News

When it comes to housing bill, neighboring cities see things differently

In a rare summit, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park city councils voice hopes, anxieties over Senate Bill 50

With a range of housing bills now sweeping through Sacramento, elected leaders from Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto met in a rare summit Monday night to swap ideas and share concerns about the shifting political landscape and its implications for local zoning.

Though the unprecedented joint session didn't revolve around any particular bill, most of the council members and many of the residents who attended the meeting focused their comments on Senate Bill 50, the most ambitious of the roughly 200 housing bills now moving through the state Legislature.

Members of the three city councils did not reach any consensus about the bill, which was variously described as an attack on local control and a much-needed — if somewhat flawed — attempt to address a problem that has reached crisis levels.

The only thing they agreed on is that each community would benefit from greater collaboration and, if possible, coordination in addressing the regional housing shortage.

The discussion underscored the highly contentious and polarizing nature of the bill, which seeks to create denser housing near transportation hubs by allowing three- and four-story buildings near rail stations, ferry terminals and high-service bus lines. Authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, the bill was revised on April 24 and, unlike its prior iteration, now distinguishes between counties with populations that have more than 600,000 residents and those that have less.

The revised SB 50, which is a mashup of Wiener's initial bill and state Sen. Mike McGuire's proposed legislation (formerly known as SB 4), received a boost on April 24, when the Senate Finance and Government Committee voted to advance it. But even with the revisions, the bill found a mixed reception among many Midpeninsula council members. Palo Alto council members (with the exception of Vice Mayor Adrian Fine) continue to oppose it, framing it as a "one-size-fits-all" approach to zoning and an affront to local control.

"Local control is really fundamental to our democracy," said Palo Alto City Councilman Tom DuBois, who last month successfully encouraged his colleagues to endorse a letter that explicitly opposes "one-size-fits-all" legislation, a veiled reference to SB 50.

Palo Alto City Councilwoman Lydia Kou, also a staunch opponent of the bill, also took aim on Monday at SB 330, a proposal by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, which would streamline the approval process for housing developments and fine cities that fail to approve residential projects that meet objective zoning standards. Kou called the bill "intense" and "obnoxious."

"It really imposes its will on the city without looking at ... whether its infrastructure can take it or not," Kou said.

While Palo Alto council members spent much of the meeting criticizing Sacramento's proposed solutions, their counterparts in East Palo Alto emphasized the scope of the housing problem and their measured support for SB 50.

East Palo Alto Councilman Larry Moody challenged cities that oppose the proposed legislation to offer their own plans to address the humanitarian crisis, as evidenced by people living in RVs and sleeping under bridges and highways. The scope of the problem, he argued, creates an imperative for city leaders to take strong action.

"If they're not going to be supporting SB 50, tell us what you're doing. What's the plan in Menlo Park? What's the plan in Burlingame? What's the plan in San Carlos?" Moody asked. "East Palo Alto can't be the dormitory of the tech industry and for the job growth taking place. We can't and we shouldn't have to be the only city that has an active strategy around affordable housing."

Opponents of SB 50 in Palo Alto and elsewhere have consistently called for tighter restrictions on commercial development, which they view as the root cause of the housing crisis. East Palo Alto council members had a vastly different take. The city has massive traffic problems, though as Moody noted, many of the cars passing through the city are commuters heading to jobs in Menlo Park, home to Facebook, or Palo Alto, which has Santa Clara County's highest ratio of jobs to employed residents.

"You have the jobs; we don't have the jobs in our community," Moody said. "We're trying to build our economic strand for the first time in a long time."

East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier acknowledged Palo Alto's concerns about "local control" but reserved her sympathy for residents who have to drive from Modesto or Tracy to get to work in the Midpeninsula or to young people who get priced out from the cities where they grew up.

"There has to be a regional approach to this, and we're trying to figure this out," Gauthier said.

East Palo Alto Vice Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones also pushed back against the common perception that tech workers are the cause of the housing problem. Wallace-Jones, a former Facebook employee who now works at eBay, said even young people tech industry are looking to leave the area.

"For average tech workers, they're also saying, 'I can't wait until I vest in four years, go some place and buy a house and build my family," Wallace-Jones said.

