Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 25, 2007

Housing numbers 'abnormally high,' city says

Palo Alto being asked by regional group to accommodate 13 percent more homes in city

by Molly Tanenbaum

Palo Alto officials are objecting to a recently announced directive that the city should encourage the construction of 3,505 new housing units in the city over the next seven years.

That figure, which would add 13 percent more residences to the city's current stock of 26,000 units, is the latest housing allocation released by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

The ABAG Executive Board met last week to vote on how to divvy up 214,500 new housing units -- a need determined by the State Department of Housing and Community Development after analyzing population growth -- throughout the nine Bay Area counties. Of those units, 60,334 would be in Santa Clara County.

"We think they're abnormally high," Palo Alto Planning Director Steve Emslie said of ABAG's numbers for the city's future housing burden.

He said ABAG fails to take available Stanford land into account that is part of unincorporated Santa Clara County. Currently, ABAG only recommends 165 new units to be built in all unincorporated county lands, but Emslie would like to see some of Palo Alto's share shifted over to Stanford.

The university could accommodate 3,000 housing units under its general use permit with the county, Emslie said.

"They need to fix that, and they've been unwilling to do that," he said.

Stanford spokesperson Jean McCown was perplexed by ABAG's calculations that resulted in only 165 units for unincorporated county land.

"Frankly, I don't know where in the world they get that number. It honestly makes me wonder," McCown said.

She said university staff is looking into ABAG's calculations and whether, for example, they count Stanford's jobs and housing units as a part of Palo Alto or unincorporated Santa Clara County.

"We are definitely going to have to drill down -- both the city and Stanford together -- to try to understand how ABAG is thinking about the role that the campus plays vis--vis Palo Alto," McCown said.

Palo Alto's housing allocation is the fourth highest in the county, behind San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, which will be asked to build 34,717 and 5,873 and 4,426 new units, respectively. Mountain View came in behind Palo Alto with 2,897 new units.

Cities must respond to housing allocations through zoning regulations to distribute more housing. Though ABAG's housing allocations are goals and not absolute requirements, cities that do not comply could be less likely to receive state funding for housing and other projects, ABAG spokeswoman Kathleen Cha said.

Palo Alto's allocation is distributed throughout income categories: 35 percent of the units would be for "above-moderate" incomes; 22 percent for moderate incomes; 19 percent for low-income housing; and 24 percent for very low-income housing.

In January, the ABAG board met to approve a methodology for distributing housing throughout the nine counties.

Factors taken into account include available jobs and housing and the municipality's rate of growth, along with nearness to public transportation.

Palo Alto's proximity to three Caltrain stations (including the San Antonio Road station in Mountain View along with University and California Avenue stops) earned it a greater responsibility to build up, Emslie said.

Cities have 60 days to ask ABAG for changes to their allocations.

ABAG plans to finalize numbers before April 2008, according to an ABAG memo.

Talk about this issue on the Weekly's online forum, Town Square, at www.PaloAltoOnline.com.

Staff Writer Molly Tanenbaum can be e-mailed at mtanenbaum@paweekly.com.

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