Housing proposal on Compadres site wins key vote

Palo Alto's planning commission approves plan for mixed-use project with 17 residential units

Despite some consternation from area residents, a proposal to demolish the El Camino Real building that once housed the popular Compadres restaurant and to build a new mixed-use development with 17 residential units advanced this week after winning a key Planning and Transportation Commission vote.

Under the proposal by Zijin LLC, the two-story 1938 adobe building would be replaced with a three-story mixed-use development with six units fronting El Camino and townhouses with 11 more units behind the building. On Wednesday night, after hearing from the project architects and a handful of critics, the planning commission recommended approving the plan by a 3-1 vote, with Doria Summa opposing and Przemek Gardias recusing himself.

The vote came after a few residents urged the city to hold off on the approval until more research is conducted to make sure the Compadre's building at 3877 El Camino Real is not a historical structure. Barron Park resident Winter Dellenbach argued that the project should be reviewed by the city's Historical Resource Board before winning approval. South Palo Alto, she said, doesn't have very many historical buildings because of the way the city has evolved. Most, she said, are in the north.

"This is very likely a historic resource and we do not take lightly in Barron Park and in the Ventura neighborhood that the city will take shortcuts and not to the HRB and take out one of our very few historical buildings and just going to demolish it," Dellenbach said.

Stuart Welte, architect with the firm Environmental Innovations in Design Architecture, argued that the question has already been exhaustively analyzed. Both the applicant and city's own historical consultants had determined that it's not a historical structure.

"We've worked with several different historical consultants and everyone has determined that there's no historical mural, there's no historical actual adobe in this building," Welte said, "There is a different of opinion there, but the people who are the historical consultants and who do this for a living say that the building is not historical and we believe them."

Assistant Planning Director Jonathan Lait concurred the project was reviewed by planning staff and its environmental consultant. The conclusions on the review were such that the property was not of a historic significance.

Summa wasn't as confident. She noted that the exterior of building remains in its original state and characterized the historical report submitted by the applicant as inadequate.

"I think this could be a terrible mistake," Summa said. "I'm sorry it hasn't been caught earlier in the process, but I think we have to have an HRB review of this and more public discussion so that more people can be made aware of this and involved."

But Chairman Michael Alcheck disagreed and said the commission should "trust the process" that the city follows for determining historical significance. He cited a 50-page report that was conducted for the project (but not provided to the commission), which concluded that the building is not historically significant.

"The notion that we would essentially dispute the experts in the room on their conclusion on an area on which we typically don't have any expertise and oversight -- I'm uncomfortable with that," Alcheck said.

Historical significance wasn't the only area of concern for nearby residents. One neighbor called the proposed project "a little too high-density." Another urged the city to make sure the developer conduct a geotechnical study before constructing the underground garage for the project -- a facility that would contain 62 parking spots. And land-use watchdog Bob Moss called for larger building setbacks and more landscaping.

But for the majority of the commission, the project's benefits far outweighed its potential impacts. Commissioner Eric Rosenblum lauded the fact that the project will create a new anchor for the neighborhood that has traditionally been dominated by oil change shops and other automobile service stations. Both Rosenblum and commission Chair Michael Alcheck used the word "delightful" to describe the proposal.

"I honestly can't remember the last time we looked at a multifamily project," Alcheck said. "It's delightful to be considering a housing project on this commission.

"It's delightful because more than any other volunteer in the city, we are acutely aware of the housing crisis. It's a big part of the world of our work and so the notion that we're finally considering a residential, multifamily project that has some component of (below-market-rate) housing is really refreshing."

Commission Ed Lauing also praised the design of the project, including the architecture and the gathering spots included in the site plan.

"This is really an amazing project in a ridiculous setting and it also improves the neighborhood," Lauing said.

In giving the project the green light, the commission specified that the approval is subject to the city's review of the project's historic significance.

The proposal still has to be vetted by the city's Architectural Review Board, which would forward its recommendation to the city's planning director for final approval.