Both Wallace-Jones and East Palo Alto Councilman Ruben Abrica urged opponents of SB 50 to propose alternative solutions. Rather than fight the state, Abrica said, cities should make suggestions to the Legislature to address the problem.

"Housing will continue to be a top issue in our state," Abrica said. "Why? Millions of people ... cannot afford a place to live. It's just an undeniable fact."

While Palo Alto is leaning against SB 50 and East Palo Alto is rallying to its banner, Menlo Park remains by and large agnostic. Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor said the council will be discussing SB 50 independently and that the council does not have a unified voice on the legislation.

Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller last month came out against the bill in an opinion piece in the Palo Alto Daily Post, calling the legislation "a misguided precedent-setting centralization of power in the state that weakens the foundation of local representative government and devalues the voices of its electorate."

His colleagues, however, have largely refrained from publicly taking any positions on the bill.

That continued Monday night. Mueller did not attend the Monday meeting (he listened by phone but did not speak); Councilwoman Catherine Carlton was absent; Councilwoman Betsy Nash attended but didn't make remarks; and Councilman Drew Combs limited his comments to questions about the bill and its likely passage.

Taylor didn't offer a position on the bill but said she believes one of the reasons SB 50 exists is because cities have not done a good job in entering into development agreements with employers that address some of the impacts caused by commercial projects. Each city, she said, should adopt an "all-inclusive policy" that requires local hiring and contributions toward improving transportation and education.

She noted that the constituents in her district, Belle Haven, have trouble getting out of the city and getting home because of all the traffic. Schools, she added, are underperforming.

"I believe SB 50 exists because we didn't take care of our own city," Taylor said.

Residents were similarly split over SB 50, with some calling it a critical solution and others framing it as a state takeover of local powers. Menlo Park resident Judy Adams was among the former.

"We have to build up; we're running out of land," Adams said. "If the cities had done their jobs and built low-income affordable housing, it wouldn't be necessary for the state to step in and ask us to in conscience provide more low-income housing."

But Palo Alto resident Greer Stone called SB 50 an attack on single-family neighborhoods. He characterized it as "trickle-down framework" for housing that will spur the construction of market-rate housing. In a city like Palo Alto, this basically means "luxury housing" that would be unaffordable to nurses, teachers and public employees. (SB 50 does, however, requires housing developments with 20 or more units to designate a percentage of these units to below-market-rate housing. The percentage varies based on the income-eligibility level.)

"SB 50 is not a panacea for our housing crisis. Rather, it's a Trojan horse for development interests," Stone said.

Related content:

• Behind the Headlines: State bills on housing - April 5 VIDEO | PODCAST

Three California bills aimed at creating housing opportunities -- AB 302, SB 4 and SB 50 -- are discussed by Palo Alto Weekly journalists.

• Behind the Headlines: Debate over SB 50 - March 29 VIDEO | PODCAST

Palo Alto Vice Mayor Adrian Fine and Greer Stone, vice chair of the Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission, join Weekly journalists for a discussion of state Senate Bill 50, a contentious legislative proposal that seeks to increase housing construction in transit-friendly and jobs-rich areas.

• Behind the Headlines: Mayor pushes back on SB 50 - March 8 VIDEO | PODCAST

Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth discusses with the Weekly his concerns with Senate Bill 50, which aims to boost California's housing stock, and his own ideas for addressing the state's housing shortage.

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Comments

107 people like this
Posted by SB50 is a Fraud
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 7, 2019 at 2:23 am

SB50 isn't going to help homeless and low-income people one iota. That's why groups representing those populations are in strong opposition.

Exiting housing is always the most affordable. SB50 will not preserve existing housing. It doesn't truly protect renters. And it will create little to no new low-income housing. It instead encourages developers to raze existing homes and build luxury condominiums in high-income communities, as that earns them the most profit. That's happening already in Palo Alto and SB 50 will make it far worse.

Please spread the word that SB50 is pure snake-oil being hawked by developers angling to profiteer even more from the housing imbalance they created. We instead need to stop the incessant overbuilding of offices and use that land for affordable housing.


