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Affordable housing gets commission support

Planning commission completes review of Comp Plan, paving way for council adoption

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Palo Alto's planning commissioners reaffirmed their stance in favor of more affordable housing for lower-income workers as part of their final review of an updated city land-use vision Wednesday.

The Planning and Transportation Commission, which has been vetting the updated Comprehensive Plan over the course of six public hearings, approved a list of proposed changes to the document, certified the environmental analysis and voted to forward its feedback to the City Council, which is set to adopt the updated plan in November.

Once in place, the document will guide the city's land-use policies until 2030.

Much like prior meetings, Wednesday night's discussion was a free-for-all of competing ideas, with commissioners debating everything from the best way to measure the effects of traffic to the best way to package their deliberations and conclusions for the council's review. On the issue of housing, however, they posed a unified front. After voting 7-0 on Sept. 13 to recommend a stronger emphasis on below-market-rate housing, the commission Wednesday agreed to take its pro-housing stance even further.

The big debate was over semantics. Commission Chair Michael Alcheck supported a policy calling for "dramatically increasing housing supply" in Palo Alto and argued that doing so is a "moral imperative."

It should be unacceptable for Palo Alto to be in the bottom half among Santa Clara County cities in terms of meeting its regional allocation for providing housing, he said.

"(If) any time a developer that came before us with a housing site, we'd encourage them to develop more units not less -- that's the premise here," Alcheck said, explaining his proposed policy.

Commissioners Susan Monk and Eric Rosenblum also supported going much further when it comes to building housing. Monk, the commission's sole renter, called the city's housing shortage a "true crisis" and argued that if Palo Alto doesn't do anything dramatic, middle-class residents won't be able to afford living here.

"If we don't do something aggressively in this existing plan, we won't have a problem with school enrollment because you won't have young professionals moving in here," Monk said. "You won't have families here."

Others commissioners, while sharing the sentiment, favored a less dramatic approach. The language the commission ultimately adopted by a 5-1 vote, with Vice Chair Asher Waldfogel dissenting and Commissioner Przemak Gardias abstaining, recommended having the document express "strong preference" for "affordable housing." Waldfogel's objection was that the phrasing was too vague and didn't specifically call out "below-market-rate housing."

The commission's recommendation is largely consistent with the goals of the council, which made housing a top priority earlier this year and which is undertaking several efforts to promote housing. These include easing the rules for accessory-dwelling units; entertaining a housing complex with 60 "microunits" on the corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road; and crafting a new vision for the Ventura neighborhood site around Fry's Electronics (widely viewed as ripe for redevelopment, the Portage Road site is expected to accommodate more than 200 housing units).

While the Wednesday debate over housing was largely a matter of semantics for the commission, there was a more fundamental split during its discussions of parking and traffic. Commissioner Eric Rosenblum proposed that the Comprehensive Plan consider a fundamental shift in the city's parking policy. Under the scheme he proposed, developers would provide fees instead of parking spots when they build new developments, with the idea that the city would then build centralized parking facilities.

The current policy, he said, results in too many existing parking spots being exclusively underused.

"I believe, what it's resulted in is a city that has lots and lots of buildings, with captive parking under them that are not fully utilized," Rosenblum said.

His proposal failed by a 3-4 vote, with Monk and Alcheck supporting him. Rosenblum also failed -- by the same vote -- to sway the majority when he argued that the city should stop giving "level of service" grades to measure traffic levels. He said focusing on that kind of metric limits design options and "leads to bad outcomes."

Commissioners also opted, after some debate, not to include language calling for exceptions to the city's 50-foot height limit -- a topic that the council specifically voted to exclude from the plan earlier this year. Alcheck and Rosenblum were the only commissioners who wanted to broach the subject.

Rosenblum noted that the Community Advisory Committee -- a citizens group that helped draft the updated Comprehensive Plan -- also favored by a slim majority allowing below-market-rate developments to exceed the height limit.

"I feel like the 50-foot height limit is the third rail," Rosenblum said, "I'm happy to touch the rail and say, this is something that the CAC discussed favorably."

Rosenblum had more success when he promoted at the Sept. 13 meeting a specific plan for the downtown area that would explore converting parts of University Avenue to a pedestrian-only zone. That proposal advanced by a 5-2 vote, with Commissioners Doria Summa and Przemek Gardias dissenting.

The commission also agreed that the new Comprehensive Plan should have a greater focus on creating walkable neighborhoods and preserving retail. And on the transportation side, commissioners unanimously recommended that the council adopt a policy statement on California's proposed high-speed rail system.

