Uploaded: Wed, Jan 8, 2014, 9:51 am
Palo Alto may change incentives for affordable housing
City Council to consider revisions to 'density bonus' law
Seeking to comply with state law and encourage more housing for low-income residents, Palo Alto officials will on Monday consider revising a local law that grants incentives to developers who build affordable housing.
The City Council will consider on Monday a revision to the city's Density Bonus Ordinance, which allows developers who offer affordable housing to exceed normal density regulations. If adopted, the revised law would limit the types of "concessions" builders can request from the city to a menu of exceptions deemed by the city to have "minimal adverse impacts." A developer who asks for a concession that is not on the menu would have to provide financial information demonstrating why this concession is necessary for affordable housing, according to a new report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.
Menu items include an increase in height limit and a 25 percent reduction in side-yard requirements (provided, in both cases, that the project is not next to a low-density residential zone); and additional density.
The report notes that because of the state law, the city has "very little discretion to deny concession requests." One goal with the new law is to limit the impacts of these concessions by steering developers toward pre-vetted concessions. Another goal is to promote affordable housing and to make it easier for the city to meet a state mandate that it provide zoning for more housing units.
"Without a local ordinance, builders and developers have broad flexibility to request concessions and the City has limited flexibility to deny them," the staff report states.
The granting of incentives to affordable-housing developers is far from new. A state law first adopted in 1979, developers may already receive a 25 percent density bonus if they meet certain affordable-housing requirements (the bonus depends on the income level being served and the percentage of units devoted to affordable housing).
The State Density Bonus Law was further beefed up in 2004, when lawmakers instituted a sliding scale of density bonuses from 20 to 35 percent, depending on the number of units. To sweeten the deal for developers, it also enabled them to receive three "development concessions," a heretofore vague concept that Palo Alto's new ordinance aims to clear up.
Thus far, the city has been granting developers concessions largely on an ad hoc basis. When Eden Housing applied to build the housing development at 801 Alma St., the concessions it received included permission to and encroach into required setbacks, density bonus and the waiving of a requirement to provide private open space. A developer at 195 Page Mill Road requested as a concession an addition to the density bonus he would have already received.
The revised law will not apply to "planned community" projects, which grant developers zoning concessions in exchange for negotiated public benefits, which have ranged from tiny public plazas and funky statues to affordable housing units and cash contributions toward parking programs. The designation, which was used by developers of the new Lytton Gateway building and which the Palo Alto Housing Corporation applied for in its ultimately doomed quest to build affordable housing on Maybell Avenue, has been widely criticized in the community in recent years, prompting the council to talk about reform.
Posted by They need a Trip to the Woodshed,
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2014 at 8:44 pm
What IS it about these guys that they keep trying to find ways to tie their hands so they can screw us and say they couldn't help it? During the Maybell mess, they even directed the City Attorney to try to find ways the law would tie their hands and they would HAVE to rezone (it's in the minutes). The Devil Made Us Do It! Don't blame us!! Beware of them trying to make ordinances that tie their hands, they will be trying to codify the giveaway of Palo Alto to developers! Who will step up to begin the recall? If you think it's bad now, wait til these guys ruin the Comprehensive Plan.
Well, that's very interesting that we don't have a density bonus law, because during the Maybell mess they kept saying they could have 40% density bonus increase because of Palo Alto density bonus rules. You may wish to revisit some of the minutes and especially staff reports in order to see the Council's perspective on our rules.
Here's something we should probably pay attention to:
"The City of Los Angeles's closely watched density bonus ordinance has been struck down because the city did not subject the ordinance to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas McKnew Jr. ruled that a fair argument could be made "that portions of the ordinance which go beyond the minimum standards set by state law" may have a significant adverse impact and, therefore, must undergo environmental review."
