Palo Alto set to adopt new vision for housing

City's updated 'Housing Element' seeks to encourage smaller units, more housing near transit stations

Smaller apartments, more mixed-use buildings and new housing developments near train stations are among the key tenets in Palo Alto's long-term housing vision, according to a new document that city planners and commissioners have been crafting for close to four years.

The city's Housing Element, a 210-page vision statement that the Planning and Transportation Commission discussed Wednesday night, seeks to address a variety of housing challenges and regional mandates that the city is facing or is projected to face in the coming years. It lists the city's housing inventory, identifies locations for new housing and introduces a host of programs aimed at encouraging more residential development in the largely built-out city. These include a greater emphasis on mixed-use developments, intense building near train depots and homes built on city-owned parking lots in certain commercial districts.

The commission considered the document Wednesday and decided to resume its discussion on May 9.

The new document also takes aim at one of Palo Alto's most famous restrictions -- the city's 50-foot height limit for buildings. A program in the Housing Element calls for the city to "explore limited exceptions to the 50-foot height limit for Housing Inventory Sites within a quarter mile of fixed rail station to encourage higher density residential development."

The Housing Element is, in some ways, both a guide for new developments and a reflection of land-use trends are already taking shape in Palo Alto. The City Council has enthusiastically encouraged development near Caltrain stations and is now weighing two dense projects near the downtown station -- a Lytton Gateway building featuring offices, space for nonprofits and apartments; and a proposal by philanthropist John Arrillaga for a large office building and theater at the current site of the MacArthur Park restaurant.

The Housing Element begins with a vision statement: "Our housing and neighborhoods shall enhance the livable human environment for all residents, be accessible to civic and community services and sustain our natural resources." It then lays out dozens of programs and policies that seek to strike a balance between encouraging new housing (particularly affordable housing, the city's most glaring weakness) and protecting existing neighborhoods.

The document's strategies for new housing stress smaller and more affordable units, ones that could accommodate the city's growing senior population. According the Housing Element, the population of Palo Alto residents aged 65 and older rose by 13 percent between 2000 and 2008. The trend isn't expected to abate anytime soon. The new document notes that the city's population of residents between 45 and 65 went up by 18 percent between 2000 and 2008.

"Smaller units are generally more affordable and generate fewer impacts to many of the City's infrastructure and services, including roads, water, sewer and schools," Senior Planner Tim Wong wrote in the staff report that accompanied the Housing Element draft. "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. There is also a growing demand for multifamily units near services and transit, by both seniors and young urban professionals, who are choosing to live closer to services, thus reducing traffic impacts."

Proximity to transit is another major theme of the Housing Element, which aims to make sure any new housing is supported by amenities such as schools, transit and shopping areas. The city's goal of building housing near these types of amenities is the main driver behind the Housing Element proposals to make exceptions to the city's 50-foot height limit for projects within a quarter mile of transit stations and to consider allowing higher density for mixed-use projects within half a mile of transit stations.

Though much of the Housing Element deals with abstractions, projections and big-picture policies, the document is more than an academic exercise. The city is required by state law to submit the document to the Department of Housing and Community Development, an agency that will review it for compliance. Palo Alto is required to zone for 2,860 housing units by 2014 to meet state's projections under the Regional Housing Needs Assessment.

The new document lays out a conceptual plan for accommodating 2,976 housing units, a number that includes 1,192 units that have either been built or are currently going through the permit process. The new Housing Element is meant to address the planning period between 2007 and 2014. If Palo Alto is unable to accommodate its allocation, the city could lose out on housing, transportation and infrastructure grants, according to Wong's report.

But aside from the legal requirements, the document is also intended to provide a framework for helping the city achieve its housing goals.

"The overall intent of the Housing Element is to enable an adequate variety of housing to be accommodated in appropriate locations and densities that ensure neighborhood compatibility," Wong wrote in his report. "An emphasis is also placed on encouraging smaller units that minimize community and school impacts and reflect the City's changing workforce and demographics."


