Palo Alto to explore new zoning for affordable housing

City Council considers revamping 'planned-community' zoning, overlay districts to address shortage

Three years after it suffered a stinging rebuff from Palo Alto voters, the city's leading affordable-housing developer is preparing for a resurgence.

Palo Alto Housing, a local nonprofit that develops affordable-housing projects and manages the city's below-market-rate program, has been largely missing from the city's development scene since the 2013 referendum in which voters struck down its approved housing complex on Maybell Avenue. Instead, the nonprofit shifted its sights to the neighboring communities of Mountain View, where it is about to start construction on 67 units, and Redwood City, where it is designing a 60-unit complex.

But on Monday, in a presentation to the City Council, members of Palo Alto Housing made a case for bringing new units of affordable housing to its hometown, where the phrase has become a virtual oxymoron. Specifically, it is looking to add about 45 units to a site that it owns next to the California Avenue Caltrain station and to explore another development at a site on El Camino Real.

Both plans are still in early conceptual phases and are facing numerous financial, political and zoning obstacles. But on Monday, the council gave its strongest indication since 2013 that it is willing to change zoning rules to accommodate the affordable housing that everyone acknowledges is sorely lacking.

Though they didn't take any votes, council members generally agreed that the city should consider new zoning designations that would enable construction of below-market-rate housing developments. One option on the table is reviving the “planned-community” (PC) zoning project, which was used to build the vast majority of existing affordable-housing projects and which Palo Alto Housing tried to use for its Maybell proposal that featured 60 units for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes.

Shortly after that project was knocked down in a divisive 2013 referendum, the council voted to suspend PC zoning, which allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for negotiated public benefits.

Now, the council is looking to rethink this decision, at least as it pertains to below-market-rate housing. In addition to a revamped PC process, the council also expressed interest in exploring a new overlay zone that would allow the type of density that would make affordable housing possible.

The council discussed these zoning reforms after hearing from Palo Alto Housing (formerly known as Palo Alto Housing Corporation) staff about its history in Palo Alto and its ongoing projects in neighboring communities. Though it's still a Palo Alto nonprofit, the organization went into a self-imposed exile of sorts after the 2013 referendum, pursuing new projects in other communities for the first time since its birth in 1970.

On Monday, Palo Alto Housing officials indicated that after a period of post-Maybell trepidation, they want to shift its focus back to Palo Alto.

"I think it's time to put Maybell behind us," Candice Gonzalez, CEO of Palo Alto Housing, told the council Monday.

The council largely agreed. In considering the zone changes, the council recognized the desperate need for affordable housing in the local community, as evidenced by citizen comments, survey results, a packet of letters from residents and data from Palo Alto Housing itself.

The nonprofit's 22 properties are filled to capacity, with a vacancy rate less than 0.5 percent, and the average waitlist between five and seven years. Gonzalez noted that in June 2016, when the nonprofit opened its waitlist at the Sheriden Apartments -- its only senior-housing development -- more than 500 people received applications and more than 50 camped out overnight in hopes of getting on the list.

The housing crisis, Gonzalez told the council, is real.

So, however, are the challenges. In most cases, construction of affordable-housing complexes requires density bonuses and other zoning concessions to make the financing possible. In the past, almost all of Palo Alto Housing's affordable-housing projects relied on the PC zone, Gonzalez said, with affordable housing being accepted as a public benefit.

Other communities, she noted, have zoning tools to encourage affordable housing. In Mountain View, the preferred mechanism is a “precise plan” that the community formulates to determine desirable uses for particular parts of the city, in this case an area along El Camino Real.

Gonzalez said her organization had initially proposed building about 45 units of affordable housing on the 0.5-acre site but was encouraged by the Mountain View council to raise it to 67.

Palo Alto, by contrast, does not have such plans along its stretch of El Camino. A 0.42-acre site that Palo Alto Housing hopes to build on would only accommodate 11 units, Gonzalez said.

“As we go forward, you have to start thinking about what kind of affordable-housing zoning we can put in place to make affordable housing feasible,” Gonzalez said. “We also need community support and will to make this happen.”

Whether or not the community gets behind Palo Alto Housing remains to be seen, but on Monday night the council offered some words of encouragement.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss, who is running for re-election this year, spoke for most of her colleagues when she highlighted affordable housing as an important priority.

