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Editorial: Having failed so far, President Hotel buyers try financial inducements to build support for the zoning changes it needs

Original post made on Nov 1, 2019

It's not clear whether Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners did a terrible job at researching the zoning obstacles they would face when buying the President Hotel in 2018 or brashly thought they could just steamroll city officials.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 1, 2019, 6:27 AM

Comments (16)

42 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 1, 2019 at 8:55 am

From the above:

"It's not clear whether Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners (AJ Capital) did a terrible job at researching the zoning obstacles they would face when buying the 75-room President Hotel in 2018 or brashly thought they could just steamroll Palo Alto officials and residents into approving their conversion of an apartment building back into a hotel."

As documented in this paper and other local press, incompetence and/or malfeasance on the part of senior city leadership gave AJ Capital every reason to believe they could do as they please.

First, despite existing zoning law, former City Manager Jim Keene told AJ Capital they could convert the President back into a hotel. So, of course, they did not expect zoning obstacles.

Second, at that time Interim Planning Director Jonathan Lait claimed the zoning provision that prevented the conversion from apartment to hotel use was a "typo" and tried to get the provision removed. Please.

Third, former City Council member Greg Scharff had secret meetings with AJ Capital leadership in attempt to expedite the process.

The whole fiasco reeks of corruption; however, given the above as well as City Hall's long history of favoring developer interests above all else, it is not surprising AJ Capital expected their plans to be approved without hassle or delay.

Hopefully, our city will stand strong and send AJ Capital on their way.


11 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 1, 2019 at 9:17 am

The free market system is the worse system except for all the rest of the systems. "The highest and best use" should prevail. Housing can be build elsewhere. Palo Alto is not an island. Look to San Jose and all that wonderful land to put into rental units. Higher and best use means the hotel will bring in more tax revenues. Think.

George Drysdale land economist and educator


11 people like this
Posted by Summer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2019 at 9:59 am

Arbitarian- one wonders why the editorial ignored the facts as reported in its own pages ( actions of city leadership). [Portion removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Reality
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2019 at 10:11 am

I remember once being surprised by EO Wilson's statement about conservation, that attempts to preserve life were far more successful than attempts that focused just on ecosystems (and assumed this would preserve the living creatures) which often failed.

I think there is an analogy here. The die was cast when AJ Capital purchased the property with the expectation of getting its way and the residents were evicted. Even if they convert the hotel to housing now, with a few bones for affordable housing (cash or units), it will never be affordable to the people who were evicted, and another cohesive community under attack loses in Palo Alto.

Affordable housing projects do usually need a higher density to work. For-profit developers have figured out how to use this to bust zoning and densifying, which in an in-demand job center always ends up ratcheting up housing costs overall and making the affordability problem worse. Here, I think the majority of residents now are far more willing to allow just affordable projects to have somewhat higher density, especially if it means they can protect the area from rapacious developers, but people are also beginning to see the serious ills of confusing that with for-profit developers weakening zoning and pushing out existing residents by wholesale densification and the way it ratchets up costs overall.

Existing low-income and regular-income residents (life) are not interchangeable with housing units (ecosystem) as far as the community is concerned, either.

AJ Capital seems to think PAHC and other community organizations can be bought.
But AJ Capital has evicted the residents, and there is no way at this point that any housing put in there will ever be equivalent to what was lost, or help the residents whose stable affordable housing stock and community were destroyed -- because of our town's past willingness to weaken zoning for hotel spaces and density, and to sell neighborhood zoning for a price.

Friends of BV and Winter were successful because the way they did it focused on the residents (life), and because, frankly, the Maybell referendum showed the developers that residents could enforce the zoning (the developer pulled out at BV right after the referendum and no other large ones were willing to get involved, so the sale for residents was possible). Those gargantuan new hotel blocks on San Antonio punctuating the monoculture of hotels in South Palo Alto from Page Mill to San Antontio, and the City's deafness to residents impacted by those monstrosities, almost certainly encouraged AJ Capital to see where the City's priorities lay (not with residents and quality of life).

I see the protests now, but what do protesters hope will be the end result here? If so many of them had all not been so eager to densify and weaken local zoning (ecosystem) no matter what it actually does to housing costs (wrongly believing density was always good for affordability when it does the opposite in in-demand job centers), this would never have happened in the first place.

