News

Palo Alto sets sights on affordable housing

With a new plan, Palo Alto tries to triple its housing production

Mayfield Place, an affordable housing apartment complex in Palo Alto, features 70 units that serves individuals and families making anywhere from $34,500 to $77,700 per year. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Watch Fran Wagstaff, retired president of MidPen Housing, discuss this issue with Weekly journalists on an episode of "Behind the Headlines."

Fran Wagstaff doesn't have to look far to see the transformation of Palo Alto's housing market.

Over the past decade, her Midtown neighborhood has gentrified, with property values going through the roof and out-of-town buyers gobbling up properties as investments, she told the Weekly.

The house across the street is only occupied by its owners for one or two weeks per year, she said.

"Every scrap of land is being redeveloped," Wagstaff said.

But when it comes to new affordable-housing developments, the story is completely different. Like other cities, Palo Alto is facing a "perfect storm" of obstacles that hinder construction of affordable housing: sky-high land costs, rising construction costs and a recent federal tax bill that reduced the incentive to invest in affordable-housing projects by cutting tax credits for corporations.

For Wagstaff, the issue hits close to home in other ways. She spent 25 years leading the nonprofit MidPen Housing (formerly known as Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition) during which time it developed more than 6,000 affordable-housing units in the region, including Palo Alto Gardens, a 156-apartment complex on San Antonio Road, and Page Mill Court, a 24-apartment development on Ash Street. She retired from her position as executive director in 2008.

"Housing is the ultimate determination for social welfare for people in every economic group," she told the Weekly.

Palo Alto's City Council is attempting to make inroads in addressing the region's overall housing shortage. Last month, the council designated housing as a top priority and set as a goal the creation of 300 units this year, as well as every year from now through 2030. It also approved last month a Housing Work Plan that aims to achieve this goal.

But housing advocates like Wagstaff aren't optimistic the plan will make a significant enough difference — and for good reason. Over the years, she has seen commercial construction boom and housing lag behind, trends that exacerbated the city's jobs-to-housing imbalance of 3-to-1.

In recent years, Palo Alto's housing production plummeted to new lows. In 2014, the city produced just 40 housing units, according to the most recent progress report in its Housing Element, a state-mandated document. While the number went up to 246 in 2015 (thanks in large part to two housing projects that Stanford University developed under a 2005 agreement with the city), it dwindled to 18 units in 2016 and 89 in 2017. The bulk of last year's residential construction — 70 apartments at 2500 El Camino Real — also were approved in 2005 under the agreement between Palo Alto and Stanford.

If the city has been lagging on housing overall, its progress on affordable housing has been particularly lackluster. Between 2007-2014, the city produced 1,602 total units, which is 37 percent of its Regional Housing Needs Allocation, according to the Housing Element for that period. Of those, 290 units — or 16 percent of the regional goal — were affordable.

The current housing cycle, which runs from 2014 to 2023, also is off to a less-than-promising start. The 121 affordable units that the city has produced so far comprise just 8 percent of its regional target.

"I've seen a lot of goals (set) in Palo Alto, but I haven't seen a lot of affordable-housing goals being achieved," Wagstaff said.

Palo Alto's housing production seems especially paltry in the context of the region. Last year, Silicon Valley saw a surge of residential construction, with more than 12,021 building permits for homes being issued — 5,339 more than during 2016, according to the 2018 Silicon Valley Index, an annual report issued by the nonprofit Joint Venture Silicon Valley. In Santa Clara County, cities issued 2.4 times more permits for residential units in the first 11 months of the year than in all of 2016, according to the Index.

Up and down the Peninsula, cities are passing new laws and establishing "specific" or "precise" plans for neighborhoods with access to public transit and then approving housing developments within those. In Mountain View, the City Council ended 2017 by approving a Google-centric precise plan for the North Bayshore area that could include 9,850 housing units, 2,000 of which would be offered at below-market-rate pricing (this is in addition to the roughly 5,000 units now being built or seeking planning approvals). The city also is moving ahead with a precise plan for the East Whisman area with 5,000 new homes, which includes 1,000 at below-market rate.

Menlo Park recently approved a mixed-use development with 183 apartments on El Camino Real, the largest project in a concept plan that the city approved for its downtown area in 2012. It also is considering Facebook's "Willow Village" redevelopment, which would include offices, retail space and 1,500 housing units, of which 225 would be at below-market rate.

In Redwood City, construction is proceeding on MidPen Housing's 117-unit housing development for very-low income seniors at a city-owned property at 707 Bradford St. And in May 2016, the City Council amended its Downtown Precise Plan to specify that 375 of the 2,500 housing units planned for the downtown must be designated as "affordable."