71 people like this
Posted by Bad for All
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2019 at 8:10 am

It was great to have all 3 cities together. Thanks Mayor Filseth for hosting. I wish the meeting had been structured with some free discussion time among the Council members - a half hour more?

The confusion by some Council members about SB50 is unfortunate - it will only build a pittance of affordable housing and it’s so-called protections from displacement for renters are unenforceable for nearly all cities. It won’t make our housing or homeless situation better for any of our 3 towns.

Fact - SB50 is about building market rate housing, by definition, unaffordable to all but people with a lot of money.

Fact - PA has met its RHNA goal to build market rate housing, unlike what one commenter said st the meeting. We don’t need the State to force more market rate housing on us.

Fact - EPA isn’t the only town with a whole lot of RV dwellers on city streets. PA and MV also do. I hope PA will soon find a good safe place on city land for these folks to Park.

Fact - Building market rate housing doesn’t trickle down to have a benefit on moderate and low income housing. A recent Stanford researcher’s study shows (wish I had the link to it) that housing economics are stratified. All boats don’t rise. Market rate housing only effects slightly lesser priced market rate housing, and not moderate or low at all.

That EPA is overwhelmed with everyone’s traffic is awful but not new. I’d be angry too about the bad and possibly racist planning decisions that were made before EPA was incorporated that left It everyone’s commute route. But I don’t know how to remedy that - can the cross bay railroad help?

Have you actually read SB50 ? I have. It’s bad for renters and homeowners alike.









34 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2019 at 8:23 am

The best way to address the lack of affordable housing in Silicon Valley is to improve public transport. Bringing people in from less expensive areas by efficient bus and train services will make it easier to live on the Coast, in Gilroy, etc. and commute in faster than one can drive. Google can do it, so follow their lead.

Instead of pushing effort into building a concrete jungle, it would be so much better if governments put pressure on Caltrain and other people moving services to get routes to Gilroy, HMB, etc.


61 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2019 at 8:31 am

At some level you have to admire the purity of cynicism of SB50 and its backers. Every spoken word is about “housing near transit” and “affordability,” just the written bill is different.

“Housing near transit” sounds good, except the vague “jobs rich” clause effectively rezones most of silicon valley whether it’s near transit or not, and most of it isn’t. “Near transit” is a fraction of the area covered.

“Affordability” is nonsense. No developer wants to build anything except expensive housing, which is what pays the most. You have to be a true faithful of “trickle down” to buy that one, and accept a lot of gentrification with it.

Even “housing” isn’t quite right, because the written definition allows up to 1/3 of the project area to be anything else, independent of any city zoning. In Palo Alto that presumably will end up as office space (jobs-housing, oops), but it could technically be anything, hazmat processing for example.

You would think if lawmakers thought SB50 was a good idea, they would want to bring it to their district. Instead the way Wiener got Marin County’s Mike McGuire on board was to exempt Marin County from it.

Behind all that “housing near transit” and “affordability” yada yada is a big handout to Wiener’s real estate backers, who make money from upzoning. Everywhere, not just near transit.

Trump famously repeated over and over to naive rust-belt voters that he’d bring their industrial jobs back. Of course he did no such thing, and everybody else got screwed too, while he gave a big tax windfall to the rich. There’s a parable in there somewhere.


64 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 7, 2019 at 8:35 am

Agree with the two posters above, SB 50 is 100% for developers and Big tech industry not residents and low income people. The cost of housing will go up, residents will be displaced, we will have lesss access to parks and schools and other ammenties and there will be a degradation of the environment for everyone.
The developers seem to want to suck every last whisper of profit out of our sitting and region....a scorched earth approach to zoning!

I agree that council majorities have been pro developer and allowed way to much office space and office density.
At the same time council minorities and residential groups have been working tirelessly to caution against that same growth and the jobs housing imbalance. So we were ignored ounce to the detriment of all with the exception of billionaire special interests groups. We run the risk of being ignored again we do not work together to fight theses bills.

After listening to thoughtful comments from elected leaders, I wonder why East Palo Alto is even considering a 1.4 million square office park at cooly landing on the bay !?!

Web Link

Don't believe the false claims by supporters of SB50 regarding housing choices! Wake up get involved! we need more people working together to oppose these bills !


