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Palo Alto prepares to approve conversion of President Hotel

Original post made on Jun 12, 2020

A plan to convert the iconic President Hotel building from residences to a boutique hotel could be approved this month, despite the city's prior finding that the project violated numerous zoning laws.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, June 12, 2020, 9:56 AM

Comments (46)

28 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2020 at 10:34 am

I don't understand the reason why there needs to be hotel space IN DOWNTOWN PALO ALTO?

Downtown is a great place for people who want to be able to walk places in their lives - that is not a necessity for Palo Alto visitors, who their reasons for being here most likely have nothing to do with anything in downtown Palo Alto.

Put hotels within rapid reach of downtown - but reserve the limited space in downtown for Palo Alto residents. I mean you don't have to be a civil engineer or a genius to understand this. If someone needs to come to Palo Alto they will book a room in hotel somewhere. Do we need to offer visitors the incentive of being located in downtown or they will go elsewhere? I don't think so.

If we put visitors in this hotel it will generate a lot more traffic as well.

This is just a bad idea.


30 people like this
Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 12, 2020 at 10:46 am

What a major (mistaken) flip-flop! The President Hotel was and still could be a great location of lower-cost housing in a place that needs no cars. What suddenly got into the Planning Dept.?


24 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 10:50 am

I HAVE QUESTIONS.

I would like to see the City Attorney's legal opinion on this. What examples have the lawyers for our side (not for AJ Capital) found where landlords have invoked the Ellis Act to convert an apartment building to commercial use? Have OUR attorneys found any example of a landlord using the Ellis Act to force a municipality to change the zoning of their building? I would like to understand what provision of the Ellis Act allows commercial developers to change an apartment building to a commercial building. Is it near the provision that says that Ellis Act evictions can be granted only after other permits are received?

I wonder, if the Ellis Act allows investors to buy apartment buildings and convert them to commercial buildings, why don't we hear about that? Why do all the publicized Ellis Act cases -- cases which tenants usually win -- involve cases where landlords seek to convert apartment buildings to TICs, condominiums, and mansions? If the Ellis Act allowed commercial developers to buy residential property and convert them to hotels or office space, would we have any residential buildings?

If Ed Shikada and the City Council grant this conversion, will they allow every other apartment building to convert to commercial space? What is the difference between the Hotel President converting to commercial use, and all other privately-owned multi-use buildings converting to office use? Will our city government continue to let out of state investors to buy our apartment buildings, evict the residents, and turn the buildings into commercial buildings?

At least HALF of Palo Altans rent (including me!). Do we all now need to fear eviction because our landlords want to turn the homes we rent into hotels? How about those of us who live in RH-1 lots? Is the city government allowing our residential neighborhoods to become a sea of AirBnBs and bed and breakfasts?

And Ed Shikada is allowing this because he is afraid of lawsuits? Isn't he afraid of the massive lawsuits that the conversion of Hotel President from residential to commercial may spur? Clearly it is AJ Capital's lawyer's who have his ear. Has the City talked to any lawyers who do not represent commercial developers for a living?

Is it the official, legal opinion of the City of Palo Alto that from now on it, all residential use buildings may be converted to commercial use under the Ellis Act?

How about this question: WHY is fear of litigation so important to our City Manager and City Council? If a different group of wealthy out-of-towners threatened to sue the city if you did not allow them to set up a bratwurst stand outside every local restaurant, would you issue an ordinance changing zoning to enable bratwurst stands to avoid a lawsuit? If right-wing extremists threatened to sue you for offering information about birth control and abortion in local libraries and schools, would you agree to pull that information to avoid a lawsuit?

If my dog threatened to sue you for more outdoor off leash space, will you open up the parks for dogs?

Here is the deal, Mr. Shikada: all sorts of self-interested people threaten meritless lawsuits every single day in every single place in our country. There is a process to have these meritless lawsuits dismissed, and another process to have the parties who file a meritless lawsuit pay for all costs of the party they sued. Sometimes they even have to pay penalties or larger damages on top of those fees.

All I can say is that if Palo Alto City government now believes that the fear of potentially being sued is a bigger risk than the potential harm of opening the door to allow the eviction of Palo Alto residential tenants, who comprise at least half of our residents -- and bigger than the actual harm that would be caused to the University Avenue neighborhood by the addition of yet one more, wholly unnecessary, traffic-producing, business-serving, polluting, resident-harming overpriced hotel -- then once again I urge the City Manager and the City Council to think hard about their priorities.... and also think about the quality of legal advice they are receiving, as well.