But while other cities are swinging for the fences, Palo Alto is content with singles and doubles: a zoning tweak here, a density bonus there and a few dozen units here and there. Last October, the City Council approved the Sobrato Organization's mixed-use development at 3001 El Camino Real (the former site of Mike's Bikes), which includes 50 apartments. In the next few months, the council will consider a project a few blocks to the north — a 57-unit apartment complex proposed by Windy Hill Property Ventures for the central intersection of El Camino and Page Mill Road. The project is seen as a prototype of both a "car-light" development (fewer parking spots and more transit subsidies for its residents) and "workforce housing," with apartments designated for residents who make 120 percent of the area median income, the upper limit of what's considered "affordable housing."

"All of us by now agree that the region has a housing crisis," Planning Director Hillary Gitelman told the council during its Feb. 5 discussion of the new Housing Work Plan. "The rate of housing production has declined as the rate of job growth and housing prices have increased."

The problem of creating affordable housing is certainly not unique to Palo Alto. According to the 2018 Index of Silicon Valley, only 7 percent of all the housing units produced in the region in 2016 and 2017 — or 699 total — were designated as affordable. Of those, 287 were for households earning less than 50 percent of the area median income.

But if building affordable housing is always hard, in Palo Alto, it's particularly so, Wagstaff said. The 50-foot building-height limit that the city approved in the 1970s remains more or less sacrosanct, which means developing projects with more than a few dozen units is practically impossible. Zoning and parking standards are relatively inflexible, even for senior housing and affordable housing, whose residents tend to drive less. Then there's the approval process, which she said is far more onerous — and expensive — in Palo Alto than anywhere else.

In the past, the city considered affordable housing a public benefit worthy of granting developers with zoning exceptions. That was the case in 1961, when medical pioneer Russell V. A. Lee spearheaded the construction of Channing House, an 11-story retirement community with two stories of underground parking at 850 Webster St.

To enable the project, the council rezoned the site from R-4, which allowed up to four residential units per acre, to "planned community" (PC), a zoning district that offers zoning exceptions in exchange for public benefits on a case-by-case basis. When Channing House opened its doors in January 1964, 270 seniors moved in, according to the Palo Alto Historical Association.

Today, hundreds of seniors sit on waiting lists for below-market-rate housing, without much hope for another Channing House. In 2013, the council effectively abolished the PC zone after voters overturned the council's last PC approval — an application from the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing to build 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 12 market-rate single-family homes on a former orchard on Maybell Avenue. In freezing PCs, the council all but ensured that projects like the Maybell development won't even have a chance to go through the city's infamously grueling approval process.

Facing a restrictive development climate, Palo Alto Housing, which has been building affordable housing since early 1970s, has shifted its sights to Mountain View, Redwood City and Sunnyvale. No other developer has stepped in to provide housing for the city's neediest residents.

In fact, the Palo Alto council hasn't approved a new affordable-housing complex since November 2009, when it green-lighted a 50-unit development for low-income families at 801 Alma St.

Even that exception proved the rule. The developer, Eden Housing, had initially proposed 96 units and two buildings, one for senior housing and another for low-income families. But after an outpouring of neighborhood opposition led by residents of a recently constructed condominium complex at 800 High St. (a project that relied on the PC zone to win approval), Eden dropped the 46 senior apartments from the plan.

(The only affordable-housing bright spot of late was the city's contribution of $14.5 million toward the purchase and preservation of the low-income Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto, a deal that was completed last year.)

Taken as a whole, the 45 policies in the work plan represent the city planning staff's best stab at addressing the City Council's housing priority and goal of 300 units per year.

The policies include near-term tweaks to the zoning code — including new overlay zones that would allow developers to provide less parking and build more densely when developing workforce housing (housing for those earning about 120 percent of the area median income) and below-market-rate housing.

They also include policies for encouraging more development near public-transit corridors and a "minimum density" requirement for multi-family residential projects.

Nicole Montojo, policy associate with SV@Home — a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing in Santa Clara County — said she is encouraged by Palo Alto's Housing Work Plan, which she says lays out a "clear path" toward addressing the housing shortage. She also lauded the proposed expansion of the city's "inclusionary zoning" program, which requires market-rate developments to designate a percentage of their units as below-market rate.

She also said her group has been advocating for increased density and against the idea that this necessarily means high-rise towers will be built.

"Our goal is to challenge a lot of false notions of what higher-density may look like," she said.

Palo Alto's plan does include some policies aimed at increasing density. One would expand the existing "pedestrian and transit-oriented development" overlay zone on California Avenue (which loosens development standards near public transit) and establish a similar overlay downtown as a way to encourage construction of new housing near transit. It also recommends "limited exceptions" to the 50-foot height limit for housing projects within one-quarter mile of a railroad station.

But the work plan is also notable for what's not in it: the PC zone, which has traditionally given nonprofit developers of affordable housing and senior housing the types of height and density exceptions they need to make their projects financially viable. Besides Channing House, the PC enabled the construction of Lytton Gardens, Webster House and — four years ago — the Treehouse at 488 W. Charleston Road.

