A proposal to build a housing development for teachers at a Santa Clara County-owned site near California Avenue received a lift Monday night, when the Palo Alto City Council agreed to set aside $3 million for the project.
The plan, which is being spearheaded by county Supervisor Joe Simitian, targets a 1.5-acre parcel at 231 Grant Ave., a building across from the Palo Alto Courthouse. The county had already set aside $6 million for the project and Simitian has requested an additional contribution of $3 million, split equally among five school- and community college districts: Palo Alto Unified, Mountain View Whisman, Mountain View Los Altos, Los Altos and Foothill-De Anza Community College District.
The goal, Simitian said, is to build more than 60 units at the site near the California Avenue Business District. He estimated that each unit would cost about $600,000 to construct, which would mean about $36 million in construction costs (this does not include the $12 million in land costs, which the county is contributing).
Much like the county's contribution, Palo Alto's share will come from funds designated for affordable housing. These funds currently amount to about $13 million, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.
The proposal, Simitian said, simultaneously addresses two challenges. It provides much needed affordable housing and it specifically assists teachers, whom he described as "an essential part of our workforce."
"If you ask people, 'What makes this a desirable community?' one of the first things people say about why they came to Palo Alto is, 'The quality of schools,'" Simitian told the Weekly. "That is at risk until we are able to attract and maintain first-rate teaching staff."
The council approved the city's $3 million contribution by an 8-0 vote, with Councilman Greg Scharff absent, on its "consent calendar," without discussion. Just before the vote, Simitian addressed the council and assured it that the money is not a commitment, much less a disbursement, but a "set-aside," so that when an acceptable proposal is put together, the funds would be there to implement it.
He called the city's contribution a "significant statement of interest."
The report from city planners makes a similar point. Setting aside the funds, the report states, "signals the Council's conceptual support for a teacher housing project and may encourage other partners to similarly reserve funds."