VNA Meeting Minutes June 4, 2017
Penny Brennan Marquez
Karen Holman, our guest from the Palo Alto City Council
Becky Sanders: We welcome our guest, Karen Holman, and we wonder if you could tell us a little about yourself and what you hope to achieve on city council:
Karen Holman: I came to city government through an interest in land use and historical preservation. My skills and training as a graphic designer also aided me as I realized that urban design is really just 3-dimensional graphic design. I became very involved in SOFA , the South of Forest redevelopment planning about 20 years ago. From that experience, I learned all about city planning. The SOFA plan, after many reiterations, in the end turned out very well.
Angela Dellaporta: I am particularly interested in the redevelopment of the Fry’s site. How does one get onto the working group for planning the development of such a site?
KH: It might be the city manager who decides. It’s better if the city council decides. Volunteers would fill our an application and then be selected by a council process. There would probably be an interview.
BS: How do we stay on top of this so we don’t miss our opportunity to be part of it?
KH: Frys’ offers similar yet different opportunities. There is no funding planned by the city yet to do a coordinated area plan for the Fry’s site. The city budget is coming to the full council on June 27 and of course it has a huge impact on many issues and projects. Take a look at the budget ahead of time:
One night only is scheduled for the council to look at it, make changes, and vote. There is a back up date on the 28th.
There is a budget for Cubberley development but not for Fry’s coordinated area plan. Residents should have some input rather than allowing the developer to have all the input. CA Ave and Fry’s really need to be linked. On the Cal. Ave plan I wanted parking garage to have some retail. Someone is interested in having movies in the movie theater. I am also really interested in arts and culture. I see the Fry’s site as a non-linear, rather than the typical mixed use. I see it as an opportunity to invest in culture, arts, affordable housing. Why not dedicate a portion of the affordable housing at the Fry’s site to artists? Numerous developments around the country have done this; why not Palo Alto? Living spaces and studios in back and galleries in front. Living-studio-gallery. Also, let’s renaturalize the creek.
Quimby act requires a percentage be allocated to parkland. And teenagers want a hang out space. There’s another opportunity at Palo Alto square. A bowling alley is what kids want in recent survey. Old one left not because there was no business but because it was redeveloped. A bowling alley could be underground.
We did some things with Ca Ave to protect local businesses, but we should have limited the number of restaurants. Do we want pockets of one kind of business, or do we want a variety of uses? Do we want to plan or do we want to let the market make all the decisions? We need the market, but it shouldn’t be the full force.
What Palo Alto really needs is an economic development manager. We need someone on staff who is an expert in retail who knows how to attract retail that we need, knows how to see what we need, fill vacancies wisely, put complementary businesses near one another, create balanced, intentional business neighborhoods with the potential to thrive. Mt V, Los Altos, Menlo Park, all have this position. Someone who interacts with community, council, chamber of commerce etc.
Who else is really on board with this? The deputy city manager. Rob, who is expected to do this work on a part time basis, is a good person, but he has little experience in retail. Before him, we had someone else who was not very experienced.
BS: Are you talking about Tommy Fehrenbach? I didn’t realize that when he left there was nobody hired to replace him. That’s not good.
KH: We need someone who will look at what is missing what we have too many off, what activities could promote and sustain the retail business. Alleyways could be developed!! They are traversed often, but could be used well. We need someone to promote and facitiliate these things. We did once hold an event called Meet the Street – fashion show, very popular. All clothiers said it was a boost to their business. We need someone to hold events every year, consistently. The real boost doesn’t happen after just one event and one year. Those things would be great for all retails.
BS: What is chamber of commerce doing?
KH: They don’t do much new and they are more inwardly focused. Other cities have this position, why don’t we? The position should require 7-year minimum experience. Palo Alto does have the money to pay someone with that experience. It’s all about how we allocate it. Retail IS suffering. What can we do to support it? If we allow office space to take over, we will never get the mom and pop stores back.
Gary: I went to the meeting about ADUs Some questions were off the wall. I made copies of the brochure that Becky made and passed them out. At Mitchell Park. PA neighborhood association.
Becky: Info on granny units is on the Palo Alto Neighborhood Association website, by the way for folks who missed it.
KH: I live in R2 and I have a cottage. I’m not against ADUs. But the current decisions makes R-2 regulations more liberal than R-1s. State has said that ADUs should be allowed more liberally. I had difficulty with the changes that were suggested and then made without staff looking at it, without enough warning. City council took out rules about building that preserve neighborhood character.
Gary: The planning people seemed to be very picky about my carport! Someone’s set up a yoga studio further down the street and there’s other activity that the planning dept could shut down. Illegal day care. Code enforcement is fine if it’s important but its’ a sort of eugenics association. [He told a story about how his ducks, violated the code in the past.]