The plan also is mum on the subject of "Palo Alto process" — the bureaucratic marathon that developers say often deters them from moving ahead with applications.

And whereas cities like Mountain View, Menlo Park and Redwood City have used "specific" or "precise" plans to promote high-density development near transit, in Palo Alto, the council actually deleted from its newly updated Comprehensive Plan last year a policy to create a "coordinated area plan" (Palo Alto's version of the precise plan) for downtown. It is, however, moving ahead with a plan in the North Ventura neighborhood, which council members see as ripe for redevelopment.

Montojo said specific plans are among the more effective tools being used in the region to spur housing. She lauded Mountain View's plan for North Bayshore, both for its goals and for bringing stakeholders together and developing specific goals for affordable housing. She called specific plans "a key tool" and said her group is looking forward to seeing what Palo Alto does in the North Ventura area.

"It's critical, given that the zoning in general in Palo Alto — as it currently stands — won't allow for all of the housing that needs to get built."

For Mayor Liz Kniss, one of the council's staunchest housing advocates, the Housing Work Plan represents a chance for the city to get out of the housing slump. Just minutes after her election as mayor in January, Kniss told the crowd assembled in City Hall that Palo Alto needs to get "more creative" on housing and made a pitch for approving one senior-housing project this year. She also acknowledged the pushback the council will likely receive from the community as it considers new housing projects and asked residents to "keep an open mind" when those projects get to the council for approval.

"When this comes up this year," she said, "think through: Would I like my kids to live here? Would I like to stay here as long as possible?"

During the council's February retreat, Kniss asserted that the goal of building 300 residences a year is achievable.

"It's daunting somewhat, but I believe we can do it," Kniss said.

Her colleagues have agreed that the goal is worth pursuing. Last November, in a rare show of unity on the hot-button issue, the council unanimously endorsed a memo penned by Councilman Adrian Fine, which led to the creation of the Housing Work Plan.

As Kniss noted, the push for housing will surely meet with community resistance, particularly when staff begins exploring next year changes to single-family residential neighborhoods. But housing advocates can point to some promising motivators — including the 2016 election (in which Kniss and Fine both made housing their central issue); a recent National Citizen Survey in which only 6 percent of the respondents gave Palo Alto high grades in the "affordable housing" category; and an earlier survey in which 76 percent of the respondents called housing an "extremely serious" or "very serious" problem, ranking it above traffic.

"We heard there's a housing problem — that's unquestionable at this point," Fine said during a February discussion of the housing plan. "We heard it from the public. It's time for us to stop studying the issue and actually do something."

Three months into the new year, it remains to be seen whether the goal of 300 is realistic or merely aspirational. Gitelman, the planning director, said she believes it's achievable, even as she acknowledged that adjusting the city's zoning standards can only do so much. She pointed to other — potentially more impactful — programs in the work plan that the city hasn't tried yet.

The city, she told the Weekly, will need to do something "really meaningful" with the North Ventura Concept Area Plan. The area includes the site of Fry's Electronics, which alone has "reasonable capacity of 221 units" (and a maximum yield of 374 units), according to the city's Housing Element. The new plan is expected to identify other potential housing sites in North Ventura, along with opportunities for parks, retail and amenities.

"We don't even know how many units that's going to yield," Gitelman said.

Then there's the bigger wildcard: Stanford University. The Housing Work Plan calls for exploring with Stanford University various options for adding to the Stanford Research Park a "diverse mix of uses," including residential development, a hotel, a conference center, space for startups and a transit center to create a "vibrant, innovation-oriented community."

The plan also considers allowing housing at Stanford Shopping Center and near the Stanford University Medical Center. Gitelman told the Weekly that city staff will reach out to Stanford next year, after the university completes its General Use Permit process with the Santa Clara County, in which it's asking for permission to develop more square feet on campus.

"Potentially, when we talk to Stanford about housing in the Research Park and the Shopping Center, that may be our opportunity to get more than 40, 50 or 60 units," Gitelman said.

And what of the city's waylaid PC zoning? Even though reforming and reviving the PC process isn't in the Housing Work Plan, the door remains ajar. The council hasn't officially abolished the tool, and Gitelman said staff can bring it upon the council's request.

As for speeding up the approvals process, Gitelman believes Senate Bill 35 will make a dramatic difference. The new law, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, creates a streamlined process for multi-family housing projects that are consistent with "objective zoning standards" such as the city's height and density regulations. The bill gives cities 60 days to determine whether the proposed development qualifies for the streamlining and another 30 days to review the project — practically warp speed by Palo Alto's historic standards.

"I think SB35 is a game-changer for affordable-housing developers," Gitelman said. "As long as they're zoning compliant, it's by-right in 90 days. What can be better than that, from their perspective?"

