Palo Alto asked to contribute toward Avenidas expansion | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto asked to contribute toward Avenidas expansion

City Council to consider request for $5 million from senior-services nonprofit

As Palo Alto's senior population continues to expand, the downtown nonprofit that serves this growing population is trying to do the same.

Avenidas, which has been providing classes, workshops, case management and other services to area seniors since 1977, is now preparing for a major addition to its 1927 Birge Clark-designed building at 450 Bryant St. On Oct. 19, its effort could get a major boost when the City Council considers contributing $5 million in public funds to the project.

For Avenidas, the expansion aims to both meet the increased demand for its services and upgrade an aged structure that originally housed the city's police and fire departments. The project would supplement the existing 16,000-square-foot building with an 11,000-square-foot wing, creating a new Wellness Center and an upgraded technology center that would connect seniors with researchers and entrepreneurs who create products for that population.

But before construction can begin, the organization has to raise $18 million to cover the costs. In April, it requested a $5 million contribution from the city, which owns the building and last year agreed to extend Avenidas' lease by 50 years. Specifically, the organization is asking for funding to pay for seismic upgrades and the replacement of its mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

Avenidas CEO Amy Andonian, board of directors Chairman Bruce Heister and Capital Project Manager Lisa Hendrickson wrote in their April letter to the city that the expansion would "bring the building into the 21st century and assure its relevance for many years to come." The city's contribution would, in the near term, help Avenidas raise the rest of the needed funding, according to the letter.

"We are learning that many of the prospective donors to this $12 million campaign expect that the city will make a meaningful investment in this project and its building," the letter states. "We would be able to leverage the city's commitment and accelerate our fundraising if the city makes a commitment soon."

Earlier this year, the organization requested $5 million to fund about $3.3 million in upgrades and another $1.98 million to cover the fee Avenidas would have to pay to comply with the city's parking requirements. Since then, the costs for rehabilitations have gone up and the entire request is now for building upgrades, according to Hendrickson.

Palo Alto has a long history of supporting Avenidas, which provides the types of senior services that other cities typically fund from their respective General Funds. The council in 1978 made a decision to transfer senior services to a nonprofit and provided initial funding for the center's operation, a new report from the Community Services Department states.

"Since that time, the city has provided significant funding to Avenidas for the provision of comprehensive services to older adults in Palo Alto," the report notes.

At one point, the report states, this support comprised 38 percent of the organization's total operating budget. Today, it totals 10 percent.

Meanwhile, one-third of Palo Alto residents are now age 55 or older -- a proportion that is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2030. The staff report notes that in Palo Alto and surrounding cities the senior population is set to double between 2000 and 2020. The report notes that last year Avenidas served more than 7,000 individuals and hosted 233 classes.

While no one is questioning the need for more senior services, the modernist design of the proposed addition has already attracted some criticism. During a July hearing, members of the city's Historic Resources Board struggled to reconcile the differences between the existing two-story Spanish Colonial building and the contemporary three-story addition. Beyond the stylistic disparity, the addition calls for the removal of the existing building's historic eaves and roof sections -- a sacrifice that board member David Bower said was unacceptable.

Because the July meeting was a preliminary hearing, the board did not vote on the project, which is now undergoing revisions based on feedback from staff, the historic board and the Architectural Review Board.

The council, for its part, will focus on the funding component. Though the expansion of Avenidas was not included in the council's recently adopted infrastructure plan, staff from the Community Services Department is recommending that the city comply with Avenidas' request. The Community Services report notes that the organization "has covered the increasing cost of providing services to an ever-increasing number of Palo Alto older adults, with a budget that has grown less than three-fold during the same time."

"They believe that this request gives the city the opportunity to make an investment in the future of high quality senior services and facilities," the report states.

More than half of the city's contribution could come from the sale of "transferable development rights" -- a mechanism that provides development bonuses to seismic or historical rehabilitation projects. These density bonuses can be used either on the projects undergoing renovation or for off-site projects.

According to staff estimates, the sale of these rights could raise about $2.8 million. The remaining $2.2 million would come from the city's Community Center Development Impact Fee Fund.

