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Palo Alto City Council Gives Nod to 147-room Hotel at Site of Ming's Restaurant
 Downside?  Access to Ming's Absent for a While

By Will Oremus, Palo Alto Daily News, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Apr. 13, 2010--Palo Alto council members on Monday paved the way for the city's newest hotel by approving a proposal for a four-story, 147-room hotel on the site of Ming's restaurant, near the Baylands.

The owners of Ming's, Wu-Chung Hsiang and Vicky Ching, are the developers behind the project. Accordingly, the hotel will include a new, smaller version of the sprawling Chinese eatery that has been at 1700 Embarcadero Road for decades.

The project will bring the city $2.2 million in upfront fees and an estimated $570,000 to $700,000 in taxes each year, according to city staff.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it sailed through Palo Alto's approval process, eventually winning a unanimous recommendation from the planning and transportation commission. At Monday's meeting, the council voted 8-0 in favor of the plan, with one member absent. The hotel's location across Highway 101 from the city's residential neighborhoods may have also helped, as not one member of the public spoke against the plans Monday night.

Council Member Yiaway Yeh could think of just one flaw in the proposal.

"The only downside is we won't have access to Ming's food for a certain period of time," he said.

City planners said the hotel, coupled with the recently redeveloped complex at 2540 Watson Court, will make for a "world-class baylands gateway." The architecture emphasizes horizontal lines to reinforce the aesthetics of the Baylands, and the project includes environmental measures that will make it eligible for a LEED Silver award, as required under the city's green building ordinance. The

hotel will also come with interpretive signs aimed at bicyclists and pedestrians heading toward the Bay.

It's the second hotel proposed in the city since it passed an ordinance in 2005 encouraging hotels by relaxing density restrictions for them. With Palo Alto struggling to raise enough revenue to meet expenses, transient occupancy taxes from new hotels are seen as one of the most direct routes toward an improved financial picture for the local government.

Officials discuss budget woes

The hotel couldn't come soon enough for Palo Alto, which is pondering a whopping $8.3 million in cuts for the fiscal year that begins in July.

On Monday, council members got their first look at City Manager James Keene's proposed cuts. They include layoff notices for as many as 70 workers, along with fee hikes and service cuts.

"They're all difficult trade-offs," Keene told the council. Laying off active employees, as opposed to just eliminating vacant positions as in recent years, "is absolutely the worst, the most unfortunate aspect of these kinds of recommendations," he said.

That wasn't the only concern for council members and residents who spoke up Monday, however.

Council Member Karen Holman said she wasn't eager to cut hours at several libraries, as Keene has proposed. His plans also include delaying the reopening of College Terrace library once renovations are complete.

"The public has spoken very loudly and clearly about how much they value the libraries," Holman said.

Catherine Martineau, executive director of the tree advocacy nonprofit Canopy, worried that some of the proposals would harm the city's "urban forest." In particular, she criticized a proposal to shift responsibility for sidewalk maintenance to individual residents, saving $500,000. Cities that have done that have seen their street trees neglected and mistreated, she said.

Former council member Jack Morton showed he wasn't going to stay out of the fray just because he was termed out last year. He called for the council to preserve parks and programs and instead target the policeand fire departments for budget slashes.

"Police and fire have grown twice as fast as any other department in this community over the last five years," he said. "Yet not one mention has been made of reducing or bringing under control" those costs.

Barron Park neighborhood activist Bob Moss blasted a proposal to charge fees for use of Foothills Park, the Baylands and Pearson-Arastradero Preserve. The fees cost more to enforce than they bring in, he said.

Keene has proposed more than $10 million in cuts in order to give the council options as it looks to close the $8.3 million gap. He will present a formal budget proposal on May 3, and the final decisions will be made at public meetings in June.

E-mail Will Oremus at woremus@dailynewsgroup.com.

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Copyright (c) 2010, Palo Alto Daily News, Calif.

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