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Comments

95 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 23, 2018 at 11:10 am

Becky Sanders is a registered user.

Interesting, informative and engaging article.  But there is a voice missing here.  That of the YOU the people that live here, those of us living in the most impacted areas, like Ventura.   The height, massing and parking restrictions are in place for a reason.  We need them to guard against traffic, parking and congestion that our infrastructure just can't handle right now, that the neighborhoods were not laid out to absorb.

We grow weary of the double-standard, of the call for more housing while runaway office development is permitted, while perfectly good opportunities like the VTA lot are being given away to developers, while giant developers run roughshod over neighborhood zoning protections.   Feel good terms like “affordable housing” are manipulated into getting folks to buy into supporting housing giveaways for rich people and accelerating institutional incursions into neighborhoods. 

The impacts of runaway expansion by the Stanford General Use Permit, which we are handing that noble institution on a platter, Palantir, Google, etc. are being forced on to the people that live here.   One example, of many:  the City is contemplating handing the developer Windy Hill a sweet deal, up-zoning a property and getting virtually nothing for it.  That lot could be 100% BMR (BELOW MARKET RATE) housing. The City has that power.  So please don't talk to me about the struggles the City is having housing people. Why must residents bear the social costs and reap NO benefits, struggling to get a fair hearing in the press or at City Hall? Our voices need to be heard, not just those with vested interests.

Corporations and developers seek to drown out our voices.  They are building, expanding and BACKING elected officials and working behind the scenes with some of our city staff and some housing advocates to skew the narrative to demonize the people that live here into fossils and NIMBYS and reactionaries.  We are, by and large nice people, who love our neighborhoods and the way of life that we have worked hard for, the beloved culture we have contributed to.  We the people have made Palo Alto into an amazing community in which to live and now we’re ask to get out of the way for the demolition teams.


When our voices are left out of the conversation as this article does, we must not let ourselves be paved over, silenced or forgotten. We will not “go gentle into that good night.”


37 people like this
Posted by Lost Oportunity
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2018 at 11:19 am

" In 2013, the council effectively abolished the PC zone after voters overturned the council's last PC approval — an application from the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing to build 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 12 market-rate single-family homes on a former orchard on Maybell Avenue. In freezing PCs, the council all but ensured that projects like the Maybell development won't even have a chance to go through the city's infamously grueling approval process."

Maybell was the single greatest tragedy and demonstrated lack of compassion by the local residents is recent Palo Alto history. The land has since been squandered on a few luxury homes at way below allowable zoning. A true example of egregious NIMBY behavior.


37 people like this
Posted by Native to the Bay
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 23, 2018 at 11:23 am

I beg the Planning and Transportation Committee and City Council to avoid mechanical residential parking lifts in their "parking lite" venture - at all costs. The one at May-field Place is unwieldy, too complicated and breaks down frequently. When it's not in service no-one can get their car in or out.Loss of work time, late for school and generally a major pain. Consequently everyone including, Vista Center and Fambrini's is squeezing into a less than 45 designated spaces in the outside lot.As well they are forced to park in the College Terrace and California Ave neighborhoods and adjacent business' - it's also forcing children to cross El Camino - highly dangerous!! My friend figures they spent 2 million on this type of "electronic parking valet" that is "user unfriendly" and far from meets a reasonable parking accommodation for busy working families who have to come and go throughout their day. She is under a lot of stress finding parking for her family.


54 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 23, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Annette is a registered user.

"Palo Alto's housing production seems especially paltry in the context of the region."

Simple enough explanation: Palo Alto is largely built out while other areas of the region had/have space available for infill. We should expect that our housing will always lag behind the region's and that we will NEVER balance the jobs:housing equation. We could help ourselves, though, by curbing our enthusiasm for new commercial development.


43 people like this
Posted by old and in the way
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2018 at 2:00 pm

There's another solution that requires a lot less hand-wringing and expense. Just take some of the overbuilt office space around here and make it housing. Two birds, one stone--fewer jobs, more housing.


39 people like this
Posted by JH
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 23, 2018 at 3:19 pm

" Mayor Liz Kniss, one of the council's staunchest housing advocates"

And during her multi-year terms on the council one of the staunchest advocates for commercial developers of offices, Even though it has been clear for decades that Palo Alto had a housing shortage.


45 people like this
Posted by Stop the defamation of your neighbors will help
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2018 at 3:33 pm

"Maybell was the single greatest tragedy and demonstrated lack of compassion by the local residents is recent Palo Alto history. The land has since been squandered on a few luxury homes at way below allowable zoning. A true example of egregious NIMBY behavior."

I saw lots of compassion by local residents. It was completely unbending proponents of a plan that was largely for-profit and utterly insensitive to the context, safety, and overdevelopment -- proponents who were unwilling to this day to do anything but smear, libel, and believe the worst of their neighbors as your post evidences -- who are largely responsible for the lack of affordable housing resulting from that situation..

