News

Commissioners spar over affordable-housing zone

Planning and Transportation Commission debates and defers vote on housing ordinance

A proposal to create a new zoning district to promote construction of affordable-housing developments in Palo Alto hit a snag Wednesday night, when a deeply divided Planning and Transportation Commission voted to defer its decision for at least a month.

By a 4-3 vote, with Vice Chair Susan Monk and Commissioners Michael Alcheck and William Riggs dissenting, the commission directed staff to perform more analysis on a range of issues -- including parking demand, height restrictions and areas in which the new district could be applied. All three dissenting commissioners advocated for approving the new district and allowing the council to hash out some of its more troubling aspects.

The commission's decision will delay -- though likely not derail -- the adoption of the new "affordable housing combined district," which would be applicable to commercially-zoned parcels. The overlay would work in tandem with the site's underlying zoning and would relax some of the development standards for housing developments that consist entirely of below-market-rate units. It would only apply to areas with a half-mile of major transit stops or "high-quality transit corridors."

In a tense discussion that stretched for more than three hours, commissioners agreed that they would like to see a strong ordinance that promotes affordable housing. That, however, is where the consensus ended. Chair Ed Lauing and Commissioners Asher Waldfogel, Doria Summa and Przemek Gardias all said they would like more time to evaluate the development standards in the new proposals and conduct outreach to developers and the broader community.

Waldfogel suggested that the city identify the range of income levels that the new ordinance should focus on. He argued that it's important for the city to craft an ordinance that would "actually produce units."

"Last thing I want to do is proceed with something that doesn't accomplish the goals," he said.

Summa had a list of specific problems with the ordinance, even as she lauded its broad goal of encouraging affordable housing. The new zone, she said, should ensure that the new affordable-housing developments have heights that are compatible with adjacent low-density residential districts. This would apply to various sections of El Camino Real that are located near single-family neighborhoods and which, for that reason, have height limits that are typically lower than the citywide 50-foot threshold.

She also suggested that the proposed parking requirements -- 0.5 spaces per unit -- may be too low and requested more analysis.

"I don't think we can go forward with an overlay zone that puts such a negative impact burden on its neighbors," Summa said.

The requests for more analysis drew a sharp rebuke from the three commissioners, who saw their bid to approve the ordinance fall by a 3-4 vote. Monk said she is "extremely disappointed" in her colleagues' decision to defer a decision and "embarrassed" about how far the city is behind in providing housing.

"By us not passing it today, we will just delay what is so important to our community and stunt our own goals that we set forth," Monk said.

Alcheck went even further. He accused his colleagues of using "delay tactics" and argued that the real issue in the debate is the "complete NIMBYism" of those who oppose housing proposals.

He described a typical participant in the planning process as a "well-to-do homeowner, strongly averse to changes in their surroundings, time-rich, opinionated and articulate." By contrast, the commission rarely hears from low-income renters, young adults who can't afford to move out of their parents' homes and people "lingering on an affordable-housing waiting list."

"This is a tug of war of sorts but one in which one team isn't even grabbing their end of the rope," Alcheck said.

William Riggs characterized overlay districts as a standard tool for city planners and called the proposed ordinance a "pragmatic policy." He also advocated for immediately approving it and passing it on to the council.

For the commissioners, the Wednesday discussion was the second in two weeks in which they were asked to weigh the benefits of increasing housing against the potentially unpredictable impacts of granting zoning concessions. On Jan. 31, the commission decided that the former justifies the latter when it agreed create a new zoning district to allow "workforce housing" targeting people making between 120 and 150 percent of the area median income.

The commission also decided that the workforce district should specifically apply to a site at 2755 El Camino Real, where the developer Windy Hill Property Ventures proposed a 60-unit apartment building with an aggressive transportation-demand-program aimed at reducing the need for cars.

While the "workforce" district aims to address the "missing middle" (those who make too much to qualify for below-market-rate units but not enough to pay Palo Alto rents), the affordable-housing district would target less affluent populations. It would accommodate individuals with income levels ranging between "extreme low" and "moderate" incomes, as measured by area median income. To qualify for a studio in the "extremely low" category, a person would have to make no more than $25,100; the "moderate" category would apply to incomes of up to $95,150.

The affordable-housing district was also inspired by a specific proposal, though in this case the relationship isn't as direct. The nonprofit Palo Alto Housing, which has not proposed any major projects since its proposed housing development on Maybell Avenue was overturned in a 2013 referendum, is now making a bid to build 61 units at 3709 El Camino Real, near Wilton Court. If the new "affordable housing" district is applied to the site, it would give Palo Alto Housing the parking and density concessions that the nonprofit has requested to make the project financially viable, according to the nonprofit.

To date, however, Palo Alto Housing has not filed its development application. And even if the city adopts the new zoning district, the nonprofit would have to go through the public process of getting its property rezoned and its building approved by the Architectural Review Board.

Danny Ross, senior development manager for Palo Alto Housing, said the proposed ordinance isn't perfect but urged the commission on Wednesday to support it ordinance. Doing so would help address the city's "grave housing crisis."

"Building housing in California is challenging enough. Building affordable housing in Palo Alto is nearly impossible," Ross said.

Not everyone was sold on the new zoning district. Becky Sanders, moderator of the Ventura Neighborhood Association, argued that the proposal is moving too fast that, from the residents' perspective, it "came out of nowhere." She suggested that the proposed relaxation of parking rules will "inevitably lead to cars parked up and down the streets" and create bad feelings between neighbors.

"The surprise ambush on zoning throughout much of the city erodes public trust that the people we elected are working in the interests of the voters who put them there," Sanders wrote.

