Four office buildings, theater planned for downtown Palo Alto | September 21, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 21, 2012

Four office buildings, theater planned for downtown Palo Alto

City partners with developer John Arrillaga on new plan to transform site near downtown Caltrain station

by Gennady Sheyner

The City of Palo Alto and billionaire philanthropist John Arrillaga are pushing forward a sweeping development plan that would add a complex of four office towers, including one 10 stories in height, and a new theater to one of the most central areas of downtown.

The project, which would transform the area around the downtown Caltrain station, is so ambitious in scope that the city is now considering bringing it to the voters in spring of 2013, according to a report the city released late Wednesday, Sept. 19.

The city and Arrillaga have been discussing the project at 27 University Ave. since early 2011, but details didn't emerge until late Wednesday, when the city released a report outlining some of the details. The site currently houses the MacArthur Park restaurant, which would have to be relocated to accommodate the new plan.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the plan and the proposal to send it to the voters at its meeting Monday night, Sept. 24. But Arrillaga's development proposal already seems to have won over the city's planning staff, who describe it in a new report as "an unprecedented opportunity to transform the centrally located, transitional area between Downtown Palo Alto and Stanford University, a prominent part of town where decades of plans have engendered little change."

"The Project is propelled by an extraordinary public-private partnership involving several parties, which would allow goals that have been pursued for many years to be realized," Current Planning Manager Amy French wrote in a report, which was approved by Planning Director Curtis Williams and City Manager James Keene.

These goals include improvements to the busy Intermodal Transit Center, better links between downtown, Stanford Shopping Center, Stanford University and Stanford Hospital, and a new performing-arts theater, which would likely serve as a new home for TheatreWorks.

Aside from the project's massive scope, the proposal is also unusual in its blurring of the line between public and private. Two members of the city's land-use boards, former Planning and Transportation Commissioner Daniel Garber and former Architectural Review Board member Heather Young, resigned earlier this year to work on the Arrillaga proposal. And the city plans to approve on Monday a series of architectural, urban-design and environmental contracts for work on 27 University Ave. The council had already approved $250,000 for design work on this project in March. Now, the staff is proposing spending another $286,000 on four contracts, the largest of which would be a $139,500 contract with Fukuji Planning and Design.

The money would come from a $2.25 million fund that the Stanford University Medical Center provided as part of a deal with the city that allowed the medical center to vastly expand its medical facilities.

In recent months, designers and architects have come up with an urban design plan that seeks to, among other things, create a new, highly visible "Arts and Innovation District" between the Caltrain station and El Camino Real; to create a permanent home for TheatreWorks, which currently performs out of Lucie Stern Community Center and the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts.

But the most dramatic and potentially controversial aspect in the new plan is the four office towers, which would be organized in two pairs with each pair connected by multi-story bridges. The tallest would be 10-stories tall. The commercial complex would also include nine-, seven- and six-story buildings. The floor area of the new office space would be 263,000 square feet.

The city currently has at least four buildings taller than 10 stories, including the condominium building at 101 Alma St., the office building at 525 University Ave., the Channing House and Forest Towers at 510 Forest Ave. The proposed offices, much like these buildings, would far exceed the city's 50-foot height limit for new developments.

"The goal of the mixed-use office buildings is for them to be designed as prominent, carefully constructed, contemporary office space to house premier Silicon Valley technology companies in Palo Alto, advancing Palo Alto's reputation as a global center of technology and innovation," the new staff report states.

While the proposal is still in its early phase, it has already received support from Stanford University, a major benefactor of Arrillaga's philanthropy and owner of the land on which the developments would be built. In a letter to the city, Stanford's Director for Community Relations, Jean McCown, wrote that while the university has not been involved in the development, "it supports the exploration of this concept among Mr. Arrillaga, TheatreWorks and the City of Palo Alto."

"John Arrillaga is an extraordinary, generous philanthropist who has provided great benefits to the University, as well as other local community projects," wrote McCown, a former Palo Alto mayor. "Stanford is pleased that the City of Palo Alto will be giving this proposal its thoughtful and constructive consideration."

Talk about it

What do you think about the early plans for a theater and office-building complex near the University Avenue Caltrain station? Share your opinion on Town Square, the online discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by 50 feet is 50 feet, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 10:35 am

Why do Staff and Council simply insist on forcing the camel's nose under the tent on this issue. It is a simple rule, but developers always push it because it is such a profit multiplier for them. We need to put the 50 foot limit to a public vote so they stop breaching it. Don't think awwww it is such a nice thing for the nice rich man to give so much (though he has in so many ways), the goal is too cram massive office space here as a cash cow for Stanford (read between Jean McCown's lines please as it is a huge cash stream for Stanford) than appropriate. Do residents think we really need "to house premier Silicon Valley technology companies in Palo Alto, advancing Palo Alto's reputation as a global center of technology and innovation" blah blah blah corporate-speak? I just want a nice little suburban town to live in and be able to drive my car or ride my bike to the stores and schools.

Posted by John, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2012 at 10:41 am

The citizens of Palo Alto should demand a recall of the City Council if this project is approved. All views of the Stanford Hills will be obliteraged by this massive project. What a disgrace. Stop the madness.

