News

Palo Alto moves ahead with office cap

Council looks to apply growth limit to University Avenue, California Avenue and El Camino Real

Facing a climate of steady office growth and rising community angst, Palo Alto officials on Monday agreed to trudge ahead with a solution that has been galvanizing the local business community: an annual cap on new office space in the city's prime commercial areas.

After three long and exhausting meetings, the City Council on Monday directed staff to start putting together a new ordinance that would create an annual growth limit of 50,000 square feet for office and research-and-development space at University Avenue, California Avenue and El Camino Real. The elements of the new law would be brought back to the council in early May for review.

In deciding to go ahead with the annual office restriction, the council was at once unanimous and deeply ambivalent. Several council members had opposed an office cap in the past and continued to argue on Monday night that this solution would not make a dent in the city's ever-pressing issues of parking and traffic.

Councilmen Marc Berman and Cory Wolbach both argued at prior meetings that the cap would distract staff from transportation and parking initiatives. But on Monday, both grudgingly went along with the proposal cobbled together by Councilman Pat Burt – a proposal that has less breadth but more urgency than the one on the table earlier this month.

Council members Greg Scharff and Liz Kniss both said they would not support a moratorium on office development, a more stringent step that some in the community have called for, but acquiesced to the cap, with Scharff lending his second to Burt's motion.

The ordinance that staff will be drafting would run until the updated Comprehensive Plan is adopted. The effort has been dragging since 2006 and is now set to conclude late next year.

The office limit of 50,000 square feet would apply to the three commercial areas around University Avenue, California Avenue and El Camino Real. To determine which developments would be approved, the council would rely on a scoring system that assesses proposals based on traffic and parking impacts, intensity of use and design criteria.

For the council's slow-growth proponents, the cap was an easy sell. Mayor Karen Holman, who made retaining retail and slowing down the pace of office development one of the focal points of her "State of the City" speech last month, backed the new cap. So did councilmen Eric Filseth, Tom DuBois and Vice Mayor Greg Schmid, who also make up the council's residentialist wing.

DuBois said he believes the "status quo is not working" and lamented the booming office construction, which he argued comes at the expense of housing and other types of developments.

"We have to strike a balance and have a diversity of land use," DuBois said.

While Berman and Filseth were on opposite sides of the debate earlier this month, each concluded that the proposal is heading in a reasonable direction. Even so, Berman wondered if this places too much burden on city staff.

"I just don't see how we're going to do this and do the Comprehensive Plan and do the efforts that we all agree will probably have a bigger impact on the issues that are frustrating our residents the most – traffic and parking," Berman said. "Frankly, that's what at the end of the day I'm trying to accomplish."

While the geographical reach of the proposed cap isn't as broad as the citywide growth limit that the council had previously discussed, its impact would be more imminent. Rather than explore an annual cap in the context of revising the city's Comprehensive Plan, as had been previously discussed, the council on Monday signaled its intent to adopt the cap on an interim basis before that protracted planning effort is completed.

Burt, who crafted the proposal, acknowledged that the cap would not solve all of downtown's problems, but argued that it would work well with the various measures that the city is already pursuing, including a new Residential Parking Permit Program and a new nonprofit that manages downtown's traffic congestion. He argued that saving the exploration of a cap for later would simply encourage developers to submit their plans now.

"If we don't do it on an interim basis and say we're going to do it in the Comprehensive Plan, we'll create a land rush," Burt said. "We'll have development projects rush forward now, not to mention the very large number already in the pipeline."

The unanimous vote contrasted sharply with polarizing debate that characterized the council's prior discussion of the office cap.

At the March 2 council meeting, Schmid and Filseth both supported having staff explore a citywide cap between 10,000 and 40,000 square feet for new office and research-and-development space. The proposal fizzled with some council members outright opposing it and others saying they need more time to think about the topic.

The new proposal, which was adopted after much debate but with no dissent, specifically excludes Stanford Research Park, where opposition to a new cap has been particularly intense. The council pledged, however, to explore new Comprehensive Plan policies that would bind all developments in this bustling hub of corporate campuses to strong traffic-reduction measures.

The council's ambivalence mirrored a similar divergence in the community, where legions of neighborhood leaders and slow-growth "residentialists" clashed with local businesses and large employers over the subject of an office cap.

Proponents of the growth limit have consistently argued that the cap is needed to curb the city's parking and traffic problems, to get a better grip on the impacts of recent developments and bring some balance to a development climate that has become increasingly office-heavy.

Opponents, which include Stanford University, HP, Google, Palantir and the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, have characterized the cap as a blunt tool that doesn't really address the real problems of traffic and parking.

Neither side disputes the fact that the city is going through a heavy office boom, which is bringing in traffic and sucking up parking spots at residential neighborhoods. While office space in Palo Alto had actually declined by about 2,800 square feet annually between 2001 and 2007, when office and industrial buildings were increasingly replaced with housing, the trend has turned around in a big way since then.

According to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment, the city has been adding about 67,000 square feet of office and research-and-development space annually since 2008.

Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS, a trade association representing real estate professionals in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, argued in a letter to the council that constraining office development would come with a financial cost. Office developments, the letter states, come with impact fees that pay for parks, libraries, community centers, affordable housing and traffic congestion.

