Editor's note: This article was posted on April 1 -- April Fools' Day. It is satire, and thus, while occasionally referencing reality, it does not represent the opinions or intended actions of any real people.
Faced with an affordable-housing crisis, the City of Palo Alto is considering redeveloping the top two floors of City Hall to accommodate micro-unit apartments, under a pilot program proposed by the city's Planning Department.
The preliminary plan, details of which have been obtained by the Weekly, would require moving less essential and administrative services to other commercial structures, according to the report, which is an outgrowth of a series of memos between City Manager James Keene and Planning Director Hillary Gitelman.
Following the council's recent direction to explore housing options for "moderate-income residents" such as teachers, firefighters and government employees, Keene had asked Gitelman and city staff to take a closer look at adding housing to the eight-story building at 250 Hamilton Ave.
"We want to walk the walk," Keene said. "Many of the workers who drive here are our own employees, so rather than outsource the problem of building new housing to other neighborhoods, we thought: Why not start here?"
Gitelman added that because the building is located in a transit-rich area, a short stroll from the downtown Caltrain station, and has a garage under it, it is ripe for redevelopment and an infusion of housing units.
In advocating for the idea, Keene cited the challenges of building new housing in Palo Alto, where the price of land continues to soar and where neighborhood opposition to new buildings runs high. Gitelman's said in a memo that the conversion idea has merit.
"There are three levels of underground parking right on site. The location is prime and would also place the units in a walkable, bikeable environment where many residents wouldn't need to even use a car," Gitelman wrote.
Conversion of the modernist building would also be more appealing after the Palo Alto Police Department moves out. The department's Office of Emergency Services, which currently occupies part of the City Hall basement, would also move to the planned new Public Safety building on Sherman Avenue near the California Avenue business district.
Gitelman's staff proposed that the vacated police/emergency services space on the ground floor could be converted into an emergency shelter, a clinic and a social-service provider for homeless and disabled residents.
The building already has plumbing on each floor, the memo noted, and some of the restrooms could be converted into showers and toilets in a single-room-only (SRO) style similar to what the former Craig Hotel at 164 Hamilton Ave. used to have, according to the report. City Hall also has a cafeteria with commercial food-preparation equipment that could provide low-cost meals, the memo stated.
Converting City Hall could add an estimated 500-750 micro-units, Gitelman's team estimated, while providing housing to many individuals who are the least likely to add to the city's parking and traffic woes because they either don't own cars or because they work at City Hall.
City workers, who now wouldn't have to commute at all, would get first priority. Renderings show a new "mixed-use" area in which a space was once occupied by copy-machine was converted into a "micro-unit" slightly larger than a Port-a-John with opaque glass walls.
Off-duty workers from the Utilities and Public Works departments brush their teeth and practice yoga in the background while assistant attorneys and senior planners pour over blueprints and legal contracts in the foreground.
According to the plans, one conference room on the seventh floor would be remodeled and turned into four micro-units, each about 150 square feet, targeting Millennial techies and "empty nest" seniors looking to downsize. A water-cooler on the eighth floor would be moved to make room for another unit, about 100 square feet, geared toward librarians, recreation supervisors and custodians.
"Small, centrally located units are exactly what these people are looking for," Keene wrote in the memo. "Given the council's soaring ambitious and our growing workload, many of our employees practically live in the office anyway. We might as well make it official and, in the process, take a small step toward relieving our traffic and parking problems."
Though the idea is still in a preliminary phase, it is already generating strong opinions from both sides of the city's housing debate. The citizens group Palo Alto Now, which favors more housing, issued a statement calling the proposed redevelopment of City Hall "a promising first step in solving the city's housing crisis." Ophelia Oldham, a 67-year-old self-described "empty nester," said she would love to apply for the new units.
"The library is right across the street on Forest Avenue, and I spend so much time there already," she said.
Not everyone thought the idea would get very far, however.
"It would cost the city so much to lease out other buildings and move its operation that I don't think it's feasible. Frankly, people are too lazy to want to go from one place to another for their services. They want a one-stop shop," resident Jonathan Bourgeoisberger said.
"It's a ridiculous idea. You don't really think the council has the will to convert City Hall into low-income housing, do you?" government watchdog Michael Aranciana told the Weekly. "If you believe for one minute that they give a rat's behind about really creating a place for poor people when you look at all of the planning and development decisions they have made in the past 15 years, then I have some swamp land in Florida that I'd like to sell you for a resort hotel."
Happy April Fools Day!