“As a candidate, I can tell you that running with 11 of us, I haven't heard anyone say they weren't in favor of affordable housing,” Kniss said. “I think that's encouraging.”

Her council colleagues agreed and offered largely positive words about the California Avenue project, which would include about 20 units for adults with development disabilities and would be eligible for density bonuses because of its location in the “pedestrian- and transit-oriented” overlay next to the Caltrain station. The new units would be next to Palo Alto Housing's existing 45-unit apartment complex, California Park Apartments.

The location is particularly suitable, several council members noted, because the residential neighborhood around the site is scheduled to adopt a Residential Preferential Parking program, which would presumably alleviate residents' anxieties about parking spillover from existing and new developments.

Planning staff expects to return to council in December with the perimeters of the new parking program for the Evergreen Park neighborhood near California Avenue.

“We have traffic and parking concerns,” Councilman Cory Wolbach said. “If we can get a plan moving forward to deal with parking and traffic concerns before we get more housing, that's the ideal scenario.”

Councilman Marc Berman urged his colleagues to “really approach different proposals with a really open mind” and noted that one of the housing developments proposed by the nonprofit sits “practically on top of the California Avenue station.”

“These seem like real opportunities for our community to add affordable housing,” Berman said.

Not everyone, however, was excited about the type of project-specific evaluations that have come to characterize planned-community projects.

Councilman Eric Filseth made a case for creating a “standard process that gives us good projects,” rather than evaluating projects on a case-by-case basis. The best way for the council to prevent neighborhood pushback on affordable-housing projects is to establish a process that gives neighbors a clear idea of what to expect, he said.

Mayor Pat Burt, meanwhile, said he was open to reviving planned-community zoning for affordable housing and pointed to the city's long history of using the otherwise controversial designation for this purpose.

“The notion that we should no longer consider PCs for affordable housing when we have so many examples of how successfully that's been done in the community over the decades is really misguided,” Burt said. “And I think the council needs to reconsider that.”


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22 people like this
Posted by yes to housing
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 24, 2016 at 11:31 pm

Palo Alto Forward did a great job letting community members know about this project - dozens were there to support it and Diane Morin said more than 140 letters got sent to City Council on this thanks to PAF's outreach. I'm so glad to see the tide turning a little on housing in this town. I hope this doesn't turn into another shameful Maybell.

43 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2016 at 11:35 pm

We already got the zoning option. It's called the Planned Community spot zone. It's ostensibly intended for "uses appropriately requiring flexibility under controlled conditions not otherwise attainable under other [zoning] districts." (PAMC 18.38.010).

Instead of perverting this option to enable, like, an oversized office project whose "public benefit" is an arch of cute little toy cars framing its main entrance (390 Lytton; I am not making this up), why not apply it for enterprises that actually benefit our community such as housing for our vital utility linemen and classroom teachers?

45 people like this
Posted by Maybell was not shameful
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 25, 2016 at 12:11 am

The Maybell situation was a case of neighbors getting together and fighting an arbitrary mandate from a city council that thought it could just ignore the concerns from the neighborhood being impacted by the project.
As I keep on reading about the supposed benefits in housing and demographic diversity that come from affordable housing projects, let me remind you that some areas already get plenty of these benefits. It might be a good idea to spread these projects throughout the city so that all neighborhoods can benefit equally from the diversity they bring. Some of those large lots in Old Palo Alto and/or Crescent Park would be a good starting point for a change.

21 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 25, 2016 at 12:22 am

Agree, develop a process that engages stakeholders, including nearby residents for PC or upzoning projects. Golden Gate Homes is a good example of community engagement on Maybell, but you can't count on developers - profit or non-profit - to necessarily do it on their own. Make it a transparent and reasonable process and outcomes will be better for all.

48 people like this
Posted by confused
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 25, 2016 at 1:15 am

Tell me again why it's important to be near the Caltrain station. Is this housing meant for people who work in other cities but just want to live in Palo Alto? Or are they planning a daily rail commute from Cal Ave to downtown? Maybe Caltrain is a great way to do grocery shopping. I don't get it.

42 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 25, 2016 at 4:28 am

This is subsidized housing for people who feel they must a Palo Alto zip code. Not one utility worker, police officer or fire fighter will live in those so called affordable housing.