But it was the topic of housing -- and ways to encourage it -- that dominated much of the discussion over the past two hearings.

"It's part of the diversity that we all want," Ed Lauing said on Sept. 13. "It's very fundamental to our values in Palo Alto and I think we should raise it to the policy level, talk about eliminating the barriers ... and really, really focus on opening this type of housing up in a stronger way than it's stated (in the draft Comprehensive Plan)."


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28 people like this
Posted by Thankful
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 28, 2017 at 4:24 am

Encouraging the creation of housing options for all income levels is absolutely a moral imperative for our community.

I have lived here for decades and want to see our community retain families of all means, not just be an enclave of the ultra rich. We can do this for the extremely poor through subsidized affordable housing but also keep options open for the many many individuals and families that struggle to stay here year after year or who commute unbearableness long distances to serve our community.

I wish more had been voted on that incorporated the CAC's support of exceptions to the 50' height limit for the creation of subsidized housing. Hopefully Council can take a courageous step and incorporate a vision for Palo Alto that not only opens our eyes but has us rolling up our sleeves to help do our part in the shared regional housing shortage.

Thank you Planning & Transportation Commission for your leadership on this!

25 people like this
Posted by More housing for better schools
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2017 at 7:26 am

It is illegal for cities to plan rate of housing growth based on school enrollment. I am tired of the false narrative that more housing is detrimental to our school system. Young families in the district are increasingly renters, not homeowners and they are being pushed out every day because there is not enough housing to keep rents stable and low. Also remember that teachers, staff and administrators also need a place to live. Recruiting for the district is at crisis because teachers cannot afford to live in the community or even nearby. This is an even greater problem at the preschool educator recruiting level. To protect our schools and high quality child care system, we need to build more housing now, tomorrow, next year and even the next 20 years.

23 people like this
Posted by Tired of it
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 28, 2017 at 7:50 am

What a bunch of showboaters. I feel bad for the council having to put up with them. Hey, if you actually get elected, you can turn Palo Alto into an urban environment like mountain view will become, including multistory schools with playgrounds on top, as the Whisman district is now proposing. But till then, please stop

33 people like this
Posted by Homeowner
a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2017 at 7:53 am

It's good to see active residents on our commissions promoting a positive vision for change in Palo Alto. It's hard to escape the conclusion that Palo Alto has woefully failed to permit enough housing and in fact has actively discouraged it. It's hard to escape the conclusion that the status quo around traffic and parking is bad. Yes, we should be questioning sacred cows and touching third rails. We can't be forever ruled by the decisions of the 1970s and 1980s.

Can we be a community that takes real action when faced with a crisis? Can we be an inclusive community that creates opportunity instead of destroying it? Can we plan for the future instead of doubling down on keeping Palo Alto the same?

Two years ago, I had all but given up on our city to do the right thing by those in need.. I can't say I'm optimistic now. But I have hope.

37 people like this
Posted by Developers Never Give Up
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2017 at 7:57 am

From the article: "Commissioner Eric Rosenblum proposed ... developers would provide fees instead of parking spots when they build new developments, with the idea that the city would then build centralized parking facilities."

He neglected to point out there is no additional city land available that is suitable for parking facilities. And when the city bulit shared garages in the past, developers didn't have to pay for the land or any property taxes on the land and parking structures. What a sweet deal for developers.

Why didn't he propose that developers team up with each other to build centralized parking, which they can already do? Because then they'd have to pay the true costs.

4 people like this
Posted by Council watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2017 at 8:12 am

@Developers - if the developers get together and build a centralized parking structure, then we don't get to park in it unless we work in one of their buildings. It's pretty much like how we can't park in any of the underground garages beneath the new buildings.

More parking for us, paid for by developers. Sounds like a better deal than what we have now.

13 people like this
Posted by Good discussion
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2017 at 8:13 am

The PTC seems to have done its job in considering the major planning issues.

It's clear that, like on the Council, there is a split. There is a wing that is advocating for classic smart growth policies, and a wing that is advocating for halting growth. That is okay-- we don't want a commission to be an echo chamber. I personally support the view that Palo Alto is a medium sized regional jobs center, and that we should embrace that identity. The fiction that we are a sleepy suburb (like Saratoga or Los Altos) was never true. We are blessed with a world class university, a train line, and innovative employers. That's a good thing.

