Guest Opinion: Senior citizens counting on 'yes' vote for Measure D | November 1, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - November 1, 2013

Guest Opinion: Senior citizens counting on 'yes' vote for Measure D

by Lisa Ratner and Jean Dawes

Editor's note: On Oct. 11, the Weekly editorialized against Measure D and argued that the City Council had struck the wrong balance in rezoning the land to allow development of a low-income senior housing project proposed by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation. This guest opinion, submitted by the Housing Corporation, is in response to that editorial.

Measure D has generated debate about the future of Palo Alto, our values and the impacts of new development throughout our city on traffic and parking. But what is really at stake is the ability of low-income seniors to stay in the community they call home. Your vote will be the difference between 60 low-income seniors having an affordable, safe home — or not.

Voting yes on Measure D will allow the construction of 60 one-bedroom affordable apartments for low-income seniors by the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation and allow the sale of 12 single-family lots to generate funds to pay for the land and build the affordable senior housing. It will affirm the City Council's unanimous decision to rezone two parcels on Maybell and Clemo (zoned RM15 and R2), adjacent to two existing apartment complexes. And, it will legally ensure that the apartments remain affordable for low-income seniors only.

Voting no on Measure D will mean that 60 needed affordable senior apartments will not be built. It will mean that the site could be sold to a for-profit developer who could build up to 46 multi-bedroom market-rate apartments or condos.

Measure D has pitted the need for affordable homes for 60 senior citizens against pent-up frustration in Palo Alto about growth. In capitalizing on this frustration, opponents have not fought fairly, but have encouraged confusion and stirred fear.

Opponents have disingenuously compared the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation with for-profit developers. The housing corporation is a Palo Alto based nonprofit organization established in 1970 by the Palo Alto City Council to build and maintain affordable housing. The PAHC owns and operates more than 700 units of affordable housing in Palo Alto and provides on-site services to residents, such as educational classes, fitness and community activities. Most of our volunteer board of directors are long-time Palo Altans who are committed to maintaining Palo Alto's quality of life.

There is a silent epidemic in Palo Alto of senior citizens who are struggling to make ends meet. County statistics show that nearly 20 percent of Palo Alto seniors are living near or below the poverty line; and 54 percent of Palo Alto senior households are low-income, according to the City's 2007-14 Housing Element. There are hundreds of local seniors on affordable-housing waiting lists. These include seniors who have exhausted their assets on medical costs, those who must sell their home to finance assisted living or nursing-home costs for a spouse, those who lost their savings in the recession and those subsisting on Social Security.

Seniors 62 and older, earning approximately $21,000-$43,000 annually would be eligible to live in the Maybell apartments. Their monthly rents would range between approximately $500-$1,100. There are no entry fees or monthly dues, and preference is given to those working or living in Palo Alto.

Opponents claim the site isn't suitable for senior apartments. The Maybell site was carefully chosen because it is adjacent to two existing apartment complexes: the eight-story Tan Plaza Apartments (61 market-rate units) and the mostly three-story Arastradero Park Apartments (66 affordable family units) owned by PAHC. The site is close to a park, public transportation and every amenity is within easy access. The PAHC will provide a van to the residents of the senior apartments, allowing them to shop for groceries, get to a doctor and do other activities, so they do not need to own a personal car.

If Measure D does not pass, up to 46 multi-bedroom apartments or condos could be built — for a total of about 161 bedrooms. This means more cars, more school impacts, more traffic.

Opponents claim 40 affordable senior apartments could be built. Not so. At this lower density combined with the high cost of land, financing for these affordable units would be impossible.

Opponents claim that the use of Planned Community (PC) zoning is an abuse of the zoning process. The PC ensures affordability and age restrictions. PC zoning has been used at many "senior only" residences in Palo Alto, including Lytton Gardens, Channing House, Palo Alto Commons and Stevenson House.

Opponents claim PAHC does not need to sell 12 single-family lots. Not so. The PAHC needs to sell the 12 lots to pay land and construction costs. Opponents claim they would be satisfied with eight houses instead of 12. Sadly, this debate is over an additional four houses that are essential to financing the project.