16 people like this
Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on May 7, 2019 at 11:23 am

East Palo Alto fought to be an independent city and govern itself, now its elected leaders are inviting State control and with no funding for its infrastructure, education and real affordable housing (BMRs).

Did East Palo Alto come out ahead in this deal for its low-income needing affordable housing residents?

The largest owner of apartments in East Palo Alto is proposing to demolish 160 rent-controlled units and to replace them with 605 apartments, some of which would rent at market-rate, owner Sand Hill Property Company announced Wednesday.

The proposal at Woodland Park Communities would not cause the eviction of current residents, a rarity among developers, the company said. Sand Hill would designate 160 apartments in the new development as rent controlled, available first to the existing tenants, and would add 445 apartments for rent at market rates. Web Link

EPA didn't loose any BMR units but they certainly gained 455 market rate units. So what that all that talk about providing affordable dwellings?

Focus on improving our schools.


24 people like this
Posted by elephant in the room
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2019 at 12:04 pm

The overwhelming number of homes are bought by Asian multi millionaires. There seems to be an endless supply of Asian money.
So more construction will just give them more units to buy.

Great for developers!
Not great for ordinary people.


37 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 7, 2019 at 12:08 pm

Annette is a registered user.

One take-away from last night's meeting is that people on both sides of SB50 agree on this: local government has failed vis-à-vis housing. Palo Alto's failure is in the form of approving much too much unmitigated commercial development. What the heck our decision makers thought would happen is beyond me. This city cannot get ahead (or even move forward) on its housing deficit problem as long as the commercial tap remains on. Commercial developments that are not fully or nearly-fully mitigated with regards to housing and transportation should be put in a queue and given final approval only after we have reached certain reasonable benchmarks on the housing front.

As for State control, that's kind of a hoax; developer's will be driving this train. The State's main role in this is to simply tell cities like ours that they cannot have rules that make housing production difficult. Said differently, SB50 mandates that local government step aside and get out of the way. But there's no money attached to that mandate. I guess we are supposed to hope for the best; surely developers will provide adequate parking and not build with disregard for the neighborhoods that have long defined Palo Alto, and mitigate impacts on key infrastructure elements such as transportation, schools, hospitals, utilities . . .

I also wonder why anyone thinks state government is the answer to local problems. I struggle to identify an area in which government is doing a commendable job solving a major problem. We know the answer is not in the areas of health care or transportation or education. So why would anyone believe that the housing problem will improve if the state succeeds in pushing local government step aside?


6 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 7, 2019 at 12:15 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Apologies - missed a typo. Last sentence of above post should read " . . . pushing local governments aside".


4 people like this
Posted by M&M
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 7, 2019 at 12:36 pm

Perspectives, our city hasn't gained anything because the plan hasn't even gone before the council.


9 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on May 7, 2019 at 12:59 pm

The Palo Alto opponents of SB50 act obliviously to the reason their cherished local control is under attack.

They should read Larry Moody’s comments. Filseth, DuBois, and Kou should get out of their self-absorbed world and come up with real alternatives to SB50. There are good reasons for the state not to trust Palo Alto.


10 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 7, 2019 at 1:13 pm

Crescent Park Resident is a registered user.

@BadForAll:

"Fact - PA has met its RHNA goal to build market rate housing"

Why do you say that? What's your reference to say that? All I hear is that Palo Alto has a long way to go. Here's the latest RHNA allocations. The source is listed.
Palo Alto: very low: 691; Low: 432; Moderate: 278; Above Moderate: 587; Total: 1,988
Source: Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by RHNA
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 7, 2019 at 3:51 pm

RHNA is a registered user.

My understanding is that the city is obligated to identify and zone for a specified number of housing units. The RHNA number. Which number Palo Alto has met for a number of years.

However the city is neither a developer nor builder. It is up to those industries to take advantage and build the housing. But they don't because the astronomical price of land together with high construction costs makes the allowed alternative of commercial developments more attractive because it is more profitable.


33 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 7, 2019 at 4:02 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

Two local alternatives to SB 50 have been proposed many times: Require offsetting housing before issuing a permit to build new office space, and rezone Stanford Research Park to allow more housing than already exists there.

