City finds new way to dig basements

Palo Alto sees uptick in cutoff walls to curb groundwater pumping

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / January 12, 2018

On a single block of Webster Street in the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, a tale of two basements is unfolding — one that illustrates the city’s evolving debate over groundwater.

The use of cutoff walls in Palo Alto can be attributed in large part to a citizens group called Save Palo Alto’s Groundwater, formed in 2015 to protest the growing number of dewatering projects and to promote new restrictions. Their advocacy prompted the city to gradually add requirements for projects that require groundwater pumping.

Hotel plan draws opposition in south Palo Alto

Residents concerned about building’s density, traffic impacts

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / January 9, 2018

For Palo Alto’s elected leaders, the hotel boom that is transforming south El Camino Real is a trend to be embraced: a welcome boost to the city’s revenue stream at a time of rising infrastructure costs and growing pension obligations. The City Council signaled as much last year, when it voted to explore allowing greater density for new hotels, particularly in the downtown area.

But for residents of Palo Alto Redwoods, the promise of new riches comes at a high cost. On Dec. 21, a group from the 117-unit condominium complex came to City Hall to protest the latest entry into the crowded field: a 90-room hotel proposed for 4256 El Camino Real, site of Su Hong restaurant. From their point of view, the new project will cause traffic havoc, threaten the health of area redwoods and create parking problems.

If approved, the new hotel would occupy a stretch of El Camino that has become a magnet for hotels, big and small. These include two recently constructed hotels — Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites — as well as Crowne Plaza Cabana, Palo Alto Inn, Americas Best Value Inn, Oak Motel and Dinah’s Garden Hotel.

Planned Cambridge Avenue development meets opposition

Residents and business owners raise concerns about proposed three-story building

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / December 27, 2017

Karen Price, a massage therapist with a practice on Cambridge Avenue, believes the three-story building on her block won’t just change the character of the surrounding area.

It will also, she said Thursday, threaten the character of the city by accelerating the displacement of small, community-serving businesses like her own by tech companies with a global clientele.

Price was part of a group, which included area businesses and residents, who attended the Dec. 21 meeting of the Architectural Review Board to speak out against the project in the California Avenue Business District.

New housing laws roil officials in Burlingame

State’s loosened development standards costing local control raise eyebrows on the City Council

San Mateo Daily Journal – by Austin Walsh / December 7, 2017

New state housing laws requiring city governments to cede a substantial portion of their local control alarmed Burlingame officials who fear the regulations may bring unintended consequences.

Officials raised concerns the legislation will invite development of boilerplate, cookie-cutter plans by sapping officials authority to enforce design driven decisions.

“Burlingame for many years has worked very hard to develop guidelines, but many of those guidelines have to deal with neighborhood consistency, so all of that goes out the door with this,” said Keighran.


In Crescent Park, a push to end traffic gridlock

Palo Alto Weekly – by Sue Dremann / December 1, 2017

Residents to seek solutions for the daily line of cars on neighborhood streets

Fed up with the daily traffic gridlock on their neighborhood’s streets, Crescent Park residents are banding together to get the city of Palo Alto’s attention.

For hours each day, Crescent Park residents are plagued by the hundreds of vehicles that jam the streets within blocks of University Avenue, from Middlefield Road to East Crescent Drive. They say they battle just to get in and out of their driveways on weekday afternoons.

Palo Alto council splits over roof decks

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / November 28, 2017

For some members, decks are a sign of vitality; for others, a waste of staff time

The council didn’t take any votes on the proposal, which is still in a conceptual phase and which has not yet been the subject of a formal application. The pre-screening session was a chance for the council to either nip the project in the bud and avoid unnecessary expenditures or signal its support and suggest ways to improve the project.

The council did both of these things and, in doing so, sent a mixed message to the prospective applicant, building owner Thoits Brothers Inc. But given that the more pro-growth faction enjoys a narrow council majority, the Monday discussion means the application is likely to move ahead.

Board: Stanford growth could require new school

Palo Alto Weekly – by Elena Kadvany / November 14, 2017

School trustees to discuss response to university’s proposed general use permit

Stanford University’s proposal to build hundreds of new housing units for graduate students, faculty and staff over the next 17 years represents a level of growth that a majority of Palo Alto school board members said will likely require a new school in the future.

‘Behind the Headlines’: Palo Alto’s pension problem

Palo Alto Weekly – by Palo Alto Weekly staff / October 13, 2017

Transcript of City Councilman Eric Filseth’s conversation with Weekly journalists

Ever wonder what the real deal is with Palo Alto’s unfunded pension and retiree medical liabilities (from $550 million to maybe even $1 billion)? How is the city going to pay for it?

This interview with City Council Finance Committee Chair Eric Filseth breaks down the problem in a refreshingly clear way. Hear his conversation with Palo Alto Weekly Editor Jocelyn Dong and city hall reporter Gennady Sheyner in this “Behind the Headlines” podcast, or click on the headline to read the transcription.

Commission pans parking meter plan

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / October 12, 2017

Proposal to overhaul downtown’s parking scheme criticized as premature

Downtown Palo Alto’s move toward parking meters hit an unexpected turn Wednesday night when the city’s Planning and Transportation Commission voted against implementation.

By a unanimous vote, the commission rejected all four options that were presented by transportation staff for overhauling downtown’s parking system. Citing uncertainty about the impacts of parking meters on downtown retail, the commission recommended that the council hold off on approving any plans, pending more outreach to area businesses.

accountability cartoon

What’s all the fuss about code enforcement?

Palo Alto Matters – October 10, 2017

Public trust and damaged community life.

Ask a typical Palo Altan what code enforcement is all about and odds are the first thing they’ll mention is gas-powered leaf blowers. But it also encompasses zoning and building compliance, Use and Occupancy permits, parking, signage, construction noise and more – complex, wonky, and sometimes seemingly nitpicky, issues that have both immediate and cumulative impacts on land use and quality of life. While most residents may not know a specific code violation when they see one, they experience the impacts of noncompliance and it feels unfair.

Immediate neighbors suffer from unabated violations. Worse, Palo Altans city-wide endure a double loss: they suffer lasting changes in the character of their neighborhoods and they feel abandoned, or even duped, by their city government. Supposedly protected retail converts to other uses; burdens on public parking increase unnecessarily; traffic safety in neighborhoods deteriorates; and businesses freely flout rules designed to protect residential quality of life. Rumblings rise about city bias favoring non-resident interests.