Council weighs competing proposals for 'affordable housing' zone

As city prepares to adopt new zoning tool, planning commissioners spar over the specifics

Palo Alto's effort to spur construction of new affordable-housing developments could see a boost Monday night, when the City Council considers creating a new zoning district that offers concessions to such projects.

But before the city adds the new zone, the council will have to answer two questions on which there is currently little consensus: Will the zoning district achieve the city's goals? And what exactly constitutes "affordable" housing?

The former question has polarized the city's Planning and Transportation Commission, which last month voted 4-3 to not recommend the new zone, known as the Affordable Housing Combining District. In response, the three dissenting members -- Vice Chair Susan Monk, Michael Alcheck and William Riggs -- submitted last week a minority opinion urging the council to move ahead with the new district, calling it "the most promising tool our body has considered to address the enormous shortage of affordable housing."

The commission's four-member majority -- Chair Ed Lauing, Przemek Gardias, Doria Summa and Asher Waldfogel -- took the opposite view and suggested that the zone, as proposed, would not achieve the city's housing goals. In February, a subcommittee composed of Gardias, Summa and Waldfogel issued a recommendation calling for the new zone to only apply to developments targeting "very low-income" residents: those making 60 percent or less of the area median income (AMI). Concurrently, the city should undertake a separate effort to accommodate those with higher income levels.

In explaining their position, Waldfogel, Gardias and Summa argued that affordable-housing projects targeting individuals with "very low" income levels are fundamentally different from those catering to residents in the "low" and "moderate" categories making between 61 and 120 percent of AMI. As such, the city should have different mechanisms for addressing the different types of housing.

Developers targeting residents with "very low" incomes, for instance, compete for federal-tax credits to build their projects (a tool only available for projects where units target residents with up to 60 percent AMI). Housing for those making between 61 and 120 percent of AMI, by contrast, could be accommodated through other methods, including "inclusionary zoning" (where a market-rate development is required to offer a percentage of its units at below-market-rate levels).

The three-member subcommittee also agreed that the units targeting individuals with very low incomes are particularly urgent. Summa noted at the March 14 meeting that individuals making up to 60 percent AMI are "the people most in need right now."

By contrast, the February proposal from planning staff didn't distinguish between different types of "affordable housing."

In March, planning staff had revised its proposal to limit the new zone to those making up to 60 percent of the area median income, a revision consistent with the subcommittee's recommendation (despite the revision, the committee members did not support the staff proposal). But the latest proposal, which the council will consider Monday, once again reverts to the earlier version and eliminates the distinction. If the council moves ahead with the staff recommendation, the new zone would apply to all affordable-housing projects, including those targeting residents in higher income categories (between 61 and 120 percent of AMI).

The two factions on the commission did agree on one thing: Each would like to see the city make some zoning changes to accommodate a proposal from the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing, which owns a property at 3703-3709 El Camino Real, near Wilton Avenue, and which is hoping to build 61 units on the site. One group, which includes Lauing, Gardias, Summa and Waldfogel, believes the city should pursue a development agreement (or a "planned community" zone) with Palo Alto Housing specifically tailored around this project. The other, which includes Alcheck, Monk and Riggs, says the city should immediately approve the new combining district, which could then be used for other projects as well.

As proposed, the new district would apply to commercially zoned sites within a half-mile of major transit stops and within a quarter-mile of high-quality transit corridors. The new zone would relax the zoning standards pertaining to lot coverage, open space, required parking spaces and density. Developers who apply for a project under this zone would still have to go through the regular review process, which includes hearings before the Planning and Transportation Commission, the Architectural Review Board and the City Council, before securing approval.


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66 people like this
Posted by Stop Developer Giveaways
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2018 at 8:10 pm

What a switcheroo. One week the new zone is going to help truly needy people earning way below the median income - the next week the proposal secretly morphs to instead pour money in the pockets of developers building pack-and-stack housing for those making over $100,000 a year, which is what 120% of AMI means.

And what other problems lurk within this ordinance? How about when these new giant buildings loom over people's backyards and destroy their privacy? And neighborhoods overflow with cars thanks to the "relaxed" parking requirements based on the absurd fantasy that people no longer need cars?

