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Truth Time: Palo Alto Rezone of Buena Vista Mobile Park Eliminates More than 90 Low-Income Housing Units

Original post made by Timothy Gray, Charleston Meadows, on Sep 4, 2013

Please ponder this question with intellectual honesty:

How can Palo Alto Vote eliminate more than 90 low-income housing units by rezoning the Buena Vista Mobile Park over the protest of the residents? and...

... just five blocks away on Maybell, the City Council want to rezone a parcel of land that would allow 41 low-income units to a high density 60 units over the protest of the neighborhood? (all that for a net increase in capacity of 19 low-income units.)

Does anyone else think it is odd, if not absurd, that Palo Alto is steam-rolling two neighborhoods with two conflicting results for a net loss of 71 low-income housing units? (loss of 90 caused by the Buena Vista rezoning minus 19 gained by the Maybell rezoning.)

Note: This question does not even address the private market rate stack-and-pack residential rezoning that allows 3-story private residences on half-sized substandard lots on Maybell.

Yes, there are numerous High-Density rezoning proposals in the City Planning Department hopper, and each one will have it's spin or rationale for some claimed greater good.

The Measure D High Density Rezoning of Private Market parcels is promoted under the guise of being needed to increase Senior Affordable Housing. However, as is revealed by the facts above, we can stick to our zoning laws and comprehensive plan and support affordable housing.

Measure D High Density rezoning is just the tip of the iceberg that the good ship Palo Alto is about to hit. If the High-Density-Zoning for sale scheme of Measure D passes, it will only accelerate and embolden those would remake our town into an urban canyons of nondescript buildings with intolerable congestion that follows.

Please see clearly that Measure D is about much more than one project on Maybell. It is the tip of the Iceberg.

I am taking a stand for the future of my three Children. [Portion removed.]

Tim Gray

Comments (20)

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2013 at 9:52 am

Tim, thanks for bringing this up as I had been wondering about it myself. Since these two parcels are reasonably close enough to be called neighbors the whole thing sounds suspicious if not downright unethical to say the least.

It is about time the Palo Alto man in the street had our views heard and listened to by our city leaders (?). It is only through people like you getting onto our council that we will get anywhere. Thanks for your time on these issues.

BTW, I see and hear that Mountain View residents are beginning to feel the same about what is happening in their town.

Posted by Concerned
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 4, 2013 at 10:06 am

Yes, Thank you!! It's about time people starting noticing and standing up for themselves. Both Mountain View AND Menlo Park residents are also reacting to over development.

Hopefully the trailer park offer from the residents will be accepted. These are some true, low income housing lots that will be gone forever for a high density apartment.

Voting "NO" on D is just the start - we need to an organized citizen group to address these developments comprehensively, rather than getting picked off one at a time.

Posted by Lee Thé
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 4, 2013 at 10:57 am

Lee Thé is a registered user.

It's important that we all realize this issue doesn't reflect the normal partisan political divides. Developers tend to reflect and espouse Republican principles; the New Urbanists in government espouse Democratic Party principles.

Both are aligned squarely against us.

Democrats love "pack and stack" because it fits their "low-income housing" mantra, along with the New Urbanist dream of eliminating suburban sprawl via densification of Peninsula towns.

Funny how the densification we've already gotten has increased, not decreased, the numbers of cars entering and leaving town along our main corridors, isn't it? I live on San Antonio Road, and now it's slow-and-go along there twice a day.

At the same time Republicans love Free Enterprise, which usually means the rich and powerful are free to do whatever they want to the rest of us in the service of short-term profit--for them. And local government Democrats happily comply because public employee unions and construction trade unions believe they'll profit too--at least in the short term.

Hence the fact that Palo Alto, like other Peninsula cities, turns out to have two zoning systems--one for developers, another for everyone else. Big developers routinely get exceptions to the zoning the rest of us have to obey. But there are so many exceptions it's really simply a different set of zoning regulations done on the downlow.

The conceptual house of cards comprising the New Urbanism rests on the belief that all those people commuting here from Morgan Hill and Pleasanton are dying to sell their four bedroom houses on big lots and move into apartments along El Camino here in order to shorten their commute.

It also rests on the belief that low-income workers in local businesses are being priced out of the local housing market--and that the New Urbanists' plans will fix this.

The problems are very real. Too bad the solutions don't fix them.