Things have changed. Affordable housing advocates must start seeing that if they are to sincerely make a difference. I fear it is too late for the residents of President Hotel. Shame on everyone who made enabled that.


10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2019 at 10:15 am

Posted by george drysdale

>> "The highest and best use" should prevail.

>> George Drysdale land economist and educator

Mr. Drysdale, as a land economist, you should understand that zoning is a constitutional part of the process. Here is a nice summary of why zoning is usually upheld when there is a legal challenge:

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 1, 2019 at 10:23 am

rsmithjr is a registered user.

We need to move beyond the controversy of last year and ask what is currently the best thing to do with the property.

Returning it to a hotel use is probably the best for the community.

If the community persists with its stance, we are likely to see a locked-up building for some years. Possibly the building will be sold to another owner, or the building will be demolished. We are facing a long and contentious future over this issue, perhaps like the International Hotel controversy in San Francisco 40 years ago.



15 people like this
Posted by Summer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2019 at 10:43 am

I wonder why renters at the president and their supporters think that renting a room there have them a lifetime home. Sounds like these people want a lifetime home without the responsibilities that come with home ownership.


9 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 1, 2019 at 11:24 am

rsmithjr is a registered user.

@Summer,

I suspect that people think that a decent home is a human right.

I can sympathize with this but I don't understand how to make it work.

The current approach in Palo Alto appears to be to demonize the folks that have invested in residential housing. The Jisser family at Buena Vista and AJ Capital at the President Hotel for example. Uniquely, these property owners are singled out to subsidize housing for renters.

If the government wants to provide subsidized housing, then let's see tax dollars used for this purpose. Our city leaders don't seem to want to invest in residential housing.


14 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 1, 2019 at 12:05 pm

If the City wants to preserve housing as a public benefit, then it should use its funds to purchase the property and dedicate it for such a public purpose, rather than penalizing individual private property owners and forcing them to fulfill the City's public policy goals, which it seems unwilling to pay for.


30 people like this
Posted by more corruption
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 1, 2019 at 12:31 pm

Consultants to developer AJ Capital include
Steve Emslie, ex Deputy City Manager and ex Planning Director, and
Richard Hackman, was an assistant to the City Manager, (Keene).

No coincidences, Mr. Keene supported developers, not the city.


2 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 2, 2019 at 12:07 pm

Would you youthful idealists please begin to develop a sense of numbers. Like five grade math (addition, subtraction, multiplication). "Affordable housing" just doesn't work in places like Palo Alto. Take a drive by the Buena Vista trailer park boondoggle. At around 750K for a one bedroom (land valuation again), there can only be "affordable housing" for the disabled not economic refugees. Take your conspiracy theories and . . . it.

George Drysdale (remembrance of high school econ and the famed economics 101).


9 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2019 at 6:29 pm

"The current approach in Palo Alto appears to be to demonize the folks that have invested in residential housing. The Jisser family at Buena Vista and AJ Capital at the President Hotel for example."

Huh? When did AJ Capital invest in residential housing? Just last Tuesday it had an open house touting its plans for a commercial hotel.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2019 at 6:34 pm

"Would you youthful idealists please begin to develop a sense of numbers. Like five grade math (addition, subtraction, multiplication). .... At around 750K for a one bedroom (land valuation again), there can only be "affordable housing" for the disabled not economic refugees."

There's a number in there all right, but zero math and gobs of unsupported opinion.


7 people like this
Posted by Not a Fan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2019 at 9:34 am

Wow, Weekly, you are really addressing the difficult issues. Way to take a stand. Wimps.


4 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 4, 2019 at 9:38 am

The necessity of social studies teachers. Curmudgeon: You were doing so well in class up until now. 750K for a new one bedroom in Palo Alto. It's the last unit of development that determines the replacement price. In Los Angeles the last price is 750k for a new unit of apartments. Palo Alto is probably now even more. A winner of the "affordable housing" lottery gets a better newer apartment than most of the market rate renters. Keep those board of supervisors out of Silicon Valley. Stanford just gave up in disgust.

George Drysdale initiator and educator


7 people like this
Posted by more corruption
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 5, 2019 at 4:37 pm

Drysdale writes, "Stanford just gave up in disgust."

Disgust is a human emotion. I see no humanity in Stanford's unending acquisitions, only greed and aggression.
Have you seen the list of what they own? More than Apple, Google and Facebook COMBINED.


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