Posted by PA Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2012 at 10:48 am

This looks to be an awesome project. We need to start looking for the future and approve developments that are not close to residential neighborhoods. This project will be close to El Camino and separated from the main business district of University Ave. We will need to make sure the traffic impact is reduced, and having it next to the intermodal station means that people who work there will have the incentive to use public transportation. I am all for it.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 20, 2012 at 10:54 am

And how much more will this cost the taxpayers? Love the revolving door between the developers and the city. Feh.

Posted by anymouse, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 10:56 am

What is this with all this new development? Most people moved here because of the way Palo Alto was. As 1st poster mentioned, "I just want a nice little suburban town to live in and be able to drive my car or ride my bike to the stores and schools."

Isn't that what MOST Palo Altans desire? Isn't this why we spent so much to buy houses here and raise our children here?

Do they want us all to move away to try and find some other nice suburban neighborhood?

With all the Facebook and Apple in the media, people around the world now know where Palo Alto is, I recall even within 5 years ago, when asked where I lived, I'd say "Palo Alto", sometimes I'd get a question, "Where?" I'd respond, "It is where STANFORD is".

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2012 at 10:58 am

Why is it that we can have these massive buildings, but not have a decent sized grocery store and affordable shopping?

Posted by Bob S, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 20, 2012 at 11:06 am

Any chance of getting the link to the report to work better?

Posted by Long Time resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2012 at 11:14 am

I think this is great. Our train station area is an ugly mess. And office space downtown is at a ridiculous premium. If Mr. Arrilaga can solve those problems, and finally provide TheatreWorks with a permanent home (finally) well, good for him! This town could use a decent performing arts center and over on El Camino by the train tracks who cares how tall the buildings are? (Nobody is upset about the heights at Stanford Shopping center, right across the road.)

Posted by concerned Retiree, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 11:17 am

Is this NYC or Palo Alto? Enough buildings, enough hospital, enough people.

Time to sit back and review this horrible growth spurt -- and find ways to curb it.

Posted by PA-quality, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 11:22 am

This is a giant project in open space next to park land. It will forever change that part of town. Once there, it will never go away. Many of us like PA the way it is -- human scale, trees, quiet neighborhoods, user friendly shopping districts. Too many recent projects have been massive in bulk, and built out to the sidewalks. Mistakes in my mind. Examples: JCC at San Antonio and Charleston, the former Hyatt Rickeys, the new Alma Plaza. We have to stop this kind of development and preserve the town we have.

Posted by paloaltotreewatch, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Sep 20, 2012 at 11:42 am

PATW would be for it IF
1) Arrilaga got behind a serious push to get BART from Millbrae to SanJose - because this would imply he serious about the massive traffic jams these buildings will cause during commute hours.
2) he devoted some of his billions and one of these buildings to housing all the homeless who live around that area currently.

This city council half of which were give an extra 2 years when the election cycle was changed should make NO binding decisions of this project. This project needs to go to the voters.

Posted by Jared Bernstein, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 20, 2012 at 11:44 am

Sounds like a good idea (in principle). Density near the train station is nice. It'll keep downtown alive, add tax revenues, with public transport right there. Maybe two buildings of 8 stories, instead of the 10 story guy. How high is that ugly thing tween Cowper and Tasso on University?

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I have mixed feelings about this project. Certainly PA is not the town I knew when I was in grammar school. Nor is it the town my grandfather would remember (Paly 1923).

But the world does change and evolve. The question is how do we embrace change in ways that acknowledge our past & present - and how do we look ahead.

The scope of the project is massive and will have a significant impact on the area. If built, it will be interesting to see how many workers will utilize the public transit station --- because if most of the tenants use their automobiles, we are destined for 18 hours of gridlock each working day.

If the drawings are any indication, then I would venture to say that the buildings will not sit right up against the 6 foot sidewalks. I know Dan Garber and trust he would do the right thing in that respect.

Probably my greatest concern, if this project is built, is the ABAG factor. Would all of these new offices then prompt ABAG to demand even more housing built in Palo Alto? This is the domino effect that I fear even more...we simply don't have the space as would PA be forced to build multi-story housing? And we don't have any room in our schools - with or without Cubberly - so where would we build additional schools?

I would humbly suggest that if this project were to go through, PA would have to get out of ABAG immediately (PA should get out of ABAG anyway). Any costs/penalties, lost tax revenue streams, etc. would need to be funded by the project - in perpetuity.

More thoughts to come on this...

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm

This project is so massive and will change the urban environment so radically that it must go to a vote. The height factor + a campus of white buildings that block views would seem to close off, rather than welcome access to downtown. Intrusive. Overpowering.

Posted by for a better tomorrow, a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2012 at 12:26 pm

In San Francisco by the the train station in the Westfield shopping center they have a small Bristol Farms grocery store. It's amazing how many people are in there buying lunch during their lunch hour and dinner items before they hop on to the train for their commute in the evening. A small farmer's type market may be a nice addition to this development. Of course WF is a short walk away from the train.

