PC Zoning request for 355 Alma (aka 101 Lytton): No significant public benefits
By Douglas Moran


I urge the Planning and Transportation Commission to deny the applicant's request to initiate the Planned Community. The applicant has not shown the significant public benefits required for a PC. What he has listed as "public benefits" are trivialities and amenities for the building's occupants, and which are therefore should be expected to be part of their rent.

The Commission should avoid giving a tentative approval with instructions for changes because Palo Alto has a long history of allowing projects to continuing to take subsequent steps even though they have made only a fraction of the "required" changes, with the result that the City feels "obliged" to approved bad projects.

Rather than providing public benefits, this project produces large public deficits by adding jobs to an area where the expected development will created substantial strain on the road network and by further increasing the jobs-housing imbalance. Although the housing component of this project is unlikely to have any significant impacts, positive or negative, the jobs component is likely to have major negative impacts, increasing the requirements for more housing which the City is already have problems finding locations for. And these housing increases will be accompanied by further pressure on the schools, traffic and the City's expenses (presentations by City Manager Jim Keene in 2010 showed higher density housing as producing more costs than revenue).


In critiquing the purported “public benefits”, to simplify reference I will include the identifiers from both the applicant’s (section VI, starting on the 31st page of the packet PDF) and the staff report (pp 8-9), with the former in square brackets and the latter in curly brackets. Where the applicant has unnumbered bullet points, I have added decimal numbers.
I used the PDF at: http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=2659

General Observation: Regarding “Cannot be compelled”

The overwhelming majority of the purported “public benefits” are representations that:

The very classification of these features as “Cannot be compelled” indicates that they have been judged not to be of such limited importance as to leave to the discretion of the builder.

General Observation: Questionable public benefit of pedestrian-oriented features

General Observation: “Gateway” building {5} is usually a public loss, not a benefit.

The project is described as providing a “gateway” to Palo Alto. “Gateway” seems to be a common architectural euphemism for a building that is so out of place that one can’t help but notice it. In my experience “gateway” buildings are widely regarded as monstrous and ugly, although it is often unclear whether this is a side-effect of it being out-of-place, or vice versa. The Campus for Jewish Life is a very “effective” gateway on San Antonio—it is the rare visitor who doesn’t ask me how something that bad could possibly have gotten approved, and even for some repeat visitors it is still “remarkable”.

“Retail Amenities” [A], {3}

“Urban Design Features” [B]

“Housing” [C] {1}

"Transportation Benefits" [C: mislabeled in applicant's doc--intended to be "D"]

"Parking" [E]

"Environmental Benefits and Leadership" [F]

"New Employment and City Revenue" [G]