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Posted by member
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2012 at 7:52 pm

This is just too ridiculous. The living cost in PA is not cheap at all (from eat out, shopping, and even water rate ...). Why would one want to ask the seniors or needy to live in this expensive area? There are still so many area in the Bay Area where housing price still haven't come back up and the living cost is much lower.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Smaller units will just mean that families will cram themselves into smaller spaces to get into our schools.

Accordingly, are we going to see an improvement in transit? We can't just depend on Caltrain to get these unit dwellers to where they want to go.

At the very least we need to get the shuttle services to serve all our schools and to do this they should no longer be free.

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Posted by C
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 10, 2012 at 10:17 pm

"Smaller units are generally more affordable and generate fewer impacts to many of the City's infrastructure and services, including roads, water, sewer and schools"
I bet these are all nonsense.. A city does not welcome small or big businesses to expand but plan to build high density living boxes and expanding schools. If the intent is for the senior, they should plan to build more parks or golf courses! Someone to need to explain why the baby boomers want to retire and stay in P.A.with the current housing market situation?

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Posted by Follow the money
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 10, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Does the report mention the millions or is it Billions of dollars the developers and their architect supporters will make?
Palo Alto is struggling with overcrowded schools, jammed roads, not enough daycare not enough playing fields.
Who gets to pay for the infrastructure? We do. We just raised 76 Million for the library. What's next? more school bonds?

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2012 at 7:41 am

It's been the same policies and strategies for the past 30 years: more high density housing near the train stations - unfortunately the train ridership has not increased in proportion to the amount of high density housing, traffic has gotten much worse, the probability of going to your neighborhood elementary school has gone down, and our infrastructure condition has only gotten worse. For example a PA Weekly article interviewing new renters of the Tree House Affordable housing on Charleston quoted a family which was living in a studio.

When will our city council do a review based on 30 years of data to see what how effective these policies have been?

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 11, 2012 at 8:17 am

NO one in the Planning Department should be allowed to do any 'planning' for the residents of Palo Alto UNLESS they live here. Not one rule, not one regulation. And so what if we lose out on $$$ for housing, transportation, and infrastructure grants. THE State is BROKE and has no money!! Palo Alto is a "charter city" Does it have any 'rights' over an autocratic bureaucracy that is causing it nothing but grief?? And young planners with big ideas? Other cities have told ABAG 'where to go'. And as far as suggesting that seniors would/should want to leave their homes and move someplace else, it's obvious the city wants them gone. Comments on-line let seniors KNOW they are not welcome anymore. And look at where the new senior 'low cost' housing is going up on Alma. There is NO affordable grocery store near - and no bus service to get there. Whole Foods doesn't count. Where is the planning in this 'town'? ABAG has close ties with the building industry. and those developing 'mass transit'. Do the research and find out. It's all there- led by the developers - and we are the sheep being "planned".

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Posted by Dave
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 11, 2012 at 8:32 am

Enough of housing development discussions by the planning commission. What they should consider is continue to improve the quality of life by focusing on the infrastructure. That's one of the many reasons why we love being Palo Altans. We are already overcrowded in our schools and there is too much focused on housing growth while everything remains stagnant. I'm also willing to bet the development will take place south of Oregon.

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Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 11, 2012 at 8:44 am

Why have a 50 foot height restriction, if the City Council trades it away to the highest bidder? Height restrictions are put in place to retain a quality of life for residents, not as bargaining chips for developers.

City council, stick with the rules. We put height restrictions in place to depend on, not for you to give away.

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Posted by Just-Say-No
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2012 at 10:46 am

Within the past week, the City and PAUSD have released another pie-in-the-sky proposal for three schools on the Cubberley site—which will cost somewhere between 350M-500M (before bond financing costs are added) and perhaps a staff (certificated and classified) of 300-500 people (SWAG) to operate. Now, the Palo Alto “planners” have released a proposal that seems to suggest that the future housing of Palo Alto should focus on “seniors”. So, do these two plans fit—hand and glove?

If the idea is that seniors living in their own homes (which are presumably paid for) are going to move out and start paying rent, or buy a million-dollar condo, so that they can continue to live out their days in Palo Alto—they should provide some hard data to make that point. If they think that they are going to be proving housing for seniors to move here, from other parts of the world, or country, then they should make that point.

