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Huge crowd, no ruling on divisive Maybell development

Original post made on Jun 11, 2013

Palo Alto's most intense zoning battle in years will have to wait at least three more days for a resolution after the City Council decided Monday night to postpone a vote on the controversial senior-housing development proposed for Maybell Avenue.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 1:28 AM

Comments (51)

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 6:20 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

By their cumulative testimony at this Council meeting, affordable housing advocates lost their last shred of credibility with me. There seems to be no string of falsehoods uttered in justification of a project that is long enough to raise even the slightest concern by them about that project. And there are no factual concerns that need to be addressed by a competent factual response -- all that is needed is a dismissal by "We believe the contrary."

By their failure to consider that the enmity that they have earned here the advocates will likely hurt their cause more in the long run than had they supported modifications to this project to address residents' concerns. Their message to residents is to disbelieve anything and everything you are told, and to not delay in opposing a project while you find out the facts because that will be used against your interests. It is an utter waste of time to try to reason with them, or try to find alternatives or compromises that address problems with the project they want to do.

Posted by Soroor, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 6:27 am

This article does not describe in enough detail the problem that was raised by a lot of us. The problem is that PAHC is financing the senior housing section of the project by building 15 very skinny and tall 3 story and 2 story market rate houses mainly on Maybell. This design breaks just about every zoning rule that there is for that spot and is completely incompatible with Barron Park. Otherwise we are not objecting to having the low income senior housing.

If we want to provide low income senior housing why are we only asking the residents of just one neighborhood to shoulder the burden of its financing through this scheme of violating zoning rules and hyper dense development of market rate housing?

A better way of doing this is for the city to pay a portion of the cost of this project so that PAHC does not have to build such a dense row of market rate houses to finance it. That way every resident of Palo Alto will be paying a small share of the cost of the senior housing.

Posted by inflated ego, a resident of Stanford
on Jun 11, 2013 at 6:46 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Lisa LaForge, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2013 at 7:49 am

The neighborhood traffic volume was measured by the Hexagon Traffic Consultants on May 29-31, 2012. That is the tail end of the school year for area schools and is Gunn High School's finals week. Why couldn't the traffic study have been done when the school year is in full session and/or when it is raining? The traffic consultant woefully underestimated the car, bike and pedestrian traffic on Maybell and the determination that the development would add 16 car trips to the area in the morning rush hour and 21 during the afternoon that the area residents would not notice is a joke. Maybell cannot handle the existing traffic load, especially since the traffic-calming exercise on Arastradero. The city should revisit the traffic-calming on Arastradero, and put a light at Clemo and not run any additional traffic through Maybell, a safe route to school for children.

To the proponents of the rezoning, I say be careful of what you wish for you might get it. It is truly a matter of time before something terrible happens here.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 9:16 am

As I was leaving the meeting late yesterday, I ran into 2 people outside who were returning to the meeting after having left to grab a snack. Both were wearing green stickers in support of the the Housing Corporation. They asked me if the meeting was still going on after which we started to discuss the issues. They stated that the housing corporation had asked them, and many others who were near city hall last night, to go inside, put on their stickers, and support the project. They became concerned however when they heard about potential traffic issues and threats to the neighborhood. It was clear that they had no idea where this project was being built, were not aware or concerned with any the issues, and were simply soldiered in to the meeting by the Corporation, and asked to fill up the speaker list on behalf of low income and senior housing.

The Barron Park neighborhood is up against a better organized, more powerful and influential corporation, that has masked it goals by aligning itself with a legitimate, senior housing cause. This is a classic example of the city council (who has lent them money for this project) representing private interests instead of those of its constituents. This should be a wake up call for all Palo Alto residents as your neighborhood may be next.

As the article states, it was an evenly divided meeting last night- corporate interest vs neighborhood.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 11, 2013 at 9:32 am

In addition to the many issues associated with traffic on Maybell Ave., there are other issues about the increasing number of organizations that have targeted Palo Alto as a location for multiple-family, high density, tax-exempt housing. With the cost of providing services to Palo Altans at/about $2,500/person, tax exempt housing shifts the cost of public services (particularly the high cost of the PAUSD) to single family homeowners, and businesses.

Recognizing the impact of tax-exempt housing for certain people is a statewide issue, but it could not hurt for each City government to maintain an inventory of tax-exempt properties within its jurisdiction, as well as identify the impact of these properties on its revenue.

The following paper deals with examples of tax-exempt properties around Santa Clara County, and Palo Alto—

Web Link

Posted by questioning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2013 at 9:42 am

I am stil trying to figure the logic that 15 three story, four bedroom houses would only add 16 car trips to the neighborhood and only 8 students to the district. Not sure who will live in four bedroom houses and not have at least one child, most likely two or more children will be residing. If the trend of the neighborhood continues those most likely will be families with Gunn students. Two parents plus one Gunn student could easily translate to 45 cars if both parents work and only one of their children drives. What am I missing?

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 11, 2013 at 10:17 am

I can't stand what is being done to Palo Alto. It now takes 1/2 hour to go from one end to the other even before rush hour. Developers want to move beautiful historic MacArthur Park, and destroy the old gym at Paly, one of the last of its kind, instead of refurbishing it. Everything that was uniquely Palo Alto, is quickly starting to resemble Generic Town, USA. Sad.

