 hours. The roughly 3 hours of public testimony covered a wide range of issues: The appearance, inadequate and unfriendly parking, traffic circulation, the use of the BMR units to create a sound wall for the market-rate houses, false and disingenuous claims about economics,...

On 195 Page Mill (Holbach), Council ignored public testimony that pointed out that the developer was using contradictory peak hour traffic numbers: one set low to claim that the impact was below the level where he would need to mitigate, and one set high to justify providing much less parking for his tenants.


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Posted by Heal our town
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm

We need to stand together and keep developers from ruining the character of Palo Alto. Name calling (Yes, NIMBY is pejorative. You need look no further than its' use in the High Speed Rail debate)only divides us. Southern California was ruined by savvy developers who manipulated local politicians against the public good. Stop the urban agenda and vote out those who approved these unattractive buildings.


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Posted by Brian
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 20, 2012 at 3:27 pm

(to the author of this topic)

So you wonder how the project turned out the way it did?

Remember that the immediate neighbors where very vocal in opposition to the originally proposed Alma Plaza project that featured an enlarged Alberstons supermarket and a mixture of retail and housing. Overall it would of actually been lower density than what is currently built (not to say that higher density is a bad thing). The Alberstons chain would of gone out of business anyways (and be replaced by another store) but I have a feeling the community would of appreciated the originally proposed project much more.

Of course there was classic NIMBY reaction to that original project, a new development moratorium established and the plan rejected by the city. The developer then sold the property to someone else with a different development plan that could more easily get city approval. The lesson learned here for NIMBY's is "be careful what you wish for!"

NIMBY's need to learn that if they surround themselves in too much of their self indulgent ignorance they will find themselves powerless and unable to constructively engage in important development processes. This is applicable to many other issues in Palo Alto; most obvious of course being NIMBY opposition to high speed rail and other improvements to the Caltrain right of way.


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Posted by Brian
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 20, 2012 at 8:25 pm

to Anna / Midtown resident

you said:

"I live nearby, and no one asked me, but I really, really would like a small shopping center (like the one which was there). We are supposed to all be green and athletic and bike or walk, but we can't, because we can't have neighborhood shops."

good point:

I couldn't agree with you more however it was the vocal NIMBY's opposing the original project that did not want those things. Those NIMBY's were governed by a fear mentality that equated the addition of expanded retail as bringing "undesirables into their neighborhood". I remember them specifically requesting that the pedestrian connection between Ramona street and Alma Plaza be closed off.

Never mind the fact that having retail in walking distance of your neighborhood not only improves livability but increases property values as well. Instead of getting the more architecturally sensitive retail development with housing component per the original design the new design is primarily a residential development (of the Livermore / Pleasanton variety) with an incidental and under-scaled retail development. In the NIMBY mindset retail always = bad and they never mind the facts that reveal otherwise.

The NIMBY's may have gotten what they deserve on Alma Plaza but unfortunately it's the rest of us that have to live with the consequences as well. It just goes to show that some people just don't know what they are talking about and it's a shame our city leaders listened to them so much.


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Posted by Resident Ramona Street
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 9:33 pm

To Anon. Why do I think democracy is not working? let me explain. Firstly, I went to some of the coucil meetings and the overwhelming feedback on the project was negative. The council approved it anyway. OK maybe they know something we didn't. Secondly the setback rules seem to have been waived for both JCC and Alma plaza. WHY? Thirdly, after the project was approved only 1 council member was willing to explain why he voted for it. This has nothing to do with my tastes. It has to do with high-density housing on a street that is a nightmare at commute times. It has to do with rules that were flaunted. And thank you for telling me what I should be doing with my time. I do not appreciate it. According to you we should all shut up and rollover when our rights get trampled on and our democracy gets taken over by money which is clearly what has happened her. If you dont like my complaining I have several suggestions for useful things you could do instead of hanging out here.

Everyone has a right to their opinion not to their facts. That facts are that this development falunts rules that homeowners are made to follow and is not in character with the neighborhood.


