BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer got a mixed response at Palo Alto City Council last night (Oct. 1) when she pitched her proposal to convert a former funeral home into a private club targeting professional women and families.
The building at 980 Middlefield Road was the old Roller & Hapgood & Tinney funeral home from 1971 to 2013, when Mayer bought it. Its neighbors include the Webster Wood affordable apartments, single-family homes and Addison Elementary School.
Mayer wants to turn the building into a “vibrant, welcoming space for traditional and nontraditional professionals to collaborate, work, learn, find support, build community and spend time with their families, friends and neighbors.”
The Corner House on Addison, or “the CoHo,” would offer classes, day care, collaboration spaces, workshops and special events for about 150 people at any given time during the day and 125 in the evening or on the weekend.
Some special events could bring up to 300 visitors during the day and up to 400 people during the evening and weekend. Mayer expects to employ between four and eight full-time employees and 10 to 20 part-time workers to manage the facility.
A number of neighbors voiced concerns about the traffic, parking and noise impacts they expect from the project.
Not a good neighbor
Former Mayor Vic Ojakian, who lives within two blocks of the project and across the street from Mayer, complained about her behavior as a neighbor.
Ojakian said living across from her “has not been a pleasant experience,” and that he had put up with annoyances such as “cars idling 24 hours a day” and a generator to an ice rink in her backyard.
Neighbors haven’t always welcomed Mayer’s events at the former funeral home, Planning Department watchdog Herb Borock pointed out. Police were called to the property in October 2014 after neighbors complained about Mayer’s loud Halloween party in the parking lot.
Matthew Ocko, who works with Mayer’s husband at the venture capital firm Data Collective, spoke in support of the Corner House — and of Mayer as a conscientious citizen of Palo Alto.
“I believe that a city has a responsibility to support women and families. I believe that is an essential aspect of a city that attracts young, vibrant families,” said Ocko, a nearly 30-year resident of the city. “Try to separate personal agendas from ones that will benefit the entire city.”
A call for housing
Some neighbors suggested that multifamily housing be built on the site instead, with Barron Park resident Winter Dellenbach suggesting that Mayer — who outbid the affordable housing nonprofit Palo Alto Housing to purchase the site — donate it to Palo Alto Housing “and see it as her legacy, and claim a hefty tax credit and put her name on the housing.”
“Think of how many working women she could really inspire,” Dellenbach said, though “they may be too tired at the end of the day to party.”
Several young parents spoke in support of the project, arguing that Palo Alto is full of working mothers who need such a community center.
A number of council members expressed support for the intent of the project while echoing neighbors’ concerns about traffic, noise and parking problems.
The hearing was a prescreening study session, which means the council and public provided feedback on the project, but the council didn’t vote it up or down.
Councilman Greg Tanaka asked the neighbors in the room whether they would want the building to become a mortuary again, the use for which it is currently zoned, to groans from the audience.
“Over my dead body,” Vice Mayor Eric Filseth quipped.
Mayor Liz Kniss said she would “really welcome” the project if she were a young mother again, but that if she lived in the neighborhood, she would probably share the neighbors’ concerns about parking and traffic.
Supporters of the CoHo house explained that Palo Alto has become too expensive for families to live on a single income, and has no vibrant community spaces where mothers can work, drop children at day care and find opportunities for enrichment and professional collaboration all in one place.
“The Corner House would be life-changing for our family,” former Google employee and mother Nicole Pollock said, calling the project a “modern solution for our dynamic community.”