News


Palo Alto council adopts 2018 goals

City looks to choose grade-separation alternative, add 300 housing units this year

The City Council adopted its 2018 priorities and recapped the results of a recent citizen survey at its Feb. 3 retreat at the Mitchell Park Community Center. Photo by Gennady Sheyner.

Palo Alto needs to approve 300 housing units, select a new alignment for the rail corridor and make inroads in fighting traffic and addressing budget challenges before the end of the year, the City Council agreed during its priority-setting retreat Saturday.


By a 7-0 vote, with councilmen Tom DuBois and Greg Tanaka absent, the council chose four official priorities for 2018: transportation, housing, finance and grade separation. The council also specified that the "finance" priority should include as a special focus the creation of an "infrastructure funding plan" that considers the recent escalation of construction costs.

And on the topic of grade separation, the council specified that it wants to select an alternative for redesigning the intersections along the rail corridor this year.

Councilman Adrian Fine noted that housing and traffic solutions are "far and away the things the community is asking for" -- a characterization that no one disputed. Traffic continues to drive local frustrations, as evidenced by annual citizen surveys. Housing is increasingly cited as an area of major concern, particularly when it comes to affordability. The council now has a goal of building about 300 units per year -- roughly triple the number that the city has been permitting in recent years -- to meet the goals of its Comprehensive Plan.

To underscore the importance of the housing issue, the council retreat included an overview by Planning Director Hillary Gitelman on staff's proposed Housing Work Plan for 2018 and 2019. The plan, which the council will consider in greater depth Monday, calls for a host of zoning revisions to promote more housing as well as new studies that will pave the way for an expansion of the city's inclusionary-zoning program.

Kniss, who as mayor has purview over council committees, said the Policy and Services Committee will be altered this year so that it can delve deeper into housing policies. The committee will be chaired this year by Councilman Adrian Fine, lead author of a memo that the council adopted last fall, urging widespread revisions to the zoning code to encourage more housing near jobs and transit.

Fine will be joined on the committee by council members Cory Wolbach, Tom DuBois and Karen Holman.

Fine and Wolbach will also be intimately involved in the grade-separation discussion. Both serve on the new Rail Committee (which also includes council members Greg Scharff and Lydia Kou), where much of the work on adopting a rail alternative will take place.

Fine said Saturday that while housing and traffic tend to get the most community comments -- the other two priorities on the city’s list are equally critical. On infrastructure, the city is facing a $56 million gap in this funding and is preparing to reassess its priority projects. And on grade separation – the separation of the railway from surface roads -- Palo Alto is vying with Mountain View and Sunnyvale for funding from Measure B, Santa Clara County's 2016 transportation measure.

Mayor Liz Kniss stressed the urgency of reaching a decision on a potential rail design by the end of the year. She noted that Mountain View and Sunnyvale are now "way ahead of us" in developing plans for grade separations.

"It is imperative that we take that up this year," Kniss said.

City Manager James Keene agreed and predicted that the difficult conversation may occasionally clash with the typically lengthy "Palo Alto process."

"I'm hard-pressed to think there is any more important issue and decision that needs to be made in the next year to three years than how we'll proceed on the grade separation issue," Keene said, pointing to project's massive scale and high cost, as well as to actions that other communities are undertaking that may impact the city's choices.

The meeting drew a crowd of about 50 residents, most of whom gradually filed out over the course of the discussion. Some urged the council to adopt "airplane noise" as a priority. About a dozen held up "No Jet Noise" signs during the early part of the meeting.

Jennifer Liu was among the speakers on this topic.

"I hear noise during the day and it disturbs me during work," Liu said. "I hear noise at 2 a.m. and it wakes me up during my deep sleep. It drives me crazy."

Resident Greg Welch focused his comments on traffic. The council needs to address the problem of local streets transforming into commuter arteries, he said.

"If we have a crisis in this town it's the crisis of traffic that current residents of the city face every single day," Welch said.

For David Shen, grade separation was a cause of concern. He was one of several who asked the council to remove eminent domain from consideration when designing a new alignment for the rail corridor.