Opponents claim project traffic impacts are too great. The reality is that seniors don't typically drive during the morning commute of 7 to 9 a.m. Studies show this project will have no significant impacts on parking, traffic and schools. The senior apartments will have 47 parking spaces, a ratio of spaces to apartments that is even higher than typical for low-income senior housing.

Opponents claim if you vote yes on Measure D, your neighborhood will be the next "PC" zone. This is simply false. Measure D is about the Maybell site only. The site was not zoned single-family; it was zoned mostly RM15 (multi-family) and a portion R2 (two-family), next to two apartment complexes.

What if Measure D is defeated? The PAHC will need to sell the site, will almost certainly sell to a for-profit developer, and there will be no new affordable senior housing. As a nonprofit, we cannot hold the property for an uncertain future, as this would require interest payments on the acquisition loans of about $16 million, more than $600,000 per year. Sale of the property is needed to pay back the city and other lenders.

Our low-income seniors deserve this opportunity to stay in the community they call home. Your yes vote can make this happen.

Lisa Ratner and Jean Dawes are president and vice president, respectively, of the Palo Alto Housing Corporation board of directors.


Posted by Take that, Weekly!, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 1, 2013 at 8:31 am

All issues nicely summarized and anti-D arguments rebutted.
Well done!

YES on D!

Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2013 at 8:51 am

If D passes not a single historical building, park, or the bay lands or even your neighbors lot will be safe from the developers. The city themselves has said this is a prototype of how to fund development in the city. Vote NO on D.

Posted by Margaret Fruth, a resident of Ventura
on Nov 2, 2013 at 10:51 am

Margaret Fruth is a registered user.

Maybell Middle Ground

Everyone agrees that the Maybell site is an excellent site for senior housing, which could be the start of working toward consensus. No one wants to see the land sold to a for-profit developer, but an alternative to the rezoning overdevelopment will not emerge unless Measure D fails to pass.

The corporation backing Measure D, the proponent of rezoning, claims that they cannot obtain all of the grants & loans with just a 41-unit apartment building at Maybell. But they can build the 60-unit building they want to build, without any modifications to to the existing design, through a density transfer from the rest of the land. They also claim that their budget will not balance without the twelve luxury homes planned for two-thirds of the land. I have been attempting to obtain evidence which prove or refute this claim since July, 2013; when and if I receive any I'll get back to you.

If Measure D fails, the financial issues can be put on hold while the neighbors & the corporation negotiate a solution everyone can live with. Preferably directly, without the City Council playing emperor. If a compromise is reached, the pending lawsuits will disappear before the next City Council election. Otherwise the discord will continue to be expensive for all in both time, money, & additional damage to the social fabric of the community. This much-needed reconciliation will not happen unless Measure D fails, so please vote NO on Measure D.

Posted by Donya, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Donya is a registered user.

Please go to and read the facts before you decide.

PAHC has never given any statistics on who the people on their waiting lists are and where they live, etc.

Marybeth Mattingly who is at Stanford and whose area of research is poverty told us that the demographics of low income Palo Alto residents is so small that it is very hard to get accurate data on them. The waiting lists that PAHC keeps mentioning are mainly made up of recent immigrants who are happy to live anywhere in the Bay Area as long as they can find a low rent apartment. If you walk into some of the PAHC properties it is extremely difficult to find an English speaker.

Lisa Ratner had an email exchange with a resident in which she describes her own personal situation regarding affordable housing in Palo Alto. Here is a section of Lisa Ratner's email as posted publicly on:

Web Link

Please go to the link and scroll down to see LIsa's full message. Here is a small excerpt:

"..(My own mother-in-law is thinking of selling her house in Southern California, to be closer to her grown children, but selling that house –worth ‘only’ $300,000–would not enable her to buy something here near her son in Palo Alto. She is 87 and lives on social security and some property rental income. She would probably be eligible for affordable housing in Palo Alto..."

