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Palo Alto endorses new strategy for housing

Original post made on Jul 10, 2012

In a radical departure from recent trends, Palo Alto officials endorsed on Monday a new vision for housing development that prizes taller buildings with smaller units and minimal changes to existing zoning laws.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 4:01 PM

Comments (50)

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Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 10, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Cabrini Green here we come!


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2012 at 4:52 pm

The councilmembers have again energetically protected their own neighborhoods while cheerfully sacrificing the usual dumping grounds for their NIMBYism. Hypocrisy, thy name is Klein, and Burt, and ...


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Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm

"Regional Mandates" ..Boy, The developers Love mandates.. Kiss Palo Alto Character goodbye..
Everything will look like Ricky's in the future, small streets, Block of London style flats..
Birge Clark is rolling over, Most of these new developers have no vision, they only see dollar signs.
Why is the Region forcing us to comply with a mandate congesting our city?
Now they want to remove lanes and cause more congestion, Stack us up like cordwood, and force us in boxcars..Doesn't look good.


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Posted by It takes 5
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2012 at 12:38 am

curmudgeon says Hypocrisy, thy name is Klein, and Burt, and ..

..and Scharff, a real estate attorney, and Espinosa who quietly follows the money, and Shepherd. It takes five to do the deed, and they do it again and again.


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Posted by zanon
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jul 11, 2012 at 6:36 am

i agree with posters.

think about areas with dense housing -- paris, london, new york, san francisco. ever berkeley is pretty dense.

all of those areas are unlivable hell holes. it will be a DISASTER if that come to palo alto!


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2012 at 8:33 am

This just bothers me so much on all sorts of levels. I heard recently about San Francisco having solo apartments at just 100 s.f., enough room for a drop down bed, a tiny kitchenette and shower with toilet. I can see that spreading here with all these stupid quotas.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 11, 2012 at 8:39 am

3000 housing units by 2014? That's just the beginning. 7000 more are mandated in Palo Alto in the following 25 years, and you know "they" will only ask for more. But wait, state law says we only need to plan for -- though not actually build..."? I think I see a loophole.


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Posted by mustweornot?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 11, 2012 at 9:07 am

What ever happened to local control? Since when does the state dictate how many housing units we must build? Ahh, just "plan" them but apparently we don't have to actually build them. (What kind of double talk is that?) We need council members who will stand up to this nonsense.


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Posted by Opinionator
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 11, 2012 at 10:22 am

How do Atherton, Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley, Woodside, etc., get away without having to build massive high-density housing? Why can't Palo Alto do what they do?


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 11, 2012 at 11:18 am

I'd like to see the scientifically sound survey that states that Palo Alto's senior citizens and empty nesters want to downsize and live in small apartments next to the Caltrain (& HSR) corridor and/or on El Camino. I think that Mr. Wong is full of it and just projecting personal opinion.

I can speak for my own parents and state without question that plan to remain in their home forever.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2012 at 11:23 am

I have lived in England and Australia, seen some pretty good examples of housing styles, Canary Wharf in the east London area. Has some really nice tower blocks, they don't have to be that tall but still they are nice. Was once in a flat that you entered inside a arch, good sized homes off a main street, shared green space, garages and was pretty quiet.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2012 at 11:53 am

Is the city fighting or folding?

July 9, 2011: Alto challenges regional growth projections
City officials say regional agencies put too great a burden on Palo Alto to build housing Web Link

January 22, 2012 Palo Alto braces for battle against housing mandates
New city committee to scrutinize projections, identify growth areas
Web Link

Opinionator: ALL cities are under attack by ABAG. See: Plan Bay Area envisions growth without sprawl
Web Link

In particular, look at the chart at Web Link

The information in the tables comes from the Draft Jobs-Housing Connection Scenario, prepared by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). The table labeled "Fastest-growing city measured by new housing" shows the percentage increase in proposed new housing units in that jurisdiction between 2010 and 2040. The table labeled "Fastest growing city measured by new housing units" shows the number increase in new housing units between 2010 and 2040 proposed for a jurisdiction.