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Posted by Resident Ramona Street
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 9:40 pm

To Brian, I Agree, The larger Lucky was a better option. However, just because one option was rejected is not a reason to approve the next one. I don't development in my BY so long as it is approved honestly and follows the city rules and guidelines and from what I can tell the honesty part is missing. Nothing else would explain the Alma Plaza abomination and the in-your-face JCC.


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Posted by Eyesore
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2012 at 9:57 pm

JCC and Alma Plaza are any eyesore!!!


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 21, 2012 at 7:14 am

SteveU is a registered user.

IMHO City Hall is an 'Big,Tall Ugly Building'.
But it is set back from the street.

The rash of over 2 story- Right to the edge of the sidewalk, buildings is obnoxious, regardless of tenant.
Excellent point on HSR and their original proposal to narrow Alma. Now there will be no chance that the current 4 lanes of flow will persist (We have been getting a sample with the recent water pipeline work).


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Posted by Alma Plaza neighbor
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2012 at 9:41 am

I live right next to the Alma development. I frequently bike to work and would have really appreciated better biking options along the path next to the development. I'm not thrilled about the small sidewalk and closeness to the road.

However, I am happy to finally have a grocery store walking distance from my house. I just wish it had been more retail and less towering housing units. I'm on the lower end of the income scale in Palo Alto, and I know there are people in here saying the houses are going to attract lower income residents, but I can nearly assure you that the rent will still be out of reach for many many many residents. I'm sure I won't be able to afford living there.


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Posted by sue
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 21, 2012 at 10:04 am

I think our officials need their eyesight checked. Hyatt Rickeys, Jcc and now Alma - what a disaster.


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Posted by Look deeper
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2012 at 12:16 pm

>officials need their eyesight checked. Hyatt Rickeys, Jcc and now Alma.
Add monster sized Mitchell Park Library, add monster Arillaga proposals, add Monster 322 Alma St office building.
It's not their eyesight that needs checking it's the behindthescenes corruption. This could not happen without hidden payoffs.
Jobs for staff family, money for candidates, jobs for ARB architects, you name it.


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Hello Resident Ramona Street, two weeks after your topic posting and 10 days after the last comment, I hope you are still monitoring this item.

First, let me thank you for posting this topic. Your instincts, sensibilities, and quest for answers and a better path going forward are both welcome and sorely needed.

I've thought about your post each day in the interim, while also going back through my files and adding additional material from the public record.

The Alma Plaza / Palo Alto public process since the purchase of the 4.2 acre, 55,000 square foot commercial site (with 45,000 square foot for ground floor retail) by a group, that included John McNellis, was a seminal development on a number of levels.

It is also a complex topic.

You initial post asks about two specific land-use decisions: (1) the lack of setback on Alma Street and the minimal space between the market rate, single-family housing within the site.

These results are related, at least in part, to larger decisions regarding the proportion of retail and other commercial space versus housing on the site.

Do you want a response solely to the specific questions you asked, or are there other broader aspects of project that you feel equally upset about?


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Posted by urgent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2012 at 3:24 pm


Please see these related links about the mother of all ugly situations happening NOW

160 foot buildings!!!!!!! on University and Alma


Web Link

Weekly Editorial
Web Link

Web Link


Can anyone explain, the last link about voters getting to "weigh in" because apparently we actually do not get to stop this monstrosity from being built, regardless of out "vote" if Council decides on it. How can COuncil be stopped?

Btw I believe the person who cautions the City about working with Arrillaga because it is entirely consistent with the process related to this project.

How can we stop this?




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Posted by Jan H.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 4, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Jan H. is a registered user.

Alma Plaza is indeed a big, glaring eyesore. The three-story houses aren't selling too well, either. The prices they list are just base prices, stripped. Floor coverings, cabinets, wall coverings, etc are EXTRA! They (the Horton Co.) call it customizing.
Never mind the fact that the location could not be worse: the corner of two extremely congested streets, and across the street from the train tracks, where three long freight trains go through nightly, and high speed rail will eventually go through.

Then there is the issue of parking, or lack of it, for Starbuck's and the grocery store that is about to go in. Obviously, no one put much thought into this.


