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With no consensus in sight, Palo Alto's vision for Ventura gets murky

City Council is set to choose an alternative for North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan

The building at 340 Portage Ave., which formerly housed Fry's Electronics, is one of the major wild cards in Palo Alto's planning process for a 60-acre portion of the Ventura neighborhood. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

When Palo Alto began work two years ago on its most ambitious planning project — the reimagining of the Ventura neighborhood — city leaders saw the area as a land of opportunity: centrally located, close to transit, eager for affordable housing and starving for community amenities such as parks and retail.

But as the City Council is preparing to review on Monday a menu of development options for the neighborhood, it is confronting a stark reality: the only way its housing goals can be achieved is if the city also allows property owners in the 60-acre area to add more than 80,000 square feet of office space, according to an analysis by city staff and its consultants. Only then, the analysis suggests, would the area generate adequate revenue for developers to create an incentive for them to build more affordable housing, open space and other community benefits.

The 60-acre area where Palo Alto is working to craft a new vision is bounded by El Camino Real, Lambert Avenue, Page Mill Road and the Caltrain tracks. Map by Kristin Brown.

The report's conclusions create a quandary for the council, which will consider a set of alternatives that range from highly contentious to largely infeasible, with little middle ground. When the council launched the process in 2017, its stated goals were to create housing, improve bike connections and improve the fabric to a centrally located neighborhood bounded by El Camino Real, Lambert Avenue, Page Mill Road and the Caltrain tracks.

There was little talk back then of new commercial development in the area — with the notable exception of neighborhood-serving retail — and city leaders generally agreed that the site at 340 Portage Ave., which until recently housed Fry's Electronics, will play a major role in the city housing goals (the city's Housing Element envisions 249 residences at the site).

But as the council gets ready to review the finished product, the Ventura vision remains murky. The North Ventura Coordinated Plan Working Group, a 14-person panel comprised of property owners, residents and other stakeholders, struggled to reach a consensus on what the area should look like and only one member is supporting the alternative that is now being recommended by staff. The owner of the Fry's site, The Sobrato Organization, has indicated that it has no interest in redeveloping 340 Portage Ave. or shifting away from commercial use at that building. And the city's economic consultant has concluded that Palo Alto is unlikely to see significant housing in the north Ventura area unless it allows developers to build more offices.

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The plan, which was crafted over the course of two years and 17 meetings, led to the development of three alternatives. At the lowest end is Alternative 1, which would create about 500 new residences mostly through constructing townhomes and mid-rise apartment along some of the busier streets in the area. Office use would be gradually phased out as commercial buildings get demolished over time and replaced with residential use.

Alternative 2 would take development up a notch by including more residential and commercial growth, in part by demolishing and rebuilding a significant portion of the Fry's building and adding apartments to 340 Portage Ave. According to the plan, this alternative would yield about 1,170 residences and 33,300 square feet of additional commercial space. It includes the reconfiguration of the commercial site at 395 Page Mill Road, which is occupied by Cloudera, to create space for mid-rise residential building.

Cloudera occupies the building at 395 Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. Under one alternative in the effort to redevelop the Ventura neighborhood, the site would be configured to add mid-rise residential building. Embarcadero Media file photo by Alexandria Cavallaro.

The main flaw with these two alternatives, from staff's perspective, is that neither is likely to actually happen. That was the conclusion of Strategic Economics, the consultant that considered the alternatives and deemed both of them financially infeasible. According to its report, the value of existing office space is about $1,400 per square foot, according to the city's study. In a market-rate rental apartment building, the estimated value is about $1,125 per square foot. Affordable housing, meanwhile, would be even less lucrative.

"There is no financial incentive for private developers to demolish the existing office space in the 340 Portage building and convert to multifamily residential, especially if there is also a significant parkland dedication,” Strategic Economics concluded.

The only option that the consultant deemed to be feasible was Alternative 3, which envisions the demolition of both 340 Portage Ave. and 395 Page Mill Road and creation of residential uses at these sites. To give developers incentive, the city would allow office uses in other areas, adding a net 83,800 square feet of commercial space in the Ventura area. The plan includes 50-foot-tall buildings along Portage and Lambert avenues and higher density buildings, with retail and residential use and heights of up to 70 feet, along El Camino Real.

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In March, the planning commission voted 4-2, with Doria Summa and Ed Lauing dissenting, to recommend Alternative 3 with two modifications: addition of park space and a requirement that 20% of the new housing units be designated for affordable housing (up from 15% in the original Alternative 3). This modified alternative, now known is Alternative 3B, is what staff is now recommends for council adoption.

Some residents agree with this recommendation. Gail Price, a member of the Working Group and board president of the nonprofit group Palo Alto Forward, concurred with Strategic Economics' conclusions about the need for the city to modify its development standards if it wants to see significant change in Ventura. The area, she wrote to the council in March, is "uniquely positioned as a great site for new and varied housing."