Affordable housing isn't profitable to build here, unless you subsidize it. Market-rate housing becomes unprofitable if you try to build enough of it to drive down the price, so once equilibrium is reached, building stops.

SB 50 would probably result in some expensive new apartments and condos, destruction of a few neighborhoods, and increased traffic and parking problems throughout the city. It wouldn't result in affordable housing.


11 people like this
Posted by revdreileen
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 7, 2019 at 4:10 pm

revdreileen is a registered user.

I'm thankful for our EPA council members and their advocacy for our needs and perspectives.


35 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 7, 2019 at 4:40 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

The cost of construction in Palo Alto has surpassed London and Tokyo and is at present the highest in the world. Building affordable housing is a fantasy. Developers are not in business to lose money, so they would charge extremely high prices for anything they build, so unless affordable housing is subsidized(where is the money going to come from?) the extremely highest of construction is going to be absorbed by buyers and renters, pushing prices even higher. SB 50 is not only an idiotic idea, it would actually worsen the housing situation and in the process worsen traffic, put enormous pressure on an already very stressed infrastructure and decimate the quality of life.


17 people like this
Posted by Kenny
a resident of University South
on May 7, 2019 at 8:42 pm

The zero growthers just don't get it. As the population of the Bay Area increases, infrastructure, including housing, must be built to accommodate them. To do otherwise harms the quality of life in the Bay Area. It should come as no surprise that the entire region, Palo Alto included, needs to be part of the solution. Many cities failed to do so on their own, so now SB50 is going to do it for them.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, even if the few are fussy and think they are entitled.

The EPA council are now the adults in the room, and a good role model for the Palo Alto council.


24 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2019 at 8:54 pm

I do not understand why people call this a "housing crises". There is a housing shortage only because there is a commercial development crisis. That's what we should be calling it. The unbridled commercial development driven by untapped appetite for office space is what is causing the housing shortage. And the blame falls squarely on City Council members who are funded by developers for their campaigns. Adrian Fine, Liz Kniss, Alison Cormack, and Greg Tanaka are the council majority and love development. If their votes just last month to repeal the office cap for our city wasn't evidence enough, I don't know what is!

The office cap should be in place and business taxes should be sky high to discourage companies from putting more offices in PA. Try Bakersfield, Merced, Fresno, etc. They can use more jobs and people.

Now we are screwed because they didn't (and aren't) doing their jobs by stopping office development. So now Gavin Newsom and Anthony Wiener are stepping in to take away local control and apply a cookie cutter approach to every community. If SB50 passes, I will be contacting all developers to see if they will buy my R-1 house and cash me out. They can build a skyscraper with luxury condos and get even richer. And everyone's taxes will go up to support the unfunded infrastructure needed to support all the new residents (schools, roads, transportation, etc). But not mine, because I will be living in another state if this passes.


29 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2019 at 9:00 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

Oh, Kenny...It's not about zero growth. Everyone knows that housing needs have to be addressed, however the quality of life you speak of needs to be protected. Don't be so naive. SB50 is a developers wet dream....Building apartments and condos in the middle of residential neighborhoods has them salivating like starving dogs. Scott Weiner is a ......progressive weiner, beholden to developer money. He should be recalled as should any politician attempting to shove this down our throats.


2 people like this
Posted by Old Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2019 at 10:31 pm

No wonder the housing market is tanking.
Down 15% this year in a good economy.
It will really plummet when the economy turns


17 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 7, 2019 at 11:03 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Kenny wrote: "As the population of the Bay Area increases, infrastructure, including housing, must be built to accommodate them."

BINGO! But here's the rub: SB50 has no provisions about infrastructure. SB50 simply makes housing production easier and pretty much eliminates one element of infrastructure (parking).

A colossal failure to plan combined with an unprecedented boom in a single sector of the economy has us in the vortex of a dilemma. Things have gotten so far out of whack that our so-called leaders are promoting solutions, such as SB50, that are pregnant with problems. I think we need to fully address infrastructure before further growing Palo Alto or the region. This includes impact on public utilities, parks, schools, roads and transportation, public safety services, EMS, etc. It's irresponsible to add housing or any other sort of development without fully addressing impact. Growth and change in a state with a climate like California is inevitable but that doesn't mean it should be done stupidly.