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2012 at 5:40 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Jan H.: "Then there is the issue of parking, or lack of it, for Starbuck's and the grocery store that is about to go in. Obviously, no one put much thought into this."

Actually, a lot of thought _was_ put into the parking, but the City staff and Council decided to ignore it. The critics (NIMBYs to the developers and their shills) repeatedly pointed out that there was too little parking allocated for the store (based on normal planning figures) and that there was too little parking for the housing and thus it was likely to overflow into the inadequate parking for the store.

And then to cap things off, the developer tried to render the community meeting room - a purported public benefit -- unusable by not allowing _any_ parking for it during prime hours. If you don't have even a single handicapped parking space available, it is difficult/impossible to use such a room.

But as I have said elsewhere on this topic: Far be it for the City not to assist a developer to excessive, undeserved profits, especially at the expense of its residents.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2012 at 6:39 pm

The JCC and Alma Plaza have one thing in common - besides being bloated and ugly - developer Jim Baer worked with both developers to get their projects through.
What Jim Baer wants, Jim Baer gets. He seems to have greased the wheels on the city council, the commissions, and for sure on the staff.


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Posted by Jan H.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Thanx, Douglas, for your input. I really should have suspected the City Council and their bad sense of judgment to be behind this. Let us hope NONE of them are re-elected.


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Posted by resident Ramona Street
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Hello Fred Balin, I apologize for not monitoring the posting earlier. got busy with work, which is why the city council can get away with this kind of decision. If you're still monitoring this conversation, my issues are as follows.

1. the city council did not appear to listen to the overwhelmingly negative feedback to the project and passed it anyway
2. How did John McNellis get away with no setback
3. How did John M get away with screwing Palo Alto residents by providing the most measly "community center" which is still not open AFAIK.
4. What can we do about this and other future projects. I feel helpless againsts these moneyed interests that are corrupting democracy

regards


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Posted by NeverForget
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Which of our current city council members were responsible for (voted for) Alma Plaza as it exists today?

We need a detailed voting record....


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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 17, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

None really.

Larry Klein is the only current member of the council that was on the council at the most crucial council meeting on Alma Plaza, April 14, 2007. The Planning Commission (with current council members Karen Holman and Pat Burt as members), had denied the applicant's PC proposal and introduced another one that would be based on neighborhood commercial (CN) zoning. On appeal at the council, and after a last minute project-change submission, the council voted 5-4 for the applicant's updated PC. Klein was on the short end, but after the outrage over the late-submission, he successfully pulled the item from consent calendar and at two more meetings pushed significant changes, but it was like carving round pegs into square holes and so the entire, required 30-foot Alma Street setback as well as proper internal circular were lost.

About 3 years ago, and as part of Sunshine Week, I wrote a 5 part series for the Palo Alto Patch, entitled "The Alma Plaza Learning Curve". Google it, you want more gory details on the project, process, and result that is yet to leave the public's consciousness.


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Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 20, 2014 at 1:38 am

@ Resident,
To your original question: how to make sure it does not happen again.

One way is to make a rule that City Council cannot increase the density of any zoning designation unless it has the approval of 2/3 of the voters. Also, full environmental impact analysis must be done on all projects over 5 units, period. Make clear safety and traffic circulation rules that would allow for the rejection of projects even under existing zoning (there are exceptions in the code, but without clear guidelines for how to reject such requests, in practice it never happens).

How do you get such rules? A well-written initiative.

But even with a well-written initiative, you won't be able to fix things unless first there is a key change to PA election code.

The reason High Street referendum lost - it lost by a very narow margin - is that the ballot was written in a leading and biased way by the Palo Alto City Attorney, who was not an impartial party.

The wording of the referendum was basically this: Shall the ordinance changing X to Y be upheld, for this really cool thing you get with Y? It's a wonder the election was that close.

At Maybell, the City Attorney did the same thing. It's a testament to how fed up the populace is that the No people won. If you look at San Francisco where they had a nearly identical measure, Measure C, but instead of the City Attorney writing the ballot analysis and question, they have an impartial committee that takes input from both sides in a public process, the No people there won 67% to 33%. Here it was 56% to 44%.