39 people like this
Posted by work in palo alto
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 28, 2017 at 8:43 am

[Portion removed.]

the traffic in this town is HORRIBLE! where are the additional cars supposed to go? how do we go from one end of palo alto to the other. for those of us who use cars in our work--we can't walk everywhere, how are we supposed to do this? it has been non-stop building for the past several years. Traffic is HORRENDOUS. more high-rises?? YES, we definitely need more congestion in this city. this is just ludicrous. all of these people should be voted out of office immediately. i don't live in palo alto, but i do have to drive for my work, and PA and Menlo Park on el camino real is AWFUL. and yet, they keep building.

16 people like this
Posted by Developers Never Give Up
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2017 at 9:00 am

@Council Watcher says "if the developers get together and build a centralized parking structure, then we don't get to park in it"

Not true. Private garages with extra spaces can lease those out, either to the public or to other companies. It already happens Downtown. For example, you can pay to park under 530 Lytton (Bank of America). And the Epiphany Hotel rents private spaces for valet parking from a building on Everett.

@work in palo alto: Absolutely true. In fact, the PTC discussed that last night but it didn't get into the article. The Comprehensive Plan is a disaster. Instead of solving problems, it will simply create more.

25 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2017 at 9:12 am

I never hear of innovative solutions, just expectations that are totally unrealistic, when it comes to traffic and parking.

For so many who work in Palo Alto, biking and public transportation are not options. You can't really do either if you live in Half Moon Bay, Cupertino, Milpitas or the East Bay. Yet nothing is done to help these vital workers, whether they are low wage earners or high tech. They can't all come and live in high rises in Palo Alto even if they wanted to.

We desperately need parking lots (and not Edgewood shopping center) for park and ride, carpool and dedicated shuttles. This is not discussed. It would be much simpler to look at these types of solutions.

Another idea which is popular in the UK is homeowners renting out their own driveways for daytime use to those who work in town. There are many websites and apps that make this easy. A homeowner who rents their driveway during the day to the same commuter can build a trusting relationship with each other and it can benefit both.

Since there is a large number of people who live in Palo Alto and commute elsewhere we have to understand that building more and more high rises does not guarantee that these occupants would work in town. They are just as likely to want to commute to their jobs in other places like Google, Facebook, Apple or other places. Improving public transit is likely to mean we should be looking at reverse commutes just as much as those that commute in. We should also be looking at the numbers of those who leave as well as those who arrive each day. From my perspective at the Caltrain stations, there are just as many people getting on the trains as getting off them during morning commutes.

Does anyone have numbers for outward commuters? I hear so much about how our population increases each day but do these figures assume that those who reside here remain here during the day? I am assuming that is forgotten. Why can't the powers that be understand that traffic is just as bad leaving town as it is for the daytime arrivals.

Unless or until we start looking at the situation from realistic and innovative perspectives, we are only going to get more of the same answers. It is too late for more of the same. We need to change.

22 people like this
Posted by Gina Dalma
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2017 at 10:20 am

There is a direct relationship between the ability of young people to live in a place and its vibrancy and diversity. Proud that the Commission has the vision of being a model city that strives for inclusion versus the example we are today - of pushing our best and brightest away.

14 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2017 at 10:34 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Gina, I agree with everything you said.

Our children's lives were enhanced by the welcoming spirit and investments championed by people like Ray Bacchetti and Aggie Robinson. This welcoming spirit allowed our kids to have neighbors and school mates from a variety of backgrounds, mirroring and preparing them for the world they would live in as adults.

Unless we work hard to expand housing for middle and lower income families, we will lose our diversity and vitality that can make Palo Alto a special place.

55 people like this
Posted by Just Take Us Out and Shoot Us
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 28, 2017 at 10:46 am

Gina Dalma says above we are "pushing our best and brightest away." Really? So those of us who are already here, including Stanford faculty, world-class researchers, community leaders, entrepreneurs, excellent teachers and students, and everyone else A to Z .. are somehow inferior to the people she wants to bring in?

And she's wrong to claim young professionals clamoring for housing will create diversity in our community. They're in fact pushing out people of diverse ages and income levels. The intolerance for the people already here grows daily, from Kate Downning's rant about the community not making it possible for her to have cheaper housing to Avenidas throwing out the low-income-serving La Comida.

31 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 28, 2017 at 11:10 am

agree with "just take us out and shoot us"

There is a horrible sense of elitism at work here.

Commissioner Monk sited her own financial predicament of being a renter and paying $5,300 a month for a 2 bedroom,
tiny apartment in Palo Alto as a hardship.
Then went on to opine about a young, former planning commissioner who chose to optimize her house buying budget by purchasing a home in another community, which allowed her no doubt, to purchase a larger home with more amenities perhaps than in PA.
OK. That makes sense. Everyone must make those kinds of trade-offs when making a big decision like buying a property.
A very reasonable choice for anyone to make .

