In shifting land-use vision, city embraces its tech roots | News | Palo Alto Online |


In shifting land-use vision, city embraces its tech roots

City Council affirms coders' rights in zoning code; stops short of allowing startups in homes

Seeking to quash recent rumors that coders are incompatible with downtown's zoning rules, the Palo Alto City Council voted on Monday night to revise the city's land-use "constitution" so that it officially recognizes software developers as an integral -- and legal -- part of the business ecosystem.

But even as council members lauded the central role that tech startups have played in the city's history, they stopped short of approving a controversial proposal by two council members that would have made it legal for residents to launch startups from their own homes. While doing so is a long-standing practice, launching a business out of a single-family home will remain a code violation.

Mayor Greg Scharff called permitting startups in homes a "radical, radical departure from what we do in Palo Alto, which is protect our (single-family residential) neighborhoods."

"I don't believe in (making) major changes to what we currently do and what we've been doing for a long time," Scharff said. "I don't know any city that allows businesses in their R-1 neighborhoods, beyond what we allow."

The proposal to change both the downtown and R-1 restrictions came from Councilmen Greg Tanaka, himself a tech entrepreneur, and Adrian Fine, one of the council's leading advocates for more permissive city-growth policies.

But while the in-home startups proposal fell by a 3-6 vote, with only Councilman Cory Wolbach joining the motion, the council supported including language specifying that software firms are a legal land use in downtown Palo Alto in the city's guiding Comprehensive Plan.

While the idea that software companies are illegal in Palo Alto may sound absurd on the surface, the zoning code isn't exactly clear on the matter. It does not include research-and-development among permitted downtown uses -- an omission that has been made largely irrelevant by the city's long history of sanctioning and celebrating tech startups.

In lobbying for the change, Tanaka and Fine both cited news reports last year that referenced former Mayor Pat Burt's argument that the city's zoning code does not adequately accommodate downtown's software companies. While Burt was suggesting that the city revise the zoning code to make these companies compliant, his comments were interpreted by many as a sign that the city plans to clamp down on startups (one headline from The New York Times headline read, "Message to Tech Firms from Palo Alto Mayor: Go Away. Please."; in response, Techcrunch ran a story clarifying Burt's comments).

"I think it's important that we clarify that, given that people actually seem to think that software development may not be allowed," Tanaka said.

Tanaka also noted that software development is happening all over downtown and saying it's illegal is "really odd."

"I'm surprised people would even debate it," Tanaka said.

But debate it they did, with some council members favoring slow city growth arguing that Palo Alto shouldn't make any blanket policies about downtown startups as part of its Comprehensive Plan, which the city is in the midst of updating. Councilman Eric Filseth urged the council to go through its regular process and have a committee consider the topic before the change is made.

And Councilwoman Karen Holman suggested that the council consider the "scale" of development before making any broad changes to the Comprehensive Plan.

Many in the community have noted that big-data analytics firm Palantir leases about a dozen buildings downtown, totaling a quarter-million square feet.

"I don't think anyone is not supportive of having startup tech companies, but when it comes to downtown and commercial areas, having them unscaled is really detrimental for the community, detrimental to our housing stock, detrimental to our housing demand, and detrimental to the number of jobs we're creating," said Holman, alluding to the city's gaping jobs-to-housing imbalance.

But Fine said specifying that software use is allowed downtown is "an affirmative vision."

"Software development and technology is the lifeblood of this community," Fine said.

Tanaka, Fine and Scharff argued that reports suggesting that the city is clamping down on downtown startups have stained the city's reputation. Fine said the city has gotten a "black eye" in the national media over the topic while Scharff said people are "laughing" at the city over this issue.

"We should be proud of who we are in Palo Alto," Scharff said. "And we're the center of Silicon Valley and the center of tech."

Wolbach agreed and argued that the majority of Palo Alto "does not support the idea that software developers in downtown Palo Alto is outside the allowable business practices."

The proposal to specify in the Comprehensive Plan that software companies are allowed downtown passed by a 6-3 vote, with Holman, Filseth and Councilwoman Lydia Kou dissenting. But even some of the members on the winning side balked at easing rules for startups in single-family neighborhoods, as Tanaka and Fine had suggested.

Tanaka argued that most startups don't have the resources to rent office spaces. Letting company founders run companies out of their homes is one solution. Today, the practice is illegal. Planning Director Hillary Gitelman told the council Monday that running a business from a home is a violation that the city pursues and takes seriously.

But Tanaka noted that it's nearly impossible for the city's code enforcers to catch a few people coding in their homes. He also noted that if the city had strictly followed the law, it may have shut down Facebook before the social media company took off and became a global giant.

"I think it's important for the lifeblood of Palo Alto that nascent startups are able to start," Tanaka said.

Fine acknowledged early in the discussion that opening up residential neighborhoods to startups is a controversial idea that probably wouldn't pass. Even so, he said that it's important to "send a signal" that startups are an important part of the city, the community and the local economy.

But Vice Mayor Liz Kniss, who normally votes along with Fine and Tanaka, took the opposing view. She cited "The Social Network," a 2010 movie that depicts the loud and boozy atmosphere that characterized Facebook's earliest days.

"Having seen the Facebook movie, if I was one of the neighbors, I would've complained about it," Kniss said.

Like Kniss, few on the council sided with Tanaka or Fine -- or Erlich Bachman, the hirsute "hype man" whose Palo Alto home serves as an incubator for the fictional data-compressing startup, Pied Piper, in HBO's "Silicon Valley." In one episode, which Tanaka cited Monday night, Bachman lectures a perturbed neighbor about the reason why his substandard house is worth a fortune ("Because of people like us moving in and starting illegal businesses in our garages!" Bachman says).

