Last November Palo Alto voters rejected a proposal for a Planned Community development for a mix of senior and market rate housing on Maybell Avenue. This seemingly innocuous development met with objections from the impacted neighborhood and throughout Palo Alto. This wasn't about senior housing per se: it was about accumulated frustrations regarding development in recent years, and the need to stem the tide of additional projects.
We learn this week of an effort launched by the community group, Save Menlo, to place a measure on the upcoming November ballot to address issues of the Downtown Specific Plan. There are many issues here, and I think it best to begin with a review of similar efforts in our community.
History of Local Ballot Measures
Which brings me to governing by ballot measure. Signature drives and referendums are not new to Menlo Park (nor Palo Alto). Let's review the ones I remember.
• Palo Alto's 2013 Measure D proposed the construction of a 60-unit affordable senior apartment complex and 12 market rates homes. Grassroots opposition defeated it.
• In 2010, Menlo Gateway's Measure T passed, a victory for a project that included multiple office buildings and a hotel at Marsh Road and 101. Measure T was initiated by the project developer as a preemptive move against any grassroots opposition.
• A successful 2006 signature drive to modify the entitlements for the Derry Project on El Camino was sidelined by the council while the parties negotiated modifications that enhanced public benefits in return for zoning concessions.Although both sides reached agreement, other issues prevented the owners from moving forward.
• Palo Alto's 2003 Measure C, challenging 61 housing units at 800 High, failed. The lesson here, perhaps, is timing. Had this project been proposed today, considering the adjacent 801 Alma projectand parking issues in downtown Palo Alto, I doubt that referendum would have the same outcome.
• In 1997 a pair of competing measures in Palo Alto sought to decide whether or not to widen Sand Hill Road. Measure M intended to restrict development, and failed. Measure O, the alternative Stanford plan, passed.
• Palo Alto's 1995 Measure R to limit rezoning of residential to commercial failed
• In 1988, Menlo Park's St. Patrick's Seminary proposed subdividing its property to construct retirement housing. This plan was rejected by voters. Ultimately a different plan for market rate housing emerged, resulting in Seminary Oaks.