Town Square

Housing advocates, zoning critics clash in Maybell debate

Original post made on Aug 20, 2013

Depending on whom you ask, the bitter debate over a proposed housing development on Maybell Avenue is either a battle over affordable housing for low-income seniors or a citizen struggle to stop a zoning process gone awry.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, August 20, 2013, 9:38 AM


Posted by Please no rezoning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2013 at 10:44 am

From the PA Planning meeting last February, "I think if the people in the (neighborhood's single-family houses) really knew what was being built across the street, there would be more of an outcry there," Tanaka said.

Thank goodness the neighborhoods did realize what was being built which is completely out of scale with the neighborhood. The outcry came and at the planning department and the council meetings. The outcry was ignored and therefore it is now up to the voters of Palo Alto to decide whether they want their city to continue these out of scale random acts of density or whether they want to maintain the zoning of neighborhood.

Please vote No and support neighborhood zoning. Please do not be fooled by the developers who are supporting the pro campaign. This does not stop senior housing it only protects neighborhood zoning.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2013 at 10:58 am

The article states: "Residents reacted by circulating a petition that received more than enough votes to bring the project to a referendum on Nov. 5."

This is factually incorrect. The petition gathered signatures from registered voters as required by the Palo Alto City Charter, not votes. The vote on the referendum will happen in November.

Residents opposed to PAHC's Maybell project need to vote NO on the measure in November, even if they signed the petition.

Mr Sheyner's article also misses the major point of the story which was reported in today's Daily Post. The "clash" is currently not about ballot arguments, but the ballot language itself. Voters can read the arguments and decide for themselves how they would like to vote. But, the framing of the ballot language is critical in positioning the campaigns for both sides.

Posted by thealternative, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

My question:
Are the people in the neighborhood who are opposed to the Housing Corporation's development plan prepared to accept a development consisting of the maximum number of single-family houses allowed by the existing zoning?
Because, I think that is what is going to happen if Measure D fails.

Posted by It was a done deal, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2013 at 12:19 pm


I think residents are much more scared of what will happen if a "high-density" development that exceeds even RM-40 zoning, which the PC zoning does, is built instead of the "low-density residential" and "low density multifamily residential" zoning there now.

I think residents are more scared of a development with 72 units, 12 homes on substandard lots, and a 60-unit 50-foot building, with only 47 parking spots for residents/employees/visitors, getting converted to market-rate housing like the Terman Apartments is now, and the hundreds of (non-senior) people who would live there, with their hundreds of cars and only 47 parking spots. This neighborhood can't absorb the parking from the proposed land use as it is.

[Portion removed.] If Measure D fails, and the property goes for sale, the City of Palo Alto has first right of refusal, via the loan agreements it made with $7,3million in public funds. So unlike in other development situations where the City has no recourse, the City has every right to take over the property and place deed restrictions before reselling to prevent any scare scenario the City has waved around to threaten us as, they believe, is even less safe than this massive development.

As I said on the most recent thread - If after all this, the City - which has publicly disclosed its concerns about anyone developing the property to that extent, as well as the opinion that the situation on Maybell is not safe -- does not do its duty by placing deed restrictions on the property before reselling, you can bet this neighborhood will not take it lying down. There IS recourse -- and if the City exposes the taxpayers just to the liability of "negligent design, construction, maintenance, signing, operation [or] control of the roadways," by ignoring its duty, you can bet more than just the Maybell neighbors will hold their feet to the fire.

Maybell already went through a six-figure traffic "improvement" recently. The unsafe conditions you see today are after attempts to fix it ALREADY. We have hit the limits of the infrastructure. The City must deal with that before approving massive rezonings and development at such locations.

If you are serious about seeing affordable housing in Palo Alto, help PAHC to get off this course where it is alienating a big segment of the citizenry, over a BAD PLAN, and move on to putting their energy into their mission again. The Terman Apartments, just a few blocks away, and after only 20 years, are being converted from affordable housing to market-rate rentals. PAHC tried to buy it once and decided it was too expensive. I and most of my neighbors would rather that $7.3 million and other funds went into maintaining the Terman apartments as affordable. It's already in the comprehensive plan as a goal. The apartments already exist in the neighborhood. As long as PAHC is putting energy into fighting rather than working with the community, they will be trying to win for themselves rather than for affordable housing in Palo Alto. If they fail to understand that the neighbors' concerns are legitimate and keep trying to portray us as clueless or worse, they will continue to hurt their own reputation in the community, and the fight will continue.

They chose a bad location for such massive upzoning, and it's a bad plan with weak protections against the property being converted to market-rate just like at Terman.

