Nonprofit Newswire | Money on the Barrel for Packard Foundation Green Building Plan

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August 11, 2010; Source: Mercury News | Seems like there was a slight communications breakdown between the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the City of Los Altos, Calif. where the foundation hangs its hat. The city says the foundation owes it money.

For those who haven’t visited the foundation, our recollection is that the Packard Foundation headquarters on Second Street in Los Altos are pretty modest compared to the lavish accommodations of similarly sized and many smaller foundations around the country (staff actually also work in a couple of additional buildings around town).

Now apparently the Foundation would like to build a new, two-story 45,000 square-foot office across the street from its current site, utilizing the latest in green construction technology (Net Zero Energy, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] Platinum certification, etc.).

Real estate development triggers zoning and land use reviews and approvals, especially since Packard’s plan calls for less than half the city’s code for required parking (the Foundation plans to substitute an “alternative transportation management plan” providing shuttles, Caltrain passes, and other incentives to discourage employees from driving to work), and that probably meant that city officials saw dollar signs dancing in front of them as they talked to representatives of the $5.5 billion foundation.

To make the whole project work, Packard and the city negotiated a comprehensive “development agreement,” including a payment from the foundation to the tune of $3.4 million to help the city with environmental programs or parking efforts. But the city and the foundation seemed to have a slight problem in communications.

The City Council thought the payment was meant to be a one-time, up front, lump sum check, “cash on the barrel” as one Councilmember put it. But the Foundation intended to spread the payments over 10 years—without interest. The City’s Mayor Pro Tem alleged that it was the Packard Foundation “who made the offer, and if they intended it to be over time, they should have said that.”

Council members hinted that they’d accept a delay of a couple of years if the agreement included interest payments. Foundation reps haven’t hinted anything, because the Merc couldn’t reach them for comment. It looks like something was lost in translation here between philanthropy and government.—Rick Cohen