Unlike the example of Eden housing given above, no one ever tried to make the focus at Maybell just the affordable housing, except the maligned neighbors who were and are being accused of being NIMBY's. The insistence of advocates of avoiding the unpleasant fact that Maybell proposal was a majority for-profit development, and that the profits of the upzoned for-profit homes were only going to the developer is what doomed the project.

Yes, the fact that advocates treated it like a NIMBY situation, when I know for a fact that neighbors approached City Councilmembers to see how to address the overdevelopment while keeping the affordable housing, and asked in public meetings for a "working group" like the one the same people and the same neighborhood used to keep Terman School AND produce affordable housing 20 years earlier -- yes, the fact that advocates were so unbending, unrealistic, nasty, and uncharitable toward other residents is a real tragedy even today.

The fact that the same people keep harping on that like it was a loss for affordable housing, when the additional $15 million that was used to save Buena Vista came from the sale of Maybell is hypocritical and largely responsible for an utter lack of collaboration to focus on affordable housing today. Perhaps these people recall that an offer of about $15 million was made early and rejected, but $30million (after the Maybell referendum when it became clear to the developer that the neighborhood would never allow their proposed upzoning) was accepted (the additional $15 million coming from the sale of Maybell).

There is no way Buena Vista would have been saved if Maybell had gone the other way, and this was a motivation of many of the maligned residents to push hard to overturn the rezoning, despite the neverending nastiness of advocates. The political situation at the time was such that City Council believed residents could never win a land use referendum, so no developer had any reason to believe Buena Vista couldn't be upzoned. If you recall, the developer pulled out just after the referendum was successful.

I personally know many people responsible for civic assets in our town who were ready to roll up their sleeves for the affordable housing at Maybell who were so hurt by what the proponents did that they haven't been involved since. The Weekly hasn't helped in the obvious bias toward those willing to wield their easy but false smears against good people.

So long as the self-serving, false, and vitriolic attitudes by supposed advocates prevents them from ever seeing the goodwill in their neighbors or reaching out to people who were trying to work for their cause (while also having their needs and concerns respected), the cause of affordable housing will indeed be stunted in our area.


40 people like this
Posted by Stop the defamation of your neighbors will help
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2018 at 3:36 pm

The real tragedy is that those who remember Maybell as a cartoonish NIMBY vs affordable housing are only preventing residents from coming together to counter the real villain here: companies overpopulating Palo Alto and not moving where they can grow but instead wanting to turn it into a company town, and the developers who want to cash in by dangerously overdeveloping beyond what the infrastructure can handle.


8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2018 at 3:39 pm

Posted by Native to the Bay, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive

>> I beg the Planning and Transportation Committee and City Council to avoid mechanical residential parking lifts in their "parking lite" venture - at all costs. The one at May-field Place is unwieldy, too complicated and breaks down frequently.

I haven't seen it action. But, IIRC, 70 small 1-bath units on 1.8 "mixed use" acres. I don't know how many jobs were added in the mixed use part, but, 1.8 acres in 30/acre townhouses would be 54 nice-sized well-parked units. And no added jobs. Which would -you- rather have? But, of course, that wasn't an option because the land would have "cost too much". It is a trap that we will never get out of unless we stop building new office space.


36 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2018 at 4:02 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Annette, Amen! Cramming more housing units into a built-out town is just going to make both the residents who are already here and the ones being crammed in less content with their living situation.

And, yes, why not convert the office space into residential when and if one of these small tech companies either outgrows its space or goes belly up. It is "two birds one stone", cutting down on commuters coming into town and creating space for service workers who want to live near their jobs.


32 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2018 at 4:29 pm

Why not also look to other cities like Los Altos, Woodside, and Atherton? How are they exempt from sharing the responsibility of providing affordable housing?


12 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 23, 2018 at 4:47 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Housing, to the rescue, again and again. I was getting a little worried that there wouldn't be much for us commenters to talk about and hash around and post on PAO. Now we've got enough material to sustain us for a couple weeks at least. C'mon, lighten up. I'm just trying to add a little humor into this. Blame Jay Thorwaldson...he's the one who started all this with his "Off Deadline" columns. I'm just kidding, Jay. Hope to meet and have coffee with you again, sometime soon. Now to the more serious stuff.

@Becky Sanders

Excellent response. I could tell it was from your heart. It affects your neighborhood, not mine, nor neighborhoods of anyone sitting on CC. It's so easy for TPC to create new zoning, or raise from the dead, old zoning, and approve and pass on to CC for approval, housing projects in other neighborhoods that will dramatically affect d fffand change the character of those neighborhoods.

I loved your point about an opportunity missed/lost for BMR housing at the VTA site. Money talks! And our commissioners and CC listen.

