Feb 092014

Dear City Council, Ms Gitelman, and Mr Keene,

Item 4 on the Feb 10 consent calendar requests $930,000 for consultant fees for the planning dept. Placing this item on a consent calendar on an evening that has one very complex agenda item is the wrong way to go about improving public trust. I notice that the amount falls just below what I believe is the $1,000,000 threshold that requires an agendized item.

Taxpayers have the right to know whether plans requiring extra city funds are in our mutual interest, and whether this money is going to be allocated for business usual (in which development is outpacing transit and parking solutions) or is for improving that situation.

In light of the city’s recent commitment to transparency, and the voter’s feelings that the pace of change is out of control, and in light of the commitments city council made at the recent retreat to prioritize:

  • Comprehensive planning and action on land use and transportation
  • The built environment, Transportation, Mobility, Parking and Livability
  • Infrastructure Strategy and Funding
  • Technology and the Connected City

I ask you produce a disclosure regarding what projects would be supported by these consultant fees and how these projects relate to the priorities, not just who the contract recipients might be. 

Thank you,

Cheryl Lilienstein

President, PASZ

Nov 052013

It’s deja vu all over again

The Maybell neighborhood’s struggle against a well-funded developer brings back memories of exactly ten years ago when many neighborhood residents worked to referend  the 800 High Street ‘planned community’ (PC).

A number of those working for the current PC  are the same people who in 2003 supported  the developer of 800 High.

Residents lost narrowly with 48.3.% of the vote, to 51.7% for the developer. The developer massively outspent the residents  as they are doing now on Measure D.

Planned Community (PC)  projects are almost always overly large, overwhelming the street, overturning the zoning laws, and often surprisingly badly designed. Why the designs are so bad is puzzling. Perhaps because the goal is simply size. Maybe greed simply overwhelms talent.

A few recollections about the approval process of 800 High Street PC.

* The developer  acquired an online copy of the draft Ordinance from the city,   revised it to suit themselves and distributed it.  Thus it looked exactly like a city document, same typeface, same format, etc.  On receipt, the Planning Manager attached a cover letter to the fake document   stamping it THIS IS NOT A CITY DOCUMENT.

* A  poll publicized by the developer that pretended to reflect public opinion actually was designed to influence it.

* The city gave the developer land under Homer Ave and under Lane 8 free of charge.

* The promise that the garage would have 63 (or 57) free spaces for the public,  (in addition to spaces for the occupants) and local businesses (including Chop Keenan) promised their employees would park there.   This was the most important Public Benefit. Where is it now?

* The web site rendering of the building misrepresented  the size of the project, making it look much smaller.

* A local businessman supporting the neighborhood project was actually a major investor (Santana).

* Public Open Space – 800 sq.ft. at the corner of Homer Ave. & 850 sq.ft. at the corner of Channing Ave. Can you find a Public Gathering Space at either location?

* City added private, internal open space in the calculation of “Open Space.”

The abuse and lack of enforcement of Public Benefits is too well known to go into here.


Some other recent PCs:

~801 Alma Street

~ 355 Alma office building – underparked and oversized

~Alma Plaza, and the unfriendly design leading to the supermarket failure;

~Edgewood Plaza, where a similar fate may befall the attractive Fresh Market,
and where a public plaza is actually going to be the outdoor seating area for a restaurant

~ 901 Alma Street

~ Cafe Riace on Sheridan Ave. and its disappeared public plaza

~ JCC on Fabian x Charleston, overwhelming Charleston Road street side

Nov 042013

PAHC has proposed senior housing on the Maybell site.  Is it good housing? I don’t think so!

The PAHC proposed building has virtually no senior-serving amenities, certainly no dining room where residents could congregate and enjoy a meal together, after all, they could be living there for a very long time.  Thus, residents will have to go off-site for everything they need. Everything!

PAHC proposes to have a limited number of parking spaces on the belief that “seniors don’t drive”. (All the seniors I know, and I’m a senior, drive.)  If, however, they really don’t drive, how will they do all the things that can’t be done on site?