Residents in Palo Alto should not have to fight these insane battles so often. We deserve a City government that works for US.


26 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2020 at 11:04 am

Murky Math.....

Here is my challenge to Mayor and City Manager. The developer apparently has cut a deal with a senior care facility at 330 Everett to use their onsite parking. OK? or maybe not OK!

1. Does the senior care facility have excess parking capacity to "sell/lease" to private organizations such AJ Capital and Epiphany Hotel? If so, what are the long-term provisions to assure parking, presumably valet, for guests? A vague promise to lease parking space for unknown terms is not a solution. This is old Palo Alto Council and Staff kicking the can down the road. Possibly bad city policy and administration. When will we ever learn?
2. Where will the hotel employees, executives and guest park? Aren't they ineligible for city garage parking due to archaic, unpublished allocation rules out of public view?
3. Is the valet parking agreement with Epiphany Hotel still valid and in play?
4. The onsite parking at the senior care facility was required by the city and intended for guests and employees. Is the 330 Everett senior care facility "selling off" its required parking capacity to two private hotels and obtaining non-resident permits for employees? This is not a good neighbor situation.
5. Palo Alto residents now have a professionally staffed Office of Transportation. Their analysis is vital to understanding impact. Promises from only a Chicago developer and Jonathan Lait would be subpar.


17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 12, 2020 at 11:17 am

@NeilsonBuchanan, your questions are way too practical and reality-based. All our "alternative transportation" advocates will sing that old "No cars needed; we're a car-light world" song they've sung for years when approving the Epiphany Hotel and all the others from which they want the tax revenues. Everyone commutes by broomstick in this best of all possible worlds.


10 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 11:19 am

I forgot to mention the "Takings" issue. Takings refers to a clause in the 5th amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the government from taking private property away from an owner without providing compensation. (Note: takings does allow for property to be taken for public purpose -- it just needs to be compensated!) Usually takings happen when the government wants to demolish a home to make way for a railroad track, school, or other public use. 200 years of established law make it clear that Takings do not include: taxation, use restrictions, and amongst numerous other things, zoning. Additionally, the Takings clause does not empower a private party to demand a right that it does not have.

Commercial developers often spend millions, even billions, of dollars on expensive lawyers who make a living writing scary-looking (to some) documents that state with perceived authority their interpretations of the law. These lawyers usually insist that the law is "complicated." They draft their long memos using unnecessarily legalistic language in order to scare people away from challenging them. But the truth is that the law mostly is SIMPLE, not complicated.

Here is a summary of the law, in general: if an action harms the public, it's likely to be illegal. If the interpretation of a law seems to go against that law's general purpose, that interpretation is likely to be incorrect. To understand the law, asking these questions often gets you there: whom was this law enacted to protect? Does this interpretation further that protection?

Was the 5th Amendment of the Constitution enacted to create a means for real estate investors to escape community zoning ordinances? Does using the constitution as a tool for developers to have "freedom to build anything" protect our rights?

So. Many. Questions.


17 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 11:26 am

(The answer is No. It's insane to assume that the Takings clause can be used in this way. AJ Capital's lawyers are barely trying. I wonder if the word is out that it takes very little to bully our local government into submission. Why does our leadership constantly cave to bullies!?)


16 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2020 at 12:36 pm

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> I wonder if the word is out that it takes very little to bully our local government into submission. Why does our leadership constantly cave to bullies!?

I think you are on the wrong track here. That is, you appear to be assuming that the former city manager who got us into this mess must have cared about affordable housing. There is no evidence for that. There is no evidence that the city was bullied into doing this. I think the city was perfectly happy with what the developer proposed. City Hall has become a development bureaucratic machine that we can't seem to turn off, no matter how much congestion we residents suffer, no matter how difficult it is for us residents to park. No need to go looking for a more palatable rationalization.


9 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 12, 2020 at 12:50 pm

This approach makes a lot of sense. Reasons for supporting it include:

1. Provides a useful purpose for the building, which is currently empty and a liability to everyone.
2. Pays for the renovation and updating of the building, which is suffering from decades of deferred maintenance.
3. Increases the hotel space in the downtown area which is highly desired by travelers these days.
4. Pays city taxes including the transit tax, which is very high.
5. Resolves a problem for the city at a time when the city's plate is very full with other things.