5 people like this
Posted by @Annette
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2019 at 12:23 am

Great! So while the new housing is being planned and developed, I'd encourage you to start calling for the infrastructure investments that you feel are necessary so that it gets built as well. Because surely you actually want that infrastructure built and aren't just throwing it out as an excuse to continue to call for no more housing with no intent to actually lobby for that new infrastructure.


16 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2019 at 6:18 am

Annette is a registered user.

@Annette - have been calling for that for quite some time now, with an emphasis on transportation.

I went to City Council to speak to that very thing on Monday, but arrived just as the mayor cut off speaker cards. There were 17 speakers; I and a few others were turned away. Interestingly, the clerk later accepted an 18th speaker.

I intended to ask CC to PLEASE make us transit rich. SB50 targets cities that are jobs rich and/or transit rich. Palo Alto is obviously jobs rich, but transit options are woefully inadequate despite the 2 train stations that designate this city as being transit rich. Stanford has done a good job turning the Uni Ave station into a hub for commuters with a Stanford destination. Some commuters with non-Stanford destinations benefit from the Margeurite and the Tech (I know as I use those shuttles) but for many our train stations are good for on/off only and the "last mile" remains a challenge. Our transportation/traffic/circulation problems are bad now and I think it reasonable to expect that they will worsen with a larger population. If we are going to predicate growth on something, it makes sense that that something actually exists.

As to the counter argument that traffic will be reduced b/c the new members of our community will reside in the new PTODs and not require cars, I think it likely that those two circumstances will apply to only a fraction of the newbies. Cities like ours court car dealerships for a reason: people are still buying cars. And driving them. And parking them. Also, SB50 would allow its brand of housing development throughout the city, not only in the obvious transit corridors. Like it or not, cars will be needed. So what not plan for that?

The above is a "nexus" argument for only the transportation aspect of infrastructure; it applies equally to other aspects of infrastructure/services including utilities (water, sewer, recycled water, waste), schools, parks, hospitals, and public safety. You cannot build one (housing) without building all the other. To do so is lunacy.

Palo Alto prides itself on being a smart, progressive city. Our response to this self-imposed housing problem will prove whether it really is. Frankly, I am not feeling particularly optimistic about this.


11 people like this
Posted by @@Annette
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2019 at 6:39 am

@@Annette:

>So while the new housing is being planned and developed, I'd encourage you
>to start calling for the infrastructure investment

Let's turn that around. While SB50 is being debated I'd encourage you (and other SB 50 brethren) to start calling for, planning and developing the infrastructure to support what we already have on hand: a massive gap between existing housing and infrastructure owing to the growth in population the past decade+. Only after that gap is fixed does it make sense to discuss more "housing". Otherwise what you are recommending would make an existing crisis far far worse and that would only expose your agenda.


20 people like this
Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on May 8, 2019 at 6:54 am

“Filseth, DuBois, and Kou should get out of their self-absorbed world and come up with real alternatives to SB50.”


@Allen Akin’s alternative is one such:

-------------------------------------------------------

1. Balance new jobs and housing growth by conditioning approval of new commercial projects to proportionate housing growth. Add a cubicle, fund a dwelling. Maybe 2 cubicles.

2. Use commercial impact fees and potentially other tech-revenue mechanisms to fund affordable housing, in order to shift the overall market-rate to low/midwage ratio.

-------------------------------------------------------

If every city did this, we would end the housing crisis.

There’s a bit of evidence it can be done: Mt View in North Bayshore is the most elegant model, though Palo Alto’s ADU/Housing Workplan plus Office Caps probably do it; and the County is also currently trying to negotiate in this direction with the Stanford expansion.

Bills like SB50 basically just say, “if you see a project like X, you must approve it.” Will that keep up with job growth? Who knows? Actually everybody knows: not even close.

It ought to be staggeringly obvious by now that we will never fix this until we link job growth and housing growth together. In a hole, first stop digging. Every day we don’t do that, we lose ground. Every hour Sacramento spends politicking on “every little bit helps” bills, we lose ground.