KH: The regulations are set up to protect the neighborhood character.
This Wednesday night I will be speaker at Palo alto Historical Association at Mitchell Park Community Room dinner and I would appreciate anyone who was willing to come. Would have to buy tickets $60, with proceeds going to the Historical Association. I’ll be speaking on “A Community Defined.”
BS: Recap: We want funding for Fry’s plan.
Sally Beamus told me about some property downtown. That money was supposed to go to a hangout for teens.
KH: There is money from the sale of that house The Frank Benest house.
BS: There is a Bryant Street Garage fund that is given piecemeal to kids who have good idea.
KH: The $ from the Benest house should be in a separate fund. I need to track it before this comes to council. The city should buy more property with that.
Becky: This is a good seque regarding the ATT site. Couldn’t that area also be part of the Fry’s development. Does our wish to purchase the ATT land have a ghost of a chance with the city?m Friends of Palo Alto Parks could pay for the development of it. They are supportive, but we need to support Jonathan in making the right connections.
KH We don’t know if the site is for sale, they said. So they should pursue it!!
BS: It would behoove us to craft some language reagarding all these points. Do you have people we could contact about this?
KH: I could let you know whom to contact. I want to refer back to the need for a city economic development manager who would be looking at all of these questions.
Bill (?):Could we find what other cities have required for such a position?
Becky: Is city manager opposed to hiring an Economic Development Manager?
KH: The city manager is very focused on the “true cost” of staffing, including benefits and pensions. The money that would have been spent on staffing and for an economic development manager can go to staffing costs such as pensions and benefits
Gary – Fry’s is the most important for us. We find your comments Karen very helpful.
KH – I’ve often been in the minority all 8 years I have served, but I did manage to get some things done. We do have a cap on development now.
I want to emphasize that it is critical for the residents to show up. With the Comprehensive PAN, it was the residents backlash that got the special things removed my council restored. ADUs, for instance Getting all these things funded will take residents showing up. Could get PAN to support you, even though Sheri wants to maintain PAN’s non partisan status,
BS: Yeah it’s sad that supporting residential quality of life in Palo Alto is polilitcal. Okay moving on,
there will be an emergency practice next Sunday and a BPC training August 8.
And apparently, North Ventura – other side of Fry’s Olive and Pepper. Some people on those blocks organized 30 people from 16 houses In an emergency drill. Half of the neighborhood participated, which is great. Yet no one is officially on the BPC list over there for Ventura. So we need to connect the dots there.
On May 18th, the ARB recommended the Compadres building be destroyed to have housing built as proposed. Entrances on El Camino and Curtner, and only one exit, onto Curtner. So that’s that.
BS: Gosh, there are so many budget topics coming up. We have to think about how best to express our thoughts.
KH: Regarding the budget, you must decide as a group and vet it among yourselves, and get something to council a few days ahead of the meeting. At least Wednesday ahead of the meeting. (that would be the 21st, regarding the upcoming budget meeting). Sending emails the day of less effective.
BS: Gary, went to the meeting about railway grades.
Gary: I wrote up this summary of my thoughts. (Reading) For instance it must be in the design intent at the beginning to reduce the noise pollution. There are many other design intents. Eliminate grade crossing #1. Cost #2. Reduce noise pollution #3. Other things: traffic congestion. I looked up what they do in Europe to reduce noise. Most of the noise is from the rolling noise. Newer trains have less noise (less wear, less roughness on the wheels on them) Electrification will reduce the engine noise. Removal of at grade crossings will reduce the horn noise. Here’s a link to an article that covers these subjects: http://uic.org/IMG/pdf/railway_noise_in_europe_2016_final.pdf
There are multipe crossings of the railroad in Palo Alto, staring at El Palo Alto in the north. Churchill is the scariest one. No room for cars and kids with bikes, and pedestrians.
There is an issue of not wanting to divide the city (the way Page Mill Road does).
Trenching is one solution. Elevation is another – engineers say its earthquake safe, though I’m not convinced. Undercrossings are just wide enough for cars, with no easy access for pedestrians, and they divide the city.
Can freights go in trenches? High speed rail? (which is not viable bc of all the different kinds of vehicles which want to share that space.
Becky: Gary, we’d love it if you’d be in charge of railway information for our group. Thank you so much!
Gary: In other places, they have tried doing a little of both: mild underpasses for cars and mild elevations of trains.
BS: Is there going to be an eminent domain grab-fest?
Gary: We are wondering also how far the eminent domain money is going to go. Some of the houses are historic, too. Some, even on Park Ave, are from the Panama Canal digging. In Europe, they have ways to make the elevated trains quiet.