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15 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 13, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Good for the PTC in moving this forward. Residentialists will grasp at every last straw to try to stop any development. Historical building issue was analyzed even though it probably shouldn't have been because some residents use this type of thing as a sword to stop development.

What a shame that people will resort to nonsensical arguments in the face of even an exhaustive report on the historical significance, or lack therof, of this building. A question for Doria would be, if the report isn't conclusive enough for you, what will be?

Experts study the stuff and you can't bring yourself to vote for it and point to the potential historical significance of it? [Portion removed.]

21 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Marie is a registered user.

I have no opinion on whether or not Compadres has historical significance. However, Alcheck's suggestion that one should unilaterally accept the judgment of "experts" hired by the developers, rather than the city's own historical resource Board is ridiculous, especially when the report itself was not even given to the planning commission to review.

3 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 13, 2017 at 5:01 pm

I'm surprised that companies like Facebook and Google don't buy all 17 units and use it as housing for their management employees. There is a new house going thru review right now with 6 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. This could be a new trend. Sad part, my children will never be able to live in Palo Alto.

17 people like this
Posted by Support tanaka
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 13, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Really? Opponents f this development are playing the "historic" card? If it is historic and so important why was it allowed to rot to the state it is now? Why was it broken into and use by homeless people? Why did winter and the others not care about that status of this dump until now?
BTW! There is little to nothing that is "historic " in Palo Alto-- there is plenty of old stuff, but very little historically significant structures. Of course, that would make Pablo alto an ordinary city and we know how much palo,alto thinks of itself!!

14 people like this
Posted by TLM
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 13, 2017 at 8:11 pm

I align myself generally more with the residentialist point of view, but this particular structure has been an eyesore since Compadres closed, and I think this is an appropriate use of the land, especially at a time when we are so pressed for more housing in Palo Alto.
A 1938 Adobe structure doesn't scream out "historical" to me. In most parts of the world, that would be absolutely laughable. I enjoyed Compadres when it was in that building and I'm sorry to see it gone, but preserving the current dilapidated adobe structure would be silly.

8 people like this
Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 13, 2017 at 10:41 pm

[Portion removed.] Juana Briones home was TOTALLY an historical landmark in our town and it was ignored and fell into a horrible situation where outsiders came in, purchased the property and eventually it was left to rot by people wanting to tear it down.....which they finally figured out a way to do it "legally"........Same thing seems to be somewhat happening to
Compadres. [Portion removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2017 at 10:54 am

Who knows what is going on in that wreck of an unsightly abandoned building. One decision I agree with even though I'm usually against overdevelopment.
Can we get rid of those quanset hut and the Glass Slipper?

5 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2017 at 11:03 am

Adobe structure? I happened to be next door to the old building on Saturday. It looks like a concrete block structure textured to look like adobe with a Spanish tiled roof. Tear it down. The preservationists are wrong on this one.

5 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 14, 2017 at 11:15 am

It's unlikely to have any historical value but please, please, please enforce the parking requirement. Is anyone sure that 62 parking spaces is adequate for the residents, employees, and customers who'll live or work here?

6 people like this
Posted by More greed
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2017 at 11:39 am

Gee, three Planning Commissioners approve a demolition and approve a developer's grand plan. What a surprise.

Rosenblum and commission Chair Michael Alcheck used the word "delightful" to describe the proposal.
How do we get rid of these [portion removed] commissioners?

7 people like this
Posted by A civil exchange of ideas would be more productive.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2017 at 11:40 am

Could we please tone down the angry rhetoric? It is possible for people to have different opinions and share their thoughts with mutual respect and civility.

Please be considerate of your neighbors. We are all members of this community. Let's work together. Angry, stubborn, polarization does not promote creative problem-solving. We can do better.

11 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2017 at 11:42 am

By all means, raze it and then raise a new building that will have life and activity in it. My diappoinment was when the restaurant
closed. My wife and I had good times there. Great chips and salsa, good food, and a pitcher of margaritas. What's not to like about that? It was noisy but we were younger and just added to the noise. Ah, memories. That's all I have left of so many former fun restaurants.