Transit orientated high density development has it's place and people DO respond to it, they DO take advantage of the amenities this type of development has to offer. There is also a place for residential neighborhoods in the traditional style. Like with any product, there are different markets for different demographics. Seattle and Portland are good examples to review.

Let's not be too hasty with our down with development protests. But also, let's try to do it right and listen to all of the exchanges of ideas in our communities as we change and grow. Change is inevitable, growth is inevitable, however, once built it will stick around for awhile. Participation is needed now more than ever.

Posted by KP, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Why do we have to constantly have people trying to make us into a mini San Francisco? And our city council entertains every prospective humongous project. WTF?!?!
We need:
We did need a grocery store at Alma Plaza WITHOUT extra housing! So sick of this city...and I was born here. It really starting to SUCK!

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm

@ Cresent Park Dad:

I think the idea of this plan is to get people out of cars so they can commute by train, walk, or bike.

PS: Shut down university ave and make it closed off and walkable in the middle of the street! Outrageous??? Not. A destination spot? Yes. Oh no, where will people park? Where will they drive? WALK. TAKE THE FREAKIN TRAIN. RIDE YOUR FREAKIN BIKE. GET OUT OF YOUR FREAKIN CARS!!! There. Now, we don't have to worry about ABAG.

Posted by more demand for housing, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Here's another example of a huge office project in the very area that housing advocates think housing ought to be. This project will add to the local and regional demand for housing that then will spill over to pressures on local communities to become much more dense than they want to be.
In the meantime, traffic will become ever worse as new offices bring more commuters. Don't kid yourself: the majority will not be taking public transit.
Gems like MacArthur Park and the Red Cross are tossed out with clear no viable options to sustain their presence. Guess who might fill some of the offices? Stanford! They're running out of space on campus and are filling up offices in Menlo Park and Redwood City. Palo Alto is even closer. NONE of those offices provide any of the cities with the sales tax revenue they need to provide city services. But they add to traffic congestion.

Posted by Maria, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Some people are so short sighted in this town?!

Why are we trying to live in the past, when Palo Alto is vying to be in center of the universe? I don't mean to sound to be full of ourselves, but innovation brings demands on our infrastructure that we don't have. Those who want to live as in the 1970s should start looking elsewhere to live because the technology boom is real, and it's about time we live up to that future.

Posted by Sam, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Why do we need to find a site for MacPark? It is an old building, and has seen it share of use. It served a purpose in WWI, but it is just a drinking hole, now...plenty of those in Downtown PA. Just destroy it, and be done with it.

Posted by History Please, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm


"MacPark" was designed by Julia Morgan (Hearst Castle, Asilomar, Greek Theatre, etc., etc.,) thus a big part of our architectural history. It will need to be moved and preserved.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Be very wary of located-near-transit argument. History has been that this argument is made for a project (housing or commercial) having minimal traffic impact, but when you look at the numbers, transit usage is under 10% of the trips, and sometimes under 1%.

And remember that the Stanford Hospital Expansion is going to add lots of additional traffic to the approaches to this area: University, Sand Hill, El Camino and Alma. Even without this project, a number of intersections in this area are projected to become so congested that they will be classified as "Failing".

Posted by Gus L., a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I warned you of this.. The Billionaire will try to force this down our throats for the almighty dollar.
Get rid of this city Council, they are in bed with big money..
Palo Alto is starting to look like LA.
Mean while the big mansions are taking over the deer habitat and open space, and High rises will dot the skyline... Sad, Just Sad.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Does anyone sense the absurdity of Palo Alto using the funds allocated to mitigate the negative impacts of the Stanford Hospital Expansion--traffic and jobs-housing imbalance--to instead make those problems worse?

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm

This should be a required question to all city council candidates: "How do you feel about this massive project?"DO YOU SUPPORT IT?? TELL US NOW. Second question: who in the city planning department actually lives in Palo Alto? Very few, I've heard.
What does this plan do to the much ballyhooded 'ride a bicycle', be green, and help the
traffic problem? Who's supposed to work in these buildings - ghosts? The 'ambiance' of California Avenue is on the 'chopping block". ABAG has its hands around PA's throat. But I doubt if the City Hall and City Council will stand it Arrilaga's way.What he wants, he gets. We don't even have a really full-service grocery store to serve Palo Alto.

Posted by Mark, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm

This is a great project! As a community we should rally around it for many reasons. We will finally fix the transit center mess around the train station and University Ave. We will finally get a permanent home for TheatreWorks (which has been in our community for 40+ years) and expand the opportunity for even more performing arts in our community. We will have a pedestrian area between downtown and the Stanford Mall, which will make it a lot easier to shop, dine, and just stroll around town. Given the generosity of Mr. Arrillaga allowing this all to happen, why would we turn it down? As for more use of the transit system, I see more and more people using Caltrain to get to/from work already (just watch the streets after a train arrives in the morning). With a convenient office park right there, I believe we'll see even more usage. This is the type of project that helps our community in so many ways -- I urge everyone to say YES!

Posted by Ralph, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm

How do you write that sound of a baby crying?

