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.
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posted Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 1:28 AM
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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 12, 2013 at 4:23 am
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.
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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
household size 1: $11,490
household size 2: $15,510
Median family income in Palo Alto as of 2012: $163,661
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.
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.