Oh, the goals 'dreamers' set. I had one. I was going to play an even par round of golf at Paly. All I could muster was breaking 80 twice.

"For Mayor Liz Kniss, one of the council's staunchest housing advocates, the Housing Work Plan represents a chance for the city to get out of the housing slump. Just minutes after her election as mayor in January, Kniss told the crowd assembled in City Hall that Palo Alto needs to get "more creative" on housing and made a pitch for approving one senior-housing project this year. She also acknowledged the pushback the council will likely receive from the community as it considers new housing projects and asked residents to "keep an open mind" when those projects get to the council for approval."

I like Liz, for what she's done and how well she's served us for so many years in the past, but, her current optimism on housing leaves me a little puzzled. I don't question her sincerity, or sanity, or that of any other CC members, but wonder if they won't feel a little silly, maybe stupid, when they will be so far off from meeting their housing goals of 300 units/yr! What parcels in town do they know about, where 300 units can be built next year...if they can convince developers to build them? One year in and we're already under water.
No chance for 300 units this year.

As long as housing will be the main topic, and often the only topic, there is little chance much progress can be made. We should all thank Fran Wagstaff for all the good work she did years ago. If we, locally and regionally, can't solve the transit, transportation, infrastructure, and parking issues that plague us, and they go along with housing, then I really worry about the future of 'my town'.



38 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 23, 2018 at 4:51 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Online Name from Barron Park,

Excellent points. Remember that Los Altos's city charter requires them to put residents' needs first. Also compare their representation on commissions and town councils vs ours. Remember 4 years ago they banned our most aggressive Planning & Transportation official from pushing his over-development policies on them, telling him to stick to Palo Alto.

Los Altos official blasts Palo Alto planning commissioner

Original post made by My Nguyen, Old Palo Alto, on Dec 9, 2014

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 23, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Online Name

I think it's based on the number of businesses, i.e., jobs and employees in the towns/cities. Bedroom communities are exempt. Not many businesses there...just house maids, handymen, gardeners, pool cleaners, and home care providers who commute there to work. Being rich has it's rewards. Always!

I still love my bungalow in SPA.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 23, 2018 at 5:29 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

You do the editing on my jumbled/misspelled words in my first comment. You know what I meant. That's what's important.


31 people like this
Posted by Lost Opportunity
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2018 at 5:37 pm

@Stop the defamation of your neighbors will help

you said:
"utterly insensitive...smear, libel, and believe the worst of their neighbors .... advocates were so unbending, unrealistic, nasty, and uncharitable...
keep harping ... utter lack of collaboration ... neverending nastiness of advocates.... smears against good people ... self-serving, false, and vitriolic attitudes by supposed advocates "

Hello Pot. This is the kettle.


609 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2018 at 6:25 pm

"@Stop the defamation of your neighbors will help

you said:
"utterly insensitive...smear, libel, and believe the worst of their neighbors .... advocates were so unbending, unrealistic, nasty, and uncharitable...
keep harping ... utter lack of collaboration ... neverending nastiness of advocates.... smears against good people ... self-serving, false, and vitriolic attitudes by supposed advocates "

Objective observations such as you catalog here are defamatory only if their objective does not deserve them. Their objective richly deserves them.

I have watched our "affordable housing" advocates in action many times, desperately pushing their visions onto other neighborhoods to keep them from happening in their own precious R-1 enclaves. Such hypocrites earn and deserve all the objective cataloging of their tactics that their observers care to compile.


100 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 23, 2018 at 6:58 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Writing to applaud Becky Sanders for an excellent response. I hope CC reads what you wrote and takes it to heart in their deliberations.

I also applaud JH for pointing out the irony of our mayor being a staunch supporter of housing. First she promotes the development that is in large part responsible for the problems the city faces, then she promotes a solution that requires - wait for it - MORE development. However you slice it, development is at the core of what she promotes most. Small wonder that she (and others with the same mindset) have enjoyed developer donations to their campaign funds.

But it is not yet too late to apply the brakes and press for sustainable, smart growth. Attend Council meetings, watch if you cannot, write to the City and Council Members, engage with your neighborhood, and cast informed votes instead of name recognition votes. It is worth keeping in mind that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. We do need to accommodate some growth, but we don't have to be dense about it.


58 people like this
Posted by Mystified
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 23, 2018 at 11:03 pm

To Native to the Bay, “The electronic parking valet at May-field Place is unwieldy, too complicated and breaks down frequently.”

