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Palo Alto suspends 'planned community' projects

Original post made on Feb 4, 2014

Few phrases stoke rage and cynicism in Palo Alto as effectively as "planned community," a process that allows developers to skirt zoning regulations in exchange for something called "public benefits." On Monday, critics of this process scored a victory when the City Council voted to suspend this process and reform it.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, February 4, 2014, 12:41 AM

Comments (34)

Posted by Too Little Too Late
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 4, 2014 at 2:59 am

The Council is wetting their pants right now because they've probably heard the same rumors I have: that Bob Moss is working on an initiative that will fix PC zoning for real (vs. some "time out" until after the election, then business as usual). I assume he has the Maybell folks behind him and the full backing of the electorate, myself included.

Too little, too late. Where was this concern about earning the faith of the community when you were committing millions of dollars to try to ram a high density project into a residential neighborhood on a school transit route? Or when you ignored the 4000+ signatories of the referendum and double downed on a taxpayer funded, $500,000 election (despite PAHC's close to 200K in special interest money poured into the fire)? Or even after the Measure D rebuke, when Liz Kniss went on record being absolutely dismissive of the voters clear will? Or Sheppard refusing to be "bullied" by her constituents who wanted her to enforce the current zoning rules?

DO not vote for any incumbent this year. I'll happily support, with time and money, any recall drive for Kniss or Berman as well (the biggest developer cronies who aren't up until 2016)

Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2014 at 9:48 am

Just let the good folks of PA vote on any PC project with the election paid for by the developer.

Posted by commonsense
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 4, 2014 at 11:06 am

Further empowering Bob Moss in the long run will be terrible for Palo Alto. This is not farm land any more and the population will continue to grow, like it or not. We need to learn how to deal with it, not turn our backs on it. Go development, progress and change!

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2014 at 11:13 am

"We're almost acting like we're the town drunk who burned down the liquor store to keep himself from drinking," Burt said. "We shouldn't need that."

"What are we gaining by imposing a moratorium?" Klein asked. "If the council doesn't like a particular PC proposal, they can vote no."

Clearly Mr. Klein has not figured it out yet. The problem, Mr. Klein, is that you and the CC can no longer be trusted to make the right decision when it comes to PC zoning. The residents do not have faith in any of your collected abilities to protect our neighborhoods.

Posted by Member
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2014 at 11:19 am

Why does Palo Alto have to build on every lot that comes up?
Driving north or south on El Camino all you see are large buildings going up?
Of course, we all know this will not impact Palo Alto at all.
Who are we kidding?

Posted by Playing both sides
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2014 at 11:56 am

>Burt, Klein and Price all argued that there is no need to include 2755 El Camino in the moratorium, given that the project has been flowing through the planning process for more than a year and given that the council has full discretion to shoot it down <
Typical Pat Burt, playing both sides of the field. Cleverly disguising his pro-development votes with feelgood words.
Burt receives big money from developers, recently from the developer of Lytton Gateway and his associates. And Jim Baer and Roxy Rapp. Public information.

Posted by No water for residents?
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 4, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Bob Moss has a wondrous overhaul plan for the city's PC Zoning? He'll fix it for real??? My hero.

All I heard last night at the meeting was an older gentleman who argued that we couldn't allow more residents into Palo Alto because "we don't have enough water for them". Well, that argument proved to be poorly researched, untrue, and easily proved false. If that's the same deep thinker that has the golden solution to complicated and broken PC zoning issues, then by all means, let him talk. I'll bring the popcorn and 3d glasses.

Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2014 at 12:06 pm

The property owner's incentive to build higher density developments is directly related to the high property values in Palo Alto. Learn to live with it if you want to reap the benefits that come along with those high property values. If you want lower density try doing something to lower the property values in your community. Perhaps lobby the city to allow auto junkyards and scrap metal processing facilities in your neighborhood. A facility for the burning of used tires might be a nice addition to downtown Palo Alto.

Posted by Vasche LaMou
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm

"...we don't have enough water for them". Well, that argument proved to be poorly researched, untrue, and easily proved false."

God will provide as long as we keep building. "The rain follows the crane."

Posted by all the ladies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2014 at 12:35 pm

No water,

"Well, that argument proved to be poorly researched, untrue, and easily proved false."

And how was the argument about water proved false? Because Pat Burt says so?

Burt's voice goes a tad nuts about anything that Bob Moss says, and Burt ALWAYS takes the time to try to ridicule the gentleman with the gray hair. And it backfires.

All the gray haired people on the dais dissing the gray haired people they don't like, acting so hip and futuristic with the support of the young singles crowd, so organized last night (hmmm wonder why? and how they knew to show up last night).

Bob Moss brought up water as a question, not as a given. Please refer to the "proof" that water is not an issue for Palo Alto.

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2014 at 12:56 pm

The water issue is specific to Palo Alto. We have a high water table and the
City approves projects involving basement construction and one or two-level
below grade parking garages which might require dewatering. After a
site is cleared and construction begins the site is drilled to determine if
dewatering is required. It can involve the loss of millions of gallons of
water pumped into the storm drains to the Bay. In the flood zone FEMA prohibits basements.

Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2014 at 1:01 pm

> In the flood zone FEMA prohibits basements.

Was wondering if FEMA has the power to prohibit cellars in Palo Alto's flood plain, or if FEMA refuses to provide flood insurance for mortgages on homes located in the flood plain?

Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2014 at 1:08 pm

considering that Palo Alto gets it's water from Hetch Hetchy (and sources outside the city's boundaries in general) comments about increased water usage from these developments are indeed very ridiculous. A higher density development in Palo Alto uses significantly less water per occupant than an equivalent sized (in square footage) lower density development in Pleasanton. In this case water and energy usage are state and regional issues, not city issues. A well demonstrated simple truth is that higher density developments typically result in less water and energy usage per occupant than the lower density alternatives.

Posted by Mary Anne
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2014 at 1:17 pm

" higher density development in Palo Alto uses significantly less water per occupant than an equivalent sized (in square footage) lower density development in Pleasanton..."

Yes, that's very true. But no development in either place uses even less water. So what? We need to do what we can do in Palo Alto to preserve our environment and the infrastructure loads we put on the environment. It's up to Pleasanton to do what they need to do. They're not linked.

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2014 at 1:17 pm


Shhhhhh! Don't you know that Palo Alto is sealed off from the outside world, so these are all city specific issues? That's why Palo Altans would never complain about things such as high density housing being built in Mountain View.

Posted by bob
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 4, 2014 at 1:25 pm

They only stopped the PC because it is an election year and no one will vote for them.

Posted by Colleen
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Yeah! Suspend the PC and include the monstrosity proposed at ECR and Page Mill. Couldn't be happier.

Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 4, 2014 at 2:45 pm

@Midtown's suggestion to have an election paid for by the developers would pretty much guarantee that the developer would present their arguments to all Palo Alto residents and would have to justify the public benefit. They may include smoke and mirrors to make it more palatable but there would have to be more substance than a statue or sidewalk eating area.

Is the cost of providing sidewalk eating areas for developers on California Ave going to exceed the current estimate of $4.7M? Tax the residents and businesses that are already there so money can be given to the favored ... Your tax dollars being given away.

Posted by green gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 4, 2014 at 3:15 pm

There are no new basements in the flood zone because they are not allowed by the City of Palo Alto.

Yes, I complained to the City of Mountain View about all their construction 25 years ago. They did not respond to my e-mail.

The people who live in the Mother Lode have been told to cut back their water consumption by 50%. Think we have a problem with water? The water table is high in Palo Alto because of the SAN FRANCISCO BAY. This area where I live use to be part of the Bay.

Posted by what public benefit?
a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Let's face it, the "public benefits" of these deals are a sham. Most of the money will go into the pockets of the politicians, and most of the "benefits" are minor, insignificant things which SHOULD have already been done/fixed by the city anyway.

The massive amount of construction needs to end (in both PA and Stanford) SOON... Everyone's sick of the trucks, smog, traffic and congestion. Too many people, too many buildings, too many headaches for "the best city on earth."

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2014 at 5:58 pm

The proposed PC 4-story mixed use project at 2755 ECR fortunately has at least been delayed. This project needs to be designed respectful of
the adjacent residential uses. A PC needs first to be predicated on the
avoidance of an atrocity before any notion of a broader "public benefit"
can be determined or calculated.

Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2014 at 11:10 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Ken Hayes has very little credibility with me. His assurances of the value of his latest PC building are not convincing, especially after reading an interview with him yesterday in the Daily Post, where he still defends the placement of the grocery store at Alma Plaza right up against the narrow sidewalk. His solution to fix the Alma plaza is to add trees by reducing Alma to one lane in both directions and plant trees instead:

"Alma needs to have trees. I think Alma should be one lane in each direction. We should capture room on both sides, create a bike path down one side and plant the heck out of the side where all the buildings are."

Clearly this is someone totally ignorant of Alma and its importance as a major thoroughfare through Palo Alto. Also, most of Alma has lots of trees - where the city has required a median between the sidewalk and the street and planted trees on it. Alma Plaza should have had the same requirement.

For those of us who live on Alma quite happily in its current configuration, the thought of reducing the lanes from four or five to two is horrifying. CHSRA proposed the same thing. Right now, I can always turn out of my driveway near Loma Verde. The light at East Meadow, means there is always a break in traffic and the middle turn lane means I don't have to wait for the traffic from the north to clear. Although the new traffic light at Alma Plaza does cause the traffic around 5 to back up almost a mile, which it never used to do, I can always turn right and go around. It is not perfect but it works. Only someone totally ignorant of traffic flows in Palo Alto would ever consider narrowing Alma.

If this is a true reflection of Ken Hayes' approach to urban planning, then he should find another town to ply his trade - how about Portola Valley or Woodside where most of the roads are two lane. Go build your buildings up against the roads there. If you want to build here, follow our zoning and use setbacks!!!

I hope the city council will turn down his latest proposal until and unless it complies with current zoning, particularly required setbacks. I hope Palo Alto will require trees to screen the building from the street. The sidewalk should be wide enough for urban walking as well. And the height should be similar to surrounding buildings.