"If eminent domain is triggered, it's likely the option chosen will be highly disruptive in neighborhoods during construction and the result will turn local roads into thoroughfares and will exacerbate traffic through our neighborhoods," Shen said.

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Comments

30 people like this
Posted by Safety First
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2018 at 9:17 pm

As usual, they conveniently left safety out of the discussion. This City is in desperate need of including safety in its planning in a systematized way. The rush to destroy zoning is a rush to destroy safety if it continues to be safety last around here.

This city needs to find the housing in the conversion of office space to housing, not the destruction of neighborhoods. Schools around the Bay Area are losing enrollment as families seek the quality of life they want elsewhere. It's not an affordability problem in the way developers are controlling the conversation, because this area has always been unaffordable during booms, in some ways worse in the past because of much higher interest rates and lower wages,but the housing being built is all most suited for young temporary workers making really high wages, who will either knuckle down and commit to the sacrifices necessary to buy in eventually or leave. Meanwhile, the decline in quality of life,the traffic, noise, pollution, loss of community focus in local government to subservience to developers and gross unsafe densification (the last laugh will be when city employees lose the stable neighborhood income to apartments that never change hands, I.e. bye bye pensions someday) - all of that discourages families (except the Eric Rosenblums who talk like they want micro units but move away to get a big single family house while continuing to push for ruining PaloAlto for their employer' selfish wants).

If they move to change the zoning, there
must be a recall of the Densification Five, Kniss, Fine, Wohlbach, Tanaka especially. Time to sue the City to get the open space they owe us under the code to offset the development, they are ignoring that hoping we will forget.

A serious plan to reduce office space and restrict companies from taking over our town with these terrible results must come before any plan for more housing, which should come mainly from converting office space to housing.


14 people like this
Posted by Safety First
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2018 at 9:20 pm

Time to sue the City to get the URBAN open space they owe us under the code to offset the development, they are ignoring that hoping we will forget.


31 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 3, 2018 at 10:02 pm

It is really absurd to hear city council basically say they STILL have no idea what to do about grade separations. A well investigated report was put out by a citizens group several years ago urging trenching and/or tunneling, and it was immediately quietly buried by the city. Recently, each rail corridor meeting starts out with the premise that the city has no idea what to do. In spite of a near unanimous preference for trenching and/or tunneling expressed throughout the three recent meetings I attended, each meeting started off with the city declaring that they really did not know what to do, so lets start by reviewing what the problem is, and talk about the various options, and never really reach what the city would consider a consensus, again, and again! The groups I was in were completely exasperated by the determination of the city to basically prevent any attempt to advance discussion beyond that. Some assumed that the city really was not interested in citizen input and was more interested in simply having meetings to say they did, discouraging further citizen input by making the process as pointless as possible, and in some instances, making claims that the trench/tunnel option was much more costly than even city reports stated. When called out on that very point, the response was pathetic. What is going on here?


27 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2018 at 8:48 am

I don't see much here to help the quality of life questions.

What I do see is more of the same old same old which seems to come from every CC meeting. I would have liked to see some innovative ideas being discussed instead of the old ideas being rehashed and no solutions reached.

I believe Ross Road will prove to be a mistake. An expensive mistake. However, it was something different. Sometimes mistakes will be made, hopefully not all as expensive as this one.

But we do need to get on with this. Rezoning and 300 new housing units are not innovative ideas. Goals of getting solo drivers out of their cars are not innovative ideas, anyone who can find an alternative way to get to work is already doing it!

We need to get something positive done and dusted. Get with park and drive lots with dedicated shuttles at highway ramps! Get with more technology and signage for real time parking assistance! Get rid of some of the traffic bottlenecks around town! Get some commute hour traffic lights which are switched off at 9.00 pm and weekends so that we can get around town without having to stop for non-existent traffic. Stop workers having to move cars every 2 hours by having affordable peripheral parking lots with shuttles. Have more 30 minutes parking spots so that people can find a parking space for quick errands. Allow larger grocery/big box stores so that we don't have to drive out of town for necessities.