Like Bachman, Fine and Tanaka pointed to HP as an example of a legendary company growing out of a garage.

But Councilman Tom DuBois was among those not swayed, noting that the city is working hard to encourage more housing. Allowing people to rent out their homes or have them be used as offices would send "the wrong message," he said.

Filseth also opposed the change and said he would be "astonished if a majority of Palo Alto residents supported legalizing hacker houses in R-1 neighborhoods."

Tanaka's proposal also surprised Burt, who termed out last year after two council terms. In an email, Burt emphasized that the HBO show is "a farcical parody."

"Some of the council seems to think it's a docudrama and we need to change zoning to keep up with the scripts," Burt wrote.


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39 people like this
Posted by spade
a resident of Professorville
on May 2, 2017 at 5:27 am

As always these silicon puppets Kowtow TO the developers and money...This town no longer has a soul nor a vibe its merely a nerdery for intellectual property.

83 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2017 at 6:34 am

Downtown and Cal Ave are our prime retail areas, not office parks. A single company - palantir - took over 20 downtown buildings, papered over windows and stuffed workers in front of computers. Multiply that by all the other company's now taking over prime retail space and it results in less services to us, the residents.
Our residential neighborhoods are where we live, not where go go dot com offices and a bunch of employees and cars come and go 24/7. The illegal use of homes now Should be reported to city Code Enforcement - it's easy and will stop it.
Councilmen Tenaka and Fine should be taken to the woodshed by their College Terrace neighbors - and Wolbach by his. Why would they try to do something so destructive to their own neighborhoods and to residents of their town?

70 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2017 at 6:58 am

There is a big difference between a few teenagers (or college students) starting a business in their parents home (a la Apple) and a home being taken over by a group of hackers who rent a house as a place to live as well as work and 20 or so people live as well as work there.

At the same time, is there a difference between someone starting a business in their spare bedroom on a consulting basis or as a software contractor, and someone else being a small commercial baker from their kitchen or a tax consultant from their dining room table?

We should not stop or prevent personal enterprise, but a rental becoming a dormitory 24 hour hacking house is a neighborhood nuisance.

59 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 2, 2017 at 7:12 am

As to standard procedure for the PACC tough issues are discussed at 10:30 at night with the usual suspects trying to pass amendments that have not gone through city review. Can the city please restructure the agenda for the council meetings so that the tough issues are the first on the agenda - not the last on the agenda. The strategies employed are not appreciated since we do pay a city staff to help corral major concepts and provide advice as to what will work and what will not work.

12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 2, 2017 at 7:20 am

Comment on services - they have all moved out of PA because PA charges too high lease or rent. You have the same problem in SF. The post office is now delivering packages for items bought on line so retail stores are just showrooms for goods. Safeway has an Amazon delivery section where people pick up ordered items vs having them delivered at home. The economy is changing so making what land and buildings you have productive is a challenge.

82 people like this
Posted by Elephant in the Room
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2017 at 7:53 am

"Even so, he said that it's important to "send a signal" that startups are an important part of the city, the community and the local economy."

Anything involving land use and downtown, Fine should have to recuse himself. Did they just make it ok to take over ground floor retail downtown for tech companies? Los Altos doesn't even allow services in ground floor downtown.

If they wanted to send a signal that startups are welcome, they should not have made a move that so clearly was intended to help Palantir continue to take over downtown. Pa lantir has outgrown Palo Alto and has already done more to shut out startups coming in than anything. They should move somewhere they can grow and are welcome, like Facebook did (although Facebook was never the bad and manipulative neighbor Palantir has been) instead of destroying a once vibrant community area. This was purely about sanctioning Palantir's takeover, i.e., making startups UNwelcome. Fine should have recused himself.

Secondly, we really need to consider how to restore the jobs housing imbalance in the only rational, beneficial, rapid and least impactful way which is help some companies move where the jobs are welcome and needed. The Times wrote the article because the rest of the nation would only love the problem of too many jobs. We can help the nation a lot by sharing the wealth. If almost empty parts of the country, of which there are many, are too scary, Concord has advertised that it has room to grow. San Jose wants the downtown to become more urban and lived in. Redwood City is growing housing bigtime and would be a perfect place for Palantir to go. Then startups would know that Palo Alto welcomes them again. Maybe Palantir will treat Redwood City with less contempt than Palo Alto residents.

At some point, it would be really nice if the pro-destroy-Palo Alto faction would send a signal that they think Palo Alto quality of life is important, and that the State mandated parts of the comp plan like Traffic Circulation, Noise, and Safety are more than side notes or for empty rhetoric.

This move reminds me a lot of the problems with Fine Tanaka and Kniss campaigns and who they took unsoecified tech service donations from, as well as developer cash after the election, and has anyone launched a recall campaign yet? I don't think the fair election people are a genuine watchdog and residents should simply hold them accountable so it never happens again.

53 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 2, 2017 at 7:54 am

Wolbach Fine and Tanaka showed their true colors voting for a broad irrational change ( which failed to pass ) to allow "startups"in any zone, including residential.

A clear attack on housing. All of them, Wollbach first, campaigned on increasing housing and making housing more affordable. Now that they have there seat of power they have turned on us and are doing the opposite!

Also an attack on affordability. Businesses will pay more for illegally operating out of a residential unit, thus taking it from young workers and young families.

