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First Baptist Church prepares to shut down, sell assets

Original post made on Oct 25, 2019

Calling it a "death with dignity," parishioners and leaders at the First Baptist Church in Palo Alto are preparing to close one of the city's oldest churches and sell its steepled North California Avenue building.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, October 25, 2019, 6:59 AM

Comments (47)

51 people like this
Posted by apartment building
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 25, 2019 at 8:02 am

This would be the perfect location for a low-income apartment building. Close walking distance to the California Ave business district and the train station and access to jobs up and down the peninsula. Lower rents will add some much needed diversity to this part of town. A high-rise apartment building could have parking on the ground floor. Or limit parking and encourage residents to walk and bike (good location on the Bryant Street bicycle boulevard) and use Caltrain.

I know the church was trying to become more of a community center, but a residential complex might fit better into the neighborhood.


24 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2019 at 8:34 am

Re: apartment building

Really? I think the local residents would be up in arms with any idea of affordable or dense housing in their neighborhood. You will see lawsuits and protests and endless arguments that it would ruin the neighborhood.

They don't even like the groups that rent space there.

It's more likely that a group of rich neighbors will buy the property and never let any development happen.

/marc


24 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2019 at 8:40 am

I would like to think that another church body could take over the premises and keep the building for the purpose it was designed for. There are many church bodies meeting in various locations all over town and would love to have a permanent home.

This should be shared with the various faith based communities in the area.


23 people like this
Posted by Alvin
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 25, 2019 at 9:13 am

Alvin is a registered user.

Great location to build a RV park, or convert the church and adjacent buildings on the land to apartment units with all the appropriate utility hook-ups and wifi and use the rest of the land for RV parking. It would relieve some of the congestion on El Camino and other major thoroughfares.

Owners make money, low income residents have housing and parking for their RVs, and the city benefits too. Win-win-win.


42 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 10:06 am

While we're all imagining ideas that can't happen (ahem, R-1 zoning), why not just turn Gamble Garden into an RV park. It actually has better road access for RVs being right on Embarcadero.

I'm sure all you snarky Professorville folks would enjoy that.


25 people like this
Posted by WatchDog
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 10:57 am

Why exactly is a 25 person church giving $90,000 with the prospect of another $410,000 to this new Sympara organization which does not even have a physical church? I smell something very funny going on here. What exactly are they doing for this money? Where is this money going?

I hope the underlying zoning as a community center can be revisited upon a change in ownership.


19 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 11:05 am

@WatchDog:

Probably a tax dodge. My guess is that the church is trying to preserve the tax exempt status of the property in order to increase the value to a potential acquirer.


40 people like this
Posted by allen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 11:21 am

My Dad came to Palo Alto one summer with his Dad who was trading congregations with the local minister. My Grandfather was then minister for a summer at the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, which was in a different location. I was told that at the time the congregation was shrinking and in trouble. Sounds familiar. The story handed down to me was that my Grandfather got the congregation worked up to build a new church - one that would be an asset to the community with facilities for the community to use. It should have a basketball court for the kids to use. The congregation raised money and after quite a few years built the building discussed in this article. When I first told this story to someone from the church their face got big and they asked how did I know that building was a basketball court as only the church elders were allowed in there. I said my Dad told me. I exist because of this church. My Dad ended up working his way across the country to attend Stanford where he met my Mother. That was all because of the summer he spent here a few years before. I am sad to see it go. And to the neighbors who complained about it being a community center all I have to say is that it was before you moved there. It was built to serve the community and hopefully it will continue to do so.

I also agree the finances sound very odd.


14 people like this
Posted by Another Palo Alto church
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2019 at 11:25 am

If they are thinking about where to donate the funds, how about some of the other churches in Palo Alto that could really use help with upgrading their facilities so they can accommodate younger congregations? (And maybe be good places for the existing congregants to attend?)


