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To get more affordable housing, Palo Alto may charge developers stiff fees

Proposed 'impact fees' for new office developments would be highest in the region

In their latest attempt to address the city's worsening housing crisis, Palo Alto officials are preparing to sharply raise -- and in some cases, triple -- the fees that developers are required to contribute to the city's affordable-housing program.

Furthermore, the city would for the first time require developers of market-rate rental housing to also pay into a fund for affordable housing, according to a proposal that the City Council is set to consider in late August, when it returns from its annual recess.

In a dramatic revision of its "impact fee" program, the city would roughly triple the fee for developers of office and research-and-development projects, raising it from the current level of $20.37 per net new square foot of development to $60. The move would push the city well beyond other area jurisdictions, which typically charge around $20 per new square foot (as in Cupertino and Redwood City) or $25 per new square foot, as in Mountain View (though projects of less than 25,000 square feet of office space pay only half of this fee), according to a recent report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.

The $60 fee came out of a recent study that the city's consulting firm, Strategic Economics, performed last year to gauge the linkage between commercial developments and their effects on city services and housing availability, known as a "nexus" study. While the study recommended the city raise its fees for commercial developments to $30 per square foot for office development (the city's planning staff later recommended $35 per square foot), the council's Finance Committee last month decided to go further and set the fee at $60, the level that the study found to be the maximum amount that would be "financially feasible" for developers.

In issuing their recommendations, both the consultants and city staff were wary of setting fees that are so much higher than in neighboring municipalities. The four members of the Finance Committee had no such qualms when they voted 3-1 on June 21 to adopt the new fee schedule. Councilman Greg Schmid voted against it, but his objections had less to do with the office fees than with the fact that the new ordinance would also charge housing developers more.

Councilman Cory Wolbach cited a "pretty broad consensus on the council" that housing should be prioritized over office developments as reason for feeling comfortable with charging an impact fee "at full feasible range."

"Frankly, I am fine with milking developers, but I don't want to kill the cow," Wolbach said. "It is reasonable to demand all that we can of developments to compensate the community for the impacts of the development, particularly when it comes to the need for affordable housing. And setting these fees at the maximum feasible (level) for commercial development is prudent and reflects a growing sense of the community that we have a preference for housing, in particular affordable housing, over rampant commercial development."

If the full council approves the change, the city would effectively revamp how it collects funds from developers of market-rate housing. Currently, developers are required to devote 15 percent of their projects (or 20 percent for properties greater than 5 acres) to below-market-rate housing or pay "in lieu" fees (as impact fees for market-rate for-sale units are called) totaling 7.5 percent of the sales price. Under the present system, the city doesn't know exactly how much it will collect and when the funds would come in.

The new system would require all market-rate developers that don't provide any affordable housing to pay $50 per square foot before they get their building permits. This means that someone looking to build a new 3,000-square-foot detached single-family home would have to pay $150,000. Under today's system, such a development would require a fee of about $40,000. (If a 2,500-square-foot home were demolished and replaced by a 3,000-square-foot house, only the new 500 square feet would be subject to the affordable-housing fee.)

Palo Alto isn't the only city that is looking at new commercial projects for possible solutions to the housing crunch. In San Francisco, a proposal from Supervisor Eric Mar would impose a 1.5 percent payroll tax on tech companies, with the proceeds going toward affordable housing and programs that support programs for the homeless.

But even in San Francisco, which remains an epicenter of both the tech boom and the homelessness crisis, the impact fees are less than half of what Palo Alto plans to charge. Office developers in San Francisco are charged an impact fee of $24 per square foot, while research-and-development projects require a fee of $16 per square foot.

In Palo Alto, while impact fees for office and research-and-development projects would go up to $60 per square foot, hotels would experience a more modest increase, with fees going up from $20.37 to $30. For retail establishments and restaurants, the fee would remain at the existing level of $20.37.

