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VIDEO: City Council candidates weigh in on housing

Five contenders share views on one of the city's most pivotal issues

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This year's five contenders for the Palo Alto City Council explain their positions on housing in the city in individual endorsement interviews at the Palo Alto Weekly.

Pat Boone emphasized the need to revise the city's renters protections, such as relocation assistance and early notification for those facing eviction. Alison Cormack found promise in the growth of accessory-dwelling units, which have been popping up at a faster pace than in the city's recent history. If Boone and Cormack are elected, they would both be newcomers to the council that will see its number of seats reduce from nine to seven after the general election.

Incumbents Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth and Cory Wolbach pointed to past council discussions in describing their stances on housing. For DuBois, affordable housing is defined as below-market-rate housing. He has taken a moderate, get-it-done approach on housing issues as a councilman. Filseth sees raising impact fees as the way to address the region's housing and transportation problems. Wolbach, who believes the jobs-to-housing imbalance is due to the skyrocketing costs of housing, has been a proponent of both market- and below-market-rate housing.

The five candidates are seeking three open seats on the council this Tuesday.

For complete 2018 election information, check out the Palo Alto voters' guide.

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Comments

36 people like this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 4, 2018 at 3:08 pm

StarSpring is a registered user.

We need to reduce the cost of housing by reducing demand. Create a -negative- office cap and start paring away corporate footprint in our City. Has anyone looked at the canyon San Antonio is becoming? Simply making Palo Alto an unattractive and unhealthy place to live solves nothing.

Start by not voting for anyone who want to raise the office cap and find a way to remove the City Manager or make that position answerable to us, the residents.


26 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 4, 2018 at 3:13 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Reducing demand seems way better than Stanford University creating ghost houses and taking houses off the tax rolls, esp. in Professorville WHILE expecting to get their massive expansion plans approved.

Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Alvin
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 5, 2018 at 7:26 am

Any candidate who supports "affordable housing" programs will not get my vote. Why force developers and market rate (or above market rate) buyers/renters to subsidize lower income renters/buyers - without compensation - when the real problem is zoning and NIMBYism that prevents the construction of new housing? If you want more "affordable" housing, then allow developers to increase the supply of housing, which will lower prices, by easing (or better, eliminating) the permit approval process.


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 5, 2018 at 9:34 am

Opinion piece today in SFC - "Curse of the reluctant metropolis" by an "urban planner". All kinds of advice as to how we can all turn our city and the peninsula into a giant metropolis vs urban locations. I love all of these "experts" who have been paid to conjure big plans for our region. Reality is that the city of SF has major issues with empty and decrepit buildings that are stacked all over the city with the city making no improvements within the area that they control. So they cannot control the city and want to push those problems down the peninsula. And yes we have empty buildings sitting around with "for lease" signs on them then on both sides of 101 - how and why are unused commercial spaces allowed to sit there? That says that there are many locations on the peninsula that are owned by someone/corporations that are making no attempt make all properties useful. Those can be made into housing. The other problem is urban planners who side step land already owned by the city, county, state, federal government and build on that land. they are more inteerested in taking residential areas of single family homes and converting them into corporate owned housing. A bottom lime should be to iodentify the land already owned by some government agency and build on that.


25 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2018 at 10:02 am

Who is "against housing"? A motherhood-and-apple-pie issue. But, there is no feasible way for Palo Alto to restore the jobs/housing balance right here. We are going to be severely imbalanced for the foreseeable future. Lets stop building new office space, and mitigate the effects of the office space we have with smart public transportation that people actually use.


34 people like this
Posted by "Crisis"?
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 5, 2018 at 10:35 am

We have a "housing crisis" in the same way I have a "Lamborghini crisis." I can't afford one, so someone else should be forced to let me use theirs.

There's nothing we can do to prevent the whole overpopulated world from wanting to move here. The best we can do is to preserve our culture and quality of life through stringent zoning enforcement, and encourage other regions to build their own Silicon Valleys.


19 people like this
Posted by Prop 13 is at the root of our housing problem.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 5, 2018 at 11:09 am

Prop 13 is at the root of our housing problem. is a registered user.

Prop 13 is the problem.--Longstanding corporate property owners can afford to sit on properties they've owned for decades. Their mortgages are paid off and they pay next to nothing in taxes. Mountain View property owners in the San Antonio shopping center area sat on their vacant and underused land until the city agreed to allow them to build maximum density with minimum mitigations. Why? Because they could afford to. It costs very little for them to wait. The same thing goes on in Palo Alto and SF. Prop 13 gives older corporations and long-standing property owners enormous leverage over cities in development negotiations.

