East Palo Alto residents express support for more affordable housing

City offers three scenarios for added housing in city's Westside

During a town hall meeting Monday night, more than 100 East Palo Alto residents said they are willing to support higher density housing -- including up to 8-story-tall buildings -- to preserve and expand low-income and affordable housing in the community.

The meeting was held to define a vision for the city's Westside Area Plan and gauge residents' opinions on future development in the area. Westside lies west of U.S. Highway 101 and includes the Woodland, Willows and University Circle neighborhoods, stretching from Menalto Avenue to the Palo Alto border at San Francisquito Creek and Highway 101 to Woodland Avenue.

The area is part of the city's "Vista 2035" vision plan, which serves as a blueprint for what residents want the city's housing, parking, safety and quality of life to look like for future generations. The plan will replace the city's state-mandated 1999 general plan, which itself was an update to East Palo Alto's 1986 general plan.

The Westside area contains the city's largest chunk of rent-controlled housing -- 2,185 units, including 1,800 units owned by one landlord. The 160-acre area comprises roughly half of the city's rental housing with a total of 2,700 units, city planner Anne Cook said.

High turnover among tenants means that even rent-controlled units are getting more expensive. The city's rent-stabilization ordinance only protects a unit's rental price while a particular renter lives in it. When a renter moves out, the landlord can raise the rent to the current market rate. Then, the overall rent increase in any 12-month period may not exceed 10 percent.

A full 75 percent of renters have lived in their apartments for less than four years; only 5 percent have lived in their units for 10 or more years, Cook said.

Many East Palo Alto residents cannot pay for even so-called affordable housing, she added. Affordable housing is based on the area median income, which in San Mateo County is $101,200. "Extremely low income" -- 30 percent of the area median -- amounts to $30,360. "Very low income" is $30,361 to $50,600; "low income" is $50,601 to $80,960; and "moderate income" is $80,961 to $121,440.

Nearly all East Palo Alto households earn less than $75,000 a year; 35 percent make less than $35,000 a year, according to city statistics.

At Monday's meeting, residents overwhelmingly voiced their support for permanent affordable housing, for preventing the displacement of existing residents, for preserving the "right of return" for existing residents if they are moved during construction; and for maintaining the city's rent-stabilization program.

They also supported to varying degrees health and safety improvements such as new sidewalks, parks, community centers, lighting and safer access to and pathways across Highway 101, as well as development that could improve the city's bottom line.

Three development scenarios presented Monday -- based on research and discussions by the Westside Area Plan Advisory Committee and city planning staff -- would increase the amount of low-income housing through the construction of buildings that would range from four to eight stories high.

Under one scenario, Westside housing could increase to 3,500 to 4,500 units. Some would be permanent affordable housing and some would be rent-stabilized. The increase would yield 1,000 to 2,000 new units and improve some streets and other infrastructure, enhance retail and gathering spaces, and improve walkways across Highway 101.

A second and more popular alternative among residents envisions a hotel, office and high-density-housing development that would add the same amount of housing as the first scenario but would include the most permanent affordable housing units due to subsidies from the hotel and offices. The plan proposes a 300,000- to 600,000-square-foot office complex with retail along a main street. Revenue from the commercial space would help the city to improve the area's lagging infrastructure and would add new streets, parks and open space, including a 1- to 2-acre public park, mini parks and a green-belt space along San Francisquito Creek, according to the plan. This scenario also promised increased parking for residents.

A third scenario would build mixed-use, high-density housing, adding 1,500 to 3,000 new residential units. The option offers a high number of permanent affordable housing units with retail space, new parks, increased parking and new streets and infrastructure.

Residents Monday favored the second and third alternatives, but they wanted assurances that money from the commercial developments would largely stay within the Westside area and not be disbursed to other city projects. Some residents also questioned whether all commercial development would be squeezed into the Westside area rather than added to east of 101, where there is more land.

The meeting also polled residents about the scale of development: Did they prefer 100 apartments in an eight-story building with 20 permanent affordable units; 50 apartments in a five-story building with 10 permanent affordable units; or 20 townhomes in a two- to-three-story building with four permanent affordable units? Residents said they would opt for greater density and building height if it meant more affordable housing.

Residents also weighed in on levels of affordability they would like to see in new housing projects. For the same amount of subsidy, an affordable-housing developer could build more units for moderate-income households or fewer units for lower-income households, staff said.

The majority of residents wanted the housing mix to largely include units for low-income and very-low-income residents.

Millicent Grant, president of the East Palo Alto Senior Center, cautioned that many seniors fall into the extremely low-income category and said there needed to be enough extremely low-income rental units to accommodate them.

"What about having senior housing? Don't forget your seniors. They are the ones who created this city," she said.

In spite of their support for housing, those at the meeting agreed they don't want a repeat of the University Circle development, which demolished the run down Whiskey Gulch -- the closest thing the city had to a downtown -- and turned it into offices for law firms. The site has no real access or amenities for the community, residents said.

"It's a barricade to the community; it's a project that turned its back on the community," Cook said.

Residents also want more over-the-freeway connections that will help unite the west and east sides of the city.

The Westside Area Plan Advisory Committee will meet to discuss Monday's results on June 16 at 6:30 p.m. at East Palo Alto City Hall. The City Council will receive an update on July 2. Another town hall meeting will take place in September, with a meeting about the draft plan in October.