22 people like this
Posted by Kim Martin
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 12:47 pm

It is suspicious and frustrating to hear about the planned church closure after listening to hours of opinion at City Council meetings about how despite being a small congregation, church representatives said it was working. I recall discussion where it was suggested that the church had only 14 congregants. I recall Mixon going on the record claiming having no plans to wind up the congregation and not having started any negotiations to that end....and all the families in support of retaining the iSing girls' choir program at that church while iSing was massively exceeding the capacity for the site. Didn't anyone see this coming? If so, can we be more honest about these types of deliberations next time?

I hope the Weekly takes this story back further into its timeline. Was the church in fact negotiating a sale when it was representing to the City that it was not? I hope the City learns from this experience. The CUP should have been granted with more restrictive conditions that it was. The CUP could have been voidable if the church were to wind up or sell its assets within a period of years, say 5 or even 10. Does the City reserve any right of first refusal on the property? It should.

Sadly, churches are exempt from so many types of informational and financial filings that we will probably never have transparency into the details of what has happened or will happen to this property and this particular church and the transfer of ownership. Yet another reason to not grant a CUP to a church without requiring things in exchange like financial statements, property and asset records, etc - things that would be in the public domain for other types of organizations.

I sincerely hope that the church, the City, and perhaps also the PAHS take steps to record and preserve the relevant history of the church and how it served Palo Alto through the years.

Before tearing down a church, or transferring its ownership to an organization on the opposite side of the country, it would appear to make sense to have a community process to determine whether relocating another place of worship from within Palo Alto would benefit both the community and that other church. If the City does not already have the authority to insert itself into that process, let's put something in place legislatively so that it can.

I hope the outcome here is one that brings the community closer together rather than tearing it apart, which the last round of discussions on this property appeared to do.


12 people like this
Posted by Brad
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 25, 2019 at 12:50 pm

Realistically,
Another chance for a multibillionaire to come in and build a monstrosity. The city is so Bass Ackward. Money rules! And the residenbts complaining of music at 9:00 on Saturday. The Church didn't stand a chance against all of these entitled citizens of the richest place but morally bankrupt place in the world. And good luck getting low income or an RV park there. Sounds like a great idea......just not in my neighborhood.


7 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2019 at 2:10 pm

Guess here is that the church will be sold and houses built on the site. That's what Palo Alto does. There was an old home across the street on the corner that sold for nearly $10 million a few years ago. Money talks the loudest in this city.


12 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 25, 2019 at 2:29 pm

Thanks for sharing your memories of your grandfather and father and details of the history of the church, Allen.

And, Kim Martin, I agree. Great points!


16 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 25, 2019 at 3:04 pm

A church with no congregation seeks a zone change to support their illegal commercial uses just before shuttering.....not much of a surprise


23 people like this
Posted by DSP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2019 at 3:27 pm

I, too, as a member of First Baptist,, have encouraged a sale to another church or non profit in the area. Unfortunately, only the long distance idea of “Sympara” was considered by the tired and easily led congregation.


19 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 4:07 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

I agree with Kim Martin that something isn't right here. My feeling all along is that Mixon has not been honest about the decision to sell the church property or when that decision was made. Even to the point that when neighbors ( I was one) met with a regional representative from First Baptist to discuss how the church would move forward, my gut feeling was that they knew all along the property was to be sold and already knew who the buyer was. The moderated get together seemed a sham, especially now after this new information has come to light.

Watchdog makes an excellent point about the advancement of funds to an organization that wants to "change the world" but has no physical location. It wouldn't hurt to look into this group and find out what they are all about.

It would be great for P.A. Daily to investigate this, but I doubt they will. They were pro community center conversion from the very beginning and didn't offer much support for neighbors of the church.

Daily Post might be more interested in taking this on.


8 people like this
Posted by Brad
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 25, 2019 at 4:38 pm

All I have to say "HA HA HA" Welcome RV Park. Take that you multimillionaire entitled Lori Laughlins and Felicity Huffmans.


4 people like this
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 25, 2019 at 5:03 pm

[Post removed.]


17 people like this
Posted by Here are the facts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 5:40 pm

Here are the facts is a registered user.