4 people like this
Posted by Charlie
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 14, 2017 at 11:51 am

There is a lot of new housing going up -- El Camino near California Avenue, the old Facebook site, south Palo Alto. A lot of projects now seem to include some housing as a way to make it popular with the city (College Terrace Market, for example). If this project adds another 17 units, let's make sure we can take care of the additional students who will be enrolling with PAUSD.

5 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 14, 2017 at 11:54 am

In the 1970s and beyond this building housed a popular lunch restaurant called The Iron Works, so named because the original user of the building was a blacksmith who presumably had made some of the wrought iron decorations then in the building. This history was presented at the restaurant but I cannot recall if it was part of the menu or on a plaque. There were remnants of the smithy's business, such as anvils and tools, on display. At a minimum it would be great if the historical board could find this history and keep it alive through publication of the story and any photos of the blacksmith business and the subsequent eateries. I'd love to read such a story in the Weekly.

7 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 14, 2017 at 12:11 pm


I hope you realize that any and all reports, including traffic studies and historical studies must be paid for by the developer. Do you think the city is going to pick up this tab? Are you willing to pick up the tab for a truly "independent" report?

The idea that the report is not independent because the developer is forced to pay for it is absurd. If what you are suggesting is true, then all historical reports that are paid for by developers should conclude that no building is historic. But both you and I and the rest of the logical community knows that isn't true. Yet you have something like 22 likes on your comment, which I suppose goes to show you that people don't think things through at all.

Would you rather the city's resource board pay for its own study out of city coffers?

While we are at it, traffic studies are required to be paid by the developers too. This fact does not presumptively make the results less credible.

7 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 14, 2017 at 12:22 pm

It’s easy to attack projects proposed for places that aren’t near where you live (particularly from behind your cloak of anonymity). A big problem here is that the developer has so far made no attempt to reach out to the neighbors and community to hear concerns and mitigate them ahead of time. Would you instantly be in favor of a mammoth project next door to you where you got almost zero notice, incomplete access to impact assessments and other documentation, no adequate explanation for how already overloaded Curtner/El Camino is supposed to handle the increased traffic (how about Curtner as entrance-only and El Camino as exit-only?), and a request that you OK it in less than three weeks?

Developers fear that reaching out to neighbors would derail their plans, but if the project is within code, what are they worried about? Neighbors view the lack of outreach as a red flag that developers are trying to sneak a fast one by us. The developers' "spring it on 'em at the last minute" strategy should be rethought since the natural reaction of neighbors is to pump the brakes until they understand what the heck is going on.

14 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 14, 2017 at 1:11 pm


I hope you aren't suggesting that anonymity discounts an opinion. If that's true, the residentialists would need to be muted until they revealed their identities.

The city has notice requirements for proposed projects - this is a fact. So if you did not get one, surely someone in your neighborhood association must have gotten one, and surely this would have been brought up at your particular neighborhood association meeting.

I find it extremely difficult to believe that nobody in Ventura knew about this project until it was "sprung" on the neighborhood. That flies in the face of submittal protocol with the city. And if you didn't get the notice, you have a legitimate gripe.

All of your questions actually must be addressed via traffic studies, etc. This moving forward does not mean it will get the go ahead in its current format so there is plenty of time to debate your concerns.

Developers in Palo Alto rightfully fear neighborhoods because in reality, when is the last time any neighborhood in Palo Alto embraced a proposed project and truly worked in a partnership with the developers' concerns in mind too? Therein lies the issue. The developer is made to be the bad guy because the developer will not consider "only" the neighborhood's concerns.

Trust me, I've been to my fair share of neighborhood meetings and it isn't often when the neighborhood says, "you know, what can we do to make something at your site work for both of us?". Have you?