We need to ensure that exceptions only go to the real deserving projects, not to those profiteering from badly-written laws.

14 people like this
Posted by Let them build housing
a resident of University South
on Apr 6, 2018 at 9:58 pm

It doesn't need to be that complicated. The overlay zone seems straightforward enough, and there's still plenty of approvals required. Let's just set up the zoning so that non-profit housing developers can build affordable housing - that seems pretty simple.

If we make it so that every affordable housing project requires negotiating with staff and Council from a blank slate, no one is going to want to bother. The non-profit Palo Alto Housing Corp. has been building all their housing in Redwood City for the last few years because their hometown made it too hard for them here. Is that what we want? It's not what I want.

25 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2018 at 10:00 am

Affordable is the wrong word. Per census data for Palo Alto the AMI in 2016 was $137,043. 60% of $137,043 = $82,225.80. Unless the ordinance CLEARLY provides that the housing is only for those who qualify for BMR housing we will still not have an ordinance that provides housing hope for those who have a low or very low income.

Said differently, many of those among us who are artists and musicians and students and single parents with a part time job, and retail workers, and restaurant workers, and barristas, and janitors, and barbers, and mechanics, and tutors, and seniors, and teachers, and teacher aides, and office workers, and gardeners, and movers, and nurses, and staff that support medical and dental practices, and hospital staff, etc will be forced to go elsewhere. Should that happen, Palo Alto will be well on its way to being uni-dimensional.

4 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 7, 2018 at 10:20 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

There are at least two ways to access the facts about affordable/BMR housing in Palo Alto.

The first is to google those terms.

The second is to read the ordinance and notice that "affordable" is defined as the meaning in section 16.65.020 of the municipal code, part of a larger section on affordable housing.

What I found is that the city has two types of BMR/affordable housing.

One is for rental units and those eligible are restricted to incomes at 80% of the area median or less.

There is also a BMR purchase program and those eligible have incomes between 80 and 120% of the area median income.

Both programs have eligibility checks, prescribed rents and purchase prices and s host of other conditions.

The allegation that there is somehow a private developer giveaway is simply false according to the applicable municipal code section.

4 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 7, 2018 at 10:32 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

And the main point of the Weekly editorial was in support of the staff ordinance, following through on the request from council to develop an ordinance that removes barriers to 100% BMR/affordable projects.

29 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2018 at 12:09 pm

Read the proposed ordinance; read Municipal Code 16.65.020, did a Google search re AMI, read the Staff Report, read the two PTC memos. And still I think the crux of the issue is the word *affordable*. While the ordinance is for 100% AH, it does not make clear what % of the units will be for 60% AMI ($82,225 or less using 2016 data) or 61% - 120% AMI ($83,596 - $164,452, again using 2016 data). The majority PTC memo at least tackles this, suggesting two categories (under 60% and 60 - 120%).

If we are going to relax our building standards, shouldn't we codify assurances that we will in fact achieve the housing stock that is most sorely needed (extremely low)?

I would also point out that the proposed ordinance bears some stark similarities to SB827, which the Council has opposed. So what is the City's real position?

Finally, in the City's own Urban Water Management Plan (adopted in 2016) there's a statement on page 45 that "Palo Alto has few single family BMR units and does not anticipate that this will change in the future." So what are we really doing with this project? And have we planned for the projected water demand?

Affordable Housing is both a laudable goal and a compelling buzz term that can be slapped on legislation to assure passage. That can be fine provided there has been adequate examination of critical details. We need to get this right b/c corrections are near impossible.

30 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 7, 2018 at 1:15 pm

If the zoning is going to include 100% AMI then the parking need claims make even less sense than they did before. People making $100,000/year are less likely to own cars than the general population? why? You're at the median income now, it's not a unique subset of people. Those earning $80k-100k/year are not priced out of owning vehicles like those making $12k/year might be.

51 people like this
Posted by PAF givaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2018 at 1:20 pm

Annette says those earning $83,596 - $164,452 will be the beneficiaries of this program. It sounds like a good number of those will be Millenial tech workers, PAF's demographic. PAF's strong advocacy for this give-away now makes sense.

