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Editorial: A needed step back

Original post made on Dec 7, 2012

A growing public concern about the magnitude of a proposal made by developer and Stanford benefactor John Arrillaga and the planning process was heard loud and clear by the Palo Alto City Council before and during a five-hour discussion Monday night and early Tuesday morning.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, December 7, 2012, 8:21 AM

Comments (22)

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Posted by Cynthia
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2012 at 8:25 am

27 University is a historic location that could provide a valuable theme for redevelopment.

This historic train stop inspired Jane and Leland Stanford to begin, in 1875, to acquire farm land in the area. The rest, including the founding of Palo Alto decades later, is a rich history of accomplishments by many which could be well-told at this site.

As the editorial notes, a lodging component seems logical here.

For the university which owns the land, lodging would be convenient for its many campus and hospital visitors.

For those coming by rail, bus or car, lodging would provide a one-stop location for shelter and dining while reducing auto traffic during commute hours.

For theater goers, a good combo with lodging, the same benefits as the paragraph above.

For the city, lodging would provide an ongoing stream of transient occupancy taxes not shared with the county or state.

Keeping the Hostess House, now MacArthur Park Restaurant, at this location seems irrelevant to me, particularly since it wasn't constructed here in the first place. While it gives our Historical Society something to get energized about, it has moved and been re-purposed many times, just like we all have.

Isn't that what life is all about?


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Posted by Dick Maser
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2012 at 10:39 am

Bravo!! For putting the brakes and some honest perspective on this most ambitious and community transforming project. Transparency, unbiased, and prudent decision making are much needed and appreciated.


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Posted by Need to know more
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2012 at 11:01 am

>Isn't that what life is all about?<
No. Cynthia, it isn't.
Please let us know, what is your connection is to this project?


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Posted by Palo Alto Citizen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 7, 2012 at 11:15 am

I applaud the many residents of Palo Alto who spoke up well before this meeting, as well as at this meeting, nudging the City Council in better directions, and encouraging them to remind the City staff of its appropriate roles in planning and responding to developers. Yet, neither this editorial nor the City Council seem to have taken yet another needed step backward -- Palo Alto has many problems, opportunities, and challenges. Focusing, by virtue of the proposal for redeveloping 27 University Avenue and environs, has taken, and will continue to take significant resources of consultant and staff time, and therefore funds. Has the City Council considered and prioritized its planning projects, or is this venue getting the attention and resources above others merely because of the proposal?


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Posted by more than one
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2012 at 12:20 pm

"But the most significant news of the evening went practically unnoticed.

As part of an answer to a question, City Manager Jim Keene pledged that from now on, staff would obtain an independent analysis of the economic value to a developer of any proposed new development rights granted by the city beyond what is allowed by the zoning. "

Alongside the analysis of economic value to the developer (which could add a few millions to the deal for Palo Alto) who is doing the work to determine the value of this land for Palo Alto?

The City almost gave the value of this land as priced by the developer's initial offer - a theater and bike/pedestrian paths. That valuation was obviously wrong, but simply raising the price to a multiple of the developer's initial offer would also be wrong.

The City should be prepared to have a saner view of the constraints Palo Alto is facing in general (traffic, livability issues), and zoning for that specific piece of land.

Maybe the developer will go up in price, but unless the City owns the very real issues the public has brought up, City staff and Council will be again trying to cut raw deals for us. That won't be good for anyone.







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Posted by more than one
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm



Palo Alto citizen,

"I applaud the many residents of Palo Alto who spoke up well before this meeting, as well as at this meeting, nudging the City Council in better directions, and encouraging them to remind the City staff of its appropriate roles in planning and responding to developers. Yet, neither this editorial nor the City Council seem to have taken yet another needed step backward -- Palo Alto has many problems, opportunities, and challenges. Focusing, by virtue of the proposal for redeveloping 27 University Avenue and environs, has taken, and will continue to take significant resources of consultant and staff time, and therefore funds. Has the City Council considered and prioritized its planning projects, or is this venue getting the attention and resources above others merely because of the proposal?"