It is amazing if this is the PAHC vision for who should live at Maybell. I don't understand why Lisa's mother in law has to buy a house in Palo Alto if she decides to live near her son. Can't she rent an apartment? I don't understand why Palo Alto residents should subsidize Lisa's mother-in-law to live here. Lisa is a corporate attorney. Many palo Alto residents of lesser means have provided for their own elderly relatives and not expected tax payer hand outs.

Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Every smart liberal in Palo Alto is on the side of building this project. Why is the Weekly against PAHC and with the Post? I just can't understand it. Your October 18 editorial is a rag-tag mishmash of conflicting assertions and unsupported allegations. You say, for example, that selling market rate homes to finance the affordable housing "is inconsistent with the goals of the Comprehensive Plan." Which goals? What page? Where shall we look for support for this statement in the Comprehensive Plan?

The Comprehensive Plan is a big document and its goals are broad. It contains something for everyone and so is not the best document on which to rest such a flat assertion -- particularly without specifics and evidence. But on chapter 4, page 1, under the "vision statement" for the 2007 Housing Element, it states "The City is committed to increasing the development of affordable and market-rate housing."

It is very hard to say that the Maybell project is "inconsistent" with that goal, at least.

Weekly, what is really going on here is that you have your underwear in a twist over 27 University and you are willing to see Measure D pass because you are far more interested in sending a message to City Hall than you are in having affordable housing. You proclaim that you aren't really being forced to make a choice, because somehow by magic (MAGIC! Who doesn't love MAGIC?) it will all be great after Measure D loses and we will end up both sending the message and getting the affordable housing through a process of happy negotiation.

That is incredibly unlikely to happen. Finding a golden ticket to ride a unicorn in your crackerjack box is more likely. The most likely outcome of the imminent Measure D loss --thanks in part to you-- is that it will very hard to build affordable housing anywhere in PA in the foreseeable future because it all requires PC zoning and the PACC will be undertandably gun shy; and because PA is expensive and without using creative funding mechanisms like this one it is becoming impossible.

Many PA residents want to stop development because they want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to live in a the bright center of the universe, with all the money, jobs, shopping, transportation, great schools, etc. But they don't want anyone else to come here, and they can't understand that those two goals are inherently incompatible. Urbanization and increased density is what success looks like. Just ask all the towns that were bypassed by the railroad in the 19th century. This Measure D thing is the equivalent of some backwater town in Kansas forming a citizens committee to keep the railroad out in order to keep out increased density. I wonder how that would look in the light of history?

Editor, why have you done this? You have cut off the nose of one of our best nonprofits to spite John Arillaga's face. Not your finest moment in any way.

Posted by Kenneth Scholz, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 2, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Why I'm supporting “No on D”

It's about the “Private Element”, the high impact part that's not Senior housing, that pushes high density development onto a low density neighborhood, and which the proponents would rather we not examine.

Over half of the property – all fronting the surrounding single family neighborhood - is being converted to higher density solely for financial benefit - creating tiny lots before flipping to a for-profit developer to build full market rate homes (3 story on Clemo). The City Council has an additional motive, collecting “in-lieu” fees of $1.5M on this full priced part that's not Sr. housing. The promoters of this measure, with large financial backing, are using PC zoning of this non-Sr. housing element as an ATM while sticking the community with the burdens – higher traffic on an already dangerous “Safe Route to School”, further burdening schools, etc. This is the development model they and the city will pursue in the future - count on it if Measure D passes.

There needn't be conflict between Sr. housing and the community. Below market rate housing can and should be funded as it has in the past, with housing funds from in-lieu fees and the $40M collected from Stanford. Enough is available to avoid building the dense market rate homes at Maybell/Clemo. Palo Alto has both the values and the means - it can be built here (Maybell), built better (more parking), and built without the detriments of “D”.

Vote “No” on D - protect our neighborhoods and tell the City Council (and the developers they coddle) to approach future development with responsibility.

Kenneth Scholz
Palo Alto

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 2, 2013 at 2:27 pm

"Please go to and read the facts before you decide."

