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'Time out' proposed for disputed zoning rule

Original post made on Jan 29, 2014

Bowing down to intense community pressure and years of criticism from land-use watchdogs, Palo Alto officials have announced a plan to suspend and reform the city's controversial "planned community" zoning process, which allows developers to barter zoning exemptions for public benefits.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 29, 2014, 4:21 PM

Comments (16)

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Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2014 at 7:35 pm

This is easy, just let the folks vote on all PC projects with the election paid for by the developer. If it is a good deal, folks will recognize that and vote for it. No more back room deals.

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Posted by Eric F
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 29, 2014 at 8:24 pm

PC's have plenty of "unintended consequences" too -- traffic, congestion, parking woes, pollution, impact on city services, indirectly on schools, etc. If the argument is that the unintended consequences of a moratorium are worse than those of the PC's themselves, I'd say that one's pretty dubious. If PC's have not been a net "public benefit," then indeed they should be stopped, or at least each one subject to a public referendum.

Pat Burt's point last month wasn't that stopping PC's was bad. It was that stopping PC's wouldn't go far enough, since there are so many other City loopholes that a savvy developer can use to get around Palo Alto zoning codes. The city is right to reform density bonus law, but there's more to tackle. Burt's other suggestion, to simply start downzoning land so that once all the exemptions are applied it comes back to the original intended density, is a good idea and deserves a serious look.

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Posted by Disappearing Public Benefits
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2014 at 1:10 am

Another set of "public benefits" that disappeared are plazas at the corner of High and Homer and the one at the corner of High and Channing.
And the biggest disappearing act of all, the 57 parking spaces under 800 High that were supposed to be free and open to the public. FIFTY SEVEN spaces.

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Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2014 at 7:29 am

PC zoning should be eliminated, not get a time out. It produces more traffic, more noise, pollution and population density. PC zoning enrich the developers and reduce our quality of life. How all this benefits the community is a total mystery to me.

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Posted by Professorville Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:40 am

The first step in revising the PC guidelines should be to rename it Planned Development so its name more accurately reflects its true intent. Incidentally, that is the name many local municipalities use for such non-conforming projects.

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Posted by Mary Anne
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2014 at 1:07 pm

If we have a rational and well thought out zoning plan that makes sense for our city, there is no reason whatsoever to allow exceptions to it through the PC process.

The current PC process is a de facto system of legal bribery where connected developers can build what they want regardless of whether it fits within the putatively well considered zoning regulations.

If we're to have zoning regs, they should be applicable equally to all - not just to those people who don't have political clout with the City.

If there's something so wrong with the zoning regs that we have to grant as many exceptions to it as we are with the PC process, then the proper solution is to adopt new regs that make sense - not to sell exceptions to the highest bidder.

We ought to do away with the PC process permanently - and if the current Council is too compromised with developers to do it, we ought to do it for them through the referendum process. The folks who led the Maybell referendum already have a pretty formidable organizational start to such an enterprise. Maybe we should see what we can do to reactivate it!

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Posted by Joe in Green Acres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 30, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Joe in Green Acres is a registered user.

To Mary Anne,

We, who led the Maybell referendum, do not need to be "reactivated". We are alive and well. We are now "Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning" and remain extremely concerned about high-density development all over Palo Alto and the failure of City Hall (City Council, City Staff, the Planning and Transportation Commission, and the Architectural Review Board) to enforce the Municipal Code. Too many exceptions are being granted leading to a reduction in the quality of life we had and still desire. Come join us - lend your voice to ours so we can remind City Council who elected them and that they serve at our pleasure.

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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2014 at 2:09 pm

@Mary Anne

You can't do that because it would a) require the city to accommodate growth and b) wouldn't allow neighborhood groups to inject themselves into any proposal.

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Posted by Zayda
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 3:14 pm

@Mary Anne
To amplify what Joe said, there are now a number of active groups in the city who are concerned with the problems of the existing zoning process. Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (PASZ) supports the efforts of residents in Downtown North and California Avenue against the out of control parking situation, the residents of Evergreen Park and Ventura who opposed the Jay Paul project and are now fighting the latest Ken Hayes glass and steel edifice at 2755 El Camino, and, of course, our neighbors in Buena Vista Mobile Home Park. Follow our activities at Web Link, on Facebook and @paloaltoville on Twitter. Subscribe to our newsletter and come to our meetings. Get involved and help us put Palo Alto back on course for the future.

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Posted by Confused
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 4:36 pm

I am confused. What is “paloaltoville”? What does it have to do with Palo Altans for sensible zoning? Does “paloaltoville” mean you want to turn the city into a rustic village?

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Posted by Politics
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 31, 2014 at 10:51 am

This looks like an election year ploy by Scharff and the other pro-developer councilmembers to make it look like they are listening. They are also afraid of a citizens initiative to reform PC zoning and take away their favorite developer-gifting tool for good.

PASZ, please run a slate of candidates this fall. I will vote for whichever five new candidates you field. Bob Moss, please run. Same for Tim Gray, Eric Filseth, Nielson Buchanan. Five new sensible candidates can at least contain Kniss and Berman [portion removed] until they can be voted out in 2016.

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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 31, 2014 at 11:52 am


Please provide the contact info for Palo Altans For Sensible Zoning.

Thank you!

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Posted by Here for a while
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2014 at 4:11 pm

"Many cited "public benefits" that were promised but that never materialized, with the most glaring examples being the public plazas at Cafe Riace in the California Avenue area and next to St. Michael's Alley restaurant downtown. Each plaza was offered as a benefit for a PC project and was subsequently swallowed up by the adjacent restaurant."

I'm new to this whole issue, but outraged at the development that has found its way through the "pipeline"in recent years. Can anyone explain the above to me? How can something that was a requirement for development be "swallowed up" (i.e., ignored) at a later date without a response from the City? Aren't the property/ building owners required to honor the public benefits stipulation? If not, couldn't the City have used a permit process for outdoor dining here to control this lack of good faith?

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 31, 2014 at 5:06 pm

You can contact join Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning by going to
Web Link

They are just neighbors and people around town, so more volunteers the merrier.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 31, 2014 at 5:10 pm


PaloAltoville as opposed to PalOpolis. (Or, if you prefer, Palo Alto rather than downtown San Jose wannabe.)

Eric Filseth's Vision A as opposed to Vision B.

Like this comment
Posted by What's a time out?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2014 at 5:35 pm

What exactly is a zoning "time out"?

Does Staff tell Jim Baer, Chop Keenan and Roxy Rapp to go sit in the corner with their PC applications?

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