In this week's Around Town column, the Ventura Working Group holds its first meeting, a proposed downtown project faces a fresh obstacle and three leaders are recognized for thei work at VA Palo Alto.
GETTING ACQUAINTED... The 14 members and two alternates of the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan Working Group broke the ice Wednesday at their inaugural meeting at City Hall, where residents mingled with city staff and learned about the planning exercise, which they hope to complete in 18 months. "It's not every day a planner looks at 60 acres of land in a city that's largely built out," interim Planning Director Jonathan Lait said in his introduction. The focus area is roughly bordered by El Camino Real, Lambert Avenue, the Caltrain corridor and Page Mill Road and includes the commercial area anchored by Fry's Electronics. The residents, many of whom have a long history with the neighborhood, became acquainted by partnering up with one another to share their hopes and fears for the plan on blue and orange Post-its and to talk about their hobbies, which were then reported to the larger group. Their dreams for the space included preserving history, building more parks and adding housing. Areas of concern included displacement, increased traffic congestion and public criticism. Along the way, group members built camaraderie as they learned about the many cooks and a few ukulele players in their midst, sparking suggestions of turning the next group's meeting into a potluck and jam session. "The vibe is awesome in here," Becky Sanders, moderator of the Ventura Neighborhood Association, said during the public comment portion of the meeting. The group is scheduled reconvene for its next meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 15 at the Downtown Library.
DOWNTOWN DENIAL... Even by Palo Alto's rigorous standards, Elizabeth Wong's bid to build a four-story mixed-use building on University Avenue has been an exhausting journey littered with citizen appeals, board denials and threatened lawsuits. This week, Wong encountered a fresh obstacle when interim Planning Director Jonathan Lait moved to partially deny Wong's application for revising the design of the new development at 429 University Ave., near Kipling Street. In his Oct. 16 letter, Lait cited the Oct. 4 decision by the Architectural Review Board to likewise deny the latest design changes. While he broke from the board by approving two of the three items that Wong's architects were asked to revise (treatment of a decorative wall and landscape details), Lait found that the project fell short when it comes to the third item: the project's exterior building materials, colors and craftsmanship-related detailing. Lait pointed to the contrast between most of the buildings in the area, which include "a warm color palette," pedestrian-oriented amenities and details that add relief and dimension at the first and second levels (including Juliet balconies, awnings and recessed windows), and Wong's building, which has "no architectural details that relate to or enhance the pedestrian environment." The decision means that Wong will not get a building permit for the politically charged project unless she wins an appeal or prevails in a suit against the city (Wong confirmed on Friday that she is appealing the director's denial). It also means that the council, which narrowly approved the project in February 2017 (largely to avoid a lawsuit), will soon have another big decision to make on a project that has now been moving, in fits in starts, through the city's development pipeline since 2014.
AN ACT OF SERVICE ... The Lee & Penny Anderson Defenders Lodge at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System has been recognized by the PenFed Foundation, which honored three leaders for their work on the facility in operation since 2014. The lodge gives veterans a free place to stay while they receive extensive treatments and procedures. The award was presented to former VA Palo Alto Director and CEO Lisa Freeman and past secretaries of state George Schultz and Condoleezza Rice at a special dinner on Oct. 8. "Historically, veterans would drive many hours in awful traffic to get to an appointment. Some would even choose to not come or get treatment at all," Freeman said in a press release. "We receive severely injured service members from all over the world and it's critically important to provide them with world-class care. I want to thank all of the veterans, their families and loved ones — it's an honor and privilege to serve them."