Commissioner Monk then went on to describe the former commissioner's two income professional family as "middle Class' Because she speculated they only made around "$400 K annually."

Can it truly be the case that anyone is so out of touch as to think $400K in annual salary (plus benefits & stock options) for a family of two is middle class?

something is really wrong!!

37 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2017 at 11:20 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Gina Dalma & stephen levy - "There is a direct relationship between the ability of young people to live in a place and its vibrancy and diversity."

So you'd say that East Palo Alto is much more vibrant than Palo Alto because young people can better afford to live there? I don't think so, your formulation is nonsense. San Francisco is probably the most vibrant place in the country while also being the least affordable. Detroit is incredibly affordable, young people can by their own house for a few thousand dollars, but not that vibrant. I think you guys need to rethink your silly platitudes and look at the real world for guidance.

34 people like this
Posted by PTC fails to request BMR housing
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 28, 2017 at 11:34 am

Notice how PTC under Alcheck's leadership did not include "BMR" only "Affordable Housing". They claim housing crisis and affordability but pass a resolution not requiring below market housing. Why, because it cuts into developer profits. Another developer give away.

19 people like this
Posted by Good discussion
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2017 at 11:35 am

Every dynamic, interesting community needs a mix of young and old, rich and poor. Palo Alto never had a lot of truly poor people. But it used to have more middle class people. And it used to have a lot more young people who were early in their careers before starting families. That is becoming increasingly rare. Later generations will pay the price for our city becoming a monoculture of older, wealthier people.

6 people like this
Posted by @ PTC fails to request BMR housing
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm

The article is wrong. The motion in fact included BMR specifically. As adopted "BMR and housing that is affordable." Both were included. No developer give away.

13 people like this
Posted by Angie
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Thanks for supporting more about affordable housing! I'm a renter and cannot afford to buy here. We spend every month waiting for the impending rent increases and wondering how we will find childcare for our daughter if we have to move. Although I'd like to see more supply paired with stronger (aka any kind) of renters rights, I'm thrilled to see that the commission is addressing some of the big problems and can't wait to see 200 more units come on the market! We've still got to do something about the height limit and parking! Sounded like Rosenblum had a pretty good idea that wasn't fully considered.

6 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2017 at 12:35 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

When I think of young professionals, i think of young teachers, young post docs, young doctors and nurses and, yes, some but not mainly young software engineers.

I am thinking of people like myself when I first moved here and most people on the council when they were young professionals.

And many if not most of those people would not be able to move here now so I do think we lose that diversity and ability to welcome middle class folks. No I do not think $400,000 is middle class but none of the people Gina or i were thinking of make anywhere near that much.

When my children were growing up all of those kinds of people were our neighbors.

It is a difficult challenge but we can make it less costly to build new housing here and I support those on the PTC and the council as well as our Comp Plan and Housing Element in making that a high priority policy goal.

I have no need to or intention to "just shoot" existing residents. That and all the personal comments are just a distraction from the policy question of finding ways that young and middle class people and families can make Palo Alto their home and be our neighbors.

23 people like this
Posted by Claustrophobic
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 28, 2017 at 12:48 pm

These are not altruistic developers trying to help those with low income. These are developers trying to make a profit in a city that allows for variances when "low income families" get a couple of units out of the project. Sometimes the developer extended family members get to cut the waiting list for one of those low income properties. It's wrong. We need a better system. Palo Alto is a congested mess with out of control, thoughtless development. Our roads can't take it. Gridlock is knocking at the door.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards

on Sep 28, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.

39 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2017 at 2:14 pm

Palo Alto does not have a "housing crisis". The city is pretty much built out with a healthy mix of single family houses and apartments. What is unhealthy is the high office-to housing ratio, which creates terrible traffic and causes an unhealthy demand for housing in the city due to so many workers wanting to live closer to their jobs. Also there is an "irrational exuberance" of demand for housing due to overachieving parents who think there is nowhere else but Palo Alto to educate their kids, by the "masters of the universe" venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who want to live here for the "prestige" address, and other absurd motivations that in no way justify some sort of heroic effort to create a more dense, urban environment.

30 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2017 at 2:17 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@stephen levy - Let me propose a different idea to you. That nice places always get more expensive, and the most effective way to deal with it (other than making them not nice) is to create new nice areas. To say that Palo Alto is somehow losing out here is laughable. If you want to help young google and facebook engineers find a great place to live, look for a location that is currently affordable. move them in, and improve it. Who knows where the next Palo Alto will be.