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Posted by Shocked
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm

If every new unit, no matter how small, has even one school age child, imagine how many NEW schools will have to be built, to keep up with the demand? Not to mention the drain on utilities.

Is this being thought out well? Just asking. As I remember, council was giddy over the High Speed Rail too.


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Posted by Wong's-Wishful-Thinking
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm

> "As Palo Alto's senior population continues to increase, the need
> for smaller senior units is important as many senior households
> have become 'empty nesters' and would prefer to downsize,"
> Wong wrote.

Wonder if Wong actually interviewed 500, or so, senior citizens (65 or older) who are currently living in their own homes, which are paid for, who have actually said "Yes", I want to live in a small apartment, be forced to use public transportation, and no longer be free to do what I want to do in my own home--such as smoke, or cook whatever I want, or to have people over whenever I want. I wonder if Wong has a list of people who have promised to "downsize" and are just waiting for Wong's vision to be put into place?

Somehow, I don't think Wong has made this effort. So, why would anyone believe him?


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Posted by Chuck
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I can testify that in my immediate south Palo Alto neighborhood about a dozen single elderly people are remaining in their own homes - long since paid for. I've spoken to most, and they don't want to leave a home with so many happy memories.

Since they don't have mortgages, their costs are property taxes, utilities, and food with little need for transportation. Gardeners are hired for yard maintenance and building work on an as-need basis. Retirement nest eggs and Social Security seem to be enough income to maintain a comfortable life.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm

10 years ago I was surrounded by elderly neighbors. They all remained in their homes until they were carried out (one way or another) except for one who still remains and she will stay until she is carried out. These homes are now filled with families with children apart from one.

I would like to see even one elderly resident who wants to move out of their long established home and move into senior housing without a car in Palo Alto, stating that they wish to do so.


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Posted by Jeff
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Parking is already a disaster downtown. Let's build more high density housing downtown ... ? Oh right, the housing is for all of the senior citizens who are too frail to drive or leave their 100 sq ft room. I sure hope the reasoning was better than what the article presents.


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Posted by Infracstructure
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm

there is no way the city of palo alto has the infracstructure to support these numbers of extra homes. It does seem funny that I don't see any large housing complexes are going up in menlo park or mtn view or redwood city. Perfect spot in MP is where the car dealers were. We certainly don't have room for more schools as in the 80's they sold off 3 elementary schools


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Posted by Jenny
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Are Palo Altan's aware than beginning in January 2013 there will be a tax of 3.8% levied on all home sales? You can thank Obamacare for this. This new provision is buried in the law.
Example: if you sell your PA house for $1.2M, the federal government will collect almost $46,000 in taxes. This will be an incredible burden on the middle class and senior citizens wanting to sell their homes and downsize.


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Posted by D
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I think if you ask Seniors what they want, they want to stay in their homes. Why not look at that and improve mass transit for Seniors who can't drive anymore and for cargivers to get to their jobs caring for the elderly. Palo Alto is tapped out in space. I am sure Seniors would love to live in a 2x2 apartment 10 stories up. Do I hear "Little boxes, little boxes" playing in background?

Honestly we need to get the our State Senator and Assemblyman to step in and change the law about density. The schools are maxed out as well as the infrastructure. Ridiculous! This does sound like socialism!


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Posted by pat
a resident of Monroe Park
on Jul 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm

There Is No Obamacare Tax On Most Home Sales. Really.

"It is the unfounded rumor that never dies ... It is urban myth. It is the revenue equivalent of death panels or the Halliburton conspiracy to start the Iraq war."
Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jenny
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 11, 2012 at 4:10 pm

The new Obamacare tax (3.8% federal tax on the sale of homes) does not include the capital gains tax, transfer tax, etc., already assessed on homeowners when they sell their homes.
The new 3.8% Obamacare tax on the sale of a $2M home is $76,000. Just think how this will effect Palo Alto's senior population, when they sell their homes. Or the children of PA seniors when they sell their parents home. Most American's are unaware that this new tax is about to be enacted in January 2013. It will effect all home sellers, regardless of income.
Newly planned denser housing in Palo Alto. The High Speed Rail cutting Palo Alto in half. What a disaster.