This is also interesting:
A project is eligible if ten percent are affordable to those earning 80 percent of median or less... Which IMO is NOT a poor person. Anyone earning that much is better off doing what the rest of us (making that much or less) do, buy in San Jose or Santa Clara or Sunnyvale, and move up over time, developing equity along the way. The Weekly actually did an article in which some of the long-time middle class residents of BMR units expressed some bitterness over not understanding the financial trap side of taking the affordable housing unit in the long run.
Also, the law only requires the low-income housing to remain affordable for 30 years, which is nothing, and many of the developers get concessions on parking based on an assumption that poor people don't drive (which doesn't seem to be a very good assumption anyway) -- it's an incentive to upzone without a promise the property will remain affordable in perpetuity, and promising yet more parking problems down the line.
The above article makes a really interesting point relevant to Palo Alto, that the Authors of SB 1818 intended the density bonus to be over the maximum density otherwise allowable by the zoning ordinance, or the max allowable under the zoning when a range of density is specified. But does this mean they get to actually also BUILD that maximum allowable under the rules? Our City Council apparently thinks so. The article goes on to say section 65915(g) states that the density bonus is an increase over the max allowed under the land use element of the general plan, too. (Remember the City Council TP we call the Comprehensive Plan? This City Council is just as likely to boobytrap it so we have no recourse, beware!)
The above article says,
"Local agencies can attempt to clarify this by stating in their local ordinances that the
density bonus is to be calculated over the zoning maximum. ...."
Think about it. At Maybell, about 2.5 acres, RM-15 allows 8-15 units per acre, and according to the general plan, it's supposed to be on the lower end near R-1 residential. But City Council simply assumed the maximum of the range could go there (and for as much as they were maligned about NIMBYism, residents didn't argue about it because it was for affordable housing, but they would argue if it were a market rate development).
Whereas, if the Comprehensive Plan were followed, that property really is only supposed to be 8 units per acre, meaning, 20 units, plus a 25% density bonus, makes 25 at most in a market-rate scenario. That's nearly half the 46, 48, 49 units the Council was saying could go there under a market development, claiming their hands would be tied. And all for a handful of units that won't even go to really poor people.
In fact, I've seen other analyses of what residents did in LA that the laws are encouraging the razing of existing affordable housing to net a much smaller amount of less affordable housing -- with developers laughing all the way to the bank -- as is happening in Palo Alto, where the Council seems very concerned with giving the developers advantages by using affordable housing (to tie their hands!), but they seem not to be lifting a finger to save actual affordable housing, such as at Buena Vista, even though they could eminently accomplish it without much cost as these things go. Once the over 400 low-income residents are evicted from BV, Prometheus will take advantage of this density bonus law in order to put in a high-density, almost entirely market-rate high rise, with far fewer, far less affordable units. So much for the state "incentive" for affordable housing.
Bottom line, if the Council proposes an ordinance, residents should insist it be subject to CEQA analysis.(!!!) In Palo Alto, such ordinances will have significant negative development impact without adding in any meaningful way to affordability, in fact will encourage the loss of existing housing which is the most affordable. The exception is all-affordable developments, I think these bonuses should be available to those who are building ALL affordable unit.
Posted by Sean,
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2014 at 9:39 pm
I am amazed by how many ignorant, self-righteous, frightened people live in Palo Alto. This town is full of brilliant, educated, successful minds, many of them absolutely wonderful. But a shocking number of our residents -- extravagantly wealthy by the standard of almost anyplace else in the world -- don't have an ounce of common sense or a shred of human decency.
This area is becoming a monument to greed. Either it's the greed of the billionaires, tearing down bungalows to build mansions, or fencing off "private" beaches on the coast , or the greed of the 30-year residents, who haven't paid a cent in tax increases in decades, despite exploding home values, and ever-improving services and quality of life. To a significant degree, it's because of countless beneficiaries of Prop 13 that "normal" people, making a good professional salary, can't possibly afford a home here (a million dollar home costs next to nothing in taxes for a long-time resident, but $12,000 or so per year for a newcomer -- on top of enormous house payments for average families). Yet the people living here seem to have no conscience about getting their mail delivered, their streets cleaned, their garbage taken away or their lawns mowed. They don't wonder where the guy selling groceries or the teacher educating their own children or grandchildren is supposed to live. Just "somewhere else." Anywhere but their bucolic elm-lined streets in Palo Alto.