6 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 7, 2018 at 1:24 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Actually the parking requirements in the ordinance say follow state law.

The Wilton project if it comes forward will be for small units for residents at 60% f AMI or lower with up to half for special needs residents and state law sets limits on parking requirements.

The 80-120% of AMI projects if any come forward will be for purchase, larger and will have more parking.

10 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 7, 2018 at 1:39 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@PAF giveaway

I am in the midst of participating in four teacher housing events with Supervisor Simitian as the moderator. He has convinced the county supervisors to donate land in Palo Alto for a teacher housing project. The participants have to raise the rest of the money but teachers are one group among many that are facing challenges finding housing that they can afford, which affects the ability of districts to hire and retain teachers.

Ways to expand the BMR purchase program are not a giveaway but rather a program that addresses a community need just as programs for BMR rental units for lower income families.

For these reasons the Weekly has chosen to support the staff recommendation that responds to the request of the city council.

Bill Johnson can follow up on this continued slander of Palo Alto Forward by having Gennady do a follow up story as well as come to our events.

Palo Alto Forward joins the Weekly, the Palo Alto League of Women Voters and Silicon Valley at Home in supporting an ordinance that extends a welcome mat to non profit developers of BMR housing by removing barriers.

16 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 7, 2018 at 2:20 pm

@ stephen levy
So if someone built a building of studio condos and wanted to sell them to people making 120% AMI $164,000, the .5 parking spaces per unit would not apply? Or would the overlay not apply?

52 people like this
Posted by booo
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2018 at 2:24 pm

Cory Wolbach supports single-story overlay for his own neighborhood and 4 story buildings for everyone else's neighborhoods.

16 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2018 at 12:31 pm

People complaining about the inadequate parking requirements for these projects are missing the whole point. The point is that streets can and will be used as supplemental parking lots (they will need somewhere to park the other 0.5 part of the car). Nobody really believes that people living here won't own cars. The supporters are just telling you to get used to it.

20 people like this
Posted by Madness
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2018 at 1:42 pm

Correct me if I'm wrong, but these units are not restricted to one person each. There could potentially be two people per studio. Could units for disabled people have a couple where one person is disabled and the other is not? If we have 60 units and 30 parking spaces, that's potentially 120 residents fighting for 30 parking spots - 1 space for every 4 adults.

The parking disaster resulting from this project is not going to only impact a few nearby neighbors, it's going to impact several blocks in every direction. The impacts of the under-parked Woodland Park Apartments in East Palo Alto were felt a mile away.

21 people like this
Posted by PA Grandma
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 10, 2018 at 10:16 am

Palo Alto has engaged in magical thinking around parking for quite a long time. For some reason the powers that be don't want to recognize that this is NOT a walkable city. And it's only barely a bikeable city. Bottom line - if numbers of housing units increase then numbers of cars increase. The only sensible thing to do is to require at least one parking space per unit for studios and two per unit for larger dwellings. Ditto for office space - what ever the ratio to numbers of employees/parking space.

It doesn't matter what the developers say. They just want to build the units and pocket their cash and they can't make as much money off parking spaces as they can off offices or housing. So Palo Alto inhabitants, including the ones who will live in the new units will be hit by the lack of parking fallout. As we already are, but it will be worse.

16 people like this
Posted by Ceci Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 14, 2018 at 1:30 pm

Ceci Kettendorf is a registered user.

I was curious as to why Gregg Scharff asked thrice at the meeting last Monday that Town and Country and Midtown be exempted from the Overlay. Come to find out, he owns LOTS OF REAL ESTATE in the nearby neighborhoods.
So he votes for a parking nightmare on the Ventura neighborhood but protects his own real estate from detriment. Conflict of interest.....lack of ethics.....damaged community.

11 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 14, 2018 at 1:38 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Ceci, very very interesting. Since he owns so much property, why isn't he recusing himself -- or being forced to recuse himself? When does he depart to run ABAG? Why is nothing being done about such blatant conflicts of interest?

18 people like this
Posted by Ceci Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 14, 2018 at 3:21 pm

Ceci Kettendorf is a registered user.