If the word "build" is involved, it must be bad. If the word "developer" is involved, it must be bad...has anyone writing a comment walked through this area in the last five years? This current eyesore, which is also dangerous, could be transformed into a beautiful plaza and performing arts center in an area that would have zero effect on residence. This idea that any building is negative....HP, Facebook, the University...these companies / institution might have had a little something to do with the positive aspects of Palo Alto, none of them hurt property values.

Stop already with the "bad billionaire" stuff, you sound silly and uniformed.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Why is Mr. Arrillaga refered to as a "philanthopist" throughout this article? The issue is real estate and Mr. Arrillaga is a real estate developer by profession. This article implies that somehow this deal has something to do with philanthropy.

Posted by Fifty is Fine, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 3:01 pm

50 Feet above grade and not one inch more.

If you need more a deep basement.

I don't want this monstrosity obliterating our beautiful skyline.

Nice to see that the City's Architectural and Planning Review Board still enthusiastically promotes revolving doors. Especially when used by Architectural and Planning Review Board members!

Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm

when this project was first discussed in public last spring it was the two theaters and ONE office building that would be given to Stanford.

Now, in addition to the theaters it is four office buildings of varying heights, all above the 50 foot limitation. Will they all be given to Stanford ? How does this address the housing/jobs imbalance that already exists? this project would block the view from Palo alto of the hills......I cannot think of a building built on the campus in recent history that is ten stories tall.......why?

Why is the city using any city funds to "help" a billionaire developer and Stanford to develop these plans when the city has openly identified a huge budget deficit, but doesnt seem to really know what to do about it?

There may be ways to get a good project for all interested parties here, however we need a strong council to be able to say NO to the applicant when they are asking for to much and to take back control from city staff that seems always to be working hand and glove with developers!

Pretty disappointing in many ways!

Does it say in the Comprehensive plan or other policy documents that we envision that area as an Arts Complex?

WHat are the potential impacts from High Speed Rail if/when it comes ?????

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Bystander, Why is Mr. Arrillaga refered to as a "philanthopist" throughout this article? ...

Because that role is critical to what Council will decide to approve. Over the years, I have heard Council members justify their votes for projects highlight the developer, for example, "a good person", or as someone we all know from various boards. And one hears Council members saying that the developer (not the project) deserves approval.

I grew up in a town that was small enough that those of us on the outside were aware of that "country club cronyism" dictated many government decisions. So, unlike many of my techie/business colleagues, I am not as surprised (but still disappointed) that merit has a limited role in decisions here.

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Arriaga recently built 2 gymnasiums in Menlo Park. Maybe he'll toss Palo Alto a bone if he gets his way.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm

The more I think of this, the more angry—yet resigned—I become.

Arrillaga is indeed a generous guy, but he’s going to make a bundle on this deal. That’s why he’s in business.

How dare the planning department and city manager recommend this project when it’s against the city’s 50-foot height limit? Talk about chutzpah! But of course they love it—and all the other huge PC zoned proposals—because it ensures job security and will probably require lots more hires.

There will be no traffic impact because all the office-workers will take the train or ride bicycles. And Jaime Rodriguez will do the traffic study, so we know how that will turn out.

The bottom line is that everyone sees big $$$$$ dancing before their eyes, from Arrillaga to Stanford to City Hall to the local shopkeepers. Nothing can stop it.

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Overbearing and soulless, in my view. Why not leave McArthur Park where it is and build this big glass clump elsewhere? The city already has a beautiful theatre--the former Borders Books-- sitting empty.

And I agree about the questionable use of "philanthropist" throughout the article. Many people with various occupations give generously, but are usually referred to by their main profession. Douglas Moran, thanks for the clarification on what I'd suspected.

Posted by Fan of the Arts, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm

There are many who want a community theater for the Arts in Palo Alto, especially since the new Bing theater at Stanford can ONLY be used by groups associated with Stanford. As now envisioned however, the proposed Arts theater would be the home for Theater Works. What about all of the the other community arts groups and orchestras that want a performance venue? Why just Theater Works? Anyone else have an opinion on this?

Posted by Roderick, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Only in Palo alto would the fact that someone has been a philanthropist be held aghast him!! And as usual,.the anti-progress crowd is attacking this plan without even waiting for the plans to be made public.

Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Beware of those drawings of proposed projects such as the drawings accompanying this article. Every single time, the focus is on a large number of mature trees that almost hide the buildings. We had that for the JCC and the Mitchell Park Library proposals too. What do we end up with? Huge, in your face buildings, with young newly planted trees that will take many years to grow tall if they survive. Even then, they won't distract from the buildings as much as they do on the drawings especially designed to draw the eyes to the trees. Also note, that on most of the drawings we can't even see the top of all least some of the buildings!! We get no realistic idea of the end product as it will be. I was fooled before. No longer.

Put it to a vote. I'll vote no.

Posted by Subcontractor, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 5:17 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Anna, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm

1) Traffic NIGHTMARE !!! That area is bad enough now!

2) How about making one of the buildings affordable housing? Would fit with using Stanford's money -- people could walk or bike to work at the hospital.

3) Isn't this right next to the City's new emergency water supply? What happens to our "drinking" water when they start the big digging?

Posted by Roderick, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by David, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm

I am NOT a knee jerk opponent of development, but I do see this project as vastly too big and creating vastly too much additional traffic for this location.