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 11, 2013 at 10:19 am

And still, no housing is being built for those of us who are not low income FAMILIES or SENIORS. There are others who have lived in Palo Alto all our lives who can't find a place to live because of the greediness of local landlords. Palo Alto is losing all diversity in every demographic except in the area of wealth.

Posted by questioning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2013 at 10:58 am

You are so right, Enough. Because of the greediness of a developer wanting 15 homes that are three stories tall and no set backs it is holding up the approval of an affordable senior housing project.

Posted by truthspeaker, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:05 am

If you have ever driven on Maybell, you will know that there are already a. enough drivers and b. high volume bike traffic. Increasing zoning in this area would not only make me really upset, but would also be impractical and affect the safety of our children. While it is general knowledge that teenagers are usually the highest risk for traffic accidents and erratic driving, senior driving is close behind. Don't get me wrong, I have endless respect for the elderly and know that I myself will hopefully live to be that long, but senior housing on Maybell is really, REALLY NOT THE PLACE FOR IT! Now, according to statistics by the CDC, "Age-related declines in vision and cognitive functioning (ability to reason and remember), as well as physical changes, may affect some older adults' driving abilities." What does this have to do with rezoning? Well, the addition of many seniors in the area will in fact most likely congest our roads, with people going slower than the already snail paced 25MPH speed limit. While they may be cautious, I would like if it didn't take me 10 minutes to travel down Maybell to starbucks in the morning when I'm hungover.

Thanks and have a great day.

Posted by i dont understand, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:09 am

Why is the city trying to inconvenience the people who have worked long and hard for the privilege of being able to afford living in Palo Alto by going out of their way to crowd up our streets with low income housing....I just don't get it. Stop this plan and try to forget about it because I am not a fan and most others in my neighborhood aren't either.

Posted by pares, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:10 am

@Enough -- have you compared Palo Alto to Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Atherton, Hillsborough? Especially South Palo Alto has more than its share of dense apartments, condos, low income housing, much of it close to Arastradero and El Camino. We ARE doing our share.

Posted by Marianne, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:31 am

This time delay may provide the opportunity for the Palo Alto Council members to really assess with a clear mind the situation as presented so clearly by the neighbors surrounding this project to make Maybell into a canyon.

There are plenty of facts available to challenge the assumption of the PAHC on this project - including distorted artist renderings, flawed out of date traffic info and completely reversing the intent of zoning/comprehensive plan objectives.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:34 am

So it would seem that opinion on this project may be more evenly divided then the threads here would indicate. Also I hunk the housing advocates will still have plenty of credibility after this and I am not sure how blanket accusations against them will help the cause of the other side.
Enough--- how,long do you think it should take you o cross palo alto?
And as for,the play gym. It is outdated and the school gt a big donation o build a new gym. That was a school board decision and I do to think any developers were involved.

Posted by VM, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Did any of the council members visit the intersection to see the traffic for themselves when school was in session? Or is that too much to ask from our representatives, especially when one of them lives two blocks away?

Why would one take a risk on school children and their futures by placing even greater traffic hazards on their route to school?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I find it very interesting that according to one poster above, some of the green sticker wearers at the meeting last night were only there because they were seat fillers rather than people with strong views.

Can anyone verify that this is true?

Posted by resident, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 12:30 pm

While I know there were some well-intended residents of Palo Alto and the public for the project and deserved to be heard, the were also a good number of "placeholders" in present with green stickers. I personally heard some of their conversations and they wern't really sure where the Maybell project even was located. Also, many of the folks with green stickers were directly employed or associated with the Palo Alto Housing Corporation.

There is probably no way to sort this out. The neighbors against the rezoning made no effort to recruit extra people.

This is reducing down to well funded corporate and developer's interested vs individuals just try to defend their position.

Posted by another barron park resident, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I too find it interesting that PAHC had all these seat fillers there. Trying to game the system for their corporate interests..City council should represent the residents of the area. Maybell traffic is so so awful, it's an horrific accident waiting to happen anytime the school is on. When it rains it can take hour to get through. And this is before all this incredible number of homes that will be added. All about developers, all about using tax free dollars for private interests.

Posted by please clarify, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Doug Moran re: "There seems to be no string of falsehoods uttered in justification.." can you clarify the statements you believe to be false by pahc?

Posted by Jim Colton, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2013 at 1:24 pm

I can verify that the person on either side of me knew only that this is a project for senior housing. They did not know exactly where it was or even how to pronounce Maybell and Clemo. When I asked them if they'd seen the traffic in the morning I just got blank stares. Most of the proponents who spoke emphasized the need for senior housing. Most opponents said they supported senior housing but not by rezoning. It sure looked to me like PAHC stacked the audience with "proponents" who didn't know much about the neighborhood or the issues.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm

IMO I support only the senior housing part of the project, didn't really care for the tall skinny homes. Also wish they would have designed more of neighborhood friendly look, feel. A mix of units like studios with either kitchens or shared kitchens, 1 bedroom cottages or apartments, allowing people in the area to jump ahead of the line.