The PAUSD has made the claim during the last bond election that the price of housing was going to double every ten years, for the next thirty years, followed by a bit of a decline in the next ten years (remember, the last bond election authorized bonds to be repaid over the next forty years—so the bond consultants had to come up with some slick “numbers” to justify the massive bond authorization of $375M).

So—did the City actually survey a significant number of people who are in their 50s and early 60s to get some sense of what they might be doing when they get to be in their late 70s and 80s? Probably not. It might be interesting to see how many people living in Palo Alto today actually think that they will give up their cars and become dependent on public transportation in the later years.

This plan should be rejected. At the very minimum, it should be fully vetted to allow Palo Altans to come to see that those making these plans could care less about our property values (long term), or our quality of life.

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Posted by FrankF
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 11, 2012 at 10:51 am

FrankF is a registered user.

Wow some amazingly negative comments - but I believe this is the right direction.

Some say that all of the city planning department should live here - and I agree that it would be a good idea for them to live the life they are planning. but unless you are going to significantly raise the salaries of the city employees (and the planning department is staffed with city employees) they will not be able to afford the million + cost of housing.

For that matter where will our children live if a starter home here is 7 figures? What about the guy who works at the grocery or the waiter who helped you last night? Maybe that's why things are so very expensive here.

As far as seniors goes - why shouldn't they be able to live here?

We need more small and affordable homes.

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Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2012 at 10:59 am

I am tired of this so called "planning" by OUR City...

- KEEP OUR 50ft LIMIT - Why was it implemented in the first place? - because we, the residents, wanted quality neighborhoods. not a BIG CITY.
- NO MORE new housing - our schools are already getting crowded!!!

*Charleston/El Camino
*E Meadow/Alma
*"Gateway" crap!
What neighborhood will get screwed next?????

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 11, 2012 at 11:13 am

I would agree that the assumption that PA senior citizens would rather move out of their homes (assumed paid for) and go pay rent for an apartment is, at a minimum, misguided or just silly.

Look at the city now. Everyone thought that senior class would sell off their homes and move into the (Marriott?) facility over by the Stanford Shopping Center. I do not recall witnessing the great PA sell-off.

The only reason a senior will sell his/her home is because they need to sell (financial) or the home does not need their physical abilities (2-story home for example).

Assisted living is the only other plausible alternative that would make sense. But to assume seniors would rather give up their spacious homes (and yards) to live in apartment near the Caltrain (and HSR) line is just silly.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 11, 2012 at 11:14 am

Sorry for the typo's:

"meet" their physical abilities.

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Posted by Just-Say-No
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2012 at 11:16 am

> As far as seniors goes - why shouldn't they be able to live here?

People should be able to live where they want to—as long as they can afford it. The belief that “society” should be responsible for subsidizing personal choices, or social engineering, is faulty, and always ends up in bankruptcy of the societies that hold these beliefs too dearly.

> We need more small and affordable homes.

Who says? People tend to forget that the PAUSD is a Basic Aid school district. That means that the bulk of the funding comes from property taxes. “Affordable housing” takes up space, generates children that need to be educated, and generates very little in taxes to pay the bills.

This may seem like a “cold” point-of-view, but the price of housing and the funding of the schools are linked at the hip. If the State were to get rid of Basic Aid school funding rules, or Prop.13 were to fall, or Serrano-Priest (1970s law suit that resulted in State funding of schools), then perhaps things would be different. School vouchers might even change the way we see things, but thanks to the mindlessness of the labor unions controlling the State Legislature, few of these ideas are likely to come to pass in California until the State goes bankrupt.

The idea of building tens of thousands of new “affordable housing units” in Palo Alto is not only reprehensible, but an attack on our collective right to a decent quality of life, and an attempt to depreciate our property values.

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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 11, 2012 at 11:25 am

What if anything is our fine city doing to stop the demolition of wonderful old Birge Clark and Charles Sumner houses? I can't believe they let the Birge Clark house on Webster be demolished.

Let's have more TacoBell McMansions and ugly sprawl like the former Rickey Hyatt.