Please remember this and other anti housing anti affordability and anti neighborhood this trio prefers when it comes time to vote again.

35 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 2, 2017 at 8:10 am

Enrollment is not going down in our schools! Yet a majority of your elected official that it was last night.

Not preparing for and protecting our schools from the impacts of growing enrollment will greatly degrade the quality of education in Palo Alto schools. Its already starting. look at this post from NexDoor:

"Neighborhood school over-enrollment, bucking enrollment trends in recent years
Sampson Shen from College Terrace · 5d ago
We are told by the school district that Escondido is over-enrolled significantly for the 17-18 school year and a reverse lottery will take place. Just a couple of months ago we were told by the school that it had been consistently under-enrolled in recent years.

What could drive 'consistent under-enrollment' into 'significant over-enrollment' in just one year? I am truly flummoxed.
Edited 5d ago · Shared with College Terrace + 16 nearby neighborhoods in General"

The poster has started a website for frustrated parents: Sampson Shen from College Terrace · 3d ago
I've created a private Facebook group for affected parents to share next steps on contacting the district and our elected representatives to express concerns and find solutions. Please feel free to join.

Web Link...

Another poster from the new housing on El Camino near California ave posted that she may have to send her child to
El Carmelo school, instead of Nixon or Escondido, are walkable and have the benefit of sending your kids to school with other kids that live in their own neighborhood!!!

Do not believe elected officials who deny that population growth will not affect the quality of our schools and the experience for our children. Wolbach Tanaka fine Kniss and Scharf are anti family, anti neighborhood and will hurt our

16 people like this
Posted by HMMM
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2017 at 8:53 am

Was this on the agenda? Or, what agenda item did it come under? Was this intended as a rebuke to residents complaining about Palantir taking over a swath of Mitchell park at what seems to be a deep discount?

57 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 2, 2017 at 9:03 am

Another reason to never vote for theses folks again!

WOLBACH - along TANAKA, KNISS, and SCHARFF voted against restoring language that said:

“Avoid land uses that are overwhelming and unacceptable due to their size and scale”

In other words they don't believe incompatible uses or comparable buildings. Like Adrian Fine "tweeted" before the election: " compatibility is just replicating the same community character everywhere. Its like an evil Amoeba"

Former Mayor Burt noted that Tanaka seems to be basing land use policy on a TV show that is a broad comic parody of Palo Alto.
These are very superficial and irresponsible approaches to governing our city

Next time could would vote for some Grown-ups?

59 people like this
Posted by new episode
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2017 at 9:05 am


Exactly, if they really cared about start ups, they would do something to avert the bigger and more demanding companies which are not start ups from hogging downtown.

Irony that a council passed something because of concern about being the "laughing stock," while having discussions about how to set policy based on a script from a show which is a parody.

Sounds like Tanaka, Fine, and Wolbach are vying for being an episode.

28 people like this
Posted by Cory Wolbach
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 2, 2017 at 9:52 am

To clarify the discussion about nascent startups in homes, as I said in my comments last night, I thought it was an interesting concept worthy of further discussion. However, I certainly would not want to see 20 people working out of a residential house in my neighborhood or anywhere else in Palo Alto, nor do I want to see residential space converted to small business offices. Nobody advocated for that last night.

However, even two or three people working as a new startup, seated around the kitchen table in a home which one of them actually lives in, is currently illegal, we learned last night. As staff clarified in response to council member questions, the HP Garage, a historic landmark, would be illegal today. Facebook would be illegal. As a matter or intellectual consistency, it seems that if we currently celebrate something which is forbidden, we ought to either start allowing it or stop celebrating it.

It seems odd to say that we want to continue to prohibit the next new HP without even any discussion about how such a startup may be compatible with housing supply, parking concerns, etc.

It was explicitly recognized and stated last night, even by the supporters, that the motion would not pass at that time, so it was, frankly, a symbolic vote. I supported the motion in order to indicate my symbolic support for seeing this issue more fully discussed in the future, where the pros and cons can be fully aired. I still hope we do have that conversation, which I will approach with an open mind about what the best policy may be.

9 people like this
Posted by Randy Popp
a resident of Monroe Park
on May 2, 2017 at 10:21 am

I appreciate what you were trying to achieve yesterday - just recognizing the reality of our environment and making a distinction between what is reasonable and what is clearly not. Symbolic or not, it was a valid and informative discussion.

31 people like this
Posted by Silicon Valley
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 2, 2017 at 10:25 am

What does it say about Palo Alto that the council has a fight about whether coding is allowed downtown? It's been happening for a long time, the economy relies on it, and overall we have an enviable quality of life because of technology, including software. This is Silicon Valley, folks; you probably work for one of these companies, or used to, or your kids do.

31 people like this
Posted by Finally, some sense!
a resident of University South
on May 2, 2017 at 10:27 am

Finally, a breath of reason on these issues! The city has had software developers downtown since the city encouraged DEC to move there in the 1990s, despite a former mayor's grandstanding. People have been starting companies from their homes since Hewlett and Packard (remember the garage?). I actually can't think of a major company that was not, at some point, run out of one of the founder's home or garages.

I agree, though, with Councilmember Wolbach's comments that this needs further discussion. No one (I hope?) objects to a few folks in a house writing code, but also no one wants a major company to be run out of a house. Perhaps there is a compromise that respects Palo Alto's historic values of starting companies from homes and garages without accidentally turning homes into actual office spaces.