"Prior to capping office development, it is important that the City know it can financially afford to do so," Jessica Epstein, the association's government affairs director, wrote. "Cutting off these funds without carefully studying the ramifications could lead the City into the unfortunate position of needing to raise taxes on residents and businesses."

The group also voiced a concern that imposing a cap "would do nothing to alleviate the already crowded roads.

"If the goal of the Council is to reduce traffic and improve parking, then it should have an analysis done as to whether a cap would accomplish that goal," Epstein wrote.

Lockheed Martin redeveloped a 55,375-square-foot office and research-and-development building on its campus at Stanford Research Park. In its place, the company built a new two-story 85,959-square-foot facility that "much better serves our current and growing needs," the company's letter states.

"We have other buildings on our Palo Alto campus that we hope to repurpose should the need arise in the future," R. Marshall Case, Lockheed Martin's vice president for infrastructure services, wrote. "The contemplated office/R&D cap may make these plans impractical and serve as a disincentive to our investment in Palo Alto for the long-term."

Architects and developers also came out against the cap. Ken Hayes, a prominent architect whose modernist mixed-use developments have been sparking consternation among residents with traditional leanings, argued in a letter that a cap "is not the best solution and certainly one not befitting the innovative community of Palo Alto."

David Kleiman, the developer behind 636 Waverley St. and 240 Hamilton Ave. (both designed by Hayes), wrote in his own letter that the majority of the citizenry "do not want to stifle development in Palo Alto" through an office cap. He also pointed to the opposition from HP and Stanford.

"If a cap is imposed, property owners affected by the cap will sue the City to have it overturned, as a violation of their property rights," Kleiman wrote. "So from virtually all perspectives, except those of a vocal minority that incorrectly associate development with parking issue, this would be a monumentally poor decision."

John McNellis, the developer of Alma Village offered a different proposal: linking new office developments to residential construction, thereby ensuring that the city's jobs-housing imbalance doesn't get any worse.

McNellis, whose project includes both offices and apartments, concurred with the idea that the city's jobs/housing imbalance is "bad and will worsen with every new office building you approve." And while he didn't support a cap per se, he was the only developer to propose changes.

"While I would not impose an arbitrary cap on office space, but rather one based on addressing this critical problem affecting us, I would also not let myself be bullied by companies who threaten to move out of town."

Yet the majority of the speakers at the hearing were residents who supported a cap. Cheryl Lilienstein, president of the group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, couched her argument in a fable, with advocates of high-density growth playing the role of insatiable lions reproducing without hindrance and feeding themselves to the detriment of their terrain. They asked the council to restore balance to the ecosystem.

The College Terrace Residents Association also voiced support for a cap, which it argued will allow the city to "take stock of where we are going, and to consider carefully how we can preserve the quality of life for residents."

Its board president, Brent Barker, submitted a letter that argued that a cap would allow the city to "pause and take a look at the problems facing retail."

"Even if the cap proves temporary, it would provide some breathing room to explore solutions to the compounding problems created by the current boom in office development," Barker wrote. "Office space is growing fast, and high-density occupancy is growing even faster. The cumulative impact has been to outstrip the City's ability to cope with traffic, parking, and city services, and to further aggravate the jobs/housing imbalance."

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2015 at 8:35 am

Hooray! The Council is nudging and trudging ahead...hardly moving at legendary speed of Silicon Valley. The nine stewards of the "self-acclaimed" epicenter of innovation are seeking sedatives for negative growth impact but not cures. Thanks to each Councilperson who put aside differences and put the ball into play. Pat Burt played the pivotal role. Kniss, Berman and Wolbach politely acknowledged problems but seemingly fail to admit publicly that city staff and Council have been floundering for the last two years. These three Councilpersons with a wide range of experience seem to rely on the upcoming comp plan process.

A revised Comp Plan alone is not a viable solution because it is a multi-year process often described as an opiate for the masses. Pat Burt is the most realistic voice advising staff that Comp Plan renewal and revision will require much time and real citizen involvement. A new development cap will spur traffic, parking, housing and retail solution much faster than any new Comp Plan.

Now we have a single issue for public scrutiny. What is the Development Cap gonna be?


13 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2015 at 8:37 am

I think this is a good compromise. We want to protect ground floor retail businesses, but at the same to not restrict other businesses who are organically growing.

We do need to think of other ways to reduce street congestion and improve street safety. I would like to see more off-street parking lots and also more public transit options. The city needs to think of ways to collect money from employers to build up transportation infrastructure.


23 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 24, 2015 at 8:46 am

Hmnn. I am not celebrating yet. It seems like business as usual with a tweak.

Increasing density is the core problem. And the entire city needs a density diet.

Traffic and Parking are JUST symptoms of a system overloaded with commuters. Attending to symptoms will not cure the main problem which is ever more commuters filling ever expanding office spaces which drive out those who serve the residential community: which in addition to retail includes dentists, therapists, and medical personnel.

I agree with Burt that a land rush will ensue if no constraints are placed on construction prior to the Comprehensive Plan Update. Yet his proposal only "preserves" three areas while sacrificing the rest of Palo Alto.

While saying we can't have "the meat cleaver approach", Burt proposes to constrain only Downtown, El Camino, and Cal Ave to a total of 50,000 square feet (which is GREATER than the yearly average, to be honest).

I'd say that's meat cleaving.