There is an opinion that the Hotel President should be an apartment building, as it was since the late sixties. Where exactly is the money going to come from to make this possible? Many people seem to write about this as though all we have to do is pass a law making it an apartment building and it will just happen.

I am not seeing any practical alternatives to allowing AJ Capital to proceed with their plan for a hotel. I understand that the city can hold this up, perhaps for decades, but what does that accomplish? We are likely to end up with a decaying eyesore on our main street, or perhaps a replacement building.

Let's be reasonable about this.



21 people like this
Posted by eyeswideopen
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 12, 2020 at 1:09 pm

Shame on our elected officials. Let's vote them OUT!
Once again they disappoint. Once again they bend the rules for special interests. Once again they are immoral.


3 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 12, 2020 at 1:22 pm

There is an important underlying issue here: how do we encourage rental housing, especially low and medium income?

Some people approach this by trying to hang on to any residential housing through government intervention and public protests. This may in some cases work, in others not, but in the long term, it reduces housing.

We can argue about constitutional rights, the Ellis law, etc.,but these arguments miss the underlying economic issues. Economists have studied the effects of rent control and renters rights legislation. In most cases, the overwhelming conclusion is that these kinds of legislation work to bring about less housing of the sort that one would want.

Take a look at construction in Palo Alto. Lots of office buildings, very few new housing. Excluding the efforts of non-profits, we have pretty much nothing being built.

We have made this city very unattractive for those who would invest in rental housing.


9 people like this
Posted by Paul Brophy
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 12, 2020 at 2:45 pm

As someone who worked in commercial real estate development, I'm sympathetic to the situation in which the applicant has found themselves. Prior to closing on the purchase of the President Hotel, they reached out to the previous city manager and the current development administrator, and were told that the city was supportive of removing 75 moderate (by Palo Alto standards) rent dwelling units in an aging structure and converting the building into a luxury boutique hotel. After closing on the deal, they then learned that the community at large had very different views about the desirability of losing affordable housing units in a city where jobs far outnumber the residential labor force.

Undeterred by the opposition to the destruction of housing stock, the city manager has now recommended that the conversion to a hotel be permitted, and indeed, practically required by legislative and constitutional requirements. The Development Administrator assures us that not allowing housing there will not adversely affect our obligations under state law because those units had never been previously counted (why not?).

The city has already indicated that any redevelopment of the Fry's site for the multifamily use it's been zoned for and included in the housing element for twenty years can only occur under conditions that has made that owner conclude an existing seventy year old industrial building is worth more than building apartments. We talk the talk but always find a reason why adding more than a trivial number of new dwelling units in a city that has the highest jobs/labor force ratio in the Bay Area is never quite right for any given location.

Rather than adding yet more jobs, let's restore housing units at the President that the city so carelessly encouraged to be destroyed. The new units will no longer be moderate price, because the cost of renovation will not allow any developer to accomplish that. Instead of offering concessions on parking requirements for the hotel, something not required by the Ellis Act, the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment, or the Magna Carta, let the applicant know that before he contemplates litigation that no optional opt outs will be considered when the request to convert to a hotel is denied.

At the same time, we should go out of our way to make a residential renovation workable here. No parking required of the developer, although the city may wish to provide preferential treatment for the new residents. No requirement for affordable units, since those cost the developer hundreds of thousands of dollars for each one provided. And perhaps a discount on building fees, in recognition of the benefits provided in restoring a historically significant building.

Anyone who reads the letters regarding land use issues here knows that a significant number of residents prefer to see as little housing built as possible in Palo Alto and Stanford without regard to location and design. This argument usually takes the form of "only low cost housing" please, because we're just so darn progressive here. With affordable housing units costing $500K-$1 MM per unit in subsidies, this guarantees that the total number of all units built will be counted in the dozens at best. If the staff, the City Council, and the community at large continue to discourage housing built in significant amounts, do not be surprised if legislators from outlying areas that face the burden of providing housing for wealthy, job rich areas pass laws that cram down housing here without regard to our tender feelings.





28 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2020 at 2:53 pm

Actions speak louder than words. Mayor Adrian Fine is not about residents or tenants or people in rentals or needing affordable housing. Mayor Adrian Fine is about developers.

Between Ed Shakida, Mayor Adrian Fine & Liz Kniss, seems our beautiful and wonderful city is going to hell in a hand basket faster than we all realize with these 3 in control.