Posted by Family Friendly South End, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm

If you want to live in a Family Friendly part of town move to the South End where we have Family Friendly features like, baylands, bike bridges, JCC, YMCA, Swimming Clubs galore and you can visit the BIG CITY, downtown PA only 10 minutes away.

Posted by BG, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 20, 2012 at 8:04 pm

This is Freakonomics at it finest.....

City staff puts forward a project inconsistent with Palo Alto’s look, feel and standard of living in order to finance their out-of-control compensation.

Yes, we can and should make that area more pedestrian and bicycle friendly - but out-of-scale development is non-sensical.....

The City Staff’s inability to understand this project is inconsistent with Palo Alto’s character reflects their incompetence –it is time for the city council to change city management - we should not have to deal with this.

Posted by A fairmedow resident, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Why there is no setback requirement when it comes to commercial buildings? I noticed that the new buildings under construction at the cross section of east meadow and alma has NO setback from the sidewalk. It gives you the feeling the building is pushing you to the street. WHY?

Posted by Sheri, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Yet another "bribe." First, a safety building shell near Cal Ave and now a theater near University. In return, we get massive office building and the attendant traffic headaches. Why do we even have a Comp Plan? And don't most offices not pay sales tax while still requiring services? As was pointed out in the PAN forum a few years ago, It's a Question of Balance.

Posted by John, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 20, 2012 at 9:37 pm

The developers know that there are easy pickings here. Enjoy

Posted by maggie, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm

I think it's ironic that the City is paying for feasibility and design studies for Arrilaga's project out of the mitigation money that Stanford paid in order to get permission to expand the hospital. The only thing Stanford had to mitigate with regard to the hospital expansion was TRAFFIC and the only thing these City studies and the 4 office towers will create is TRAFFIC.

Posted by Martin, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Disagree with this project ... Please sign my petition at: Web Link

Let the City Council know what you really think. On election day, every vote counts!


Posted by Mark, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2012 at 8:08 am

You people realize that the more people that want to live in PA the more your homes value goes up, right? You probably won't be complaining when you sell your home to a techie that wants to live close to his or her office downtown Palo Alto and pays you 4x what you paid for it 30 years ago.

The property taxes from all of these activities make Palo Alto what is. PA wouldn't be able to subsidize parking downtown or maintain manicured downtown neighborhoods or have some of the best schools in the nation without those taxes.

Posted by businessdecision, a resident of another community
on Sep 21, 2012 at 8:28 am

You've got to be kidding. Right now this is a major transit hub, but all that has been pushed off to the edge of the picture in the POST, and the bus part of the system has disappeared altogether. A big user of that transport system now, I'd quit if all that many more people were going to converge on that area. That would be frightening.
It all seems kind of like believing that if you launch wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, somehow you can end up with the people loving you.
And, yes, I also don't like calling people with money philanthropists when they do things that enable them to ensnare yet more money. Even otherwise--too much reverence.

Posted by Publicprocess, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 21, 2012 at 8:55 am

Head to the Architectural Review Board for this project then to the Planning Commission and City Council to give comment to make the project sensible.

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2012 at 9:14 am

Martin et al

Prepare to do another petition: a citywide referendum on this project if the city approves it. The "Planned Community" (PC) spot zoning it needs requires a specific city ordinance which is subject to citizen referendum, like 800 High Street in 2003. The petitions have to be signed within 30 days after the city council approves the ordinance.

Posted by Donald, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2012 at 9:28 am

Who is taking bribes here? This project doesn't make sense, so there must be an underlying (and underhanded) reason.

Posted by Not a billionaire, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2012 at 9:38 am

The billionaire wants his way. The puppy dogs in the city council are licking his hands and going crazy around him. This is a bad plan. Next will be the justification for high speed rail to connect this monstrosity to other urban centers.
Lets turn down urbanization of Palo Alto.

Posted by Bad Planning Practise., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2012 at 10:10 am

The scale of this kind of development will require significant increases in train schedules, yet I don't see real progress toward grade separation solutions that will allow increasing trains without completely disrupting local east-west street traffic (cars, buses, shuttles, bikes, pedestrians).

The transit piece of this puzzle is a mess, as usual. We have pie-in-the sky volunteers working with a hodge podge network of consultants toward capturing pieces of the legally vulnerable HSR money. We need a workable solution that gets the Peninsula working toward a rail plan that doesn't bifurcate communities with either over-scheduled grade level tracks or above-grade separated tracks (which probably will close at least one lane of Alma in Palo Alto).

I say a big NO to this level of development until there is a viable plan for Caltrain electrification that considers local community planning context. We are a VERY LONG way from having that plan. If we are going to plan this level of density, the transit piece must be integrated in the plans and there must be a commitment to BUILD the transit, too. Our City Council should not send this complex question to voters. There are too many moving parts for the average voter to track.

Voters do, however, need to send a clear message to Gov. Brown that Peninsula rail planning is real mess. HSR needs to be stopped so that funding a rail plan that is realistic and USEFUL for the state and the Peninsula can happen.

Why is the media not covering the problems with HSR? The state is pouring money into this ill-fated project. That money could be used for other, better transit plans.