A view of the Park Plaza apartment complex along Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, which is part of a 60-acre area where Palo Alto is working to craft a new vision. Embarcadero Media file photo by Jocelyn Dong.

"It is close to services, shopping, transit, and jobs, which would set new families and low-income residents up for success," Price wrote. "In order to ensure this happens, we must adjust our height limits, parking policies, fees, and FAR (floor area ratio) to accommodate for more homes and make it economically feasible to build.

"Unless Palo Alto is willing to create incentives that enable appropriate development, the property owners will not be inclined to create bolder and imaginative solutions and will largely retreat to what is feasible under the current development standards."

A new staff report describes Alternative 3 as the only option that "matches housing types, parking standards, and allowances for office development to achieve feasibility and generate additional below-market rate units, open space, and other community benefits." But even if it's economically feasible, it promises to be a tough sell politically.

Working Group members and many Ventura residents have largely opposed this option, with only Price voting to support the alternative during the group's October meeting. Working Group member Angela Dellaporta was one of several speakers who urged city leaders to consider other options that would create a mix of housing options and park space without "bowing to the needs of developers" by turning up the dial on office space.

"There are cities all over the Bay Area and indeed the country that have successfully created developments that embody the values of inclusivity, natural beauty, environmental balance, and community connection that are Palo Alto hallmarks," Dellaporta said at the March 10 meeting of the Planning and Transportation Commission. "I find it really difficult to believe that in this city where unparalleled wealth has been created by unparalleled innovation, we could not figure out how to use that wealth and that spirit of innovation and creativity to craft a feasible development that lives up to these essential Palo Alto values."

Other group members pitched another option, known as Alternative M, which calls for the city to buy the 12-acre Fry's site at 340 Portage Ave. and convert it to below-market-rate housing. The plan also calls for converting an existing office building at 3201 Ash St. into a community center with a small eatery. The project would be financed through a municipal bond, according to Working Group members Keith Reckdahl and Terry Holzemer and Ventura Neighborhood Association Moderator Becky Sanders, who developed Alternative M.

Jeff Levinsky, a land-use watchdog affiliated with Palo Alto Neighborhoods is among the supporters of Alternative M. He asked the planning commission in its March review not to spend any more time crafting "megadollar developer giveaways that relegate new residents to living in dense office complexes on overcrowded, underparked streets."

"Instead focus on what the community is asking for, mainly traffic reduction, housing for those with the greatest economic need, community centers, parkland, and to raise North Ventura up to the level that other neighborhoods in our city enjoy," Levinsky said.

Under Alternative M, the building at 3201 Ash St. in Palo Alto would be converted into a community center and small eatery. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

The commission, for its part, concurred that all three of options presented by staff and consultants are far from ideal. Summa concluded that Alternative 3 has "too much office," that it doesn't improve Park Boulevard and that it assumes that the Fry's building can be torn down — an assumption that has been undermined both by Sobrato's unwillingness to redevelop the site and by the "historically significant" status of the building, which was built by Thomas Foon Chew in 1918 and that in 1920 was as the third largest cannery in the world.

"If it isn't something that anyone is excited about, I don't know why we're doing it and I think we can do better," Summa said at the March meeting, just before the vote.

Even those who supported Alternative 3 had some reservations about the North Ventura Plan. Commissioner Michael Alcheck said it would be a waste of the city's resources to pursue alternatives that are both deemed unfeasible by the city's consultants and unappealing by the property owners.

"This is literally the worst possible result — that the work group couldn't come up with an alternative that was endorsed by the various commercial parcel owners, representing a real compromise among all the relevant stakeholders," Alcheck said. "This is the worst. This is … it's a terrible, disappointing, and unfortunate failure."

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With no consensus in sight, Palo Alto's vision for Ventura gets murky

City Council is set to choose an alternative for North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Jun 10, 2021, 9:24 am

When Palo Alto began work two years ago on its most ambitious planning project — the reimagining of the Ventura neighborhood — city leaders saw the area as a land of opportunity: centrally located, close to transit, eager for affordable housing and starving for community amenities such as parks and retail.

But as the City Council is preparing to review on Monday a menu of development options for the neighborhood, it is confronting a stark reality: the only way its housing goals can be achieved is if the city also allows property owners in the 60-acre area to add more than 80,000 square feet of office space, according to an analysis by city staff and its consultants. Only then, the analysis suggests, would the area generate adequate revenue for developers to create an incentive for them to build more affordable housing, open space and other community benefits.

The report's conclusions create a quandary for the council, which will consider a set of alternatives that range from highly contentious to largely infeasible, with little middle ground. When the council launched the process in 2017, its stated goals were to create housing, improve bike connections and improve the fabric to a centrally located neighborhood bounded by El Camino Real, Lambert Avenue, Page Mill Road and the Caltrain tracks.

There was little talk back then of new commercial development in the area — with the notable exception of neighborhood-serving retail — and city leaders generally agreed that the site at 340 Portage Ave., which until recently housed Fry's Electronics, will play a major role in the city housing goals (the city's Housing Element envisions 249 residences at the site).