31 people like this
Posted by RICO
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2020 at 3:56 pm

Los Altos just got hit last week with a lawsuit alleging RICO Conspiracy of City agents and agencies ("State Actors") and private parties in violations of the Municipal Code, State and Federal laws.

Palo Altans concerned about AJ Capital, City of Palo Alto actors (whether current and/or former that worked in concert with AJ) would want to take a look at the Los Altos lawsuit. In Palo Alto, former City agents served as AJ's cat's paw from the onset of the conspiracy, including meeting with their former colleagues that were still representing Palo Alto. How much more egregious can this get?

[As an aside: it would be good for the Palo Alto Weekly to report on the Los Altos lawsuits as it'd serve to educate Palo Altans on their own exposure to such shenanigans and bring about accountability of public servants.]


4 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jun 12, 2020 at 4:20 pm

Apparently, Rebecca does not understand the Ellis Act, zoning, economics, and law.

All the qualities that make Le he unqualified for City Council.


1 person likes this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 12, 2020 at 5:13 pm

@Paul Brophy,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

You say: "... let's restore housing units at the President ... .". Can you explain this to me? In particular, who is supposed to perform this restoration and pay for it (including ongoing maintenance and rent subsidization).

I am asking because I hear people saying this kind of thing as though it were obvious whose responsibility it is.

Thanks.


24 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 12, 2020 at 5:21 pm

> "is consistent with the historic use of the property, which operated as a hotel from 1930 to 1968."

So the 39 years of 1930-1968 are "historic" and the 51 years of 1969-2019 don't qualify as history.
Classic cherry-picking by staff.


17 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2020 at 5:23 pm

The Ellis Act does not help the developer here. It allows landlords to convert rentals to other uses, but only if the other uses are permitted by the existing zoning regulations. Here, the proposed hotel does not comply with at least the parking requirements and the floor-to area ratio requirements. It has also lost any grandfather rights because it has been vacant for a year. Unfair to invoke this one-year rule, you say? No, the developers did not have to evict everyone when they did. Bottom line -- they have no right to convert to a hotel. The city should not allow it. They can do condos or whatever -- not ideal compared to prior low-income use, but better than a hotel.


15 people like this
Posted by Sameoldthing
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 7:06 pm

I am not sure why the city manager has changed position on this. There is no takings. In San Remo Hotel v. City and County of San Francisco, 27 Cal. 4th 643, decided by the California Supreme Court, the developer tried the same argument and lost. As stated above, Ellis Act is not implicated at all. The purpose of the Ellis Act is to do the opposite–preserve the housing stock on the market.


17 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 7:12 pm

I can't respond to attacks on my education and understanding of the relevant law and financial context. I refer you to my resume and the employers who entrusted me with those responsibilities at their companies. Anyone can speak to early PayPal or Trulia employees about my contributions -- a bunch of my former employees live here.

I just want to address the point made by one of the "Anons" who is emphasizing the detrimental argument being made by AJ Capital. I did not mention it because I did not think that anyone was taking it seriously, and because I thought that on its face, it would be disregarded.

The "detrimental reliance" argument being made here by AJ Capital is their claim that they never would have bought the Hotel President if not for an oral promise made by someone speaking on behalf of the City of Palo Alto that AJ would be able to convert it to hotel use. As far as I am aware, no such argument ever has succeeded in this context.

AJ Capital, a company with how much? a billion dollars or more? of commercial real estate in its portfolio is well aware of the way that real estate acquisitions work. Real estate investment firms and developers know that converting the use of a building takes a lot more than a promise made by an elected official. Use conversion is a long process that requires that many requirements are met, and a variety of permissions given. If you were to ask any investment professional whether they would rely on such a promise in purchasing a building, they would say of course not. (And yes, I have reviewed dozens of such potential investments on behalf of individual limited partners in real estate investment funds, and also companies in their purchase or design/build/renovation of buildings, so I speak from personal experience.)

In fact, this "detrimental reliance" argument is rarely (if ever) seen because anyone who attended law school even for one semester learns that there is literally only *one* kind of contract that must be in writing: contracts regarding real estate. This single rule comprises the centuries-old legal concept known as the "statute of frauds." Real estate contracts must be in writing. It's just not believable that developers who manage a billion dollars of real estate would not know this. And if they don't know this, do we really want them building in Palo Alto?

I hope that helps explain the legal basis of the third legal argument cited by this publication on behalf of AJ Capital.