I posted after you and had not read your post yet. Notice my handle is "more than one" as in more than one post back, so we agree.

I've also wondered what the priorities are. There could be other 27 University projects out there. The downtown cap and other such studies need to happen sooner than later, and as many have pointed out, these projects should to be looked at in full context. Context prioritizing livability of the city, for residents, students, and also for visitors and for people who commute here. It's not just residents that will benefit.


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Posted by Henry
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Under the current proposal, the City is creating new zoning (Art & Innovation District) to suit the project. By definition, there may not be any amount of development that exceeds what is allowed by the new zoning. Therefore, there may not be any required public benefit. It's all negotiable.

To ensure that there is a public benefit requirement, the excess development rights needs to be measured against the current zoning which is Public Facility.

Within the PC zoning, there are only a few zoning criteria, so defining "beyond what is allowed by zoning" is tougher than one might imagine.


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Posted by more than one
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2012 at 1:15 pm

PA citizen,

oops, correction "Notice my handle is "more than one" as in more than one STEP back, so we agree."


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Posted by more than one
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Henry,

"Under the current proposal, the City is creating new zoning (Art & Innovation District) to suit the project. By definition, there may not be any amount of development that exceeds what is allowed by the new zoning. Therefore, there may not be any required public benefit. It's all negotiable.

To ensure that there is a public benefit requirement, the excess development rights needs to be measured against the current zoning which is Public Facility.

Within the PC zoning, there are only a few zoning criteria, so defining "beyond what is allowed by zoning" is tougher than one might imagine." I found the following educational piece on PC zoning. and what Palo Alto got for the Lytton project is an "entry structure" for downtown. Web Link



Palo Alto Weekly,

Please continue your investigative work, so that what Henry has brought up is examined.

The value issues you bring up in the editorial seem to be irrelevant with a PC, and even scarier is that CIty Council could do this without a vote?

It was odd that Council asked that all alternatives to 27 University include a theater, and the City Attorney is asked to draft some sort of letter of intent with Theaterworks tied to this property.

A new theater should not be tied to a commercial development.


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Posted by more than one
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Henry,

I'm sorry, my comment to your post appears like part of it,

The following was my response to your original comment.

I found the following educational piece on PC zoning. and what Palo Alto got for the Lytton project is an "entry structure" for downtown.Web Link

Palo Alto Weekly,

Please continue your investigative work, so that what Henry has brought up is examined.

The value issues you bring up in the editorial seem to be irrelevant with a PC, and even scarier is that CIty Council could do this without a vote?

It was odd that Council asked that all alternatives to 27 University include a theater, and the City Attorney is asked to draft some sort of letter of intent with Theaterworks tied to this property.

A new theater should not be tied to a commercial development


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Posted by Lia
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 7, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Arrillaga will continue to sweet talk the PA City Council. Eventually he will get what he wants. He always does. He'll just byde his time and make another stealth move at a later date, when the heat dies down and the citizens of PA are not paying attention. Palo Altans need to be vigilant when it comes to the Arrillaga proposal. City Hall has shown how corrupt and secretive they are.
They tried to pull a fast one over the PA public. Thank goodness the citizens banned together and intervened.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm

What the council voted on was a delaying action. The majority of the council is spineless to reprimand the city staff & city manager, so the citizens of Palo Alto need to do the following:

Start an initiative for a ballot measure restricting building height to 50 feet, and to place any changes of zoning to a vote.

The city staff and the majority of the city council have shown themselves to be untrustworthy of representing the residents, and too much under the influence of the special interests.


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Posted by more than one
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm

common sense,

A new ballot measure on height and zoning appears to be the only way to avert this mess, and future ones.