19 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2016 at 8:38 am

During the Maybell referendum, while residents of the neighborhood were being screamed at to take a proposal that was underparjed and over four times the limit of zoning, was two thirds only benefiting a for-profit developer, and lacked safety studies to the safe routes to school on both sides despite City policies that such scrutiny was necessary, all because of the need, we all discovered that 20 BMR units in a full-service senior community, with age-in-pkace provisions, had gone empty for years. Why? Because they had been built without understanding the local need. They had simply operated under the idea that the need is great therefore it justifies doing anything. When the political battle highlighted the hypocrisy of that enough - and only after a long time of embarrassment - the then Council finally studied why those units had gone empty (not what people assumed) and changed the rules.

We do indeed have an affordable housing crisis, I am not disputing that. But the above, and Maybell, should cause is all to take stock, not proceed again as if nothing had changed. PAHC never before had to operate in an environment in which three times as many people work here as live here. The rules for who can live in affordable housing and even get on the list should be examined along with the need, in specifics, so that we can meet that need. Such understanding of the marketplace is required by funding agencies, but PAHC uses its waiting lists as a sign of the need. There is no means test for the list. Anyone who works here can sign themselves up.

Before doing anything about PC zoning, first we must do the hard work of understanding where the need is greatest. It's about time we prioritized low-income people who are already loving here and face displacement, and those in critical public service work. As Maybell showed, there is no way for residents to call for such rational discussion during a discussion over a project. But the look at what the greatest need is must be done, so that what we are planning for best meets the need.

Secondly, this article once again restates the excuse for the densification at Maybell that really wasn't necessary. At the same time as that debate, 801 Alma was being built. Initially, the proposal there was over zoning, the neighbors objected, and the nonprofit developer brought it within zoning and just got on with it. PAHC never did that, for reasons that have to do with their organization. That's not how we should be setting policy here. The City should be looking at what the City needs, not designing its planning around the specific operational limitations of one organization. We need to take stock of the need, and then what organizational capability can meet it. Perhaps that won't entirely be PAHC. Eden Housing built 801 Alma. The political battles PAHC subjected the neighborhood to are still the cause hurt, name-calling, and division, including in preventing residents from working together the way they did in the past to create affordabke housing in difficult development circumstances. They, as an orgnization, may only be able to create affordable housing if it is very dense, but clearly not every organization operates with the same constraints.

Thirdly, PC zoning was a problem because it was abused. It was never originally intended as a backdoor to circumvent zoning, it was intended to allow some flexibility so that projects that essentially met the zoning didn't have to keep asking for permission for little changes here and there.Resurrecting PC zoning as a backdoor to destroy zoning is a political nonstarter.

Having said all that, there are places where increased density for affordable housing are probably appropriate and even desitprable, and I support PAHC's attempts to find those win-win's. PAHC has just proposed a desperately-needed home for developmentally disabled residents, where they can be independent using the train. I think that's a good start. We desperately also need housing of all types for people with mobility impairments - universal design for them favors lower density. How to provide for the needs of the mobility impaired is part of inclusionary housing, too, and if funding rules for one organization are encouraging the wholesale exclusion of such a significant oercentage of the population, we must decide if other organizations can meet the need, or a change in rules can foster equity, or other funding models will.

Let's not alow business as usual to create division again, when people would otherwise have collaborated for solutions as in the past. First, the City needs to review the need soecifically and not make assumptions, so that we meet the need. Allowing anyone who works here to be eligible is no longer a reasonable criterion, we should focus on the prioritizing the need to best fill it. Secondly, as a City, we have to look at the array of organizational capabilities available to meet the needs, including for low-density housing for people (low income and not) with mobility impairments. Thirdly, we should be figuring out how to help PAHC be an effective part of that picture, figuring out how to help fund their efforts in a eay that best serves affordable housing needs (rather than first developer desires to bust zoning). It Maybell demonstrated nothing else, it's that it willnot help the cause of affordable housing to continue business as usual with for-profit development interests.

43 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2016 at 8:49 am

Palo Alto should just give up on affordable housing. The effort is futile.

Manhattan has lots and lots of jobs, not have much affordable housing. How does it work? Public Transportation.

Job centers throughout the world, London, Tokyo, Beijing, etc., have much more dramatic imbalance of jobs vs. housing than Palo Alto. But all of them can sustain and prosper by efficient public transportation.