3 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2017 at 2:32 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

John, You are missing at least two points.

One is that i am talking about the kind of city I had for my children and want to leave for the next generation of families in Palo Alto. It is what Gina talked about.

We are not advocating for them as much as for ourselves and our sense of what kind of community we want to live in.

It does not help my goals for diversity if all the new post docs, teachers, nurses and beginning professionals live in another city.

Second Gina and I and others are advocating not so much for Google engineers who may or may not be able to afford PA as it is but for all the others like we were who could live here but now cannot.

And no it is not endless, we do have limited space but we can do much better in housing more and more diverse new residents.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2017 at 2:38 pm

It seems that one of the newest "hot areas" for the housing market is East Palo Alto. Homes there are being spruced up considerably before sale (I think flipped might be the correct term) and interest is high on any remodeled property.

Now if only the schools could be improved to go along with the homes I think anyone working in Palo Alto would find something they could afford. I think it is only a matter of time that the schools improve due to new residents moving in who will ultimately improve the caliber of the schools as a consequence.

18 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Stephen Levy --

No offense, but please just speak for yourself and let Gina speak for herself.

Just speaking for myself, because I don't like it when somebody else speaks for me.

34 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2017 at 5:51 pm

The Mercury News ran an article this week discussing an analysis that a 20% increase in Bay Area housing supply might produce a 10% decrease in prices. 20% is a massive increase in housing supply, and a 10% decrease will not suddenly make it possible for the non-affluent to move here. And 10% is probably optimistic for Palo Alto.

Asher Waldfogel’s “no” vote got it right. Too much of this discussion is a con game. The loud voices decry the expense of living here, and then push policies that really only support more “housing-that-is-expensive.” And carefully avoid the words “below market rate” housing, choosing instead the vaguer term “affordable” - and then claiming that term applies to market rate micro-units, which at $2,000/mo may be affordable to young professionals at places like Palantir, but not to anybody in the non-affluent class.

In fact, Stephen Levy’s Palo Alto Forward lobby and really the entire YIMBY movement are entirely about the education-rich affluent class, a cadre from which a majority of they themselves hail. It is not about economic diversity, or affordability for anybody else. It is about people with money, who would like to live near Palo Alto’s vibrant downtown and expensive coffeehouses and restaurants, and can afford it. Whose leaders, egged on by developers, care not a bit about service workers or meter readers or teachers, but are fixated on densifying tech talent in order to compete, vainly, with San Francisco and Redwood City and the South Bay for startups. And who would sell that under a false promise of “affordability.”

11 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2017 at 6:08 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@stephen levy - Talk about conservative, you can't go back in time to the city of the past. You are as far off base as people who long for the good old days of dining at Eddie's or the Woolworth's soda fountain. How white was that city you are pining for? I promise it was a heck of a lot less diverse than the Palo Alto of today. From a totally practical perspective, if you want to try to recreate your city of the past, you'll be more successful doing it somewhere else where the land is cheaper, and there is room to grow.

8 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2017 at 6:37 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

John, not sure where your venom and put down is coming from.

The post doc and young doctor I had in mind were both African.

The young teachers, nurses, city professionals and others are all more ethnically diverse than when my kids were growing up.

But the diversity i do not want to lose is having neighbors who are not all affluent or in tech. And in those terms the Palo Alto of today is certainly less diverse.

My blogs for the past eight years are on the website. If you read them and read what I wrote above you will see that your charge of "pining for white" is contradicted by what i wrote above and have written for years about ethnic diversity, opportunities for the middle class and my goals for Palo Alto.

If you do not want what i want, make a case for what you want

32 people like this
Posted by Diversity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2017 at 6:58 pm

Diversity is a registered user.


I find your comments offensive, categorizing individuals by the color of skin or rich or poor, to make your housing pricing case which is simply dishonest.

You personalize and pit people against each other.

Same for Dalma - don't run for school board again

36 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 28, 2017 at 7:44 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

So long as more jobs are created than housing, housing will get more expensive because you have more people competing for the them. The nonsense about creating "affordable" / BMR housing is just that -- a talking point for PAF and the developers lobby.

As for diversity, that's just another meaningless talking point. Everyone over 45 has seen friends forced out of the area when they lose their jobs, especially if were renters, and/simply when they just decide to face the ageism music and cash out.

I'll never forget a friend showing me her Los Altos Hills house staged for sale. When I asked about the young blond couple whose pictures were all over her house, she explained the realtors had insisted on the photos to appeal to young buyers. And sure enough, not one of the offers came from anyone over 35!