But as the council gets ready to review the finished product, the Ventura vision remains murky. The North Ventura Coordinated Plan Working Group, a 14-person panel comprised of property owners, residents and other stakeholders, struggled to reach a consensus on what the area should look like and only one member is supporting the alternative that is now being recommended by staff. The owner of the Fry's site, The Sobrato Organization, has indicated that it has no interest in redeveloping 340 Portage Ave. or shifting away from commercial use at that building. And the city's economic consultant has concluded that Palo Alto is unlikely to see significant housing in the north Ventura area unless it allows developers to build more offices.

The plan, which was crafted over the course of two years and 17 meetings, led to the development of three alternatives. At the lowest end is Alternative 1, which would create about 500 new residences mostly through constructing townhomes and mid-rise apartment along some of the busier streets in the area. Office use would be gradually phased out as commercial buildings get demolished over time and replaced with residential use.

Alternative 2 would take development up a notch by including more residential and commercial growth, in part by demolishing and rebuilding a significant portion of the Fry's building and adding apartments to 340 Portage Ave. According to the plan, this alternative would yield about 1,170 residences and 33,300 square feet of additional commercial space. It includes the reconfiguration of the commercial site at 395 Page Mill Road, which is occupied by Cloudera, to create space for mid-rise residential building.

The main flaw with these two alternatives, from staff's perspective, is that neither is likely to actually happen. That was the conclusion of Strategic Economics, the consultant that considered the alternatives and deemed both of them financially infeasible. According to its report, the value of existing office space is about $1,400 per square foot, according to the city's study. In a market-rate rental apartment building, the estimated value is about $1,125 per square foot. Affordable housing, meanwhile, would be even less lucrative.

"There is no financial incentive for private developers to demolish the existing office space in the 340 Portage building and convert to multifamily residential, especially if there is also a significant parkland dedication,” Strategic Economics concluded.

The only option that the consultant deemed to be feasible was Alternative 3, which envisions the demolition of both 340 Portage Ave. and 395 Page Mill Road and creation of residential uses at these sites. To give developers incentive, the city would allow office uses in other areas, adding a net 83,800 square feet of commercial space in the Ventura area. The plan includes 50-foot-tall buildings along Portage and Lambert avenues and higher density buildings, with retail and residential use and heights of up to 70 feet, along El Camino Real.

In March, the planning commission voted 4-2, with Doria Summa and Ed Lauing dissenting, to recommend Alternative 3 with two modifications: addition of park space and a requirement that 20% of the new housing units be designated for affordable housing (up from 15% in the original Alternative 3). This modified alternative, now known is Alternative 3B, is what staff is now recommends for council adoption.

Some residents agree with this recommendation. Gail Price, a member of the Working Group and board president of the nonprofit group Palo Alto Forward, concurred with Strategic Economics' conclusions about the need for the city to modify its development standards if it wants to see significant change in Ventura. The area, she wrote to the council in March, is "uniquely positioned as a great site for new and varied housing."

"It is close to services, shopping, transit, and jobs, which would set new families and low-income residents up for success," Price wrote. "In order to ensure this happens, we must adjust our height limits, parking policies, fees, and FAR (floor area ratio) to accommodate for more homes and make it economically feasible to build.

"Unless Palo Alto is willing to create incentives that enable appropriate development, the property owners will not be inclined to create bolder and imaginative solutions and will largely retreat to what is feasible under the current development standards."

A new staff report describes Alternative 3 as the only option that "matches housing types, parking standards, and allowances for office development to achieve feasibility and generate additional below-market rate units, open space, and other community benefits." But even if it's economically feasible, it promises to be a tough sell politically.

Working Group members and many Ventura residents have largely opposed this option, with only Price voting to support the alternative during the group's October meeting. Working Group member Angela Dellaporta was one of several speakers who urged city leaders to consider other options that would create a mix of housing options and park space without "bowing to the needs of developers" by turning up the dial on office space.

"There are cities all over the Bay Area and indeed the country that have successfully created developments that embody the values of inclusivity, natural beauty, environmental balance, and community connection that are Palo Alto hallmarks," Dellaporta said at the March 10 meeting of the Planning and Transportation Commission. "I find it really difficult to believe that in this city where unparalleled wealth has been created by unparalleled innovation, we could not figure out how to use that wealth and that spirit of innovation and creativity to craft a feasible development that lives up to these essential Palo Alto values."

Other group members pitched another option, known as Alternative M, which calls for the city to buy the 12-acre Fry's site at 340 Portage Ave. and convert it to below-market-rate housing. The plan also calls for converting an existing office building at 3201 Ash St. into a community center with a small eatery. The project would be financed through a municipal bond, according to Working Group members Keith Reckdahl and Terry Holzemer and Ventura Neighborhood Association Moderator Becky Sanders, who developed Alternative M.