Cities of the entire Silicon Valley should focus on public transportation, subways, roads, lanes and other infrastructures for self-driving cars, etc. It is a waste of money to stick in some "affordable housing" units in affluent neighborhoods.

Frankly those families that will live these units won't feel comfortable either. Do you readers feel good by living in a small house surrounded by billionaire neighbors? Most likely you don't. You want neighbors who are friends, beer buddies, with similar backgrounds and economic standings. You don't want to live somewhere that makes you feel worthless.

39 people like this
Posted by equity
a resident of Mayfield
on Oct 25, 2016 at 9:41 am

Rather than concentrating even more low-income people in an area that already has a large number of BMR units, it would make much more sense to locate any new BMR developments in areas of the city that currently have none (i.e. north of Middlefield). And given the significant past concerns with PC zoning (i.e. benefits that failed to materialze) I'd strongly suggest not using this tool. And why does PAHC identify the Park/Cal Ave site but not the ECR one? Does PAHC consider the Evergreen Park/Mayfield/Ventura neighbors less likely to organize in opposition to a bad project than the Barron Park ones? If so, they are sadly mistaken.

6 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2016 at 10:50 am

Marie is a registered user.

I am a member of PASZ and think the proposal for additional housing on the low income housing site off CA avenue, as long as it has appropriate parking and is not over 50 feet.

I hope PAHC has learned its lesson and will consult the neighbors so that they can have a win-win rather than imposing their vision of what should be over the people who actually live there. In particular, the people who live in the low-to-moderate income housing next door should be able to give very valuable feedback. It is also a perfect place to examine the number of parking places that the new units will need as PAHC should be able to easily find out how many parking places the current residents want and need.

I'm not sure housing for the developmentally disabled, as important as that is, is the right use for that spot. What Palo Alto needs more than anything, imho, is housing for the working people of Palo Alto, the nannies, the cashiers etc who need housing in our community. I think it would be a mistake to optimize solely for those who don't use cars and don't have kids.

If there was anyway to give preference to people who live in Buena Vista, it would be a win-win. To make the best use of Buena Vista, the housing authority should build low income apartments there, to the extent they can without displacing current residents. So if people renting in Buena Vista and who qualify for low income housing could move to new low income housing, then space would open up to further develop Buena Vista.

18 people like this
Posted by shameful
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 25, 2016 at 11:00 am

Most of these comments are terrible... same set of people seem to be commenting on all threads. I guess Palo Alto online just doesn't have that broad of a reach. Same vocal group that wants to stop everything.

Did any of you folks with these opinions on how much and what kind of housing we SHOULDN'T build because of parking, and design and this is not the right spot, and that is not the right spot... and yes, quality of YOUR life, but not other peoples lives - did any of you actually attend this meeting? I suspect not, otherwise you would know that most community members who spoke were parents of developmentally disabled children who wanted to keep their kids in the community that raised them and is now pushing them out. You should just know what this is what you are saying NO to.

You know who else wasn't there? The residentialists city council candidates - Keller, Kou, Carl, Stone. All these people who have been advocating for housing for the most vulnerable - I guess they didn't care enough to come and listen and learn. I won't believe a single word they say about housing from now on.

7 people like this
Posted by Density
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 25, 2016 at 11:17 am

@ Observer - 801 Alma is 50 units on about a half acre so it required exceptions and is very dense. The SOFA area already had an area plan that allowed greater density. This is also how Palo Alto's Alma Place was built (over 100 units on less than an acre). Maybell was 60 low income senior units (plus 12 2-story homes) on over 2 1/2 acres ...not dense at all when compared to projects like this, that you refer to as not dense.Don't forget that the 60 units was only on 4 stories next to an 8-story apartment building. It was not in a single family zoned parcel. We are in the downtown area with lots of affordable housing. In fact, we have most of the bigger developments.

2 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 25, 2016 at 11:58 am

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Palo Alto Process is improving. My only concern is aligned with Marie, but I have slightly different concern for about 20 housing units for adults with development disabilities. I understand but am not expert on daily skill sets and support needed for these residents.

Twenty units probably is operationally efficient scale. Sometimes it is efficient to co-locate this type of housing in reasonable proximity to other facilities so the staffing, etc is effective and reliable. I trust PA Housing staff to anticipate whatever staffing and facility infrastructure is needed upon opening and later as residents age.

