Palo Alto is almost certainly stuck with an assignment to plan for 2,860 housing units by 2014, city staff members told the Planning and Transportation Commission Wednesday.
But that goal is "nigh impossible," Assistant Planning Director Curtis Williams said.
Nonetheless, the city is preparing an appeal to the regional organization, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), that assigns state-mandated housing goals to local communities.
Wednesday, commissioners added their concerns to a draft letter appealing the "highly unrealistic" goal for Palo Alto, which the city plans to send to ABAG after the Dec. 10 City Council meeting.
"I feel like we're being squeezed unfairly," Commissioner Paula Sandas said, echoing views of other commissioners.
The letter argues that ABAG's methodology ignores factors in certain transit-oriented zones and penalizes cities such as Palo Alto that have already planned for dense housing near public transportation.
It also states that the city would need to provide a $375 million to $500 million subsidy to pay for the 1,875 affordable units.
Williams said staff has tried to focus on issues that are discussed "in the normal communication mode between agencies and ABAG."
"They just kind of blow off things like school issues," Williams said. "But I do think the point has been made that this time we're really up against numbers that are not achievable."
The housing assignments are the state's attempt to provide an adequate housing supply and a diversity of housing types and costs in part to balance the number of jobs and reduce lengthy commutes. But the goals face strong opposition from local communities.
Palo Alto does not necessarily have to construct the units but is required to set aside space for them and ensure they can be developed, Williams said.
ABAG is expected to hold a hearing on appeals sometime early in 2008, according to a city staff report. It is expected to finalize housing assignments by June 2008 and Palo Alto would have until July 2009 to include the allocations as part of its housing element of its Comprehensive Plan.
If the city doesn't comply, it could lose state grants such a $1 million it is currently receiving to help with the proposed Alma Street affordable housing project, Chief Planning and Transportation Official Julie Caporgno said.
And, it could be subject to lawsuits from the state or pro-housing groups, Assistant City Attorney Donald Larkin added.
Cities that haven't followed ABAG requirements in the past have been sued by developers, low-income housing advocacy groups and others, ABAG's Research Director Paul Fassinger said. And the housing element of a city's General Plan will not be approved by the state if it doesn't follow regional allotment, creating problems for future planning, he said.
Currently, the city plans to appeal its assignment until it is finalized by ABAG. Then, it intends to do its best to accommodate the assigned units and finally provide detailed explanations why it was not able to plan for or achieve all 2,860 units, Williams said.
Palo Alto also might join with other cities to challenge the assignments in court, Williams said.
In a meeting that went well past 11 p.m., commissioners said they also wanted to document that the jobs associated with the Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center expansions are included in this round of allocations, Commissioner Samir Tuma said, citing an issue also stressed by Commissioner Pat Burt.
The Palo Alto Unified School District's already swelling student population is a key concern, several commissioners said.
"This will crush the crown jewel, in my opinion, of this city, which is our school district," Tuma said.
The city should also receive credit for achieving or exceeding its housing assignments in previous years, commissioners agreed.
The commission designated Tuma and Burt to work with city staff to edit the letter.
The council is expected to discuss the ABAG assignments Dec. 10.