Posted by It was a done deal, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I should have included this from my previous post:

Any developer who puts up more than 5 units in Palo Alto has to put 15% of them into the BMR program or pay in lieu fees to the City. If the lots were more in keeping with existing zoning for the market-rate part of the parcel (which makes up more than half the development) and sold to individual builders, no $1.5 million for the City in in lieu fees for the market-rate part of that development. Do you understand that part of the scheme? The City loans the money to buy the property, then shakes cash out of it by rezoning for the benefit of a for-profit developer at the expense of the neighborhood. Then like some kind of sick assailant, says we should like it because otherwise we'll get worse.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by No Parking, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 20, 2013 at 12:37 pm

You can make a bigger profit selling or leasing out a new commercial building if the city pays the cost for the needed parking.

It is easier to create new housing if you make the neighborhood pay the costs for higher density. The current density is what makes the neighborhood desirable and profitable to build there. The first one to "slightly degrade" the neighborhood gets the most profit. Where does it stop?

Zoning shouldn't be changed just to enable one group to gain extra benefit from the community. If PAHC isn't taking value from the current neighbors they shouldn't hesitate to address their concerns. Bringing in outside people isn't addressing the neighborhood concerns.

It's too bad the voting couldn't be restricted to registered voters in the neighborhood. I intend to support what the current residents want even though I don't live there.

It's easy to be popular by giving away someone else's money. I put more trust in people who live there to keep the neighborhood changing towards the better.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Marie is a registered user.

As a senior who has lived in Palo Alto for 24 years, who would most likely qualify to live in the proposed senior housing. I would not be interested in living there without a designated parking spot as there is no services within walking distances and I'm not interested in taking the bus for grocery shopping. Buses do not go to where I generally are traveling.

I also would not be interested in living someplace with substandard (20' wide) access roads into the development. I don't want any delay if an ambulance is coming for me.

Most 62+ seniors on limited incomes are still working and most I know who have spouses or partners have two cars, not one, into their 80's. And frankly, why would I move from a house into a 600' apartment? Many seniors in Palo Alto included in that 20%, own their own homes and have limited income. We can afford to live here because we bought homes a long time ago so the taxes are low and mortgages are low or paid off. I have serious doubts that these apartment would be filled by seniors from Palo Alto. More likely, they would be filled by working families with one member over 62, from the surrounding areas. Parking would be a nightmare for residents as well as neighbors.

Say no to PC upzoning to benefit developers. Say yes to a general plan that makes sense and which the city actually uses for planning. That would eliminate the huge giveaways to developers who buy property with one zoning, and then get the city council to agree to upzone it. What a concept - developers might have to pay market rates for properties based on existing zoning.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Marie is a registered user.

oops - didn't proof read. It should be "there ARE not services within walking distance" "Buses generally don't go where I am traveling." and

Posted by 68 and would not go, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I am 68 and am on SS (low income) and would never consider moving down the street to this planned development. I couldn't have my car and I couldn't walk anywhere to get groceries or anything else. What are they thinking? This is not a plan for seniors. Put it on Middlefield near the Safeway and Starbucks and cleaners and places I could go without a car. I bet they don't want us there though. Just stick us somewhere I guess.
The people who will come are a grandparent who qualifies and their family to get into the schools. Or no one will come and they will be sold for apartments.
Bad bad plan. Ask some seniors what they want and need.

Posted by a place in the sun, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm

"Put it on Middlefield"

Say NO to NIMBYism

Posted by Fed Up, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 20, 2013 at 2:42 pm

A vote against measure D is a vote to protect all neighborhoods from unilateral action by City Hall and its connected Developers. A vote against measure D is a vote to be heard by those who are suppose to represent the people.

Take back Palo Alto and send a message to city hall.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 20, 2013 at 3:00 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by senior longtime resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I appreciate all of the positive support from PA residents who don't live in our neighborhood and aren't directly affected by the Maybell rezone. They realize how wrong this rezone is for the entire city and affects us all in the long run. I'm sure that many of my nieghbors are also very grateful for the support we've received. The number of signatures on the petitions was very reassuring to us about the sentiments of many Palo Altans who are so dismayed by the amount, size and ugliness of buildings coming up in our city. We need your votes of course, but we also need your help in getting our message across. Campaigns cost money. The PAHC has hired a high priced San Fransisco political consulting firm to run their campaign. So much for a non-profits use of their funds!!! We who are against the rezone are a grass roots neighborhood group with no money from "professionals" and no support from developers anxious to get the City Council to rezone so that they can also benefit.

Posted by It was a done deal, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm

" They note that nearly 20 percent of Palo Alto seniors are living near or below the poverty line according to the Council on Aging of Silicon Valley."

PAHC and the City keep citing this a reason for the urgency, but the ordinance says the rental apartments will be for people with incomes between 30-60% of Area Median Income, which is actually much higher than the poverty line. It either shows a willingness to manipulate the public, or a breathtaking lack of market analysis.

No wonder 20 out of 24 senior BMR units at Moldaw went unfilled for 3 years. The terms had to be renegotiated to make it attractive to the clientele who needed those units. With this controversy, the City has done that, but given that, if the need was so urgent, why did it take them so long to get around to it?