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27 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 16, 2015 at 8:16 am

"It is also requesting that the city waive the roughly $1.9 million that the nonprofit would normally be required to contribute in parking in-lieu fees because it is not adding parking to accommodate its expanded facilities."

Really? Expanding the building, not building more parking, AND asking to dismiss in-lieu fees. Are you serious? This seems outrageous even by non-profit standards.

15 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2015 at 8:20 am

Location, location, location. This isn't going to be the last expansion of the senior center.

The senior center needs to move to a central accessible location where it will have room to grow.

7 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2015 at 9:23 am

This is a bad idea. The City has become little more than a cash cow for special interest groups--all possessed with delusions of grandeur. The City’s approval of financial support for the History Museum (or whatever it is going to be called) was another example of the Council being generous with the public’s money—money that could, and should, have been spent on infrastructure.

The claim that there is a need for more “senior services” is open for question. With people living longer, and generally in better health than in the past, with most folks living out their years in their own homes, it’s difficult to see how “more services” at some sort of place like this will fit into people’s busy lives.

With all of the multi-millionaires and billionaires in the vicinity—why can’t the focus on fundraising be from these folks, and not the public treasury? The number of people with ideas of spending trillions to advance their personal versions of nirvana seem endless in this town. Yet, these same people never seem to want to dig into their own pockets to fund these schemes.

The comment about this center moving is cogent, but the burning question of where would there be room for this center in another part of town stands unasked, and unanswered.

Perhaps this center is used by some seniors, but it’s hard to believe that all of those over 65 (or whatever age one officially becomes a senior these days) will use the services of such a place. The City should not be involved in its funding.

And this idea of “transferable development rights” is also distressing—since this means that Avenidas is willing to help make the downtown area more unsustainable than it is, and most assuredly will be, in the coming years.

The Council should be heavily lobbied to decline this request.

12 people like this
Posted by Lisa Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2015 at 10:39 am

I'd like to correct a statement in this article. Avenidas is not asking the City to waive the in-lieu parking fee. In fact, Avenidas expects to pay this fee and has included it in its project budget and fundraising goal. The $5 million that Avenidas has requested will cover some, but not all, of the costs of upgrading the 90-year-old historical building, including seismic upgrade, replacement of aging building systems, installation of an ADA-compliant elevator and other costs associated with bringing the original building up to code.

The Bryant Street Center is conveniently located for the hundreds of people who use it each month, and it is already operating over capacity. However, we recognize that the community would like Avenidas services offered at other locations, particularly in South Palo Alto, and we are working with the City and others to identify additional sites for senior services.

Lisa Hendrickson
Avenidas Capital Project Manager

4 people like this
Posted by gsheyner
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2015 at 10:55 am

gsheyner is a registered user.

Hi Lisa,

Thanks for your comment.

I included the parking cost after reading the April letter from Avenidas to the city, which estimated the "current deferred maintenance costs" to total $3.3 million. The letter notes that the fee to meet the parking requirement was calculated to be $1.98 million and states:

"Taken together, these costs now exceed the $5 million that we request:

-Seismic upgrade and replacement and upgrade of MEPS (mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems): $3.3 million
-Parking requirement: $1.9 million"

This suggested to me that that the parking fee is included in the request. Is that not the case? Has the cost of deferred maintenance gone up since April?



12 people like this
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 16, 2015 at 11:09 am

NO! NO! NO! Stop with the building -- the photo of the proposed add-on to Avenidas looks 21st Century and completely out of place with the structure as it is; available parking is a continuing problem. Why make the situation worse than it already is?
In total agreement with REALLY?

2 people like this
Posted by Lisa Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2015 at 11:18 am


Vance Brown, which is providing pre-construction services to Avenidas, has identified additional costs associated with the historical building renovation which now exceed $5.4 million. As our project progresses we have been updating the cost estimates and we will continue to do so.

Lisa Hendrickson

8 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 16, 2015 at 11:25 am

This entire plan is a very bad idea not only site-wise but also design-wise. How many seniors actually go 'downtown' to the 'Senior Center" . Crossing Bryant Street from the city parking garage is hazardous, and there is rarely parking space in the city parking lot in back of Avenidas. What do seniors need - and where? My aunt says she was never asked in a poll or whatever. This is a bad idea. No money from us for this scheme. We need Avenidas in a central safer area, not that any place in Palo Alto is even safe anymore.