The conditional use permit issued by the City of Palo Alto on May 14, 2018 expires "if a church ceases to exist at 305 N. California Avenue."

And even if the new occupant is a church, the conditional use permit must be renewed after 5 years, which is mid-May 2023.

The permit allows up to 5 counseling and psychotherapy offices, meetings and events sponsored or used by non-profit organizations, and rehearsals, programs and performances by non-profit musical groups, however it does not allow the dance classes and Persian language classes mentioned in the article.

So has the church admitted it has not been complying with the permit?


32 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 6:23 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

Many churches in Palo Alto are flourishing. Mixon could not grow the church. He was a failure as a leader. The progressive liberal agenda he promoted didn't fly with the congregation. Prior to his arrival a young woman Pastor came in and the situation changed. Younger people, families with young kids, and it started to grow. She got recruited by the regional Baptist administration and after that it was "rent a pastor" until Mixon showed up. He failed to grow the congregation, brought in a gay activist assistant Pastor whose online posts were filled with foul language and hate for the aging congregation and got caught. Mixon hired him and denied knowledge of his online activity. He was exposed at the city council CUP meeting and shortly after that the church "decided" to fold.

He had an agenda that most didn't agree with.

Wrong leader. Period.


Like this comment
Posted by Alvin
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 25, 2019 at 7:08 pm

Alvin is a registered user.

@Me 2: The Church is closer to the California Ave. train station for all your future RV residents and an ideal location for Uber/Lyft pick-up and drop-off. And, unless you know something that I don't, Gamble Gardens (which is located in Old Palo Alto) isn't for sale.


25 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 25, 2019 at 7:36 pm

Hulkamania is a registered user.

Castilleja should buy it and use their garage money to open a second campus.


2 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 7:41 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 7:45 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

@ Jim...that "old home" you refer to was torn down and a new home with basement was built. The "look" was kept the same but the square footage was more than doubled.


6 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 7:51 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 7:53 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

@Alvin...maybe you can buy the property and fulfill your hateful pipe dream. C'mon you can do it.


6 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 7:55 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

@ Here are the facts...the church has been non-compliant since the day the CUP was granted.


4 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 8:01 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 8:03 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2019 at 8:48 pm

Is Mixon the one who sold the church's house in the back corner off-market to a child daycare owner who was his friend? I understand the sale did not require the daycare to give any preference to parishioners' children. When I heard about that sale from some older parishioners it seemed odd.

Interesting the church does not have a pre-set beneficiary for sale's proceeds and that the members plan to keep a large fund for future disbursement.

My best wishes to the last parishioners there. They are the ones who must decide what to do.


6 people like this
Posted by Alvin
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 25, 2019 at 9:42 pm

Alvin is a registered user.

@What Will They Do Next. I'm thinking about buying and converting it to an RV Park & Inn if the city will allow a variance. The other Palo Alto property I wanted to buy, but wasn't for sale, was Town & Country Village. My dream for that location was to build the world's biggest Walmart Supercenter.


3 people like this
Posted by YSK
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 25, 2019 at 9:47 pm

You know the billionaires are just drooling over the property hoping to make it into a pool house or guest cottage. You know, the whole compound mentality. It's about money money money...GREED


2 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2019 at 9:19 am

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

Alvin....can't wait for you to move in.


Posted by Gnar
a resident of Crescent Park

on Oct 26, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 27, 2019 at 8:00 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Hilarious comments about an RV park at this location. What is concerning is that most religious organizations have a central administrative governance location which monitors and manages the over-laying costs of church locations. The Presbyterian Church main corporate office is in Kentucky due to great tax benefits in that state. That is where their head shed is. It is odd that the Baptist Church organization is not involved at the top level since this property has great value. Someone needs to investigate the corporate structure here and figure out why they are not involved with this sale of property.


7 people like this
Posted by Response to Resident1
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2019 at 2:46 pm

Response to Resident1 is a registered user.