Is Sacramento willing to do what it takes to actually solve the Problem? So far, no. Easier just to wring hands and wrangle over zoning control.

Sacramento would have to compel cities not to approve individual projects, but to actually balance their jobs and housing growth; in other words, to Own The Problem. There are over 200 housing bills underway, and not one does this. Doing so would ultimately shift more of the costs of housing for new jobs onto Real Estate and Big Tech interests; it’s possible not everybody likes that idea. But we ultimately have to pay for Housing and Transportation and Community somehow. The way the Valley works today is unsustainable, and that’s not good for anybody.


On #2 - Palo Alto did a study a few years ago that estimated each square foot of new commercial space produces demand for $264 of new Affordable Housing. Our current commercial AH impact fee is $35/sf, which itself is higher than most other cities. Where does the other $229/sf come from? People who need affordable housing but can’t get it. We can fund more.


17 people like this
Posted by Infra Too
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2019 at 7:17 am

>we will never fix this until we link job growth and housing growth together

Why is infrastructure (transportation, etc) left out?

We will never fix this until we link job, housing, and infrastructure growth together. To add a cubicle or two, you have to also account for their impact on housing and infrastructure.


10 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on May 8, 2019 at 9:46 am

California's state government is a joke driven on the democratic side to acquire the "Hispanic" vote. Look at Newsome's desire to insure illegal alien health care which would then deny others of their health care. Look at the Buena Vista trailer park boondoggle. It's not government that has the money to develop housing. Only scare away apartment house investors. With Milpitas voting down rent control the noose grows tighter around San Jose's city council's neck to "boot rent control out lock stock and barrel". And now Oregon votes in rent control flunking out of economics 1, much like much of California's cornucopia, a tax rate higher than even France's.

George Drysdale land economist, initiator and great benefactor


22 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 8, 2019 at 3:08 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

The growth in population is largely the result of allowing too much commercial development over decades, which have caused housing shortages. It's the fault of the politicians who are allied with developers and facilitate too much commercial growth. All the complaints should be aimed at them, yes, Liz Kniss, we are talking about you.


8 people like this
Posted by Kniss is a Handy scapegoat
a resident of Community Center
on May 8, 2019 at 3:48 pm

Mauricio - on the contrary the complaints should be aimed at council members_ schmid, burt, Holman, filseth, Dubois, kuo etc and organizations ( pasz) that have opposed housing for years.


19 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 8, 2019 at 4:10 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

No, the last thing Palo Alto needs is more housing, it is already overpopulated for its infrastructure capacity. What it needs is a long moratorium on commercial development and pressure on companies to expand elsewhere where they are actually needed. There was never housing shortage in Palo Alto, only overpopulation and commercial development saturation which politicians like Kniss are responsible for.


7 people like this
Posted by Kniss is a Handy scapegoat
a resident of Community Center
on May 8, 2019 at 5:13 pm

Wrong, Mauricio. That is the argument used by the above mentioned council members to say no to housing. Palo alto has not met its responsibilities. There was an article in the post last week that mountain view in 2 hours approved more housing than PA has in 5 years.


8 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 8, 2019 at 5:59 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

Land is less expensive in Mountain View, and there are plenty of people who are willing to pay as much to live in Mountain View as they would to live in Palo Alto, so developers and finance companies get a higher return on their investment by building in Mountain View instead of Palo Alto.

There are sites available in Palo Alto. The reason they're not being used right now seems to be economics, not politics.


16 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on May 8, 2019 at 6:21 pm

SB50 will certainly be an unmitigated disaster for the residents of the Bay Area. [Portion removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2019 at 9:36 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Kniss is a handy scapegoat: you and others point the finger at those you see as having opposed housing for years. I am beginning to think that is a specious argument. I don't have numbers to prove this but I don't think there have been a lot of housing projects proposed in Palo Alto over the last several years. Further, I'll bet that even if every single housing project proposed over the last 2 decades had been approved and built we would still have a massive deficit because the demand is super-sized; we are drowning in office development.