Just this week the Merc had an article about the age discrimination against Boomers (no surprise there) but also against GenXer's.

Tonight one lousy traffic light being out in Menlo Park has gridlocked the entire area! Yup, we sure need more development and more traffic! NOT.

3 people like this
Posted by tax dollars @work
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 28, 2017 at 9:18 pm

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by In support of Levy!!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2017 at 10:02 pm

There are competing visions for the future of this city. Some would prefer to say town, although that would be factually incorrect. Just because Stephen Levy supports a vision that is different from yours does not mean he is any less entitled to support that vision or advocate for it. In fact, if he really believes in his vision and believes in the power of advocacy he should be as vocal as he possibly can.

[Portion removed.]

21 people like this
Posted by Getting their money's worth
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2017 at 10:37 pm

tax dollars asks- Are we getting our money's worth?

The developers sure are getting what they invested in, the gang of 5 who raked in from big bucks developers, pushes for more and bigger development, both office and housing. Mr Rosenblum (sometimes called Mr Palantir) wants taller, taller, bigger, bigger.

1 person likes this
Posted by valuation in question
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 28, 2017 at 10:37 pm

[Post removed.]

21 people like this
Posted by PAF
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 28, 2017 at 11:40 pm

PAF recently emailed members urging them to serve on the PTC. Seems like their viewpoint is already well-represented on this committee.

8 people like this
Posted by 2M FIxerUpper
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 29, 2017 at 9:10 am

Growing homeless people around town. Rising costs. 2 million dollar fixer uppers. Rising temperatures and heat islands being created. Are our tax dollars being appropriated rightly?

[Portion removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Heythere
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 29, 2017 at 9:46 am


Not all google engineers can afford PA. Not all engineers can afford the Peninsula.

"personal comments are just a distraction from the policy question of finding ways that young and middle class people and families can make Palo Alto their home and be our neighbors"

What is middle class? Even if we break that term down to be regional in context... what is it? There are a lot of average (sometimes even dumpy) middle class looking homes in PA with 6 figure prices.

8 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 29, 2017 at 10:18 am

No one--City Council member, Commissioner or otherwise--has explained why we need to deviate from our zoning and building requirements on unit size, height, parking etc. when we have so many under-built lots. The article mentions Ventura, but nothing is said about the under-built, abandoned, or vacant lots that line El Camino in our neighborhood. Let's fill in those sites in a sensible way, taking holistic account of traffic and density impacts, before taking steps to jettison rules that sensibly limit height and density.

7 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 29, 2017 at 10:22 am

stephen levy is a registered user.


I agree. I was simply making the point that Google engineers for example are not the only kind of younger professionals struggling with housing costs around here.

There is no precise definition of middle class though all agree it depends on the area being discussed.

I think $90,000 to $175,000 is a good range here though it might be a bit broader range and again depends also on HH size/

And yes there are a lot of homes like the one we bought for $140,000 decades ago that now sell for $3 million that feel to me like middle class homes.

14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2017 at 10:49 am

Can't we just accept that Palo Alto is now an elite techie haven -- that concentrates the "best and brightest" techies from every corner in the world -- within it's confines?

There seems to be a denial of reality here, where people with an extremely high income and high quality of life engage in forms of virtue signaling to distract from their own abundance, e.g. advocating for low-income housing and free transit passes for those pitiful service workers.

But why not just embrace what you are, and drive your Tesla's with pride? You can't be two things at the same time.

Low-income people ought to go elsewhere. Besides, soon enough we'll have robot dishwashers, robot servers, robot cashiers and self-driving trucks. Why not face reality and embrace Palo Alto for what it is.

13 people like this
Posted by Park Avenue
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 29, 2017 at 11:12 am


"Low-income people ought to go elsewhere. Besides, soon enough we'll have robot dishwashers, robot servers, robot cashiers and self-driving trucks. Why not face reality and embrace Palo Alto for what it is."

This is the most disgusting comment.

and the robot situation is equally disgusting.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2017 at 12:15 pm

@Park Avenue

You're terrible at detecting irony.

15 people like this
Posted by Park Avenue
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 29, 2017 at 1:01 pm


What is terrible are the people who are setting up a hunger games situation. Irony or not, disgusting.