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Posted by weeklyreader
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Infracstructure, Redwood City is building apartment complexes at the old Mel's Bowling alley site, downtown Marshall/Arguello (across from Peet's), and on Veterans Blvd where the old Dodge dealership was.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2012 at 4:54 pm

"The new Obamacare tax (3.8% federal tax on the sale of homes) ..."

That's only half of the RomneyCare tax on homes, food, and clothing, and the RomneyCare tax is levied on all of those each year. Imagine what Romney would do if he got in the White House.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 11, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Can our waste treatment plant handle this load, or will we all be limited to two flushes a day?


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Posted by Ken
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 11, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Sorry, but the 3.8 percent tax on the sale of homes because of Obamacare is real. Real estate companies are discussing it with their employees. The Department of Real Estate is lobbying to have that provision struck from Obamacare.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2012 at 8:45 am

The Obamacare tax would apply to only couples that make more than $250,000 a year ($200 for one person) which probably applies to VERY few senior citizens. In addition, the tax is on profit/capital gains only, with the first $500K excluded for a couple and $250 for a single).


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2012 at 9:29 am

Correction: The Romney tax applies only to households with annual incomes less than $250,000.


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Posted by Phil
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 12, 2012 at 9:30 am

Thank you Palo Alto Mom for presenting some facts. It takes just a couple of quick searches on the internet to confirm that what people are calling a tax on home sales is really a tax on unearned income (e.g. capital gains) for high earners. Because of the first $500K home exclusion it will apply to very few people throughout the country (with much of the home-owning population underwater), and because of the $200k-$250K income limitation will apply to few seniors. Because we live in a high income area where homes continue to appreciate, a few home sales in this area will be taxed, but not anywhere near $76K on a $2M home. If you are a high earning couple who bought a home for $1M and were lucky enough that it appreciated to $2M (without having spent any on home improvement), you would owe tax on $500K (i.e. $19k). While this is still a lot of money, it is less than the real estate commission you would pay, a much lower rate than the tax rate on earned income and much lower than the (currently reduced) capital gains you will have to pay on the appreciation above $500K anyway. And it should not be too large a burden on a couple earning over $250K adjusted gross income and getting nearly $1M profit from their home sale.

Perhaps the discussion should now return to whether the mandate for more housing is reasonable and whether the council's new approach is the best way to meet that mandate.


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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jul 12, 2012 at 9:48 am

State Govt "mandates" telling cities how and what to build?

Isn't anyone else alarmed that now we, the voters in individual cities, have lost the ability to control what our cities look like? We HAVE to build smaller footprint, taller buildings to live in now? We MUST live by "transportation hubs" ( train and bus stations), not build in "suburbia"? We CAN'T have large, low places on a lot of land? What???

Wake up folks. Wake up.The Grand Central Planner grows ever larger. We have to vote out the power hungry beast.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

"Wake up folks. Wake up.The Grand Central Planner grows ever larger. We have to vote out the power hungry beast."

Californians voted in the hungry beast in 1978 with Prop 13, which transferred the funding of local government to the state.

Power follows money, you know. He who has the gold, rules.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

From what city did City Planner Tim Wong come?? One with massive high rises? One with people packed in like sardines and everybody uses a bike? Does he understand why people moved to Palo Alto? Does he understand what is was before the social-manipulators took it over? I know many seniors who are and have been were very active in Palo Alto and they aren't planning to go anyplace unless 'feet first'. But I DO know that these 'move and get out' mouthings by city officials are very hurtful. There are former councilmembers in the 70's, 80's and 90's living in their own homes!! Maybe Mr. Wong should move - or does he even live here? Will members of the city council pledge to move into one of those 'little boxes' when they hit sixty-five?