Others argued that the ordinance doesn't go far enough. Elaine Uang, co-founder of the citizens group Palo Alto Forward, suggested that the city expand the overlay to Stanford Research Park and "General Manufacturing" zones. She also suggested that the city consider allowing even greater density around University and California avenues.

"This Affordable Housing overlay can help us meet our housing needs for the next 10, 15, 20+ years, and we should offer greater flexibility for future affordable housing projects at the mot transit-accessible, service-rich locations," Uang wrote.

The ordinance is one component of a broad Housing Work Plan that aims to roughly triple Palo Alto's housing production. City planners hope to adopt a new zoning ordinance by the end of the year and make further pro-housing revisions in 2019.

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Comments

97 people like this
Posted by We Need Parking, Not Magical Thinking
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 15, 2018 at 4:33 am

Parking is an enormous problem here already. This law would make things much worse It needs to be fixed.

It proposes at most half a parking space on-site for every new unit built. And these aren't just units for single people with very little money. Rather, families of four qualify if they earn under $136,000 a year. Such families are likely to own more than half a car.

Not providing adequate on-site parking means people coming home at night have to park far down the block or perhaps many blocks away, as the folks in underparked East Palo Alto apartments do already. That's not safe -- and For those with disabilities -- it's not even practical.

Let's be realistic. All new buildings need to provide adequate parking.


83 people like this
Posted by Legislation needed
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 15, 2018 at 6:13 am

Is it possible to get some sort of binding legislation where a minimum 1 for 1 parking space for new units is mandated? It seems that would be a slam dun and bring control back to the citizens. The council is no use in this matter so they MUST be bypassed.


34 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2018 at 7:47 am

I'm disappointed, but hopefully after some more "Palo Alto process", the PTC will do the right thing and make it easier to build affordable housing close to our transit hubs. Thanks to Riggs, Monk and Alcheck for attempting to move to Council a proposal that is well aligned with our goals as a city.

Affordable housing advocates: don't lose hope! This will come back to the PTC.


32 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2018 at 8:12 am

How sad when housing is broken down into units! Who would want to live in a unit rather than a home? Who would want to have to live inside a "unit" without a car for their own personal use? True in the future they may have zip cars or uber, but living in a unit not owning a car sounds a little bit like being a prisoner in solitary confinement rather than living a life.


66 people like this
Posted by Frustrated!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 15, 2018 at 8:32 am

If you don't like the term NIMBY, how about the BANANA Republic?

Build Absolutely Nothing (e.g. affordable housing) Anywhere Near Anyone.

That's what we've become. This great city of once affordable housing development (e.g. Eichler homes) has become beholden to the voices of exclusion and obstinance. And those in our leadership who simply say they support affordable housing, but in reality stand in the way every opportunity they get, are not fooling anyone.

I'm referring to you Kou, Dubois, Holman, and Filseth. As well as your cadre on the Commission who seem equally surgical in their delay and defer tactics. Say what you will, your ACTIONS speak louder than your WORDS.


27 people like this
Posted by Yes affordable housing
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2018 at 8:58 am

We’re not blind. Not stupid. We see what this is - manipulation by the elite.
It’s inherently deceptive to state you support affordable housing and simultaneously propose measures that will effectively thwart it.
If an ordinance doesn’t go to council following the March 14 meeting, an ordinance that actually makes it feasible to build the necessary homes for so many on our wait lists, then yes, this is proof we live in an unwelcoming, elitist, exclusionary community.
Who’s going to bag your groceries then? Clean your home/office? Serve you in a nearby store/restaurant? Care for your children? Teach in our schools?
These are people we are talking about. People we need and want in our community. This isn’t about units.“


19 people like this
Posted by We just made affordable housing harder to build
a resident of Addison School
on Feb 15, 2018 at 9:14 am

Well thanks PTC, for making an already difficult problem even more difficult. Affordable Housing (specifically subsidized below market rate housing for the very lucky few who make <80% Area Median Income) was already hard to construct in Palo Alto, given fewer funding sources, high land costs, high construction costs, and DRACONIAN zoning rules. The Comp Plan EXPLICITLY says our city needs to review and eliminate barriers to affordable housing construction, yet the majority of the PTC completely disregarded that last night. But then again, we shouldn't expect any less from the commissioners who worked so hard to kill 60 low-income senior housing units at Maybell in 2013.


37 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2018 at 9:19 am

Posted by Frustrated!, a resident of Crescent Park

>> I'm referring to you Kou, Dubois, Holman, and Filseth. As well as your cadre on the Commission who seem equally surgical in their delay and defer tactics. Say what you will, your ACTIONS speak louder than your WORDS.
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Posted by We just made affordable housing harder to build, a resident of Addison School

>> Well thanks PTC, for making an already difficult problem even more difficult. Affordable Housing (specifically subsidized below market rate housing for the very lucky few
--

It is much more important to do this **correctly** than to do it this week. The zoning proposal will have an enormous impact on the city long term.


58 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 15, 2018 at 9:45 am

I watched the meeting from start to finish. The black and white thinking I am hearing from the angry folks here in the comments is based on what exactly? If you watch the video which will be available soon you will see and hear that the majority did not bash anyone or any ideals, but embraced a collaborative process which will result in a compromise in which - guess what -- nobody gets everything they want. This is democracy in action. This is not a dictatorship. Name calling, labeling and inuendo gets us nowhere. But may serve the purposes of those that stoop to bullying and shaming behviorr to get what they want.

I recommend Palo Alto City Wide book club - Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, et al. It is much easier for polite people to negotiate than for rude people who habitually insult the people they are trying to influence. This book is short and would provide guidance to those who are unfamiliar with tactics that build consensus.