As a College Terrace resident I have discovered that these types of lift parts and retrodpgrades have to be ordered months and months in advance and can only come from Germany. It takes six to twelve months to arrive by sea. These unfortunate local family residents have to endure overcrowding, unsafe street parking and lift situations with robotic moving parts - all while their infant and toddler children potentially roam while parking curbside near El Camino or a three ton vehicle “lifts” into p place. tenants are afraid of losing this outside surface parking so remotely “idle” their vehicles for 30minutes in a temporary spot before leaving their apartment and to enter their car. vehement off site neighbors and out of towners continue to park in very limited overburdened Mayfield Place Visitor and Handicap spots. Meaning: Retail and visitor parking is priority, above and beyond city residents. A 95 car capacity “auto lift” virtually remains empty. The lift does not accommodate for trucks or larger SUV’s or Sienna mini vans. What a tragic waist of resources and thousands of square footage of unused space - while the majority of residents scramble to find any empty spot within two or three blocks of the complex. I am asking the Planning and Transpotation Commission and City Council to remedy this dire family parking crisis immediately.


68 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 24, 2018 at 11:42 am

Again, there is no such thing as "affordable housing" just subsidized housing. Atherton understands this, as does candidate for governor Chiang (treasurer of state). Look at Silicon Valley as a whole and there's massive amounts of land that can be developed as apartment houses, a real estate investors first choice now. The problem: government. Government evolves Silicon Valley should engineer. The prime case in point: The Buena Vista boondogle, less for much more. " . . . The great Santa Cruz land swindle." Google. The only real investors in apartment houses are looking to invest in Oregon and Washington state where rent control is against the law and property is intelligently utilized and respected.


39 people like this
Posted by Jesse Moy
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 24, 2018 at 11:43 am

I'm sorry but we need LESS housing, not more housing. We need to actually reduce some of the housing that has been built in the last 10 years. Quality of life is declining, more traffic, pollution, long lines everywhere. Few people will say this but it's true.


24 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2018 at 3:10 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

And now our newly elected local US Representative, Ro Khanna, is getting into the fray. He is a very brave man to speak out and say he didn't want to live in an area where Google and Facebook dominate and shape the future of SV, and cause the imbalance of affordable housing. Add in the wealthy foreign investors that pay cash for properties, and where does that leave us? Sadly, with the low income and even middle income folks left out of the American dream of home ownership! How much funding is available to support the subsidized housing for the very low income folks?

@george drysdale

Good points, and the final chapter, last act, of the BV misadventure, is still to come. No actors should come back on stage to take a bow on this one. As bad a deal as it was, it was probably the last and only hope of doing anything substantial for BMR housing in this very rich, elite town, while shamming to be inclusive.

The CC candidates can't avoid it. They will have to address and talk about housing, how much they support it, how they plan to move it along to meet the goal of adding 300 units per year, while trying to explain why not much has been done during the last decade or two. Hold the line, all you loosely defined and falsely accused NIMBY's. Put the burden back on them. There were never enough NIMBY's to influence what happened...well maybe that little fuss-up about Maybell, but that went thru a legal process to get it on the ballot, and the people spoke. Can we stop talking about that? It's old news.

Another plus for mayor Liz Kniss...her letter opposing state legislation re housing that takes decisions out of local government control. If I remember correctly there was a little tea tax fuss-up that resulted in a party in Boston Harbor quite a long time ago, around the time we became a nation.


48 people like this
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 24, 2018 at 5:18 pm

The Bay Area has a population in excess of 7 million people, most of whom would love to live in Palo Alto. The only way to make homes in Palo Alto "affordable" for everyone who wants to come is to reduce the number of people who want to come by making Palo Alto as congested and overpopulated as Los Angeles.

That seem to be the goal of Palo Alto Online and our own duplicitous "public servants," and they're rapidly getting their way. I suppose at least no one will envy us then, since we'll all be equally miserable.


54 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2018 at 6:08 pm

If you want to understand City Hall's priorities, don't listen to what they say, watch what they do.

Back in December 2016, City Council voted to increase development fees for office buildings to $60 per square foot with the proceeds marked for affordable housing.

Just three months later, the newly sworn-in uber-growth contingent (Adrian Fine, Cory Wolbach, Greg Scharff, Greg Tanaka, and Liz Kniss) voted to nearly halve this rate to $35 per square foot.

At the time, Mr. Fine said "We don't want to use fees to punish development or halt office growth."

See Web Link

It seems very clear that the gang-of-five Council majority favors office development over affordable housing.

My feeling is that halting office growth is exactly what we do want to do. As long as developers have the possibility of building offices -- which is the most lucrative option -- they will remain far less interested in housing of any kind.

Off the top of my head, it seems we could address a variety of issues if we:

- Put a moratorium on office development
- Eliminate developer perks such as increased density, reduced parking, etc.
- Incentivize the conversion of offices to housing
- Increase the required percentage of below-market units

Deprived of massive office expansion and unnecessary giveaways, developers would find a way to be maximize profit by accommodating market and below-market units within a single property.

This would help balance both the jobs-housing ratio and inbound vs. outbound traffic flow. More residents and fewer workers would help support retail. And last but not least, my understanding is that people with lower-incomes achieve better outcomes when they reside in mixed-income settings rather than segregated projects.