PAHC didn't even originally plan to make this property a senior development. All the many ways it violates the zoning flow out of the financing scheme and their funding application. They never had any room to negotiate with the neighborhood to reduce the impact substantially, because that in lieu fee for the dense market-rate houses is written into the ordinance. [Portion removed.]

PAHC should salvage its relationship with the community and redirect to save the affordable housing at the Terman Apartments - they'd actually find allies in the neighbors they are now turning into foes.

Posted by Please no rezoning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm

[Portion removed.]
Mary Alice Thornton, president of the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto;

How can Ms Thornton use her "title" after you read the website for the organization that she represents: From the Palo Alto League of Women Voters website:

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. The League influences public policy through education and advocacy. We never support or oppose candidates for office, or political parties, and any use of the League of Women Voters name in campaign advertising or literature has not been authorized by the League.

Posted by yougottabekidding, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of previous post being commented on.]

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by PAcitizens, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2013 at 4:32 pm

PAcitizens is a registered user.

"Are the people in the neighborhood who are opposed to the Housing Corporation's development plan prepared to accept a development consisting of the maximum number of single-family houses allowed by the existing zoning?"

Yes. Considering 6,000 sq ft lots with proper setbacks and required internal lanes to reach the parcels, that would be about 12-16 single family houses, not much more than the current proposal wants to pack onto substandard lots.

The scare tactic of dozens of little townhomes makes no sense, because if a builder has to live within existing zoning, they aren't going to maximize profits by building more units, because after complying with all the parking, setback, height, and other restrictions, the homes would be about 1,000-1,100 sq ft, which just aren't that marketable. You could sell condos of that size -- maybe -- but they'd be a lot smaller than the townhouses at Rickey's Hyatt -- and frankly wouldn't maximize profits. Homes over 2,000 sq ft, especially over 2500 sq ft, garner a real premium in this neighborhood. Suddenly the price jumps into the mid $2 million range, especially for new homes.

But if the City Council, already having admitted that they think the current situation on Maybell is unsafe, and that this alternative development situation is less safe, thinks the neighborhood is worse off in that event, then the Council has, in this situation, the power to completely prevent such alternative development.

By virtue of the $7.3 million they loaned to buy the parcel, they have first right of refusal should the property be sold. They could either take over the property and sell the 4 ranch houses to settle the remaining stakeholder debt (PAHC's application says the land value of the orchard is $6.7 million, less than the City loans), and the City can either allow the community a time period to come up with a plan for a community orchard, or resell with deed restrictions so the property isn't filled with more structures than the infrastructure can handle. Even better if they do the traffic safety analysis they should have done for THIS development before reselling.

It is dishonest to keep harping on this hypothetical scare tactic, when it is completely within the City's power to prevent it if the property goes for sale again.

Posted by Resident42, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Resident42 is a registered user.

Is the City Council paying for the PAHC political consultants as well? There must be at least a few dollars left in the General Fund.

Posted by PAcitizens, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2013 at 8:06 pm

PAcitizens is a registered user.

That's a very interesting question. The City is who pays PAHC, and they of course have employees whose job it is to get this through. They have hired political help. They have their residents who they lobby through their newsletter (they did so earlier this year through a pretty misleading newsletter article against the neighbors, to drum up bodies at the City Council mtgs, but neighbors weren't allowed to address the same residents to correct the misstatements).

The Council is also paying for the City Attorney's time in drafting the "impartial" analysis. The City has been a party to this dispute and City staff has NOT been impartial, they have advocated for the rezoning. How is it that they get the right to write the "impartial analysis"? It's a sales pitch for the rezoning!

Posted by PAcitizens, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2013 at 8:07 pm

PAcitizens is a registered user.

@Resident 42,
PAHC is also a non-profit organization. They get donations, probably large ones from developers. (They have a number of developers on their board.)

Can they use donations to their non-profit for political purposes?

Posted by Resident42, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Resident42 is a registered user.

Sheyner's example of Lytton Gateway above is apt. In that case, the City basically sold the PC rezone for $2M in cash, plus a couple of electric vehicle charging stations.

Apparently the City believes "Zoning for Sale" is a victimless crime.

In the Lytton Gateway case, the $2M was nominally earmarked for "affordable housing." PAHC is supposed to be all about affordable housing. Maybe the City can just give the $2M to PAHC for the Campaign.

Posted by PAcitizens, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 20, 2013 at 10:08 pm

PAcitizens is a registered user.

Actually, there was supposed to have been affordable housing at Lytton Gateway, but they took it off when they realized the residents would have had views. The $2M was supposed to help put the housing elsewhere, it just wasn't enough to put it at Maybell without making the neighborhood pay most of the costs.

