News

First affordable-housing project in seven years wins approval

City Council supports 59-unit development on El Camino Real

Palo Alto reached a rare milestone in its effort to encourage more housing on Monday night when the City Council approved the city's first development for low-income residents in more than seven years.

By a 6-0 vote, with Councilwoman Liz Kniss absent, the council threw its enthusiastic support behind a 59-unit proposal from the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing for low-income residents and adults with disabilities. The council's resounding approval will allow the developer to pursue its first Palo Alto project since 2013, when voters overturned the zoning for its approved development on Maybell Avenue in a referendum.

The new development will be located at 3705 El Camino Real, in the Ventura neighborhood, and will include at least 21 apartments for adults with developmental disabilities. It will also include 41 parking spaces and a community room that will be open to the broader Ventura neighborhood.

By approving the project, the council moved to address one of its biggest priorities for the past two years: A housing shortage that members believe has reached a crisis level. But despite acknowledging the problem, the city has been slow to address it. Last year, the council had set as its goal the production of 300 housing units annually. It only approved one multifamily project: a 57-unit "car-light" development geared toward the local workforce at 2755 El Camino Real.

While that car-light development focused on the "missing middle" — those whose incomes are too high to qualify them for below-market-rate housing but too low to allow them to afford market rates — the Palo Alto Housing development focuses on those at the lower end of the income scale. Fifty-eight units will be devoted to residents making between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income, between $28,000 and $55,000 for a one-person household (the only unit that isn't is designated for below-market-rate is the manager's apartment).

Sheryl Klein, chair of the Palo Alto Housing board of directors, said the organization is "passionate about keeping the community diverse." The nonprofit currently has 650 units throughout the city that house about 2,000 residents, she said. It also has about 3,000 people on its waiting list.

"You know that stable housing allows people to thrive," Klein said. "This project will allow 59 households to strive in the community. It's a great way to start the new year."

The council planted the seeds for the project known as Wilton Court last year when it created a new "affordable housing overlay" that relaxes zoning restrictions for affordable-housing projects in commercial corridors. The Palo Alto Housing development is the first project submit an application under the new zone.

But while the new zoning district helped make the project feasible, it was the nonprofit's leadership team who made it popular and politically possible. Despite initial misgivings about the development's height, density and traffic impacts, residents of the Ventura neighborhood on Monday rallied behind the project. Many credited the development team for listening and constructively responding to their concerns.

Becky Sanders, moderator of the Ventura Neighborhood Association, was among them. She said neighbors were concerned at first about the new project becoming a "big industrial shoebox" that infringes on the daylight plane of neighboring properties. The architect responded by reducing the massing at the top two stories in the back of the property.

Sanders thanked Palo Alto Housing's recently hired CEO Randy Tsuda, Klein and Palo Alto's planning staff for getting to a compromise.

"It's going to be real homes with lovely amenities — an outstanding home for residents," Sanders said.

Nicole Ventre, whose building is just behind the project site, had some reservations about the proposed four-story project, which she called a "very dense building for such a busy corner." Ventre said that once the building goes up, she and her tenants would get no direct sunlight during a good portion of the year.

"I highly implore you to drop the building by one story, to three stories," she said.

But almost every other speaker focused on the project's benefits. This included several residents whose family members have disabilities. Leora Ross talked about her sister, who had a traumatic injury as a baby that left her with a disability.

"She'd love a place to live on her own with the support she needs," Ross said. "When we talk about 59 units, we're really talking about 59 people like my sister whose lives would be completely changed with this."

Noah Fiedel, a Wilton Avenue resident who represented his neighborhood in discussions with Palo Alto Housing, told the council that he didn't initially expect to be backing the project. On Monday, however, he said he was "excited" to support it and called the nonprofit's leaders "incredibly collaborative" and "very flexible" in making sure the project works for neighbors.

Former Mayor Pat Burt, who was on the council during the 2013 controversy over the Maybell development, also praised the approach of Palo Alto Housing in pursuing the project and winning over the neighbors.

"The Ventura neighborhood and their leadership have shown that they are sincere — that they truly value diversity in the community and want to support it and are willing to accept certain trade-offs to achieve that," Burt said. "The willingness to listen to them and respond to them has just been a breath of fresh air and really bodes well for these projects going forward."