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Posted by A
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 11, 2012 at 11:34 am

This is planning based on wishful ideology. They have a baseless vision that these apartments will all be occupied by seniors or young, single professionals commuting by train.

The reality of Palo Alto is that each such apartment will represent two more kids in the school system and at least two more cars on the road.

As for height restrictions, This used to be a much more beautiful area. Even without many very tall buildings it is no longer so obvious why Mountain View was given that name. Sunnyvale used to live up to its name as well. We might as well change our name to Edificio Alto.

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Posted by su west
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 11, 2012 at 11:40 am

Who, exactly, are you building for? Who will benefit from high-density housing? Retired people living on pensions? Then you'd better include medical care, because there is already a shortage of places for the elderly, and they are living longer - way beyond their predicted life span. How will overcrowded, understaffed schools benefit from your building plan? Or will you offer low-cost housing to families but not let their children go to Palo Alto schools?

The noble idea of more housing and more affordable housing needs to be thought through. Seems like what is being proposed will be a boon for builders and speculators but not so good for the city and its residents.

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Posted by Grandma
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Sadly, building smaller units will ultimately drive middle class families out of Palo Alto. Maybe this is the answer to the School District's over-crowding problem.

If the emphasis on attractive houses for these families is not adhered to in the future, 30 years from now we will have many fewer families and more single people. The population density of the City will change towards more singles. We will become like San Francisco. Many apartments fewer houses.

Like many seniors I'm staying in my house - forget about some poky little apartment for my senior years!!!!

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Posted by disenchanted
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm

This is part of the state mandate, the future of the state will be high density. It's part of the "progressive green" agenda. All the iberals out there should be THRILLED!!

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Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm

If my house wasn't paid for, I'd be outta here. This is not my kids' Palo Alto anymore--they are grown and gone and could never afford to come back unless they inherit our house. The politicians, city employees who live elsewhere, and the developers are ruining what drew most of us here in the first place. No parking around the parks. No room in the schools. High utility bills. City has no money for local animal services which will force many to DRIVE (ever try to take a pet on a train or bus unless it is a service animal?) a long distance to the county shelter. But lots of money and support for bull$sh*t projects, studies, and "green" planning such as two laning four lane streets to choke traffic which is already dense. I agree with what everyone has said.

Side note: George Lucas wanted to build a studio in the Marin hills. Residents were irate. Great revenge, the land will now be used for low income housing. So much for traffic. What irony!

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Posted by Sue
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 11, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Exactly as I expected; 100% negative comments. Everyone afraid their neighborhood will be ruined. No one in Palo Alto ever wants anyone to move into their precious city. Why don't you have one great big high rise built so that you don't have to have so many buildings put all over the place? Why can't it be higher than 50 feet? You'll have less buildings. As long as you are comfortable in your own house, what do you care?

I hope a lot of them are condos *without* stairs rather than townhouses *with* stairs if they are for seniors. Everything built in this area lately, no one builds regular condos - the builders just put places in with stairs, which makes no sense at all. They don't take up any more space; one goes on top of the other one instead of two with stairs next to each other, they can be flat and on top of each other. The builders around here make no sense. Everything has to have stairs. Stu-PID!!

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Posted by 50-Feet-Is-Enough
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2012 at 5:11 pm

> Why can't it be higher than 50 feet?

This limit was established back in the 1960s, when the Bank of America building was built. It was so large, and overwhelming, that the Council decided to create this limit so that no more of these tall buildings could be built.

> You'll have less buildings.

At the time, the developers of the BOA building wanted to build four of these structures downtown. Their vision of a "super block" was horrifying to the folks of that era, and if "super block" had come into existence at the time, it's hard to believe that there would not be dozens of those large buildings in the downtown area and other parts of town.

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Posted by lazlo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 11, 2012 at 7:26 pm

...more housing around train stations. Last time I checked there was only two train stations in the city, so it took the planning people four years to develope a plan for two small sites? These two sites are already filled with condos, low income housing, and hotels. Time to get into the planning contract business to bilk taxpayers promoting nonsense projects put forward by the Keene and Klein circus.