First, few if any suburbanites are about to give up their long commutes if it means going from houses to apartments. The New Urbanists would be far more realistic if they focused on developing businesses in those far-flung bedroom communities than through ruining ours for a pipe dream. Mabye when gasoline is $20 a gallon it will change the suburbanites' calculus--but probably not before then.

Second, low income housing today means requiring developers to VERY grudgingly allocate, say, 15% or so of their developments to low income buyers/renters. These aren't enough units to really address the problem, and the city refuses to deal with the consequences of this little piece of social engineering.

The most crucial consequence is that the BMR (Below Market Rate) condo owners become a voting bloc that votes against anything that might cost money, such as earthquake retrofits.

[Portion removed.]

The problem isn't really the BMR residents--it's the city that puts them in this situation without taking responsibility for the consequences in any way.

[Portion removed.]

The New Urbanism helps big developers and building trades unions at our expense with the always-popular unfunded mandates that provide fake solutions to real problems, and penalize job-providing cities like Palo Alto the most, while leaving untouched job-free cities like Atherton--even though it's right on the El Camino corridor.

Of course the Manhattanization of Palo Alto has never been put to a vote. And vote on what? The "policy" comprises the routine granting of zoning exemptions to every big developer's project, granted on a onesy-twosy basis. We never get the big picture, just the special pleading that accompanies each project, as if each one is the one and only time such an exemption has ever been granted.

With the current one it's the seniors, so you get seniors advocates shilling for the developer. Next one will be the prospect of a few units of low-income housing that will rope in the low-income housing advocates.

So when we oppose each one of these routine "exceptions" and the unrealistic high-concept schemes of the New Urbanists, we have to continually point out the Big Picture impact of all these developments on Palo Alto, taken as a whole.

They're trying to conquer us by dividing the issue into little bits, each one of which would be acceptable...if it were the only one ever.

And don't let the New Urbanists get away with demanding that we provide the solution to long commutes and low income housing. They're the ones pushing their agenda, and many of them are city planners. Our responsibility is to turn down bad solutions and tell them to go back to the drawing board.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 4, 2013 at 11:19 am

@Lee Thé, that's a very well-written piece.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 4, 2013 at 11:50 am


Excellent post.

It is long past time to start questioning underlying assumptions/motives of the various activist pressure groups in Palo Alto. Our neighborhoods are at extreme risk, if we do not.

I am pro-growth and investment, but I want to understand what the real benefits/deficits are.

Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2013 at 12:10 pm

[Post removed due to removal of referenced post.]

As someone who moved to Barron Park for the economic diversity, I hope that both BV and Maybell happen. I support low income housing and hope to see more of it, not less. This offends me deeply.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 4, 2013 at 3:03 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 4, 2013 at 3:14 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2013 at 3:23 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 4, 2013 at 4:05 pm

I don't know Lee, Craig, so I can't speak to that. But law breaking occurs across all socioeconomic lines. I see wealthier lawbreakers ALL THE TIME! You can't avoid it - how they drive, how they park, how they cycle, how they run their businesses, how they steal your pension/investments/money. Poorer people obviously don't have the access to whatever's needed to hide their crimes behind - a large house, a business, etc. It's not that I don't see crimes committed by poorer people, but that wasn't Michelle's point.

Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 4, 2013 at 4:43 pm

The High Density Rezoning backers would love to re-cast Measure D as being for or against Affordable Housing or Senior Housing.

Clearly Barron Park has welcomed affordable housing, as the area surrounding the Maybell parcel has one of the highest concentrations of BMR housing. That has been welcomed by the neighbors, so attempts to depict the resistance to the abusive high density zoning as "elitist" has no basis in reality.

Remember: the zoning laws were designed to protect the residents even more than the neighborhood. Packing 60 senior housing units into a space that is zoned for 41 fails in offering respect for the space needed to live a life with dignity.

What ever happened to finding a win-win solution. The rezoning is a disrespectful take-away from the future senior residents and neighborhood.

[Portion removed.]

Let's keep our eye on the ball. We must all stand together to stop the wave of high-density rezoning that will rapidly erode the Palo Alto that we know. We can't accept anything less.

Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Hi Tim,

I didn't recast your supporters' view into us versus them. Your supporter posted something very offensive about low income people that was, in fact, "elitist." If you don't agree, please dissociate yourself from Lee The's now deleted view that BMR residents are bad neighbors because they don't know the rules for civilized living as do the middle class and are likely to degrade the neighborhood.