Remember, the CC is here to serve people who live in Palo Alto, not those who would aspire to live here. The residents who live here should be top priority. Our quality of life should be something the CC aims to enhance, not reduce. All of us want to have space to breathe, to have recreation, to socialize, to do personal business, in other words to live, without having to go elsewhere to do so.

Palo Altans for Common Sense should be everyone's battle cry and sporting cheer. We want the best for our town and the CC should be helping us in this, not hindering it.


10 people like this
Posted by Trenching is too expensive
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2018 at 8:49 am

@Ed. Trenching is 3-4 billion and there is simply no way to pay for that. The city could never pay for that and that figure would also require cal train to agree to a 2 percent grade, which it might or might not do. Trenching or tunneling along the entire corridor is a fantasy. A nice fantasy but stands in the way of the hard choices that the community is going to have to make. Also it’s estimated at 3-4 billion. If the city’s infrastructure projects are any guide or the big dig or any other large infrastructure project it will be twice that.


10 people like this
Posted by Not quite
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2018 at 10:09 am

Not quite is a registered user.

@Trenching is too Expensive:

The preliminary reports done in 2014 by Mott McDonald show that the cost of a trench for Meadow and Charleston was over a billion but at 2% grade the cost drops to $480million. (see Web Link) That's expensive, but not out of the range. It still leaves the problems of Churchill and Palo Alto Avenue - but it would be a good start.

There's at least $350 million in Measure B money. There is also money available in SB1. What we really need is leadership from City Staff and the Council . And what seems to be happening is a lot of kicking the can down the road for as long as possible.


10 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 4, 2018 at 11:12 am

Quick 7 Point Survey:

1. Do you support the City's goal to add 300 housing units this year?
2. Do you think the City needs to impose a moratorium on commercial development?
3. Do you think new housing should be achieved in part by converting commercial to housing?
4. Do you support grade separation OVER or UNDER rail lines?
5. Do you give a vote of confidence on these issues to the existing City Council?
6. Do you give a vote of confidence to senior City Staff's ability to handle these issues?
7. Do you think the City is using the right consultants?


7 people like this
Posted by Trenching is too expensive
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2018 at 11:43 am

@Not quite. What you are referring too is generally referred to as the mini trench. That is the trench only in the south that encompasses Charleston and meadow. The mini trench is an option the city should explore. You are correct that in 2014 the cost at a 2 percent grade was half a billion and a billion at a 1percent grade. In 2014 the public safety building was 69 million it is now 90 million. My point is that the city should stop spending any time or money on the full trench or tunneling option. I hope you agree


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2018 at 11:46 am

>> Posted by Trenching is too expensive, a resident of Old Palo Alto

The name says it all. But, "trenching is too expensive" compared to what? Compared to the ongoing costs of an elevated right-of-way?


33 people like this
Posted by Attended the meeting
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 4, 2018 at 12:28 pm

Mayor Kniss started the meeting late, thereby creating a need to rush members of the community wishing to provide input so that the City Council members could have their time. This event was a dog-and-pony show at which the City Council members demonstrated that they have no interest in what the residents have to say about their priorities. Two themes about which there is considerable concern are traffic and airplane noise.


34 people like this
Posted by Monkey business
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2018 at 1:36 pm

I also attended

About an hour was spent on a Citizens Survey which cost $75,000 and surveyed 600 people. Can someone please verify - was it 600 people?

70% of 600 people clamored for Housing as the priority.

The survey by Peak Democracy (probably free) also run by the City had nearly 250 respondents, 170 registered, and over 100 of the registered respondents listed noise, jet noise relief as a priority. It has been running since the Fall, plenty of time for anyone to add their voice.

The Citizens survey did not ask about airplane noise. Only about Leaf Blowers or "other" excessive noise.

Why would a city which has obvious problems with jet noise (and OWNS an airport) not ask about airplane noise?

Citizens who show their faces are ignored and dismissed but other interests were represented. They did not need to show up.

None of the citizens who spoke (that I can recall) spoke to build more Housing.