I wonder, is a lawyer who works for the City of Palo going to chime in? We have heard a lot of AJ Capital's perspectives. It is AJ Capital's lawyers' job to frame the law to their benefit. But we are supposed to have our own lawyers who point out the other interpretation. If there were not multiple interpretations of every legal situation, the legal profession would not exist. I hope that we hear the City Attorney's point of view before the City Council decides. At very least, don't we deserve that?


4 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 7:13 pm

"former employees" is supposed to be "former colleagues!" sorry for the typo. Lots of early employees of Trulia and PayPal here (and Flip Video and Reddit) is what I was trying to say.


21 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 12, 2020 at 11:52 pm

What a surprise! A developer get its way!
Simple explanation:
Someone or more than someone got bought off


5 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2020 at 2:40 am

Thank you, Paul Brophy, for your comments above, which are worth a second or third read (or more). I wish you were on the Planning Commission. Norman Beamer too. We have such depth of knowledge, skill, and experience in this community. It shocks me that we have to spin wheels on this Hotel President situation. We have more than capacity to address these scenarios swiftly and dispose of them without wasting so much taxpayer time and money. Leadership involves appointing people to commissions not because you owe them a favor, or because they will vote the way you seek, but because they know what they are doing. That is not too much to ask.


5 people like this
Posted by Same old same old
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 13, 2020 at 6:54 am

This is at its heart yet another snafu we may lay at the feet of Jonathan Lait. At this point, city council is in the unenviable position of having to vote for something simply because they can’t defend a lawsuit against it. Eisenberg and many others are once again suggesting their pedigree provides them with some insight here but it’s all bluster. The comments above about how “their attorneys are barely trying” seems so juvenile I can’t get over it. There is and has always been a lot at stake here for both sides. The threat of lawsuit was never hollow and the fact that our planning department is led by an individual who acts with little oversight and a poor understanding of the law has and continues to be a huge liability. It’s easy to criticize the council (especially from the relative safety of a currently unelected individual’s campaign effort) but at this point I assume the city attorney has provided some unbiased advice regarding the strength of the city’s position and based off of that advice the city council will have to make a tough decision.

Paul Brophy, you may want to take a listen to the planning commission meeting this week. Alcheck went on and on and said everything you said albeit more stridently. He even called the effort to raise the affordable housing minimum requirement (currently 15% of new developments) a disingenuous campaign stunt if done without creating greater flexibility in our residential zoning. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit I totally agree with him (for once).


19 people like this
Posted by NextSteps
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2020 at 8:03 am

I read up on the Federal Court lawsuits filed vs Los Altos referred earlier in these comments.
While there are several things that don't matter to the Hotel President/AJ Capital issue here's what I learned that can help us.

AJ Capital's "consultants" were none other than former City of Palo Alto employees.
These consultants represented AJ Capital's interests in the meetings with current City of Palo Alto employees in discussions of AJ's proposal and consideration of that proposal to turn the building into a hotel.
At the time they met all parties knew the Code prohibited Change in Use of a "grandfathered" structure. [Btw, "grandfathered" is not a term found in any Code book; it simply means a structure that was legal and permitted and was conforming in use and setbacks when built but has become nonconforming since.]
We don't know what transpired in those meetings...but AJ Capital apparently was reassured the City of Palo Alto would NOT object or pose any problems to their plans to Change in Use the building if they bought it.
Relying on those (unlawful) assurances they bought the building and proceeded to apply for the Change in Use.
A resident objected. The public got informed. Agents of the City reassured the public the Code indeed prohibits such Change in Use. AJ threatened litigation. The City fears exposure of its employees involved in this matter. Now the City backpedaled says the Code allows the very Change in Use they said earlier was prohibited.

Essentially: a conspiracy was hatched by those involved (AJ Capital, former and current employees of the City of Palo Alto). Such conspiracy violated the existing laws and for that they need to be brought to account.

The Los Altos case illustrates a similar pattern in that city. Agents and agencies of that City partnered with private parties to grant permits in violation of the Code. In Los Altos their actions were part of a pattern of racism, discrimination, retaliation and such benefiting white homeowners at the cost of minority homeowners. In Palo Alto, we don't yet know what exchanged for the conspiracy to be hatched and executed.

Gennady, I'd recommend you read up on the Los Altos suits, talk to the attorneys, and report on it as it has significant relevance and bearing to the Hotel President matter in Los Altos.