What about the unconstrained development everywhere else?

There are so many convenient zoning loopholes and state mandates for density that Midtown, East Meadow Circle, Charleston, and Embarcadero will likely experience a land rush if a CITY WIDE cap is not produced. And relying on zoning is tricky and both the PTC and the ARB think bigger and WAY taller is better.

We need a city wide cap on development while the parking and traffic problems are mitigated. We shouldn't cleave off three limbs, while pumping thickened blood into the rest of the body and expect good health to be the result.

Sorry for the yuck factor.








13 people like this
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2015 at 8:53 am

casey is a registered user.

Why does Palo Alto need an office cap limit along University Avenue, California Avenue and El Camino Real? If you zone properly, require ground-floor retail, enforce building limits, and require buildings to provide their own parking, doesn't that solve the problem? The solution is to not grant variances.


8 people like this
Posted by not enough
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 8:59 am

Anything that has a compromise on this issue is not enough.

It should have been bolder.


11 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:07 am

While there were many of the "pro office" folks at the previous meeting they were absent last night.

All of the public speakers with the exception of one, Lockheed Martin, were pro moratorium/cap.

Last night was a good first step, but 50k square feet per year, with 180,000 SF in the "pipeline" isn't going to cut it!

When you are already at or OVER capacity, adding 50k more every year won't work.
A lower number might help; but the 180,000 Square feet in the pipeline cannot be ignored.


18 people like this
Posted by inadequate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:08 am

We need a moratorium on office projects while a downzoning and elimination
of loopholes is undertaken in response to the crisis situation which we
are in in terms of development impacts. Also, there was no mention
at all in the entire Council discussion of the drought, which is additional rationale for a moratorium while downzoning in undertaken. An office cap simply stretches out the impacts of overbuilt projects over a longer time frame producing the same end result. This is totally inadequate to the
situation we face, and ten years too late to start with.


17 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:38 am

Without significantly more incentive to improve traffic, parking, jobs/housing imbalance, loss of retail, and impact on neighborhoods, those problems will continue to get worse as density increases. At best a cap only changes the rate of increase.

A moratorium would hold further damage to a minimum, while providing real motivation to develop and fund solutions to the problems. At this point I think it's the only option that offers a decent chance of improvement.


21 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:08 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Kudos to council member Burt and Scharff and the whole council. No one including me got everything they hoped for, which is the criterion for a good compromise.

The media stories did a fair job of reporting but missed the final ask, which was for staff to come back with ideas, alternatives and issues for each component of a cap ordinance--which locations, how large, pipeline projects, triggers for termination, criteria for selecting projects within any cap.

So readers can expect a deliberative process as there is less agreement about specifics than about the idea of exploring an interim cap.

I applaud the council members led by Greg Schmid and Marc Berman who asked repeatedly for inclusion of information on fiscal and economic impacts.

And I thank the council at a very late hour for giving staff some good ideas to explore in the Comp Plan update process.

Last night was a good night for Palo Alto.


20 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:10 am

Kniss, Berman and Wolbach remain true to their real estate/development interests. And of course Scharff. Ken Hays, glassbox expert, is against anything that will stop McOffice construction. There's big money to be made in real estate and development.


15 people like this
Posted by not enough
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:17 am

Confirmation this was lame, Stephen Levy calling this a "good night for Palo Alto."


32 people like this
Posted by Not in my backyard
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:19 am

For a 'smart' community, PA sure does dumb things. Smart growth means more density along transit corridors , not less . That is the only way public transportation works. The opposite of density is miles of low slung ugly bldgs also known as sprawl. How is that working for you ? Smart growth funds low income housing , but then the NIMBYs of PA dont really care about that or seniors do they ? Proved that with the disgraceful Maybell Sr housing debacle . Oh it is too dense and too much traffic from 93 yr old widows ... what a shame. Who will pay for your precious parks , services and schools ? Enjoy your hamlet but stay out of any neighboring cities as they dont want your traffic ! Ok for you to work and drive in other cities , but God forbid you let there be any smart growth in yours ; limo liberals run amok. Force out the growing co's as you did with Facebook, but dont you dare drive in another city.


11 people like this
Posted by judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:07 am

If you want to keep retail, make laws that keep retail. Eliminate the grandfathering of any ground floor office uses. Extend the areas requiring ground floor retail to side streets. Don't dither around with solutions to non-problems.


9 people like this
Posted by Downtown PA Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:14 am

I am pleased with city council's decision. It's important to slow the rush of building in order to deal with the traffic and parking problems that already exist. It's nice to feel good about the City Council for once!


6 people like this
Posted by 50 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:38 am

Everyone, apparently, wants a Palo Alto address. HP grew successful with one. So did Apple, Goggle, Facebook, PayPal. Maybe some of the pixie dust will rub off on me. The problem is there just isn’t enough room for everybody. By the time Silicon Valley was a reality, this was basically a built out, residential city made that way (often with economic consequences) by the people who lived here then.

In earlier days, Palo Alto chose not to sell liqueur, forcing more-lucrative, alcohol-selling restaurants to locate further down the El Camino corridor. When the big box stores arrived and shopping habits changed, Joseph Eichler had already built over most of the remaining vacant land in South Palo Alto. Thus Walmart, Target, and Costco are in Mt. View producing lucrative sales taxes. What have we? With the arrival of technology, there was need for expanding campuses and still agriculture land left in Mt. View, as John Arrillaga clearly knew. We maintained our baylands, while to the north, Facebook, Dreamworks, and Oracle located east of Bayshore.

