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Palo Alto voters reject Measure D rezoning plan, scuttling affordable housing for seniors

By Thomas Johnson | 5 Nov 2013

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Joe Hirsch

(Photo courtesy of Joe Hirsch/Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning)

Palo Alto voters rejected Measure D, a city-backed plan to rezone land on Maybell Avenue for the construction of affordable senior citizen housing.

With all ballots counted late Tuesday night, the measure was opposed by 56.1 percent of voters and supported by 43.9 percent.

A grassroots, under-funded campaign against the rezoning was led by a collection of residents who formed Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning. The group raised just $27,762, compared with the $183,768 raised by Palo Altans for Affordable Senior Housing, the organization backing the measure.

Opponents cited the potential negative effects of loosening land-use regulations in a residential neighborhood, which they said could result in projects with inadequate parking, reduced safety, excessive height, loss of setbacks and increased traffic.

Current zoning allows a maximum of 46 residences at the 2.6-acre Maybell Avenue site.

The Palo Alto Housing Corporation — a private, nonprofit agency formed by the City Council in 1970 – purchased the property for nearly $15.6 million when it was put on the market last year. In June, the City Council unanimously approved a rezoning petition to allow the agency to build 59 one-bedroom apartments for seniors and a single two-bedroom apartment for the property manager.

The rezoning also would have permitted 12 multi-bedroom, single-family homes on the site, which would have been used to subsidize the cost of the senior apartments.

Now that Measure D has been defeated, “We will most likely sell [the land]. We have an obligation to pay back our lenders and recoup our expenses,” said Candice Gonzalez, executive director of the housing corporation.

The council action did not sit well with a number of Palo Alto residents, and Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning quickly formed. The citizens group gathered thousands of signatures to force a public vote.

Joe Hirsh, Cheryl Lilienstein and others in the group took issue with what they perceived as an inadequate traffic study and insufficient space for the building. “It’s an inappropriate site for senior housing,” Hirsch said.

Advocates of Measure D included Mayor Greg Scharff and Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd. They emphasized the demand for affordable senior housing.

“We have another senior site [360 Sheridan Ave.] with a waiting list of about 500 seniors and it takes at least five years to get off the waiting list,” Gonzalez said.

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