55 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2017 at 10:39 am

Cory - you are factually wrong. Hewlett-Packard and their wives lived at the Addison site. Nothing illegal. There were no employees working there as was explained to you last night.
Facebook was a home with a bunch of employees on a sleepy cul de sac in Barron park - that was wrong. It needed to rent an appropriate space - nothing wrong with that - our neighborhoods are not slaves to the tech industry.
What you, Fine and Tenaka support here is counter to the very "affordable" housing you supposedly want.

30 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2017 at 10:41 am

"Can the city please restructure the agenda for the council meetings so that the tough issues are the first on the agenda - not the last on the agenda."

There have been motions toward transparency at various times, but cooler heads always prevailed.

And will somebody please help me comprehend our council's starry-eyed fascination over having herds of code monkeys scampering around downtown?

54 people like this
Posted by Altermative Factoids Forward
a resident of College Terrace
on May 2, 2017 at 10:43 am

"While the idea that software companies are illegal in Palo Alto may sound absurd on the surface..."

It was not only absurd when former Planning & Transportation commissioner Downing first said it -- and kept repeating it -- in her national pr campaign and former Mayor Burt had to refute it -- and keep refuting it -- by repeating his original comment that big companies like Palantir were pricing staving startups out of downtown, that deceptive mantra became -- and remains -- typical of the deceptive drumbeats from the uber-growth candidates.

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me, twice shame on you.

12 people like this
Posted by Tech dad
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 2, 2017 at 10:58 am

My wife and I both have senior roles at local tech companies, one kid in our schools, and have a hard enough time managing life and paying a mortgage. I can't believe some in this city would NOT support software development.

37 people like this
Posted by Unicorns
a resident of Mayfield
on May 2, 2017 at 11:10 am

@Tech Dad, who says Palo Alto would NOT support software development??

No one. Not Mayor Burt. Not Palo Alto.

Maybe the tech companies should start paying their employees living wages instead of firing them when they protest like Yelp or hiring tens of thousands of HIB Visa employees making $60K like many of the companies here or using so many contractors with no benefits to enrich their top execs.

7 people like this
Posted by south pa
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2017 at 11:14 am

Services in downtown Palo Alto? All the old stores are dying out because we shop at Amazon, etc. Why drive downtown (or take a slower bus) hunt for a parking place and pay higher prices when anything can be delivered to your home the next day?

So what to do with the high-priced downtown buildings? Fill them full of coders, managers, etc., who will shop downtown, or at least eat at all the restaurants. Those seem to change monthly old ones fail and new ones move in.

Sounds like a good system to me. Better than empty buildings.

41 people like this
Posted by Apartment = office
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 2, 2017 at 11:21 am

I live in an apartment in MP. New neighbors from overseas moved in and turned the downstairs unit into their headquarters for their startups (wife and husband each had their own startup). They filled the living room with futons for their overseas workers. At least seven of them were occupying the one bedroom apartment. Since they were an international company, working through the night, they were often up till 2 AM and only slept for 4 hours. The building is old and I never got any sleep because of the constant noise. I finally complained and they were kicked out. They moved to an apartment in Palo Alto.

I take walks in the evenings, passing apartments on the way. One I pass always has the curtains open. There are about 10 computers set up, like a conference room, with a white board on the wall. There are frequently several young techie people in there working. It's probably much cheaper to rent a one bedroom apartment and use it for an office than renting an office.

I'm sure that many apartment units in Palo Alto and Menlo Park are used as startup offices. Palo Alto/Menlo Park addresses are very desirable.

27 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 2, 2017 at 11:25 am

Annette is a registered user.

Anything that requires enforcement = something that will likely continue to exist. Sometimes this is good (as in creative collaboration) and sometimes not. Always it is critical to pay close attention to what CC passes. And extra close attention to what certain Council members propose. As has been made clear, those with an agenda will continue to take bites from the apple.

24 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2017 at 11:34 am

"All the old stores are dying out because we shop at Amazon, etc. ... So what to do with the high-priced downtown buildings? Fill them full of coders, managers, etc.,..."

So those code monkeys can write the software that enables Amazon, etc. to chase the remaining retail stores out of business and put their employees out of work. Slick idea there.

12 people like this
Posted by new episode
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2017 at 11:38 am

Does it matter if it's software coding or any other start-up?

Is the suggestion to use R1 to add yet more office space?

That kills housing.Or is the suggestion the employees live in the office?

What number are the "forward" thinking people talking about, not 20 working and living in the same house, but 3-4 people, 10?

9 people like this
Posted by Jonathan
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 2, 2017 at 11:53 am

If the Council is serious about this measure, then they need to be consistent and bulldoze the historic HP Garage. Otherwise, they are betraying a stunning lack of historical, cultural and economic significance.

Only in Palo Alto is a proposal specifically aimed at punishing small businesses deemed a good idea. Why not focus all this energy on building new office space so that these startups and even businesses like Palantir have a place to call home.

6 people like this
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on May 2, 2017 at 11:53 am

It is about time to get rid of all the dumb laws that only tilted toward some special interests!

After this another dumb laws and restriction are from old Eichler owner. No yield to special groups. Have a Citywide rules and regulations for everyone.

Wasting too much time on those issues.

Grade separation to save traffic and life should be the top priority.

41 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 2, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Am I the only one who finds grandstanding about lack of housing that tech workers can afford and then doubling down on allowing downtown to accommodate ever more employees commuting to Palo Alto?