The City is doing the Zoning for Sale at Maybell, too. There, the developer is paying $1.5 million in lieu fees as a result of building a whole bunch of skinny houses on narrow lots, not having to put the BMR units into the program but instead giving the money to the City in lieu fee pot for PAHC to use. (That's the $1.5 million they didn't disclose to the public.)

So, the neighborhood is getting this intense densification of homes with substandard lot sizes in order for the City to get its in lieu fee once again. Zoning for sale.

The rest of the City and neighborhoods better beware. Look at the machine the City has brought to bear against us. The City staff have been advocates for the project, and the "impartial analysis" reads like a sales pitch for the rezoning. Our only hope is if our neighbors across town see through all the rhetoric intended to make you think this is about affordable housing. If this was about affordable housing, the City and PAHC wouldn't have let 20 senior BMR units at Moldaw go unfilled for three years. The City wouldn't have allowed the Terman apartments to convert from affordable to market rates after only 20 years.

Please help us stop a bad plan, and show other neighborhoods and communities how they can fight City Hall, too. Vote NO/AGAINST Measure D.

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

If you're concerned about traffic on Maybell, or crowding of the schools, or too many people living at that site, then you should vote YES on D, even though these are arguments from the "no" camp.

Unfortunately, the opponents' passion seems rarely matched by reason and accuracy, and some of their faulty logic is supported by incorrect language in the news articles. Specifically, articles have characterized the lot under current zoning as being fillable by houses, but apartments is what would really go in the larger portion. So when opponents say that many _houses_ couldn't fit on the site, that may be true, but it ignores that _apartments_ could easily provide all the units.

The larger 1.84 acre portion of the Maybell/Clemo site is zoned RM-15, which means 15 "units" per acre of multifamily residential. Multifamily means apartments. So on that part of the site alone, 1.84 acres * 15 units/acre = 27 units (up to 37 if a certain percentage are low income). Applying the existing zoning to that site, with a bit of rudimentary geometry & math, shows that it is imminently doable to fit 27 appartments within the allowed area. Further, the allowable total floor area is 40,075 sq.ft., divided by 27 units gives 1,484 sq.ft. per apartment (including common areas), which is comparable to my house of 1,500 sq.ft. (including the garage) with 3.5 bedrooms.

So what do you think will generate more traffic: 60 tiny one-bedroom apartments for low-income seniors, or 27 large three- or four-bedroom apartments for families?

Not all "units" are created equal. Zoning refers to housing "units", not bedrooms, which is a more accurate barrometer of how many people might actually live in a home. So a tiny 600 sq.ft, 1-bedroom apartment is called a "unit", but so is a large, 1,400 sq.ft 4-bedroom apartment. The PAHC proposal permitted by Measure D will have 61 bedrooms in the senior unit, combined with 12 houses at ~3.5 bedrooms each give about 103 bedrooms in the PAHC proposal. Under existing zoning, the two sites can accomodate 34-45 units, so let's conservatively say 34 units at 3.5 bedrooms, that's 119 bedrooms, or 16% more bedrooms under current zoning, than what would be allowed by measure D.

Something else to rebutt: We keep getting this notion, from an anonymous poster, that the city, with its first right of refusal, at the defeat of measure D should then purchase the property, restrict its development potential (essentially down-zoning it from current zoning) and resell it. Such restrictions would reduce the value of the land, so the city would lose millions of dollars in such a transaction. Would the citizens of this town appreciate the city losing money on a real-estate transaction in this manner, just so the opponents can foist the housing "burden" onto other neighborhoods? I think not.

Project opponents who complain about its impact should objectively consider what the current zoning permits, and if they win by defeating measure D, they are likely to be dissapointed in the outcome.

If we could stick to reality, to accuracy, and post under real names instead of making unsubstantiated anonymous claims, perhaps we can have a truly informative debate in this town, and better serve the voting public and the city as a whole.

Posted by Joe Rolfe, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Joe Rolfe is a registered user.

Kudos to Cedric de La Beaujardiere. Thanks for telling it like it is. The anonymous postings of opponents of Maybell senior housing are filled with misinformation and disinformation. It seems to me that the best advice to them is "Be careful what you wish for...."

I wish I understood their motivation.

Oh yes, also, Joe Rolfe is my real name. I'm proud of what I post.

Posted by PAcitizens, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:15 pm

PAcitizens is a registered user.


The City has first right of refusal. The City staff report says so, links have been provided multiple times on these discussion, if you can't read the loan documents.

If PAHC did not build on that property, and wanted to sell, the City has the right to prevent any of the hypothetical, and frankly ridiculous, scenarios your are making up. If they feel it's so unsafe, as you say, they have a duty to put safety first even if they lose money. But that's not going to happen unless they are idiots.

Even lousy flag lots on that same street of 6,000 sq ft go for over $1million. The 4 perfectly good ranch houses on the edge of the property there now would go for $7.5-10 milliion easy. The remaining property, if subdivided and sold as 6,000 square foot lots, would bring a lot more than that.

