City to draw up new vision for Ventura site

Council prepares for long planning process for area around Fry's Electronics

Palo Alto took the critical first step Monday toward re-imagining and, ultimately, redeveloping a Ventura site best known for its largest commercial tenant: Fry's Electronics.

By a unanimous vote, the City Council agreed to move ahead with a "coordinated area plan" for a site that officials agree is particularly ripe for redevelopment -- both because it's ability to accommodate hundreds of new housing units and because of it's proximity to the transit services at El Camino Real and California Avenue.

If things go as planned, the process will be roughly modeled after Palo Alto's community-driven plans for two neighborhoods south of Forest Avenue: SOFA and SOFA II. The end product will identify the community's preferred land uses for the area, paving the way for zone changes and infrastructure improvements.

While the 15-acre "Fry's site" owned by The Sobrato Organization makes up a good share of the site, the new plan targets a broader area that goes well beyond the sprawling commercial campus off Portage Avenue. The area studied would be just east of El Camino Real. It would be roughly bounded by Page Mill Road, Lambert Avenue, Ash Street and Park Boulevard -- a neighborhood that is already undergoing significant changes thanks to numerous developments that recently won approval.

According to the project description in the grant program, alternatives that could be considered for the site "include repurposing existing buildings as well as complete redevelopment of the site with new construction."

"We're kicking off a really important process for a really important part of town," said Councilman Adrian Fine, who made the motion to move ahead with the plan.

For the council, the idea of transforming Ventura is far from new. The updated Comprehensive Plan, which the council hopes to adopt later this month, has a policy encouraging a new concept plan for the Fry's area. And in July 2015, the council came close to moving ahead with the plan but chose to defer the project after Sobrato came out against it.

Now, Sobrato is not only on board but it is contributing money toward the effort. The bulk of the funding will still come from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which is providing a $638,000 grant for the plan. Sobrato has agreed to contribute another $112,000 to satisfy the grant's matching requirement, as well as an additional $138,000 for an environmental analysis.

The council's vote Monday sets the stage for an 18-month planning process with extensive collaboration from neighborhood stakeholders and reviews by the Planning and Transportation Commission and City Council. In the coming months, the council will solicit applications for a working group to help guide the process along, appoint group members, select consultants and -- if things go as planned -- adopt a plan by the end of 2019.

Some Ventura residents are already getting jazzed about the new plan. Ken Joye noted that one of the goals of the proposal is to take a comprehensive approach to neighborhood improvements -- something that he said isn't possible when development happens on a project-by-project approach.

"I endorse the comprehensive approach to development and hope it can be applied to other projects in the Ventura neighborhood," Joye said.

Becky Sanders, moderator of the Ventura Neighborhood Association, agreed and said her neighbors look forward to participating in the conversation about the future of the area.

"With the development of the Fry's site, Ventura really wants to enter into a true community partnership where everyone benefits and where we work together to build an environment that all Palo Altans can be proud of and all the neighbors can enjoy," Sanders said.

Council members shared her excitement. Some talked about the prospect of revitalizing the area, which according to the city's Housing Element has a "realistic capacity" of 221 housing units. Others pointed to this process as a model that the city can apply to other neighborhoods.

Councilman Cory Wolbach, a longtime proponent of creating "coordinated area plans" for different parts of town, fell into both camps.

"What this is really about tonight is process and that's a process that is not simply developer led -- which is frankly the way we usually do things. And we've been frustrated by that in a lot of ways," Wolbach said. "This is more a process (that is) community led, neighborhood led, city led."

Vice Mayor Liz Kniss called the proposed area plan "a win on many fronts."

"This is, I think, something we've waited a long time to see," Kniss said.

Related content:

Webcast: New vision for Ventura; housing proposals


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2017 at 7:21 am

Are they evicting Frys?

8 people like this
Posted by Gopal
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2017 at 9:27 am

How much of the Gunn High School area is suitable for "redevelopment"?