Downtown offices were built to accommodate one person per 250 square feet, which our infrastructure could support. A huge proportion of downtown commercial buildings are owned by a small number of people, some of which are second or third generation which means they are hardly paying any property tax. Yet they are making a mint renting to companies who cram employees into these spaces and then turning around and expecting residents to solve their traffic and parking problems. Also, commercial properties that are not held in multi generation trusts turn over on average every only every 30 or 40 years, while the average turnover for residential properties is every ten years.

As to these new employees supporting the restaurant and retail businesses, one restaurant owner in the Cal Ave area said his regular lunchtime customer base has been reduced by about half for lack of parking while the new employees packing the area don't make up for this lost business. Yes, the trend is to increasingly buy online. But the demise of retail is greatly accelerated by the lack of parking. Fortunately Stanford Shopping Center brings in sales tax dollars, as do the proliferating hotels, because most of the tech companies not only not produce a product that provides any tax revenue for the city, they occupy buildings whose property tax was fixed with Prop 13 in the 70's and has only gone up 2% a year. Or if renovated that adds to the property tax, but the land value itself is not reassessed.

14 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 2, 2017 at 12:19 pm

First sentence of my post above should have "hypocrital" at the end:

"Am I the only one who finds grandstanding about lack of housing that tech workers can afford and then doubling down on allowing downtown to accommodate ever more employees commuting to Palo Alto? "

35 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 2, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Residential neighborhoods should be that - fire safe buildings up to code housing a reasonable number of occupants, not a company masqerading as a "family."
I oppose a bunch of people cramming into an apartment or single family home as "hacker farms" or etc. These should be stopped and not permitted in future.
An individual consulting out of their home poses no problem; bike racks and tons of cars, too many people, lack of care for the neighborhood, perhaps noise and trash -- these things do degrade a residential neighborhood! I don't care how self-important some of these dudes are.

4 people like this
Posted by glad that someone is protecting our character
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2017 at 1:48 pm

Thanks to the Council majority for affirming that software development is a permitted use in our downtown. We're an innovative city, and it was disheartening to see people like Mayor Burt question whether software development is a permitted use (and no, he was not just talking about Palantir crowding out other companies. He specifically pointed out that software development may not be permitted under Palo Alto land-use policies).

I personally have mixed feelings about permitting start-ups in neighborhoods. It's cool that Apple, Google, Facebook, HP and many others were incubated out of actual garages. On the other hand, we do want to have our scarce housing be reserved for people to live in that housing.

All-in-all, though, I'm really happy to see our Council members talk about these issues like adults. It's a discussion worth having. I am also happy with the results.

9 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2017 at 2:06 pm

The city should take the time to create a map, or list, or the downtown properties, which would include the property owner's name, owner's city of residence, billing address, date the property last changed hands, assessed property value, current property taxes collected, number of floors in building, number of square feet per floor, number of parking spaces required for occupancy, status, date of last fire inspection, etc.

This kind of data would allow us to have meaningful discussions about land use issue in the downtown area. Given the various sources of public data available, the city should be able to easily create such a list.

There are a number of claims in some of the posts above that are hard to believe, but might be true. Given that all of the data needed to know what building or group of buildings is owed by what person, or business, is readily available, then it's time to stat using it.

As to the issue involving allowing startups in family homes--I am very much opposed to it.

50 people like this
Posted by Deep Sigh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2017 at 2:34 pm

[Portion removed.]

Palantir, SAP, AmEx et al belong in a business park, not a downtown dining and retail area!

Say good bye to the last of Palo Alto's charm as well as its status as a residential community with good schools.

26 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 2, 2017 at 3:52 pm

Pat Burt was/is supportive of tech startups downtown. So it is wrong to say he opposes tech downtown.

Mr. Burt was addressing the problem of Palo Alto's ability to continue to house downtown a critical mass of innovative young tech startups buzzing with exciting new ideas. Which are being squeezed out by a few expanding companies leasing the available commercial space. My understanding was that Mr. Burt was interested in exploring how to do this in a serious, deliberate, and transparent way, one idea being to explore a limit on the number of employees one company could locate in the downtown commercial core. Very different to no R&D.

Downtown zoning did not originally include R&D. Instead, that use was specifically included in the zoning for the Stanford Research Park. Expanding the definition of what is appropriate for downtown should be given serious and deliberate consideration with the public given the chance to weigh in. Yet once again we have a pre-emptive move late at night by a council majority which blocks any public discussion or consideration. Were these council members assuming that the only way they could get this past the electorate was by doing an end run and sneaking it in?

36 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 2, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Annette is a registered user.

"Coder's rights"? Seriously? What field did that come out of? Do they trump the rights of others? On the hierarchy totem are they above or below developers? Residents? Two thoughts come to mind: ONLY IN PALO ALTO and SPARE ME!

When did everything in this community become a zero-sum assessment? Not wanting Cal Ave and Downtown to be overrun with any one sort of business (tech, in this instance)does NOT equate to wanting to ban tech companies from those areas. Not favoring everything about the ADU ordinance does NOT equate to being opposed to ADUs or housing. Wanting sensible, thoughtful planning does NOT equate to being opposed to development. Wanting our neighborhoods to remain neighborhoods does NOT equate to being anti-anything; it is a position FOR maintaining one of the best things about Palo Alto. I like that a little bit of that happened last night, but it is concerning that it was even in question.

37 people like this
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2017 at 4:04 pm

I feel absolutely mislead [portion removed] by Tanaka, Fine, Wolbach and Kniss.

First they run as residentialists and promise more BMR housing for the surfeit of tech workers commuting to downtown every day, and promise there will be no more offices downtown.