[Portion removed.]

Large, new homes over 2500 sq ft, in this neighborhood are extremely profitable, anything over 2,000 sq ft generally go for a premium, well over $2 million, and the builders don't have to put so many units into the BMR program if they build a few large homes. Auctioning lots to individual high-end builders would net even more money.

The only thing the City loses is its kickback for BMR units in that scenario.

In fact, inventory is very low right now in Palo Alto and houses in this neighborhood very desirable. If they wait until November, they would be choosing a lower resale, but that's their choice. They're still not going to lose money.

By contrast, what are the guarantees that the property will remain affordable or even for seniors in perpetuity? All of the arguments for densifying hinge on the property never being converted to market rate, when the ordinance is weak and doesn't really have strong protections against that.

What happens if it's converted to market rate, with 60-units packed with people wanting to send their kids to Gunn High school, with only 47 parking spots? There is NO capacity in the neighborhood to absorb even what's being proposed.

Measure D is a bad plan that was too influenced by what was best for for-profit developers and City in lieu "kickbacks". Even by your own admission, the property can accommodate almost as many affordable units under existing zoning. Scrap this terrible plan that places the cost burden on a single neighborhood, and make building the affordable housing the priority.

Posted by PAcitizens, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:21 pm

PAcitizens is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by PAcitizens, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm

PAcitizens is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

If I recall correctly, the last time my property was appraised, within the last year, it came out to about $1.2M. The four ranch houses on the site look to be on lots very close in size to my own, so I don't see how you can claim that their value would "easily" be worth between 50% to 100% more than my own.

I'm curious to know what within my application of the existing zoning to the existing site, you find to be a "hypothetical, and frankly ridiculous scenario". One can find the zoning details for RM 15 here: Web Link and, more concisely and to the point, this table Web Link which applies to section 18-13-040. The dimensions of the lots in question can be found on the santa clara county assessors map, downloaded in pdf from Web Link. My calculations pertain to lot #109, which is listed to be 1.84 acres == 80,150.4 sq.ft.

RM-15 zoning permits 35% of the site to be covered, so 80150.4 * 0.35 = 28,052.64 sq.ft. is the buildable area, which easily fits within the setbacks and daylight plane envelope.
Within that footprint, the building may be up to 35', which easily accomodates 3 stories.
RM-15 has a maximum floor area ration (FAR) of 0.5:1, which means that the maximum floor area of livable space of the building must be no more than half as large as the area of the site in question. so 80150.4 * 0.5 = 40,075.2 sq.ft. maximum building area (larger than the building footprint because it can be multi-story).
RM-15 permits 15 units per acre, so 1.84 acres * 15 units/acre = 27.6, which I round down to 27.

Maximum permitted area of building divided by maximum number of units (not including low-income density bonus): 40,075.2 / 27 = 1,484.27 sq.ft. average per "unit", including any common areas like hallways or elevators, to reach the units from within the building.

Given that my home is about 1,500 sq.ft, including the garage, and has 3.5 bedrooms, and that if one were building an apartment, it is unlikely that a 2-car garage worth of area would be needed for hallways to each unit, it is easy to see the private area of the apartment being comparable in size to my home, with an equivalent number of bedrooms.

So, what, concisely and without a lot of bluster, is "frankly ridiculous" about that simple math? What I find ridiculous is that you persist in repeating provably false statements, over and over and at great length, leading to an irrational, irresponsible, and costly election, which, should Measure D fail will likely leading to a worse state of affairs for the neighborhood and the city (more development, people, and traffic in the neighborhood, less affordable housing for the city).

Regarding the election, note that the petition leaders, after collection signatures to force an election, then have the gall of blaming the city for paying for said election. [Portion removed.]

Posted by PAcitizens, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 22, 2013 at 3:16 pm

PAcitizens is a registered user.


[Portion removed.]

PAHC's own documents, submitted with their loan, list the City's estimate of the orchard land alone as being worth $6.7million. City Council claims they spent $16million on the property. If they didn't think the rest of the property was worth close to $10million, they were deliberately putting the public's money at risk. If they were rezoning to make up for it, they were contract zoning, which is illegal.

You don't think those ranch houses look so big? So why do you think it's okay for the City to rezone for a market-rate developer to put in TWO houses for every one of those? By the way, those existing ranch houses happen to be 2500 sq ft and up (according to the City documents), and in this neighborhood, such homes, even old homes, fetch a premium, because the single biggest influence on price in Greenacres is proximity to Gunn high school, and homes large enough for families (over 2,000 sq ft) fetch the most money. Even old ones.