I find seniors living in their own homes are good, it is their homes, but if they need to move into a unit. Let them stay in their area, allow them to keep their home, that way family is close. Friends, family, even the their neighbors will be close by.

I know lots of people that went to High Schools in the area, have moved away over the years, I think some of them would like to come home. Why would someone from Palo Alto want to end up in San Jose.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Southgate
on Jun 11, 2013 at 2:12 pm

By granting developers exemptions to zoning, setbacks, height limits, etc., the City Council is giving them money. In return, the City supposedly gets "community benefit". However, we've repeatedly seen the developer get the better end of the deal financially and the "community benefit" is often Council Members' pet projects, and not necessarily what the majority of Palo Altans would have chosen. As a case in point, the Alma Plaza housing development yielded Palo Altans:
1. a "pocket park" that no one other than the residents will visit (about the size of a living room)
2. a grocery store (Mikis) that lasted only a few months, primarily benefited the residents, and lease payments go (went) to the developer, not the City
3. some sort of community meeting room, that'll probably be used for nothing more than a party room for the residents
Palo Altans as a whole gained nothing. The developer made a lot, I'm sure. Perhaps, in the future, the City Council might consider it a "community benefit" to have the developer simply pay cash to the general fund, equal to the value of the exemptions. The cash should be used for infrastructure or other expenditures that will truly benefit all Palo Altans.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I seriously doubt that the PAHC went outside and asked people to put n green stickers and sit at a council meeting for 4+ hours. Those that are claiming that the audience that was in favor of the development was made up of seat fillers and employees of the PAHC need to come forward with the proof since these are serious claims. Or is it just a ploy to discredit those that support this project? I think the opponents were surprised at the positive turnout.

Posted by Michele, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 11, 2013 at 2:47 pm

So the City Council was supposed to meet and discuss their "core values" on Thursday and now instead they have to demonstrate what their true core values are! Loyalty to the developers or loyalty to children and students of Maybell and Clemo who stand to be run over by all the increased traffic - hmm, wonder what it will be.

Posted by Magda, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm

My concern with all our new high-density tax-exempt housing projects with single driveway street access is twofold.
First, there is design itself: planning for parking spaces is always insufficient, and maneuvering space for emergency vehicles inside the developments much too tight. THIS IS TOTALLY UNSAFE. It presents a congestion problem under ordinary circumstances, certainly for children trying not to get run over; but worse, it is a totally unrealistic impediment for emergency vehicles, who would have to wait in line to enter one at a time. That, in turn, is an unacceptable risk for residents. Picture a fire burning in several places at once, or a limo that has burst into flames, which requires simultaneous response by multiple fire engines and/or evacuation simultaneously for more than one injured person. Responders having to wait for access to the project would exacerbate the emergency, and response in such a case would need to be called in by air — MedEvac helicopters, 737s, Boron bombers, all operated by highly trained (and justifiably expensive) personnel.
This leads to my second concern: financial participation and responsibility. Who would pay for the extra cost of such protracted disaster response? And who would pay for damage to surrounding private properties, which already do pay tax? For medical emergencies incurred in waiting cars blocked by emergency vehicles in major arteries such as El Camino, Alma, Arastradero, Charleston? As it stands now, not the tax-exempt developers, but the city as a whole.
For all these reasons, for all high-density housing, in exchange for tax exempt status, city planners and council members need to insist on (1) fulsome (not just adequate) traffic and parking space inside the development; (2) four-lane access to public streets in at least three places; and (3) a grocery store, drugstore, Starbucks or Peet's or equivalent; and (4) a playground/park within easy walking distance. A new theatre or garage as "public benefit' is not enough. The high-density project itself needs to be livable and sustainable. And finally, as important as the conditions themselves, all details need to be accessible for the public to read and copy before construction starts.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Garrett, I don't think the senior housing in the Maybell project is a "bring your friends back to Palo Alto" kind of proposal. PAHC needs to move the "empty nesters" who were originally in their low income family-based housing somewhere else. PAHC said this during last night's meeting. They need the space for new low income families and PAHC doesn't have a PAHC-only low income senior housing alternative. Maybell is PAHC's solution.

As for "Why would someone from Palo Alto want to end up in San Jose?" Not to be disrespectful, but the best answer might be "so they don't have to sleep in their car." If you consider the cost of living here over San Jose, the same amount of government funding could help twice the number of people in San Jose than the dollars might in Palo Alto. Since the demand is always greater than supply, wouldn't it make more sense to help the greatest number of people?

Art Liberman made a good point last night. Building new low income housing is incredibly expensive. In fact, this proposal is so expensive that PAHC had to come up with a crazy scheme to sell off part of the land for dense, out of scale private housing. In the end, PAHC admitted last night that what's really driving this whole project is the pursuit of federal grant money and a July deadline. If that's all that PAHC has, then the City Council needs to puts a stop to the rush to rezone. There are better ways to accomplish what PAHC needs that would help more people. PAHC can rework the proposal and apply in 2014.