Jeff Levinsky, a land-use watchdog affiliated with Palo Alto Neighborhoods is among the supporters of Alternative M. He asked the planning commission in its March review not to spend any more time crafting "megadollar developer giveaways that relegate new residents to living in dense office complexes on overcrowded, underparked streets."

"Instead focus on what the community is asking for, mainly traffic reduction, housing for those with the greatest economic need, community centers, parkland, and to raise North Ventura up to the level that other neighborhoods in our city enjoy," Levinsky said.

The commission, for its part, concurred that all three of options presented by staff and consultants are far from ideal. Summa concluded that Alternative 3 has "too much office," that it doesn't improve Park Boulevard and that it assumes that the Fry's building can be torn down — an assumption that has been undermined both by Sobrato's unwillingness to redevelop the site and by the "historically significant" status of the building, which was built by Thomas Foon Chew in 1918 and that in 1920 was as the third largest cannery in the world.

"If it isn't something that anyone is excited about, I don't know why we're doing it and I think we can do better," Summa said at the March meeting, just before the vote.

Even those who supported Alternative 3 had some reservations about the North Ventura Plan. Commissioner Michael Alcheck said it would be a waste of the city's resources to pursue alternatives that are both deemed unfeasible by the city's consultants and unappealing by the property owners.

"This is literally the worst possible result — that the work group couldn't come up with an alternative that was endorsed by the various commercial parcel owners, representing a real compromise among all the relevant stakeholders," Alcheck said. "This is the worst. This is … it's a terrible, disappointing, and unfortunate failure."

Comments

Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 10:42 am
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 10:42 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Alex
Registered user
Barron Park
on Jun 10, 2021 at 11:19 am
Alex, Barron Park
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 11:19 am

Lord almighty… that place is less than a mile from Caltrain. Just build some damn houses.

“But what about the traffic?”

Have you thought about eliminating the need for cars by building housing close to amenities like public transportation, grocery stores, and restaurants, Brenda?


JH
Registered user
Ventura
on Jun 10, 2021 at 11:43 am
JH, Ventura
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 11:43 am

They key to any NVCAP redevelopment plan is the voluntary participation by two key landholders (i.e. The Sobrato companies and Jay Paul). Between the two of them, they own approximately 40% of the land in the NVCAP area. Logic would say that they only way that they are going to willingly participate in any NVCAP vision is if the vision includes positive outcomes for their two parcels. Given that their two parcels are either already developed or zoned for a certain density, any NVCAP vision is going to have to provide these parcels with an incentive to redevelop (especially for the Jay Paul parcel at 395 Page Mill that houses Cloudera, etc.). The only real incentive that has any chance of working is for the City to up-zone the parcels (as a part of the NVCAP process) to allow even greater effective density than already exists. These two developers are unlikely to participate in any NVCAP vision that results in less income than their properties already generate.

Likewise, this principle applies to other parcels within the NVCAP area.

Promoting parks, riparian stream corridors, low density development, affordable housing, walkable neighbors, no traffic, no cars are all great neighborhood qualities, but can only be considered seriously with the other constraints (existing parcel development and what it is going to take to incentivize existing property owners in NVVAP to participate in any redevelopment scheme.

Planning a neighborhood is easy when no existing property development exists and if all the land is owned by the City. Successful redevelopment of an existing neighborhood owned by hundreds of property owners having a wide range of interests is extremely difficult approaching impossible.


RPopp
Registered user
Monroe Park
on Jun 10, 2021 at 11:45 am
RPopp, Monroe Park
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 11:45 am

Here's my prediction - The Council majority will have prolonged discussion and the process will devolve into a typical pattern of resistance through analysis paralysis. All direction will be delayed until the RHNA requirement penalty kicks in, at which point Palo Alto loses all zoning control of the site and we end up with more density than any of the alternatives has yet contemplated. Time for our Council to do the difficult but responsible thing - listen to staff and appreciate those who are willing to develop/build the compromise of Alternative 3 before it is too late. After a huge process, and enormous expense, the simple fact is that there is no other feasible option on the table.


RPopp
Registered user
Monroe Park
on Jun 10, 2021 at 11:48 am
RPopp, Monroe Park
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 11:48 am

+1 for JH's comment. Spot on.


Jane
Registered user
Ventura
on Jun 10, 2021 at 11:53 am
Jane, Ventura
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 11:53 am

Park Boulevard should be renamed Corporate Canyon Road.


Shawonda Jefferson
Registered user
another community
on Jun 10, 2021 at 12:03 pm
Shawonda Jefferson, another community
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 12:03 pm

The PACC and residents of Palo Alto should seriously consider providing low-cost housing options in the Ventura neighborhood for African Americans in a progressive effort to increase the 1.9% population of black people residing in Palo Alto.

It is the right thing to do in terms of promoting equity and to make amends for centuries of white suppression over people of color...most notably African Americans whose ancestors were brutally taken from their homeland only to be beaten and disparaged by their ruthless Southern white plantation owners.