What I can't help reading between the lines is that Palo Alto residents think they are too good to share their precious, insanely over-priced town, their parking spaces, or their parks, with "poor" people who haven't had the same enormous luck they have had themselves. Well, I've been squeaking by, renting a home here for my family for more than 10 years, on the merits of a good education, a steady and demanding job, and the amazing grace of a very kind landlord who has kept his rents at a rate based more on his own modest changes in cost of living than on the hyper-inflated values of the real estate in this town. That's incredibly generous, and almost unheard of. It is winning the affordable housing lottery. Without him, my children wouldn't have been able to attend Palo Alto Schools, where I and my wife have volunteered literally thousands of hours. We've paid our taxes, and paid into the school's "PIE" fund to support special programs. We've coached Little League and Soccer. We've taught classes for developmentally-disabled children. We've tutored and mentored young kids and high school kids. We've grown a beautiful garden. We've helped our elderly neighbors. We've joined the community watch. We've driven for hours around town on the hunt for lost children, not our own. We've taught other people's children to ride their bikes safely. Our daughters are Girl Scouts, close to earning their "Gold Awards", the girls' equivalent of an Eagle Scout badge, and they, too, have done hundreds of hours of voluntary community service. One of them is working to become, like so many of her adult neighbors, an inventor and engineer. But even if they work their way into the best colleges, earn scholarships and internships, get good jobs and good salaries, invent products, and maybe even start companies of their own, and then come back, they almost surely won't be able to afford to live here -- unless they also happen to be very, very, very lucky. Housing, except for the extremely wealthy, is simply too expensive.
Although this town has done much for our children, our family has been even more of an asset to this community. We have given back easily as much as we have received, and much more, in fact, than most of our wealthy, cocooned neighbors in their 5,000-square-foot McMansions, driving their Mercedes into the garage and shutting themselves in every night. Many of those people are simply investors biding their time to make a profit in real estate. They have driven up the home prices, but they haven't done a real thing for the community. If anything, they have contributed to making it a cold, characterless, uninviting place.
Please, please, build affordable housing - tens of thousands of units. Put it in the very best, wealthiest neighborhoods, so the kids there can go to the best schools and the senior citizens - parents of people like me -- can enjoy walking on the shady sidewalks and sitting in their rockers to admire the rich folk driving their fancy cars. Force people to walk or bike. Force them to see and appreciate people who earn less money. Take away the precious parking spaces and put in bike lanes and pocket parks. Build tall buildings right next to the big wide streets like El Camino (Leonardo da Vinci figured out that this made more beautifully-proportioned boulevards.) Bring in lots of good, efficient public transportation, like light rail. For God's sake, change the tax laws, finally, to make long-time home owners pay more of their fair share. Make this town a good place for decent, normal, hard-working people to live in -- without their having to win some kind of lottery.
Shame on anyone who thinks we "low income" people shouldn't live in Palo Alto. It is narrow-minded, uncharitable, uncaring, selfish, ignorant cowards who should be ashamed to live here.
Posted by Anonymous,
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2014 at 9:12 am
"While you're at it, more high-density condos for rich people takes a little bit of the pressure off some of those old $1.5 million fixer-uppers the rest of us are trying, desperately, to rent."