American Baptist Churches, of which First Baptist is a member, believe in local autonomy, so each church is its own separate self-administering entity. The "head shed" for this region is near Seattle (Web Link ), but it has no control over the actions of the church other than to advise and consult and it can take action. First Baptist Church of Palo Alto is a California not-for-profit corporation. Its board of directors consists of several members of the congregation. The board has legal authority to sell the church, distribute the proceeds to one or more not-for-profit organizations including a foundation it can set up as a separate entity, and dissolve the corporation.


Like this comment
Posted by Recall now
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2019 at 2:47 pm

Recall now is a registered user.

American Baptist Churches, of which First Baptist is a member, believe in local autonomy, so each church is its own separate self-administering entity. The "head shed" for this region is near Seattle (Web Link ), but it has no control over the actions of the church other than to advise and consult and it can't take action on its own. First Baptist Church of Palo Alto is a California not-for-profit corporation. Its board of directors consists of several members of the congregation. The board has legal authority to sell the church, distribute the proceeds to one or more not-for-profit organizations including a foundation it can set up as a separate entity, and dissolve the corporation.


16 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2019 at 8:45 pm

I don't understand. They have an amazing location.
Why not merge with THRIVING Bay area churches that have an extremely vibrant young people population?

ECHO Church (formerly known as South Bay Church) often partners with various churches in the Bay area to make satellite churches. WHY NOT merge with them?

Menlo Church also does what ECHO Church does and merges with existing churches.

How many local bay area churches have this church considered to merge with and partner with?

WHy not try to sell to a local church?

When the Catholic church sold off various sites to pay for their sexual abuse lawsuits, they sold a prime location downtown Cambridge (near Harvard University) to a church. Even though multiple developers and other "religious" (but NON Christian organizations) offered to pay exorbitant sums for the land and building, the Catholic church refused to entertain their offers and went with the much LOWER offer of purchase by Vineyard Church.

They ended up selling the church to VINEYARD church and the building was renovated and a vibrant Christian community moved in. Sure the Catholic church could have sold the lands to the highest bidder.. but they chose their buyer to be a Christian fellowship.

To only entertain one potential merger and then back away (when there are MANY vibrant partnering local Christian churches in the Bay area).... and then ONLY try to sell to the North Carolina group seems really ODD.

More corruption? Maybe selling to a smoke and mirrors firm that buys this land for a wealthy single buyer under a hidden incorporated name or a land developer?

It would be a shame for this land to not continue to remain and be a place of Christian worship - what it has been for generations.

What a shame. A waste.


8 people like this
Posted by Response to Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 28, 2019 at 12:14 am

Response to Palo Alto Resident is a registered user.

Great location but grossly inadequate parking. To be realistic, a successful church cannot expect its parishioners to walk or bike to church or take Uber/Lyft for regular services or other activities. They will drive to attend church activities so adequate parking will be required.

The First Baptist Church has only 11 parking spaces, several of which are allocated to the independently-owned and operated child care center that is next to the church and shares its parking lot. The occupancy rates of the church would require many more spaces if it were to get a CUP under the current rules.

The reason the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto was able to get a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for its current community center activities because it was in existence before there were parking rules, i.e. parking requirements were grandrathered.

Whether that grandfathering would apply to a new occupant of the property is an interesting question.

With the few exceptions of 3 or 4 churches located in or proximate to Downtown Palo Alto that also have very limited parking, most other Palo Alto churches have very large parking lots. For these churches, parking is not an issue. For the First Baptist Church property lack of enough on-site parking spaces that comply with current rules is a serious problem.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 28, 2019 at 6:16 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Comments on parking respond to a different issue - the "city" asking churches to provide space for RV's and car dwellers. As you can see from comments above that is a ridiculous request - the church first has to respond to the members who come to church. If a church cannot respond to the members then it will go out of business.


10 people like this
Posted by Another idea
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 28, 2019 at 6:30 am

There are ‘churches’ all over Silicon Valley in converted office buildings. The parking lots are full every Sunday. Too bad one of them cannot take over this space. Clearly organized religion not as out if fashion as you might think.