PAHC seems to think they're fighting NIMBY's in Barron Park. But, that's not the case at all. As Doug Moran pointed out in the first post, PAHC and the City are generating a lot of bad feeling about planning and housing in Barron Park. The PTC did a terrible job, and the task is now up to the City Council to step in and repair the damage they've done.

Posted by pares, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm

City leaders, both elected and staff, are disregarding the zoning ordinances. If they respect the current zoning designations, then there's no opposition. To call that NIMBY is nonsense. If someone says the magic words "low income housing", then the city believes that gives them the right to disregard zoning laws. That's the problem.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2013 at 4:36 pm

"Mayor Greg Scharff asked everyone who supports the Maybell rezoning to stand up. He then asked the same question of opponents. 'I would call this a room evenly divided,' Scharff observed."

Problem is that that the two groups are taking positions on TWO DIFFERENT ISSUES.

The Maybell/Greenacres residents who would be severely impacted by the development are NOT against senior housing. So if Mayor Scharff asked everyone in favor of senior housing to rise, odds are that the entire audience would have stood up.

We do not know where the folks with green buttons came from, but I suspect they were not all Palo Alto residents. Certainly there are many people who are in need of housing.

Council's main responsibility lies with the residents who elected you. They have a right to continue living in the same kind of neighborhood they originally moved in to.

Posted by Kevin, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2013 at 4:45 pm

The tactics employed by PAHC in this development are not what the citizens deserve from a taxpayer funded non-profit:

1. PAHC commissioned a traffic study that was little more than a marketing document: it ignored any potential effect on pedestrians, it underreported traffic counts (by using old data), and it under-estimated new traffic generation by 35-40% by using an obsolete version of the Institute of Traffic Engineers trip generation guidelines. This last "oversight" is either gross incompetence or willful data manipulation, neither of which gives much credibility to the traffic study. Staff, however, has been happy to accept it as complete throughout the process, and Tim Wong even went out of his way to mention how satisfied he was with the traffic study.

2. The renderings of the project showed smaller, better spaced houses lining Maybell than the actual plans that were submitted. This type of dishonest representation would normally get a developer asking for zoning favors bounced immediately, but the council doesn't seem to want to take them to task about accurately representing the scope of their proposal.

3. PAHC has opted not to engage the neighborhood in any meaningful way, but rather to rally its membership around false accusations of NIMBYism (against a neighborhood that hosts existing PAHC projects and several other high density developments already).

4. PAHC represented to the planning commission that the 3 story houses on Maybell were necessary or the project would not be financially viable, yet indicated a sudden flexibility on the matter before the CC when the scope of the incompatibility was questioned. PAHC is not opening its books to the city (which it should, since the city council in a premature, conflict-creating move already issued PAHC a loan for this project), yet continues to plead "financial viability" when convenient.

As a parent I am offended that PAHC is playing fast and loose with the safety of the neighborhood children. As a taxpayer, I am offended that the city council is not demanding more from an organization that the city is using tax dollars to fund.

This project needs to be built within the current zoning laws or not at all. The message needs to be sent to developers that deceptive representations will never be tolerated in this city. The city council needs to vote the rezone down and demonstrate that they didn't pre-determine this outcome without any process when they committed city dollars to PAHC months ago.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Scharff didn't actually ask who was opposed to the rezoning, he asked who was opposed to the "project" or "development". I wasn't sure what to do. i was there opposed to the rezoning, in favor of the project.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2013 at 5:43 pm

@Not an issue,
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

PAHC's May/June newsletter to all of its properties said, "A vocal group of community members are stating their opposition to more affordable housing in Palo Alto," and encouraged people to activism against these bad NIMBYs who don't want affordable housing in Palo Alto (the implication being someone was against those residents' affordable housing, and telling people to go to those meetings to support affordable housing -- if you listen back to some of the bused-in speakers last night, their testimony makes a lot more sense, one gentleman in particular seemed to think his housing was at stake. Another speaker seemed to be suffering from some form of dementia, she was clearly there at someone else's behest. Nothing at all was said in that newsletter article about Maybell, the issues, or that it was rezoning and the neighbors weren't even against the development or affordable housing in the neighborhood or in that spot (that the neighbors are trying to save an affordable housing park in the same neighborhood), or that they just want a proper traffic study, honest financing scheme that doesn't make the neighborhood bear the cost, and a development reasonably in keeping with the neighborhood. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I spoke to a man there who lives in a PAHC project who told me and another neighbor that some of the people who were had been paid to be there. My neighbor told me earlier Monday that a friend in one of PAHC's developments told her PAHC employees were strong-arming them to sign petitions. (Apparently the friend refused and was badgered.)

This is really egregious in so many ways, among them that people in low-income housing in Palo Alto should never be pawns or made to feel that they owe the employees or PAHC in that way.