2 people like this
Posted by Lisa Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2015 at 12:22 pm


I overlooked one of your questions. The City funding would be entirely allocated to refurbishing costs. Avenidas will pay the in lieu parking fees with other funds. This is different from what was in the letter that you refer to, which was written six months ago.

Lisa Hendrickson

12 people like this
Posted by Why not build parking?
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 16, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Paying $1.9M in in-lieu parking fees seemingly does nothing to help relieve the downtown parking problem. Why not require Avenidas to build more parking?

1 person likes this
Posted by gsheyner
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2015 at 2:07 pm

gsheyner is a registered user.

Thanks, Lisa. I appreciate the clarification.

I have updated the story to reflect the recent changes in Avenidas' plans.


4 people like this
Posted by Volunteer at Avenidas
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 16, 2015 at 4:45 pm

I know there are a lot of intelligent and smart people living in Palo Alto, but please listen to my side of the story.
I am a volunteer @ Avenidas, I know a large no. Of seniors who think of the senior center as their second home.
They usually live alone.
They come almost daily , and enjoy the only hot meal for the day at La Comida, the dinning place inside Avenidas. Many of them are in their eighties.
Please be kind to them , be a little lenient on this project. Give them a chance to be able to enjoy the new facilities. They deserve it. These old folks worked hard through out their lives!
We all get old one day, kindly think with your heart!!!

5 people like this
Posted by bp, no not that BP
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2015 at 5:52 pm

While I seldom use the Center, I find the location convenient to the Crosstown Shuttle. I do think the addition is inappropriate, not at all fitting the original design. I will not contribute any funds for that reason. Not every building (or addition) needs to look like a glass box.

5 people like this
Posted by senior man
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2015 at 5:54 pm

In most communities, the municipal government provides services for its citizens that include specific services for seniors. These cities commonly construct senior centers, hire staffs, initiate programs targeted for seniors, etc. The City of Palo Alto operates no senior center of their own and offers few, if any services to their seniors beyond what Avenidas offers. In Palo Alto, Avenidas is the City's defacto senior center. Avenidas provides a great deal of these senior services for city residents and at a fraction of the cost that it would cost the citizenry of Palo Alto were the City to provide these services on their own. Yes, the City of Palo Alto did and does contribute the real estate asset (450 Bryant Street) for Avenidas to operate in (which is a substantial asset) and yes the City does devote a minor amount of money (relative to the annual operating costs of Avenidas) each year for operational support of Avenidas. Avenidas operational costs are largely paid for from user fees and donations solicited entirely by Avenidas. Additionally, Avenidas keeps its operational costs down by utilizing a large volunteer pool and by being extremely careful with its expenditures.

The demographics in Palo Alto are changing; the population is aging and there are more and more seniors using the 450 Bryant Street facility than ever before. The building at 450 Bryant is no larger now than when Avenidas began operating there decades ago. The building has insufficient space to accommodate all programs required to serve seniors now and the population projections show that the senior population will be increasing for years and years. Additionally, the interior improvements are decades old and in serious need of refurbishment and reorganization. Just look at the beautiful senior center funded, constructed and operated by the City of Mountain View as a comparison ( Web Link ). The cost for the City of Palo Alto to duplicate the Mountain View facility would likely be $100 million (including financing costs).

Avenidas didn't create the increased senior population in Palo Alto, but is faced with an aging building and an increased senior patronage (some of whom drive cars).

If the City were operating their own senior center, 100% the issues identified would be the City's issues to deal with and pay for. The fact that Avenidas is going out and raise $13 Million on its own (beyond that it is seeking the City to contribute) is $13 million the City would have to fund if they were to operate their own senior center.

It is time to be a little less skeptical and critical of this project...take your choice: Would you rather the City fund, build and operate 100% of its own senior center or help Avenidas a bit in their effort??? The answer is a no brainer.

Like this comment
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 16, 2015 at 10:09 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"One-third of Palo Alto residents are now age 55 or older — a proportion that is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2030. "

You can thank Prop 13 for turning all of Palo Alto into a senior community.

And we are somehow worried about the number of school-aged children and overburdened elementary schools?