Here's a list of homes sold in the same zip code in 2013. There are no homes sold for less than $1.35 million. The lowest sales price for a house over 2,000 sq feet is almost $1.9million, and the only reason it was so low was probably its unusually small lot size. A 1500 sq ft home on Maybell went for $1.65million.
Web Link

So I state again - any development scenarios deemed excessive at that location may be completely prevented by the City by virtue of the loan agreements they entered into because of loaning $7.3 million ($1.5 million of which they forgot to mention to the public). The City can place deed restrictions that would prevent any such scenarios, and that still allow the land to be developed at a significant profit by developers, i.e., allow the City to make its money back.

Either build the senior housing within the existing zoning or something close to it, or sell the property and place deed restrictions on it so none of these supposedly dangerous things can happen. Problem solved. I know it's inconvenient because you've staked out a hardline position on this issue, but there actually is a good reason for the "historic" level of opposition to THIS PLAN, and it's because neighbors who live here can see that it's a BAD PLAN for the neighborhood.

The City Council should have rescinded the rezoning and spared us all the expense and rancor, and started again with the existing zoning, or a new zoning closer to the existing to build affordable housing, with the neighborhood's blessing. If you are right that so much can be built there, they should just build the affordable housing, there would be almost as many units and it wouldn't foist the actual costs onto one neighborhood in perpetuity (for affordable housing that will expire).

Posted by PAcitizens, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm

PAcitizens is a registered user.

That 1500 sq ft home on Maybell that went for $1.65 milliion this year is an older home on a flag lot.

Posted by PAcitizens, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm

PAcitizens is a registered user.

No one forced the City to hold this election. The City could have listened to the will of the people, after opposition that they themselves called "historic" and rescinded the rezoning ordinance. No election.

They could have then spent that $600,000 instead to ensure that PAHC had the time to develop a better plan that didn't so grossly violate the pre-existing zoning for senior affordable housing at that location, with the neighborhood's blessing. It would have been healing for everyone and resulted in the desired affordable housing.

Or, they could have held the election during a normal cycle, instead of holding a special election, and it would have cost a small fraction of what they are spending on this special election.

But no, City Council, in keeping with the "up yours" attitude toward the neighborhood, is taking this to an expensive election. In the meantime, PAHC people are spending their time ensuring a large swath of Palo Alto that previously supported them will never trust them again. And that's not good for the future of all affordable housing in this town.

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 26, 2013 at 8:29 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

The mere acquisition of signatures for a petition to put something on the ballot is not the same as "the will of the people." Many people will sign a petition without being in full possession of the facts, and figure that it could be worth going to the voters and let the electorate decide. I seriously doubt that petition gatherers would have been giving accurate pro and con arguments as they asked people to sign. they would have just been giving their impassioned plea for their case, whether what they were saying had any basis in fact or not. Thus people are presented with a one sided argument, likely larded with misconceptions, and sign. Hopefully the facts of the matter will come forth in the ensuing debates and the electorate can make a rational decision. So, no, I reject this notion that the city would have been better off just aquiescing to the petition without it going to the voters. You caused this to go to the ballot, don't blame the Council for your actions.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 26, 2013 at 2:11 pm

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>The mere acquisition of signatures for a petition to put something on the ballot is not the same as "the will of the people."

Cedric, That was no "mere" effort...thou doth put down the effort, gratuitously. Methinks you underestimate the level of frustration with the PA city leadership that you represent.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by PAcitizens, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 26, 2013 at 4:05 pm

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[Portion removed.]

When citizens qualified the referendum, that didn't force the vote. It is the CITY COUNCIL who then decides whether to hold an election. The rules state that they have the choice to rescind — which they did for one of the referenda, they removed the rezoning of Maybell from the general plan — and they could have done so for the rezoning ordinance.

They could still build nearly as many affordable housing units on the property with the ordinance rescinded. They just wouldn't shake out $1.5million from densifying the market rate portion, among other problematic aspects, nor would they be able to build a 50-foot building in the middle of an R-1 neighborhood.

City Council not listening to people resulting in people referending to be heard. City Council could have heard, and set aside their rezoning decision that faced historic levels of opposition. Qualifying the referendum did not force it to go to ballot, City Council decision did. Or, the vote could have gone, per the rules, onto the next regular election, at a FRACTION of the cost, City Council chose to favor the developer and hold a special election.

Lastly, the referendum signature page contains the ordinance title, which is written by the City and is nothing if not biased in their favor. Every signature page has to be attached to all the material. So, it's a real stretch to believe that thousands of people could be snowed into signing [portion removed.] It is actually quite difficult to get that many signatures in the allotted time, and people got enough for one of the referendums in just 10 days.

Internal polls in Greenacres found well over 90% opposed to the rezoning (the poll I saw was over 98%).