I've been a longtime PAHC supporter, but no longer. I'm still in support of affordable housing in Palo Alto, but I'll be taking a look at what other groups do and how they do it.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Neighbor-- you are making serious claims about the PAHC. Are these claims based on facts? Okay, let's see the evidence.
You spoke to this person and that person and they told you this and that. If this is true those people should come forward, since the allegations are very serious.
I was at a local restaurant today and I met 3 people who told me that they were at the meeting In Support of the project and that all of the people that were there In support were local residents that believed in the project. They also said that PAHC is an honarble organization that would not do the things you say that they are doing. And anyone who makes those statements without proof are impugning the character of good people. I tend to believe them.
I should mention that this happens quite often on this forum-- people against something make outlandish claims about the people they disagree with and they bolster these claims by saying that this person or that person told the this or that ( in other words, unsubstantiated claims made by third persons) .

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2013 at 6:24 pm

If there were seat fillers and even worse those who were paid to fill seats as well as speak for the allotted 2 minutes, then this is serious.

I think a serious journalist would like to track down some of these people who were wearing green buttons and ask them why they were there.

In fact, a serious journalist would have interviewed attendees as they left and asked them these type of questions.

I was at a community meeting a few years ago to do with a local issue and I was approached by a journalist covering the event. I was asked my name, my street, my age (?) as well as my reason for attending the event as well as my opinion on the issue. I was quoted in the article. This to me is good journalism.

The article appears to have been written by an attending journalist who was listening to the speakers, but it would have been fair to talk to attendees leaving and find out more than what they said in the public forum.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2013 at 6:49 pm

@ Not an issue,
First of all, most of the people in Greenacres support the project. They just don't support the way it's being financed with the market rate homes, the size and scale, and the lack of an appropriate traffic study/heightened review the safe routes to school are supposed to be accorded under City policy, for example. Being against the project being done badly or unsafely, or in a way that places the burden of the costs on the neighborhood, is not the same as being against affordable housing or even putting low-income senior housing in that location. PAHC is treating them as one and the same, because they CAN.

It's interesting how you speak out against heresay, then engage in it to make your point. The 3 people you met today may have been "local" but they were not from Greenacres. Greenacres did a neighborhood survey, with over 150 households responding, and 98.5% of them were against the rezoning. Over half would rather see that location go to a no traffic or low traffic use, but if anything is going to be built there, the majority (including me) would rather see a low-income senior development there over anything else.

So why does it have to involve rezoning the residential end for the sake of a developer to maximize his short-term profits on 15 market rate homes? There are 4 perfectly good single-story ranch homes there right now. PAHC could just renovate those and put 2 more like them on Clemo, and make back the whole cost of the property. But that's not good enough, they want to finance it by letting the for-profit developer do whatever he wants in the middle of a residential neighborhood. As one of the speakers said, Palo Alto just put up a development on Alma nr University where it paid the full cost of the units, they can do that on Maybell as well, and not ask the neighborhood to bear the cost. On Alma, they could have allowed a for-profit developer to put up a giant high-rise 3 times higher than the surrounding buildings on part of the land to pay for the rest, but they didn't. They shouldn't do that to a residential neighborhood.

As for what I reported, my neighbor gave a first-hand account right after it happened. But you're right, let's see the evidence. I hope the local media looks into this a bit, because it would be news if PAHC employees were using their position to rustle up astroturf support.

I have no way to post an attachment to this forum, so I quote directly from the article on the front page of PAHC's May/June newsletter, sent to all of their properties across town (excuse me, it does mention the purchase of the Maybell property/intention to build a senior complex, but says nothing else about it, fails to mention at all the rezoning for the sake of a market rate developer and the market rate 15 homes that are the focus of most the the neighbors' concerns, or the rezoning at all). You can ask them for a copy yourself:

"... A vocal group of community members are stating their opposition to more affordable housing in Palo Alto.

The Planning Commission and Palo Alto City Council need to hear from citizens of Palo Alto who support affordable housing so they have a balanced perspective! How has affordable housing benefitted you? Why is affordable housing particularly important for seniors? As a citizen of Palo Alto, why do you think affordable housing is an asset to our community?

Help us show the human face of affordable housing & the real people who benefit. Come to one or both of the City Council meetings listed above. Fill out a card to speak during the comment portion of the agenda. ... you can also email your thoughts to: ..."

In all of this, even in neighborhood meetings, I have never once heard any neighbor speak in opposition to more affordable housing in Palo Alto. Not once. This was a deliberate mischaracterization of the issue and the neighborhood to drum up support PAHC couldn't get by being honest and straightforward about it.

My neighbor's account was also firsthand, immediately after it happened.

I'd check out the story of the guy who claimed some of the people were paid before I believed it for sure, but he gave another neighbor his contact information, and she may have passed it to a reporter.

Posted by One in the know, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 8:24 pm

To Not An Issue - Lydia Klussman who spoke at both the PTC meeting, and the PACC meeting last night is a former PAHC employee. She did not identify herself as a former employee. She simply said she lives in the neighborhood and has two children ages 10 and 12 who attend the neighborhood schools, and she did not see any problems with traffic in and out of APAC apartments. And she lives in PAHC housing. PAHC did ask residents in a newsletter to come out, speak, and support affordable housing as neighbors in the community are against affordable housing. That is how PAHC sold it to their residents. At least, board members of PAHC identified themselves as such.

Posted by parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 11, 2013 at 8:50 pm

They did a traffic study on MAY 29-31? Are you kidding me? Is that a JOKE?