Prop 13 benefits the longest standing owners most. That is corporate landholders--because corporate property doesn't turn over as frequently as homes. This includes small corporations and businesses, including hotels, in case you are wondering why a hotel tax is reasonable. (Vote Yes on Measure E.) It's why businesses don't pay their fair share any more.

Prop 13 is at the root of the problem. I am a senior who has owned a home here for over two decades, so I benefit from Prop 13, but I would vote to overturn it. Prop 13 is bad policy. It is ageist. There are better ways to protect people from property tax inflation--based on financial need.

Let's get an alternative on the ballot.


12 people like this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 5, 2018 at 11:24 am

StarSpring is a registered user.

@Prop 13 is at the root of our housing problem.

Yep. Another long term homeowner here who benefits from Prop 13. I could not afford to live in my own home if I had to pay what is not current property tax on the property. We need to (carefully) eliminate the (unintended) application of Prop 13 to businesses and also (carefully) apply property taxes more equally to all homeowners. We need to get rid of ADU zoning, which makes Palo Alto a building free-for-all and also impose a negative cap on office development. Other cities work just fine that way. YIMBY council members need to be voted out TOMORROW. The "City Council Canyon" that San Antonio has become should never be allowed to happen here again.


10 people like this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 5, 2018 at 11:27 am

StarSpring is a registered user.

@Alvin. Not all of us wan to live in Manhattan. We need to reduce housing prices by reducing demand from corporate employees so that our local food service workers, Public health and safety workers, Teachers, etc. can all live together in a COMMUNITY. Screw the YIMBYs who don't care about community, only developers, corporations, and profits.


18 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 5, 2018 at 11:47 am

Annette is a registered user.

I think it disingenuous for housing advocates to talk about housing as though it is likely and I welcome a credible explanation about how we can add affordable or even relatively affordable housing in Palo Alto. While promoting housing is a winning sound bite, moving from talk to action is proving problematic and increasingly improbable. As Jeff Brown pointed out in his 10/26 Guest Opinion, our housing conundrum is not new. If we were sincere about addressing the shortage we would be progressing on that front by now. What we have been sincere about is business development.

I doubt Palo Alto or any public entity has the money to acquire land here and construct housing, particularly the volume needed to move the needle on the jobs:housing imbalance. And developers cannot be expected to voluntarily accept a significantly lower ROI than what the market allows.
Therein lies the rub. Our Council (the majority, that is) has successfully nurtured a business environment in which office buildings sell for more than $2,000/sf. The impact of that trickles down to everything. Even Palo Alto cannot on the one hand nurture high-end commercial development and on the other expect affordable housing to happen here. It's unrealistic. And the problem was not caused by advocates of slow or smart growth.

I think it is time for straight talk about what is possible and what is likely. I also think it is time for everyone who is frustrated and concerned about housing to actively encourage businesses to create new meccas where growth - particularly housing - is needed and achievable. As is, we are creating housing insecurity and homelessness. This may be an unintended consequence of local prosperity, but it is undeniable and sadly true.


2 people like this
Posted by @StarSpring
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2018 at 12:16 pm

You can either build more housing on your terms or the state is going to come in and do it for you. Millennials shouldn't have to bear the financial burden of the housing crisis while your property values keep increasing. Maybe Prop 13 should be rescinded in cities with large jobs to housing imbalances.


5 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 5, 2018 at 2:14 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Oh, here I go again. I can't help it. I didn't want to and I don't like having to do so, but I'm forced/dragged by comments into getting into this discussion once more.

@StarSpring...Thank you for your observation of the travesty happening on San Antonio Rd in Mt. View. All due to the property owners, developers, and this new generation of urban planners. Beware PA residents and voters...lest you think this same thing couldn't happen in our once beautiful town. With the wrong people in control, including our CC members, this could happen in our town.

@Prop 13 is at the root of our housing problem...

And all other evils, right? lol! Maybe it's okay to vent about long term business owners, but the homeowners issue is a different matter altogether. I have lengthy discussions on this issue with my twin sons when they visit. They couldn't afford to live here or buy a home in PA, even if they were offered a good paying job here, back in 1986 right after they graduated from UC schools, Santa Barbara and Davis. They still can't afford to live here although they have had successful careers and are financially comfortable where they live, one in Marina and the other in South San Jose.