A quick shout out to the amazing Jonathan Lait who kept it all on lockdown, explaining to some of the commissioners where they were in the process when they got lost. City staff is pushing proposals out that they believe will help solve the problem. Their job is to take feedback and massage and reframe until the PTC can send something to the Council with the confidence that the Council will approve it.

Let's let PTC and the staff work together and do their jobs. The plan now is for Gardias and Summa to work ad hoc to hammer out a compromise. They will bring it to PTC in four weeks for additional review and debate. We are so fortunate when prudent discussion trumps hysteria.


53 people like this
Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2018 at 9:50 am

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

The last two PTC meetings have highlighted that we need ways to accommodate particular facts for particular projects on particular sites. We need ways to run pilot projects without creating citywide precedents. We need ways to create low income housing.
Wednesday night we looked at a citywide ordinance that's designed to accommodate a particular Palo Alto Housing low income concept. We weren't shown the project, so we had no idea which (if any concessions) were enablers and which were deal-breakers. Will the project still work with lower income limits, more parking, contextual height limits and a retail component? I'm not willing to guess. It made no sense to try and adjust the bonus parameters in the meeting with no information.
Danny Ross, from Palo Alto Housing, said he didn't believe this zoning (under discussion) will create any additional projects. He also explained that the tax-credit financing for his projects is for low income tenants: 30% to 60% of Area Median Income which translates into $600 to $1200 per month rents. I think everyone is on board with bonuses that will move projects forward for low and very low income tenants.
The ordinance in front of us covered units up to 120% or AMI. There was no testimony, data or evidence that parking, height or other bonuses are appropriate or necessary to produce studios that will rent for $2500 per month. If that's teacher housing, we haven't heard from any teachers who say they want it.
We may have swung too far away from project-specific tools like PCs and variances. To actually produce low income housing we may need bigger general fund contributions, renter protections or development process overhaul. I want all these questions to get fair public hearings. We have a little time to regroup and answer some of the questions, but there's a process for citywide zoning changes that we need to follow and respect.


44 people like this
Posted by Re: Asher
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 15, 2018 at 9:59 am

Spoke like a true advocate Mr. Waldfogel.

I think you said you didn’t want to keep doing things that didn’t work. Like the ADU ordinance. A little premature don’t you think to judge that ordinance. I’m not sure you are qualified to know what will or won’t work. Instead you’ve suggested here that your efforts were designed to achieve a more effective solution. I’m not buying it.

You are eloquent but again actions speak louder than words. You should have shared what else Mr. Ross said. That he would emphatically congratulate the commission if they supported this effort because although not perfect - a major step in the right direction.

But no, you take your time. As much as you need. Curious though, did you volunteer to participate in the sub committee that you spear headed in your motion last night? You know the one that intends to deal with all of your “concerns” - big surprise - NOPE.


38 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 15, 2018 at 10:20 am

Re: Re Asher's attack on Mr. Waldfogel.

Q.E.D. vis a vis my previous comment.

Let's put the "civility" back in civic life and in civil service.

Come on Palo Altans. We can do better! We got this! Who's in?


53 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 15, 2018 at 11:24 am

Annette is a registered user.

I attended part of last night's meeting and I agree with what Ms. Sanders wrote. I was surprised by some of the questions asked by one commissioner b/c they suggested she wasn't listening to all that had been said before she asked her questions. And I was amazed at how rude a couple of the commissioners are to their colleagues.

It's hardly a bad thing to take the time to arrive at a good recommendation. The caution expressed by Commissioner Waldfogel to not proceed with something that doesn't accomplish the stated goals makes perfect sense to me b/c there will be even MORE "Palo Alto Process" if mistakes are made at the preliminary stages.

Humor can be a great antidote to ill will. Years ago, a speaker at some event took aim at the Palo Alto Process in a very funny set of remarks. This may have been Hal Mickelson speaking at the Tall Tree event honoring Boyd Smith. This might be a good time to revive those comments.


56 people like this
Posted by JCP
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2018 at 11:48 am

JCP is a registered user.

Thank you Mr. Waldfogel for a voice of reason. There is too much talk and too little data to just jump into the deep end of "more housing" without knowing exactly what you are doing. Palo Alto has a long history of not delivering.

Palo Alto Forward, Councilmember Fine, and other YIMBYs are reckless in their unabashed attempt to turn Palo Alto into a gridlocked urban jungle.


13 people like this
Posted by Jessica Clark
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 15, 2018 at 12:21 pm

Mr. Waldfogel,
In your previous comment you stated:
"If that's teacher housing, we haven't heard from any teachers who say they want it."

Just a few weeks ago there was a teacher town hall at Gunn High School. County Supervisor Joe Simitian moderated. We had over 100 teachers attend who either were housing instable and/or were in support of housing for teachers. This town hall was hosted by supportteacherhousing.org and Bay Area Forward. We heard heartbreaking first hand testimony from teachers about their struggles with housing instability, and/or their long commute. These brave teachers explained how this has affected the quality of life for their families, as well as their ability to fully be available for their students. Although teachers input has not been given at one of your meetings, it is strongly being voiced in our community. I have included two video links of the abc and cbs news coverage of the town hall. Support Teacher Housing has been compiling a very long list of Teachers currently in need of housing. This list includes a wide variety of housing size needs, as well as incomes. If you are interested in attending one of these Teacher Town Hall's in the future I think you would find it very mving and informative.

Web Link

Web Link





14 people like this
Posted by Waldfogel got his
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2018 at 1:17 pm

Waldfogel [portion removed] is just a roadblock in the way of all the voices in our community begging for better housing options. Shame on you PTC members who exacerbate the Palo Alto Process. Perfect is the enemy of good and this was plenty good. Hope the Council just moves on and disregards the PTC on this matter.