25 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 13, 2020 at 9:22 am

Norm Beamer and Rebecca Eisenberg and so many others have stated the plain facts.
Our city managers,attorneys and senior planners have lied several different ways regarding this issue, clearly grasping fir whatever weak straw they can sling the way Toby themselves some time.
The real damage, displacement of 75 households, destroying a community cannot be undone.

Please admit your mistake uphold the law now even though you did not in the past and thank the taxpayers of this community every day that you still have a job.

Do the right thing now


3 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2020 at 11:20 am

I don't mind having another hotel in downtown Palo Alto.

The battle for this location (and the idiotic purchase of a mobile home park) is the unintended consequence of preservationist-minded folks who have made it extremely expensive to build on the peninsula (and Palo Alto specifically).

If you really cared about low-income housing and want to encourage it, then don't make it so hard and expensive to build it. I really wonder how many people voicing disapproval of what this developer wants here also voted against the Maybell project? Or are aching for a park and community center on the Frys location instead of housing, using a dumb historical assessment of a canning factory as a reason?

(and don't get me started on low income housing requirements - the unintended consequence for that is the hollowing out of the middle class. BMR units as a public policy tool is stupid - just look at how SF has so few children there. Families can't afford to own/rent there anymore).

Maybe it's Residentialist-guilt that is driving all this noise around the hotel conversation.

Look in the mirror folks. It's your mindset that has driven away the diverse community that people claim that Palo Alto had a long time ago.


2 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 13, 2020 at 9:13 pm

Cash the checks, count the votes and move on.


17 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2020 at 12:36 am

I mind letting another big corporation evade parking requirements once again. The ordinance allowing developers to not meet code requirements for parking by paying in-lieu fees should be reversed. In fact, I thought it had been. One simple fix for our current underparked downtown, is enforce existing zoning. No exceptions. And allowing a developer to rent someone else's parking, thus making the other party out of compliance with parking requirements should not be allowed.


17 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 14, 2020 at 8:24 am

Staff is recommending approval of this developer's request? Really? Here? Of course they are! James Keene teed this up in 2018. No one should be surprised.


25 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2020 at 9:07 am

We all know who is in developer's pockets. Their votes and motions have clearly shown that LIz Kniss and Mayor Adrian Fine have always been in the pockets of developers and rarely ever made motions (if any) to support the community, families, youths and children in this city.

Actions speak louder than words. It makes sense all this is happening in the midst of a pandemic. It makes sense a 10 day curfew protecting Stanford Mall at the inconvenience of all Palo Altans was allowed and supported by Mayor Adrian Fine and last week, vocally and vociferously supported by Liz Kniss saying she felt safe.

Follow the money trail folks. Who received deep money from developers at their last campaign elections.

Should we expect LIz Kniss to run for council again after time passes?
You would think in a city with only 66,000+ residents, there would be more transparency and honesty, but last election campaign donations speak of how Liz Kniss and Adrian Fine made their motions and voted.

Actions speak louder than words. Who represented our families, children, teenagers and elderly residents with their motions? Who represented businesses and developers?

Watch the next few city council meetings and you can easily figure out who stands behind the community and who stands behind businesses and developers. Who cares about the welfare of it's residents and who doesn't frankly give a damn.

Web Link

Web Link


20 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 14, 2020 at 9:08 am

Annette, of course no one should be surprised but we can remain angry and remember the next time someone tosses around the fairy tales about "car light" and the need for affordable housing when we vote.


4 people like this
Posted by Douglas
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2020 at 10:23 am

Why is this even a story? Don’t we have bigger problems to worry about than a developer bringing back a vacant and dilapidated historic hotel to its original intended use? Our city is in awful economic standing, let’s take the tax dollars generated here and focus on the hundreds of other problems we need to deal with, rather than keep digging a economic hole by fighting a lawsuit we will never win.


20 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 14, 2020 at 10:32 am

No. 75 long-time contributing members of the community were kicked out of their homes in a sweetheart deal that creates more traffic problems for downtown while our hypocritical politicians preach "car light" fairy tales and "housing" while allowing the destruction of housing.

The building is a beautiful Birge Clarke building and the photos of the apartments and lobby that are about to be gutted were beautiful.


17 people like this
Posted by NextSteps
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 14, 2020 at 11:14 am

Here's what Palo Altans concerned about L'affaire AJ Capital/Hotel President can do.