The "facts" as presented by the anti- development leader in the city, bob moss? And pushed by their tool in the local press, the Weekly??? Remember the anti-D people have been claiming PAHC board, the council and the LWV are guilty of fraud and various ther bogus charges. [Portion removed.]
Are these the facts that you are referring to?

Posted by Disenchanted senior, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2013 at 4:37 pm

This week I met individuals from six different families living in the BMR apartments in Arastradero Park Apartments and one from the Tree House Apartments. They were all nice congenial folks, five of them with very poor command of the English language. When I asked them where they lived before they moved into these apartment complexes I was told that NONE of them have lived in Palo Alto before.

I don’t claim that this is a valid survey of the residents in these subsidized apartments but I’ll let the readers draw their own conclusion about the significance of this observation. I vote against D.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 2, 2013 at 4:57 pm

No on D.

No on 50-foot buildings in a residential neighborhood.

No on less than 38 parking spaces for 60 units (up to 120 residents), approximately 8 staff, unknown number of visitors, unknown number of domestic workers.

No on destroying a residential neighborhood with something completely out of scale with existing zoning and current usage.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 2, 2013 at 5:05 pm

>When I asked them where they lived before they moved into these apartment complexes I was told that NONE of them have lived in Palo Alto before.

PAHC welfare housing never was about Palo Alto residents, as originally promised, by PAHC, for essential is just welfare housing for those get at the front of the list. If PAHC wanted to be transparent, it would collect the essential facts, and publish their database. PAHC will never do this, because it would expose their bait-and-switch.

Once the election is over, there needs to be a serious discussion about the PAHC-driven stranglehold on our city.

Posted by Disenchanted human, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2013 at 9:11 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by southbayresident, a resident of another community
on Nov 3, 2013 at 1:24 am

Since when does being a Palo Alto resident imply you must speak the "Queen's English"? I have known plenty of Palo Alto residents who have lived in Palo Alto for 20 to 40 years or more with "poor command of the English language". Is proficiency in English meant to be unique only to "real Palo Alto residents"? The 'No on D' campaign seems to be trotting out the old and tired "those people are not like us" tactics that seem to belong more in the 1950's than today.

I guess it's either a miracle the prior senior housing projects were allowed to be built using PC zoning or Palo Alto is just becoming consistently more politically conservative with a "gated community mentality" as it costs more and more to live there.

Shame on the Weekly and the Post for supporting 'No on D'. I would of expected such a position from the Post anyways since it's a sham bogus "local" paper based out of Denver,CO but the Weekly is supposed to have a bit more sophistication in understanding local issues.

Posted by bias censoring much, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 3, 2013 at 9:20 am

Wow, a topic on a pro-measure D newspaper endorsement is closed down immediately while a topic on anti-measure D endorsements runs for days.
It does beg the question why the weekly had to pre-fix this article with their opinion.
Your slip is showing, Weekly.

Posted by I will vote No, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 3, 2013 at 9:41 am

I have made up my mind to vote NO on D after reviewing all information I can find including reviewing earlier city council meetings.

I have been receiving mailers from the Yes on D with major funding from PAHC showing active, senior couples on their waiting list for senior housing. The couples have pride in helping with their grandchildren and getting them to and from their various after school activities.

The active senior couples are a positive image but certainly inconsistent with the parking and traffic provisions provided by PAHC on the Maybell development. They claim seniors don't drive and/or will not be out during the peak of school traffic. But the ad is showing couples instead of singles and actively driving during peak, school times.

Posted by Wow, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2013 at 3:42 pm

The ad shows someone you think will drive, so you're voting no? That's the silliest reason yet.

Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community
on Nov 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm

How many childern of the baby Boone generation was born or relocated to the Palo Alto area which is far greater then 60 units.

We couldn't give out of hand over any rental information or waiting list details. Privacy laws. Discrimination Laws prevent you from being bias on color, sex, employment, and etc. Place of Origin, nationality or legal status. We were advised not to discuss anything about place of birth or anything personal with the potential tenant. Only income, employment, rental history or whatever is needed to rent.

Side note here.

We weren't allowed to staple, write on or use paper clips on applications.

Might be a hidden message in what side you have your paper clip on.

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