16 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2018 at 2:03 pm

"If you don't like the term NIMBY, how about the BANANA Republic?"

More apt: BAHNTOP (Build Affordable Housing Near Those Other People)


72 people like this
Posted by Sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2018 at 2:47 pm

We don’t have a housing crisis. We have a problem of too many companies wanting to grow too big in a place that was never designed to accommodate what they want. This City MUST deal with the problem of a totally laissez-faire attitude toward corporate growth that has decimated retail and civic centers of life at University and Cal Ave, and taken over all public discourse to transform our region to suit their selfish short-term worker housing wishes. The public should not have to bear the costs for this, financial, pollution, traffic jams (and the hits to productivity and family life), loss of qualify of life, hits to the schools.

I wish affordable housing advocates could see that getting in bed with those interests does not serve the long-term interests or needs of affordable housing for the poor and people in traditionally low-wage jobs. The above article went back to the same old same old tired rhetorical manipulations: “The nonprofit Palo Alto Housing … since its proposed housing development on Maybell Avenue was overturned in a 2013 referendum,” The Maybell referendum was never a referendum on an affordable housing project. No one overturned a housing project, it was not the subject of the law. The affordable housing could have been created (and one could argue, in fact was, because the $15 million the City and County had sunk into Maybell eventually went to help buy BV, something neighbors were not oblivious to even before the referendum). It was a referendum on zoning, and residents rose up even though they supported the affordable housing — even asked the City both for a working group to work out the affordable housing as they had in the past, or to JUST put in the affordable housing across the whole parcel so that it could all be affordable but closer to zoning.

The referendum rejected the density and the transformation of a residential neighborhood to high density four- and three-story apartments and stove-pipe homes like at Alma Plaza. That’s it. The City Council would do well to remember that. BV was in the same neighborhood and there was lots of support to save BV across all of Palo Alto, including by the Maybell neighbors. The rising up came from the attempt to urbanize and overdevelop Palo Alto beyond what the infrastructure can support. The mistake was in PAHC trying to conflate overdevelopment and support for affordable housing. Residents are getting more and more up in arms about the overdevelopment. Please, stop letting development interests use poor people as foils for their profiteering by overdeveloping Palo Alto, it will backfire and already is. Let’s deal with the issue of poverty, not allow rich developers to use it as a way to make money at everyone’s expense (and without ever solving any problems for the poor).

The Maybell situation came about because, if the residents who lived there wanted to live in a dense urban area, they would already be living in San Francisco or San Jose, which is where these companies that want to expand really should be moving. Palo Alto has Stanford, which cannot move like these companies can, and which will always generate innovation. We should make Palo Alto safe for residents, Stanford, and for startups again. It is in NO ONE’s interests except a few companies to transform Palo Alto to be more dense and lower quality of life, so that when the economy turns (as it always does), we will be incredibly vulnerable financially when those companies’ fortunes turn (and beware to City employees and their pensions).

As for affordable housing, the issue of housing for the poor is a grave one in Silicon Valley and is not new. The only thing different now is the greater pressure the high tech salaries are putting on land costs, and the greed of developers.

Even if we build this ultra-expensive housing and restrict income levels, it will be a drop in the bucket, won’t guarantee housing for people who work here, and will only serve to segregate and keep poor people poor. We MUST attempt to better study and understand the problem, and not resort to caricaturing residents who are struggling, too. Not everyone who lives in residential neighborhoods here is rich by a long shot. The predominant profession on my street is tech and teaching – many teachers own housing here, and it comes from many many years of sacrifice for the rest of us ordinary folk to get into homes and stabilize our housing situations despite incomes that are lower than are being considered for the “affordable” housing proposed here.

People who commute (speaking from experience) very often do not just to find affordable housing, but to have the quality of life that is being destroyed by these proposals. The poster child for this is Kate Downing, who advocated for densifying Palo Alto but moved to and commuted from a large single-family home rather than living in an apartment here which they eminently could afford for the same money. Isn’t her spouse Eric Rosenblum? Building this housing will not reduce long commutes for most people who commute to have a single-family home somewhere else.

The City should not have to deal with the laissez-faire cause of this problem (companies wanting to grow too large, even violating codes with impunity as Palantir has, instead of moving where they have room to grow as Facebook did), while having to pay for an expensive public housing NON-solution that is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing to serve development interests’ desire to transform Palo Alto to a high density cityscape (and make lots of $$$) and allow these companies to selfishly take over and make Palo Alto into their private company town next to Stanford.

The City should take a far more innovative tack that will actually solve the problem:

1) The City should put aside money to purchase the land (and even some buildings) in all retail areas, University Avenue, Cal Ave, Midtown, and something to make up for the lost Alma Plaza retail area and resident-serving-grocery at Edgewood and College Terrace. Charleston Plaza if necessary. This is the Stanford model, it’s how homeowners who are not wealthy can remain in their homes. In an area with these high-demand, high-cost economics, the only way to create stability is to buy. It’s horribly painful to start, but then the land never gets any more expensive. It’s how we can afford to maintain schools here. In this way, the City can retain a diversity of retail businesses for a vibrant civic live.

In exchange for the City renting out space at a lower price, businesses could be required to pay their traditionally lower-wage workers a higher wage that makes the employees more competitive with tech workers for housing. This would ensure a qualified work force, and it allows the City to support traditionally low-wage workers who definitely work in Palo Alto to have a living and competitive wage, give them a dignified path out of poverty, and it doesn’t segregate “the poor” into expensive fishbowls which research shows is bad for people’s sense of self worth (and traps them in poverty as long as they live here). The beauty of such an approach is that over time, this ability will become more valuable for the City without costing the City anything more. The City could be a place where startups and resident-serving businesses that are all but shut out by costs now could flourish again and forever. It could become a model for other cities up and down the Peninsula.

