Coming soon: my vetting of the Arrillaga office tower project staff report (27 University)

I posted on the Weekly website about another Arrillaga-with-Stanford proposal, in nearby Menlo Park, and directed those readers and posters to this page.

I have about 200 or more places on the 100-page staff report that I have marked with a question, comment or reaction and will organize them shortly here, and circulated among others who follow these types of things. Bob Moss, a commissioner and three-time council candidate, called it the worst proposal in 40 years, as was reported by Kristen Peters of the Daily Post.

I would think that regardless of the outcome of the election I would continue to work on opposition to this project; hopefully voters will use their knowledge of the 27 University proposal as reason to vote out pro-developer candidates and vote in (or back in, in the case of Greg Schmid) people like myself who are residentialist. ┬áIt’s notable that Susan Feinberg, a thorough and diligent Planning Commissioner who got voted out of her seat in a bit of a coup, is Schmid’s campaign co-chair. Greg Scharff not Schmid is the most obviously in favor among current council. (Scharff is a real estate lawyer and developer himself, and former head of acquisitions for Prometheus, who are working to develop Buena Vista Mobil home park, although when he ran for office in 2009 he called himself “a country lawyer”.)

I worry that the Arrillaga project fits the pattern of leadership being unwilling to stand up to developers and not listening to residents as much as to the commercial real estate interests. There are so many other convolutions and concerns about this project itself. I would have preferred that the community identify needs — for instance, for cultural amenities downtown, or for improvements to the transit station – and find ways to enact our will rather than as in this case being confronted with a powerful man forcing his will on us, even with the supposed public benefits, and the public being forced to react, defensively. (Although obviously some cheer on this project).

1)The so-called “theatre-project” contains three times more office space than theatre, 265,000 to 80,000 or so, and is four buildings.

2)The theatre, or “theater” as they insist on calling it, is actually a shell; it is more like a $20 million matching grant offered Theatreworks, and they only.

3) Stanford owns the land although we zone it; Arrillaga is acting as Stanford’s agent, so to speak or best I can figure. The actual relationship between he and Stanford I don’t think needs to be disclosed by them.

4) There is nothing in the written paperwork itself that promises that Arrillaga is making a gift to Stanford, or how the gift will be enacted, although staff apparently believes he said verbally that this is the case, if the distinction matters.

5) Voters would have to approve the deal by undedicating park land and ignoring a 50-ft height limit.

6) Although the project calls for an “arts and innovation district” to form, it looks like the intention is to lure a single-tenant large mature corporation to the towers, as opposed to the more obviously “innovative” plethora of startups, incubated projects and spin-offs Silicon Valley is famous for. And when they say “arts” they mean one type of art and one prospective tenant — why don’t we invite the world’s best arts orgs to apply for this splendid new home, or have a rotating residency of world class arts from around the globe?

7) I have mixed feelings on attacking this element of the plan but is Theatreworks really deserving of such a gift? Staff exaggerates the significance of Theatreworks, which is barely top ten in Bay Area, well-behind Berkeley Rep or ACT, or arguably San Jose Rep, which I’ve attended more than Theatreworks in recent years. In terms of “Memphis” which workshopped in Palo Alto before eventually reaching Broadway, it was Randy Adams, the outgoing producer of Theatreworks who moved to New York, founded Junkyard Dogs and shepherded the work to Broadway more than Theatreworks per se who is to credit. My understanding is that there is an attrition of top Theatreworks management over the years — maybe a conglomeration of former Theatreworks brass would be a better fit here, in the spirit of the Valley. (I mean Adams, Nicholson, Miller and McDonough, although I may be off base here; certainly Robert Kelley is a major success story, but why the exaggeration and why the patsy nature of their involvement here?)

I have read the staff report about 27 University and will describe my objections to it on my campaign blog. (links to here)

Mark Weiss

candidate for Palo Alto City Council as a residentialist meaning I think land use projects should be vetted more carefully by commissioners, council and staff

I have less interest obviously in Menlo Park my neighbors but the relationship between Stanford and Arrillaga is certainly interesting and this case potentially offers clues to what the actual power dynamic is, and what is going on re 27 University.

There have been almost a year of secret meetings including Palo Alto staff and presumably some council members; public learned of it in March and it is coming up on various dockets for public meetings this month, including discussions of the 50 ft limit and, I believe the total cap on commercial development downtown and city wide.

There is certainly a difference of opinion here on whether we want to “urbanize” Palo Alto or the pros and cons of the deluge of office space projects.

Here is a link back to the coverage of the Menlo Park project, where I posted the above. I actually wrote about a thousand words on this topic in March, on the Weekly site. What set me off was something about Pat Burt’s tone in his statement that although Arrillaga initiated the project “we are taking the lead here”. Burt refused to elaborate on the specific question of what he knew about the project — and actually tried to intimidate me, puffing up and accusing me of being reckless in my coverage , I think he used the term “morally-detached”, whatever that means — when I happened into him a few days later. It seems that I was more right than I knew if the meetings actually commenced secretly in August, 2011, as the report now admits.

Coincidentally, that was when the public starting speaking out about whether local leadership could get traction with the multi-millionaire landlord at 456 University, the Varsity Theatre, August, 2011. Many posters’ first reaction to this project was: wouldn’t the same theatre work better at 456? Stanford Theatre (initiated by a billionaire’s heir, admistered at a loss by a foundation; actually a philanthropy not just a front) showed “Hamlet” that week in March, 2011 such that it had me texting a handful of Council members and local machers thus: ‘Something rotten in state of Denmark’ at 27 oops 221 uni ave. Hamlet 3 nights. Mark W (and I did end up checking out Olivier’s excellent performance, and to hear that line, although it is actually issued by Marcellus, not Hamlet).


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
This entry was posted in bigger picture or what is democracy?, development, Downtown parking, history and legacy, media coverage, the candidates and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Coming soon: my vetting of the Arrillaga office tower project staff report (27 University)

  1. Notmyrealname says:

    Of the current crop of candidates running for our ever-quirky Palo Alto City “Clowncil”, you seem to be one of those most in touch with the long-time spirit of the real Palo Alto – the everyday, ordinary non-“big-shot” citizens who have made this city such a nice place to live for so long. You have my vote, and I also have 3 other voting family members (both my Gunn kids are now registered voters!) who agree with me.

    • markweiss86 says:

      As Larry (not Klein) would say: I resemble that remark. Or Chuckles the Clown: a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer (but not Selzer, the bicycle shop manager) down my pants.

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