[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Lila, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 11, 2013 at 9:14 pm

This is a good, sound project that will be approved for good reason. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2013 at 9:19 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 11, 2013 at 9:34 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Clearly you weren't there. There were a lot of people with green stickers who looked uncomfortable to be there and not really interested in what was going on, or standing around waiting for it to be done. One woman who spoke clearly wasn't entirely

What's your stake in the game that you think it's a good sound project? What about putting 15 tall skinny market rate homes with little setback ala behind Miki's Market right on Maybell, rezoned for the benefit of a developer's short-term profits, and claiming even just they will result in only 10 addition vehicle trips per day is sound?

If the REZONING is approved, there are any number of possible hurdles: a CEQA lawsuit, potential contract zoning issues. There will be a referendum -whether won or lost, will cause delay. PAHC can continue to try to steamroll the neighbors, but the neighbors will insist on a traffic study that should have been done in the first place, and they have a legal and moral right to.

If PAHC truly wants to provide for the housing of these seniors, someone needs to put away their boilerplate NIMBY attack book, swallow their pride over not having snuck this by the neighborhood (go back and read about the first PTC vote), and roll up their sleeves. If they realize the neighborhood really wants to see these senior units and are willing to work with neighbors, there might be a win-win for everyone. Someone last night mentioned how the Terman Apartments came out of just such a collaboration with neighbors.

From the beginning, PAHC has treated the neighbors shabbily. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2013 at 10:10 pm

@ Lila,
It's a fact that PAHC did misrepresent the situation in their newsletter. You can look it up. It's a fact that they were spending staff time trying to drum up signatures of support.

I have not verified what the young man at the meeting told me, that some of the people there with green stickers had been paid to be there, but it would make a lot of sense.

it's really not that easy to get anyone to show up at community meetings at city hall even when their own interests are at stake. Most of the people PAHC brought in had no idea what this was about.

It's called "astroturf", and this isn't the first time they've played that hand.

Posted by Margaret Fruth, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 11, 2013 at 10:30 pm

On May 28, 2013 I was promised that the staff report would be sent to me as soon as it became available. I would like the opportunity to expand and revise these comments when it becomes available to me.

My comments to the City Council:

On May 28, 2013 I was promised that the staff report would be sent to me as soon as it became available. The City of Palo Alto Weekly Digest Bulletin emailed Sunday, June 9, 2013 includes the Agenda for Tuesday June 11, but not the staff report. I would like the opportunity to expand and revise these comments when it becomes available to me, and that the public hearing be continued and the City Council decision be postponed until everyone who has requested a copy of the staff report has actually received one..

The City of Palo Alto is not required to change zoning for any project. The city is not required to facilitate developers' profits. If a project is not viable without government subsidies and accommodations, the developer is paying more than the site is worth, and asking the city to make up the difference with a hidden, indirect subsidy. Density increase is often just a gift to developers.

The government subsidies for operating existing housing for low income seniors have been almost eliminated. The dirty secret about existing low-income housing for seniors is that in order to pay for the Iraq war, the Bush administration almost completely eliminated Section 8 funds for subsidizing operating expenses. For example, the last time I checked, the waiting list at Lytton Gardens was a few months for full-pay middle class residents, but five years long, & closed for all but two weeks of the year, for subsidized housing. PAHC insists it cannot build Maybell without the gift of a density bonus in the form of some market-rate townhouses. If that is true, they paid too much for the land. Before Maybell is approved, reliable, permanent source of funds for an operating subsidy (in addition to to start-up costs) should be secured before approving this project, unless PAHC wants to get into the market-rate housing business. They already plan to do so--the townhouses are just that. The corporation which owns Mabell has an extensive real estate portfolio; it should be able to find funds to cover start up and operating costs.

I am not aware of any subsidized units at Moldaw. How many are there, and are they advertised?

This project has been fasttracked by City of Palo Alto staff. There have been so many errors in the planning process that it may not be legally defensible. The City Council has already accepted the project in concept, by giving public funds to them in advance. The worst effect of this decision is not the giveaway of public funds, but the giveaway of advance approval of more intensive land use. If the news reports are accurate, the City Council comments so far are not credible, but instead insulting to Palo Alto's citizens.
These giveaways increase the likelihood that both decisions would not survive a court challenge; they may be decided in court or at the ballot box. To avoid these, the best option would be to figure out what the neighbors could be satisfied with.
Mayor Greg Scharff has insulted the electorate with his claim that the Council can make an "impartial" decision about projects they have already committed funds to.
The Mayor in particular should know better, since he is an attorney specializing in land use. His arrogance is one justification for keeping term limits.

Governance by lawsuits, referenda, and recalls is very expensive and time-consuming Because of the errors, the City would make better use of scarce resources by negotiating with the neighbors. In the case of Maybell, start by eliminating the market-rate housing, with impacts far greater than senior housing. If PAHC wants to build the senior project, they should find outside funds to make the construction & operating budgets balance. Eliminating the market-rate housing entirely would reduce the impacts, especially traffic impacts enough to make the project more defensible. The City could require more comprehensive permanent project-based transportation. Existing senior housing varies greatly in number of trips and quantity of transportation provided. If the facility provides more transportation, the residents drive less, with younger, more qualified drivers. The project approval could require residents who drive to complete a DMV road test once a year as a condition of their residency.