Given the broad community support, the council wasted little time in moving the project forward. Vice Mayor Adrian Fine, a housing advocate whose November 2017 memo prompted a broad revision of the city's zoning code to encourage more housing, made the motion to approve the Palo Alto Housing proposal, calling it a "great project."

Councilwoman Alison Cormack concurred.

"There were many people who made it easy for us to say yes this evening," Cormack said.

Despite broad support, council members agreed to add a few conditions to ensure that the project's parking and traffic impacts would be properly addressed. Councilman Tom DuBois added a clause directing staff to evaluate a Residential Preferential Parking program in the neighborhood and Councilwoman Lydia Kou insisted that the approval include a direction to staff to conduct a "comprehensive traffic study" for Ventura — an idea that many in the neighborhood had clamored for.

Those cavils aside, the council agreed that the project is well worthy of support. Mayor Eric Filseth called it "a model for how these things are going to be done."

"What you've done is going to benefit everyone in Palo Alto, in Ventura and all the other neighborhoods," Filseth said.

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Comments

33 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 14, 2019 at 11:30 pm

Congratulations. I am thrilled to hear that all units will be for low income residents and that so many are designated for residents with developmental disabilities. This will no doubt be followed by community-building and support services at the site. I am glad to hear of the collaboration and compromises to get to win-win.

This says it all:
"Noah Fiedel, a Wilton Avenue resident who represented his neighborhood in discussions with Palo Alto Housing, told the council that he didn’t initially expect to be backing the project. On Monday, however, he said he was “excited” to support it and called the nonprofit’s leaders “incredibly collaborative” and “very flexible” in making sure the project works for neighbors. "

What a change from before. I hope this project changes a lot of lives for the better.


21 people like this
Posted by all-aboard
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 15, 2019 at 1:26 am

"3,000 people on its waiting list" -- so will local Palo Altans get priority on these 59 units, or is it a lottery among everyone in the State? I think it was asked but unsure whether I heard any clarification at the council meeting.


48 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 15, 2019 at 10:17 am

Good outcome.
Thank you to Council member Kou who added a list of simple but important amendments to ensure that the final project will not be different from the expectations created by application at the time of approval.
Especially important after the 429 university “situation”.

Thank you Ms. Kou!


57 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 15, 2019 at 10:47 am

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

Typical Liberal Progressive manipulation of language. Rather than "Car Light", it should be called "Parking Light" or "Traffic Heavy".

Ventura is already the most diverse neighborhood in Palo Alto. It doesn't need to "accept certain trade-offs to achieve that". Rather, it is being intentionally targeted for exploitation by a half a dozen developments so that other less diverse parts of Palo Alto can protect their way of life while insulating themselves from the repercussions of their politically correct policies.

If, as the Mayor says, these types of developments benefit all neighborhoods should we not expect the next one of these projects to go into Crescent Park or Old Palo Alto? Otherwise, this trend is simply a form of residential colonialism. Even the houses have high fences, big lots and columns on their porches. When driving down the streets, the symbolism is inescapable.

Perhaps, it is time for others to put their virtue signalling where their mouth is and do their part to increase diversity and "lighten" traffic in their neighborhoods too.


17 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2019 at 11:14 am

[Portion removed.]

>> Ventura is already the most diverse neighborhood in Palo Alto. It doesn't need to "accept certain trade-offs to achieve that". Rather, it is being intentionally targeted for exploitation by a half a dozen developments so that other less diverse parts of Palo Alto can protect their way of life while insulating themselves from the repercussions of their ... policies.

>> If, as the Mayor says, these types of developments benefit all neighborhoods ...

You are making a number of errors regarding what forces are at work here. Why do you think that an RWA plutocracy will treat you any better than a socially-liberal plutocracy? The problem is the self-serving plutocratic decision making process. Self-serving Developers, regardless of where they stand on your socially-conservative hot-button issues.