2) The City should apply to Sacramento for reimbursement for any costs all the unfunded high-density mandates have foisted on us, as the law does allow. Part of this would require the City getting real about what is really happening here. There is no way to build to affordability. More housing will only create MORE demand as companies decide they can stay and expand more. The pressure we experience now will not stop. Sacramento MUST consider whether the goal is for more people to move to and live in California, and if so, how and where to create new cities that would support that goal. Forcing existing cities to grow beyond any concern for safety, environment, or local costs, is wrong. We are not Hong Kong Island with nowhere else to expand but up.

3) Residents must stop thinking someone else will do something, and get together to recall the councilmembers who misled the public in the election about their development money donors. They must create initiatives to put SAFETY FIRST, and acknowledge the limitations of the infrastructure and physical environment in this area. This is not a fight about housing versus no housing, this is a fight about whether Palo Alto can be a nice college town with an innovative startup culture again, or whether it will be a highly urbanized cityscape company town for a few tech companies (who, let’s face it, come and go). The latter will NOT create affordable housing but will create economic vulnerability for our city over time, but the former will allow residents to once again work with housing advocates to create solutions, such as proposed in #1, the city buying up retail areas and ensuring traditionally low-wage workers can make competitive wages, in a way that is financially MORE sustainable as long into the future as Palo Alto exists.


16 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2018 at 2:57 pm

I think we should indeed build 60 units at 2755 El Camino but restrict them for people who have been reduced to riding the VTA bus all night as featured in the film “hotel 22” by Elizabeth Lo.


39 people like this
Posted by slow down
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 15, 2018 at 3:28 pm

It is critically important to get parking data right, especially at this location. Just last year a person was hit and killed by a car while trying to cross El Camino at the exact location of this proposed development (Barron Avenue and El Camino). We do not want an under-parked building forcing residents to risk their lives running across El Camino to get to and from their car. Making up arbitrary parking requirement numbers and speeding through the approval of an under parked building isn't cute. It can have life and death consequences.


8 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 15, 2018 at 4:34 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Sense

Thanks for your input. How would you go about convincing the state that the Maybell referendum was not about turning back a readily realizable affordable housing project by utilizing the exact procedures of interference that are being targeted by housing legislation?

It's true that the Maybell controversy was not solely about rejecting affordable housing. There were, for example, alarming stories about the dangers of having students bicycle to school on Maybell, especially if elderly drivers were on the road, and a loud but lonely call to assure that the 100-tree orchard at the site was not lost to development but would somehow be maintained for future generations to appreciate.

Since 2013 more students than ever are bicycling to school on Maybell, and community sentiment is to encourage that trend by making Maybell an even better bike-to-school route. Only a handful of supporters stepped up to support retaining the orchard. At the end of the day, PASZ never even mentioned it in the referendum campaign.

What does the state (along with the rest of us) see on Maybell? Site preparation to build 16 luxury single-family homes, whose approval required a (small) variance from the city. This last point is only significant because of the insistence by project opponents that any construction must conform to current zoning, no variances allowed.

So, thanks for again presenting counter-arguments to my position that, at heart, the Measure D referendum was indeed about accepting or rejecting affordable housing. Can't help but wonder how a referendum to overturn an affordable housing project, unanimously approved by the city council, would fare in the new political climate of 2018.


27 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2018 at 5:52 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Financially feasible. What a term. While it would cost more, affordable housing as has been built in the past in Palo Alto, is far more neighborhood friendly and far more acceptable to the people who will live there. Who are we to insist low and moderate income families should not have cars? Any poll of the working poor would find they want and need cars too

Without the ability to commute in a car, a person’s job prospects are very limited. What if you could only get a nursing job that started and ended during hours that buses were running and were within walking distance of a bus? Why should they be forced to walk home in the dark?

And please - think through what tax credits mean. In many cases, that means the properties revert to market rate in 30 years which means all those permanent relaxing of parking requirements provide benefits for 30 years. Remember what happened to Casa Olga, once low income assisted living and now the hotel Epiphany.

Let’s raise the money to provide low and moderate income housing that will be permanent and a true benefit to those who will live there and and enhances the quality of life for all. Look at our existing successes and learn from that. We are in no way obligated to provide for major profits to developers by upzoning parcels to provide housing with inadequate parking for a limited period of time.


7 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 15, 2018 at 6:32 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

The article mentions two housing projects and locations. I understand the 2755 El Camino Real project pretty well. It's labeled as being in the workforce district. I think they stretch the definition of 'affordable' a little bit, but I've argued that point in comments in previous articles. Very little is known about the 3709 El Camino Real project and PTC made the right decision to not approve a new district for that project until more details are known about it and fact finding and input from residents of the neighborhood are done.

I have questions about it. Does Palo Alto Housing own the property? Have they estimated the cost to build, taking into account the current high cost of construction? With and without the maximum parking and density concessions? Do they have funding?

Asher Waldfogel explained very well why he didn't want to rush forward and approve it at their last meeting. It's important to get it right.

@ Yes affordable housing

Yes, this project will help some of those workers you describe, and that's good. Every little bit helps. Even then, that would be a very small percentage of those workers in our community. Do you know what the total is for all those jobs? Several thousand I'll bet. And teachers might be left out of this project because their incomes are too high.