The Westside Area Plan can be viewed at [http//


Posted by XDM, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 11, 2014 at 1:05 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Justin, a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 11, 2014 at 1:16 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Oh Sure!, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by jerry99, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2014 at 2:26 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2014 at 2:27 pm

I'm quite certain nobody from Palo Alto will have any objections, just as they have said in the case of ABAG: people from other cities and counties shouldn't be making land use decisions for them.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 11, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

So many ignorant, uninformed opinions. The westside doesn't have much crime, nor does it have that many Section 8 folks. It does, however, have unfortunately high rents, thanks to the landlord from hell, Equity Residential. EQR is the hideous Walmart of landlords. We deserve better.

Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 11, 2014 at 5:39 pm

If the development was truly mixed-use, hotel, office and high-density-housing development, I'm all for it! Look at the offices next to the Four Seasons - which is the same part of EPA. A well done complex would be great.

Posted by Really? , a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 11, 2014 at 8:06 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by TB, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 11, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Almanac, thanks for including the drawing of one of the scenarios. Do you have drawings of the other two scenarios that were presented? If so, can you please add those? Thanks!

Posted by Memories, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2014 at 10:16 pm

So suddenly Menlo Park is interested? Will they be just as annoyingly difficult as they were about University Circle?

Posted by newjackcity, a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2014 at 10:37 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Memories, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Why should East Palo Alto residents care about the real estate in another city/county, New Jack? The area specified in the article contains the majority of the town's high density rental housing, and has for decades.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2014 at 7:37 am

I hope the City of East Palo Alto plan and allow high quality high standard mix use development. Show other cities on how it can be done.

Posted by sister madly, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 12, 2014 at 1:47 pm

actually, hmm. you'd be surprised. there is low income housing tucked away on the "west side"...webster house on channing comes to mind, as does the new development at homer and alma (i think it's homer and alma). then there are long term land lords that rent way, way, way under market because they realize their long term tenants have no where else to go. and (shock!) there are long term "west siders" who make less thank 20k a year.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Sister - what are you talking about? You're talking about the housing in Palo Alto. The article is about the west side of East Palo Alto. My response was to ignorant remarks which dhow how little the commenters know about the area in question. I am sorry that I am missing your point.

Posted by Moving Forward, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Exciting times! This is a great opportunity for East Palo Alto to show the region, and even the country, how redevelopment can benefit both the existing residents with low income housing needs and still provide incentive for developers to replace the deteriorating housing within the city.

The direction and feedback that residents gave during the town hall meeting this week sounds as if most understand the challenges, but are also able to see light at the end of the tunnel. Change is sometimes scary, but as long as we educate ourselves on the facts and keep an open mind we can achieve our goal!

Posted by Hmmmm, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 12, 2014 at 5:52 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

There's plenty of affordable housing already here on the west side of E. Palo Alto that's still in manageable shape. And where did these drawings come from? I know that the west side residents didn't decide to have eight story units like this. These consultants are trying to shape and influence the thinking of the residents, to the benefit of EQR and the developers. They should stop pretending that this is in the best interest of the residents.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 13, 2014 at 9:46 pm

This sounds like a great idea ... if it is near the already high-rise area close to what used to be Whiskey Gulch. They already put an high-rise enclave there ... and why not update the housing units in this area .... IF they can build enough parking to cover the people who will be living there. This will put some incentive on other landlords to update their own parking capacity. The area over there is a mess and Palo Alto and East Palo Alto need more reasonable cost housing ... if it can be done in a way that makes upgrades the city and the area tastefully. [Portion removed.] If this can be done right, it's a good idea.

Posted by stephen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 14, 2014 at 11:30 am

Do the various proposals include any discussion of prospective changes to traffic volumes? I.e., by what routes will the various commuters to the office spaces arrive in the area?

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 14, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Major redevelopment of west EPA really would be of benefit to Palo Alto as well, as long as the traffic is managed. The only real way to do that is making a new Newell bridge is bike only.

The current proposals for west EPA redevelopment are advertising Newell as access to downtown PA and Caltrain. Redevelopment, especially as some plans include a lot of commercial and retail, could dramatically affect traffic on the Newell corridor.

Take a look at the proposals and it the traffic impacts should be obvious.

Web Link

Posted by Memories, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Moving Forward, by any chance, are you employed by, or related to anyone employed by Equity Residential aka Woodland Park Apartments?

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 14, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Mr. Recycle >> The only real way to do that is making a new Newell bridge is bike only.

See this is not a good idea as I have been trying to point out every time this issue comes up.

It's probably what will get done, but as density goes up in West East Palo Alto that bridge if it is a bridge will pump more and more traffic into that residential area of Palo Alto.

The same is true is you leave the bike lane, only it is not car traffic it will be bike and foot traffic from people using Palo Alto services ... that is, a growing larger and larger number of people. Not a good idea.

If EPA wants to develop Southern Western East Palo Alto ... i.e. near the Newell Bridge, it ought to invest in its own recreational areas there, a like a park, not allow more and more people to use the Palo Alto facilities.

It is a great idea to develop these areas, they are perfect for dense housing and even some business would be great.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 14, 2014 at 9:48 pm

@CrescentParkAnon - I'd rather deal with bike and foot traffic than auto traffic and more parking issues - it is a compromise that isn't perfect, but is at least possible. If you ask me to predict what happens, I think we are headed for a full 2 lane realigned bridge with signal. There is huge development money at stake here. The money will dwarf the little development battles downtown. It will be a boon to the EPA politicos, and they aren't going to give a crap about complaints from residential palo alto.

Posted by and one more thing, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 16, 2014 at 7:14 am

[Post removed.]

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