In advocating a higher impact fee for housing projects, council members and planning staff said one of the goals is to see developers actually provide the below-market-rate housing (which would exempt them from the impact fee) rather than paying a fee to avoid this requirement. The issue was central to the council's discussion last week of a proposed housing development at 567 Maybell Ave. In that case, the council allowed the developer, Golden Gate Homes, to forego the city's requirement that it dedicate 15 percent of its 16-unit project to affordable housing. Instead, the developer was allowed to pay an in-lieu fee.

"One of the ideas of setting a fee that is not inconsequential is we'd like to incentivize actually getting the units -- either on- or off site -- rather than just collecting the money," Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said at the June 21 committee meeting.

For rental housing, Palo Alto currently has no requirement that developers provide below-market-rate units. Such a requirement would conflict with the Costa Hawkins Act, which allows owners of new rental housing to set initial rental rates and empowers owners of existing units to set rates after a unit is vacated. By adopting the impact fees based on the nexus study, the city would for the first time require market-rate rental projects to contribute to the city's affordable-housing program, at $50 per net new square foot.

Schmid took issue with the idea of raising fees for housing projects and proposed a different schedule, one in which commercial fees would be twice as high as housing fees.

"Why are we creating disincentives for housing when we live in the community that has the most unbalanced ratio of jobs to employed residents?" Schmid asked.

His colleagues disagreed. Wolbach noted that the increase would only impact those projects that do not provide any affordable housing. And Councilwoman Karen Holman argued that even with the higher fees, the incentive to build in Palo Alto's hot real estate market will remain high.

"With what housing goes for in Palo Alto, I don't think we're close to disincentivizing housing," Holman said. "We're raising what it costs to build housing here, but I don't think it's close to a disincentive."

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Comments

40 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 8, 2016 at 11:22 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

What is the logic behind charging the last person who wants to get into the boat the entire cost of an overloaded boat?

What confidence is there that the City of Palo Alto has any idea how to use the funds that will be raised in this manner to deal with the low incoming housing problem?


46 people like this
Posted by Repeat Performance?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 8, 2016 at 11:45 am

We lived in the East Bay for a few years in the 90s. At that time, home builders were REQUIRED to build new roads, widen old ones, and build new schools whenever they built a new housing tract.

Many times, two different builders would share the cost of building a new school and improving roads.

Not that Palo Alto has room for tract housing, but shouldn't developers have to provide something to mitigate the problems they bring to a community?


45 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 8, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Great, now the City Council is going to try to shake-down the developers, to get the money, to build the high-density housing, that residents don't want.


16 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 8, 2016 at 1:19 pm

"What is the logic behind charging the last person who wants to get into the boat the entire cost of an overloaded boat?"

There's no logic. It's the free market. Supply and demand in action.

He who hesitates, pays.


41 people like this
Posted by M. Blue
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 8, 2016 at 7:35 pm

I'm puzzled that the city seems to feel that the way to make something more affordable is to make that same thing more expensive.

The numbskull City Council needs to realize that not every homeowner is rich and floating in loot. The same is true for SOME developers.

Some of us who are lucky enough to have saved up to own a shack here in Palo Alto and are aching under the load of the ever increasing tax burdens. With the added assessments like Measure A and the new bonds coming this years elections (VTA, SC low income housing, etc.), we can't keep up with the increasing costs and may loose the house. Certainly if interest rates increase we are out, but the city and county are pushing us closer to the edge with their "tax the heck out of the property owner/developer/landlord" approach.

Renters have the same problems evidenced by the ever raising rents, as the property owners pass along the increasing costs. Assume the landlord had no profit motive and wanted to hold rents stable, they'd have to eat this new "Fee". Is that reasonable? - Oh, but the landlord is rich and greedy so lets take it from him anyway, says the PACC.

Why ? Because its easy for the politicians to label every homeowner, landlord and developer as as rich. "Frankly, I am fine with milking developers"... C. Wolbach

What makes the city think that if you soak homeowners with more taxes and developers with more fees, that the resulting costs of homes, home ownership, and rents won't go up ?