File PRA requests to demand the City produce any and all documents concerning AJ Capital, Hotel President, etc.
Demand the City hold off on any decisions concerning AJ Capital/Hotel President until those documents are produced and allowing for time for analysis of such documents. Simply put you want the City to comply with COMPLETE TRANSPARENCY and to disclose any and all conflicts of interest in the parties that met/discussed/handled AJ's application, before and after their purchase of Hotel President.
Get legal representation to place an injunction any change in status quo re Hotel President.
You may need to sue AJ and the City to get through discovery all relevant documents from them as well.

In 2014-2015 Los Altos City (staff and Council members) engaged in hanky panky re the sale of City owned property. A resident filed PRA requests to get the relevant documents. The City's attorney and staff stonewalled the request until AFTER the deal was consummated. The resident hired legal counsel to sue the city for its failure to produce the requested documents per the Public Records Act. The City, AFTER the deal was closed, "settled" for its failure to produce those documents. However, the deal had already closed (thus serving the interests of City staff and private parties), the City attorney served to protect the conspirators, and that was that.
The good news: a few months later the same City staff got caught with a memo that was clearly fraudulent. The City Manager, Asst Manager, and City attorney were all fired.
[The new "team" that came in are now defendants in the lawsuits referred above.]

Palo Alto should not be surprised any if their City Hall/Council/Attorney engage in similar stonewalling/cover up...


20 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2020 at 11:33 am

Palo Altans need to remember how LIz Kniss conducted herself in the last election and the lack of transparency her campaign had with donors from developers.

If Liz Kniss returns, we need remember how she operates. She doesn't stand for the community best interests. Her interest is with her donors and with the developers and businesses.

Web Link

From our own Palo Alto Online Weekly, we can see how Kniss tries to obfuscate the facts, and when confronted with the facts, she says something else.

"Kniss's campaign didn't disclose developers' October contributions until after election: Weeks before Election Day, incumbent Palo Alto City Council candidate Liz Kniss pivoted from her campaign's earlier policy when she decided to accept cash from more than a dozen builders, developers and property managers contributions that weren't disclosed until earlier this month........The late contributions totaled $19,340, and the list of developers and property managers includes among others Charles Keenan, Jim Baer, Premier Properties and employees of Keenan Land Company.

The California Association of Realtors indicated in its own filing that it made a $2,500 contribution on Oct. 18. It's unclear whether the other donations of more than $1,000 from the Thoits Brothers, Hatco Associates LLC (which is affiliated with Thoits), Palo Alto Improvement Company (also affiliated with Thoits) and Joseph Martignetti Jr. were sent in before Election Day.........Kniss last week also initially said that she had decided to accept developers' checks ......... After the Weekly told her that several developers had indicated that they had given her money before the election, she said she didn't know when the checks were issued.

Besides raising the question of when contributions were received, the January filing didn't disclose the occupation of any of the developers who had contributed to the campaign. For all but three contributions reportedly received on Nov. 18 or later, the contributor's occupation is listed as "unknown." (Baer, who is one of the exceptions, is listed on the form as a "VC Consultant")."

Watch how Kniss votes in the upcoming city council meetings. See if Liz Kniss or Mayor Adrian fine vote in favor of businesses and developers or whether they vote for the community desires of community programs, services and actions that service youth, children, families, seniors and all the residents of Palo Alto.

Follow the money and you'll see where their votes and motions go towards.


22 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2020 at 11:45 am

To Sameoldthing: You said "I am not sure why the city manager has changed position on this."

Ed Shakida, City Manager, has made it abundantly clear his interest lies in protecting the businesses and developers, not the residents of this city. Remember the last fiasco of Ed Shakida's 8:30pm curfew that was meant to last 10 days? Shakida justified his curfew as protecting businesses (in particular Stanford Mall with 100-200 cars circling it - did we ever get a confirmation on this alleged report of potential threat against Stanford Mall?).

So to protect Stanford Mall, Shakida stepped on our CIVIL LIBERTIES and instituted a 10 day curfew to protect ONE business (Stanford Mall).

He put a population of over 66,000 Palo Alto RESIDENTS in lockdown to protect Stanford Mall. Are we surprised by his pivot? We shouldn't be. Shakida's actions historically has put businesses over the interest of residents.

Think back to who supported Shakida? Mayor Adrian Fine supported Shakida on his curfew to protect Stanford Mall business, even at the risk of affecting our civil liberties. Did Adrian Fine accept money from developers in his last election? Yes he did.

Who backed Adrian Fine in his decision to support Shakida in his curfew?
Liz Kniss. Is Liz Kniss in developer's pockets and tried to hide her campaign donations from developers? Yes she did.