The citizens of Palo Alto (unlike their racist brethren in the South) are not responsible for compensatory damages or reparations but making African Americans feel more welcome would be a step in the right direction...in light of various white denialists who still believe that Palo Alto is a progressive city committed to equality and ethnic diversity.

BLM


Andy
Registered user
Stanford
on Jun 10, 2021 at 12:07 pm
Andy, Stanford
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 12:07 pm

Palo Alto should reach for the sky...build taller, which allows for more mixed use and can satisfy the needs of market housing, office, retail, interior parking, etc.

A site this large can easily accommodate a residential tower or set of towers (no, I'm not suggesting 100 stories, although that would be amazing...can we do 15-20?).

There is no reason this 60 acre site can't produce thousands of housing units AND retail, office, parking IF city leaders think bolder and higher.

There is a housing crisis and it's only going to resolved if we build a LOT more housing (set a % of housing for BMR if needed, but make it mostly market rate).


Novelera
Registered user
Midtown
on Jun 10, 2021 at 2:20 pm
Novelera, Midtown
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 2:20 pm

Developers=Greed Surprise, Surprise


PST
Registered user
South of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2021 at 5:47 pm
PST, South of Midtown
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 5:47 pm

The city should acquire all the land by purchase or eminent domain and then develop it with ELI, BMR and a small amount of market rate housing adding in a small amount of retail and parks. Change whatever zoning, set backs and height requirements needed to make it happen. Set it up so the ELI and BMR housing will always be as such even upon sale. NO OFFICES!


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 10, 2021 at 6:25 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 6:25 pm

Such confusion. What is Sobrato's vision of their property? Has a plan been provided to the city that we can look at? They wanted a smaller Target store. The rest condos and apartments. We need something to look at - a plan. SU has a development about the same size in RWC at Woodside and Industrial. Look at what others have done - plans that have been proofed and approved. .


Stepheny
Registered user
Midtown
on Jun 10, 2021 at 7:22 pm
Stepheny , Midtown
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 7:22 pm

I for one, am getting fonder of developers who can keep the likes of Gail Price and Palo Alto Forward from packing Palo Alto with low income homes, stacked up to the sky. If you can't afford to live here -- too bad. Not everyone can or should -- or would. And, if you live in another community -- like State Senator Scott Wiener -- and want to do away with local control over zoning, stick that to the cities who elected you. El Camino and San Antonio Road are already overflowing with apartments. Enough. People are moving out of state because of Palo Alto Forward and its ilk.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 11, 2021 at 8:48 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 11, 2021 at 8:48 am

Reading a AAA map of this area the city lines are very confusing in the section between Alma and ECR. On the west side of ECR SU property south of Oregon which is SRP extends to Chimalus and Matadero Road - Matadero Creek. Barron Park and Green Meadow is PA city extending to Charleston and crossing over to Los Altos Road - now the city of Los Altos.

On the east side of ECR Mountain View extends from San Antonio through to Del Medio area - where the big car wash is. Del Medio is all apartments - some old, some new.
All of the new apartments on ECR and San Antonio are in other cites not PA. We do not credit for much development on ECR south of Charleston.

This an example of city lines being co-opted by other cities to meet their requirements for lower cost housing outside of their main downtown and residential areas. These cities can claim all new development in apartment housing while their main residential areas are kept intact. How PA manages development in this section is a bit convoluted.


Chris
Registered user
University South
on Jun 11, 2021 at 11:05 am
Chris, University South
Registered user
on Jun 11, 2021 at 11:05 am

The 50 foot height limit was set 50 years ago. The city has a dozen or more taller buildings built in the decades before that. The height limit is not fixed in stone.

The council needs to stop treating the limit as the Holy Grail. It’s time to change it for housing. A lot has changed in the last 50 years, but not the City Council.
They should take a look at Mountain View and Redwood City.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 11, 2021 at 2:21 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 11, 2021 at 2:21 pm

Raising the height limit, by itself, doesn't solve the key problems. So long as offices are more profitable than housing, owners and developers will prefer to build offices rather than housing. So long as the engineering constraints mean that price-per-square-foot for tall buildings is higher than price-per-square-foot for modest-height buildings, housing in tall buildings won't be more affordable.

I'm still waiting for Chris to check Mountain View, but Redwood City and San Jose are building far more office space than is balanced by new housing, so they're succeeding only in making the housing shortage worse. I see there's a proposal for a new development in EPA that's likely to do the same.

On a related subject, building housing close to transit doesn't eliminate the need for cars so long as most jobs and services aren't also close to that same transit system, which is the case today and for economic reasons is likely to remain so for a long while. The notion that people will live within walking/biking distance of jobs isn't supported in Palo Alto, at least, where we have three times as many jobs as working residents but three quarters of working residents still commute to other cities. So I have some sympathy for Ventura residents who are concerned about traffic implications.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 11, 2021 at 3:21 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 11, 2021 at 3:21 pm

Sorry - have to disagree on the comments on RWC. If you go downtown on Jefferson and ECR that whole section is new apartment buildings - 8 stories. Also new apartments on Veterans going into the downtown area. New apartments on the east side of 101 on the bay. RWC has the most extensive growth in housing going on. Yes - there is also new buildings for commercial use but that is just replacing older buildings that were in those locations.