11 people like this
Posted by ParkingLite
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 15, 2019 at 12:26 pm

Replace car parking and include a white and yellow striped loading/unloading zone, day parking for In Home Supportive Services/Social Workers, plenty of covered bike lock up storage - and room/big enough for bike trailers. Make it truly ADA accessible - automatic door openings, reachable cupboards, washer and dryers. Also please design the apartments with good efficient kitchen, bathroom, hallway storage like deep sturdy drawers. Don't cheap out on this like Stanford, Segue Construction and Related California with Mayfield Place. EVERYTHING breaks and falls apart in the apartments: dishwashers, microwaves, refrigerators - including drawer fronts falling off hinges. It's not built for families, to last and is even at times, poses danger. Only 7 washers and dryers for 71 1,2, 3 bedroom apartments and 150-170 residents. It's reasonable to ask for a reliable, livable, affordable space so all can do-exist with safety, comfort and ease. Housing must be built to be permanent not temporary or a quick fix. Poverty is forever, wealth only temporary - crunch the numbers.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2019 at 1:13 pm

And the parking and traffic issues...


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 15, 2019 at 3:54 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

A great and civil CC meeting to watch. Our new mayor and council members shined last night. A good, respectful, and hopefully a great start to a new year that offers many challenges. I think our new council member, Ms Cormack, will work out very well. She appears to be humble, respectful, and willing to learn.


5 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 15, 2019 at 4:37 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 15, 2019 at 5:40 pm

> A great and civil CC meeting to watch.

I agree. Don't know it if was the lack of Liz Kniss, or that Eric Filseth is just better at running the Council meeting. Although we don't agree with the size and location of the project, City Council did a terrific job last night bringing this effort to closure.


14 people like this
Posted by Lets delay
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 15, 2019 at 6:13 pm

Bill- it was the lack of karen Holman. She would have argued to either oppose the project or delay a decision


17 people like this
Posted by Facts Matter
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 15, 2019 at 6:40 pm

Holman opposed most office development, but was a strong supporter of affordable housing and retail, including having been a key backer of the Maybell project.
The main reason the approval went so smoothly last night was that the new leadership of Palo Alto Housing really engaged with and responded to specific concerns of the neighbors so that the neighborhood enthusiastically supported the project.


9 people like this
Posted by Right on! And Really?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 15, 2019 at 7:58 pm

@Facts Matter, thank you for correcting the fake news. You are also right that it is the new leadership at PAH, especially Sheryl Klein who is humble and patient. [Portion removed.] Sheryl Klein made Wilton Ct happen, not even that Randy guy, who replaced Candice Gonzalez.

[Portion removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 15, 2019 at 8:16 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Finally...an article that that uses, properly, the true meaning of affordable housing...not the mumbo jumbo stuff...120% AMI.


14 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 15, 2019 at 8:45 pm

Glad to hear the additional comments in support of the new director of PAHC and how they handled things. In contrast to the above, what I saw at Maybell was many people in the neighborhood who went into it expecting to support it and who ended up being against it because of how arrogant, untrustworthy, and unwilling to work with people the PAHC leadership were. But I think in that case, the City was trying to use the affordable housing to zone bust a residential neighborhood -- in this case, the project is maybe a little too big, but it's on El Camino, they were willing to work with residents, and most importantly, there is no Trojan Horse, it is what it is. I do hope there is a way to ensure the needs of people in Palo Alto are met first, so that people with developmental disabilities who live here and know this place can live in the community they already know.

I also, hope against hope, that this project going in here will mean there is some willingness at the nearby Fry's site to create community space instead of just paving it over for transient entry level workers. I would actually hope for more units there for people with developmental disabilities, and community-building and recreation space at Fry's. A little parity with the other side of town, such as a community pool would make sense, although Sanctimonious (despite the politicization) does have a point that people in the North tend to treat Palo Alto like the South is some kind of outback not deserving of the amenities, that it can treat as a junk drawer for all the things they don't want near them.

I wish Mayor Filseth would remember his calculation of the open space the City owes us, and really, should be creating on the SOUTH side of town, given where the biggest development impacts have been.


4 people like this
Posted by As long as it's not in Barron Park
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 16, 2019 at 8:52 am

Let's be clear. This was supported by PASZ and the 3 Council members (Kou, Dubois, and Filseth) because the project site is not in Barron Park like Maybell was. We are in the Wilton area and did not see the leadership make any substantive changes to the project. It was the same project presented by the old leadership last summer with really no changes except maybe color. Adults with developmental delays were always included, no changes to height or # of units or massing. I don't see the compromises except that it's in Ventura and not Barron Park. Keep it real.