6 people like this
Posted by Has Anyone Considered
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 29, 2017 at 4:24 pm

Is anyone considering the impact of major construction on Alma and/or crossings Plus significant new housing developments on and around El Camino Real. ECR in PA and MP is a traffic nightmare. Construction trucks already impede traffic. We -- PA, MP & MV –- need to be smart and focus on railroad track undergrounding first. Our communities will be sliced in half & super congested for 2-3 years. It will be worth the cost and headaches, ultimately improving congestion, livability & safety. Everyone who lives or works here regardless of occupation or income will benefit.

A reasonable calculus seems like it should take into consideration not only current traffic woes (and for developers larger future gains) by planning for future just-in-time development? Perhaps focusing on a tangible goal shared by a majority will help everyone pass the development "marshmallow test."

10 people like this
Posted by DeAnna
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 29, 2017 at 5:21 pm

After living here for the past 25 years, I've seen traffic in the bay area go from tolerable to absolutely horrible. It takes me almost 1/2 hour to travel 5 miles from Crescent Park to Cubberly Center. People would commute 2 hours from Modesto so they could have a home they could afford, but now it takes 2 hours just to travel from San Jose to Palo Alto. Insane! We do have a population problem and it's sad people don't want to accept the fact. There are just too many people for the space available. Cramming more housing, people and their cars on the road is a bad idea.

5 people like this
Posted by Getting their money's worth
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 29, 2017 at 5:52 pm

Susan Monk's statements are memorable.
She lives in Downtown North (an expensive neighborhood) and, she says, pays over $5,000/month rent. She is an attorney and her husband is a Business Development Executive. So they can afford it. Middle class? I don't think so.

Similar situation to the former planning commissioner attorney whose husband is a high level executive at Palantir.
Rich princess, like her mentor and former employer, Liz Kniss.

Let's not forget her values and her associations; she usually votes with the real estate lawyer who chairs the Planning Commission. Not a good omen.

15 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 29, 2017 at 6:24 pm

In my view, it would be ideal for Palo Alto to be affordable for people across a broad diversity of incomes, occupations, heritages, etc. If this was ever truly the case, it was well before my time, and I have lived in Palo Alto for almost 25 years.

When we arrived, an educated, professional, dual-income household, we expected to enjoy a nice quality of life, but knew this was a very affluent area where we would be just middle class at best.

Living in our cozy cottage cost at least 2x or 3x or 4x or 5x as friends around the country (excluding New York) payed for far swankier digs. Our salaries were not inflated to make up the difference.

For many reasons but primarily the over-development of office space and accompanying job growth, the city has become much more expensive, but even way back when, our neighbors were predominantly attorneys, financiers, engineers, etc. working in senior-level positions, frequently in local technology-related industries.

It seems to me that it would be beneficial for city leaders and citizens alike to take a realistic view of what is truly desirable and feasible for Palo Alto's housing future, given our current context.

Despite any carrots and sticks the government might declare, we need to accept that developers are in business to make money. Even if a wide expanse of land were available (which it is not), developers would choose to maximize profit by building the most grand, most luxurious homes the local population is willing and able to buy.

For Palo Alto, there are countless numbers of people who would eagerly purchase such high-end homes -- with cash in hand. There is no simply no incentive for developers to build more modest homes.

BTW, when I think of "affordable" housing, for the most part, I do not think of it as something newly built.

I think of it existing as a consequence of time and neglect. I think of older, run-down dwellings in not-so-nice parts of town. The homes cost less to buy or rent because you get less and often have to deal with crime and other unpleasantness. In Palo Alto, where crime is low and perfectly adequate homes are demolished, we just don't have this kind of stock.

So we are left with the concept of building small and tall, which some seem to consider a panacea for our problems. And sure, we can expect developers to build some amount of apartment-style homes for purchase or rent, and even throw in a few below-market units.

But we should keep expectations in check. Developers will still look to maximize profit, so it is certain these homes will be best suited to higher-income singles and couples, of which there is no local shortage.

Some leaders are convinced massive numbers of families will choose to live low footprint lives in these small spaces. And surely some will gladly do so. But again, these homes will -- by no means -- be inexpensive, and the trade-offs may not be so universally appealing.

Of course, many people, including those who are very wealthy, happily choose "city" life. I am from New York and I love the city. I know the trade-offs between an apartment in the city vs. a house in the suburbs in terms of quality of life.

Choosing to live an urban life is about much more than square footage. It is about amenities.

Sure, maybe your place is no bigger than the proverbial shoe-box, but you don't spent much time at home because you have endless educational, cultural, and entertainment opportunities at a range of cost-points just a short trip away via extensive, fast, frequent, and inexpensive public transit.

You give up personal space but you get something very real in return.