Posted by Trying to understand, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 21, 2012 at 10:47 am

Developers have figured out that if the proposal is long and complex the public can't figure it out and respond. Documents are several inches thick.

Drekmeier poisoned the well with his project, getting the public to agree to his "noble" project, now all our parkland is up for exploitation.

Posted by Curious, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 21, 2012 at 11:11 am

Some of you people are just being ridiculous. Can't see the hills anymore if this goes up? From where, your office building in downtown Palo Alto? And the person complaining about how they would not want to use the public transit anymore, because it'd be too crowded? Didn't Yogi Berra say how nobody goes there anymore because it's too crowded right?

Traffic could be a concern yes, but there was only old MacArthur's Park there, and it's not like any residential would ever be built there. Is not hurting any skyline since is blocked by all the other buildings on University, and would bring more business to downtown during working hours, which would help increase sales tax. Palo Alto is not a gated community and if want the continued prestige of the area, it means also continuing to support that business and people that helped make it that way.

Posted by Trying to understand, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 21, 2012 at 2:14 pm

More corruption:
The city HIRED a member of the Planning Commission (Daniel Garber) andf a member of the Architectural Board (Heather Young) to work on the Arrillaga project.
City Manager Keene and Assistant City Manager Emslie are spending huge amounts of OUR money to promote this monster project. They are much too close to the big developers and need to be investigated.

Posted by TaxPayerDollars, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 21, 2012 at 4:17 pm

This project is needed in Palo Alto! Besides the tax dollars it brings in, TOD is key to the continued support of businesses downtown. It would serve PA well to have development along the transit corridor. For any petition that goes up against it - an equal petition can go up in favor of it. No one is trying to make PA into a mini-SF but being realistic about options regarding utilizing space efficiently while keeping up with the times and growth is key to keeping this area at the hub of innovation. If you don't like people, or bike bridges, or office buildings buzzing with productive workers, I hear Detroit is empty and very quiet. This is space around a train station where homeless people camp and pee - not the Arastradero Preserve.

Posted by businessdecision, a resident of another community
on Sep 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm

It is not just a place where there's a train station and homeless people who pee. It's a bus depot, too, even though the picture left that part out. Beyond that, it is a place where cars are picking up people from the train or dropping off people for the train--something that, it would seem, the designers of the place didn't factor in. If you have been there at peak commute times and still think that this project would not create chaos, good for you.

Posted by keenplanner, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Palo Alto suburban NIMBY comment festival!
This seems like a good place for a big project. A few more towers with housing adjacent to the train would be great too.
The best development op in PA is the parking around the mall. There could be hundreds of units of housing built there. The parking could be underground. It's walkable to everything, and would be a huge improvement over the giant, impermeable heat sink that's there now.

Come on, Palo Alto! Get with the plan!

Posted by Gus L., a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 21, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Mr. Potter loves his Open Space, so much so he wants all of the congestion down Below where he can view it from his compound.
Web Link

Posted by Frank, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 21, 2012 at 8:25 pm

"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation."

Who is our city government serving?

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Sep 22, 2012 at 8:37 am

Why not build a tram line from Sand Hill Rd and 280 following the planned route of Willow Expressway to Facebook. Either we build up, dense or build out, low dense and build the Willow Espressway.

Posted by more demand for housing, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 22, 2012 at 8:47 am

How do you know this will bring in any more sales tax revenue to Palo Alto? The offices could get filled with Stanford educators or by the business professionals or internet companies that don't pay any sales taxes.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Sep 22, 2012 at 10:49 am

The buildings won't produce sales tax most likely property tax. The buildings will have hungry workers who would also like to shop. Business licenses, fees or permits to sell retail goods and services even online. The retail part is subject to sales tax.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 22, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

On revenues:
Offices in Palo Alto generate relatively little sales tax revenue from their business activities because of how sales tax is allocated. Sales tax is generally awarded to the location that is the point of sale. Thus, very small companies may purchase from local retailers, but larger companies purchase from suppliers that deliver and that do not have a sales office in Palo Alto, hence no sales tax to Palo Alto. And because of the cost of office space, one of the first things a company moves out of Palo Alto is its sales office(s). Consequently, Palo Alto is unlikely to get sales tax revenue from the company's product. In the late 1990s, Palo Alto had an almost 10% drop in sales tax revenue when HP and Sun and a couple other companies relocated sales offices out of Palo Alto. Adding to this is many of the types of companies in Palo Alto do not produce products that are taxable. For example, when I was last involved, software licenses were not taxable, so if you downloaded a software product, there was no sales tax. But if you bought it in a box (even with no media), it was taxable. And sales of advertising didn't have sales tax.

Consequently, most of the sales tax revenue from offices comes from the personal purchases of the employees, such as meals. Companies that provide free meals to employees do not generate sales tax--the meals are an employee benefit and are supposed to be taxed as income, hence doesn't come to Palo Alto.

The last accountings I saw had offices as slightly negative on the balance of revenue produced vs cost of services for Palo Alto.