It seems like everything between Deer Creek and Foothill Expressway is sprawling corporate campuses and open space. Not much transit though.

21 people like this
Posted by Sunny
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2017 at 9:56 am

Is anyone reading this familiar with the narrow little roads and road blocks in the Ventura neighborhood? Unless everyone living in the new Fry's development will enter/exit from El Camino, which is also a problem, there's going to be a big traffic problem in that area.

I will miss Fry's Electronics.

8 people like this
Posted by Jay ess
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 7, 2017 at 11:13 am

Jay ess is a registered user.

Just for information: Gunn is on Stanford land.

19 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 7, 2017 at 11:31 am

Thank you Gennady for covering this for us. We in Ventura are truly stoked that we get to have a place at the table to plan the design of the Fry's redevelopment and the adjacent areas. One thing that the article did not relate was that in addition to my enthusiasm I had to toss in a cautionary message. We are getting money from Sobrato and VTA, two organizations that have very specific goals. When we accept funding from them, how can we insure that the results of the Community Working Group can be truly independent? I think we will have to work at it. Transparency will be our friend, and we at the Ventura Neighborhood Association are aiming for any representatives that come from Ventura in order to serve on the working group will be armed with the data and information that we have collected here in Ventura.

I was surprised that not more folks came to the meeting last night to speak about NVCAP. We had three reps from the Ventura Neighborhood Association, but no one else. I reached out to some friends who live within 500 feet of the proposed CAP and learned that they were not aware of the agenda item and had not received any communication about it. I may be wrong but I thought that if you live within 500 feet of a new proposal, you are supposed to be contacted by the City. Someone please correct me if I am wrong. I may be wrong but my heart's in the right place!

Thanks to all!

20 people like this
Posted by Malia
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Nov 7, 2017 at 11:58 am

Stop already! We need to take a look a the infrastructure of the city before we continue to build these new residences! Traffic, schools, shopping (grocery). Right now there are no grocery stores around where they are building all of these new residences. College Terrace Market is great if you need one or two things, but it is not a full grocery store.

16 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2017 at 12:34 pm

I shudder to think what traffic will be like once this area is densified. And I will miss Fry's.

5 people like this
Posted by Jemaho
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Nov 7, 2017 at 12:52 pm

This is an exemplary site on which to create housing. I hope the developers are blocked from squirreling out of including below market rate units.

12 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 7, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Thank you Becky, Ken, Angela, and all Venturans who have and will continue to provide input into this important project. I am glad to hear that the current plans call for below-maximum density in favor of more green space incorporating a (possible) naturalization of the creek and connections to Boulware Park, walkability and bikability, and building up the area so it has a neighborhood feel. Most of the worries voiced here about potential negative impacts can be addressed through this NVCAP process. But the City Council and others working on it must be faithful to its spirit and make every effort to work together with the Ventura neighbors so that the result can be something of which we're all proud.

10 people like this
Posted by MJW
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2017 at 1:40 pm

Does this mean knocking out the little cottages on Olive to build dense housing and create traffic congestion? The project assumes that people will flock to mass transit. Not likely unless schedules and amenities are improved. No grocery, druggist or even a coffee shop in this area. It's not within walking distance to anything so having a car will be considered (by most) to be a necessity. And probably not just one car.

Like this comment
Posted by Sheri Furman
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2017 at 5:37 pm

Sheri Furman is a registered user.

Becky, I think the 500 foot rule applies to a specific physical project, not a plan. For example, you notify your neighbors about remodeling your house once you pull permits, not when you engage an architect. Or so I think.

5 people like this
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2017 at 6:04 pm

No homes on Olive will have to be demolished I hope.
Please keep us informed.
I don't think this will end well for the Ventura Neighborhood though, It will be over built and congestion will be awful.
Just watch what happens when they develop the property between Acacia and Olive, there will be No parking left on the streets due to the residents having more than two cars..