Follow the money. Don't be surprised.


13 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 14, 2020 at 12:32 pm

It would be good to know which of the staff making this recommendation were hired by or supervised by Steve Emslie, the former PA planning director, who was lobbying for the conversion on behalf of AJ Capital. I am still left wondering how former city staff are allowed to have anything to do with city matters they formerly dealt with (e.g. development matters) when employed by the city. As seen in the secret negotiations that PAW brilliantly reported on the President Hotel conversion would seem to be especially bad.


20 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2020 at 6:28 pm

Ellis act does permit AJ Capital to get out of the rental business; that's it; it doesn't give them the right to use the property that does not comply with zoning. For example, they could not change the building into a manufacturing plant, a hospital, or warehouse.

And the Ellis Act does not give them the ability to weasel out of the the parking requirements. The council should not allow them to pay in-lieu fees for parking.

But you can see why the City Manager & Staff are eager change the use to a Hotel: MONEY! In-lieu parking $8 million, development/permit fees anoother $1 million, Hotel Tax . increased property taxes based on the construction, etc.

City Council should tell them to stick to the zoning requirements, and tell them to get the required parking.


19 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 14, 2020 at 8:14 pm

>hired by or supervised by Steve Emslie, the former PA planning director, who was
> lobbying for the conversion on behalf of AJ Capital

What I learned by reading up on the Los Altos lawsuits (referred in a couple comments above) reveal parallels in this area as well.

The lawsuits name the Los Altos Planning Director as a defendant in those lawsuits and allege he was a co-conspirator (along with those he worked with and/or supervised). Other co-conspirators include the Los Altos Building Official, City Manager, the City Attorney and their legal firm, and a private party (who benefited from the conspiracy).

The City terminated the Planning Director circa 2018 after the first (of the now two) lawsuits were filed. His successor left the City 2019. The City Attorney and firm were terminated 2019. And the wheels of justice continue to grind...

The overlap with Palo Alto (City Hall, City Council; City Attorney; private party AJ) is striking and can't be disregarded. Other details in the Los Altos lawsuits (racism, unequal treatment etc) may not apply for Palo Alto. The allegations of conspiracy between State actors and private parties appears to be very relevant.


28 people like this
Posted by eyeswideopen
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 14, 2020 at 9:06 pm

Yes, follow the money. Kniss is all about $$$$.


8 people like this
Posted by Socialist Misfit in Palto Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:50 pm

Greedy bastards all round. Capitalism at work. Palo Alto is one of the epicenters to observe this. How fascinating.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2020 at 12:07 pm

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown

>> But you can see why the City Manager & Staff are eager change the use to a Hotel: MONEY! In-lieu parking $8 million, development/permit fees anoother $1 million, Hotel Tax . increased property taxes based on the construction, etc.

Someone who really understands these things should lay it all out for us residents. I have a feeling that the property tax benefit will evaporate over time. But, seems to keep cities salivating are the hospitality taxes, which keep up with inflation.

Of course, there are costs associated with having the hotel downtown, also, so, who will be paying those costs over time?


5 people like this
Posted by Still more
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2020 at 12:32 am

Mr Shikeda needs to tell us about his former colleague who now works for AJ Capital. They both worked in City Manager Keene's office.


3 people like this
Posted by Still nore
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2020 at 7:35 pm

When the AJ shenanigans began, a message on Town Square said:

Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie now works for several developers, including *AJCapital* which is destroying the President apartments.

Also Richard Hackman from the City Manager's office works for *AJCapital.*


P.S. (misc corruption)
The head of the Palo Alto Housing Corp.recently went to work for major developer Sand Hill Corp.

The head of PA Forward owns a construction company.


2 people like this
Posted by Still more
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2020 at 4:48 pm

Web Link
New Owners of Hotel President to fight city’s determination that the building can’t become a hotel again

New owners of Hotel President to fight city’s determination
The meeting included two former Palo Alto City Hall insiders representing AJ Capital. Richard Hackmann, who works as a director for Lighthouse Public Affairs, and Steve Emslie, a partner at Lighthouse, are representing AJ Capital in talks with the city. Hackmann worked as a management analyst for the city from 2010 to 2016. Emslie was Palo Alto’splanning director until 2008, when he was made deputy city manager. He left the city in 2013.

Other clients of Lighthouse include Castilleja School, Facebook and Google.


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