I have lived in the Bay Area for decades, and that has never been true. Building more just brings in more people for the schools, who may even commute elsewhere themselves. You create more emissions with gridlock and people still having to drive across town that has no good public transit, compared to,,say, someone biking from Mountin View where they are lucky to live and work near the bike path. If you think the world is so crowded, and the only place anyone can live is Palo Alto, I invite you to start driving on almost any road east for about 20 hours. When companies decide Palo Alto is too expensive, they will move and create jobs elsewhere, creating urban renewal and spillover tech, a good thing. When they can't get enough lower end workers, they'll either pay more or move, or create their own housing as some companies around here have. If you keep building to make it unpleasant, the very richest will eventually go elsewhere. But it won't make the rent on your $1.5 million house lower. I have news for you,that's luxury renting in Silicon Valley and always has been for decades 'I've been here.
Housing here has been unreasonable for the last 100 years. The only difference now is that developers have found a line that people like you are naive enough to push for them. And who are such snobs, you think Palo Alto is the only place to live around here.
If you rent here, it never gets easy - that has always been true. The only way for it to get easier is to buy in, but most people want a shortcut so they can live like the rich people who buy, not those of us who don't.
You know how to own? Do like me and my friends, buy a home in East Palo Alto (and a big dog), use 60% of your income on housing and live frugally, and live there for 10 years ands move up. Not to Palo Alto just yet. Buy a home in San Jos, fix it up, then move somewhere nicer farther away so you can have property and a big new home and commute to Palo Alto (not everyone lives here who could). Sacrifice everything to buy a hellhole somewhere far away for ten years, then sit on it for another eight while the market rebounds so you dont lose your shirt. Buy something so uninhabitable, the neighborhood isn't safe and no one else wants it in a much less desirable town, then move up to a more desirable location in a less desirable City than PA (what we did)and everywhere you go, rent out your rooms until you can afford to be there yourself, and get acquainted with real DIY. Choose locations so far down the chain, no one even wants to bulldoze them. They exist. Work your way up and then own a decent home anywhere you can find one. In our case, it was here, but we were looking anywhere in the Bay Area all the way to South SF, not aiming for here.
If I talked like you around my friends, like Palo Alto was the only place to live in the world or area and somehow, there is a God given right to live here in new housing, I'd quickly find myself alone. You can find cheaper houses here by working up as I described and living frugally in a broken down place On the RR tracks. Living in a $1.5 million fixer rental, even with friends, is a middle class person's luxury shortcut and always has been. Why not try to buy a place with friends and all live there fixing it up, then sell it for a profit? How do you think your sense of snobbery and entitlement comes across to people who have been willing to bite the bullet?
Some of the people who rented rooms from us have homes now in places like Los Altos and parts farther south, but no one waltzed in and plunked down the cash. If you want to put down roots here and you aren't Zuckerberg, you have to find a way to buy, and it willnot be as nice as that rental you are complaining about, guaranteed. Even if two or three times more BMR units are built, you have no guarantees as your competition to get one will remain far more fierce from other people wanting to move here. I have a friend who was finally convinced to buy a horrible place in PA (theyexist) they literally had the laundry on the back porch and slept in an illegal garage conversion, for a horrendous, sacrificial amount of money, wondering if they would lose their shirts if the market dropped. Eventually, they sold for a profit and moved to a nicer home across the bay. And work there and SF (that's the other thing, uually there is this thing called a spouse who works somewhere else anyway)
Better transit is the answer, not letting developers do whatever the hll they want. - because people will change jobs over their careers, and gridlock creates more emissions not fewer. And recognize no matter what you do it's not going to be cheap here until it s so blighted everyone goes to crowd in somewhere else. Stop asking people who were willing to make sacrifices you apparently aren't to build you a new cheap place to live.
Read what I wrote above. We have affordable housng, let's do what we can to retain it, not make ways for giveaways to developers to destroy it like these density bonus rules do to destroy Buena Vista. (Tell me, did you try to rent a more affordable mobile home before that 1.5 M rancher?)
I know places in the country with good Internet access where you can live n a nicer home than that 1.5M fixer, and own it outright or 40k. If you have $100k, you could have serious acreage. I know because that's where the CA family moved, and it's not all just one place.
If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.