24 people like this
Posted by InsertShoeInMouth
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 8, 2016 at 10:50 pm

"Why ? Because its easy for the politicians to label every homeowner, landlord and developer as as rich. "Frankly, I am fine with milking developers"... C. Wolbach"

Mr Wolbach is in over his head....


25 people like this
Posted by >10% of americans have mobility problems
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2016 at 9:11 am

If we get the money, people who care about quality of life here need to go full bore to create a City that is friendly to the disabled. Palo Alto inclusionary housing rules and federal civil rights rules apply to the disabled, too, yet the behavior of PACC has been to look at whatever inclusionary housing first serves developer interests and ignore everything else. Someone needs to sue them on behalf of the disabled, so the new funds get used to make it possible to get around here in a wheelchair. New housing must incorporate universal design principles. Building a disability friendly City so that the disabled (who are underemployed versus the general population) can participate fully in the opportunities of Silicon Valley should be the next order of business, but it won't unless liveability advocates co-opt disability rights the way developers have co-opted housing advocates. (Well, ok, maybe not that bad. We actually want the two to help each other rather than in the latter case where advocates practically prostitute themselves and throw out every value they ever held about anything else like the environment.) The great thing about universal design for the disabled is that it tends to be nice for everyone else (think bathroom stalls, wide walkable sidewalks, etc).

Developers really hate being reminded that the disabled are supposed to be part of inclusionary housing because developers like high density which tends to be hostile or exclusionary to the disabled even if it is nominally "accessible" (usually not even that).

The greater fees were a good idea when the Council would have used them to create affordable housing in a sensible way. When Council remembered that residents are owed acres of open space per the City code (another lawsuit residents shoukd wage). When Council acknowledged that residents in the South deserve comparable amenities to the North, too, especially for children (oh wait, they never did that).. Now it will just be another bludgeon to ignore neighbors, especially on the South side of town.

Mr. Wohlbach was being disingenuous. Developers know they can count on him to do their bidding, make whatever twisted convincing arguments they need (PAF) and ignore everything else like the environment, overcrowded streets and schools, better than if he were bought and paid for.


45 people like this
Posted by Wolbach needs to go
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 9, 2016 at 9:31 am

I hope the Media: this paper included, will not attempt to save face and double down on their Wolbach endorsement when he runs for reelection. He is out in the open now as a pro-development zealot, after having run as a "middle" candidate on a "let's give everyone a teddy bear" platform of civility.

He's out in the open now. He's a special interest shill. He's out of touch with his constituency. And he's in completely over his head.


14 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 9, 2016 at 1:55 pm

"Affordable housing" sounds good politically. But check the math. It only a drop the bucket. What you want is the production of more housing. Yes, and since land is scarce more density on the low density peninsula. Have I made everybody happy. I think the problems of the homeless should be first seen to as they need the most help with the limited funds (resources are scarce) dedicated to "affordable housing." George Drysdale


4 people like this
Posted by Housing
a resident of University South
on Jul 9, 2016 at 3:29 pm

Affordable housing is incredibly important. But Schmid is correct that it makes no sense to add yet another burden to the cost of new homes in order to pay for it.

Instead, we need to focus on building more housing! That's a concern Wolbach shares, but the rest of the the Council needs to realize the residents aren't going to sit on their hands while rents rise and rise. For us homeowners, we can't watch our children and our friends who make too much for affordable housing get priced out of their hometown.

Let people build more housing, please. Don't add even more taxes to increase its price further.


23 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 9, 2016 at 6:02 pm

The affordability problem is much too large to be solved by building a few thousand units in high-rises within walking distance of the Transit Center.

Two good rules of thumb to keep in mind are from the Legislative Analyst's Office study of housing, found here: Web Link . The first is that to have a meaningful impact on housing prices at all, we'd need to double (roughly) the rate at which we're building today. The second is that to push housing prices back into line with the growth in the national averages over the past 30 years or so, we'd need to double the amount of housing that already exists today.

What that implies is: To really move the needle on affordability, we'd have to scrap a big part of Palo Alto as it exists today, replace it with higher-density low-environmental-impact housing plus a reworked transportation infrastructure, and drastically increase city services. (Oh, and every other city in the Bay Area would have to do the same, at roughly the same time.) Awesomely expensive, and maybe politically impossible.

Incremental increases in housing without work on all the support issues just leads to gradually degrading environment without a worthwhile improvement in affordability. In other words, the situation we have today.

To have any chance at all of small-scale improvement, I think we have to work on the demand side of the equation as well as supply. That means the cost of doing business in the Valley is going to go up, in one way or another.


16 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2016 at 8:15 pm

Where are they going to build all this "affordable housing" when they get the money from developers? I venture to guess that the money will go into a fund and sit there for years as all the residents block any affordable housing being built near them. Then the CC will decide to flow the money into the general fund.

If the CC were serious about affordable housing then they would build it right now and use the fees to pay down the mortgage. But they will never build any since residents will just block it where ever they propose it.

/marc


29 people like this
Posted by BV
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2016 at 9:29 pm

These are the same geniuses who are in the process of blowing $30 million in affordable housing funds on a decrepit trailer park, and now they want more money. Whose land are they going to steal for their next affordable housing disaster? BV showed that either a) we have no legitimate or reasonable cause on which we could spend our affordable housing money and BV was actually the best option or b) these people are incapable of making responsible decisions and throw money at feel good causes asking literally zero questions about what will become of it. Either way, they shouldn't be allowed access to any more money. No new affordable housing fees. No more Maybells, no more Buena Vistas.


14 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 10, 2016 at 11:10 am

Sounds like a lot of gobbledygook, in my opinion. Sounds like bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy.
I recommend against this scheme. I am not particularly sympathetic to developers, but one must be reasonable. Also, isn't it likely the fees wold just get passed on to the beleaguered taxpayer (homeowner builder)?
"Affordable housing" may sound admirable, but we need some sensible and responsible and informed people to manage this. Complicated schemes offer opportunities for skimming off money and leading to confusion as to whether deserving persons receive the benefits.


9 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 10, 2016 at 11:16 am

Posted by M. Blue
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 8, 2016 at 7:35 pm
"I'm puzzled that the city seems to feel that the way to make something more affordable is to make that same thing more expensive.

The numbskull City Council needs to realize that not every homeowner is rich and floating in loot. The same is true for SOME developers.

Some of us who are lucky enough to have saved up to own a shack here in Palo Alto and are aching under the load of the ever increasing tax burdens."

Exactly.
Why do our local politicians not respect us Palo Alto taxpayers?
We are not all Zuck or etc.,
The city can be more inclusive by thoughtfully pondering where taller construction may be permitted (along El Camino Real?)


12 people like this
Posted by WhatMoreInfo
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 10, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Developers will just pass on charges to buyers, driving prices up further. How does that help the situation. Also what will the city of Palo Alto do with the money? What affordable housing projects do they have going on right now with existing monies? When they raise tax rates why don't they also describe their plan for what they will do with the extra money.


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 10, 2016 at 1:38 pm

All new developers fees -- and the proposed business tax if it ever passes -- should go to the residents in the form of tax rebates since we're the ones hurt by all this congestion. It will also prevent the city from collecting more money they have no clue how to handle except to ask for more, more, more to inflate their bloated salaries and benefits.


23 people like this
Posted by Space is Finite
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2016 at 1:41 pm

Unless you put in more landfill in the bay, a la Foster City and Redwood Shores, or build right on top of the San Andreas Fault, there is NO MORE ROOM for building of any kind in this area!


2 people like this
Posted by jane_u
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 10, 2016 at 2:16 pm

Sorry to hear so much negativity here, but, folks, the reality is that housing crisis is Bay Area-wide. We cannot carve out our little piece of the sky and prevent it from happening here. We need more housing, more roads, more schools and we do not want to drive away the developers and the market that will help us plan for our future. It is about providing for our elderly, aging parents who cannot afford to downsize right now, and for our young families and young work force.


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 10, 2016 at 5:46 pm

So the city would get $150,000 in fees for a single family home under this new scheme??? Great. And then they can keep preaching to us on how we need more affordable housing. What a racket.


12 people like this
Posted by M. Blue
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 10, 2016 at 6:46 pm

@ Online Name: "So the city would get $150,000 in fees for a single family home under this new scheme??? Great. And then they can keep preaching to us on how we need more affordable housing. What a racket."

Aparently Holman thinks: " "With what housing goes for in Palo Alto, I don't think we're close to disincentivizing housing," Holman said. "We're raising what it costs to build housing here, but I don't think it's close to a disincentive."

The city council needs to take a basic course in economics.


15 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2016 at 7:28 pm

Unless you are homeless, or a senior struggling to stay in your Palo Alto home, there is NO housing "crisis" in Palo Alto.

Haiti has a housing crisis. Aleppo has a housing crisis. Palo Alto is not affordable, but that is not a "crisis". It is like saying Beverly hills has a housing crisis, or Atherton has a housing crisis because I can't afford to live there.

The so-called "crisis" has been manufactured by the real-estate industry who want to continue to liquidate the quality-of-life in Palo Alto, and convert it to personal wealth.

"Never let a good crisis go to waste"... even if it is fake.


3 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 10, 2016 at 7:47 pm

Ron, you're saying, for every one to hear, that the Bay Area doesn't have a housing crisis? No wonder Palo Altans are known for being completely out of touch...


14 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2016 at 9:53 pm

Alex,

If Palo Alto has a housing "crisis", how would you characterize the housing in Haiti? Having to commute, because you can't afford to live where you work sucks, but it is not a "crisis".

My first job after college was in Beverly Hills. I lived in a crappy area of LA near Western Avenue, and had to commute through heavy LA traffic every day (in a POS car) to get to work. It sucked, I couldn't afford to live in Beverly Hills (still can't), but I never thought Beverly Hills had a housing "crisis".

Maybe it would help if you could explain your on personal housing "crisis" to the readers of Town Square. Do you have to ride the train?


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 10, 2016 at 10:08 pm

Since when did the City become a partner in our housing, forcing us to work more than a year to pay the city the new $150,000 it wants to add to price of our housing on top of the money for the "document transfer tax" it collects on the sale of our house?

Ism't it special how it costs 10 times more to process a document transfer for a $10,000,000 house as for a $1,000,000 house.

Enough already.


4 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2016 at 10:12 pm

Alex,

Maybe explaining your own personal housing "crisis" would help everyone understand what it is about.


5 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 11, 2016 at 3:21 am

What is the objective here? Does the city council know when you hit a certain tax/fee, development will go down. The city of Palo Alto has two possible objectives. The first is to raise revenue, or to stop development. I doubt they want to punish the rich (developer). This is the typical tax the rich theme, in Palo Alto this has been a popular policy for several decades. I really wonder if this another way for the city council to raise revenue to pay for city employees who are retiring. The retirement packages for city employees have to be paid for my the tax payers. The city council may be finding ways to pay the retirement packages through hidden taxes and or fees.


6 people like this
Posted by jane_u
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2016 at 11:18 am

Ron,
I absolutely disagree that Palo Alto does not have a housing crisis. Also this is not a "personal" situation for anyone. Palo Alto is in the center of the Bay Area which, if you pay attention to what's going on in the local news, happens to also be having a housing crisis. It is not a matter of commuting or buying a starter home in another city. Most of us will never be able to afford a home in Palo Alto. Most of current residents could not re-afford their homes and cannot afford to downsize either. Seniors, teachers, police officers, or anyone making less than 300k a year cannot afford to be here. What kind of community is this creating?


8 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jul 11, 2016 at 11:26 am

Ron,

Let me explain it to me this way. Palo Alto has more than 3 times the jobs as it does working residents.

How can PA justify this ratio or increasing it when housing is already in short supply in the area?

Who are you expecting to house PA workers? PA is not an island.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 11, 2016 at 11:34 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Jane asks:" Seniors, teachers, police officers, or anyone making less than 300k a year cannot afford to be here. What kind of community is this creating? "

This is precisely the issue. And just adding more market rate housing will not solve this problem.

IF we want an inclusive community then we will need to support high density SUBSIDIZED housing distributed widely but also easily accessible to transit.


6 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2016 at 11:47 am

Quality of life (no more commercial development or dense housing) is and remains the key. That means no more people or firms moving to Palo Alto. Push Silicon Valley to other areas in the State or nation. What's left of Palo Alto is a livable community not an urban work/live environment. Pursue the Atherton/Woodside/Portola Valley model: this is primarily where we live, not work. Solution: moratorium on issuing any new commercial developments - for business or housing. Existing commercial space may upgrade their sites but set a maximum number of employee use based on a square footage formula. Same applies to private homes to ensure absentee homeowners do not create large flop houses and same applies to extended family at owner occupied private homes (have to come up with a formula for number of bedrooms equal number of occupants - threshold could be a tab higher than intended to accommodate high cost of living for returning college kids and/or some extended family owing to cultural norms). The goal: cap the existing traffic, parking, air and noise pollution. We can do this. Also, on a broader national level, cap number of V1B visa's, halt all 500K fast track visas, and can not buy property unless, 18, primary wage earner, and a US citizen - I understand many of my colleagues in Real Estate and business in general would object to my last proposal - to them America is not for sale, it's simply profitable. After over 50 years in Palo Alto, it can still be saved, nurtured, and stabilized.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2016 at 12:18 pm

"IF we want an inclusive community then we will need to support high density SUBSIDIZED housing distributed widely but also easily accessible to transit."

Like, near the Atherton train depot. As Mr. Carpenter said, "we". Welcome aboard, sir. [Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2016 at 12:24 pm

"How can PA justify this ratio or increasing it when housing is already in short supply in the area?"

PA doesn't justify, it sleepwalks. Developers propose buikding yet more office space, city planning staff advocates their case to city council, civic minded developers help out with city council campaigns, and presto, we got more jobs.


14 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 11, 2016 at 12:25 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Like, near the Atherton train depot. As Mr. Carpenter said, "we"."

Absolutely as a proposed LONG AGO:

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:36 pm
"One thought is the put the trains underground, use the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and use the surface above the stations for transit connections and parking. The surface area of the current right of way is very valuable land - particularly in Atherton - and could generate a lot of the needed capital.

Why not take this as an opportunity to design a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose system that uses the existing right-of-way that includes CalTrain, HSR, utility conduits for telephone and internet cables, SURFACE HOUSING WITH HIGH DENSITY HOUSING AROUND EACH STATION. And add a pedestrian path and a separate bicycle path on the surface along the entire right of way. And include 3 or 4 12" conduits for the technology of the future.

We should think of this right of way as an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula."

Do it once and do it right.


Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park

on Jul 11, 2016 at 12:32 pm


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6 people like this
Posted by jane_u
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2016 at 1:00 pm

@Palo Alto Native
I respectfully disagree with your position. There are Palo Alto natives who do not believe is zero growth. We cannot isolate ourselves from the larger Bay Area growth. Additionally, many of us, Palo Alto residents believe in more jobs which bring revenue to the city and intellectual vitality to the community. And in having young families and children here. And in having teachers and fire fighters and people in the services industry. At the same time we absolutely need to preserve the quality of life we all enjoy. We can do it, but zero growth across the board is not the answer.
We need to figure out how to have these conversations in a collaborative, non-confrontation and positive fashion if we are to accomplish anything here. Otherwise Palo Alto will stop being that place we are all so passionate about and everyone will loose out.

@Peter Carpenter - completely agreed that we need to build around transit stations and corridors like El Camino.


9 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2016 at 1:43 pm

Jane_u

Where do you live? Do you live in a "transit zone" or "transit Corridor"?

What you depersonalize as "transit zones" and "transit corridors" are other peoples neighborhoods.

Why should the people living in neighborhoods you call "transit zones" be forced to bear the full burden of over-development? Wouldn't be fairer to make all neighborhood share the burden?

People who advocate development in "transit zones" are just NIMBYs hiding behind planning-speak.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 11, 2016 at 1:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ron - It is simply that high density housing requires transit particularly if you want to minimize the traffic impacts of high density housing.

And really good transit systems require a high density of users or they are uneconomical.


3 people like this
Posted by Dena
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2016 at 2:24 pm

Any and every developer should have to contribute to the roads and transportation costs for putting hundreds to thousands more people on the road. We are already over-extended and cannot have more cars on the roads.


6 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 11, 2016 at 3:10 pm

@jane_u wrote "We need to figure out how to have these conversations in a collaborative, non-confrontation and positive fashion if we are to accomplish anything here."

It would make a big difference for me if those pushing for more growth would do two things: (1) State whether they're really arguing for unlimited growth, and if not, what they believe should limit growth. For instance, "grow housing, but only until average prices are back in line with the national averages, as the Legislative Analyst's Office stated." Or "grow only in ways that we can prove will prevent traffic congestion from increasing". Anyone who's arguing for unlimited growth won't get as much attention as someone who can show that they've thought about the consequences carefully. (2) Present back-of-the-envelope calculations to show that what they're proposing is feasible.

For example, @Peter Carpenter suggested undergrounding the Caltrain right-of-way, selling the surface rights on the newly-created real estate to offset the cost, and building high-density housing on some of it. This is a great idea, creative and relevant. It has some fundamental issues, but rather than get bogged down in those, let's just focus on whether it makes sense economically.

I believe in the "He who makes an argument is obliged to provide the evidence for it" approach, so it's not my responsibility to do the calculation. But if it were, I might go about it this way: (1) I'd assume that it's unacceptable to increase traffic congestion, so I'd only want to put as many people in this new housing as could comfortably be handled by expanding Caltrain and VTA during commute times. Past articles about Caltrain electrification in the Weekly should give an estimate for the first. I don't know about the second; maybe an acceptable estimate would be to double whatever VTA could handle today, by multiplying average bus size times the number of buses stopping at the Transit Center during commute hours times and then doubling. So you should be able to get this by eyeballing a bus and doing some Googling for the VTA schedule. (2) Given that number of people, assume there are two per unit, and multiply by some plausible area per unit (2000 sq ft?) to get total housing area. Divide by the number of stories you're willing to use (5? 10?) to obtain the land area required. (3) Given that area, do some Googling of past real-estate transactions to figure out how much land for housing projects is selling for around here, and multiply to determine the salable value of the land. (4) Find the cost of undergrounding Caltrain. Past Weekly articles have estimates, if I remember correctly. (5) Compare the results from (3) and (4). If they're reasonably close, you have a strong case to put the proposal before Council (or ABAG, or whomever). If they're not close enough, you'll have to propose something more to offset the difference; expanding transit another way, to allow more housing to be constructed, would be my first guess. If they're way, way off, then move on to the next idea; this one isn't likely to be economically viable.

So, I hope that's reasonably collaborative and positive. Is anyone from the pro-growth side willing to give it a try and report back here?


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2016 at 4:45 pm

"And really good transit systems require a high density of users or they are uneconomical."

The real hurdle is they incur very high capital costs before they carry their first passenger. Solve that and the peninsula is transit's oyster.

Forget buses. The brutal reality is that bus riding is not socially acceptable to the economically dominant local social classes. I've watched many, many empty buses working their way to the local transit center.


6 people like this
Posted by M. Blue
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 11, 2016 at 6:14 pm

@Grumpy Old Guy
You ever tried to get anywhere on a bus ?
It takes hours to get across town, almost always requires multiple connections - especially if your destination isn't on El Camino, the schedules are poorly timed, and it is surprisingly quite expensive when compared to a car ride.
I have no problem with class, and seriously doubt that class is the dominant barrier to increasing ridership.



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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 11, 2016 at 6:40 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I've been watching from the sidelines. The proposals to sock it to the developers are very misguided and reveal poor thinking. Developers have very sharp pencils and they are good at math and figuring out how to beat the tax/fee increases. Pretty simple...just pass the sock it to them down to us home buyers, renters, tax payers. They are in business to make a profit. Oh, if our city officials could adopt the same model. As much as I support efforts for affordable housing, I don't see a viable solution. Sad to say , and especially with the proponents of this new tax/fee idea having no idea where and when that money would be spent. Do they think the city should get into the real estate business? Buy properties, and act as developer/builder/general contractor of affordable housing projects? That would be a total disaster.

And another thing while I've got your attention. I'm in favor of higher density housing near the transit hubs but I have this nagging question in the back of my mind....are those commuters really all that excited about living here in PA or are they quite happy living where they live now and just accept commuting, whatever mode, as just part of their lives. Just saying!


6 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 11, 2016 at 7:11 pm

What on earth is this "unlimited growth" nonsense? Without the vigilant NIMBY stewards, Earth's entire population would try and move into Palo Alto? No wonder we're in such a mess when people this clueless are making policy descisions that the rest of us have to live with.


4 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2016 at 11:34 pm

Mr. Carpenter,

Your neighborhood is pretty close to a "transit corridor" called highway 101. Start calling the neighborhood a "transit zone", buy or seize some property, put in some connectors to Bay Road, and it would be a great place for some high density housing!

Everyone living in Palo Alto, lives close to a road that is busy enough to be classified by the city's Orwellian bureaucracy as a "transit corridor". We need to stop throwing our neighbors on the sacrificial fire, in the cowardly hope that it will somehow assuage the appetite of the greedy developers, and density advocates. These grim-reapers will come for YOU.

People who don't want high density housing in their neighborhood, but think it is OK to put high density housing in someone else's neighborhood, as long as you call that neighborhood a "transit zone", are just NIMBYs hiding behind planning-speak.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 12, 2016 at 5:11 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ron - Note that I have long advocated high density housing at trains stations including Atherton's.


2 people like this
Posted by NotACrisis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2016 at 7:55 am

With the new posters and people from out of town piling on to this topic , it appears we're seeing the start of PAF using social media to control the message. The discussion about what warrants a crisis is worthwhile. I would not call this a crisis. Search for rental housing. There IS available inventory and for less money if you are willing to commute.

Maybe we should start taking control and correct the Orwellian language and call it a Housing Preference Problem


1 person likes this
Posted by M..Blue
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 13, 2016 at 8:02 am

"Maybe we should start taking control and correct the Orwellian language and call it a Housing Preference Problem"

Hear, Hear !!


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Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 13, 2016 at 8:56 am

It's been a couple of days, and the discussion is slowing down, but no one from the pro-growth side has shown us whether Peter's idea is viable. Is anyone working on that? If not, should we assume that no one believes it is, and move on?


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Posted by thinker
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 29, 2016 at 2:13 am

Could zoning be changed so that businesses also have housing near the business? For example, some businesses could use existing land, assuming its not toxic from biotech,etc. and build housing for their employees. Perhaps some buildings could add more floors?

Won't solve the problem of price though. Its causing some people to live in violent domestic situations, even when children are in the home, there's no place to go. I believe it was Santa Barbara that created a special area for motorhomes and vans to park, and each night people check in, there are showers and restrooms. Seems more compassionate than putting people in jail. ?!!!


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Posted by cornwall
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 29, 2016 at 2:17 am

Cornwall, UK is experiencing a great surge in tech, and they expressly decided to build LOTS more housing so that the price of housing would not increase and the middle and low income/service parts of society will feel they belong, have a sense of community and security for children and aging. What a concept.


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

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