Perhaps the best thing is to encourage rapidly expanding companies to build in the surrounding towns. Then allow their over-paid executives to build their over-priced home here, and spend their money in fancy restaurants on University Ave. They will come. It has actually already happened.


20 people like this
Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:44 am

Council shouldn't be influenced by "rising community angst", i.e., a few vocal NIMBY's. We will be better served by respecting property rights.


6 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:54 am

mauricio is a registered user.

[Portion removed.] Compromising on office growth in growth plagued Palo Alto is like saying that pouting a gallon of boiling over a burn victim instead of two gallons is a good compromise.


10 people like this
Posted by meat cleaver is apt comparison
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 12:02 pm

I think the "meat cleaver" is an apt comparison. We are so built out, we should ZONE for what we want. Do we want more retail? Where? Zone for it. Do we want affordable housing? Where? how much? Zone for it. Do we want offices with parking or in close proximity to transit (or both)? We need to build a code that requires what we want and need. That's hard work. I hope this was approved as a TEMPORARY restriction until we can get the zoning and muni code right.


27 people like this
Posted by not sustainable
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 24, 2015 at 12:03 pm

This may be one of the dumbest development decisions that Palo Alto has ever undertaken. If you're concerned with parking and traffic then why are you encouraging growth in all the parts of your city that DON'T have access to any public transportation?! You're guaranteeing that all the growth you see will have the worst possible impacts on your city. Companies by the Caltrain have 62% of their employees taking the train or biking or walking. Stanford Research Park companies is something like 5% or less. How can you possibly mitigate traffic and parking impacts from growth in places where no trains and buses and shuttles currently run?

If you're going to do a cap at all, you should be preventing development in all parts of the city EXCEPT those next to public transportation.

This is the very definition of dumb growth and getting things backwards.


8 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 12:03 pm

The following statement will probably drive the council decision to favor continued growth of office space. It's all about increasing city revenues for a city manager that likes to create new government jobs and fill posts that have been unoccupied for 2-3 years.

"Prior to capping office development, it is important that the City know it can financially afford to do so," Jessica Epstein, the association's government affairs director, wrote. "Cutting off these funds without carefully studying the ramifications could lead the City into the unfortunate position of needing to raise taxes on residents and businesses."

What benefit does the taxpaying citizen of Palo Alto get from this? Someone has to be accountable for fiscal responsibility on council. Who's going to step up? Or, are we going to continue down the path that many cities in California have traveled and file for bankruptcy.


13 people like this
Posted by LC
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Hurray,
More opportunities for offices to move to East Palo Alto.

As NIMBY rightly said, it is not offices close to public transportation that create traffic, it is residential areas without efficient transportation routes that forces people into cars to get to the office.
More density = less traffic.


Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North

on Mar 24, 2015 at 12:28 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.


Remember me?
Forgot Password?
Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.


4 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2015 at 12:34 pm

This goes back to getting the statistics on the commercial buildings that are underutilized and have not been upgraded in many years. The tax assessment on these properties must be very low.

The city has to stop focusing on the single family home as those are turning over on a regular basis and being upgraded on a regular basis.

There are pocket locations of single / double story apartments that look like they are falling down, or have had no upgrades since they were built in the 1950's. The city needs to focus on converting these old apartments to new, four story apartments if that is what they have a requirement to work to by the county / state.

Review the commercial buildings in East Bayshore - many of those buildings are continually for lease. Why are we pulling down and replacing in downtown when we have underutilized buildings in the East Bayshore area. There is a continual cry that we do not have enough office space - yes we do - maybe not where you want it - but we do have office space in the East Bayshore that is available.


7 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Thanks to LC for the Brand-New-Math:

More density = less traffic.


16 people like this
Posted by triumph of shallow thinking
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:06 pm

The new members of council (Mr Du Bois and Filseth in particular) appear incapable of anything beyond the most surface analysis of any problem. They ignore any data put in front of them and do not make any real attempt to solve problems. Their only solution for anything, it seems, is "stop growth".

This current discussion is a great example. The "cap" that they just asked staff to study is HIGHER than our current yearly average. It literally does nothing to growth rates. However, it does add to staff's workload (who now have to understand how to amend zoning codes, understand what legal challenges will have to be confronted, etc). The same staff that is supposed to be implementing RPPP. The same staff that are supposed to be leading a comp plan redraft.

The bigger picture, though, is that an even lower cap would also have no impact. We should be directing staff to work on the root of the problem, which is cars and retail.

Kudos to a council that pushed through a measure that does literally nothing good, while adding to an overtaxed staff's workload.


21 people like this
Posted by rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:07 pm

Traffic and parking are the major sources of anger and frustration in Palo Alto. Yet the Palo Alto City Council did not approve the Bus Rapid Transit program designed to get people out of their cars and move them quickly between San Jose and Palo Alto on El Camino. Transitions are challenging and expensive, but every peninsula city must start investing heavily in mass transportation and safe bike routes -- so we don't need cars. The City needs to work with Samtrans to restore bus service to SFO, and it should be EXPRESS. The Caltrain/BART route to SFO is not only awkward and confusing, it's ridiculously time consuming. Capping growth and keeping retail are fine goals -- but working with our sister cities to develop effective north/south and east/west mass transit must be a top priority. Must include wifi, comfort and speed to get people out of their cars.