23 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2018 at 6:40 pm

Sun Microsystems had a large office building. It employed a large number of people and I don't think the parking lot was ever full, I seem to remember seeing street hockey being played at lunch time. It was demolished and is now housing for seniors and a community center.

We were promised that these seniors and the community center would not produce parking problems. We were promised that there would be buses for residents to use. We were told that there would be facilities the residents could walk to. I don't believe there are any buses, and not even a coffee shop for residents in the neighborhood has been built. I see signs on all the local businesses that there is no parking for events at the community center. The community center has huge ugly posters advertising its facilities and strangely enough the people in the posters are not very diverse and do not look like seniors.

Is this a forerunner of what we are to expect?


30 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 16, 2018 at 1:29 am

When will people understand that affordability in Palo Alto is not for everyone? Get real people....


38 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2018 at 9:00 am

The YIMBY crowd keeps repeating that the rest of us are "rejecting affordable housing".

They are flat out wrong. This is about parking and traffic.

We are in a boom right now, and the Bay Area has a massive traffic problem:

Web Link

NYC is an anomaly. It is the only major city in the country where a majority of people don't drive to work and don't own cars. In NYC, Manhattan is the anomaly which skews the numbers. In Manhattan, more people walk to work than drive; in Manhattan, the majority use a combination of public transportation and walking. That is great.

San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, on the other hand, are at the other extreme, with household car ownership around 95%, and only ~3% use public transit for their daily commute.**

As my previous posts make clear, I am greatly in favor of public transportation and have frequently used Caltrain when it made sense. But, most people in Santa Clara County commute to most jobs in Santa Clara County by car.

It makes no sense to build housing without adequate parking. It just means that people will use the free parking in nearby streets, as we have seen time and time again. It just allows developers to externalize the cost of parking to the rest of us residents and taxpayers.

** Web Link


20 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2018 at 9:13 am

Today's article about repairs at Buena Vista low income housing having repairs done Web Link mention a family that now only has one parking space instead of the two they need which they had before the repairs started. This means their second car is now parked on Los Robles. They need that second car for work.

I will repeat this in case it is missed. This low income housing has families that need more than one parking space or they have to park on the street.

Reality is more than having the 22 on ECR in walking distance. Reality is that low income housing means street parking.


4 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Feb 16, 2018 at 11:13 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Here is the League of Women Voters letter signed by our President that I read at the meeting in support of the staff recommendation with some additional requests.

Dear Chair Lauing and Commissioners,

Re: February 14, 2018, Agenda Item No. 4: Affordable Housing Combining District Draft Ordinance

The League of Women Voters of Palo Alto (LWVPA) supports efforts by the City to increase the supply of housing for all, particularly for those with lower incomes.

The Affordable Housing Combining District Draft Ordinance will go a long way to increase the supply of affordable housing in Palo Alto and LWVPA urges you to recommend its adoption to the City Council. However, in the interest of ensuring more affordable housing opportunities and units, we also urge you to consider the following changes to this draft ordinance.

• Expand the scope of the combining district to include the Research Park and General Manufacturing Districts.
• Include language that allows some flexibility regarding the one-half mile distance from the transit corridors. The language, “major transit stop or high-quality transit corridor,” is too limiting and should be broader in scope.
• Allow the Planning Director to approve increases in the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) and height where appropriate, particularly in the areas around University Avenue and California Avenue.
• Allow the Planning Director to waive the retail requirements in all districts. Retail usually requires more parking which is expensive to provide. Moreover, the presence of retail in an affordable housing project severely complicates the funding opportunities. Thus, a retail requirement may make an affordable housing project infeasible, even with benefits of the combining district.

For the last two bullets, LWVPA believes that it is important to streamline the entitlement process. To do so, the Planning Director, not the City Council, should have the authority to approve increases in FAR and height and to waive retail requirements.

Thank you.

Very truly yours,



Bonnie Packer
President, League of Women Voters of Palo Alto


15 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 16, 2018 at 2:19 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Lot's of interesting comments, but to Stephen Levy's comment, which included a letter from League of Women Voters of Palo Alto. C'mon, everyone speaks out for affordable housing (especially on election years), without ever defining it and explaining how it will be accomplished...the whole deal, including funding. OMG, you mean someone has to pay for it? Well, surprise surprise, and one big 'duh' for that line of thinking.

And, a really bad idea to be taken from that letter. What are you thinking...to give power to the Planning Director and take it away from CC? We better keep the power with our elected officials, although they make mistakes and overreach many times, because we can give them early retirement on the next election cycle.


2 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Feb 16, 2018 at 2:48 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ Gale Johnson

The definition of "affordable" housing is included in the draft ordinance and comes from state law. It includes 4 categories of income eligibility--0 to 30% of area median income depending on family size, 30-60%, and the highest income category is up to 120% of area median income.

the project at Wilton Court is targeted for those with 0 to 60% of area median income as that makes it eligible for tax credit financing. Other funding comes from the impact fees collected by the city and other sources raised by, in this case, Palo Alto Housing.

The proposed draft is designed to reduce specific barriers to the development of housing for low income residents. In the case of the Wilton Court project providing these incentives/removing barriers is essential for the financing to be feasible.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2018 at 5:36 pm

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
>> In the case of the Wilton Court project providing these incentives/removing barriers is essential for the financing to be feasible.

What if-- it can't be done? That is, what if there is no way to finance real affordable housing, including parking spaces? If ABAG and state goals for affordable housing for Palo Alto can't be financed, then-- what happens?

If the City of Palo Alto, Inc, is legally required to meet those goals somehow, perhaps there is another way to do it than build out new "affordable" housing. Perhaps we just need to tax ourselves to pay rent subsidies on more existing housing units. At least that way, the private sector is dealing with everything but the tax money.