8 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2017 at 7:35 pm

How long will Fry's be around? My tech-loving husband loves the store. If it wasn't for me, he would roam the aisles for hours. It will be sad to see it go.

7 people like this
Posted by 5th Generation
a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 7, 2017 at 7:54 pm

It will be a shame to lose the historically significant "Fry's" building - home of the old Sutter Cannery, once the largest employer in Palo Alto and Mayfield. Sutter was also one of the earliest California companies owned and operated by a Chinese immigrant.

How many people know that there was a Chinatown in Mayfield (Ventura neighborhood)? Not many I'm willing to bet. Sadder still, not many care.

Like this comment
Posted by Lazlo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2017 at 3:28 am

Ignorance is bliss! History means nothing to politicians and outsourced city planners. What a pity!
The plan falls in line with the city manager's and city council members efforts to rid the city of bothersome high tech companies and retail outlets. Sobrato is only selling out because they saw the writing on the wall. Palo Alto is no longer a place to invest unless your a developer wanting to make a quick million building cheap condo complexes. Unfortunately once the tax base has vanished so will any city services or community involvement.

Like this comment
Posted by par
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 8, 2017 at 8:15 am

Could someone explain exactly what "affordable housing" means in this specific project? Who will be eligible to live in these units? How much will they rent/sell for?

My understanding is that such units can convert to regular units after a specific time has elapsed, such as the case at Terman Apartments in south PA.

13 people like this
Posted by Make it a park
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 8, 2017 at 1:28 pm

Palo Alto is over 40 acres behind in the amount of park space we are suppose to have in the city. Our community pools, playing fields and recreation areas are swamped. If Frys leaves the entire area should be made into a second community area like Rinconada park with a pool and playing fields and such.

It is time that this city council did something for the residents who live here instead of giving it all away to developers to make them richer.

The city does not have to upzone everything to make others a fortune. they need to work for the people who elected them and provide us with community needs. So far they have given us clogged roads, overcrowded schools, and by allowing too much development - massively overpriced housing.

Don't let this site be turned into more dense, environmentally unsound development. Keep it as open usable space for the community.

Like this comment
Posted by Green Acres Resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 8, 2017 at 3:10 pm

I propose an area with no parking and no through traffic, except for service/delivery trucks and local shuttle buses.

Maybe Palo Alto will actually provide a local transit line connecting downtown with CalAve and South Palo Alto, or invite Elon Musk's Boring Company to build a subway route from Tesla to El Camino and then to downtown.

Not so Boring?

4 people like this
Posted by Ventura resident
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 9, 2017 at 12:13 am

Because Palo Alto doesn't have enough stacks of crappy little lego piles of apartments with no setback and all sorts of exemptions or bull-crap excuses for ducking traffic and parking impact. Also because Park Boulevard does not have enough traffic and doesn't force cyclists into the path of enough cars.

6 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 9, 2017 at 6:53 am

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

"Revitilization" is a code word to politicians and developers for get rich quick.

Notice how they all tremble with glee.
In the scale of subterfuge, it is way above re-zoning in extracting value from the community and passing on the costs to the residents. For Palo Alto, it is figuratively the 3 bar jackpot of neighborhood exploitation.

Unfortunately, for the people that currently live here, they have become like gambling addicts obsessed with playing a broken slot machine. No matter how many times voters pull the handle they are always a loser.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Su Hong 2.0? Former waiter reopens Chinese standby under new name in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 12 comments | 5,350 views

What gives you hope?
By Sherry Listgarten | 6 comments | 2,150 views

Living as Roommates? Not Having Much Sex?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 2,129 views

Expert witnesses are more than experts. Plus my 7 fundamental impeachment questions
By Douglas Moran | 25 comments | 2,029 views

Holiday Traditions
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 638 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 26 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away more than $7 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. When you make a donation, every dollar is automatically doubled, and 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.