Sounds like we have to prepare to shut them down instead.

1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 17, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Avenidas is the only reason I go downtown anymore. I go to my weekly 'Life Stories' class taught by Sheila Dunec (Tuesdays, 1-3 PM) and to Paul Engel's, 'Best of Broadway' singing class on Fridays (only 4 scheduled for this quarter, 3-4:30 PM). That's it, and I almost always find parking spaces in the lot behind it. Sorry, I just can't get lathered up about this, pro or con, like I do on many other city issues. Avenidas has served me well even w/o the proposed expansion. Am I alone?

It was stated that Avenidas served 7,000 individuals last year. How was the count made? What was the breakdown in terms of classes, support groups, groups that meet to just get together for fun...bridge, chess, etc., and other services such as dermatological, podiatric/pedicure care treatments, blood pressure exams, etc? And the lunch program?

The question about the architecture?...well...there shouldn't be any fighting over that. The new 'is in' the old 'is out'. Let's face it. It's the reality of today. I guess we should all wave our white flags and surrender. Birge Clarke probably couldn't get a job in this town today. I personally like the old because it just has the old PA look and feel, and when we first moved here that really caught my eye and I liked it and thought that identified PA as being different and special from the other neighboring cities.

Location alternatives: Of course every user wants it within easy walking or motorized cart distance from where they live. There have been suggestions to move it to SPA. Is that wise? Not sure! Studies have to be made of where the current and future users live. My observation, so far, has been...many in my classes live in the downtown area, and many walk to my classes. That is so great. I'm an old SPA guy and have to drive. I can still do it thankfully. Other class members are scattered, including a member from Oakland, one from Sunnyvale, one from RWC, and one from Atherton. Obviously they drive. Other locals still drive because they don't live close to the current location.

And in keeping with my usual questioning and probing...many online users know me for that...asking tough questions...what prompted this idea of a need to expand? Have people been turned away because of lack of space? And since Avenidas serves seniors, you know what that means?...a high turnover rate. Yes, I'm sure I don't have to explain that. We have lost so many good friends in my Life Stories class.

I'm so lucky to live here. I've told many relatives and friends in emails about this wonderful senior center we have here. When they visit I make it a point to take them there and show off Avenidas. They are always in awe. They stop talking about their senior centers wherever they live. Nothing can compare to ours.

2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 18, 2015 at 1:47 pm

I have a couple more questions and would like clarifications on them please. Served 7,000 individuals? Is that a total number of different persons served, i.e., different names? If it is, and it must be, then that shows what a spectacular and successful program this has been, considering our population. And 233 classes? Was that a number for different types of classes (I doubt that) or for total number of classes held, including multiple classes, for any particular subject over the course of the year...harmonica lessons, e.g. My Life Stories class has 3 separate sessions, one per quarter (summer off) each year. So that would count as 3 classes, right? Again, spectacular, and keep up the good work. Oh, one more? What is the average daily attendance number? Uh, I think I'm done with my questions!

5 people like this
Posted by Ugga
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 18, 2015 at 2:30 pm

No more taxes for this until someone comes up with a better design plan to blend in with the rest of the building and neighborhood!

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2015 at 9:44 am

I am a fan of Avenidas and would like them to grow and proper. The SJM in their article 10/22/15 expands on the theory of "transfer of development rights". There is reference to "developers" which are not identified in the article. Given what we know today then all developers need to be identified.

Is it possible that one of those developers would be Sand Hill Properties who has shown an interest in the beautiful building on El Camino next to the soccer field on Oregon? The write-up on that building was a smack-down that did not make sense.

So if you look at the trail of bread crumbs through the city you find goldilocks with the bears. Avenidas is a good thing with many benefits to many people. How you pay for that is another thing. That needs to be expanded on - who are the developers and what properties are included in the transfer of development rights.

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2015 at 7:14 pm

Lisa Hendricksen on this thread is identified by the SJM as the Avenidas Capital Project Manager. Please explain the "transfer of development rights"
discussed in the paper. How does that work and who are the developers involved in that for this project.

That whole business concept is alluded to but not explicitly explained. I am trying to figure out if this affects any other construction project in the city that is in the discussion or planning stages and what the net affect is.
Thank you

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