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 27, 2013 at 3:17 am

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@Craig, let's not split hairs here. I know gathering signatures is a lot of work and there's a lot of people ticked off, though I think much of that ire is based on misinformation and city-wide concerns. The no on D folk clearly know this as they are raising those other issues in their ballot arguments. When I wrote "The mere acquisition of signatures", I was referring to the much easier act of presenting people with a one-sided view of an issue versus the much more intensive effort to engage in a real debate and having one's views challenged and rebutted. I was also referring to merely signing a petition without commitment to voting one way or another, versus carefully considering the depths of the issue and casting a responsible vote. (regardless of the way one votes, I consider it a "responsible" vote if care has been taken to choose a position in full possession and consideration of all reasonably available information.)

I actually agree that over development of office buildings is an issue. However, I believe that affordable senior housing is needed, and that its enactment along with 12 houses through Yes on D will produce a better outcome for both the neighborhood and the city than would the current-zoning.

@PAcitizens: It is a perhaps unfortunate fact of our current society that the primary value of land is based upon its development potential. Lower that potential and you lower its value. Were the city to buy the property and down-zone it to protect your interests, its land value would go down, and the city would have to sell it at a loss. Had your team simply put on the ballot to down-zone the property, instead of reverting it to the current zoning, then your drive would make more sense. As it is, you are shooting yourselves
(and everyone else) in the foot.

A couple of other things to clarify:

Since anonymous posters complain of the density of 60 one-bedroom units on 1.1 acres, it is only fair to point out that, of the 1.84 acres currently zoned as RM-15, 40% is essentially down-zoned to R-2 and road under measure D. That's how Measure D gives us houses on Clemo instead of an apartment building.

The portion with four ranch homes along Maybell is currently zoned R-2, which permits two housing units on each lot, so even under current zoning it appears 8 homes would be permitted on those 4 lots. Measure D would have 7 houses on Maybell, with part of the higher RM-15 zone given over to the single-family Maybell lots.

It is disingenuous to characterize the senior apartment building as being "in the middle of an R-1 neighborhood". It is in fact jammed into the corner of the large lot furthest from the R1, immediately next to an existing 8-story apartment building and a row of 3-story apartment buildings.

The so called "50-foot building" is actually a mostly 45-foot building with a tiny part, the top of the elevator shaft, IIRC, at 50'. The wing closest to the R1 areas is actually less than 45', at just 1.5 & 3 stories. (Early plans with drawings [incl. the originally 15 houses which Council later limited to 12 in response to residents' concerns] can be seen in the PTC staff report, see for instance, page 5 of Web Link)

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 27, 2013 at 9:34 am

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Cedric, would you care to comment on the property tax differential between market rate housing and so-called affordable housing? Perhaps you can use the Maybell property as an example.

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 27, 2013 at 11:26 am

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Craig, that is irrelevant to any argument made so far by me or others. Having already experienced going back and forth with you over minutia ad nauseum with measure E, I'm not going to do it again on this thread that nobody but you or I or anne is looking at anymore anyway. Instead, I'll lay out the background and then you can do what you're going to do.

1. The existing zoning permits a higher impact development than the Senior housing and 12 houses permitted by measure D. Measure D: 59 tiny one-BR apt's + 1 two-BR apt for the bldg. manager + 12 single family homes of 3-4 BR each. VS Existing Zoning: 34-45 housing units, mostly as apartments on the larger parcel. I have already pointed out, with simple math and links to the zoning and to lot dimensions, how the larger 1.84 RM-15 parcel can easily accommodate 27 apartment units each as large as or larger than my home's living area, so 3-4 bedrooms each. Thus, existing zoning would permit and likely produce at least 16% more bedrooms than measure D, and mostly working adults rather than retired seniors. (Look above for details, I'm not going to get into it again.)

2. Anne -- sorry, the anonymous poster posting variously as PACitizens/neighbor/'It was a done deal'/etc... . Disputes the current zoning is worse than measure D argument. First by claiming that 34-45 units couldn't be built under current zoning, which I rebutted with the above math. Second, by claiming that Council should buy the property, put deed-restrictions upon it to reduce it's development potential, then sell it again.

3. I rebut Anne's notion with the basic assertion that land value is tied to its development potential, and that the city would lose money is the transaction she outlines. So she wants the citizens to reject Measure D so that the neighbors can risk a larger-impact property, and then she claims the City should lose money so that her neighborhood can have less housing than current zoning permits. To me, that seems selfish and unlikely.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 27, 2013 at 12:10 pm

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>Craig, that is irrelevant to any argument made so far by me or others

Cedric, Property taxes are absolutely relevant to this discussion of 'affordable' vs. market rate housing. It is my understanding that subsidized housing, when run by a non-profit (like PAHC) is removed from the tax base (similar to a church). Yet the services required by those subsidized units are, if anything, higher than market rate housing. It begs the question of what 'affordable' really means, since neighbors/neighborhoods/city need to pick up the slack, forever. You may want to avoid the subject, Cedric, but it is essential to any full discussion of subsidized housing.