25 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 25, 2016 at 12:05 pm

I have no problem with more BMR units for the elderly or developmentally disabled adults. OTOH, more family units will just increase pressures on PAUSD. [Portion removed.]

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Posted by Concern dad
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 25, 2016 at 12:27 pm

I was really enjoying reading all the inputs till i read "paly parent" comment.
I think it is sad to see labeling a community in general. The issue is NOT selling but buying. If we do our job as a parent, no one should be able to sell our kids anything they are NOT ready/willing to buy...
That all I have to say.

10 people like this
Posted by Larry Kavinoky
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 25, 2016 at 12:28 pm

The city could likely add thousands of housing units if they would just find a way to allow "granny" units without the usual "Palo Alto Process". If an existing unit has been rented for 20 years and the insurance company insures it as safe, get out of the way and let the landlord and tenant be happy to have a somewhat affordable place to live here in Palo Alto.
The city is punishing both sides in these situations. Houses that would be deemed livable and safe in many other jurisdictions cannot be brought up to current code and thus must sit vacant and only be used by the rodents.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Barron Park

on Oct 25, 2016 at 12:41 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

5 people like this
Posted by Affordable housing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Go Palo Alto Forward for rallying 150 members to support affordable housing!

At least we know that, if this gets taken to referendum, there's an organized group supporting affordable housing now.

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 25, 2016 at 1:33 pm

This town as perhaps the whole country prefers being stuck in the past. Bay Area, like it or not, is growth generating machine. So when you are against the new apartment style housing (we don't have land here for american dream your own backyard for working people) you advocating against jobs. It is the mentality of "I got mine..." behind Kou and PAZ facade. I am against more office buildings in Palo Alto because we already have too many but housing is very much needed. Where do you think your own kids will live? Tall apartment buildings aren't the end of your peaceful
Palo Alto live, greed and selfishness is. That is why we don't have Bart and that is why our road are congested, for example.

19 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 25, 2016 at 1:41 pm

"Tell me again why it's important to be near the Caltrain station."

That is dog whistle for "keep it out of sight from my house."

16 people like this
Posted by Indendent
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2016 at 2:20 pm

Indendent is a registered user.

Next time, PAHC, involve the neighbors in the process before charging ahead!

5 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2016 at 3:41 pm

The Maybell project proposal was the equivalent of just over RM-60, a zoning designation we don't even have in Palo Alto. Maybe you will take up with the Weekly your factually inaccurate characterization of what happened at 801 Alma, because that's where I learned (confirmed by my Councilmember) that 801 Alma originally proposed over zoning then brought the project within zoning when neighbors objected. The zoning downtown allows a denser, higher project than an R-1 neighborhood.

This piling on again at Maybell, as in the first time, is just a nasty political ploy that hurts our community, and doesn't serve affordable housing. Many of the same people involved in rejecting the rezoning were also involved in the Terman debates, in which they saved a school from development while also ensuring a large affordable housing complex go built, almost across the street from where Maybell is now. All the charges of nimbyism only hurt the large number of people in affordable housing units already in that same neighorhood, including next door to the Maybell property, and it hurt the ability of neighbors to come together for solutions like they did at Terman. I know this, because I was involved then, when we tried to sell ourselves to City Council as being capable of achieving something better, including the affordable housing.

People keep pointing to Mountain View, but when Mountain View was faced with this same situation, razing their last historic orchard (with a senior housing proposal no less), they rejected it and saved the orchard. In this case, Palo Alto had the chance to keep the orchard basically for free. The rancor caused by the nasty politicizing by proponents who wanted that proposal and only that proposal continues to hurt any potential for collaboration here. The PAF crowd seem to be disingenuously using sloganeering about affordable housing to cynically coopt affordable housing advocates again to vote against their own interests.

If you delve a little into PAF attitudes, it's that if we build to house three times as many residents here (in expensive uncontrolled rental units mostly), affordability will be a side effect. There is no economic evidence that this is anything but a way to get an expensive dense city where there once was a nice town. PASZ and the residentialists want to focus more specifically on creating affordable housing.

There is no way we can house all the workers locally. There are three times as many workers as residents. The number of workers grew because of overbuilding of office space that happened recently. The pressure to create housing in Palo Alto is strongly coming from places like Palantir who are trying to take over downtown as their own private company research park. They have no respect for residents and seem to be willing to say anything to get what they want.

