Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - October 22, 2010

Does new housing equal new students?

Half of district's new students move into old Palo Alto homes

by Chris Kenrick

Major new housing developments, particularly in the southern end of Palo Alto, are often blamed for generating overcrowding at schools like Fairmeadow and Palo Verde elementary schools.

However, new housing in the past five years accounts for only about half the school enrollment growth, according to demographers.

The other half comes from turnover of existing homes — when retirees whose kids have grown sell to young families.

Planners are nervously watching to see what will happen once the housing market rebounds. They're also facing constant pressure from the state government to add housing.

Palo Alto Planning Director Curtis Williams said the city hopes to satisfy state mandates with smaller, senior-oriented units to minimize impacts on school enrollment. Non-compliance with state housing requirements is not a possibility; it can result in loss of certain state grants to the city.

"The short-term focus for the new housing element is to find some ways that focus more on smaller units and senior units and housing types less likely to produce school-age children," he told a recent meeting of the City-School Liaison Committee.

The city's new housing plans have become a regular discussion topic at the monthly gathering of the City-School Liaisons committee.

Stanford University is not likely to produce a host of new K-12 students. Ten years ago the university obtained county permission to build up to 3,000 new housing units — but much of that already has been built, and 2,000 of the units are for single students, according to Stanford's Director of Community Relations Jean McCown.

"In terms of the school district's thinking about this, that (3,000) number doesn't represent a figure that's going to produce children for the schools," said McCown, a former mayor of Palo Alto.

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