On Nov. 5, Palo Alto voters shot down Measure D, a pro- posal put on the ballot in an effort to to rezone the empty lot on Maybell Avenue in order to build affordable senior hous- ing. In the weeks prior to voting, the measure was highly publicized across the community; Gunn students experienced campaigning first hand, seeing picketers line up on Arasterdero.
The Housing Corporation (THC) was responsible for pro- posing and funding the project and its campaign. Established in 1970, THC has constructed 20 low-income household units ever since its founding. According to Executive Direc- tor Candice Gonzalez, Measure D was the first time in the history of the corporation that voters were involved with a senior housing project. “The city council had a unanimous nine-to-zero approval for our project in June 2013,” Gonzalez said. “But after the opposition initiated a referendum it went on the November ballot.”
There was noticeable opposition to the measure. Palo Al- tans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning was one of the pri- mary adversaries to the Maybell project. In an interview on KALW radio, group representative Joe Hirsch expressed his concern regarding traffic in the area. “We have four neigh- borhood schools,” he said. “About 4000 students come to this site everyday.” He worries about the traffic Measure D will bring to Arastradero, an already congested road.
Gonzalez, however, believed that the opposition exaggerated the effects that Measure D would have had on the city.
“Sadly, the referendum became about all of de- velopment in Palo Alto rather than focusing on our much-needed affordable senior housing project,” she said. According to Gonzalez, theproject’s adversaries’ primary ar- gument that it would have ad- versely affected traffic was wrong. “We did a traffic study and found that the project would have had an insignificant impact on the neighborhood,” she said. “In fact, out of all the realistic projects, affordable senior housing would have the lowest impact in traffic, parking and schools. Some opposition who criticized the traffic study used outdated in- formation from 1995.”
Out of Palo Alto’s 65,000 residents, only 11,000 ended up voting. THC discovered that they may have been an uninformed, vocal minority. “We have been hearing that many people voted based on a lot of misinformation,” Gonzalez said.
Hirsch stressed the importance of considering the slippery slope that might come with passing a law like Measure D. “Almost any new development that comes along now is under what they call ‘planned community zoning,’” he said on KALW. He remarked that site regulations that have protected our community for decades could be wiped clean and would start with negotiations between the city and the developers.
Even though the fate of Measure D has been decided and set final, some citi- zens remain in uncertainty. “20 percent of seniors in Palo Alto are living at or near the poverty limit,” Gonzalez said. “We have over 500 se- niors on the waiting list of our only other se- nior site. It takes at least five years to get a unit there, and by then most have moved away or pass away. After re- tirement, they can’t afford to live in expensive Palo Alto homes.”
Ultimately, Gonzalez remarked that she felt disappointed. “We were supposed to be a progressive, open community, but we turned our backs on needy seniors,” she said. Now, THC will have to push for other projects. “The land will have to be sold to pay back all of our lenders,” Gonzalez said. THC is continuing to pursue its goal of securing affordable housing for senior citizens.