With all due respect to you, I think you are wrong about housing developmentally disabled adults. This is a critical need! It is absolutely the case that parents need to find places for their disabled children to live locally so they can be independent but nearby. Near the train station and Cal Ave is PERFECT, because there is a grocery store right there, a train station that allows someone who cannot otherwise drive to get to work and otherwise get around on their own and be independent. That is probably the highest use of a property on that location.

Yes, that is one good reason for granting a density exception so PAHC can have enough units together to justify bringing in services to help residents. If it were up to me, I wish more of the units would be available to disabled residents. I will be voting for Kou, Keller, Stone, and Carl, because I think they are most likely to problem solve and ensure something that benefits residents will be built (instead of something that is built for the sake of building).

3 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2016 at 3:48 pm

That was just really uncalled for. The poster had a perspective, clearly stated, from a belief that proximity to the train station was a better place for workers. I just disagreed, respectfully, with that position, and explained why. You, on the other hand, probably without knowing the other poster, made a nasty claim about that person's motivations.

I hope you will please tone the ad hominem down so that we can all talk about these issues rationally. There is no way to come up with good solutions if every time anyone has a concern you disagree with, that you call them a nimby. What was exactly the trouble with Maybell, proponents found it too easy to just attack anyone who disagreed with them rather than working together for solutions. The PAF crowd are picking that up now, too, as part of their negative bashing and framing of residents.

To be clear, I am not trying to discourage you from posting your opinions, either. Just please stick with the issues instead of furthering that uncalled for nastiness against someone you don't even know (I don't know either).

7 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2016 at 3:56 pm

I agree with you, by the way, that local affordable housing for people who are truly low-income and working in Palo Alto in the kind of jobs you described, is also critical. It's just, the situation for people with developmental disabilities is even more critical, and housing next to transporation and grocery like that means the difference between a life and being warehoused. I think if PAHC takes a new attitude towards residents and finds a new way of consensus building, such a proposal could be a huge benefit to our town.

2 people like this
Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 25, 2016 at 10:51 pm

I think it would make far more sense to locate more affordable and senior housing near to the main Palo Alto Caltrain station which is a transit hub with some services. The California Ave location is simply a place where the train stops. It is not a transit hub that combines the various bus lines, two free and one expensive, that serve some areas of PA and Stanford. There are also no services associated with the California Ave Caltrain stop--no rest rooms, food service, station personnel. These are needed for developmentally disabled and seniors.
Use some of the space close to University Ave for more dense housing. There already are large market rate housing in that area. They need more BMR units.

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Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 25, 2016 at 10:55 pm

The Maybell site is not immediately adjacent to the apartment building. The apartment faces on Arastradero the Maybell project would have faced on Maybell. The nearest neighbors to the site are single family homes on both sides of Maybell.

13 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 25, 2016 at 11:16 pm

That was just really uncalled for. The poster had a perspective, clearly stated, from a belief that proximity to the train station was a better place for workers. etc., etc., etc."

You may have begged for someone else's comeuppance. If so, pass this on to them.

Why is the truth "uncalled for"?

Why do you aver that "Proximity to the train station [is] a better place for workers"? So they can quickly get out of town every day? Why should they get out of town every day?

Isn't the basic purpose of "affordable housing" to allow our vitally needed, but less financially advantaged, citizens to live in the same city as they work? Or is rectifying the muchly-touted "jobs-housing imbalance" merely an exercise in population statistics? House those workers, but house them out of sight with a rapid exit?


Reading these postings over the past several years has shown me that very few of our vocal advocates of affordable housing would tolerate "that kind" of housing being built in their own R-1 enclaves. No surprise, unsurprisingly. It's a good thing to have, vital even, but someplace else.

But affordable housing already exists in my 'hood; I appreciate the diversity it brings, and I advocate for more of it. I've earned my dog-whistle observations.

Your move.

4 people like this
Posted by Why not build on City owned land
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 26, 2016 at 8:13 am

Th City owns land in various places, as does PAUSD, why not be more creative with our housing locations? For example, relocate Avendas to Cubberly and turn the current building into housing. Build a 4 story building where the downtown library is, first floor library, upper floors housing.