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Posted by Nancy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2012 at 10:26 am

In my neighborhood, seniors have been forced to sell their beloved homes where they raised their families, to access the equity in their paid-for home. They then can't afford the exorbitant, no rent control, apartment rental rates that increase annually at far greater rates than the interest earned on their funds. So, they are forced to leave Palo Alto and all their dear friends, and the city they love and enjoyed for decades. So I do believe we need affordable small apartments for seniors.

When/if you respond to my post, I welcome your thoughts. I only request that you keep it civil and avoid personal attacks to encourage a diversity of opinions.


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Posted by Grateful for these comments
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2012 at 10:53 am

I did not know about the Real Estate tax on property, compliments of Obama's Health Care package. But I remember Nancy Pelosi saying they had to pass the bill first, in order to find out what was in it.
Little by little, all of us are finding out, and it's frightening.


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Posted by noondensehousing
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm

@Nancy I too live in Barron Park and most seniors are happy to stay put. The ones who have left and sold their homes made huge profits which paid for senior housing close by. I also know a couple who moved to Arizona and were happy to do so in a brand new home there. No doubt you are right there are some who would like to move to a smaller "affordable" apartment here in Palo Alto and find PA apts too high rents. But, that's the problem: if more dense housing is built can you be sure it will be "affordable"? And the smaller, denser these new units are may make them less attractive to those who have had homes with gardens.

This sounds like developers pushing a way to make money and change the beauty of Palo Alto permanently.


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Posted by MadamPresident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm

what about people who want to live in PA (it's a free country, right?) but cannot afford a house? Why don't give them a housing opportunity? Oh, but we will not, we'll hide behind our thinning hair, our sense of intitelment, & our "houses with gardens"


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2012 at 5:15 pm

This plan is required by the State, but you should note that Palo Alto is only required to plan for the additional housing units, they do not actually have to be built.

Nancy - I'm not sure why people should feel "forced" to sell their homes to get the equity in them, how else should they get it? We are very lucky to live in a town where most people own homes actually have equity.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm

I think Barron Park Nancy has a point. I also think the people warrens being promoted by City Hall should be scattered evenly throughout the city, including (oh, the horror) Old Palo Alto, Crescent Park, Midtown, and Barron Park. I strenuously object to ghettoizing our downtown and Cal Ave areas to preserve our privileged leafy suburbs.


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Posted by Nancy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2012 at 9:43 pm

To Palo Alto Mom,
Some seniors are "forced" to sell their homes because they lack sufficient funds to cover their living expenses. For example, interest rates are very low while the cost of living here is quite high. When these seniors sell their beloved homes to access their equity, there is a lack of affordable senior housing options to allow them to remain in Palo Alto.

It would be great to ensure sufficient housing options for our seniors so they don't have to uproot from their community and friends if they don't chose to do so.


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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jul 13, 2012 at 5:13 am

What percent of "affordable" housing we already have is occupied by seniors who sold their homes and bought/rented into the "affordable" ones already available?

My bet is less than 5%. Most seniors who sell their homes here do not stay here. Why? Their money goes a lot further elsewhere, even going 5 miles to the south.


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Posted by noondensehousing
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 13, 2012 at 9:11 am

@Perspective, yes I think you are right.

@Nancy you are assuming that these dense units will be attractive to seniors. My guess is that most seniors want a comfortable space and not something like a college dorm room. Also, when new, the dense housing may be attractive but over time often becomes run-down. And, dense housing means dealing with shared walls/noise/leaks/problems. If we're talking about townhouses, then yes I would agree that's attractive to seniors wanting to downsize. Townhouses with shared walls can be attractive and also have a little garden space. But the kind of dense housing being proposed here would be very crowded. My point is that the dense housing would not be attractive to seniors downsizing.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 13, 2012 at 10:15 am

"What percent of "affordable" housing we already have is occupied by seniors who sold their homes and bought/rented into the "affordable" ones already available?"

Perspective asks for facts that advocates of overdense housing steadfastly decline to provide. Another no-no query: What fraction of people currently living "near" transit use it?