- The Weekly says

"We have called for reforms of the so-called "planned community" or "PC" zoning process for many years, and Keene's initiative is an important step in the right direction and should be especially helpful in negotiating a future development at 27 University. "

Except it looks like 27 University is not a PC, but a zoning change. Can it be both?

Henry's post suggests that if it's a PC and it does not meet a particular amount of development "compared to existing zoning", a public benefit may not even be required, but if there is no existing zoning to compare it to - what zoning applies, the brand new zoning?

- The city website says

"The Zoning Ordinance is a dynamic document, and will continue to be amended from time to time to reflect changed circumstances and updated zoning practices. For further information on the development of the ordinance and continuing amendments, please contact the Department of Planning and Community Environment at 650-329-2441."

A dynamic document? I guess so. The Council can change zoning, and residents are directed to find out about continuing amendments - no requests for input. Shouldn't it be illegal to create new zoning to get around old zoning?

- The editorial says "City Manager Jim Keene pledged that from now on, staff would obtain an independent analysis of the economic value to a developer of any proposed new development rights granted by the city beyond what is allowed by the zoning. This analysis, Keene said, would give the City Council the information it needs to determine the value of public benefits required of the developer. "

Isn't that like asking my neighbor to help decide how much allowance to give my kid? Shouldn't I know how to determine economic value?

Bob Moss' piece on PC's (planned community) describes the Lytton project as follows

"Most of the building will be offices, so there will be little tax revenue to the city, but there will be added costs to provide services for building occupants. The supposed "public benefit" will be an "entry structure to downtown" across from the train station, ignoring the fact that Lytton Avenue has never been an entry to downtown and that requiring attractive "entry buildings" is one of the tasks of the Architectural Review Board. " Web Link

If the Lytton project would have simply been put to Town Square, for free, we could have helped with the economic value to the developer, and upped the public benefit for the City.

We can't all be Bob Moss. So can you blame staff, council and developers for doing "whatever" if residents are not paying any attention. Missing from the "planned community" and zoning changes is evidently the community.



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Posted by amazed
a resident of University South
on Dec 7, 2012 at 9:08 pm

How can the City of Palo Alto staff have been so co-opted to work for a gigantic project that would benefit Stanford - and not benefit Palo Alto at all - except bring big problems in dealing with the consequences. This project was almost a total joke in its size. What could the staff have been thinking??
Remind the staff that they work for Palo Alto, and they are supposed to abide by the votes and previous decisions of Palo Alto residents.


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Here's hoping that this is a real change. But recognize that we got into this situation because a long line of Councils made it clear to staff that they should be advocates for the developers, not the public.
Council members would so routinely declare every developer's proposal to be "an exciting opportunity" that it was akin to boilerplate. And they would just as routinely back the most trivial of "public benefits" as to create the understandable impression that staff wasn't too treat it seriously, but as an excuse to give the developer substantial exemptions to the zoning ordinance.
Examples (from 101 Lytton): (1) An electric car charger in the tenants' private garage. (2) A coffee shop to reduce the 4 block distance between the train station and the closest one on UAve, ignoring the one in the station itself.

The lesson of the years is that staff tends to adapt to what it thinks Council wants. The public needs to maintain vigilance on projects or this change will quickly erode.


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Posted by dave
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 7, 2012 at 11:18 pm

I understand that >$500,000 of resident's (taxpayer's) money has been committed to this staff (not resident) project.

Why do all council members begin acting like politicians as soon as they take office? They too often treat the City's coffers as their own private piggy bank for any project that is given the correct buzz words like "amenity".

They also often make choices to earn votes which improve their chances of reelection, e.g. a bike bridge for a small percentage of the residents. The estimated cost of the bridge is $10 million of which the county (thank you Liz Kniss) will contribute $4 million. Who will pony up balance of $6 million? Right!! the residents as taxpayers if another source of funds is not found.