[Portion removed.]

Then they start approving plans for abominably ugly and ill-placed buildings, never say another word about quality of life for residents or housing for all the workers arriving downtown each day-- but try to convince us that Palantir is wonderful ( really? A spy company?), and that we need more startups, tech companies and hacker groups downtown, maybe even in our neighborhoods

[Portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by And the attacks continue
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2017 at 4:16 pm

Seriously, disappointed? Another blanket attack on kniss, fine, Tanaka and wolbach? The mayor does not have the power to dismiss anyone from the county. [Portion removed.] But feel to start a recall campain

Like this comment
Posted by Puzzled
a resident of Community Center
on May 2, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Could someone please clarify this: is it legal for someone to write code in their own home that leads to monetary gain (i.e., is a "business")? So far, it seems to me that there are parts of the discussion that suggest that the answer is "yes", while others seem to say "no".

10 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Believe it or not, I watched it to the end, at 11:45 PM, with just a few dozing off periods. I think Mayor Scharff does a good job in his role. He adds his insight on issues when it's warranted. Yes, he often votes with the other 4 pro growthers, but he and Liz Kniss have learned from years of experience, what works and what doesn't work in PA. The triumvirate of Wolbach, Fine, and Tanaka, will never disagree with one another on anything, I think. Filseth and Dubois are the real thinkers on council. They look at things very objectively, do diligent research, and point out the obvious flaws in things. They are not smitten by new flashy, idealist ideas for our town. There is another loosely connected triumvirate on the other side. Holman, Dubois, and Kou, sometimes joined by Filseth. But Dubois and Filseth can move away from that group when they think things thru carefully. That results in some interesting votes on the board, but that is a good sign, except for the hard '3'.

There were some very weak and frivolous arguments made last night regarding startups in residential neighborhoods. Trying to prey on public opinion by citing the HP startup success story was a mistake. Those early startup pioneers took into consideration the affects on their neighbors very seriously. Today's hacker house startups don't seem to be concerned about that at all. Hewlett and Packard were already community leaders and continued in that capacity and encouraged their employees to get involved that way from the start.

So, to Tanaka, and the other supporters of R-1 startups, get some historical perspective added into your pleas before you make them. Today is not the same as the 30's when the garage operation started and became a huge success story, but that story finally died out. Very few people talk about the 'HP Way' anymore except the early, and now very old, employees who remembered it. They were family, nobody got laid off, and then, wham, that all changed in just a few years of hard times when the bottom line became important. That good culture was gone forever.

Filseth made a very good observation. No city code enforcers have ever done much about the hacker houses and would be incapable of enforcing the residential startups, whatever those changes to the ordinance might bring. It gets down to neighborhood enforcement. I hope all the other council members heard that and realize it.

I don't think many voting citizens are fussing about software development happening downtown. It's the size and scope of what's happening by a few companies, like Palintir, that makes it so offensive, and takes away space for the many other real startups to get their starts there.

18 people like this
Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 2, 2017 at 4:49 pm

The idea of single family homes in residential neighborhoods becoming tech startup offices has to be one of the more harebrained schemes seen in some time. It appears several members of the council were, as my grandmother used to say, "behind the door when the brains were passed out".

5 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2017 at 5:05 pm

@ Steve Dabrowski. I remember it as hair brained, but maybe rabbit's brains are more rational than some of our public leaders' brains. lol! Of course I'm just jesting.

18 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 2, 2017 at 5:18 pm

I am concerned with Corey's comment above about voting "symbolically." Is that suppose to mean he voted for something and lost? Do us all a favor and skip the "symbolic" voting so we can get a clear picture of what is going on here and who is for what. If any one expects to get re-elected again for this or any other office then get straight on what you are doing because we have little patience at 10:30 at night. We are looking for a totally responsible preparation and presentation for any changes - if you cannot do that then it is goodbye. And work with the staff to make sure that you are not interfering with some other action that overlaps your brainstorms.

9 people like this
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 2, 2017 at 5:18 pm

Big difference between a hacker house, and the Enrolled Agent neighbor who meets with a small number of regular clients once or twice a year for tax planning and preparation. And a neighbor who has a handful of colleagues over during the day to meet regarding a new techbusiness concept.

22 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 2, 2017 at 5:25 pm

I am concerned with the comments above about people with computers stacked up in residential houses. Knowing something about electrical capacity in a home vs a business that has the appropriate electrical connections so there is no overload has a cost associated with it. And risk. If anyone out there is renting to a group then you had better find out what they are doing with the electrical systems. If you over stress the system which results in a fire then you are partly responsible. Buildings that are using a lot of electrical capacity are specifically set up for that.

26 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 2, 2017 at 7:07 pm

The CC goes out of its way to draw more and more high tech business downtown, then the PAF contingent screams at the top of its voice about the "unacceptable" job/housing ratio. This has become so pathetic, it resembles a person pouring boiling water on himself and then complains about severe burns.

Let's just dispense with the farce. We already know the end result and the future of Palo Alto. It will become little Manhattan, and in the fairly foreseeable future.

36 people like this
Posted by Tanaka just paying back
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2017 at 7:42 pm

Tanaka is just paying back his big donors,even if he wasn't smart about it.
Put coders in the Comp.Plan? weird.