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Posted by Nancy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Is there a place to get more information about the size of the proposed individual housing units? I'm aware of seniors living in apartments now that are simply unaffordable doe to the lack of rent control. I'm curious how the size of the proposed housing units compare to Palo Alto apartments where our current seniors are being priced out of their community.


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Posted by For the love of flowers.....
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2012 at 4:01 am

I live in an apartment complex in Palo Alto, owned by G and K Managment Company. I have lived in Palo Alto almost my whole life. Being single I never bought a house of my own and have rented in Palo Alto and close by areas for quite sometime.

I am almost 70 years old and have to live by whims of the managment company who keeps adding on rules and regulations at will to our yearly lease.
Last month they sent around additional notices that all residents are only allowed 4 potted plants on their patios or on their balconies. What a slap in the face for all people who live here to throw their plants into the garbage can, plants that were just ready to bloom, plants that allowed someone a little cheer to pretend they have an endless acre of land in which to put their hands in mother natures soil and watch and reap the wonderful bonus of spring plants blooming nearby. The smell of fresh flowers, the little enjoyment that puts happy thoughts into your day kind of thing.

Conform, within the week~ do as they ask or move within 30 days. No choice. Another addition to the lease. Not your life, you little apartment dweller, you.


Squishing the elderly into a coffin sized apartment is cruel and unusual punishment.... Are there enough voices to vote to keep Palo Alto green????!! New buildings need to be liveable, inviting, eye candy areas in which people will smile and be proud of. Would you want your mother or father to live in a bare bones, noisy place? Think about that when it comes down to allowing the lowest bidders to build anymore flim flam box car housing in Palo Alto.........


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm

There is no plan to build these units - the City just needs to present a "plan" of where they could be built to satisfy the ABAG requirements.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm

There is no plan to build these units - the City just needs to present a "plan" of where they could be built to satisfy the ABAG requirements.


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm

There are no plans to build these apartments? O Ye of little 'faith' and very guillable. Besides those sitting on the City Council dais, there is the 'unseen' council - the developers, the builders, trade unions, the do-gooder researchers (a/k/a/ Social Scientists). Follow the money. But as Palo Alto taxes its seniors ad nauseum - utilities, fees, bond issues and on and on - they ARE moving out of here. Tradition has it that seniors are valued members of the community - but not here. And NOT with the city. They are in the way of progress and $$$. Avenidas tries, but the youth cult overshadows. Until you get there in age, you don't get it'


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm

I always find it humorous that people who are so reactionary are so against any kind of market based solutions to any of our problems. If there was no demand for "100 sq ft closet apartments" they wouldn't get built. If there is demand for housing, it going to have to be provided, and whether its in Palo Alto, San Jose, or Stockton, we'll all still be paying for the services and dealing with the traffic this causes.

These are all things you're going to deal with living in one of the biggest and most successful metro regions in the country; you get to enjoy all the benefits of living here but somehow are miffed that you have to deal with any of the drawbacks.


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Posted by Handicap Needs
a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2012 at 5:59 pm

I wish the city would make developers hold like 1 or 2% of new apartments accessible for wheelchairs i.e. make slight step up at front entrances to 'climb' or effortlessly make a ramp. to have interior doorways and bathroom door entrances at least 30" wide. Not all wheelchairs are 24" wide. They need to be affordable though too. Nothing huge and fancy, just wide enough doorways, ovens at reachable/safe heights, steps down to garages easily convertable for tenants. Thank you for your consideration.


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Posted by noondensehousing
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 17, 2012 at 8:29 am

@Robert you state "If there was no demand for "100 sq ft closet apartments" they wouldn't get built" I guess you have never seen overbuilding and empty buildings. But that's not the point here. The point is that local voters have some say over housing density in their own city. Local taxpayers pay taxes for local services. You just pooh-pooh that and see no problems in transforming Palo Alto into a very high density city, like it or not. That's not democracy, that's socialism.


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