16 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:11 pm

"If you're going to do a cap at all, you should be preventing development in all parts of the city EXCEPT those next to public transportation."

As one who lives near a nexus of development and public transportation, I can say with tons of authority that that notion just leads to more and more automobile traffic in the parts of the city next to public transportation. Real people have a distressing habit of doing what works for them personally instead of obeying the dictums of salon ideologues.


10 people like this
Posted by jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Marc Berman made much of his concern that the planning staff were overloaded. Surely the quickest fix for the planning staff to focus on the traffic mitigating programs that he says are his number one priority would be a moratorium on new office developments to give the planning staff breathing room to work on all the projects the council is asking of them.

And all this rubbish about limiting growth won't solve the current problems. Quite right. Wat residents want is to not add to the existing problem. What a moratorium would do would not make it worse. Every new office development has incrementally added to the problem and will continue to do so with the 180,000 square feet of development approvals working their way through the planning department (the pipeline) plus another 50,000 for the next two years. How about counting the current pipeline as the limit for the next three years?

All this about one-time fees supporting our parks, etc. That's it. One time. Yet the life of these office buildings is likely to be 50+ years. It's residential property taxes that pay the lion's share not office property taxes as their are too many loopholes for commercial properties to avoid paying their real share of property taxes.


4 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:25 pm

"more and more automobile traffic in the parts of the city next to public transportation"

Which affects those who choose to drive, though those are really the only people who count right?


8 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Rose,Rose,Rose....California is a car culture. Nothing will ever change that. No amount of added bus or train transportation will ever change that.


7 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:38 pm

>Why does Palo Alto need an office cap limit along University Avenue, California Avenue and El Camino Real? If you zone properly, require ground-floor retail, enforce building limits, and require buildings to provide their own parking, doesn't that solve the problem? The solution is to not grant variances.

Pretty much my sentiments, casey.

We are much more threatened by subsidized housing than we are by office space being built in appropriate zones. Offices, if they employ high paid workers, will add to the vitality and tax base of Palo Alto (directly and/or indirectly). Preserve residential neighborhoods AND promote smart growth.


2 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Am pleased that the Council is making an effort to address the rapid growth of commercial buildings in Palo Alto’s business districts. I fear, however, that a cap of 50,000 sq. ft. for the University, California and all of El Camino is ill-considered, and will not achieve much other than to create a temporary moratorium for development for a year or so. Given these business areas, there must be more than 4M sq. ft. possible development space (just a guess on my part). Would be a lot more pleased if the City were to begin to use simulation software to investigate future growth, which would include different land use options.


3 people like this
Posted by not sustainable
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:50 pm

@ curmudgeon - yes, it may mean more cars in a specific area, but it means fewer cars in the city overall. So that's fewer cars on 280 and 101 and it's fewer cars on streets like Embarcadero, on University by 101, on El Camino, on Alma, etc. Even those of us that live in downtown need to drive to other parts of the city. Developing near transit and keeping the total numbers of cars lower than would otherwise be by developing not near transit helps all of us.


6 people like this
Posted by Duveneck Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:01 pm

The root cause of the traffic and parking is the higher density from new office buildings and increased utilization by office workers of existing buildings. Traffic and parking are the symptoms and we all know treating the symptoms is only a partial and temporary solution.

Pat Burt proposed a good thoughtful compromise plan. One way to tell its a good compromise is because neither side is fully satisfied with it but it is a good step in the right direction. Many of us like myself would prefer a temporary moratorium, which would be very easy to administer and immediately stop the problem of new buildings adding density before the existing parking and traffic problems have been mitigated. I also think 50,000 square feet a year is too high. That does not include retail nor redevelopment of existing office buildings and is limited to just the University, California and El Camino Real corridors. Stanford Research park is also exempt. I do think limiting the office space FAR per project would also be very helpful. I really liked Pat's idea of putting the "R" back in the Stanford Research Park by slowing conversion of research to office. I am greatful Eric and Tom joined the council to represent the people who live in this town. While business may complain, this is a fairly low impact proposal for them and while the worst of the office buildings (e.g. square tall glass underparked office buildings without setbacks and without meaningful traffic mitigation) will not get built, that would be a good thing.

Since in the current economy, office buildings are the most profitable and are the building of choice for developers, unless there is zoning the jobs/housing imbalance will continue to increase and we will not have enough housing for the future needs of this city, specifically for young and old folks. I wish council members who should be for moderately dense housing, especially in downtown areas, e.g. Cory, seem to fail to embrace this concept.


7 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:19 pm

@not sustainable - come on, think about what you are saying. You admit more development downtown means more cars downtown, but then claim there will be fewer on cars 101, 280, El Camino, University, and Embarcadero? How do you think the "more cars in a specific area" get to that area?? They drive down 101, get off on University, and park downtown. Every bit of new development means more cars, traffic, noise, and pollution.

Even if the numbers the pro-transit folks claim are true (62% of employees take the train), that means ~4 out of every 10 new workers downtown are driving in. You can't decrease traffic through more development, it is an absurd proposition.