Boyd Smith, WSJ Properties $1,000
Charlie King, King Asset Management $1,000
Dan Garber, Fegus,Garber,Young $999 (same amount to Fine, Kniss)
Lund Smith, WSJ Properties $1,000
Greg Scharff, Attorney-Real Estate $950 (similar amounts to Fine, Kniss)
Jon Goldman, Premier Properties $1,458
Jim Baer, Real Estate $250
Robert Giannini, Form4 Architecture $500
Roxy Rapp, Rapp Development, $1,000 (same amount to Fine)
Sameul Hawkes, King Asset Mgmt $1000
William Reller, Developer $250
and more from architects,construction consultant, etc.

17 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 2, 2017 at 9:01 pm

Hmm, lets think about this. How many times has anyone ever gone to downtown to see retail business space filled with coders? Not ever I'll bet. Those shoppers, and their shopping dollars, will go elsewhere.

30 people like this
Posted by Unicorns
a resident of Mayfield
on May 2, 2017 at 11:26 pm

"Services in downtown Palo Alto?" include dentists, opticians, beauty salons, doctors, insurance brokers, accountants, tax preparers etc, and they are not "dying out" but are being pushed out because the City Govt. ignores them when considering parking permits for their employees and customers in both of our downtowns.

Not everything is available from Amazon, especially trusted personal advice, trying things on in the store rather than paying a fortune in shipping back all the stuff that doesn't fit and/or looked great online but not in person.

As someone posted above, the Cal Ave restaurants are seeing a decline because no one can find parking and the workers are too busy er, working, to go out. A lose/lose proposition for them.

11 people like this
Posted by ironic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2017 at 9:13 am

Tanaka and Fine were elected to the Council with
strong votes reported in precincts surrounding the Downtown area. At the time this seemed hard to understand. Ironic isn't it in light of their push to change R-1 zoning to allow start-ups.

21 people like this
Posted by Unicorns
a resident of Mayfield
on May 3, 2017 at 9:27 am

Step right up and put a coding shop in your back yard. You too can ecome rich and famous.

Hah, that's why they pushed so hard on the 2-story ADUs which were not to help poor granny and about which remains unresolved like how they're going to be taxed.

A friend in Texas bought a manufactured cabin and plunked it down on his property and was only taxed on the cabin's purchase price. Is that how it will work here?

14 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 3, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Why has this article and thread been removed from the home page after 24 hours? The last comments were only posted three hours ago.

Yet the Edgewood article remains on the home page though the last post was 22 hours ago.

Could it be that someone wanted this article and comments to be given less prominence?

6 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 3, 2017 at 1:32 pm

I know something was passed re ADU's a few CC's ago. I'm not sure what it was and I'm not sure if all the CC members understand what it was. As I understand it, however, and I hope I'm right, that became a first reading/review since so many changes were made with many amendments, from the previous meeting. So there should be another reading, a second reading, on the subject, before anything is cast in concrete. I've pretty much given up the fight. I opposed it from the beginning but I'm tired of repeating my objections and concerns about it. To your question, "How will it work here?". Who knows? Maybe "Only The Shadow Knows". And, as you stated, many, probably most, of the new built ADU's will not be occupied by grannies, mothers/fathers, kids, relatives. It's an income source for people wanting more discretionary spending money or to help pay off mortgages. That should not be, nor should it ever have been, the intent or purpose of ADU's.

And, as it has been stated and made clear by some CC members, Filseth in particular, there would be no city enforcement. It would be up to neighbors, filing complaints. That's not the way it should work. And as for the latest CC meeting's debate about start-ups in R-1 zoned's already happening, and has been going on for a long time, without enforcement. It's sad when CC does so much and passes so many ordinances that are anti-residential and not supportive of the quality of life we, as residents, deserve...and that we enjoyed for many years. If we are going to be the neighborhood policemen, then put us on the city payroll.

12 people like this
Posted by So Silly
a resident of Barron Park
on May 3, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Coders may be replaced by Artificial Intelligence as early as 2021, according to Scientific American, the NYT, Discovery Magazine, The Economist and others.

So why ruin Downtown and our residential neighborhoods for techies and coders??? They will start becoming obsolete in four more years!

Let's build some modest, BMR housing in and amongst our own neighborhoods-- to avoid creating ghettos-- so that other people who would otherwise commute long distances each way can also live here (or at least nearby).

4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 3, 2017 at 1:56 pm

@Gale Johnson, so you're saying there will be no tax consequences to adding a 2-story ADU? Hard to believe when CC members like Mr. Tanaka have openly stated that their goal is to double PA's revenue.

Clarification appreciated.

Also I'm still waiting to hear about the promised tax BENEFITS to people who build / install ADUs.

18 people like this
Posted by So Silly
a resident of Barron Park
on May 3, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Such a conflict of interest, as well as betrayals, on the part of Fine, Tanaka and Wolbach-- doing 180s from their election platforms!

Kniss, at least, is the devil we know! Fine, Tanaka and Wolbach have committed some acts that are very shocking and hurtful to the suckers like me who voted for them.

Let the recall begin!

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 3, 2017 at 2:07 pm

@So Silly, I thought the campaigns were pretty clear.
Nothing at the Council meetings is much of a surprise to me.

Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 3, 2017 at 3:12 pm

@Online Name,

No, I'm not saying that at all. I'm confessing that I don't fully know or understand how it will work and the proponents don't either.

14 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 3, 2017 at 4:21 pm

I asked that as a question. The fact that no one understands it is a major concern and the city and city council etc. are not helping to clarify things.

Given all the unanswered questions, it's very strange for the Uber-Growth Guys to have pushed their latest proposal.

7 people like this
Posted by ironic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2017 at 10:02 pm

Some people in the community may not realize that
the State is undertaking an audit of the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters. It may take 5 months
to complete.