Besides the Citizen Survey not asking about a clear citizen concern like jet noise is the City suddenly making Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Finances a priority?

WHERE has this City been????

At least Menlo Park made a Theater or something like that a priority.

Disgusted.


24 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2018 at 2:01 pm

The matter of pensions should be on the priorities of the Council until there is a solution to the problem of how to pay the outlandish pension obligations which the combined City Councils have promised without remotely showing any understanding of the magnitude of the problem they have created.

No amount of wishing will make this problem go away.


19 people like this
Posted by Monkey business
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2018 at 2:09 pm

Wayne,

No disagreement with making pensions and unresolved issues a priority until problem is solved. Especially as important as one as pensions which is digging such massive hole.

The problem is how the Council *suddenly* has these light bulbs to tackle stuff we rely on them to do as part of the City's job a priority.

There should be a an "unresolved problems" list every year and ways to track Council and City accomplishments or failures.


24 people like this
Posted by Annette's survey
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 4, 2018 at 2:16 pm

Annette's survey is a registered user.

Here is one response:
1. Do you support the City's goal to add 300 housing units this year?
No. We don't need housing in general. We need affordable housing.

2. Do you think the City needs to impose a moratorium on commercial development?
Yes, or close to it.

3. Do you think new housing should be achieved in part by converting commercial to housing?
Yes, and I'd consider removing the "in part".

4. Do you support grade separation OVER or UNDER rail lines?
Is the question about over vs under, or about either vs at-grade? I'm for under.

5. Do you give a vote of confidence on these issues to the existing City Council?
Absolutely not. They are pro-developer, not pro-city or pro-resident.

6. Do you give a vote of confidence to senior City Staff's ability to handle these issues?
I don't know. I've heard they are overwhelmed, though.

7. Do you think the City is using the right consultants?
I don't know. But given how focused the CC is on stack-and-pack and infill development, it doesn't really matter, they will get the result they want.


34 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 4, 2018 at 3:50 pm

Before Adrian Fine was appointed to the Planning Commission, we happened to discuss Palo Alto’s zoning, the 50’ height restriction, and Palo Alto’s future direction. Mr. Fine spoke passionately about the need for urban densification. For the need to abolish height restrictions in order to do so. Especially the need for Palo Alto to provide its share of regional housing by allowing construction of high rise apartment buildings.

During his council election campaign and since, Adrian Fine has been particularly circumspect concerning densification and Palo Alto’s height restrictions. However, given the depth of feeling he spoke with earlier, and despite his statements at council meetings, it’s hard to believe that he has changed his vision for Palo Alto’s future direction, and how to go about it.


8 people like this
Posted by about Fine
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 4, 2018 at 10:12 pm

Adrian Fine works on "Partnerships" for Nextdoor. It isn't far-fetched to wonder whether that national corporation's growth is dependent on increased population, especially newcomers. Yes, it is.

If you read Nextdoor it is pretty clear that newcomers are the most active, and people with babies and young children.


15 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 5, 2018 at 10:40 am

Annette is a registered user.

As I enjoyed this weekend's splendid weather I couldn't help but wonder if we are again looking at drought conditions. And that leads to the inevitable questions about water supply.

If the current population must conserve water during a drought (which for many means using even less than the reduced usage achieved during the last drought) that suggests that water is in fact a limited resource. If that is true, what is the plan for having a sufficient water supply to serve the inevitable demands of all the development (commercial and residential)? I am concerned that the answer falls into the "inconvenient truth" category and is therefore conveniently ignored by those intent on further over-development. We are proving to be very good at creating huge problems and not very good at realistic thinking and planning.


Posted by MW
a resident of Downtown North

on Feb 5, 2018 at 2:12 pm


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Like this comment
Posted by Andy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2018 at 2:28 pm

And don't forget reworking Ross Rd! That ought to continue through 2018...