4 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:21 pm

"yes, it may mean more cars in a specific area, but it means fewer cars in the city overall. So that's fewer cars on 280 and 101 and it's fewer cars on streets like Embarcadero, on University by 101, on El Camino, on Alma, etc. Even those of us that live in downtown need to drive to other parts of the city. Developing near transit and keeping the total numbers of cars lower than would otherwise be by developing not near transit helps all of us."

You completely miss the point. For myriads of personal reasons, huge numbers of downtown workers are not using the nearby transit. They are driving their cars. That's why the curbs here are parked bumper to bumper every day.

Those cars have to come from somewhere and get here somehow. So that's more cars on 280 and 101 and it's more cars on streets like Embarcadero, on University by 101, on El Camino, on Alma, etc. Then they bunch up around where their jobs are, which is near transit in this case, as they hunt for parking places. Those traffic concentrations greatly increase our city's carbon footprint, BTW.

See for yourself. Check out the flood of metal on Middlefield Road at the PA-MP border, and nearby Willow Road, during commute times.

I am always amazed at how some people will deny plainly obvious facts to hold on to their ideologies. That's fine when counting the angels dancing on a pinhead, but it's disastrous when applied to the real world.


6 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:37 pm

@not sustainable
"yes, it may mean more cars in a specific area, but it means fewer cars in the city overall. So that's fewer cars on 280 and 101 and it's fewer cars on streets like Embarcadero, on University by 101, on El Camino, on Alma, etc. Even those of us that live in downtown need to drive to other parts of the city. Developing near transit and keeping the total numbers of cars lower than would otherwise be by developing not near transit helps all of us."

Ifd every development was stopped in it's tracks today how can there be "fewer cars" anytime soon? Every square feet of office space adds more cars. For every 100 new office workers commuting here cause at least 60 more cars, and that's being optimistic that alternative transport is available for most commuters.The 40% using "alternative transport" this doesn't include those ridesharing, which means another car whether one person or four occupants.

Not sure how there will be fewer cars on Embarcadero, University, 101, El Camino, Alma, Oregon, etc. Are these commuters going to land by helicopter? Are they going to grow wings and not going to use their cars during the to get to lunch appointments, run errands, attend meetings, etc.?


17 people like this
Posted by not sustainable
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:42 pm

The choice isn't between build near transit or build nothing. The choice is build near transit or build somewhere that's not near transit. You have scenario A and you have scenario B

Do Scenario A and because you're near transit, you've added 100 jobs but only 38 cars.

Do Scenario B and because you're not near transit, you'ved added 100 jobs but 95 cars.

THAT's what I mean when I say that when you develop near transit, you get fewer cars in the city overall than if you don't develop near transit. I'm not sure why this is such a difficult concept to grasp.


4 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:53 pm

So now we have become an INDUSTRIAL PARK that grows by %0,000sf per year.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2015 at 3:03 pm

"Do Scenario A and because you're near transit, you've added 100 jobs but only 38 cars."

Only in somebody's dreams.


10 people like this
Posted by not sustainable
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 24, 2015 at 3:41 pm

@ curmudgeon your response is simply not data driven. "I see a bunch of cars" isn't data. It's anecdote. And you have no idea where those cars are going or who is in them.

38% single occupancy vehicle mode share (+5% carpool) - That's the survey result from Palantir, SurveyMonkey, and RelateIQ Web Link

They got 759 replies out of 1186 staff- way higher of a participation percentage than necessary for statistical significance and higher than any of the surveys the city itself does. There's also no reason to lie- all businesses just had to register and they'll be requires to provide this info formally as part of that process soon.It's a number that makes sense when you consider that 25% of those people live right here in Palo Alto and that Palantir has a housing subsidy to allow people to live within half a mile of the office.

A9 did their own survey which they also submitted to City Council. They have 40% of employees driving.

The city did it's own intercept survey and came up with similar results - 40% of workers come via car and another 5% come via carpool.
Web Link

The numbers are the numbers, regardless of whether or not they support your point and your apparent belief that it doesn't matter where you build. In fact it very much does and if you care about traffic and parking, then would be an advocate of building in places that have lesser traffic and parking impacts because they're close to public transportation.


8 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2015 at 3:44 pm

@not sustainable - Nope. Put 100 new office workers in Palo Alto, get 38 (probably 60-70) additional cars. Put 0 new office workers in Palo Alto, get 0 additional cars. It is that easy.


8 people like this
Posted by not sustainable
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 24, 2015 at 3:50 pm

@ Mr. Recycle - now we've truly entered someone's dreams. Property owners have rights and they at least have the right to build within existing zoning. A permanent city-wide moratorium is unconstitutional and would be tossed by a court summarily.

So now we're back to reality. We will have some development. There's no avoiding that. So where do we put it?


8 people like this
Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 4:29 pm

I want the city to crack down on the "fake" retail stores on and around University Avenue. They are easy to spot and should be forced out. These fake retail stores are taking up too much of our disappearing retail.


2 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2015 at 4:44 pm

@not sustainable - Of course we aren't going to get zero development, I just want the building advocates to be honest and acknowledge that traffic is going to be getting worse. Then we can deal realistically with parking permits, infrastructure, etc.. But as long as the pro development crowd lies about the consequences, we'll never be position to deal with them.