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 11, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

These are my written remarks to the Planning Commission tonight (what I actually said may deviate slightly).
I am a member of the Technical Advisory Group, one of the representatives of the neighborhood groups.

The process has been an extremely frustrating one. The question of what Palo Alto needs and what is good for Palo Alto has been almost entirely missing from the considerations. Instead, it has focused almost entirely on satisfying the wildly unreasonable demands of ABAG.

NONE of the concerns I brought to the process are addressed by this recommendation. First, Palo Alto has a long history of seemingly well-intentioned policies that have produced the opposite effect, and this draft exacerbates those problems.

Incentives to decrease the jobs-housing imbalance have been used to create large amounts of office space with only small amounts of housing, thereby making the problem worse. Programs H2.1.1 and H2.2.2 seem designed to be abused.

When the issues of abuse of incentives and unintended consequences were raised in the TAG meetings, they were dismissed by statements that the Housing Element represented what the City hoped would be done. Reminders that "Hope is not a strategy" fell on deaf ears.

A persistent fallacy in these considerations is that increasing housing supply increases affordability. The observation that this doesn't work if you are driving up demand even faster again fell on deaf ears.

The proposal continues the fallacy that locating housing near transit produces substantial use of that transit because it fails to distinguish USABLE transit. Transit that that 3-4 longer, or more, than driving is effectively indistinguishable from no-transit.

This proposal continues the City's hostility to retail, especially retail as a walkable destination or within a short trip. For example, the City's prior decision to effectively expell Fry's Electronics with hostile zoning. The desired housing will likely generate only 5-10 Caltrain riders, but at a cost of hundreds, maybe thousands, of daily shopper who will then need drive out of town for shopping. Yet somehow this is claimed to reduce Green House Gases.

The City has been told time after time the importance of surface parking lots to retail, with confirming studies. Yet with H2.1.5, the City continues to target these facilities for conversion to housing.

This proposal calls for rapid redeveloping, targeting commercial building that haven't been redeveloped in a mere 20 years. It also targets commercial buildings that are only 1-2 stories. There is no concern that this will produce a dramatic shift in retail, driving out the affordable community serving businesses in favor of those targeting workers and visitors.

Here, "affordable" is equated to subsidized. There is no concern for the many current residents who are already working hard and sacrificing to make ends meet. The vision of this Housing Element is that of two Palo Altos, one of residents for whom price is no object, and one of residents require subsidies to live here.

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 11, 2012 at 9:16 pm

To Sue of Menlo Park:
Menlo Park is problem-under-development and more waiting-to-happen. Me thinks you have enough to do ' over the Creek".

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Posted by Love the plan!
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 11, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Wow! Just look at the NIMBY' come out for this one! It's really amazing to see what this city has become. We have a really great opportunity to grow and adapt to this changing region, but a VERY SMALL coterie of naysayers, haters, and NIMBYs want to keep Palo Alto from adapting. They want to stop time. What's astounding is that some of the most ardent haters in this forum live in housing that is substandard, even by the standards proposed for the newer, smaller units. A lot of these NIMBYs have a ton of time on their hands. I hope our policy makers wise up and start looking at and planning for the future, instead of listening to the many dinosaurs in this forum who are trying to claim Palo Alto for themselves.

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Posted by Love the Plan
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 11, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Doug Moran: "The proposal continues the fallacy that locating housing near transit produces substantial use of that transit because it fails to distinguish USABLE transit. Transit that that 3-4 longer, or more, than driving is effectively indistinguishable from no-transit."

Mr. Moran's arguments around transit are almost always the same. What he's missing is that mass transit has to "come into its own" by building infrastructure. In Mr. Moran's world, it would not have made sense to build the first good, paved roads when the automobile started to take hold, because it was much quicker to get to most places by horse and buggy.

The word that comes immediately to mind, as I view these negative comments is "musty", as associated with "old", and "forgotten". Palo Alto, lets move forward, not backward. Stopping time is impossible - even Mr. Moran knows that.