3 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 5, 2018 at 2:59 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Setting goals that require expeditious action and responses is unrealistic in our town, and should give us pause and concern about the thinking of CC members...300 housing units this year? To do that there would have had to have been some early discussions about them 2 years ago. Case in point: the "car-light" project at the corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road. First presented and discussed at council in 2016. PTC just voted to move the new proposal forward to CC. I'm guessing that will be a heated discussion and that it will take months to get approved, and probably with changes from the current proposal which has built in controversial issues. The result...57 units, of which most will rent for market rate. Sloth speed won't work for the goals CC has set.

I grind my teeth and my blood pressure goes up every time I hear current CC members, or new candidates, or members running for re-election, say they support affordable housing, including BMR housing. We all anxiously await one of those project proposals coming forward from developers, free and clear of all the bait they dangle in front of us, with their definition of 'public benefits'.



Other big issues: Grade separation...with cost apparently being the main issue, I'd vote for the raised rails, using San Carlos as a model. If the intricate financing of the ideal solution could be found, obviously tunneling would be my choice. No interruption of current surface traffic patterns until the ribbon cutting day, and then development of the old railroad 'right-of way' could begin.

@Resident

Wow! The paragraphs, in quotation marks, from your post, make 'too' much common sense. lol! I hope our CC members read them and draw something out of them, especially the second paragraph about taking care of the quality of life of us current and long time residents of PA. The millennials look at 'quality of life' a lot differently than we do, we who have lived here for many years, contributed much to our community in terms of volunteer hours in many service organizations, neighborhood associations, churches, etc. I think millennials definition of 'quality of life' in Palo Alto is they will be able to live here, at whatever cost it means to the reduction of the quality of life of long time residents.

"We need to get something positive done and dusted. Get with park and drive lots with dedicated shuttles at highway ramps! Get with more technology and signage for real time parking assistance! Get rid of some of the traffic bottlenecks around town! Get some commute hour traffic lights which are switched off at 9.00 pm and weekends so that we can get around town without having to stop for non-existent traffic. Stop workers having to move cars every 2 hours by having affordable peripheral parking lots with shuttles. Have more 30 minutes parking spots so that people can find a parking space for quick errands. Allow larger grocery/big box stores so that we don't have to drive out of town for necessities.

Remember, the CC is here to serve people who live in Palo Alto, not those who would aspire to live here. The residents who live here should be top priority. Our quality of life should be something the CC aims to enhance, not reduce. All of us want to have space to breathe, to have recreation, to socialize, to do personal business, in other words to live, without having to go elsewhere to do so."

The last paragraph says it all, in my mind.


18 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 5, 2018 at 3:26 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Notice how the mega development lobby and their enablers in the CC never say a word about water supply. We are in a draught again, after a one year reprieve and California has a severe, even existential water shortage. Our winter feels like spring, and there's no rain in sight. Southern California, which has no water of it's own, is facing the drying up of its own water source, the Colorado river, guess who will have to provide them with water when that source dries up, yet our mega development lobby keeps pushing for more and more residential and commercial development, and the words 'water supply' don't even exist in their vocabulary. The day is approaching when Palo Alto residents turn their tap on, and no water comes out.


5 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 7, 2018 at 5:18 pm

Water supply is a red herring.

California water usage is 90% agricultural, 5% industrial, 5% residential.

Residential supply is a literal drop in the bucket, and modern higher density housing with water efficient landscaping uses FAR less water than older single family houses with watered lawns.

Water is the argument the "I got mine, screw you" crowd brings out when they have nothing better.


1 person likes this
Posted by Shawn
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 9, 2018 at 7:35 am

"By a 7-0 vote, with councilmen Tom DuBois and Greg Tanaka absent, the council chose four official priorities for 2018: transportation, housing, finance and grade separation. The council also specified that the "finance" priority should include as a special focus the creation of an "infrastructure funding plan" that considers the recent escalation of construction costs."

I can think of a few priorities that they have conveniently left out. Sheesh...


Like this comment
Posted by The Fonz
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 9, 2018 at 7:38 am

"California water usage is 90% agricultural, 5% industrial, 5% residential."

I lived in the Central Valley for years. I can attest that this is 100% TRUE! Check out this video I found on the subject - Web Link


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

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