3 people like this
Posted by sea reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 24, 2015 at 4:46 pm

Thank you City Council.

You acted on people wishes from recent people wishes for managed growth.

You did not bend to pressures.

Thanks Karen and Greg for leadership

Thanks Pat burk, you a make sense. It waited nine months to agree with you on some thing that is very near and dear to me and our citizens of Palo Alto.

Respectfully


8 people like this
Posted by not sustainable
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 24, 2015 at 5:03 pm

I'm a building advocate and I'm not lying to you about the consequences in any way. There will be more traffic, but how much more depends on where you build and that's the point I'm making to you. And we can work on mitigating that traffic further by having more companies institute the sorts of programs that Palantir and SurveyMonkey have so that other companies can similarly lower their driving rates. We can have Caltrain provide more service. We can add more shuttles and buses. We can add better and safer bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. These things are possible and other places have done them better than us.


7 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 24, 2015 at 5:46 pm

> We can have Caltrain provide more service. We can add more shuttles and buses.
> We can add better and safer bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure

And who is supposed to pay for all of these things that "we can do"?


7 people like this
Posted by not sustainable
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 24, 2015 at 6:19 pm

We're getting a little bit silly here, aren't we? We know growth is going to happen because at the bare minimum people can build up to the existing zoning code. A permanent moratorium is illegal. We have choices in front of us about mitigating the impacts of that. So, uh, we live here and we benefit from living here and so we're all going to pay for it like every other city in the world. Some of it will come from the state and county, some of it will come directly from businesses who will be expected to fund the TMA (Which will fund shuttles and Lyft programs and pay for worker passes), some of it will come from development fees, and then some of it obviously comes from sales tax and property tax. We ALL pay. Like every other city under the sun.

A lot of it will actually be about how we use the money that we already have. We have quite a bit of money and our choices will be about how we can redirect it to do the most for mitigating impacts.

Palo Alto seems to have a history of believing that everyone else owes it something and it sits around waiting for money to rain from the sky before it makes the infrastructure improvements it desperately needs. How about we end that attitude of entitlement and instead deal with reality? Palo Alto's unwillingness, for example, to pay for ANY part of trenching the Caltrain is shameful. How many more kids have to die before we accept that that's something we actually have to do something about?


14 people like this
Posted by Untalented
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 6:27 pm

Ken Hayes is no Birge Clark. Hayes is destroying the ambiance of Palo Alto.


2 people like this
Posted by jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 24, 2015 at 6:27 pm

@ Not sustainable.

Was their a breakdown of the data of the respondents of the informal Palantir and Survey Monkey commuter surveys, including demographics? Where do the employees taking alternative transport to Palo Alto live? What percentage in San Francisco, the south bay, east bay, peninsula? How many also sometimes drive because they need their car during the day? What proportion are single or married without children or have children who need to be dropped off and/or picked up from daycare, after school activities, grocery shopping and other errands for a family, or wealthy enough to hire employees to drive their children, shop, and run household errands? Are they representative of other employees who commute to work in Palo Alto? Is a goal of 40% of employees commuting by alternative transport a realistic goal for other Palo Alto employers?


Like this comment
Posted by Residentialist
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 6:28 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Mar 24, 2015 at 7:09 pm

s?numbers are the numbers, regardless of whether or not they support your point"

Numbers are numbers and no more. (By the way, you need to re-read your own propaganda and try to get it right. Take a night statistics class.) Cars are cars, they take up space, they pollute, and there ain't no more room for any more of them around here. Nobody will mind if you replace them by numbers. But don't conflate the two entities.

Where to put more office? How's East Amboy, CA grab ya? Lots of room there, abundant cheap land, very affordable housing, no need for noisy polluting transit, and gobs of solar power. You can't get greener than that.


7 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2015 at 7:43 pm

The current average increase is 67,000 sq. ft. per year city-wide and the proposed "cap" restricts three areas to 50,000 and places no limits on the rest of the city.

It seems (50,000 + unlimited) could easily exceed 67,000 and raise the average. Eric Filseth touched upon this Monday night but didn't seem to win support from other council members.

The idea of "scoring" potential development projects in terms of parking, greenness, aesthetics, public benefit, etc. as described by Tom DuBois sounded innovative and appealing.

Sadly, past history leaves me with the feeling that "judges" (presumably City Council and Staff, ARB, PTC, etc.) would need clear guidelines in order to be sufficiently rigorous and objective.

These complicated issues have no easy solutions. Alas, I fear the unanimous Council vote may suggest that these interim measures are too weak. In politics, which this is, significant change seldom comes without controversy!


Like this comment
Posted by sea reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 24, 2015 at 8:53 pm

Sorry for the typo
Thanks for innovative thinking Pat Burt.

You did good.

Keep your innovating thinking flowing.

We are Plao Alto. We demand 10x improvements.
Nothing short.

Keep Palo Alto rocking!

A College Terrace resident.

Respectfully


7 people like this
Posted by Parking sense
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2015 at 8:54 pm


How about requiring that ANY new buildings provide for ALL the parking needs for that building? NO exceptions, exemptions, fees in lieu, trades, bribes, whatever, at all. No wiggling out -- just dig as deep as necessary to provide adequate parking.

Or, builders chip in to pay for several new downtown garages, to be built and completed BEFORE any more new buildings?