Yes, I am the biggest benefactor of Prop 13 because I have lived here so long and my home mortgage was paid off 15 years ago. So what do you 'repeal Prop 13' folks want to do with me? Will you just say, "tough old man, you've gotta go and make way for the new generation" without even thanking me for my many years of service, contributing to the community in many ways, including volunteering to help the homeless and poor, through the Hotel de Zink and South Palo Food Closet programs, just to name a couple.

And I tell my sons to be patient and just wait. This problem will be over and gone in a few years and there should be nothing to complain about once all us original benefactors of Prop 13 have passed on.

But I pause...and ask...why won't the most recent home buyers complain about the 20 year old home owners who are paying much less in property taxes than they are? They will...and so the beat goes on...and on...and on.


2 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 5, 2018 at 3:40 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Gale Johnson: thank you for your comments - and your contributions. When I read the comments about the unfairness of Prop 13 I wonder if owning a home here is worth being 45 or more years older and having a salary history that reflects that? Houses that were purchased decades ago cost less than houses now, but buying power was also much lower. I get that people who have owned a home here for decades have seen their home increase more than they likely ever imagined it could or would, but that does not make those Boomers or their predecessors responsible for the housing shortage.


Like this comment
Posted by @Gale Johnson
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2018 at 3:49 pm

If you're going to block housing from getting built and contribute to the rise in housing costs, you shouldn't be completely detached from the financial implications of that. If prices keep going up because no new housing gets built and eventually it's too expensive for you to live where you currently do, then welcome to what everyone else is already dealing with.


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 5, 2018 at 3:54 pm

I think homeowners are turning over their homes on a fairly regular basis if the ads in the papers are any indication. And seniors are choosing to sell and move into retirement homes. I don't think homeowners are the problem despite what the real estate people want to say. The problem is the commercial businesses and corporate owned residential businesses who have the same rate they started with plus the 2% a year. One auto repair business in MV moved because the lease rate went up but there was only a projected two year life for the property. Another auto repair owns the property has minimal property tax and they will not be able to wedge that company out until the owners want to sell for a big amount due to location.
My guess is that all of those buildings on Bayshore west and east that are always for lease are paid off and the owners are not going to sell until some "big payoff" shows up. So they sit there "for lease" while we all argue about where there is available land for building more housing. And what is worse if they sit there with no one inside the whole internal layout starts to deteriorate. Same in SF the city - broken down buildings squatting on the street with signs glued all over them. There has to be some mechanism that can force owners to either upgrade their property to a useful purpose or be forced to sell to someone else who will. The space for more housing is there but no mechanism to make it available for housing. So the R-1 homeowner is the first point of "weakness" in the system - go after that person? too hard to take on the corporation that owns the empty buildings?


13 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 5, 2018 at 4:26 pm

Once again, the best data available indicates that even a large increase in the number of homes will not make our region appreciably more affordable. For example, economists estimate that a 20% increase in housing stock will bring down prices only 10%, see Web Link

And there is no amount of magical thinking that will solve our transportation problems. Our leaders are struggling mightily to find workable solutions for the Caltrain grade separations. Where would we put -- and how would we pay for -- any additional mass public transport?

The *only* idea that makes sense is to revise the zoning code to encourage conversion of office space to housing as this would work on the supply and demand sides of the imbalance simultaneously while controlling population growth.


3 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2018 at 4:37 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Relief may be in sight:

Web Link

I signed a petition to put a proposition on the ballot in 2020 to have commercial property owners pay a higher tax rate. This proposition qualified for the 2020 election. Prop. 13 was sold as helping seniors; who it mostly has helped are commercial property owners who can afford to leave buildings empty as *resident* points out.


7 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 5, 2018 at 4:46 pm

Anecdotally...

My neighbor's dog stayed with me the last two weeks of October. Since he's a young and energetic little fellow, we took four walks a day around my neighborhood, Downtown North. Primarily this means Everett, Hawthorne, and Palo Alto Avenues plus all the cross streets.

What I learned is that we have many, many multi-unit dwellings just in this little corner of Palo Alto, and many of them have "For Rent" signs displayed.

In fact, just now, Craig's List has 292 places listed in Palo Alto under apartments/housing for rent. While they vary in size and cost, it certainly seems like there are plenty of feasible options for the tech "workforce" and those earning similar incomes.


Like this comment
Posted by @Arbitrarian
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2018 at 5:27 pm

Posts like these show how out of touch older homeowning segments of the population are as to what the housing crisis actually is. They look around and go "I see a for rent sign over there!" or "they're already building stuff on San Antonio" and then feel perfectly content to declare the problem solved while everyone else stuffing themselves into single family homes turned into dormitories and shared apartments with a bed in the living room keep struggling under ever increasing Bay Area housing costs.


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