The structure of the questions:
SF Measure C - asked whether the developer could exceed the height limit by 80 feet, the exact subject of the ordinance (rezoning).
PA Measure D - asked residents whether they wanted to help poor seniors, the City Attorney even left off the "low-density" descriptor from the name of the existing zoning (as described in our City Code), and you'd never know all the ways the rezone violated the height, setback, parking, daylight plane, and other limits of existing zoning were violated -- the purpose of the ordinance.

San Francisco is more liberal, there was arguably more money for affordable housing, Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee shilled for the ordinance on TV, and it was to go in an already commercial district, yet the measure lost by far more. This says to me that High Street result was because of the Palo Alto City Attorney bias, and City Council knew this when they decided to spend an extra $600,000 of our money on a special election (while they continued to fill out paperwork at the state level as if PAHC had the rezoning, which they never did).

So you see, if you want to ensure citizens can take any of the possible steps above through initiative, it is first necessary to ensure we change our elections code to something more similar to SF's, which they've been doing for 30 years, so that residents don't face such an uphill battle to win a referendum. If City Council knows they can't stack elections, they'll be more likely to approve referenda or initiatives just based on enough signatures.

If you want to work with people already trying to change the elections code in PA, contact the Paloaltoville.com people.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Fred

Nice series in the Patch. Your narration of the razzle-dazzle that McNellis/Jim Baer worked on the council with their (literally) last-minute is spot on. Imagine their quandary: they really wanted to read and understand what was put before them, but they didn't have time, but one does not say no to Jim Baer. So they stammered through the issue.

We may sure the theatre around Baer's Lytton Gateway PC was carefully orchestrated in advance. Baer generously allowed the council a small illusion of control then, but his project then sailed through the process in record time with little or no real public benefit promised. It is often good to have Baer on your side at election time, and it can be bad not to. Web Link

Web Link


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Posted by Those who do not learn from history....
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2014 at 10:00 am

It seems that the powers that be in Palo Alto never learn from past mistakes, so we are doomed to more eyesores and abominations in architecture.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 22, 2014 at 11:26 am

What we learn from history is we don't learn from history.

But it's really much worse. In Palo Alto, developers and their advocates on the city planning staff routinely cite existing abominations to justify the next proposed atrocity, and so on and on. Council goes for it every time.


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Posted by Left of Boom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Left of Boom is a registered user.

Agreed. The JCC and Alma Plaza are hideous buildings which don't conform to the neighborhood. They are clearly examples of what is wrong with the planning, architectural review boards and the city council. Next time put build one of these disasters on University Ave instead.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 22, 2014 at 4:16 pm

"Next time put build one of these disasters on University Ave instead."

Appreciate the charitable impulse, but we already got our share: The Cheesy Factory, the new Walgreen's building, the Clown-Stripe office edifice on Lytton, 800 High Street, 801 Alma, a brand new monument to ego called Lytton Gateway, and that undead vampire called 27 University.

Can we agree these things do not belong ANYWHERE in Palo Alto?


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Posted by Jay
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Left-- do you actually know where the JCC is? What neighborhood does it not conform with? The two,lovely gas stations, and the hanger like structure? Or whatever the industrial site is on the back end near 101!!!!!!
As for alma plaza-- beware of " friends groups" and wishy washy councils that are afraid to make tough decisions. We got what we deserved with alma plaza-- we let a vocal minority play the " grocery store is too big, the grocery store is too small" game. We lost a local,shopping center because we let these " friends" hijack the process.


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Posted by SensibleZoning
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 23, 2014 at 3:28 pm

[Portion removed.]

Next up - corner of El Camino and Page Mill. 400% over the zoning and the public benefit is to try to help mitigate the traffic the building will cause by adding a turn lane. Can't believe this is even coming to council now.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bg
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 24, 2014 at 11:46 pm

John Barton - and his special interests are largely to blame for Alma.

Judy Kleinberg largely to blame for other high density projects.


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