Like this comment
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2017 at 2:07 am

Imagine David Packard and Bill Hewitt were worried about a local ordinance while they were pursuing their business dreams.

Similar with Facebook and google guys.

Let innovation take place don't try to define and ban things. Things will workout. Better say nothing.

Nobody wants factories in single family neighborhoods. We know about single family homes and neighborhoods.

It reminds me of my own experience. In 1994, our parent company Hughes started directv. About 600 people were given an 18 inch Dish to try the DIRECTV service at home. Our home was in Irvine Woodbridge where the association had very strict laws. We got one for my house and installed it in the back of the house. The association forced me to remove it 4-6 months later when they noticed it. A couple of years later congress passed the law that 18 inch dishes were ok.

So Technology changed. Software coding may change. Who knows. Just leave it alone and it will sort out.

Say nothing. No additional rules. Single family neighborhoods will be fine and nothing will change. Don't panic.


Innovation is important. We can't pass laws that are stupid and subject of national ridicule.

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 4, 2017 at 9:40 am

In the SJM today 05/04/17 it talks about a huge undertaking in San Jose for a gigantic tech park in the area of SAP. This area will be accessible to all of the transportation links, including the BART expansion. It will include apartments to expand the available housing which is already moving quickly. Open space, and an area that needs redevelopment are key to the growth.

All of arguing about who works in the PA downtown may disappear - you all are busy complaining about Palantir. Google POC's are the main possibilities for occupancy. And the area is in a different congressional district - one that has more punch for the penny and more space to expand.

41 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2017 at 10:05 am

Thanks to several posters who stated correctly the issues that I and others raised last year about the appropriate types and scale of uses for our downtown business district. This article captured my concerns accurately, Web Link. It was odd to hear several council members make false claims on Monday night. Based on my previous discussions with them, most of those members knew that they were making false assertions, but in our new "post truth" era it appears that local politics is taking a similar turn.
These are important issues for our community. Research centers and tech start-ups have played a valuable role in the vitality of the downtown for over 20 years. However, we now have an situation where a couple of large and well established tech firms have chosen to dominate the downtown office space rather than expand into the Stanford Research Park or in the tech parks of surrounding communities. That is what companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and others did. Imagine what downtown would be if just one of those companies had been allowed to have much of their growth in the downtown.
SRP has been deliberately zoned and used for big tech companies for decades. The downtown has had different zoning which was intended for its different environment. I believe that we need to update the zoning code to officially allow smaller tech companies, but we also need to think through the impacts of unlimited expansion of large companies in that district. We now have start-ups and business service companies being squeezed out of downtown which is harming the very start up ecosystem that has been the real DNA of Palo Alto and which drives much of the economic growth of the region and beyond. We also need to have downtown uses support the needs and wants of the community.

21 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 4, 2017 at 11:09 am

Thank you Mr. Burt for reminding readers what you are on record as stating regarding downtown zoning.

It was/is very disturbing to watch some council members state as truth that which they know not to be true. During the last two council elections the level of what appears to be calculated misrepresentation by some candidates was stunning if you had been aware of what they had stood for, and in some cases passionately advocated for, prior to crafting their election platform.

27 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2017 at 11:22 am

Pat Burt makes sense - we need a zone change. What he says is so obvious and hardly controversial to any reasonable person unless you happen to be one of the bad actors such as Palantir that, Pac Man like, is gobbling up large chunks of downtown real estate to the detriment of innovation and smaller tech.

He is right to say that several council members were cynically misstating the facts Monday night. They did this during their campaigns when they magically became residentialists to be elected while hiding their treasure troves of developer donations, some illegally it seems. Now they misstate, offer alternative facts, make false claims (pick your euphemism) in the service of developers and big corporations even when it undermines small tech and businesses, retail, affordable housing and residents.

Burt's right. These several council members in the majority lack integrity, are wrong on this and do us a disservice.

20 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 4, 2017 at 11:48 am

Thank you very much, Pat Burt. Your description Post Truth era is so apt and -- to paraphrase Stephen Colbert -- contains much truthiness.

The ADUs are back on the consent calendar 5/8 and your phrase will come in handy when we write to the CC and/or show up and comment about their rush to push this down our throats with so many huge unanswered questions and reckless disregard for the consequences of their GO BIG At Any Cost advocacy.

15 people like this
Posted by Balance or bust
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2017 at 7:49 pm

Thanks to Pat Burt for reminding us that the biggest threat to the innovative start-up culture, economic diversity, and high quality of life that has so long defined Palo Alto's character is not over-regulation, but rather tech giants allowed and encouraged not just to lay down roots in our small city, but rather to take over the whole forest (under the guise that tech=innovation=good).

Their size and resources make it near impossible for start-ups and other small or medium sized businesses to compete for office space (and unprofitable for developers to build anything but.) Their ever-increasing job counts (in narrow and homogeneous fields) undermine local employment diversity and far exceed the local workforce, drawing commuters from far and wide. The resulting traffic, parking and greenhouse gas emissions not only degrade local quality of life, but have created a "social justice" movement to free those workers from their commutes. Thus exploding local housing demand, creating highly paid competition for even the most modest housing stock and sending real estate prices through the roof.

And worst of all, our community is pitted against itself as politicians, blinded by the shine of "innovation," paint increasingly black and white dichotomies around support for tech, for housing, for quality of life, for diversity, for sustainability. If our leaders continue to see middle ground as a failure, we'll soon have no ground to stand on at all.

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