Side note - PA keeps getting tagged for anything that goes on around here. In the paper lady saw a rabbit in the street between Los Altos street and San Antonio. So paper says PA is filled with rabbits. NO - Los Atos is filed with rabbits. Los Altos starts with Los Altos street going south. Actually Adobe Creek going south.

Then lady running for Governor who was prior Menlo Park Mayor. Article says Palo Alto. Mr. Alex Toledo and the Bay Area News have no idea what the boundaries are for the city - Mr. Toledo keeps calling us out whether it fits or not. She now lives in PA but her resume for running is Menlo Park - San Mateo county.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 11, 2021 at 3:45 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 11, 2021 at 3:45 pm

Here's something I posted on Town Square back in October: "I looked at Redwood City's webpage for current development projects, which you can find here: Web Link

Counting everything in the "Proposed", "Approved", "Under Construction", and "Completed" categories, there are 3670 units of housing and 5.5M sq ft of office space. (I ignored retail.) Under the rules-of-thumb that I normally use, 2.3 workers/unit and 150 sq ft of office space per worker, that's a jobs/housing imbalance of about 4.3 to 1. Redwood City is making its housing situation worse, very rapidly."

And another, more recent, observation along the same lines: Web Link


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 11, 2021 at 8:24 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 11, 2021 at 8:24 pm

Read up on what they're building in San Jose. Ludicrous. The imbalance is getting worse, the housing price competition is getting worse as is the congestion...


eileen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jun 11, 2021 at 9:17 pm
eileen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Jun 11, 2021 at 9:17 pm

Alex,
the city of Palo Alto can not force the landowner to build housing.
Developers will always build what gives the landowner the highest profit.
My guess is they want more office buildings.



Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 11, 2021 at 11:13 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 11, 2021 at 11:13 pm

Allen - it is not October. It is June - soon to be be July - 9 months later. I am up there every week. The whole place is in building mode and it is apartments. Get in your car and go up and look.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 12, 2021 at 8:43 am
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 8:43 am

Resident 1, that's why I included the link to Kris Johnson's letter from May. Since October, things didn't get better -- Kris says 6+M sq ft of office instead of the 5.5M that I found, and was concerned about even more new office projects that were coming up for review.

It takes a couple of hours to do it, so I'm reluctant to check all the projects in detail again. But I see most of them haven't changed since October. I think what you're seeing downtown are mostly mixed-use projects that account for a relatively small fraction of the total projects throughout the city.


Samuel L.
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 12, 2021 at 9:01 am
Samuel L., Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 9:01 am

If the city council goes along w this, I don't want to hear anyone from the city talk about the importance or conservation. They're proposing tearing down at least one fairly new building and others that are still very usable.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 12, 2021 at 9:49 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 9:49 am

The state of California has issued legislative actions concerning housing. Any legal person should be able to use the state direction to it's own advantage. Disallowing further business buildings when there are so many that are now available and are empty should be the qualifier for what is going to be built. You cannot keep building when there is no usage. No - they cannot build without approval from the city.

If Sobrato cannot provide a workable plan then go see Butler. You all have to provide a plan showing what the layout is. And no I do not trust the planning commission to follow through because they appear to concede to the big developers.

Go look at what is there now - it is not up to spec and is not useable. You need new buildings that meet all of the requirements that are currently in law now. The underground pipes and electricity have to be replaced. You cannot approve a firetrap.

Side note - current specs for a bathroom is that there has to be a fan to remove steam from shower - despite that there is a window there. That is the type of specs that are there now. And you will pay to make that happen.


stephen levy
Registered user
University South
on Jun 12, 2021 at 2:17 pm
stephen levy, University South
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 2:17 pm

The idea that office developers are responsible for building housing for the employees that might at capacity fill their building flunks logic and reality.

Todays San Jose Mercury News reports on a move by NetApp to sell their offices in Sunnyvale and move into a new building in Santana Row. The move into the new building was associated with exactly 0 new jobs.

In Allen Akin's Redwood City example above, He assumes 1) that all the jobs that locate in the new building are new jobs, 2) that the building is fully occupied and 3) that no one else is building housing in the area. None of these assertions are true or likely to be true.

Offices do not create jobs, are not automatically filled (look at all the vacant office space around and are not the only way housing is built.

I do applaud RC for negotiating with developers to increase housing and reduce office space.

And I support reasonable fees on new development to support public services.

But I suspect that only a limited amount of new office space not directed at enticing existing companies to move will be built with the vacant space available and the trend toward remote work.

Moreover, there are many types of jobs that go into offices that will increase over time and are not tech. Think of the growing number of health care and social service jobs to serve our aging population. What is the logic in adding to their costs with housing requirements.