9 people like this
Posted by jean struthers
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 14, 2017 at 1:18 pm

In 1964 when we moved here that building was an ironwork forge. Then it became a restaurant named the Iron Works. The original forge was where a very good artistic iron worker made wrought iron hinges and other hardware the most significant of which were the iron door hardware at Sunset headquarters. Many of the Spanish style homes have the old wrought iron door hardware from this forge. Although it isnt adobe it does have an historical background.

9 people like this
Posted by Karen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 14, 2017 at 1:57 pm

I don't know whether or not this is a good project. But it seems every project that gets approved either comes with the description of "adding to our tax base", or "helping with the housing shortage". These two things though conspire to create a vicious cycle: more businesses/employees in town generate a need for more housing; more residents generate a need for more services to be funded with tax revenues. Is there a limit to how big Palo Alto can grow? Is there a limit to how much residential neighborhoods can be encroached upon? At what point does a community say we at a capacity, for homes, schools, parking, traffic...(and if we have more housing, it would be great if that REALLY supported the local community service providers like teachers and first-responders, but that doesn't seem to happy in any meaningful numbers).

2 people like this
Posted by Phil Smaller
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 14, 2017 at 2:26 pm

In an historical vein , the Iron Works Restaurant was very successful for many years, The general partner, Vic Chang,
went on to open the Laundry Works in San Jose and the Auto Works in Santa Rosa. Both were unsuccessful and soon went under. Just another victim of the demanding restaurant business in the Bay Area

7 people like this
Posted by kathleen
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2017 at 3:43 pm

Soon Palo Alto will be one big traffic gridlock. I would like to live on a ranch in Woodside but can't afford. Not everyone who wants to live in Palo Alto can do so. The City Council is making this area less desirable with over building. Noted that the building and real estate interest funded some members of the council.

5 people like this
Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 14, 2017 at 4:59 pm

The Glass Slipper is not as extravagant in size as the other box like hotels that have built recently on El Camino in Palo Alto. Yes, I do believe it needs a serious uplift as it IS an older novelty from days gone by and in sad shape. I would hate to have ALL the hotels along the bordering South Palo Alto district
keep somewhat of character where "...dreams may come true"......

9 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2017 at 5:10 pm

@ Mayfield Child,
a prominent Silicon Valley executive bought the Juana Briones home and benefitted from the tax deal (for -- supposedly -- preserving a historic structure.) How convenient that the house became "rotted" or some such, and "had" to be torn down. It IS pretty funny what these powerful guys get away with.
However, I don't think this restaurant can be equated with Juana Briones. Time for El Camino Real to receive new development in this location.

7 people like this
Posted by Charlie
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 14, 2017 at 5:11 pm


I completely agree with you -- let's put teachers and first-responders in the new housing. Many already have their kids in the Palo Alto schools, it would shorten their commutes, allow them to be more a part of the community, and ensure we have essential first-responders handy in case of an earthquake.

Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2017 at 5:46 pm

So you're going to subsidize a service-class to live in Palo Alto rather than work to solve the core issue of housing being too expensive in general? Why not just pay teachers what they would need to make in order to live nearby in that case?

5 people like this
Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 14, 2017 at 6:06 pm

YIMBY....SO WHAT IS WRONG with "service class people" living in Palo Alto...( my eyeballs are nearly stuck to my top eyelashes as I read what you are thinking! ) My father was a fireman here in Palo Alto and one of the requirements then was that he had to live IN Palo Alto due to the fact the people here demanded fast action when it came to putting out fires, etc. He was one of the dedicated men who serviced this town to the smiles of others who couldn't put out their fire with a garden hose......:) So proud of the emergency sector of our town......

2 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2017 at 9:18 pm

If you don't see anything wrong with creating special housing for service professionals who would otherwise be priced out of the area, specifically and only if they move there to perform a service for residents, just so Palo Alto can carry on as usual during the housing crisis, then I don't know what to tell you. How long until you install the gate around the city and have a guy checking IDs before buzzing people in?

Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2017 at 9:42 pm

Web Link

"Feudalism was a combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour."

Like this comment
Posted by Aisha M
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2017 at 11:29 pm

Can people with section 8 certificates move into BMR?