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Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 26, 2016 at 10:32 am

Vouchers are best if they are very scrutinized. Non profits are profitable and have overhead costs. In order for government to build "affordable housing" it will cost more in construction costs. Resources are scarce.
Geroge Drysdale real estate economist

10 people like this
Posted by How Best to do Affordable Housing
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 26, 2016 at 12:22 pm

How Best to do Affordable Housing is a registered user.

I am glad we are looking at ways to accommodate a more diverse population in Palo Alto. I will be most excited about this if it meets a few criteria:
- we restrict the new housing to people with low-to-moderate incomes (e.g., < $100K for family of 4, < $60K for 2)
- we give preferred placement to people who work for the City of Palo Alto or the school district
- we look at converting office space, since we have overbuilt and it will help with ABAG
- we evaluate infrastructure needs first (e.g., schools, parking, police, etc) and solutions first

I'd be interested in others' thoughts on this.

7 people like this
Posted by Jason
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 26, 2016 at 1:09 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2016 at 3:36 pm

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

More logic and less fear about affordable housing can be found at

Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Density
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2016 at 6:06 pm

@ Sunshine - your facts are wrong. I followed and supported Maybell. The site is directly adjacent to the 8-story Tan Apts and directly adjacent to another multi-family complex. The single family homes were only on 1 side of the parcel and they were across the street (also a park was across the street) where Pahc proposed 2-story single family homes. Unfortunately, we lost the opportunity to house low income seniors. Very sad claim to fame for the city.

People keep saying to put more low income housing near downtown since south palo alto already has a lot. If you look the maps, it is spread out throughout town. As mayor burt said, you don't really support affordable house if you don't accept changes/concessions needed to make it happen.

6 people like this
Posted by How Best to do Affordable Housing
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 27, 2016 at 2:45 pm

How Best to do Affordable Housing is a registered user.

@NeilsonBuchanan -- Umm, did you read the web link you sent out? It says there is a significant cost to putting this housing in wealthy areas (where "wealthy" is not even close to what we see in this insane area), "with most of these
losses being born by homeowners and landlords whose housing prices and rental markets fall." It says that the benefits to the people moving in outweigh this cost (e.g., future earnings of their kids), plus the community will benefit from diversity, so it still seems worth doing. But more generally it strongly advocates for putting low-cost housing in lower-cost neighborhoods, where everyone benefits (financially).

I'm just saying -- I'm not sure it says what you think it says.

That said, I think many of us are fully aware that this is a costly proposition -- infrastructure, schools, etc -- and we are willing to pay that cost. But see the constraints I suggested above for trying to make sure it's a net win for the community. We'd like folks to move in who work in the city or school district, for example, and who truly need the affordable housing.

2 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Marie is a registered user.

@observer I am not against housing for the developmentally disabled and would not be unhappy if they are housed on the site near CA Avenue. I just thinking the working poor would be a better fit.

I think there are better choices for housing for the developmentally disabled with potentially more services available. For example, building on Urban Lane which is closer to PAMF and the Opportunity Center, which already have some services (although I have no idea if they would be compatible), might be a better choice. It would be near a wider variety of shops, including Trader Joes which I see as a better choice for low income residents than Mollie Stones.

In reality, we need more of all kinds of low-to-moderate income housing. At the moment, elementary school enrollment is down, so the schools could accommodate additional students. Adding housing for low-to-moderate income families is the most critical imho.

Whatever they decide, I welcome more subsidized housing anywhere in Palo Alto. I hope they can identify more sites soon.

But I should point out that as a senior, I was very against the Maybell site as the proposed complex would have been terrible for seniors aged 60+. There were no services onsite, limited parking and very limited services in walking distance except for Walgreens. The only transit was the Bus 22 along El Camino. The nearest grocery store was Whole Foods - not a real choice for low to moderate income residents. The nearest location of primary care was Planned Parenthood. Furthermore, they were targeting moderate income seniors, 60+, who could afford $1,200 rent for 600 sq. foot one bedroom apartments. This was a complex that would only work for working seniors - but where were they going to park their cars?

And if you tell me they wouldn't have cars, please tell me how many cars residents have at the Park Avenue site today? The one person I knew there was a nanny, with a child, who of course had a car (actually given to her by her employer) so she could get to work and drive around the children she took care of. I'm so glad she was able to get a place there. We need more places for hard workers like her who now have to commute long distances for their jobs in Palo Alto.

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

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