Yes, new jobs after the pandemic losses are recovered will increase housing demand, whether they are in offices or construction or logistics or government.






Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 12, 2021 at 2:55 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 2:55 pm

One of the biggest new apartment buildings in RWC is the Cardinal on Jefferson across from the Sequoia Shopping Center. This giant building is for SU people who are located at the SU Campus in RWC. Go check out the new campus. There is also a SU hospital in RWC next to 101. SU is increasing it's presence, as is FB, while Oracle is reducing their presence. A lot of shifting around.
In the papers the American Legion Building on ECR in RWC will be demolished and replaced with a five story building - first two floors for the American Legion and the upper three stories for apartments. A lot of real estate is turning over very quickly in that city.
Then check out Menlo Park all new massive construction on ECR. Cities are moving out and building. It looks great.

So why the dithering on the Fry's site. A lot of smoke being blown here - mixed use - let's see the plans.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 12, 2021 at 4:12 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 4:12 pm

Hi, Steve.

You misunderstood the numbers I quoted. Those were for ALL the projects "proposed, approved, under construction, and completed" in Redwood City at the time. That included both housing and office projects. (As I mentioned, I ignored retail). I strongly recommend that you go through the exercise yourself so you can get a better sense of what's happening there.

You and I are armchair-quarterbacking here. What carries a lot more weight is that the INVESTORS and DEVELOPERS for these projects believe that offices will continue to be more profitable than housing, and they back that up by putting their money overwhelmingly in offices. I suggest that they wouldn't do this if they didn't believe those offices will be occupied, and that demand for offices in the area will continue to grow enough so that their lease rates won't go south. (BTW, are you following the Ravenswood Business District/Four Corners proposal? Up to 5M sq ft more offices, I'm told.)

This is the simple reason why Sobrato won't build an all-housing project in Ventura.

"Offices do not create jobs" and "office developers are [not] responsible for building housing" are sound bites, not sound reasoning. I think we can make a strong case that the damage done by imbalanced commercial development here requires redress. Zoning that mandates reasonable jobs/housing ratios, higher impact fees, and (in Palo Alto particularly) taxes on larger businesses are all good ways to start moving back toward balance. Many others are worth discussion.


stephen levy
Registered user
University South
on Jun 12, 2021 at 4:43 pm
stephen levy, University South
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 4:43 pm

Allen,

I do not think I misunderstood your post. You ignored my NextApp example where new office space was associated with a move (like when HP moved down the peninsula) and both had nothing to do with net job growth.

My major task as an economist is projecting job growth in the region and state. I do not think that qualifies as an armchair quarterback.

As I stated above office development will occur 1) whenever developers think they can entice people to move to better space (happens all the time and no net job growth or need for housing) and if and when they see new job growth needing offices, which I believe is not in our or their immediate future.

Major office creation such as in North Bayshore and San Jose by Google and in Menlo Park by Facebook will take place over time if and when the companies need the added space. We shall see how remote work affects the development of new office space for tech companies.

We can both observe how long it takes to fill the vacant office space here and around us.

And not all office users are affluent organizations indifferent to rents and business taxes and tax rates.

With regard to policy we are of course free to disagree with each other.


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2021 at 5:33 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 5:33 pm

The disagreement is what's the cause and what's the effect.

If they're rational entities, developers are not dumb enough to build without anticipating job growth. Therefore job growth drives office development. Not the other way around.

What is fundamental to the problem of housing creation is why it costs so much to build in Palo Alto. Let's start with the stupid "green" mandates -- recycling instead of demolishing, pumping requirements for water drainage when digging basements and so forth.

These mandates are not free. They materially increase the cost to build.

And every housing project requires BMRs now. Who pays for them? Not the developer. The people buying "market rate" in the same development subsidizes them. And if the "market rate" for housing becomes too expensive because of the BMR subsidy, the project won't pencil out.

That's probably part of Sobrato's calculation. The more BMRs you require, the more volume that's required to support the project. And at some point, the density is too high for Palo Alto and/or the market rate prices are too high for the market.

And let's add the inspectors into the mix.

You pile on this crap and you wonder why housing isn't being built in Palo Alto in quantities worth measuring?

Office space is a red herring.

Palo Alto and its residents have purposefully erected barriers to housing.

On purpose.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 12, 2021 at 5:49 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 5:49 pm

"Office space is a red herring."

Please tell that to ABAC/MTC since housing targets are based on office space and job creation while ignoring the historic drought that's so bad salmon have to be TRUCKED to water because theirs is so low, water shortages requiring mandatory cutbacks for existing residents/businesses, increased risk of fire and power outages and rolling blackouts because of over-demand, etc.

Next time you go food shopping, watch the prices since farmers can't afford water and have stopped farming, planting, etc.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 12, 2021 at 6:03 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 12, 2021 at 6:03 pm

Steve,

Apologies, but you definitely misunderstood. I did not assume that all jobs located in new Redwood City offices were new jobs, that the offices were fully occupied, or that no one else was building housing there.