That leaves property tax. Palo Alto gets about 8% of the property tax in years that the state doesn't "borrow" some of it to cover its deficits. However, one article stated that Arrillaga plans to donate the office complex to Stanford. Stanford ownership makes it _potentially_ exempt from property tax. Payments "in lieu of" property tax is complicated for tax-exempt entities. Sometimes there are contracts with specific payments for specific services. Sometimes there are agreements for payments that are a proportion of what would be due in property tax. Sometimes there is no payment. Sometimes ...

RE: Garrett: Palo Alto does not have business license and it has been resisted by the business community. As to "fees or permits ... even online", see above.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Addendum to previous comment:
Businesses do have some flexibility in assigning sales tax to a location. Take the example of a $100M sale that is negotiated between two company's headquarters both located in the Stanford Research Park. The _default_ is to pay the tax to the local where the sale is service. Thus if the delivery is split over San Diego, LA, SJ, SF, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, MtView, ... each of those localities would get a proportion of the sales tax and Palo Alto would get none. However, the seller could _choose_ to assign some of that to Palo Alto.

This possibility has been brought up multiple times over the past 10 years, but there has never been a public explanation of why nothing happens.

BTW, the locality gets 1% of the sale ($1M of a $100M sale) with the rest of the sales tax going to the state, the county and the school district.

Posted by Trying to understand, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 22, 2012 at 10:04 pm

The project is not even approved or vetted and the STAFF puts this on next Monday's (Sept 24)Council agenda:
8. Request for Council to Review Site Plan and Massing Concepts for 27 University Avenue, to Direct Staff to Execute Letter of Intent with TheatreWorks, and to Authorize Staff to Prepare Advisory Ballot Measure Language for Council Consideration

9. Approval of Professional Services: 1) Contract with Fukuji Planning and Design in Amount of $139,500 for Preliminary Design Concept Services;
2) Contract with Sandis Civil Engineers Surveyors Planners in the Amount of $16,500 for Traffic Engineering, Civil Engineering and Arborist Report Services; and
3) Contract with Fergus Garber Young Consultants in the Amount of $85,000 for Urban Design and Architectural Services
4) Contract with Metropolitan Planning Group in Amount of $45,000 for Project Management for Real Property at 27 University Avenue to be Funded By the Stanford Medical Center Intermodal Transit Funds with a Budget Amendment Ordinance totaling $286,000.

Something very, very wrong is going on. When did the STAFF ever work so fast on a major project? Putting big bucks into a project not yet approved. The rotten smell is overpowering.

Posted by Pamela, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 22, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Don’t let big money destroy Palo Alto’s beautiful character. The proposed development is a symbol of arrogance, not progress.

Originally from Europe, I moved to Palo Alto especially because of its small town character, combined with high tech achievement. I believe it is this combination, which makes Palo Alto a global center of technology and innovation.

With its 50-foot height limit, the city has a measure in place to preserve its character. There should be no exceptions to this. If the City Council approves this project, it would open the door for further development, transforming Palo Alto into a big city atmosphere.

We need to stop this madness. I therefore ask you to also sign this petition: Web Link

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 22, 2012 at 10:35 pm

The last poster is 'right on". This entire thing smells!! All of this has been going on hush-hush behind the scenes, behind closed doors for some time. This is smart town, and the residents are abruptly 'waking up'. How do the council candidates feel about this? And what designs does Arrilaga have on Foothill Park? There is a BIG question:if this project is gifted to Stanford, then Palo Alto may not see any tax revenue. Will these property-buidings even be under the jurisdiction of Palo Alto? Is it serviced by the PAPD or Santa Clara County Sheriffs? And I know that many of the Planning Staff don't live in Palo Alto. If this mega project gets the go ahead for violating the 50' height limit, what's to prevent another developer to try it any place in town. Man the barricades!! Wake up Palo Altans!!!

Posted by businessdevelopment, a resident of another community
on Sep 23, 2012 at 8:17 am

I read in the Weekend DN that the transit hub would "shift south." Is there a link to a map/picture showing where that "south" is? The hotel parking lot? Btw, that hub was barely mentioned just at the end of the article, such is the excitement over the rest of the project.
Another thing: missing from the current configuration is any place for drivers coming in to pick up/drop off. Have any of the people involved seen Downtown Mountain View station at peak hours? Steady stream of cars coming in, going out. PA should plan for that, too.

Posted by Comments, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 23, 2012 at 10:39 am

@ Keenplanner

Exactly. The Stanford Shopping Center Parking lot is a mess - a definite heat sink. Housing should go there. It is so obvious. (Santana Row does this) Parking should be underneath. Incorporate a green space in that area too. You can connect the two areas -- train station development & housing across the way via a bridge.

@ Garrett

The Tram is an interesting idea to further the business area around Willow Rd., but after Sand Hill Rd. where is your proposed route after Sand Hill though?

@ Pamela

The majority of areas in PA would remain the same. This is around the train station only!!!

Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2012 at 11:04 am

The prospect of this over-sized development sure has other developers salivating -

From the Friday 9/21 Daily Post article on the proposed towers:

"Developer and former planning commissioner Owen Bryd considers the height of the buildings fairly modest.
'The real question is, is it enough?'"

