All Palo Altans should urge the Planning and Transportation Commission to reject a controversial staff proposal that would make it easier for Downtown residences such as the President Hotel Apartments at 488 University to become hotels or offices. Scheduled for discussion this Wednesday, January 30, the staff proposal would create a new waiver process that vastly favors owners and developers of Downtown buildings over tenants.
Under the proposed waiver process, City staff could cast aside or “adjust” existing laws that require oversized Downtown buildings, such as the six-floor President Hotel, to retain the same mix of uses they have at present. So while the rule, known as the Grandfathered Facility Law, currently protecting the residences would remain in place, owners and developers would need only to “assert” in writing that it conflicts with some state or federal law. Staff would then need only to find that the “assertion has merit” and could then immediately grant the waiver.
The proposed process does not require that tenants of the buildings, the press, or the public at large be notified when a waiver is being sought. No public hearing will necessarily occur and no written legal opinion from the City Attorney citing relevant case law for public review would necessarily be issued. Although the waiver could in theory be appealed to the City Council, tenants and others may not even know a waiver has been granted until after the appeal deadline expires. Renters might instead find out only once their leases expire and be too late to appeal.