My original assertion was that the jobs/housing balance is getting worse in Redwood City. If you put more jobs in Redwood City than are balanced by the amount of new housing you're building there, then the imbalance is getting worse.

The jobs do not have to be freshly created; they can be relocated from elsewhere. If "elsewhere" happens to be in the Bay Area, AND no net job growth occurs in the Bay Area, then the jobs/housing imbalance for the Bay Area as a whole doesn't change. You appear to be asserting this will be the case, using appeal-to-authority, and conflating it with the situation in Redwood City. Unless job growth in Sunnyvale completely stops, which is highly unlikely, then your NextApp example illustrates the problem. More employees will appear in both San Jose and in the old (now cheaper?) offices in Sunnyvale. The jobs/housing imbalance for San Jose, Sunnyvale, and the Bay Area all get worse. Building offices never improves the imbalance.

For occupancy, as I explained, I used an estimate of 150 sq ft per employee, not a vacancy rate as you seem to imply. This was the median of a study I read some time ago. You are welcome to use a different estimate if you can offer evidence for why it should be preferred. For example, 250 sq ft per employee seems to be commonly used in zoning discussions, but note that it doesn't change the conclusion I reached.

Finally, as I mentioned above, the analysis included ALL the projects in the city as documented by the development department, including housing projects. Again, I recommend going through the list yourself; if you find projects missing, please come back and document for us how they change the outcome.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 13, 2021 at 4:21 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2021 at 4:21 pm

Shame on the city staff for recommending yet more offices instead of housing for Ventura when they're supposed to be writing their appeal of the ABAC/MTC housing targets that are FUELED by more offices/jobs?

Council gave staff a directive to appeal the targets and instead here they are recommending a massive office park instead of housing. SHAMEFUL. When will they start listening to RESIDENTS who are tired of the jobs/housing imbalance AND the traffic congestion created by the commuters who already outnumber us?

Please write to the city council and tell them no more offices.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 13, 2021 at 4:28 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2021 at 4:28 pm

If you all are arguing from your chairs then get in your auto and go look. The new buildings for housing in RWC are huge - up to 8 stories. More new building is in process on ECR and Jefferson area. More new housing on the east side of 101 on the waterfront. On the flip side in the industrial parks east of 101 those buildings are losing business - used to be filled with tech companies - now you do not see many signs for businesses. A lot of the tech companies are moving to North San Jose. Two different counties - maybe different tax bases. From where I am sitting there is more housing than businesses. The biggest businesses are probably the Cosco and hospitals.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 14, 2021 at 8:32 am
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2021 at 8:32 am

Article in this morning's Merc about the Sequoia Station development on El Camino in Redwood City: Web Link

This is a new, improved version with 631 housing units -- and 1.23M sq ft of office space.

A few choice quotes: "...there isn’t much more the company can do to keep the plan viable after all the significant downsizing from the original, rejected proposal". "...the developer still has not balanced housing to jobs, she added. Espinoza-Garnica said the development will directly lead to further displacement of marginalized communities."

There's a lot of money on the line to build offices. Not so much for housing. Not even in places other than Palo Alto.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 18, 2021 at 9:48 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 18, 2021 at 9:48 am

WOW - in the SFC 06/18 - "Highway 101 lanes to toll solo drivers". So why are so many small to medium tech businesses leaving San Mateo County and moving down to north San Jose? All of those single car drivers are going to be stuck with tolls in San Mateo County. The toll section will be the county line up to the 380 Airport freeway. So how does this state like to kill employment opportunities for its' citizens?

The amount of building in both business and residential is a growing north San Jose opportunity because it is open land. Open land is something that San Mateo County is short on. San Mateo County is home to the SFO Airport and all of the hotel, restaurant and car rental activity that supports major tourism. A different employee base than Santa Clara County. SFO is a huge employer of a very diversified work force, as is the San Jose Airport.

Just imagine all of those google workers who live in RWC and have to go down to MV.
How about all of those SU workers who now want to relocate to the RWC SU campus.
So any of those east bay contributors need to re-think their approach to knocking this city and county. It will not be a free ride from the east bay to the west bay cities.

Re-think the use of ECR as a major transit between counties. Re-think ECR in the SU area - possibly a transit development for busses - the big two section jobs that then coordinate with the smaller local busses. ECR is going to be very busy and not a location for people's transit homes.

EPA is in San Mateo County. RE-think EPA and FB - all in San Mateo County. Menlo Park is building like crazy on ECR. Re-think how people are going to be moving for work.


Curmudgeon
Registered user
Downtown North
2 hours ago
Curmudgeon, Downtown North
Registered user
2 hours ago

Have you thought about eliminating the need for cars by building housing close to amenities like public transportation, grocery stores, and restaurants

Are you aware that only 5% of residents living directly across the street from our Caltrain stations use public transit to get to work? It is unreasonable to expect them to be second-class residents so the rest of us can gloat our civic virtue as we luxuriate in our cars


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