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Posted by paresident
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2012 at 9:06 am

@Love the Plan -- the problem with ABAG is that they are changing Palo Alto into a very high density community. As it is, many high density projects have already been built since we moved here 25 years ago. Palo Alto is not lacking in these sorts of apartment/condo buildings. I do know some families who cram into small apartments so that their children can go to Palo Alto schools. There are problems with infrastructure when ABAG keeps cramming in more dense units. Trying to paint those of us who would like to keep Palo Alto's suburban charm viable as "haters" is just nonsense because you don't have a good rational. Stick to the facts.

Thank you Doug Moran for your contributions.

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Posted by Bruce F
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2012 at 9:24 am

I would like to see the key recommendations that will be used for planning broken down and put to the public for vote. This is too major an issue to be decided in a council meeting

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Posted by Is-Local-Retailing-Dying?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2012 at 10:49 am

> This proposal continues the City's hostility to retail,

This is going to be a troubling issue, because the Internet may well have changed to “landscape” where local retail is concerned. The cost of land is so high in Palo Alto, and the general hostility to traffic and business itself, makes Palo Alto an unlikely place to want to invest a lot of money in a retail operation—outside of downtown and Stanford. Additionally, as Palo Alto continues to “age”, most residents find themselves needing to buy less “stuff”.

Back to the Internet—we are going to see on-line stores that use personal data to allow people to “try on” clothes, or other personal items, and then deliver them overnight, or within a couple of days. These services will be available to everyone, making retail centers less necessary for people to buy what they need. Planners that are the least savvy will sooner-or-later recognize this, and begin to factor this into their planning exercises.

One would expect, over time, that planners would begin to use computer simulation better than they have in the past to create land use/revenue generation/traffic generation predictions that offer reasonably accurate visions of how new zoning regulations, and housing elements, will affect life in our towns and cities. Retail requires a certain number of customers a day. Without those customers, retail can not survive—unless it adopts a sophisticated business model that includes catalog, Internet, and possibly B2B sales, in addition to walk-in sales.

It would be a breath of fresh air for the City Council to recognize that without this sort of modeling, these plans are little more than the blind-leading-the-blind.

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Posted by Linda
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 12, 2012 at 11:19 am

What we need are several train shuttles that pick up /drop off commuters throughout Redwood City, Menlo and Palo Alto at prime times for each station - similar to the Margarite.

We need a local/region approach - not just cramming many new people at the stations. There are people here already that need help with the train commute !!! And then new people can have more options where to live.

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Posted by I like it
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2012 at 11:20 am

Seniors do not have school children living at home, as a rule. By the time young couples have a child, they move to larger quarters. So a mention of a need to open schools is a separate issue, and best limited to what city planners see for the whole of Palo Alto.

I like making walkable areas by our 2 train stations- Downtown & California Ave. Making these areas more people-friendly must be a priority. Those areas ought not just be limited to being motorist friendly or even bicyclist friendly.

I do not suggest closing the streets off to vehicle traffic entirely. That would be no good for anyone, in the long run. But the existing four lanes on California Ave. should be addressed now, reduced to two lanes, so the footprint of that district is put into place long before any more development happens.

I don't remember if the University Avenue train station is a Pedestrian Transit Oriented District {PTOD}. But I remember reading that designation has been put into place along the California Avenue district.

Pedestrians should be the priority there, especially if they want to build more smaller units that would attract even more pedestrians to that district. I like the plan to build more smaller units and by the train station, the only question are: how many, and how will it be done?

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Posted by Is-Local-Retailing-Dying?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2012 at 11:23 am

> What we need are several train shuttles that pick
> up /drop off commuters

Caltrain is a disaster as a transportation model, a business model, and possibly run by total incompetents. The idea that we (as a regional society) should throw good money after bad to somehow force people to use this monstrosity is unthinkable.

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Posted by LWV housing advocates
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2012 at 11:34 am

Among the dinosaurs that "Love the Plant" derides is the League of Women Voters housing advocates who have become adjuncts of the developers by supporting every oversized monster building. They support the monster 355 Alma Street, the monster 800 High Street and now this.
I wonder whether the organization really supports so much overdevelopment to change the city, or has this activist committee taken over the quieter members.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Local retail is Dying

Your idea of retail seems to be completely clothes orientated.