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 27, 2013 at 3:14 pm

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Craig, Sorry, I misread your question in the context of the preceding thread, which had been about property VALUES not TAXES. Sure, the taxes will be different for the PAHC property. The 12 new homes will generate more taxes than the existing 4 have done, but the total project will likely generate less taxes than the site would if developed under current zoning. In terms of expenses, the seniors will likely have more visits by paramedics than the average population, but on the other hand, those seniors would be living SOMEWHERE, and needed such services wherever they live. Wo then one question is, how many more seniors might live in Palo Alto with this project than without it. My guess is that the differential is negligible. Also, if those sites were developed without measure D, then there would likely be school age children in there, adding costs to the schools system. Again, same question, what's the relative balance of kids in the school district with and without the project. How many of these seniors, lacking a more affordable place to live, might end up living in the streets, and how might that increase costs to the city and county? How all these costs and taxes balance out, I have no idea.

As a matter of principle, I believe it is a moral responsibility for municipalities and their taxpayers to support the neediest members of our community. Fiscal conservatives may have a different view, either because they just don't care about others but themselves, which is morally bankrupt, or because they have a different idea of how resources should most efficiently be allocated to generate the most benefit for the most people. That's not my focus of policy expertise. I look at places like Europe, where taxes are high, but at least you have a guaranteed home, food, clothing and health care, and, at least for France, much more vacation days and a shorter work week. I think France's system does more good for its people than the US system. There are legitimate arguments to be made against their system, such as the difficulty of firing people adversely affecting hiring rates, but that is I think a separate issue from collection of taxes and spending of revenues for an adequate safety net.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 27, 2013 at 3:55 pm

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Thanks for your reply. I can respect your view of a social welfare model of society (e.g. Western Europe), even though I think it is wrong. At least we are now discussing the same thing from different points of view.

The Maybell deal is about building welfare housing, then they will come. It is not about providing for the very few seniors who were raised in Palo Alto, and lack the means to survive on their own (which private charities could handle). It will be a tax sink hole for Palo Alto, probably forever. You are fine with that, and I am not. I think Palo Alto has been degraded by the welfare paradigm...the Cub debacle is just one example...failure of leadership to take on the welfare/homeless/guilt they are forced to act.

We need to defund the PAHC, IMO. It is hurting our city.

BTW, I don't mind debating the anaerobic digestion issues (Measure E) with you. You are a rational person, as am I. Of course, I hope your side is defeated, but I assume you want the same for me and my side. At least we are discussing real issues, in real time, with real data.

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 27, 2013 at 5:00 pm

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Craig, Rather than frame things in terms of defeating one side or another, I tend to look for win win win solutions. What are our shared and individual values and needs, and what solutions address them. I'm a problem solver, that's just how I think. I tend to help those in need, that's just how I act. These values help shape my opinions.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 27, 2013 at 5:51 pm

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Cedric, Until homelessness is criminalized, there will be no solutions. If your view is to just continue to build endless welfare housing, then there will just be more homeless on the streets of Palo Alto(magnet effect). For example, Cedric, do you have a numerical cap on the welfare housing that you believe should be built, in Palo Alto? If you agree that criminalization (e.g. Giuliani in NYC) is appropriate, then I think there might be a chance for a win/win. Do you agree?

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 29, 2013 at 12:21 am

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People who have lost everything -- jobs, health care, homes, regular meals, transportation, respect, and community -- would certainly not feel like winners if they were further criminalized.

As someone who seems keen to reduce or perhaps eliminate government subsidies for those in need, you should be happy about the innovative funding mechanisms to use market forces to pay for affordable housing. The independent non-profit Palo Alto Housing Corporation (PAHC), bought the property, and plans to sell a sizable chunk of that property to a private developer to build market-rate homes. This will pay for a big chunk of the cost of the project, and significantly eliminates the need of direct government funding to address this social need. While the city did loan PAHC money to purchase the property, keep in mind that this is a loan and will be paid back. Further, the project is designed to be financially self-sufficient, paying for the mortgage, maintenance and senior services through the rent paid by resident seniors. The low income units will subsidize the ultra-low income units. So, the only on-going government subsidy, if any, is reduced property tax, assuming such a reduction is planned (I don't know if it is or not).

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 29, 2013 at 4:10 pm

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>As someone who seems keen to reduce or perhaps eliminate government subsidies for those in need

Cedric, Once they get a hand up, yes...but some are not capable, period. For those, there needs a combination of efforts, including private charity and government programs. However the government programs need to have criminalization as a tool, ala Giuliani in NYC. Without criminalization, there is no realistic possibility of getting them off our public streets...they will simply refuse. I don't know how a sensitive person can stand to watch the pathetic cases who are now on some of Palo Alto streets.

It will take a strong hand, along with some firm heart to solve the problem, and it will take a national level of government. I am, personally, willing to have my taxes raised for such an approach. The current bleeding heart approach is a disaster.