16 people like this
Posted by to Resident of Old Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 28, 2019 at 10:29 am

well why not just get rid of all the churches in Palo Alto that have grossly inadequate parking spaces? They daren't not park on the city streets. THOSE streets are EXCLUSIVELy reserved for the folks who live in the homes. Yup. Even for a few hours on Sunday.

While we're at it, lets get rid of all the parks in Palo Alto that have grossly inadequate parking spaces as well. How dare those folks park on the streets adjacent to the parks to use the public green spaces.

Oh. You like the parks but not the church? You think the parks add value to the your home value if you're adjacent to the green space, but not the church? Ah gotcha.

Don't live near the church if you don't want a vibrant Palo Alto community.
Next time move to Hillsborough (where are nothing but residential homes) or Atherton where there is tons of acreage.

Considering making Palo Alto thrive. Be giving. Life is larger than one's own little plot of land one lives on in Old Palo Alto.

Good grief.


8 people like this
Posted by Response to Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 28, 2019 at 1:42 pm

Response to Palo Alto Resident is a registered user.

Parking for religious services or religious education at First Baptist Church have never been bothersome to the church's neighbors, who often joked that the quietest day of the week at the church was Sunday.

The troublesome issue is the parking required for non-church "community center" activities. According to the Conditional Use Permit, parking is permitted when a community center activity is separated in time by at least 15 minutes from an organized religious service or religious education and falls within the hours of 10:30am to 8:30pm Monday through Thursday and 10am to 7:30pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Ancillary counseling and psychotherapy can start at 9:00am regardless of any religious services. The CUP grandfathers off-site parking for the church for non-church activities. According to the law, it can be argued that grandfathering the parking rules should only apply to the church's religious activities and not to other activities. However the City generously extended it to non-religious ones.

Parking related to the counseling services provided by psychologists and psychiatrists who rented office space at the church was never a problem, had no impact, and resulted in zero complaints.

The parking and traffic issues at First Baptist Church that troubled its neighbors were triggered by the church renting space to to the largest for-profit music school in the area, which had perhaps 20-30 teachers and hundreds of students. This is a very fine school but it is a business, unrelated to any religious activities at the church, that generated hundreds of car trips per week to a location that was not capable of handling it. The school had operated without a Conditional Use Permit for many years. When it applied for a CUP one could not be granted because City regulations did not permit a music school in an R-1 zone. The school was allowed to stay at the church until it could re-establish itself at a new facility, which it was able to do.

Many neighbors of the church have expressed the hope that the facility would remain as a church. It is a beautiful church that operated harmoniously with the neighborhood for more than 70 years. With some luck, the new owners can restore that harmony.


2 people like this
Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 28, 2019 at 2:48 pm

Not informed enough to have an opinion on the future of the First Baptist Church property, but the dignity and charity on how they are going about this, they are the model for all of us on how to be in life. They represent the very best of the our community, and I am sad for us to lose them. Thank you.


Like this comment
Posted by Jerry
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 28, 2019 at 5:27 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Roxanne Reeves
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:52 am

Does anyone know if The Neighborhood Infant Toddler Center (little house behind the church) is on the property owned by the church? Will it be in jeopardy?


Like this comment
Posted by Roxanne Reeves
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 1, 2020 at 11:16 am

Does anyone know if The Neighborhood Infant Toddler Center (little house behind the church) is on the property owned by the church? Will it be in jeopardy? Also, here is the link to an article by Mr. Pryfogle, if you want to get a flavor of his intentions for the property. Basically, if you removed "Baptist" from what Rev. Mixon has been trying to do there, you would have Mr. Pryfogle's idea. Simply let the space evolve into something that will meet a need...space for non-profit, small group functions and/or housing. NITC is a long serving children's center and its function would blend nicely with this space. And the nieghbors, BTW, are not complaining about NITC, to my knowledge. Many of us have used it or been cared for at NITC. So, to argue that the neighbors will fight against any "pro-social" use of the space is shutting the door a little prematurely. Web Link


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