45 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 24, 2018 at 6:30 pm

@ Lost Opportunity: Sorry but you choose to ignore the facts on the proposed Maybell project. The project could have been built within the existing zoning requirements. But instead they wanted to go too high, too dense and under-parked. [Portion removed.]


45 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2018 at 7:38 pm

"It seems very clear that the gang-of-five Council majority favors office development over affordable housing."

Hear, hear. Their current enthusiasm for affordable housing rings as hollowly as their faux residentialism they used to get themselves elected. But they had an objective on that round of prevarication, so we must ask what their present goal might be.

I see a stalking horse campaign to kill the 50 ft height limit under the guise of building affordable housing. That accomplished, we will learn that, my oh my, developers will build affordable housing only as microscopic inclusions in huge office developments, which Kniss and the Kids will swiftly approve. Then, as with the discredited PC giveaway process, even the few ostensibly required affordable housing units will quietly fail to appear in our spanking new 15-story office towers.


20 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 25, 2018 at 8:39 am

@Crescent Park Dad
Re Maybell - the referenced poster is right.
“The land has since been squandered on a few luxury homes at way below allowable zoning. A true example of egregious NIMBY behavior”

The locals caused that underdevelopment. They just didn’t want any development at all and fought till it was WAY below existing zoning.


14 people like this
Posted by Jesse Moy
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2018 at 11:24 am

Please reduce housing. We have too much housing at it is. Traffic, pollution are at the highest level in Palo Alto history. Stop ruining the city.


Posted by Robert
a resident of Atherton

on Mar 25, 2018 at 12:20 pm


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41 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 25, 2018 at 12:51 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

It's not enough to reduce housing, which is one of two factors that are absolutely destroying P.A. and its way of life. Commercial development must be halted for a decade or so. There are too many jobs here, on top of too many people, both day visitors and permanent residents. P.A. has no capacity or capability to accommodating either at this level, let alone with the crazy levels off development and densifications the Uber development crowd has in mind. This town is built out, and its infrastructure on all levels is that of a small town. The politicians over the years, through scandalous ineptitude and corruption have allowed it to develop way beyond its capacity, and now it is a horror show that must be stopped.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2018 at 7:01 am

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland

>> It's not enough to reduce housing, which is one of two factors that are absolutely destroying P.A. and its way of life. Commercial development must be halted for a decade or so. There are too many jobs here, on top of too many people, both day visitors and permanent residents. P.A. has no capacity or capability to accommodating either at this level,

I have to disagree with the concept that added housing has created these problems. Recent additions to housing in Palo Alto have been modest. The traffic problems are the result of commuters and associated commercial activities. The commuters are a result of both additional office space development, and, over-utilization of existing office space. Engineers and programmers who don't appreciate sharing head lice with their neighbors should start insisting on their 100 square feet of space. Some of these new workstation areas are ridiculously overcrowded.


12 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2018 at 7:41 am

Palo Alto is too crowded and has too much crime for any new housing, especially low income housing. The city council supported the 29 million dollar purchase of the Buena Vista Trailer Park, which is a firetrap with excess housing. It deteriorates the neighborhood and affects property values and uses up most parking on Los Robles.

Not to mention we have to call the police to complain about noise from their endless Satuday night parties with blaring speakers. When I call the police they tell me that they have already gotten half a dozen calls about the noise.
The city really did a disservice to Palo Alto residents by supporting keeping that group of people togehter instead of building new housing for the other hundreds of people needing lower cost housing in Palo Alto.


21 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2018 at 8:44 am

@Jerry99
$40.4 Million
Web Link

Plus the the recent request for $30 Million more for repairs.


9 people like this
Posted by nmao
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2018 at 9:05 am

I hope the Council doesn't purposely misinterpret support for BMR housing as unconditional support for any and all ways of producing it. I'll bet public support for building BMR declines rapidly the further and further you deviate from the current zoning code to get it.

If City wants BMR projects, then City needs to use its funds to make zoning compliant BMR projects financially feasible. If any project should have been financially unviable it should have been a parking lot full of 50+ year old trailers. Yet at Buena Vista money was flying in from every direction... $15 million, $40 million, $70 million, up up and away. No amount of money is too much to preserve a parking lot full of trailers for all of eternity. If trailer park is financially feasible, so is CN zoned building at Wilton.


5 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 26, 2018 at 1:50 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Three years ago PA met the State deadline to submit a report identifying new housing sites to be complaint with the RHNA mandated allocations. How can we residents see the report and the locations of the identified sites? How many developers/contractors have shown interest in building on those sites? If CC is really serious about adding 300 housing units per year then they must have already identified sites for this year's and at least the next 2-3 year's developments...one would think.

Would Fran Wagstaff please come out of retirement and help the folks at City Hall out on this?


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

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