Facing a plate full of development projects, Palo Alto City Council members Monday night didn't show any appetite for doing away with the city's controversial planned-community zoning during a meeting about the city's development issues.
The packed meeting, which stretched until after midnight, included more than two hours of comments from the public, many of whom criticized the city for allowing developers to use planned community (PC) zoning to build dense developments at the expense, they said, of quality of life.
PC zoning allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for public benefits to be negotiated between the developer and the council. In November, voters soundly defeated Measure D, a development that required a PC zone and which the City Council had approved in June.
Despite the outcry against PC zoning, several residents Monday supported its judicious use, saying such zoning helps created vibrancy in the community.
Vibrancy was on the mind of Councilwoman Liz Kniss when she defended the zoning.
"You hear a lot about PC zones being the villain, and in some cases it may be," she said. But the council shouldn't "throw the baby out with the bathwater," sacrificing a tool that has helped put Palo Alto on the map internationally.
Kniss said that many developments in town that residents admire couldn't have been completed without PC zoning, giving such developments as the Opportunity Center for the homeless, Oshman Family Jewish Community Center and Sunrise Senior Living facility as examples.
Councilman Pat Burt said he didn't believe PC zones are the primary problem among the city's development policies.
"Saying PC zones are the culprit of 'too much development too quickly' is misguided," he said.
He noted that only two of the 21 major developments the city has in its pipeline involve a PC zone -- the Jay Paul development, a massive two-office-building complex at 395 Page Mill Road that would come with new police headquarters for the city; and a four-story mixed-use building at 2755 El Camino Real.
"We need to quit just finding the bogeyman and look at the real problems," he said. "And it's tough; it's complicated."
However, he said, the city needed to be sure that the process isn't abused. The Jay Paul proposal, for example, is "way outside of anything we should consider," he said.
The city should have input on the proposed developments much earlier in the process and should be able to put parameters on projects early so that the council isn't left late in the process asking itself: "We've got a bad project. How do we make it less bad? We want good projects," he said.
Councilwoman Gail Price said she was "absolutely opposed to a moratorium on PC zones as it relates to economic vitality," saying it was the council's job to be nimble and flexible and find ways to make competing views work. Instead, she advocated slowing down the flow of projects and focusing on "accelerating the conversation on how to make them better."
Citing a rift between the community and the council over the latter's alleged lack of transparency, Councilwoman Karen Holman came out in favor of a moratorium on PC zones, saying they have often resulted in what people felt were broken promises and overblown developments.
Holman also favored the idea of the council taking "a hiatus" on all the city's development proposals until commissioners and council members receive training on CEQA and planning compatibility, an area where she said she sees "a lack of understanding."
With many of the broad development issues still to discuss, the council voted Monday to continue the discussion of re-examining PC zoning to January or February.
There will be more "community conversation" meetings about new development and its impacts over the next few weeks.
On Monday, Dec. 9, the council is scheduled to discuss a proposed "transportation demand management" program aimed at reducing solo commuter trips to the city's primary business areas.
On Dec. 16, the council is set to consider a proposed framework for residential permit-parking programs aimed at providing relief to Professorville, Downtown North and other areas that have been inundated with cars parked by downtown employees.