Posted by resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2014 at 12:03 am

Regarding the "public benefit" issue. Last week I was interested in using the "public benefit" room at the Mikli's/Alma location.
Mary Constano (spelling not certain), in recreation department said the room would cost $110 per hour to use. In addition the onsite parking was only valid for one hour.

I expressed my disappointment. This $110/hour rate was not what I expected from using a public benefit room.

So i am very happy this PC zoning is on hold. The PC process has caused reduced quality of life through out Palo Alto and the public benefit claims are ridiculous.

Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 5, 2014 at 12:04 am

adding to an earlier poster who mentioned that Pat Burt had significant campaign donations from developers in the last City Council election ( 2012)….
yes this is true; Roxy Rapp, Jim Baer, and two Lund Brothers ( they're behind Lytton Gateway project, the pc that was approved at the former Shell stain on Alma @ Lytton) etc….

it must be difficult to sleep at night…..or not

Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2014 at 8:47 am

Ken Hayes is no Birge Clark!!!!!!! Hayes' work is ghastly.

Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 5, 2014 at 11:39 am

Totally agree that Hayes is no Birge Clark, nor are the atrocities on El Camino that front RIGHT on the sidewalk. What a dense ugly prospect.

As for making Alma one-lane, I really hate the idea of taking away any traffic lanes when we're already totally gridlocked. It's like the idiots who want to remove El Camino lanes.

You're not going to make the cars disappear so increase -- not decrease -- traffic flow!

Now that the Grocery Outlet has gotten its HUGE sign approved, others are flocking to get theirs approved. The Grocery Outlet sign could be even bigger and that STILL won't fix the access /egress problem that doomed Miki's Market. People knew it was there; they just couldn't get there from here.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 5, 2014 at 11:51 am

On de-watering...

If you live in a flood zone:
- you may not build a new basement
- you can be forced to fill in your basement if you "improve" your home by more than 50% of it's (structural, not the land/lot) value

Commercial properties are exempt from the basement restrictions in a flood zone.

True - de-watering flows into the storm drains or sewers. However that water is already "flowing" underground out to the bay as is. None of the underground streams in PA are used for drinking water, etc. I have a neighbor who built a well (no longer allowed) that provides irrigation water for his yard.

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I am not a hydraulic engineer but here are a few thoughts relating to
dewatering. The dewatering lowers the water table at least temporarily and can cause subsidence. The subsidence can cause damage to surrounding properties. The lower water table can impact surrounding vegetation which then requires more irrigation. In some cases there are also issues relating to toxic plumes being drawn into the area of the dewatering. To prevent subsidence over the long-term the ground water must be recharged. In a drought there is no natural recharging so we must rely on imported water.
Let me know if I am missing something here.

Posted by He's no Birge Clark
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2014 at 3:11 pm

[Portion removed.]

Also, Pat Burt once said on the dais that Hayes was his favorite architect.

Posted by GreenmeadowKid
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 6, 2014 at 8:13 am

Greenmeadow was developed as a planned community, and it has turned out well for residents. Great place to raise a family.

Posted by Drop in the Bucket
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Feb 6, 2014 at 8:47 am

Dewatering for a single family home basement or underground parking garage removes the equivalent of just a drop in the proverbial bucket (ground water bucket). The tiny amount of water that is pumped for basements is easily recharged by all the rain water that soaks back into the ground.

Posted by Henry
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 6, 2014 at 10:21 am

@GreenmeadowKid - There's a HUGE difference between Greenmeadow as a planned community (notice the lower case p and c) and the PC Zones which have been abused to eliminate development standards and zoning requirements. Greenmeadow is NOT a Planned Community zone (notice the capital PC). The homes are all zoned for single family (R-1) and the schools, shopping center and park are individual parcels with their own zoning designations.

The Greenmeadow neighborhood included hundreds of home, a private park, recreational facilities, school buildings and retail on the perimeter as well as a planned street patterns that encourage walking and pedestrian connections to adjacent facilities.

That is in stark contrast to most recent PCs which are small lots with a single structure and the only reason that they are built as PCs is because they would NOT be allowed under the existing zoning. The findings required to approve the PCs have been vacuous and the public benefits illusory.

Posted by Henry
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 6, 2014 at 10:29 am

@Drop in the bucket - Dewatering for a single family home is only a drop in the bucket if you look at a large bucket. If you happen to own the home next to the construction site and your mature landscaping dies or your foundation settles because of the lower water table, then it's not such a trivial matter.

When residents complain to the city about damage done to their property, the city does NOT track/log these complaints and then they later state that there have not been any complaints, even though residents have spoken about these issues at past public hearings.

The cities official position is that this matter is a civil issue between two private parties, even though the city is aware of the problems and they are granting the permits without consideration for the public's safety.

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2014 at 10:38 am

"the tiny amount that is pumped for basements". I believe the average
for a single-family lot is 6-8 million gallons. That is why dewatering
can only be done from April to October so as not to overload the storm drains as the water is pumped out.

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