Anyone who wants to keep Maybell as open space needs to start raising money now, to compensate the owner at fair market value. Of course, the property is not worth now what it would be worth with the gift of a zoning change.

Margaret Fruth
Margaret Fruth, a Geographer who grew up in Palo Alto, has recently moved back home after many years in Menlo Park.

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2013 at 10:42 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Four of council members I would expect to for the project: Klein, Shepard, Scharf, Price. These four have never voted against a PC zoning change, their campaign contributions come from developers and special interest groups. Klein's participation at the end was "if we move our discussion of the PC Zoning change to Thursday, when are we going to do our council retreat".

I think Schmid & Holman to be against the zoning change. They are more in tune with representing the residents, even though both are affordable housing advocates. [Portion removed.]

That leaves Burt, Kniss & Berman. I hope Burt will stand with the residents - [portion removed] I believe that he will vote his conscience. It would be great for the community if Burt, Kniss & Berman would delay this so that there time to see if a compromise can be made, as well as a set of neutral studies can be done.

The city council is suppose to be check & balance for when the city staff over reaches, especially when the city staff over reaches in concert with special interest groups. Klein, Shepard, Scharf and Price don't view that as their job - they view themselves as nobility, who job it is to rule over the less knowlegable masses.

Perhaps it time to take PC Zoning decisions out of the hands of council, and make them a decision by ballot. That should be what the neighborhoods should organize a measure to voted on in the next election.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:06 pm

Thank you for the insightful commentary.

I was told by staff that there were 20 of 24 BMR units at Moldaw vacant for 3 years. Mainly, this was because they turned out not to be that affordable for PAHC's clientele, but PAHC really should have understood that. They just have this "build first, ask questions later (if at all)" mentality. In the past, they've had vacancies at (non senior) properties like the Redwoods and Abitaire that required advertising to the public to fill. The consultant who reviewed the PAHC programs said the vacancies were partly because of undesirability of the complexes or units.

Recently, I heard that Jessica de Wit at PAHC said only 12 of those 20 units are now vacant,and the city is working on renegotiating things to fill the others. So hopefully one good thing came out of this, the spotlight on those vacant units at Moldaw will get 20 more seniors the affordable housing they need right now.

Posted by Another Idea, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Can PAHC work with the owner of the Buena Vista trailer park on Los Robles at El Camino to put up a big senior housing project there. Access is much better!

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 12, 2013 at 4:23 am

@another idea,
If the idea of letting a private developer maximize profits by getting a rezone for the market-rate homes is dropped in favor of the City simply accepting the actual cost of the affordable units as they do on other affordable projects (instead of in this case asking the neighborhood to shoulder the burden), then suddenly the site considerations such as it not being walkable, not near transit, not near medical, places of worship, grocery stores, or other amenities, comes into focus and it's easier to talk about better alternatives.

I think the City should consider using part of the Stanford money to purchase the Buena Vista site so the residents do not have to be evicted. If reasonable renovations could move some of the properties forward on the site over a few years, then additional affordable housing could be built on the back portion, saving both the current affordable housing -- which should be rent controlled IMO, so people who live there don't have to enroll in some government program to stay in affordable housing -- and allowing for a senior development on the El Camino transit corridor. The City would own the property and retain the investment. I think this is a better alternative than building affordable housing for the existing residents on the site in order to put up a 180 unit market rate development there (whoa Nelly! that's also zoned RM-15) It's not going to happen, though, since the current owner isn't likely to sell to the City, for starters.

Another possible site is 27 University. Part of the public benefit there could be affordable housing, in a location that is close to perfect for seniors -- who truly wouldn't need a car there, so the cost of creating parking would be saved, which is not insignificant. There are 4 office buildings and 200,000 sq ft of office space proposed. I'd support an extra story or two per building if it meant we could put seniors in such an ideal location - near Avenidas for free meals, community and classes, steps from PAMF and stanford medical, on a rail and bus line, etc etc. It's downtown, it's a more appropriate place for dense development, and the height given how setback 27 University is, would make the taller exception reasonable. At the same time, the historic Julia Morgan building could be relocated to the Maybell site to make a community orchard and community center. The existing houses could be renovated and sold off, making back most of the cost of the land purchase, and the rest frankly wouldn't be that hard to raise if Palo Alto couldn't be convinced to spend a small fraction of the Stanford money on such a visionary project for a part of town that has few such amenities.

If council simply approves the rezone, there will be legal challenges. PAHC entered into this with a boilerplate NIMBY attack strategy - they brag about how they have that all figured out on their site - and because they did not deal with the neighbors honestly and in good faith, did not understand that this neighborhood would have welcomed the chance to bring in the project, understand the real risks, and work out the issues (would have stood with PAHC to ask the City to pay the actual cost rather than such a financing scheme that presented such problems), they lost the opportunity to work through those problems by now. Now they will miss a deadline and blame it on the neighbors for demanding a good traffic study, or holding a referendum, or any of the other avenues that may be pursued, when it's PAHC's responsibility for failing to work with and deal honestly with the neighborhood from the start.

