Citizens' Priorities Must Decide How "Public Benefits" are Spent -- numbers must have integrity!

The above link is to the full Palo Alto Online story about a massive development that proposed to be built on Palo Alto park land and the train station near Stanford. The first part of the story is posted below, and then is followed by my comments.

"The City of Palo Alto and billionaire philanthropist John Arrillaga are pushing forward a sweeping development plan that would add a complex of four office towers, including one 10 stories in height, and a new theater to one of the most central areas of downtown.

The project, which would transform the area around the downtown Caltrain station, is so ambitious in scope that the city is now considering bringing it to the voters in spring of 2013, according to a report the city released late Wednesday, Sept. 19."


Please remember that all projects that have height or density in excess of what would be allowed under the normal zoning contained within the Comprehensive plan must provide a "community benefit" proportional to the value of the extra development rights (i.e. what would it cost to purchase prime Palo Alto land to build the square footage that is being built in the sky?)

I suspect that once we get around to doing the calculations, the Community Benefit falls short of the exemptions being given to this plan. Add to that a fair proportion of infrastructure demands, and the shortfall is even greater.

Lastly, the "Community Benefit" received from the developer is a currency that belongs to the citizens, and it is up to the citizens to decide how they want to spend it -- not the developer. It is a currency the belongs to the public.

Please follow this important logic and answer the next question objectively: "If our town had $X millions of dollars to spend, what are our top priorities?"

We have a large infrastructure deficit. Many might think it would be wise to fix the street and sidewalks first. Or maybe a new Public Safety building?

Therefore, even though a new TheatreWorks home would be a wonderful gift, unless it is a top priority, it is simply a gift from the developer, and must not be quantified in the Public Benefit calculation. Remember, the Public Benefit currency belongs to the citizens, and must be spent on the top priorities as defined by a well -thought-out shared community vision.

Let's give the calculations a good integrity check first, and then we can get to the policy issues about piercing our sacred skies, or how great our desire is to have Palo Alto look and feel more like San Jose.

Timothy Gray (full-disclosure: Candidate for Palo Alto City Council) see also Our Skyline Is Not For Sale: For Exceptions, Apply an objective and consistent standard for Community Benefits.