Or, better still, all of the above.


7 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:12 pm

"@ curmudgeon your response is simply not data driven. "I see a bunch of cars" isn't data. It's anecdote. And you have no idea where those cars are going or who is in them."

But I know those cars are here. There are too many of them now, and there are more of them every year.

My neighbor Counterclockwise has it right: data is mere numbers. Numbers take up no room. Numbers do not clog streets or emit carbon. Cars do both.

Even if we grant your stats -- and I have learned to be very cautious about believing numbers from our pro-development city staff -- 45% of an ever-increasing number is ever too many more cars in a too-small space, and it means an ever diminishing quality of life for those of us living and working downtown.

Sorry, no numbers for that, just a personal perception.



2 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:40 pm

If thats how you feel Curmudgeon, don't let the door hit you (or your car) on the way out.


2 people like this
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:13 pm

"We will have some development. There's no avoiding that. So where do we put it?"

Why, in Greater Miranda of course. Run a bus line through it and, voila, it's got transit. Our not sustainable colleague will be so thrilled.


3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:35 am

I am also pleased CC acted to pause development a bit but wonder what real impact this temporary cap will have. It would help to know the locations of what is in the pipeline. Chances are, the pipeline projects are in the 3 prime commercial areas. If that is the case, unless the cap applies to pipeline projects we could well see all the pipeline projects in the prime areas PLUS the additional 50k sf elsewhere around town. I think those asking for a temporary moratorium may have been right as that would allow for an opportunity to get all the pipeline projects in and then assess the situation before adding even more development into the equation and increasing the parking, traffic, and housing problems.

Related issue - Why isn't construction truck traffic part of the public hearing review process? The number of huge dirt-hauling trucks on city streets contributes greatly to the traffic issue. I don't see this problem lessening until all the current and pipeline projects are done; would like to see this get more consideration.


13 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:51 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Each time a huge dirt-hauling truck rumbles through our streets, it contributes mightily to the destruction of the infrastructure, therefore, developers should pay an infrastructure tax for each such trip.


3 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 7:17 am

SteveU is a registered user.

'California was a Car Culture' because of urban residential sprawl
and will continue because efficient mass transit is not present when needed.

Efficient in this usage is with respect to the RIDER, not the business of transit (although that needs to also happen). Double to Triple 1-way commute times (even with clogged roads) drive people into cars. No fast/easy way to get to Transit. Transit with extreme limits on route operation (example: No Morning train service to Morgan Hill. Taking the Bus from San Jose violate efficiency)
Fit Transit to the people. Adjust the size of the transit to the route ridership (maybe some routes should run mini buses for the redeye runs instead of those big, less efficient buses they run during the day).
Quick response and the flexibility to adjust capacity. Farebox data is available to plot hour by hour use (unfortunately, there is no 'tag off' data like BART, so we do not know the endpoints of the rider to allow a real fine tune)

Transit needs to be IN PLACE before building occupancy or the occupant will continue the car habit.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 8:47 am

@Jane,

I asked similar questions in a post a few days ago. I also asked what mode of transportation the non-drivers took.

I would also ask what are their commute times, from where they rest their heads at night to where they place their derrieres when they get to work in the morning, and the relative costs of their current mode of transportation compared to other alternatives.

And maybe even one more. Ask how much the commuting really bothers them, how it affects their personal lives, and what they would propose to mitigate the problem. After all these are very smart people whom I presume think logically. It might provide better and clearer information than what we get from the companies (profit driven) and CC (politically driven).

and @ Not Sustainable,

Would you please give some details about the programs Palantir and SurveyMoney have initiated? What are the incentives? Subsidizing commute costs?


2 people like this
Posted by Fred Terman
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:38 am

Somebody wants to turn back the clock and make the Stanford Office Park the Stanford Research Park again. Why stop at half measures? Those 700 acres should return to their original purpose as the Stanford Industrial Park. That's what made Palo Alto the center of the universe and gave us modern roads like Oregon Expressway.


8 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:38 pm

I want to correct a previous entry I made which assumed that the business level in the East Bayshore / Embarcadero area was failing. I went over to the back end of a street and low and behold the place was jammed with cars - valet parking - for the Stanford Hospital Patient Financial Services. This is not observable from the Embarcadero Street - except the orange umbrellas for the valets.

On Embarcadero was a huge car hauler unloading cars, and construction going up for the Ming's hotel. Yes - some giant trucks on the way to the dump - whatever you call it. The gate to the "soccer field" at the golf course was closed and locked - the dirt hill is NOT GREEN, and looks like it is toxic.
So the place is jumping - it needs some type of theme restaurant, maybe an Applebee's.

Is there a Master Plan for this area? Is SU being charged a good lease rate - should be since a ton of their dirt is sitting in the golf course molding away.


2 people like this
Posted by Dirty Hippy
a resident of Duveneck School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:33 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Residential it's
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:41 pm

When does Councilman Berman's term expire? Can't wait until he gets booted out of office. [Portion removed.]


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

El Camino: Another scheme to increase congestion?
By Douglas Moran | 20 comments | 2,512 views

Couples: Philosophy of Love
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,597 views

Trials of My Grandmother
By Aldis Petriceks | 2 comments | 1,128 views

Lakes and Larders (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 870 views