I like you Tim but I have to say that the more I hear from the Maybell opponents the more it sounds like NIMBYism to me. As a Barron Park resident, I support Buena Vista, I support more low income housing, and I support PAHC, whcih is not -- contrary to many assertions of your supporters -- a "big developer." I don't think Maybell is particularly narrow (check out my street if you want to see narrow), I don;t think 12 homes are going to cause mass child slaughter in the street, and I think that the whole thing is overheated and hysterical, including the allegations of fraud and so forth. And honestly I want to believe that it's not about keeping the poor out but every time I get into a conversation in my neighborhood with anti-Maybell people they say something just like Lee said and it is anti-poor person. So I dissent from this. There are plenty of Barron Parkers who support PAHC and support low income housing.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 4, 2013 at 8:23 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2013 at 8:37 pm


Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 4, 2013 at 8:56 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Nasty college terrace NIMBYs
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 4, 2013 at 9:06 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 5, 2013 at 4:28 am

Crescent Park Dad is a registered user.

If you can block neighborhood rezoning at the ballot box, you can still build BMR at Maybell. The density would be lower and the building would have to be under 40 feet. And the other bonus would be perhaps the city would not be able to rezone BV?

Posted by Lee Thé
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 8, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Lee Thé is a registered user.

re: the original topic

I agree with the OP--it's paradoxical to let one developer raze our only mobile home park while letting another raze a lower-density area to create a higher-density one--both in violation of current zoning laws.

Of course it's not a paradox if you set aside the needs of Palo Alto's residents and just apply the maxim whose first two words are "Money talks..."

Both zoning variances will make a lot of money for two people and provide some fees to the city coffers and some jobs to construction workers. I can see why two developers would want this, and why the city government would want this. I can't see how Palo Alto residents would benefit overall from either zoning variance being granted. What's the use of even having zoning if it only applies to lowly homeowners and not to developers?

And why aren't those who favor the Maybell project not actively opposing the "eliminating Palo Alto's last mobile home park" project? Far more low-income people will be harmed by the latter than benefit by the former.

re: "post removed" "portion of comment removed"

I like forums to be moderated. Without that forums get filled with troll-stuff--flame wars, threats, obscene language and the like, which bury any legitimate debate.

But what if someone says something that others find deeply offensive...but which happens to be both relevant to the topic and factually correct?

Deleting such comments smacks of trying to delete the parts of reality that one doesn't like.

But political partisans of both the Left and the Right do this routinely, forgetting the truism that "you're entitled to your own opinions but you aren't entitled to your own facts."

But time after time, on both sides of the political spectrum, we see that for partisans an emotionally compelling narrative trumps the facts.

As this discussion of the Maybell initiative shows.

Not to mention the mental shortcuts found here. Take NIMBYism. People who like to sling this word around take it as a given that it's wrong--its elitist, it's classist, it's mean-spirited.

But consider this thought experiment. Suppose the city condemned two adjacent single-family homes right in the middle of Palo Alto, scraped them and built a homeless shelter there along the lines of the Opportunity Center near PAMF.

This publication, the Palo Alto Weekly, recently reported that the Opportunity Center gets the police called there an average of 5.7 times a week.

If your home was next to this Opportunity Center II, would you object? If so, would you be guilty of NIMBYism? How about the neighbors of the Castilleja school in the middle of a residential area? The Palo Alto Weekly has reported that the neighbors have documented that Castilleja is consistently violating its zoning requirements. Is is NIMBYism to complain about that? If you won't allow your child to be vaccinated, am I being a NIMBY if I don't want your child to be in the same public school as my child?

There are plenty of examples where NIMBYism is just as bad as it has been made out to be on this thread--and plenty of other examples, as I've just shown, where it isn't. The accusation by itself, therefore, is meaningless and verging on an ad hominem attack.

But it passes muster editorially on this website, along with many other examples of partisanship which are, however, politically correct here in Palo Alto. No doubt an equivalent to this publication in some right wing enclave would do the same from the other side.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 8, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.


Another excellent post on your part.

NIMBYism is neither positive nor negative...depends on the specific details of the issue at hand. Individuals and neighborhoods need to be able to object to that which affects their interests. That is the American way. Doesn't mean that they will prevail, but they should be HONORED for doing so. Using the term in a pejorative manner is just old-fashioned bigotry.

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