3 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 16, 2018 at 5:37 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@ stephen levy

Thanks for the explanation. It gets down to how many barriers need to be reduced or eliminated to make it financially feasible without adversely affecting the quality of life in the neighborhood. I'll bet everyone on CC is in favor of improving (wink wink) quality of life in all our neighborhoods, take ADU's for example.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2018 at 5:46 pm

In case you were wondering, I was thinking of existing apartments, like those on Curtner and Ventura. Not renting out rooms in the former Casa Olga:

Web Link


16 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 16, 2018 at 8:01 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Mr. Levy, I think you probably have certain data on the tip of your fingertips. So, to inform this discussion: using a whole number, please state the current area median income; we can all calculate the percentages. And please define "area" - is it all of Santa Clara County? Santa Clara County and San Mateo County? Thank you.


30 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 16, 2018 at 8:40 pm

Why does everybody need to live in Palo Alto - there is not enough roads, parks, schools and hospitals to take NY levels of density. If we build housing for everyone that wants to live here we will be like Shanghai - 60 story tower blocks on every street. Why not make it less appealing to live here by removing all the jobs - kick out the companies and we'll stop being a magnet for relocators.


14 people like this
Posted by Sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2018 at 9:40 pm

@Jerry Underdal,
I have no wish to rehash the Maybell situation with you. Advocates for the project were never willing to consider anything except exactly that plan, which involved a 60% market-rate for profit component, with only the profits from upzoning going to the affordable side, not the profits from the project which was basically selling the zoning of the neighborhood because no one was willing to put the same funds into that project as at 800 Alma. Had that been the case, the project at Maybell could have been built as all affordable housing within zoning, and would probably be there now. When many of the same people who stopped Terman School from being turned into an apartment development but managed to negotiate to keep the school AND affordable housing were asking for a working group at Maybell, but advocates for that exact plan like you would only ever accuse them of nefarious motives and never once tried to work with neighbors (who I witnessed trying for months to get City Council to take that tack), I don't want to hear the same wrong, counterproductive, and hypocritical arguments about Maybell. It only divides people and hurts the future of affordable housing in our town, over a few people's misguided pride over what happened in the referendum. The fact is that if Maybell had gone through, $15 or $16 million dollars would not have been available to save BV, and that was really the priority.

I have read your posts over the years, and I get that you want to cling to your negative views of your neighbors. But the fact is, the Maybell referendum was not a referendum to decide whether affordable housing could be put there, as many people believed, it was a rezoning referendum. Zoning is important for many reasons, including the safety of the even greater numbers of schoolchildren taking those routes to school. I seem to recall during the Maybell referendum that City Councilmembers scoffed at the safety concerns and told neighbors not to even bother bringing them up, that it would sway no one. People brought up the safety concerns because safety was a priority for them, even as it clearly is not for our City Council. The expensive "safety" (ugly) window dressing in the neighborhood seems geared to excuse further overdevelopment, and seems to be taking place once again ignoring the input of neighbors living on those streets.

To this day, I would like to know who else on the Council besides Karen Holman was getting "finders fees" and whether they were at play in the Maybell proposal. Eric Filseth if you are reading this, the Council really should make a clear prohibition on anyone on Council receiving any remuneration related to development, whether it's perks at work or finders fees or even positions on non-profit boards (as the Center for Public Integrity has been reporting about in New York).


4 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 17, 2018 at 8:49 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Sense

“I have no wish to rehash the Maybell situation with you.”

But then you did. I’m interested in your analysis of where we are today. I think we’re in a different situation when a City Council with 3 PASZ members on it unanimously declares that housing is its top priority and commits the city to actually do something about it.

Many Barron Park neighbors worked hard for a different outcome at Maybell. You could show a little respect for their concern and civic participation if not for their interpretation of acceptable tradeoffs to build affordable housing in a challenging environment.


11 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2018 at 8:21 pm

Seems to me there are two kinds of housing: market rate and subsidized otherwise called "affordable". Our neighbors to the North in Atherton have chosen not to provide subsidized housing. Have the folks in Palo Alto ever been asked if they would like to provide subsidized housing? Maybe we should only support CC members who do not want to provide subsidized housing with our tax money or quality of living?


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2018 at 9:52 pm

Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park

>> "housing is its top priority" .. etc

>> Many Barron Park neighbors worked hard for a different outcome at Maybell.

IIRC, the issue was traffic and total trips. Most people will drive, or be driven, and elderly who don't drive, will use Uber, or be driven by a family member, or a caregiver will drive them, etc.

IMHO, it is a fantasy to believe that a significant number of middle-class elderly people will walk several blocks and then take the 22 bus somewhere.


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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2018 at 8:35 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@anon

". . .it is a fantasy to believe that a significant number of middle-class elderly people will walk several blocks and then take the 22 bus somewhere"

You're not talking about the Maybell project are you? That project was for low- and moderate-income seniors, not middle-class elderly. About parking, PAHA built a cushion into its parking per unit ratio for this project, based on extensive experience with this type of housing, hoping to reduce neighborhood concerns about adequate parking to prevent spillover onto the streets. They needn't have bothered. Amateur parking and traffic experts in the community dismissed their parking calculations with the same finality that they dismissed the traffic study showing that no matter what formula was used to calculate it the result was the same: no significant impact.


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Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 20, 2018 at 2:38 pm

Actual affordable (subsidized) housing does not hardly exist in high priced land locations. Virtually all the money most go to the truly needy. High rises are a solution but it's hard to get people out of their cars. I don't want to go further because people are shocked by economic theory (fact). Just let the market decide. California's government is in deep financial trouble. Go north young man.