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Posted by Time for Keene to move on
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2012 at 12:13 am

Amazed wonders What could the staff have been thinking??
Arrillaga has enough money and clout to put "grease" wherever he wants to. We don't know how he got top staff so enthused about that project but as far as I'm concerned, the top guys should be fired.
They have proven that they are disloyal to this city's interests. And they work to violate our zoning laws.
Keene still says he thinks the staff did the right thing. Well of course they had his approval. This disgrace should make him think about moving on. And Emslie too.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2012 at 9:27 am

Keep the 50 foot limit, you will still have to deal with cars, parking issues, etc. Of course building by transit hubs is a wise place to build. We must fix the fix problem of cars. Parking, traffic, drivers who speed and reducing impacts on residential areas.


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Posted by more than one
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2012 at 9:36 am

It's actually a big step for Keene to pledge to bring in independent analysis for these projects. This demonstrates he's interested in improving things from the inside which has been rare so far.

I don't think specific people are the problem. It's how council appoints planning, and other commissioners who have ties to council members themselves, and developers. 27 University has two planning or architectural review board people who are employed by Arrillaga (no restrictions on commissioners using their posts to get jobs?) . Commissioners help re-elect council members. Some commissioners don't even live in Palo Alto.

Council is supposed to be the gatekeeper, but they're the first to talk up "amenities," and act like innocents ("staff brought it to us"). Council makes these projects work, and likely initiate them.

From Bob Moss' piece -Web Link

"A study done by staff more than 15 years ago found there was a strong correlation between who proposed the PC and the disparity between private and public benefits.

If the person proposing or advocating (as a paid consultant) for a project was someone who was connected, who knew staff and council members personally, then the private benefit heavily outweighed the "public benefit." If the advocate wasn't a local developer, hadn't proposed many projects here, or was a relative outsider, then the private and public benefits were much more balanced. "

15 years ago, this was known. So, changing the people hasn't helped.

I would suggest a report card on Council members on all these projects. Which council members fight to respect zoning. For example, what would their report card look like on the Lytton project. Who spoke out about traffic and other costs instead of "amenities."


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Posted by more than one
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2012 at 11:44 am


Basically, along with two alternatives to how to develop 27 University, we need two alternatives on how to correct the process.

Talking about having a hotel or a ferris wheel on this site is how things never really change. We all get caught up on the "exciting opportunity" and "public benefits."

If council is only delaying action, to end up in the same place again, the suggestion will be a wall of 50 foot buildings, instead of three office buildings sticking out over Palm Drive. Our choice is still ends up being how do we make it happen for the developer.

The focus needs to be on Palo Alto's priorities, do we have any other priorities than responding to developer's visions?





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Posted by 50 yr. resident
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 8, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I strongly urge Palo Alto residents to note WHICH Council members voted FOR the Arrillaga monstrosity, so that we can see that those members do not return to our Palo Alto City Council. They seem to belong to Arrillaga's and other Developer's fan club.
We need new blood, and politicians that actually care about the livability of our small city. Traffic, parking, too much growth and encouragement for developers growth is not appropriate for a city of our size. Move north, or south, but leave Palo Alto alone!


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Posted by Perla Ni
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 18, 2012 at 12:01 am

Anyone concerned about this project, should be concerned that Stanford/Arrillaga has another project on El Camino in Menlo Park that will have similar impacts on traffic. The Menlo Park project is over 370,000 square feet of medical offices, offices and housing where Tesla is currently. Stanford is combining multiple parcels to build a mega office complex. This is less than a quarter of a mile up the road from Palo Alto! There are similar concerns with this Menlo Park development: It's enormous - over 370,000 square feet, most of it high-traffic medical offices. And it poses safety and congestion problems. It seems to me that Palo Alto and Menlo Park City Councils should coordinate and look to both of these projects together - they impact the same El Camino separated, just 3500 feet apart. We're gathering signatures right now to send to Menlo Park and Stanford/Arrillaga - for more info, see www.savemenlo.org


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