BS: Is there going to be any follow up action? What should we be doing?
Gary: They took all the data. Somewhere someone will cogitate.
KH: There are rail committee meetings listed on city webpage. Tom DuBois is the chair of it.
BS: That is where we can have a voice. Next one is on June 7th . Gary will go. 8:30 am.
Anything on Jet Noise? Eric is the liaison to Sky Posse. Maybe we should have him come over.
Penny: It’s getting worse! More frequent. Every 3 to 5 minutes. At all hours of the night and early morning. I use the app – StopJetNoise.net. – which records everything. Most are United. It’s also an issue of pollution and an Issue for schools and education.
Bill: the sounds of Jets going over is the sound of being able to move about freely.
BS: Film makers can’t film in city bc of airplane noise , not other noises. The frequency of their passing over makes it impossible.
Penny: It also depends on where you are in the city.
BS: Would like to invite Eric. Would you be interested in joining that effort Penny?
Penny: I would be more effective just going to the meetings and saying that it seems to be getting worse.
KH: Lydia Kou is also active on this, though Eric has a longer time line on it.
BS: There is a page about airline noise on the city web site. Can you be the head of the airplane noise committee, Penny?
Penny: Yes! I encourage people to use the app. You can get knocked off the app and you might have to go back to facebook to get back on
BS: What else should we be aware of, thinking about?
KH: In 2019 PA will be 125 years old. Looking again at the budget, I realize that there is no money for event planning for 2019. The centennial was huge. But right now the 125th celebration is not even on the city staffs’ radar. And in 2020 the May Fete turns 100. It’s older than Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade. Attendance has been declining perhaps in part due to the fact that we don’t have dedicated staff for these events. It’s a budget issue. These events are not just symbolic; they make us think about what Palo Alto is and has been and can be.
We once did a celebration called 60/50 – 60 businesses for 50 years or more. Many businesses are gone now. An economic development person could pay attention to these things and could also help new businesses get established. We need citizen involvement.
Becky: What IS the recreation dept doing?
KH: Twilight concerts. Haven’t asked for funding for dedicated staff to do just events. The number of events is going down. Events people can get funding from other entities if they have the time to focus on these things. Stanford has reduced what they are giving, but it’s not clear why.
Another funding issue: Last year and this year we’ve had to fight to get the tree maintenance program pruning schedule funded for every 7 years rather than every 10 years. 5 years is closer to the standard. Private tree pruning should be done 3-5 years. How the pruning is done for power lines is not always done well. (Lots of discussion of this amongst neighbors who’ve seen their trees mangled.)
The city manager is dogged about the true cost of staff positions. The planning dept suggested an employee transportation tax (businesses who have 10 or more employees would pay 100 /year/employee to fund Transportantion Management to work on transportation alternatives, since high percetage of our traffic on weekdays is due to office workers) but the topic was scuttled. City Council was supposed to take it up again this year. How can the planning staff have a budget reduction of 3.4%? The council decided instead to focus on paid parking rather than the “ETT”. People who cause impact should pay for it. Paid parking means public is paying for traffic created by business.
Another issue: An anti-idling ordinance (trucks, tour buses, fast food, etc.) will be considered tomorrow night at City council meeting, during the S-CAP discussion
Penny gave the example of the Zume Pizza van, idling at Bouleware Park for 5 hours.
BS: Penny, would you call someone. Who should we call? Winter Dellenbach has been active in these kinds of issues.
KH: Contact the Planning department. Send an email and ask what the rule is.
KH: Last thing: Also tomorrow during the SCAP discussion. I would your input. We have historical preservation and environmental considerations when learning down and building new in Palo Alto. Older buildings often made of clear heart redwood. Buildings get torn down and the true impacts of demolishing and building a new building is not considered. It’s also about the manufacture of materials, not just the transportation of it. Concrete and steel production is very polluting. LEED does address some of these issues. But only a little piece of it. Typically if you tear down a house, the carbon neutral effect takes 50 years. We need a movement like Save Palo Alto Groundwater. Berkeley makes you demonstrate why you want to tear down a house. People just don’t know about the effect of building a new building. There should be some way to acknowledge it. Need to reduce greenhouse gas production with an impact fee which should go into maintaining our trees and other green projects for the public benefit. It’s a question of education and informing the public.
BS: What is your desired outcome?
KH: Some real action items to be included in S-CAP.
BS: What can we do? Will followup up with email.
KH: Have to get together with contractors and get everyone on board. Landfill diversion is the way to approach this. Salvage (not just recycle)! Reduce landfill. Recycle is at the bottom of the list. Reduce and reuse is on top. Trees and existing buildings should be preserved.
BS: Thank you so much for coming to our meeting, Karen. We all appreciate it so much.