An average family needs a lot more local retail than clothes. We need to be able to buy food for a sudden influx of family guests (often teenagers) at short notice. We need to be able to buy school supplies for an unusual project when the whole class is given just a couple of days to buy, as an example, white t shirts or certain sized poster board, etc. We need to replace backpacks, or binders or a myriad of other kid requirements when items get "lost", or broken and are needed for homework or school the following day. Bike locks, lights, new shoes to replace those with holes and kids who grow 2" over spring break to replace outgrown clothes are all things that an average family may require at a moment's notice. Not to mention family haircuts or the occasional family meal out that doesn't need an overdraft to pay the bill.

At present, most retail in Palo Alto does not meet many of these needs for our family and a trip to Mountain View or elsewhere is urgently required.

Yes housing near transit makes sense, but only if the transit will take you where you need to go and generally speaking if the transit is routine and regular. Our transit is not very useful for a last minute change of plan.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Clearly there is a new right implied for everyone that wants to exercise it-the right to live in Palo Alto.

And in answer to the question above about how the new residents will afford it-don't worry about that. We will pay for it so they may live here and make city planners in Bay Area counties, cities and universities happy. This is what ABAG wants-you and I do not have a right to decide what our community will be in the future.

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Re: "Mike" : "a new right implied for everyone that wants to exercise it-the right to live in Palo Alto."

This is not _new_. It has been a fundamental belief among many (most?) housing advocates for as long as I can remember (at least 15 years). The belief that there are many people who would like to live in Palo Alto and that current Palo Alto residents have a moral obligation to allow them to do so at a price they can afford, and these advocates have had a predominant role in shaping housing policy for years -- other stakeholders have repeatedly been excluded from the process until the later ("too late") stages.

There are a couple of minor variations on this. One is that all Palo Altan (including those in BMRs?) are so very rich that it is simply selfishness that they don't provide unlimited subsidies. Others attribute this to residents being "exclusionary", with the accusation of racism occasionally being explicitly made. If you actually look at the BMR program you see this is not the case: Instead you see examples of people who committed a youthful indiscretion -- such as getting a Ph.D. in French Literature -- who have since tried to turn their life around but haven't fully recovered.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 13, 2012 at 11:01 am

The chief PLanner is Tim Wong. Where did he live? What is his education? Where did he go to school? What is his idea of a place to live? Does he have any idea of WHY people moved here? What is his 'neighborhood culture'? Palo Alto is being ruined for those who live here in order to appease those who don't and think it's their
Constitutional and God-given right to do so. I don't hear this ABAG uproar for Atherton, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills ,Saratoga, Monte Vista. WHY PALO ALTO? WHO
I$ BEHIND ALL OF THI$? When is our City Council going to get some spine - unless they too are in cahoots with the builders.

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2012 at 11:57 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Bob "I don't hear this ABAG uproar for Atherton, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills ,Saratoga, Monte Vista."

That is because those cities don't have the equivalent of Stanford Research Park. ABAG treats each city as being a separate metropolitan area, separated from each other by tens of miles. Thus, someone commuting from a mansion in Atherton, Woodside, ... is treated as someone commuting from the Central Valley (Tracy is the typical example), and that these people would gladly give up that commute if Palo Alto only provided more 2-3 bedroom apartments and condos along the railroad tracks. I am not kidding or exaggerating. For example, in one meeting two high officials from the ABAG/MTC/... complex, one stated that a lawyer hired by a SRP firm would have to go to Tracy in order to find housing s/he could afford and the other stated that SRP engineers had to commute from Los Banos.

The reason that those other cities aren't being hit with demands to create housing is that they don't have many of the types of jobs that ABAG counts. ABAG's solution to the so-called jobs-housing imbalance is to build housing near jobs, not move jobs near housing.

ABAG is well aware of the benefits of having dense pockets of jobs such as SRP and Stanford U -- for example, they create opportunities for transit (including shuttle buses from trains) and carpooling. However, ABAG refuses to consider this in its allocations. I and others have argued that many of the surrounding cities are effectively suburban neighborhoods of the metropolitan area centered on Palo Alto and there housing should be counted against the jobs in the composite area. If you chopped San Jose up into areas of a few square miles each, there would be tremendous jobs-housing imbalances.