"Bryd and the developer Chop Keenan thought that the city had room to develop upwards.... 'This is the right project in the right place,' Keenan said."

and - most disturbing -

"Byrd hoped that if Arrilaga's project was built as planned, it would usher in a new era for the city.
'I look forward to this project being a part of a pattern to urbanize Palo Alto,' Bryd said."

and of course the planning dept is all gung-ho - it would justify the expansion of their empire. Is that why they're doing the closed door negotiations on the 7 acres next to Foothill in front of Arrillaga?

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Sep 23, 2012 at 11:47 am

European Cities have their own set of land use policies from our own policies. Remember Palo Alto is in a major urbam area that produces jobs. I am not saying run out, approve, then build this project and then deal with the traffic problem. Remember this project is in a town centre, near Stanford, a rail line, a mall and could house a very large car park. Housing could be built near by even if the project was greatly reduced.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "housing could be built nearby" and build housing on the Shopping Mall parking lot

Highly unlikely. During the approval process for the Stanford Hospital Expansion, the City tried to have Stanford include housing in that area, but was resoundingly rejected. I am aware of nothing that would have caused Stanford to change its position against housing on its properties in this area.

Posted by Trying to understand, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Developer Owen Byrd also told the City Council that the huge office building at the corner of Alma/Lytton was too small.
With support only from a couple of major developers, maybe this project will fall of its own weight. I wonder where they will find support among people who don't expect to make money off of it.
What if a condition was added that Arrillaga couldn't put his name on the project? Given his supersized ego, he might just back off :-)

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2012 at 8:34 am

What I find disturbing is that earlier this year, the city cut services like the animal shelter, police traffic enforcement, etc. and yet they find the money to do studies on this development.

If I remodel my home, I have to pay the architect to come up with site plans, etc. Last year there was a case of a homeowner who ended up paying $500,000 for environmental reports to build a home because of protests by historical preservationists.

Yet here we have a wealthy real estate developer having the city pay for studies of a project that he is proposing to develop which greatly exceeds the zoning.

I would expect the city council to be providing oversight and putting the brakes on this spending of city money, and instead have the developer pay for these studies. Instead, it seems that some on the city council have become cheerleaders for the project.

With the upcoming election, I may vote for Tim Gray & Mark Weiss, because of this troubling lack of oversight from the city council.

Posted by A Palo Alto resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 24, 2012 at 11:44 am

50 Feet tall. Build within that height limit. Period.

Posted by Charles, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 24, 2012 at 8:19 pm

I hope the City gives proper weight to the relocation of the historic Julia Morgan designed YWCA Hostess House. This is believed to be the only remaining structure left from the original 1917 Camp Fremont.

Web Link

Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 1, 2012 at 9:59 am

Since there are two conversations on this topic, here is a post from another conversation on the "Arts District."

Please remember that all projects that have height or density in excess of what would be allowed under the normal zoning contained within the Comprehensive plan must provide a "community benefit" proportional to the value of the extra development rights (i.e. what would it cost to purchase prime Palo Alto land to build the square footage that is being built in the sky?)

I suspect that once we get around to doing the calculations, the Community Benefit falls short of the exemptions being given to this plan. Add to that a fair proportion of infrastructure demands, and the shortfall is even greater.

Lastly, the "Community Benefit" received from the developer is a currency that belongs to the citizens, and it is up to the citizens to decide how they want to spend it -- not the developer. It is a currency the belongs to the public.

Please follow this important logic and answer the next question objectively: "If our town had $X millions of dollars to spend, what are our top priorities?"

We have a large infrastructure deficit. Many might think it would be wise to fix the street and sidewalks first. Or maybe a new Public Safety building?

Therefore, even though a new TheatreWorks home would be a wonderful gift, unless it is a top priority, it is simply a gift from the developer, and must not be quantified in the Public Benefit calculation. Remember, the Public Benefit currency belongs to the citizens, and must be spent on the top priorities as defined by a well -thought-out shared community vision.

Let's give the calculations a good integrity check first, and then we can get to the policy issues about piercing our sacred skies, or how great our desire is to have Palo Alto look and feel more like San Jose.

Timothy Gray (full-disclosure: Candidate for Palo Alto City Council)

Please see Web Link "Horse Trading" Paradise for a Parking Lot -- Stand for Transparency and Inclusiveness

Posted by Constraints are a good thing, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Timothy Gray,

I like most of what you say

What worries me with your argument is that you leave enough room for negotiation, when there are some things that should not be negotiated, regardless of the perceived benefit. Just like we tell our kids, some things are because they are.

What the developer will not want to hear here, is that it cannot be build tall buildings in an already dense aerea (in this case historical as well). And that IN ADDITION to that, Palo Alto would get a ton of money and benefits. That is how you sell $50 - $100 million dollar condos in NYC, but here in PA we want to give away Parkland for as much?

What all developers for Palo Alto need to hear is that it's not only enormously expensive to build here, but it has a ton of issues attached that will cost even more.That's is how people buy homes here btw.

WHat is going to happen?

There WILL be a developer that will work on our terms for that address, and they will likely be creative enough and smart enough to make it work because they really want to do it.

Sometimes CONSTRAINTS bring out the best in creativity, and vision.

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