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Cover Story

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2012–13 SEASON

City Council (continued from page 24)

on the former site of Rickey’s Hyatt on El Camino Real and Charleston Road. The dense development has become a poster child for land-use watchdogs and residents decrying the recent trend toward massive and dense buildings. “The community provided all the community amenities, and the value went to the developers, leaving the residents with increased demands on roads, water, sewer, and the experience of increased traffic,” Gray wrote. Weiss also railed against developers having too much interest. But Schmid chose none of the three options, stating instead that the council “gives way too little time to long-term planning that can help define how a mature and sophisticated community can continue to grow.” The term “Palo Alto Process” may be a pejorative in local development circles, but Schmid says he’s all for slowing things down and hashing out a community vision before proceeding with negotiations on major new projects. “I’m in favor of process, and I think the council and staff have the obligation to set the tone for the discussion, Schmid said.


he new era of civility and growth reflects both the composition of the current council and the economic and demographic changes Palo Alto has undergone in recent years. The political spectrum had narrowed by the end of the 1970s and, according to Winslow, political slates disappeared from elections in 1981, when “most of the council members agreed on major planning and zoning issues.” “Many goals of the early residentialists had been met, including a limit on industrial and residential growth, protection of the Baylands

Jeffrey Siegel 10/4

Courtesy of the City of Palo Alto

“How To” Series

The most recent Palo Alto development proposal to come before the City Council is also one of the largest in city history: a four-tower office complex with a theater. and foothills and extension of city government into social services,” Winslow’s book states. Following years of complaints over developments by neighbors, a sort of moderate “residentialism” has set in on the council. Council members routinely spend hours fine-tuning proposed developments and delving into anticipated traffic problems and parking requirements. Burt, a former planning commissioner who frequently leads the late-night design sessions, said expectations have changed for plannedcommunity projects. In the late 1980s and 1990s, he said, the city had a big wave of such proposals getting approved with only “nominal public benefits.” These days, developers are expected to provide more if they wish to exceed zoning regulations, he said. “The projects we have now are expected to have very significant public benefits if they’re to go forward,” Burt said in a recent interview. Still, council members’ votes do show a leaning toward growth and economic development. Fazzino suspects the city’s financial picture is driving this trend. With the city’s revenues plummeting in 2008 as a result of the Great Recession and pension

Pamela Rose 10/11

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and health care costs rapidly rising, the council has been scrambling to find ways to maintain city services and fund needed infrastructure projects, including a new public-safety building. “There’s such concern about the city’s fiscal situation and the need to promote economic growth — keep social media and other new companies here — I think that has driven a large part of what the council has done in terms of supporting these projects,” Fazzino said. Development approved today looks different than it did in the 1960s, however. In a nod to residents’ desires, the council has been limiting new buildings to areas near transit sites (mostly near University and California avenues), away from the residential neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes. And some of the council’s positions — including its heated and unanimous opposition to California’s high-speed-rail project and its dispute with the Association of Bay Area Governments over the number of new homes the regional group expects the city to accommodate — probably wouldn’t have been as popular among the 1960s group. But whichever way they tilt on a given issue, current council members tend to tilt together, much like the 1960s establishment. Fazzino said there is “less of a gulf” on the council now and that the political spectrum is “more concentrated” than it was even 10 years ago. “The folks on this council are pretty close to each other,” he said. The united development front hasn’t gone unopposed by the city’s lingering residentialists, though. Neighbors of new developments still speak out, often decrying proposed buildings’ size, density and potential parking problems. More broadly, Bob Moss, a veteran land-use watchdog, led a successful grassroots drive in 2009 to force private developments to have wider private streets — a proposal spurred by the approval of the Alma Plaza redevelopment, which includes 52 homes and a grocery store. After Moss gathered more than 2,000 signatures for his effort, the council agreed in July 2009 to adopt the private-streets ordinance outright rather than sending it to the voters. Concerns from Downtown North residents this year about the parking problems that could arise from the proposed Lytton Gateway development at Alma Street and Lytton Avenue prompted the council to add a (continued on page 29)

Palo Alto Weekly 09.28.2012 - Section 1  

Section 1 of the September 28, 2012 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly

Palo Alto Weekly 09.28.2012 - Section 1  

Section 1 of the September 28, 2012 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly