Palo Alto to explore new policies for long-term growth

Despite divisions, City Council approves analysis of two new scenarios as part of Comprehensive Plan update

With Palo Alto's housing shortage now a topic of national attention and residents increasingly calling for more housing options, City Council members agreed Monday night that two more-extreme scenarios for future growth should be evaluated as part of the city's process of creating an official vision that will guide it until 2030.

But the consensus belied plenty of divergent opinions, with some council members calling for the city to build thousands of new housing units and others favoring a more cautious approach that would protect its suburban ambiance.

As the council debated the ongoing update of the city's official land-use vision -- the Comprehensive Plan -- it took a series of close votes Monday aimed at shaping how this update will proceed.

The votes marked a hard-won milestone for a tortuous update process that began nearly a decade ago. In the end, the council embraced, with some modifications, the staff proposal to increase from four to six the number of growth scenarios that will be studied in the update's Environmental Impact Report (EIR). These include the four that had already been studied in the draft EIR and two new ones, which the council refined and agreed to pursue over a series of meetings last spring.

The two new scenarios go further than the original four in reducing the city's gaping imbalance of jobs to employed residents, which is currently estimated at about 3 to 1. (Read "Palo Alto struggles to provide housing that's affordable")

Both call for slowing down job growth, with each projecting 8,868 new jobs between 2015 and 2030 (by contrast, the business-as-usual scenario, known as Scenario 1, would generate about 15,480 jobs). But while Scenario 5 also calls for 3,546 new housing units by 2030, Scenario 6 calls for 6,000 -- far more than in any other alternative. The scenario would reduce the jobs-housing imbalance to 2.71 by 2030, still far higher than in most other jurisdiction, but lower than it is today.

What exactly would it take to achieve these more "sustainable" scenarios? According to a new report from planning staff, it would require a host of new zoning amendments, infrastructure investments and sustainability measures.

Like the four scenarios that have already been analyzed, the new scenarios would include zone changes that increase densities in transit-friendly areas, most notably downtown and California Avenue. Parking policies in these areas would also be revised, with paid parking becoming the new norm. Scenario 6 also calls for greater residential densities along El Camino Real, with sites near Stanford Research Park and Stanford Shopping Center eyed for housing opportunities.

Despite the 9-0 vote to move ahead with the new scenarios, council members sharply disagreed over the specific policies that would be analyzed. Councilman Tom DuBois proposed exploring a policy that would reduce the allowed density in certain commercial areas around California Avenue. In community-commercial (CC2) zones, the maximum floor-area ratio would be decreased from 2 to 1 1/2 in Scenario 5 (the ratio would remain 2 in Scenario 6).

The proposal moved ahead by a 5-4 vote, with slow-growth "residentialist" members and Mayor Pat Burt joining DuBois. Vice Mayor Greg Scharff, and council members Marc Berman, Cory Wolbach and Liz Kniss all dissented.

By the same vote, the council agreed to change a program that would have created "performance-based zoning," where developments would be approved based on their sustainability features and impacts on traffic, noise, aesthetics and other areas (the actual list has not been set).

DuBois and other council members affiliated with the residentialist philosophy -- Eric Filseth, Karen Holman and Greg Schmid -- voted against performance-based zoning and opted to retain the existing "density-based zoning." Burt joined them, giving them the bare majority.

While the discussion was long, wide-ranging and procedurally exhausting (the final motion was longer and included more than a dozen provisions), council members also recognized that they have plenty of common ground, particularly when it comes to their commitment to sustainable transportation policies.

Even so, some frustration was evident. Councilman Cory Wolbach, who in the past lobbied to study scenarios that are even more aggressive about building housing, again made his case. He lamented the fact that not a single scenario calls for as many housing units as jobs between 2015 and 2030.

Holman, who is considerably more cautious than Wolbach on growth, said she was troubled by the city's reliance on mitigations to take care of the problems that growth would bring. Mitigations, she said, can at times be "worse than -- and can't fully account for -- impacts."

"If everything we look at requires mitigations, I think we're going down the wrong path," Holman said. "We may be looking at too much happening here in terms of change."

Several residents shared their own concerns. Doria Summa, a College Terrance resident who serves on the Citizens Advisory Committee that is helping the city update the Comprehensive Plan, suggested that the city is "moving ahead with scenarios that do not represent the full range of options that the residents of Palo Alto want."

Summa, who was speaking for herself and not representing the committee, characterized most of the alternatives on the table as "high-growth options" and urged the council to consider scenarios more focused toward preserving residents' quality of life.

"I also feel like I'm looking at six baskets of groceries and I need something from each one and I can't combine them," Summa, who is affiliated with the citizens group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, said of the scenarios.

Some council members shared her concerns about what the process of mixing-and-matching the policies in the six scenarios will actually look like once the environmental analysis is complete and the time arrives to conclude the Comprehensive Plan update. Another critical question, posited by Burt, was: How will the city pay for the needed improvements?

It's important, Burt said, that "we don't just go throwing around ideal solutions without tackling the tougher issue of how to achieve them without necessarily achieving the funding."

"We have a lot of laudable goals but grossly inadequate revenue streams to achieve them," he said.

While this question isn't expected to get resolved any time soon, the council's unanimous vote at the end of the meeting represented a small but important victory for the update process.

First proposed in 2006, the Comprehensive Plan update stayed largely under the community radar until six years ago, when the Planning and Transportation Commission began revising each chapter. The council later decided to set the commission's work aside and launch a new process, which includes a 25-member citizens committee, a special planning summit, a long procession of public hearings and an environmental analysis with six alternatives.

Once the new scenarios are analyzed in a "supplement EIR," the document will undergo a public review process before the council adopts it. If things go as planned, the environmental document would be certified and the Comprehensive Plan adopted in the second half of 2017.

"I think we have to move forward at this point," Kniss said during Monday's discussion. "I think staff has done a great deal of work on it."

"I never guessed we'd end up with six scenarios," she added. "It's really a grocery cart full that we're choosing from."


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66 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 5:29 am

And leg that forever put to rest the idea that we have a residentialist majority on Council. Burt is not a residentialist.

At what point do we do some actual data gathering and analysis to understand whether more housing units would actually improve the jobs housing imbalance or just mean more cross-commuting? We have people living in Atherton, Woodside, Portola Vally, East Palo Alto, Los Altos, all bedroom communities, working in Palo Alto. We have people commuting to Palo Ato from San Francisco so they can live in SF. None of those people would move here because of more building, especially apartment units. We have people commuting to Palo Alto from great distances in order to own a nice house somewhere else. Since they are commuting for quality of life elsewhere, they are unlikely to move to Palo Alto for a costly or even lower-priced rental when they own elsewhere (we wouldn't have when this was us). We have people living in Palo Alto, often for the schools, and working elsewhere like San Jose. Building apartments could increase that population.

It seems no attempt is being made to understand this. Why not? The assumption that living in Palo Alto means a short commute to jobs in Palo Alto is grossly flawed.

We also need to be looking at how overcrowding office space or monopolizing of office parks or areas is affecting the perceived imbalance. One scenario seriously in need of examining is whether the imbalance - if it even exists (even now we don't have neatly a 100% occupancy rate) - is more easily and holistically addressed by addressing office space land use rules instead. Overbuilding of office space caused this, addressing it is the better answer. Holman is right.

Lastly, I am still looking to see even a reasonable fraction of this effort spent on the more important civic duty of safety, esoecially in light of the overdevelopment.

44 people like this
Posted by dolmanite
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 30, 2016 at 8:00 am

At the same time we have added significant office stock, the density by which companies pack employees in has skyrocketed.

There is a simple solution to this problem. It is called a moratorium on all major non public-benefit development until a regional infrastructure plan is put into place. Not some contrived plan involving slow trains which are already full, a deluge of corporate buses clogging our roadways, or above-ground light rail trains that really don't do a damn thing.

We need to lay down some real tracks, speed up the trains, increase their frequency, up-zone anything within walking distance while making it extremely cost prohibitive to own a car in those same up-zoned neighborhoods (tolls, special fees, etc.).

Short of raising taxes to force companies out, everything else is lip service and won't work, no matter how many plans you put together and look at. We are being overrun by the large corporations all the while we stand around looking at the blue sky trying to substantiate why we tolerate it. It's sad. Really, really sad.

29 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 8:55 am

What about putting on some restrictions and monitoring the flagrant disregard for social norms.

It is OK to have a home business, but at what stage does a home business turn into a nuisance. Having 10 or more people working at a residential address where the workers are sleeping in bunk beds in shifts while working during the day is not OK, and yet we have many of these businesses in homes in town.

I am no expert on any of these rules, but the business tax has to cover the costs of regulating what is going on. The amount of employees a company employees is also being flouted when it comes to having work tables instead of desks in work space. This modern idea may work well but it may also be breaking the rules.

58 people like this
Posted by Facts Please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 9:15 am

Are there any facts to support the statement, "residents increasingly calling for more housing options?" I think just the opposite is true - residents are increasingly calling for our city government to stop allowing the increasing urbanization of Palo Alto. Seems it's mostly those with a business interest that want to increase density here, not the existing residents.

If we want to decrease the commutes into and out of the City, how about we start by requiring Palo Alto based companies hire people who already live in Palo Alto.

And we should require that people living here in low-income housing also work in Palo Alto. So many threads about needing affordable housing for our teachers, fire-fighters, etc, and yet we have people in our existing low-income housing who work in San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara.

Think those proposals are crazy? So is continuing to add housing when there is absolutely no required tie to the existing jobs and the so-called "imbalance." The only ones who win are the developers.

25 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 30, 2016 at 9:21 am

Hard as it may be for some people to believe, many residents are indeed calling for more housing options in Palo Alto.

11 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 30, 2016 at 10:08 am

Gale Johnson is a registered user.


Thanks. I won't flatly disagree with your post, but I have questions re it, and again this gets back to the need for some serious fact finding before we leap forward into the unknown future: how many is 'many', demographics of them...young, old, single, married, families, renters, homeowners? And define exactly what 'housing options' means in this case.

15 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 30, 2016 at 10:52 am

There have been continuous "plans" to upgrade El Camino with three story residences that have a business on the first floor. That is the obvious location since it is on a major transportation route. These "plans" do not seem to move forward and that is the obvious place to put all of the new residences. I can't figure out why El Camino is not featured and upgraded. Periodically you see a story of a plan for this type facility but then it just doesn't happen. That is a good place to increase the housing.

22 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 30, 2016 at 11:21 am


I don't know the demographics of all the supporters of more housing options, but I support more options, and I am in my 40s, married, have two young kids, and own my home here in PA.

I made my comment because I find it a bit presumptuous and offensive when the commenters in the Weekly imply that no real Palo Alto residents support these options and that anyone who does must be a shill for "greedy" developers or an "entitled" renters and young person.

And is it with the name calling anyway? [Portion removed.]

34 people like this
Posted by Translation
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 30, 2016 at 11:25 am

"Councilman Cory Wolbach, who in the past lobbied to study scenarios that are even more aggressive about building housing, again made his case. He lamented the fact that not a single scenario calls for as many housing units as jobs between 2015 and 2030."
Cory Walbach [portion removed] lamented the fact that the maximum number of housing units built in Palo Alto would be 6,000, not 9,000.

36 people like this
Posted by Facts Please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 11:31 am


There has been no name-calling on this thread, and no one implied that no real residents support more housing. My comment was asking for facts that "residents increasingly calling for more housing options?" I do not believe that there is increasing demand from residents (i.e. more and more).

All of the posts so far have been quite reasonable, and ask for something very needed: facts. Because the theories don't make any sense.

34 people like this
Posted by to Facts Please
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 30, 2016 at 11:46 am

PAF emailed members urging them to appear before the CC and sign an online petition advocating for more housing. Apparently this drive was successful.

30 people like this
Posted by Private Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 30, 2016 at 11:50 am

The demand for housing (both affordable and otherwise) is very high throughout the entire Bay Area.

Therefore no solution is available without the entire Bay Area on board. Palo Alto can't do enough by itself to even dent home prices. (Well, it could build two dozen, fifty-story, 500 unit sky scrapers, and that might help--maybe.)

So trying to solve this problem locally is a waste of time. If we want affordable housing, we have to think regionally, not just locally.

23 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Aug 30, 2016 at 11:52 am

This issue has been studied to death. People who want more facts are deniers. El Camino can support additional housing but downtown and Cal Ave are even better.

The greatest need for housing is for seniors, young professionals, and service workers. A good TDM system is an opportunity to improve congestion even if housing increases. Free parking in Palo Alto I has been a major obstacle to progress.

Some commercial zoning needs to be changed to residential.
Residential does not need to be limited to 50 feet in all areas.

44 people like this
Posted by Jim Colton
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 30, 2016 at 11:57 am

Jim Colton is a registered user.

We are overtaxing our roads, parking spaces and other infrastructure because, over the last decade, we have added too many employees in Palo Alto. We have allowed too much office space to be built and allowed too many employees per square foot in all office space, old and new. All because we found it hard to say no to developers. The biggest demands for new housing are from those new employees who want to cram more residential space into a city that has been built to the city limits. That is an irreversible step. Just like allowing more employees in Palo Alto makes it difficult to reduce the number to a reasonable lever, so allowing higher density housing will be impossible to reverse.

So let's be careful about making a plan that satisfies those who are most vociferous and make a plan that satisfies the most residents. Most residents do not want higher density housing with the accompanying additional traffic and pressure on the infrastructure.

The exception is that we need low-income housing for lower paid workers in Palo Alto. This is probably the least vociferous group but one that deserves special attention.

46 people like this
Posted by why grow?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 30, 2016 at 12:10 pm

I do not get why there needs to be continual growth, especially when certain resources are fixed and/or diminishing (land, water...).
There is a limit to the maximum number of humans you can support (roads, schools, utilities) within a city.
As far as I can see, PA housing and infrastructure problems increase with the increasing number of jobs.
I am a resident for many years, and have been working in surrounding cities (10-15 minute drive) all this time. So have been my neighbors. Why do we think:
1. we need to increase the number of jobs in PA?
2. people who come for these new jobs want/need to live in PA?

I agree with posters above asking for facts to support the claim that many residents are calling for more housing options in PA. I and my neighbors are not.

20 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 30, 2016 at 12:36 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

During the council discussion it was mentioned about 75% of residents commute outside of Palo Alto. So for every 100 housing units built the majority of the occupants will be adding to the traffic congestion given how abysmal the public transport options are. The advantage of commuting by Uber and Lyft is that no parking is required, but that does nothing to alleviate the traffic and greenhouse emissions from individual cars. That being said, if rental studio and micro apartments are built for the huge number of young tech workers employed in Palo Alto, perhaps a larger proportion of them would work in Palo Alto.

36 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 12:40 pm

@Jim Colton,
Well said! I agree wholeheartedly.

The issue has not been studied to death. The issue has been debated to death, which is not the same thing. The issue has been framed to death by development interests, flogged and great pressure applied to residents, some of whom buy the arguments and unwittingly carry water for developers.

However, I welcome your proof that I am wrong. Please provide links to high quality actual research that answers the specific questions in my first post. You won't find it, because it hasn't been done.

We should have a rule that automatically stops growth when existing residents must restrict water due to drought, with no end in sight. Drought and water restrictions after residents have already gone through conservation measures and drought cycles are de facto evidence that we do not have the infrastructure for growth. Office occupancy density should be enforced and stiff fines in place to mitigate the impacts. So many people use their offices and the gyms sprouting up to serve day workers to shower so they use the water here while complying with personal water restrictions in their own communities. The media report Palo Alto residents as using three times the water of East Palo Alto, without factoring in a triple, not-water-conserving population of day workers, and residents get hammered for it. Lastly, the land use rules need to be strengthened so that City Council doesn't spend all its time focusing on developers' interests - and residents paying for it, as reported recently in the Weekly.

And above all, we should NOT re-elect Liz Kniss, who is one if the Councilmembers most responsibke for putting us in this overdevelopment bind. We should vote in smarter Big Picture candidates like Lydia Kou.

44 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2016 at 12:48 pm

Count me among the "why do we need to grow" side of the discussion. Some [portion removed] on the council want to know why there aren't options for even MORE growth than the six presented. My question would have been why aren't there options for lower or no growth? If we're going to change things, it seems prudent to consider "ALL" alternatives, not just those city planners (who are under the sway of developers and the "density" fad coming out of university urban studies departments).

I don't want to live in a city with pack and stack housing. One commenter above suggested removing the 50 foot cap for El Camino and California/University Avenues. Have you seen the blocks of monolithic cubicles at San Antonio and El Camino in Mt. View? Do we really want El Camino and our shopping areas to look like this?!

Aesthetics aside, we live in a town with about 65,000 people. It's suburban and manageable. Do we want to grow to 100,000 or 200,000 people, which we will reach on the current path? If I'd wanted to live in a place as big as Fremont, I'd have moved there.

Poster "Chris" above is correct: Palo Alto can support many more people than it does now. But this growth will come at a cost that many of us don't want to pay: the loss of our town's character and livability. It will mean more crowded streets, congestion and all the problems of modern American urbanity. But whatever happens is within our control if we will take it.

Whether we remain a vibrant suburban college town or become an urban mish-mash is a choice. We need to make our voices heard on this, and elect people who represent us - not developers and ideologues who would change our city for their own profit on the one hand, and adherence to weird untested academic urban "densification" theories on the other.

18 people like this
Posted by Closed loop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 1:16 pm

[Post removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 30, 2016 at 1:25 pm


The name calling just hasn't started on THIS thread just yet.

27 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 1:33 pm

I'm neither older nor retired. Kids in school. House poor. Know lots of families very concerned by the overdevelopment drastically tanking quality iof life for families on the South side of town.
[Portion removed.]

That's really irrelevant to whether we have any actual data on whether building more would address the actual needs, or actually reduce the jobs housing imbalance or just create more cross commuting and gridlock, since we are surrounded by bedroom communities, both richer and poorer. But we do already know that building more and overcrowding iffice workers increases the number of water users during a drought. One doesn't have to be an older wiser resident to see that.

34 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2016 at 1:44 pm

[Portion removed.]

In point of fact, it's the "residentialists" here who are proffering ideas different from the grow and develop mentality that's driven Palo Alto for the past couple of decades. It's residentialists who have been challenging - with facts and logic - the jobs/housing imbalance canard. It's residentialists who are challenging the status quo developer influenced majority of the City Council. It's residentialists who want to divert the City from the glide-path it's on now of more growth for growth's sake to one of sustainability and livability.

It's not that we "don't care to change", it's that we don't want to change in the ill-thought out [portion removed]. I've yet to see anyone here present any argument for greater growth than the vaporous (jobs/housing imbalance, etc.) and the plainly wrong (densification will reduce traffic and congestion, etc.) [Portion removed.]

Most residents who live here do so because they like Palo Alto the way it is: suburban, manageable and sustainable. In many cases, they sacrificed greatly to get here. They're committed financially and emotionally in Palo Alto Does anyone think that they moved here because they want to see it changed to something else?

[Portion removed.]

24 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 1:57 pm

[Portion removed.]

@Chris above claimed these issues had been studied to death. Since he was unable to provide the evidence of it, I refer back to the questions in my first post, which are key to whether any additional development will have continual negative impacts as we've seen over the last 10 years, or magically do anything like the ideological arguments claim. Additional to those questions, we need data on who is using what water. How much water us being used by day workers? How does that impact our City's water allotment and apparent conservation?

The question has also been brought up: what if there is an emergency like an earthquake and fires during the day? Palo Alto has not dealt with the issue of providing for the safety services residents are paying for in a situation in which there is triple the population that previous reports have suggested we have no coherent plan or funds to provide for. The Weekly has already written about how residents are paying for the developers' applications. How will businesses pay for the safety infrastructure needed to provide for an adequate safety response in an emergency? And the hard questions: should residents have priority on limited safety response in a major disaster, since they are footing the bill, or do we aggressively reduce office capacity and density if the City cannot provide the safety resources or companies won't pay what is needed?

We need to be focusing on THOSE conversations [portion removed].

17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 2:08 pm

I think anyone who has been here over 20 years has put a lot of investment in this town. 20+ year residents have paid taxes, paid bonds and parcel taxes, donated to schools, got involved in youth sports and other youth activities and volunteered in many of these also. Saying that those longer residents don't count and don't understand the need for young people to live somewhere nice is just so wrong. To begin with, those residents' children are probably in that group.

To say that this group don't want growth is unfair and untrue. The majority are saying that there is no space and no infrastructure for this growth. How do they know? They know because for the last 20+ years they have seen the changes and seen that not all of them have been good. Stanford shopping center used to house places like Woolworths and they used to be able to buy most of their household needs there. That has gone and now sales dollars from these residents are going to Mountain View who have the stores that average families need regularly. There used to be a bowling alley, that was a family orientated business that was forced to leave so that pack and stack could be built.

The traffic and parking are bad, small friendly schools are now huge impersonal places, parks are so busy that there is hardly room to throw a Frisbee without hitting another visitor (slight exaggeration, but you get my drift). School playfields are overcrowded that kids eat lunch at staggered times or have allotted days to play on the fields or play structures. Outside the schools at start and end there is so little space that a nearby resident has problems getting out of their driveway into the steady stream of traffic and there are so many bikes heading into the street that we have to have two way bike traffic on the same side of the street.

No Palo Alto is struggling with the residents already here. There is no point in saying that nobody wants more housing. What a lot of us is saying that there is no space in areas where there isn't room to swing a cat. Pack and stack will bring more people to town who just need to drive outside of town to work, to shop and to spend recreational time. Those who say otherwise have just not tried to navigate the reality of everyday life in Palo Alto.

7 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 30, 2016 at 2:13 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I honestly don't know how they will ever be able to decide on a scenario. How will they? I think there's room for 3 or 4 more scenarios, don't you? lol!... Of course I'm joking, as I'm prone to do.

My question is related to how projections are made in the first place. How/where do they get the numbers for future employment (jobs), population growth, and housing needs (thousands more units?). I'm serious now. Joking time is over.

Is there some secret mystical/magical algorithm used? Do they talk to companies here now or those planning to move here in the future to get their input of future plans in PA (projected number of employees, office space expansion, etc)? Do they take a survey of current employees who commute and ask what their rent rate threshold is and if they are really 'very strongly, strongly, medium strongly (I just made that one up) mildly, or not interested at all' in living and renting here. Their answers would be very revealing.

It almost sounds like all the scenarios are taking on the appearance of 'worst case' scenarios and that's not good for planning purposes. How do you pick the worst case? The current job market and housing situations could turn on a dime...and foul up all the planning scenarios.

Thank goodness there are some wary and concerned thinkers on CC who have thought about that. Karen Holman's cautionary comments were good and should be listened to. And Pat Burt, the nerve of him, bringing up the subject of how we pay for things. Good for you Pat. If you've owned a company or are a CEO of a company, you know about the relationship of sales/revenue, cost of doing business, and how to make a profit, the bottom line. He doesn't have the luxury of being able to spend taxpayers money like so many other 'ideas only' CC members.

And that insight should be observed during this scenario selection process. We have recently enjoyed the good times, revenues from many sources, that allowed us to take on projects, many infrastructure related, without having to squeeze too much money out of other projects. We shouldn't be fooled by that. Memories are too short if you don't remember major angst and cost cutting just a few years ago when revenue projections fell short of the proposed budgets.

I feel a little bit like Chief Joseph right now. He was so close to the Canadian border when he surrendered. I too am tired and weary but I'll be back tomorrow, won't surrender, with a lot of other thoughts, all on topic!

Good day of posting!

7 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 2:26 pm

@Gale Johnson

You're right, it definitely takes a lot of research/analysis if you want the state to have complete control if an industry, as you're suggesting it should do with real estate. Now it may be true that the Soviet Union couldn't pull it off, but I don't see why Palo Alto can't take a shot at it.

26 people like this
Posted by Resident2
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 30, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Resident2 is a registered user.

I really like Jim Colton's post above.

I'd also like to comment that the young/single professionals I know want to live in SF. The ones who want to live in Palo Alto are the ones who are going to start families soon. So if we build up, where are the schools and daycares going to go? And how will we make them affordable?

Kudos to Pat Burt for raising the question of how we can pay for all the infrastructure needed to support increased density.

I'm not a fan of urbanizing Palo Alto. It will just make it more expensive, noisier, more polluted, and less pleasant, imo.

16 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 30, 2016 at 3:08 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

@ citizen

"Office occupancy density should be enforced and stiff fines in place to mitigate the impacts."

There is no limit to how many people can crowd into an office space. Assumed there was a fire regulation code for how many workers there can be, but apparently there is no code restricting occupancy density. And even where there are codes, Palo Alto doesn't enforce them because there isn't the staff to do so.

When developers apply for approval for office projects to date there is a ratio of square foot to worker, but that goes out the window the moment the building is finished and occupied! To date employers have not even be required to tell the city how many employees they have, although with talk of a tax on employees city hall may finally come up with accurate numbers.

When residents have spoken to the council about the increasing density of employee occupancy they have been dismissed by planning staff and previous council members as simply anecdotal stories with no basis in fact.

1 person likes this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 30, 2016 at 3:11 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

Excuse the bad grammer, didn't go back to edit.

20 people like this
Posted by Where the money goes
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 30, 2016 at 3:44 pm

@Margaret says There is no limit to how many people can crowd into an office space. Assumed there was a fire regulation code for how many workers there can be, but apparently there is no code restricting occupancy density. And even where there are codes, Palo Alto doesn't enforce them because there isn't the staff to do so.

Yes there are codes but the city manager won't hire enforcement personnel. We have 2 1/2 code enforcers. Two and a half. No, not a joke. The Manager could easily request funds to hire more, but clearly he does not want to. Everybody knows it.
He prefers to hire more PR "assistants" for his office, and spend millions and millions on remodeling the lobby and the council chambers which did not need it.

4 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 4:12 pm

@Where the money goes

Problem: it seems too many workers are squeezing into Palo Alto
Solution: city hall should hire more workers to see if this is the case

It's at the point where I can't tell if people are being sarcastic anymore...

5 people like this
Posted by Where the money goes
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 30, 2016 at 4:27 pm

Todd, you may need to learn to read more carefully. You didn't understand what I wrote.

26 people like this
Posted by Vote the bums out
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 4:33 pm

Vote the bums out is a registered user.

The next election cycle will be critical. Once they secure a majority voting block of densifiers, government grievance groups and urbanistas we will be on the fast track to skyscraper city.

26 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Aug 30, 2016 at 4:35 pm

I'm in the Cal Ave area and in the 25 years I've lived here the quality of life has plummeted. We don't need more offices or housing in our dead-end Cal Ave neighborhood. Ingress and egress are terrible NOW -- so why is anyone suggesting we build more housing near this dead-end transit center? People who live here are driving, not riding the train. Traffic rushes through our neighborhoods endangering pedestrians and bicyclists of all ages. There is constant traffic noise and air pollution. We don't need more offices nor more housing in Palo Alto -- we need more residents on bikes; we need to slow down the traffic so biking and walking is safer; and we need to make major changes such as bring Bus Rapid Transit to the Peninsula. We need fundamental infrastructure change to help get people from where they live to where they work. They can't all live in Palo Alto. We will never meet the demand. More housing won't solve any of our problems. Yes - let's build toll roads and make people pay for parking and increase mass transit opportunities People never change until it hurts their pocket books and/or until they have a better way to get somewhere.

21 people like this
Posted by Vote the bums out
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 5:21 pm

Vote the bums out is a registered user.


With the city adopting a pro growth strategy then it pretty much guarantees us that the average home price will double to $5M.

Once all the new residents start having children and realize they can't ride bikes to school events, extracurricular activities and doctors appointments they will ravenously bid on single family homes. Four trips a day across city traffic is not feasible for working parents.

Most major roads will be gridlocked 16 hours a day and El Camino Real will resemble the mad max highway. More homes will be owned by out of town residents who never sell but extract a high rate of return on their properties yet live elsewhere for a better quality of life. Palo Alto will become one giant rental community. The dream of a white picket fence will turn into chain links, concrete and a VTA pass.

Time to start buying lottery tickets.

20 people like this
Posted by Paco
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2016 at 6:02 pm

I am sure City Manager Keene will suggest a Red Ribbon/Blue Ribbon Committee to evaluate citizen concerns on this issue. Nothing will become of either study and his lackluster management skills and puppet senior management team will remain intact. What a pity! Perhaps new leadership is needed

4 people like this
Posted by Bette
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2016 at 7:55 pm

RIP to the Old Palo Alto!

Perhaps those of us who still long for the "way it was" need go forth and start a New Palo Alto on a far distant shore.

5 people like this
Posted by Facts Please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2016 at 12:42 am


You go first, and the rest of us will stay here and hold down the fort until you come back for us!

3 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 31, 2016 at 12:47 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I've done a little more fact finding. shows there are 3,084 available apartments in SJ. I went further and checked the home websites. Here are some samples. I only picked 2 bdrm 2 bath units to compare.

Lawrence Station:
Location: just off 237 on Lawrence
Size: 987 sq ft
Price range: $3,086-$3,278

Location: off 237 and 1st St
Size: 1,003-1093sq ft
Price range: $2,599-$2,880

Vista 99:
Location: off 237 and 1st St
Size: 1,058-1,120 sq ft
Price range: $3,085-$3,420

Location: at River Oaks off Montague Expy
Size: 1,082-1,223
Price range: $2,610-$3,585

Now closer to home, and higher prices:

Carmel Villages:
San Antonio Rd. in Mt. View:
Size: 1,054 sq ft:
Price: $4,355-$6,960

Park Plaza:
Location: Park Blvd., Palo Alto
Size: 987-1,132
Price: $3,600-$3,900

Simple observation: generally the farther away the cheaper, and price variations at any one location are probably due to size, the story level, views...balconies, etc, and in the case of Carmel Village, since they are part of a development with stores (a big Safeway), shops, restaurants, and pharmacies, there is little need to drive.

I won't hazard to guess what rent would be for new, yet to be built, apartments in downtown PA, but certainly land values are much higher, so $5,000-$6,000 wouldn't surprise me for 2 bdrm 2 bath units. The micro unit idea is still uncharted territory, but I can conceive of a 250 sq ft unit renting for $2,500-$3,000 per month. With encouragement to developers, if we relax ordinances and make zoning changes, maybe we'll get to find out what rents will be.

2 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 31, 2016 at 2:19 pm

Be Positive is a registered user.

Continuing Gale's information, per, Downtown Palo Alto (roughly Alma to Middlefield, the creek to Embarcadero), has only 2 2 bed/2bath apartments available for rent, with one more coming in September. One is $8870 and one is $4950. Cal Ave area also has only 2, $4400 and $4700.

10 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 31, 2016 at 3:12 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

When looking for an apartment for my daughter and son-in-law in Palo Alto I found that only represent the big property businesses. Owner's with smaller numbers of units to rent post on Craig's List, and quite a few cottages and apartments available for rent have been posted on Nextdoor recently. Many units are rented by word of mouth and never make any listings.

19 people like this
Posted by Vote the bums out
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2016 at 5:35 pm

Vote the bums out is a registered user.

The first micro apartments in NYC have been an absolute failure if the goal was to offer lower cost housing but have been been a phenomenal success if the goal was to enrich developers.

Carmel Place opened up this summer with 55 micro units. The 360 sq ft units go for $2,995 a month to rent. That is $97 a sq ft. Other larger apartments with better amenities in nicer neighborhoods rent for around $54 sq ft.

The 260 sq ft units in Carmel Place cost $2,650 per month which equates to $106 sq ft. The average for that neighborhood is $57 per sq ft.

So you guessed it. Actual data shows that micro apartments are more expensive to rent, more profitable for developers and more detrimental because they pass on cost externalities to the community.

Don't believe the wishful thinking and made up forecasts. The facts show that micro units are only good for developers or politicians who want to appease special interest groups.

6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 1, 2016 at 12:14 pm

So how long have we been talking about this subject? Some people are making a career out of lobbying for redesigning the city. Meanwhile there are a lot of apartments already in the city both old and new. Focus on what you are talking about - El Camino is suppose to be the designated transportation link according to the county transportation people. The area between Charleston and Oregon desperately needs an upgrade. So who owns those properties?
Can the Weekly please line up who owns the El Camino properties and also where the land is that is owned by the railroads / VTA. They own a lot of land so they need to build on it. We all need to understand where the available land is - who owns it - and what the specific plans are for the property. It is called "transparency". I don't think any one at this point is interested in the lobbying and talking - we just need to lay out what the facts of ownership are.

7 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 1, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Article in the SJM today quoting the current mayor of Palo Alto that "growth" needs to be evaluated relative to the size of start-ups and how they evolve into full blown companies - Google, Facebook. As the companies grow they need to move out to a larger tract of land that will support a growing number of employees. We are good place for "start-ups" but the start-ups when grown up need to move on.
This affects the housing situation and all other growth for commercial/retail in the city.
Rather than paraphrasing check out the article in the SJM - it is front page bottom.

2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 1, 2016 at 3:20 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

A little rational thought is needed. It was reported previously that there were 2,076 rental units added in a recent 12 year period (173/yr) and that the current number of rental units in PA is 10,376. I don't know when the first rental unit was built but to pick a year, for sake of argument, let's say 1920. I know there were different numbers built at different times but to make it simple the average number over that 96 year period would be 108 units per year. One scenario calls for adding 6000 units in the next 14 years (429/yr) or almost 4x the average rate over the last 96 years.

Is it doable. If the question is simply 'can that many physical units be built by the building/construction trades' industries in that period of time?', well of course the answer is 'yes'. All you have to do is take a drive to North San Jose, east of 101, and turn off streets from Highway 237 or from the other end, off Montague Expwy. There are thousands of units that have been built and there are still more thousands under construction. The primary apartment building sites are on or on side streets off Lawrence, 1St Street, Zanker, and on the Montague end, Agnews Pkwy, Lick Mill, 1St Street, Zanker, and River Oaks. And, if you drive on 237 you'll see huge new office buildings springing up next to all those others that were built over the last 10-20 years, and you'll also see acres and acres of open land still waiting to be built on. What a luxury San Jose has.

Where will our 6,000 units be built? We will just have to wait for the Planning Commission and CC to figure that out and how to accomplish it. But based on the current rate of progress in picking a scenario and adopting an updated Comprehensive Plan, the housing problem could go away in the interim. There are clear signs of a softening and a retraction in the housing market. The doctor's prescribed medicine seems to be working. Insanity can be slowed down or avoided with the proper meds.

And a small downward turn in the tech industry could become another problem that will affect the housing market, and in an extreme case the commercial real estate market as well. I don't want to sound like a 'doom and gloom' guy because internally I'm not, but I didn't get that much euphoria either when I saw my house value going up and up and up on Zillow. I knew from my many years of living here that that would come to an end.

That's it for today. Tomorrow, if the 'Big One' doesn't hit, I'll add another post...'The way it was, and how times haven't changed that much'.

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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 1, 2016 at 4:06 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Glad to here you avoided that bad virus that causes insanity!

Of course it's important to know who all the property owners are so we can lean on them or get our City Hall folks to when we need it. Transparency 'talk' has become so opaque recently.

And yes, a great article in the SJM. This might be just a late, maybe too late, position to take by Mayor Burt, but he seems to grasp, better than others, what has been going on in PA. He is open to speak the truth, let it all hang out, because he's termed out on the council. It's too bad because he ran good meetings and listened to both sides carefully before casting his vote. Others come to the meetings already knowing how they're going to vote. We need to get rid of them. Open minds, clear thinking, and no allegiances/alliances to special interest groups.

'Oh, come on Gale', someone is whispering into my ear, 'get real, this is politics. You are so naive! What planet did you come from? What did you eat for dinner? Did it upset your stomach?'

Uh, well, I'd like to think 'earth' but now you've got me confused and wondering...can we start over? And I had a great dinner and my stomach is fine, but thank you for asking.

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Posted by rent?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 1, 2016 at 5:49 pm

@Gale Johnson,

Why are there 3,084 available apartments in SJ if there is a housing shortage? 3,084 newly built apartments have not been rented yet. How can they justify building more when existing stock has not been sold/rented?

SJ is less than an hour commute from Palo Alto.

It has yet to be seen that the price and demand is validated for the thousands of vacant apartments.

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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 1, 2016 at 6:45 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.


Good questions but I'm sorry I don't have answers. Maybe someone else can explain it. That number could represent a relatively small %age vacancy rate if the total number of units in SJ is 40,000 for example.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 1, 2016 at 7:47 pm

Having worked in the area of San Jose the north San Jose area is under continual building both commercial and residential. That is the area where companies are expanding in facility size and employee size. They have the open land and the transportation -you are not going to compete with that.
We get so wrapped up in our own business that people do not see what is happening through out the immediate area going south. There is no lack of housing if you look at the county in general. People telling you that are just using a "narrative" that has been worked out by the powers that be to sell more growth. Cisco has a huge number of buildings and is laying off a huge number of people. Those buildings will be leased out to the next big start-up group who is getting some traction in the market.

14 people like this
Posted by bob gardiner
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 1, 2016 at 9:18 pm

High density housing is bad for the environment as well as our quality of life. Traffic, noise and air pollution piles up, and our streets are becoming more dangerous for pedestrians and our kids riding their bikes to school.

Rents in palo alto are not materially higher than in other parts of the south bay area. Multiple one bedroom apts can be found in palo alto for under $2,500, the same rate as new apartments in the N. San Jose / Milpitas area.

The call for high density housing is made by trade unions and developers who profit immensely by re-zoning their properties.

We need leaders who won't abuse our city simply to promote their long term political careers.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 2, 2016 at 7:40 am

When people talk about all of the people that will descend on Palo Alto I wonder who they are talking about. Large companies like Apple and Google hire out of college and move people to a location where they will start out -Los Angeles, Texas, Arizona, etc. The person will work there and move up in the company and get directed where necessary. We were moved up here from UCLA Anderson School of Business - MBA Program by Ford Aerospace - now SSL. If young people think they will simply appear here and get a job with no relevant educational experience or relationship to any company in the area then they have bought into a bill of goods. You don't simply go where the money is unless you can help produce more money for whoever hires you. Since large companies have very sophisticated HR departments they are fully ware of the job / housing situations and will direct future employees where they will do the best job.

So who are you talking about? I hope it is teachers who have already been hired for their jobs - or police. Our tax base assumes that all people who are here will be contributing to the tax base in some form based on productive work.
So if you talk about affordable housing then identify the population group that you are addressing. San Francisco has become a dumping ground for homeless people - other states drive them here and put them on the street. How is that working for SF? Yes we have a population of homeless that the county does have empty land to build on to support that function. So get clear on who the housing is for.

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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 2, 2016 at 9:34 am

Gale Johnson is a registered user.


I found information that should be helpful. According to the 2010 census there were 125,150 renter occupied units in San Jose.
So if's information that I cited in a previous post is even close to being correct, the % vacancy rate is very low.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 2, 2016 at 11:04 am

2010 - that is almost 7 years ago. The amount of building in San Jose is ongoing and voluminous. Both commercial and residential facilities have grown greatly so year 2010 is meaningless - simply point in time that does not represent the current available housing availability. Look in your Sunday papers in the Real Estate section - they have maps where all of the new building is going on - and that is only the latest and does not cover the previous 6 years. That does not even include the current building in process that is not yet available for renters. Moffitt business park is still in the building phase.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 2, 2016 at 12:54 pm

The bottom line is if there is a requirement for affordable housing then it can be addressed within the county on county or state owned land. Yes - there is a lot of that sitting vacant. City, County and state land is the first option for affordable housing and homeless housing.

If the folks from the state want more housing on transit routes then the state needs to free up land that they own on the transit lines. It is not the requirement for each individual city to provide city property to meet arbitrary county and state requirements when they have the land. We should not have to accommodate ABAG on our dime when they have the land already.

3 people like this
Posted by VERG Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2016 at 4:47 pm

Web Link

This is what happens - to our quiet residential streets - when our cities approve office development - without requiring adequate housing and transit.

How can our cities do better?

All new office developments:
One new job: One new home

Voters for Equitable and Responsible Growth
For updates, write to:

2 people like this
Posted by Dorothy Fields
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 2, 2016 at 11:56 pm

For those old enough to remember or educated enough in our local history, you will recall a time when we had many more schools and our community embraced families at a time of large growth.

Growth, families, and suburban feeling are not mutually exclusive. Yes, we built two, tall ugly buildings and an ugly city hall throughout the past periods of growth; at the same time we preserved our neighborhoods and our schools. Smart housing plans do work, not for all, but for some to take part in our community. We don't need to solve the housing problem for the whole bay area, but we should for some. Imagine if we took the same stance with recycling, clean energy... we are not solving the problems alone; were setting an example, a solution in motion.

For the newer members of our community, please take a look and read the wonderful history of our city: Palo Alto A Centennial History

Much has changed, much remains the same. Denying new life and growth in our city is backwards, and not the intelligent community I grew to love here and hope will continue to nurture me in my old age. I hope we are forward thinking enough to keep this city, it's trees, it's schools, it's people moving forward for another hundred years.

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

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