Of course, the proponents of building small and tall talk about the growing "vibrancy" of Palo Alto, but having spent time in urban areas around the country and world that are truly bursting with life and energy, I must conclude that these "thought" leaders just don't get out much.

In my time here, there has been a lot of growth; a lot more people, a lot more buildings. But I do not see more vibrancy; if anything, I see less of it. Less live music, fewer theaters, etc. -- less, less, less. And what is available, costs more, more, more.

Don't get me wrong, for a city of this size, we are very fortunate in terms of "features" -- but most of that luck is due to our affluence and proximity to Stanford.

With San Francisco -- a city that draws the best of everything from around the world -- so close at hand, why would we expect Palo Alto to become fully vibrant in the true sense of the word? San Jose, with more land, more people, more height, etc. has not become vibrant, and it is not for the lack of desire to do so.

Finally, as others have already pointed out, the wildly optimistic forecasts for affordability being peddled to us are simply not justified by the numbers.

The Mercury News recently reported an analysis that found a 20% increase in housing growth -- which is a lot for any area to absorb -- would reduce housing costs only 10% and that would take 14-36 years. See Web Link

Even a 20% decrease in housing costs would not make Palo Alto affordable for a true socioeconomic diversity and Palo Alto simply does not have the capacity to build and maintain the infrastructure needed to support the new residents.

Frankly, I have seen no evidence to suggest that City Hall is sufficiently competent to manage the four grade crossings currently required for the upcoming train modernization.

8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2017 at 10:35 pm

“And yes there are a lot of homes like the one we bought for $140,000 decades ago that now sell for $3 million that feel to me like middle class homes.” (@stephen levy)

Another un-honest comparison: mixing R1 house statistics with multi-unit. Yes, decades ago, a frugal couple with two professional incomes could eventually buy a single-family house in Palo Alto as a starter home. That can’t be done anymore with an R1 house, but it can with a condo. Yet the density lobby isn’t calling for more R1 houses; they’re calling for condos. So the $3 million number is a bogey to begin with. And the narrative based on that number, that two Google incomes could have bought a Palo Alto “home” in the past but can’t anymore, is false. The nature of that home may have changed, but that’s urbanization worldwide, and it certainly isn’t reversed by the anti-R1 mantra of the density lobby. For that lobby to now tell millennials, “you deserve an R1 starter house in Palo Alto!” with no intention of helping them get one, is unethical.

1 person likes this
Posted by Doesn't get it
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 1, 2017 at 9:18 pm

I don't get it. How will all these future low income tenants be able to afford shopping in our supermarkets? Or eating in local restaurants?
Are we gonna have low income supermarkets and eateries for them?
Sounds like segregation in the making.
What's the plan?

10 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2017 at 11:28 pm

Palo Alto can learn from the what Redwood City did over the past 6 years: Redwood City rezoned their downtown and promoted the building of over 2,200 apartment units, in 5 - 10 story buildings, near whole blocks which were single story commercial/retail buildings were demolished and developed into large apartment communities.

All the new apartment communities are designed as luxury living experiences, with pools, gyms, etc. 1 bedroom units rent for around $3,800/month (and that doesn't include the utilities). The surrounding older rental stock saw their rental prices appreciate as well, as the whole Redwood City downtown area gentrifies. Not alot of diversity in renting out those new apartment units.

The pro-density, build higher, crowd will never specify how many units Palo Alto would have to build to lower rents to achieve the diversity that so care about. Clearly in the case of the Redwood City, building 2,200 apartment units did not lower prices, instead it raised the rents. The build, build, build crowd has never said which city blocks downtown they want to demolish to build the number of thousands and thousands of units. And after it's built, will they all be luxury living units?

The Planning and Transportation Commission who want to build,build build (and their supporters) just don't have a clue in the investment models, expense models, etc; they are playing tic-tac-toe, while the real estate developers are playing chess.

6 people like this
Posted by No More Parking LIfts
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2017 at 1:47 pm

I beg the Planning and Transportation Commission not to approve any more residential parking lifts (robotic valets for automobiles). If one person parks slightly askew the whole system shuts down and no-one can get their car in or out of the garage until a human arrives with tools. Case in point. The parking lift approved for the for the new Mayfield Place on El Camino Real is a first for the city and should be the last. It's a nightmare for Mayfield resident workers, families and entirely unsafe for small children. When the lifts stops working so does everyone one else who can't get to their a job or get kids to schools. Repairs can take hours or days only for it to break again soon after. I believe the car lift at Safeway in Los Altos is "manned" by a real person just in case it malfunctions.

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