One of the speakers at the end of evening talked about the Terman Working Group, and how that ended up with the Terman apartments, one of several existing affordable housing complexes in the neighborhood. PAHC then got up and gave other reasons it just couldn't do that (timing). They're just not being realistic if they think they're going to continue steamrolling this through and treating neighbors concerns like they're beside the point. A judge isn't going to act like their advocate for the project and essential ignore the other side as staff has done here.

The trouble is, the people who worked up this project are pretty set on not compromising. They now seem willing to make little insignificant compromises that still don't bring the proposed for-profit component within the character of the neighborhood. I think good answers would probably come out of a Terman Working Group model, but PAHC's closing statement seemed to shut that out, too. They're still in the all-or-nothing mode, and treat the neighbors like their concerns are just NIMBY pretext.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2013 at 8:29 am

Why not build small senior cottages that can be sold. 1 to 2 bedroom units, you have to 50 and over to live there. The cottages will be single story, garden like setting. Having a smaller apartment building with more ownership units.

The apartment building can be built to house the low income, common services will be both for the cottages and units.

Posted by Peter K. Mueller, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Clearly the Maybell-Clemo development needs to be replanned. Grant deadline application shouldn' t be the major timing influence.

Respectfully PKM

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 12, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Tim Wong said something that I almost missed: he said the project will serve seniors earning between 30% and 60% of the area's median income... REALLY?!!! Is this going to be another case like Moldaw where they build/acquire first and ask questions later? Their justification for needing to rezone is that 20% of Palo Alto seniors live below the poverty line. Will they be serving those people?

Federal poverty guidelines
Web Link
household size 1: $11,490
household size 2: $15,510

Median family income in Palo Alto as of 2012: $163,661
Web Link

In 2000, median per capita income was $56,257 and median household income was $90,377, considerably lower than 2013 median family income. In 2009 est household income was $118,989 and per capita $66, 126.

I think I can safely say the median per capita income as of 2012 is at least $70,000 based on the above.

Per person:
30% of $70,000 = $21,000
60% of $70,000 = $42,000
Federal poverty limit for 2013 = $11,490
Number of seniors below the federal poverty limit this project is being planned to serve based on the income range staff specified: 0

I am NOT saying this project isn't needed, I'm NOT saying we shouldn't build low-income senior housing, we should. I am saying PAHC is doing a poor job assessing the need in advance and planning to meet the need. They're very good at the whole psychological process of creating urgency (and other means) of persuasion and forcing decisions, but it doesn't seem to be based on sound data and planning. Which is how they ended up with 20 our of 24 BMR senior units at Moldaw vacant for 3 years, and other BMR units vacant in the past.

An elderly person who bought a home for $15,000 back in the day, has paid it off, and is paying almost nothing for property taxes, they're not exactly going to want to move into housing that will cost a third of income of ... $42,000/year? even if they could transfer all assets to someone else (which cheats someone who really can't afford it out of that spot).

They haven't ascertained whether there will be enough people in that income range who will want to choose to be in a location where they have no walkable services. In the past, PAHC has ended up with vacancies in BMR locations besides Moldaw, too, because — as City consultants determined — they didn't realize desirability affects decisions in below market rate clientele, too; they acquired first, asked questions later.

I'm not disputing the need, I'm disputing that the process PAHC planners have been taking is geared to best meet the need. That is evidenced by their using the point over and over again that 20% of Palo Alto seniors are below the poverty level as the basis for this rezoning, even though — for one, it's not an accurate statistic, it's lower than 10% — and two, the project isn't even being designed to serve anyone in that income level.

If I were the City, I would ask them to go back to looking first at prioritizing the needs, not just figuring anything they build will meet the need. That's how they ended up with 20 our of 24 units at Moldaw unfilled for 3 years (and a dozen unfilled still), because they didn't understand the need and that the costs of those BMR units didn't match the clientele they serve.

There are a host of other factors in whether people even stay in Palo Alto when they retire — as the classic choice we ALL face, in every community across the country, not just Palo Alto, is whether to move somewhere affordable and easier to live after retirement. With no walkable services in that location, it starts as not so easy to live there without vehicles. PAHC doesn't seem to have done any of the work in preparation for acquiring a property, they just decided to make this a senior development because it would be politically easier, and proceeded from there.

Again, I'm not even suggesting they abandon this as a location for low-income senior housing, it just seems like, as Peter K Meuller has suggested above, the development needs to be replanned and thy need to take the time to do it right. The cycle of applications for funding comes up again in 2 years, which as these things go, means they'd have to roll up their sleeves.

I hope the Council consider's the proposal of a working group.

Posted by Pants on fire, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 12, 2013 at 9:09 pm

That they did the traffic study when part of the school was gone tells me everything I need to know. They are not interested in the truth and like other developers, have no difficulty misrepresenting the facts.
If it was an honest mistake and simply incompetence, an explanation should have been offered.
Hard to believe a project where traffic is a major issue just happened to count cars when a major source of traffic was absent.
...pants on fire.

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