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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2018 at 4:43 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Sense

"The fact is that if Maybell had gone through, $15 or $16 million dollars would not have been available to save BV, and that was really the priority."

So you said at the time. But the strongest and most visible supporters of Buena Vista were also supporters of the Maybell project, still are. Palo Alto could have done both. As I mentioned in another thread, money that gets drawn from a fund reserved for affordable housing gets replenished by fees assessed on commercial developers. Very aggravating for folks who would like building affordable housing to be impossible because the affordable housing account has already been stripped bare for ----------- (fill in the blank)

Buena Vista "was really the priority" for you perhaps, but not for the bulk of active opponents of the Maybell project. "No increased density" anywhere in P.A. seemed to be the priority that drew different strands of opposition together, not support for the mobile home park at BV.


3 people like this
Posted by Sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2018 at 8:50 pm

Ah yes, the relentlessly negative accusatory framing of Jerry Underdal. At the time of the Maybell situation, I recall Gonzales saying they couldn’t do anything differently, such as not selling off the neighborhood zoning for a for-profit developer, because the purchase of the property had drained the affordable housing funds. That was in their ads. So, you may think $15 million grows on trees but I think some of the Council were so anxious to tie it up at Maybell so they could claim to support BV while saying there was no money. They were in fact already saying there was no money. (At the same time as back then, BV had offered 14M but couldn’t scrape together the additional 16 M that later got accepted and came from Maybell.).

BV was the priority for using that money. I happen to know you are just plain wrong about support for BV, the majority of Maybell neighbors supported BV, which was pretty clear over time. I think you don’t know the people in the neighborhood, beginning with how badly you misjudged what was going on and how badly you relentlessly misjudged and misjudge people all along. You were too busy accusing to bother being open minded and get to know people. I was part of numerous conversations in which neighbors expressed concern about what would happen to BV if Maybell rezoning went through - there would have been no way to put off the major developer who, if you recall, pulled out just after the referendum. If that REZONING referendum had passed, I don’t think there is any chance BV could have been saved. Prometheus pulled out because it was clear they couldn’t upzone after the referendum, no resident group had ever won a land use referendum like that in memory, and no other major developer wanted to risk it then. That had everything to do with why it was possible to save BV, and many people you would smear even still understood this and were motivated to combat the referendum in part for that reason, despite the barbs.

I was part of many concerned conversations in which people wondered how they could help at BV given the smear campaign against neighbors during and after the referendum. One of the most active people against the rezoning put up and managed the save BV websites and Winter was asked to come in and give a presentation, followed by a public statement of support. I was part of conversations with City Council members asking how people felt about BV, and I only ever heard support, many times. I can’t speak for others, but your vitriol was the major reason I didn’t personally get more involved. But there were and still are networks formed by neighbors that would have definitely been used if there was even a fraction of the opposition you like to imagine. That situation is over, but people live here and residents in affordable housing don’t need to be made to feel that everyone is against them when it just isn’t true.


13 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 21, 2018 at 10:12 pm

Thus far, I have seen little evidence that any of the so-called affordable housing will be affordable to anyone. It seems that it will be for sale or rent at market rates. What does this accomplish? Over crowding in an already crowded area, and exasperating already awful traffic. Saying or hoping it's affordable, and legislating that it is affordable are very different things.


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Posted by @Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2018 at 12:01 am

"How sad when housing is broken down into units! Who would want to live in a unit rather than a home? Who would want to have to live inside a "unit" without a car for their own personal use?"

You can't just have suburban sprawl for miles and miles of nothing but detached single-family homes. That's what creates the need for personal cars in the first place, which causes traffic. There's nothing wrong with people who want to live in condos close to downtown and near mass transit so that they don't need to worry about having a car.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 8:58 am

My point is calling them units rather than calling them homes. We want to live in a place we can call home, whether we rent or own. We want to feel that when we arrive back in the evening and shut the front door we have arrived "home". A unit sounds more like a prison that we want to get away from. A home sounds cosy, comfortable and a place to really live, relax and be at peace. It is nothing to do with size, but it is very telling when the CC talk about units rather than homes that all they are thinking about are dormitory units that have no heartstrings attached to them.


Posted by @Resident
a resident of Crescent Park

on Feb 22, 2018 at 9:17 am


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2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 11:40 am

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> My point is calling them units rather than calling them homes. We want to live in a place we can call home, whether we rent or own.

I think it is OK to talk about "units" when we are talking about "policy". But, I see that you find it difficult to attach to a -place- when the place is an apartment.

I think rowhouses (townhouses, etc.) are the best of both worlds. Depending on the design, you can get high enough densities, parking, security, quiet (if the walls are done correctly), and, a -place- that you can go home to. And, it can be done in less than 50 feet high, and, it is the least cost construction as well.


8 people like this
Posted by Another resident
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 11:51 am

“You can't just have suburban sprawl for miles and miles of nothing but detached single-family homes. That's what creates the need for personal cars in the first place, which causes traffic”

Doesn’t an apartment complex or large condominium building cause significantly more traffic than the detached single family homes that would sit on the same space?


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 1:19 pm

Posted by Another resident, a resident of Midtown

>>> “You can't just have suburban sprawl for miles and miles of nothing but detached single-family homes. That's what creates the need for personal cars in the first place, which causes traffic”

>> Doesn’t an apartment complex or large condominium building cause significantly more traffic than the detached single family homes that would sit on the same space?

To look at it differently, imagine all of the population, workplaces, and retail of Santa Clara county compressed into 23 square miles. Then, it would be Manhattan, people wouldn't need cars, and could walk and use public transportation all day. It is a great idea, and it works for Manhattan. But, that isn't how Santa Clara County developed.


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