3 people like this
Posted by All
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 15, 2017 at 7:13 am

Unfortunately, BMR is up to 120% of median income, which means they will not actually be low income housing. The people who move in will have to be able to afford the units, which for new construction, is not going to be cheap.

A better use of this property would have been all low income housing.

4 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 15, 2017 at 1:52 pm

Sorry to be so late to the lively party here!

I was so caught off guard by the project that I have been struggling to find the information I need to understand the project in full. But I want to register my concerns as Moderator of the Ventura Neighborhood Association.

The Ventura Neighborhood Association had its monthly meeting Sunday March 12, and 27 strong, we were all shocked at how quickly we were being asked to comment on the project, especially when the links on the City's website to important documentation were broken. It's not acceptable that we are asked to comment and then are provided inadequate information. We have asked the very nice and hardworking Jonathan Lait for an extension to the deadline to comment, since the links are broken. Haven't heard back from him yet to our request for an extension to the March 27 deadline. However the links are working now. Hurrah!

For the truly deep divers in the community who want to fact check for themselves take a look at the PTC meeting. You'll see a lot of the Barron Park and Ventura electorate turned out to decry the project. When folks take the time to come to the meeting, that means that something is not quite cricket with a project, that there is a reason to slow it down to take the time for a thorough review.

Web Link

Also here is a link to the information about the project that the city has posted.

Web Link

In the wee hours of the night burning the midnight oil, I have been learning some awesome facts about this building. And I just don't think the neighborhood has had enough chance to review it. But we need more time to review, so I hope the comment period is extended.


I want to take a little bit of exception to Commissioner Rosenblum's implication comment that if he lived in that area, he'd feel "quite happy that the jiffy lube and the 9 minute oil change etc. is getting a high quality multi family unit that's beginning to anchor a neighborhood that has something beyond oil change and other auto service and can start to be the anchor of a small community."

Web Link

I am grateful for Doria Summa providing counterweight to such insensitive remarks and for raising concerns about the property's historic significance. Even though the PTC is not the HRB, I think it's okay to consider a project in its entirety and to call out considerations that others may have overlooked, for whatever reason. I am glad that we have commissions, commissioners, committees and due process so that the wheels of progress don't pave over community input before it can even take shape. We don't have time to comment prior to March 27. That is my primary concern here.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 16, 2017 at 9:18 am

Each city has a function in city hall and a general manager with staff who are responsible for coordination of the city budget needs and projected expansion programs. If it is up to city to qualify new building functions and how those relate to the school system potential in flow / out flow of students. Any new building has to also take into consideration the existing infrastructure capabilities. So why are people who live in different cities - who are very busy right now working their own problems, lecturing a different city on functions that belong within the city management functions at city hall. Does that make sense? I am sure that the city will make the decisions as to how best to approach this new building function with the facts that are specific to this city. And I am sure that Mountain View also is making decisions which affect their city. Yimby - are you "helping' your city in their decision making?

Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2017 at 10:15 am

Palo Alto doesn't live in a bubble. The housing crunch affects the entire Bay Area, and a lack of new housing in Palo Alto puts upward pressure on rents and purchase prices in surrounding cities. We're an interconnected region that needs to work together on this, and it's harmful when cities sit on their hands and ride the wave of higher property values while people are forced out of the bay area due to skyrocketing costs

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 16, 2017 at 10:32 am

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 17, 2017 at 9:47 am

Since we are talking about Proposition 13 on another thread here is an example of how a tear down and rebuild for another purpose will change the tax assessed value of this property. Can the city and Weekly please start including in their releases as part of the due diligence what the revised tax assessment is for this property. Please also include any "trades" or "deals" for low-income housing or type funding organization (non-profit?) that may affect the revised tax assessment. We all need to be very clear here on how the current transactions on the table are being conducted. Part of the review of any real estate transaction should include the specifics of the value to the city and county for this transaction since any increases in tax assessment will be applied to the overall services for the city and county.

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