City Council has required that a van service be coordinated with the residents of the adjacent Arastradero Park complex.  There is no van service now for the people in that complex and apparently they have lived quite well without one for quite some time.  Why do they have to be brought into this matter now?

Nonetheless, the proposed van service is intended to be coordinated for 68 apartments in the adjacent complex and 60 senior apartments, 128 in all. How many vans will be required? How many drivers will be required?  How often will service be provided? What happens if a senior really doesn’t drive and the van has just left?  What happens when the senior is dropped off someplace (e.g., a medical appointment) and wants to be picked up on his or her return?  How long a wait will be required?

This is getting pretty complex and has the potential to be pretty expensive. Will the low/very-low income seniors be obligated to pay for that? Or will we, the taxpayers, have to pay for that year after year after year?

In summary, there are few senior-serving amenities nearby and public transportation is sporadic at best. The location is not the best for seniors, the building itself is bare minimum housing with few amenities, and  little is being provided to help seniors get to where they need to go and back in a timely manner.  We owe our seniors more. Much more. This is one reason why I am voting Against Measure D.

Then, if D is defeated and PAHC is willing (the onus will be on PAHC to decide if they want to meet), maybe a better overall site plan can be devised in conjunction with the Barron Park/Green Acres neighbors that (a) has better senior housing (true housing, not just apartments) and (b) is consistent with the single-family character of our neighborhood.

Nov 012013

Some proponents of Measure D have accused us of  NIMBYism.

The oldest trick in the book is to give your opponent a negative label. Purely an ad hominem attack, which has nothing to do with the facts.

There’s already a low-income housing complex called Arastradero Park right next to the proposed site of the senior housing. No one in the neighborhood complains about it.

We are NOT against senior housing. We’re against rezoning for high density.

In order to get this referendum on the ballot, over 4,000 signatures were collected from all across the city. Donations to Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning have come from people of all means from all over town. Rezoning is a city-wide issue that affects us all.

Our support includes seniors into their 80’s, some of whom live in senior housing. And all of us on the leadership team AGAINST Measure D are seniors!

Maybell is a test case. It’s an example of PC zoning being used to benefit developers at the expense of long established family residential areas. The Daily Post said that if Measure D passes, “you can expect to see more ‘stack and pack’ projects popping up in residential neighborhoods.”

If the city can come in to any neighborhood and ignore the zoning rules to allow developers to build bigger and denser, then we should all be NIMBYs.

 Posted by at 9:39 am
Nov 012013

The proponents of rezoning in their desperate effort to ensure passage of measure D have been resorting to the use of misleading or disingenuous statements and refer to them as “facts”.  In a recent full page advertisement they stated that “The project will have 47 parking spaces” allocated for the 60 senior apartments.  The real facts are in the Ordinance and on page A2.0 of the Site Plan. Out of the 47 spaces, 5 are ‘reserve’ (non-existent) and 7 are designated for ‘visitors’, leaving only 35 spaces for an estimated 90-100 residents.  According to DMV, 83% of seniors over age 65 have a driver’s license, meaning most of the apartments will have residents with a car. There are no assigned parking spaces.

The residents of the adjacent Arastradero Park Apartments (owned by PAHC) also have a shortage of parking spaces and park on Maybell Avenue. With the required access ‘easement’ from the orchard to Maybell Avenue, they will lose a few more. Under the ordinance, daytime parking will not be permitted on Maybell and the few parking spaces on Clemo will have to be shared with the users of JuanaBrionesPark, forcing residents to park on the adjacent neighborhood streets. Street parking in Palo Alto being limited to 72 hours, a resident who leaves his car parked longer may end up having it towed.

In a place where a car is needed to commute to anywhere (the nearest bus service is a third of a mile away and the nearest supermarket over a mile away) this is truly a disastrous situation for both the residents of the senior housing and the neighborhood.

Vote against D.