@Online Name....
I agree with you that the ethics of our public officials are appalling. Three of our city council members, including our mayor, were or are under investigation by the state of California for campaign fraud for taking money after the election, money taken from outside developers. They should still be curled upn under their beds, hiding in embarrassement at the least, if not shame and remorse for the crime.

Mr. Al....... on the Planning Committee abused his power to build an
illegal structure on his property in Palo Alto.

Gregg Scharff, while on CC, preemptively crushes the building of underparked, high density, very tall, poorly designed BMR housing near his nest eggs.

Someone elsewhere online said that we should put BMR housing in the Palo Alto Hills where there is a luxury of space. What genius! Put it next to those who enthusiasticly promote it or who are in a position of power to actually vote for it. Bring the transportation to them!

Of course the latter would spark a rage of organized, funded protest. In contrast, the Ventura neighorhood has heretofore never been organized, has a high percentage of minority residents and renters, and has kept a low profile. They were easy pickin's for this process.
So they, the Ventura stakeholders, were not heard. No one at city hall has asked them to engage and only a few even listened when they presented at CC. Even the above Palo Alto article says that most people spoke in favor. The article ignores the salient points made by Becky Sanders, the Ventura moderator. Shouldn't substance and quality of content presented by the neighborhood outweigh the redundant presentations by PAF when the press reports?

The Stakeholders actually LIVE in the neighborhood. Sadly and yet again, PAF and friends overwhelmed the Stakeholders. There is no fair hearing in Palo Alto for stakeholders, only the tyranny of the PAF mob, drowning them out.

I have been researching the names of the 40 or so PAF and friends who spoke promoting the project to see where they live; (next I will move onto the bogus online petition they present monthly to see where those people live; Mr.Levy already admitted online that many of them do not live in Palo Alto.)
I find it sadly ironic that none of these PAF and friends, so far, live in any of the proposed Overlay neighborhoods. THEY won't have junkers parked in their streets. THEIR children will safely ride their bikes. THEIR neighborhoods will always be safe from poorly designed BMR housing.

10 people like this
Posted by Ceci Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 15, 2018 at 12:15 pm

Ceci Kettendorf is a registered user.

(Mr. Levy claims that the pushback to inconsistencies in PAFs advocacy or ill conceived housing design or negative neighborhood impact is...... slander of PAF?!)

I will too surely be accused of slander, pelted with dung, becauase I am herein questioning a holy cow:

I would like to see BMR units go to teachers, caregivers, service workers, the nursing assistants, housekeepers, elderly on fixed incomes, low income workers and special needs adults WHO HAVE FEW RESOURCES. It is not fair for the special needs adult children OF PALO ALTO HOMEOWNERS to even be considered for the units there. Those units should go to the have-nots.

The special needs adult children of Palo Alto homeowners already have a home......with their parents. Their parents will have set up a trust for their offspring to provide for them after the parents pass. Those special needs adults are not financially needy; their parents' homes are worth millions. They have a good deal of resources available to them from a caring family. Chharity begins at home. They should not be in this equation. Never-the-less, homeowners advocate heavily at City Hall that they want their special needs adult child to live independently.

If the special needs adult child of a homeowner is given a BMR housing unit, he will be taking a housing unit away from a have-not, someone with few resources and great need, who has no where to go.

Mr. Levy has posted online that 400 families in Palo Alto are proponents of BMR housing for special needs adult children. He says they put their names (not signatures) on his online petition. Many of those families indeed own homes. No one ever dares point out the unfairness of PAF in promoting BMR housing for the haves, the fortunate ones, those with exceptional financial security, the children of Palo Alto homeowners. No one dares; special needs is holy.

My neighbor owns 7 million dollars worth of mortgage free real estate in my neighborhood, and perhaps has far more financial holdings. Yet she expects her special needs offspring to be in the front of the line for the BMR housing because the adult child "is a native Palo Altan." I imagine there are native Palo Altan special needs adults who are have-nots, in need of that housing.

I hope there is a committee which thoughtfully considers the true hardship to those who apply for placement in the housing.
Every week, PAF is awash with contradictions.

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

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