The absurdities of the ABAG process are so blatant and so numerous that many people find it hard to regard it as simply ideology run amuck or other form of intellectual corruption, and instead point to the financial special interest groups that control the process (via the politicians to whom the "donate").

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm

> BEHIND ALL OF THI$? When is our City Council going to get
> some spine - unless they too are in cahoots with the builders.

It is difficult to tell, sometimes. Some of these ideas come from “outside”. For instance, a few years back the Planning Dept. managed to get the City Council to endorse “New Urbanism”, in theory, if not in practice. New Urbanism was the brainchild of a small number of university types who thought that the right answer for the future was to return to the past. From the ideas of 3-4 people, this “movement” sprung up without actually having a lot of public debate, or vetting. This sort of architectural design reduces “setbacks” of buildings—pushing them right up to the sideways. We see the results of this sort of architecture in the ugly JCC, and the housing project that forced Rickey’s/Hyatt out of Palo Alto.

How much of that decision was driven by local architects (such as former Council Member John Barton) and how much was driven by “planners” who believe that they have been empowered to “redesign” Palo Alto in their image is unclear. Far too many decisions are made without any kind of an audit-trail of documents. Decisions are made, and no one can explain who made the decisions, or why.

Sadly, Council elections are very scripted affairs these days. Candidates are not required to provide very much information about themselves, and the local media does not deep investigation of any of the candidates. We do not have Yes/No voting, so we get the candidates who garner the most votes—not the best people for the job. It’s unlikely that even one of the current Council could explain “New Urbanism”, yet they have the power to institutionalize it as an architectural norm here in Palo Alto.

All things political are badly broken in this little town.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm

If Stanford Research Park is the driver in all of this, then why is Palo Alto tasked to solve the problem? Last I checked, Stanford University owns that land, not PA.

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Posted by B
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2012 at 1:03 pm

> If Stanford Research Park is the driver in all of this

SRP is not the "driver" of this situation--it's simply a factor in a badly designed process. Moran's comments generally seem to outline correctly what is going on here. The "driver" is perceived population growth in California, and the Bay Area. The Legislature seems to believe that it has the power to redesign (and even wreck) everything in the state. One possible solution would be to rework the State Constitution to restrict the powers (real and perceived) of the Legislature.

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Posted by Frustrated
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2012 at 1:28 pm

This is the same theory they've been pushing for years. It doesn't work. Condos are crammed into areas around train stations and no one there takes the train. They even added the San Antonio station to accommodate the theoretical increased demand from the housing project there. Now all the local trains stop at the empty station forcing everyone to wait. Why don't we kick these urban planners back to their ivory towers and tell them to leave us alone?

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> If Stanford Research Park is the driver in all of this ...
Although SRP is owned by Stanford, the land is in Palo Alto and it is no different from any other commercial property (except in scale): Would you require the owner of a building housing a restaurant to provide housing for its employees (or equivalent)?

On the other hand, Stanford has long been an abusive "partner" to Palo Alto. For example, with the pending hospital expansion, Stanford could have joined with PA to lobby for the impacts of that regional facility being spread over the region rather than concentrated in Palo Alto (Stanford's in-lieu payment is miniscule compared to the ABAG requirements that the project will produce).

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2012 at 5:25 pm

> "I don't hear this ABAG uproar for Atherton, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills ,Saratoga, Monte Vista."

Los Altos is to be the “Fastest growing city measured by new housing” in Santa Clara County, with a 50% increase, according to Plan Bay Area. Web Link

Makes no sense. Nor does any of the rest of this ABAG/Plan Bay Area/New Urbanism nonsense.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2012 at 9:44 am

California Declares War on Suburbia
Planners want to herd millions into densely packed urban corridors. It won't save the planet but will make traffic even worse.

Web Link

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Posted by ollow the money
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

We can't get to the bottom of the problem until we find out who is getting the payoffs.
Which council members, which staff, which architects, and real estate lawyers are cashing in on this. The developers of course.
There are billiion$ that they divide up.

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