9 people like this
Posted by Stop the insults
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2019 at 9:02 am

I used to work for Candice Gonzalez when she was at PAHC. She is humble, compassionate, and kind and was unfairly attacked during Maybell for wanting to build low income senior housing. I'm glad that Wilton was approved but I don't think the new leadership should get all the credit for a project they inherited. Candice came up with the project including wanting to house adults with developmental disabilities. There were very little changes to the project made since she left PAHC just a few months ago. I agree with other post that it was supported to make up for killing Maybell and it is not in Barron. We can celebrate wins without attacking people trying to do good work.


9 people like this
Posted by Extra Point
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 16, 2019 at 9:23 am

Pleased to see this project win approval which is the ultimate reward for a collaborative amount of hard work. The project had been in process for quite some time while PAH was under the leadership of Candice Gonzalez. She scored the TD here while the board members, randy and others that are being lauded got to chip the extra point.[Portion removed.] Did anyone read the bio on her in the Mercury News and understand her background more? She is a housing champion. Nice win for PAH, Palo Alto and people who need housing!


13 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 16, 2019 at 2:23 pm

[Portion removed.]

You are maligning PASZ for no reason also. Buena Vista is in Barron Park, and there was strong support in PASZ for saving BV, including that leaders in PASZ and the Maybell referendum felt more motivated to win at Maybell because if Maybell were upzoned, it was understood that there would be no way the developer at BV would have left (as they did right after the referendum results) or that residents could have worked out a deal to save the park. That was the gist of conversations even as residents were falsely excoriated (and still are) by people like you.

The fact is that residents tried hard in many ways prior to the referendum to get the City and PAHC to work with them, and the way things were handled by PAHC and the City throughout was thoroughly untrustworthy. [Portion removed.]

As for this not being in "Barron Park" - this is the same side of town, right across from Barron Park, which is so linked to Greenacres, to this day no one is really clear where one ends and the other begins for a whole chunk of it. [Portion removed.] I think most people over here are very glad to see how things changed, and supportive of an all-low-income place to live for people with developmental disabilities.


2 people like this
Posted by Latitude 38
a resident of another community
on Jan 16, 2019 at 2:34 pm

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Katie
a resident of Addison School
on Jan 17, 2019 at 10:37 am

I heard Marissa Mayer might donate the funeral home property for affordable teacher housing. Is that true? That would be a perfect location.


6 people like this
Posted by New affordable housing...very good news.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 17, 2019 at 2:02 pm

New affordable housing...very good news. is a registered user.

This is good news. We need more new affordable housing--especially now that we have lost the Presidents Hotel. We need to offset that very sad loss. I will never book a room for guests at that hotel. Their behavior was awful through the entire process.


7 people like this
Posted by Grateful Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 17, 2019 at 8:36 pm

As a parent with a child with a developmental disability, I met Candice Gonzalez several times over the last 3-4 years as she spoke to us about Wilton Court and trying to house adults with DDs there. She was compassionate and this was her passion project (she has a special needs child too). We saw her work hard on the affordability housing code over 1-2 yearsthat made this ultimately happen since the city used Wilton as the model project. While Randy will do great things, it takes more than 1 or 2 months to get a project done. Candice passed on a great project and we thank her. The project that got approved was almost almost identical to the version she shared with some parents last year. Hopefully it’s just a more accepting time.

As for the Maybell zone busting comment, the senior project was only something like 30 units/acre. Wilton is over 100+ units/acre. Only difference is that it’s not in BP or people have post Maybell guilt. I say this as a BP resident wishing the senior project happened.


10 people like this
Posted by Remembering
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2019 at 1:12 pm

Candice Gonzalez may have been a great person but she has gone to work for major developer Peter Pau at Sand Hill Properties. No way to wash that away.

Sand Hill is the developer of Edgewood Plaza where they violated their agreement many times. Now they are trying to get out of the fines they owe.
Sand Hill owns shopping centers in, I believe, Cupertino.

Also, if I remember correctly the developer of the private homes at Maybell was/is her husband.


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