Since the ROI on office space is significantly higher than the ROI on housing, particularly if below market housing is a required part of the project, developers have been coming forward with commercial projects and our CC majorities have been approving those projects. The result is a huge housing deficit, housing insecurity, homelessness, RVs lining El Camino, a diminution of diversity, and a community that cannot house those in community-serving careers. Not to mention infrastructure deficits. Residents are not responsible for this.

Palo Alto would not be in this mess or in the crosshairs of Weiner (and PACC member Fine) if the office development that had been approved over even the last five years had been properly conditioned on either providing housing units or paying a housing impact fee to be used to generate affordable and market rate housing.

But that's not what happened and now developers and politicians who have no skin in the game are promoting a bill that will make it easier to develop housing without bearing its fair share for impact. And residents are expected to both accept and pay for massive changes to zoning and the community. And the sad irony is that should SB50 pass and Palo Alto is densified with substantial amounts of new housing, none of that will make a whit of difference if we don't immediately curb commercial development.


4 people like this
Posted by @Joseph E. Davis
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2019 at 11:56 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Kenny
a resident of University South
on May 8, 2019 at 11:57 pm

"The best way to address the lack of affordable housing in Silicon Valley is to improve public transport."

You mean motorhomes? I thought people here get the vapors if the hoi polloi park in the neighborhood.

"BINGO! But here's the rub: SB50 has no provisions about infrastructure. SB50 simply makes housing production easier and pretty much eliminates one element of infrastructure (parking)."

Then build multistory parking garages near the housing.

"Agree with the two posters above, SB 50 is 100% for developers and Big tech industry not residents and low income people."

Sure it is. Most residents and many low income people work in tech or tech-related industries. Anyone here who doesn't like high tech came to the wrong place. Low-income people especially don't like having 100 mile commutes.


"Oh, Kenny...It's not about zero growth. Everyone knows that housing needs have to be addressed, however the quality of life you speak of needs to be protected."

Quality of life for whom? People who can barely (or can't) afford housing? You say that everyone knows housing needs have to be addressed, yet the zero-growthers use the quality of life argument to try to stifle any and all growth. So they just don't care? That is no longer a viable attitude anywhere in the Bay Area. I know it might come as a shock, but acknowledging reality is hardly naive. Living in denial, on the other hand, is very naive. SB50 is a done deal.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2019 at 9:12 am

Oh Kenny, you misunderstand me - deliberately of course I suspect.

I am not talking about motorhomes. I am talking about efficient public transport and well you know it.


7 people like this
Posted by Kenny
a resident of University South
on May 9, 2019 at 11:20 am

No, Resident, I understand you perfectly well. You, on the other hand, missed the point.

The anti-growth brigades grasp at all sorts of straws to try and justify a completely unrealistic solution - everyone except themselves stay away from Palo Alto. Proposing mass transit to that end is disingenuous at best.

Anyone who sees overpopulation as the problem is free to leave and be part of the their proposed solution. So far, those complaining the loudest about growth seem to be the most determined to stay. Talk about hypocritical! What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

And those people living in motorhomes? If Palo Alto built enough affordable housing, they wouldn't have to choose between motorhomes or a 100 mile commute each day (and a hefty parking tax).

If NIMBYism had ever been a practical solution, Palo Alto would still be mostly orchards and cow pastures. You have yourselves to thank that it is not.


10 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 9, 2019 at 1:37 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

Back on April 24th, when Senator Wiener realized that he wasn't going to get enough votes to pass SB 50 in its then-current form, he started compromising. He agreed to merge SB 50 with Senator McGuire's SB 4. As a result, a lot of counties and cities are no longer subject to SB 50. And now there are additional restrictions on what can be demolished and built in single-family neighborhoods where SB 50 applies.

At the three-council meeting, Palo Alto's lobbyist said we're roughly one-third of the way through the legislative process. That sounds about right. Sen. McGuire says more amendments to SB 50 are in the works.

This morning's (5/9) Merc has an article (Web Link) on SB 50. “It will allow for more housing in a light-touch way,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. “Single-family homes will always be a significant part of California.” "...experts say it’s unlikely to cause immediate, noticeable changes."

So we really don't know what, if anything, about SB 50 is a "done deal." Wiener is worried that the bill won't pass, so he's trying to find compromises and pacify the opposition. The pundits are starting to lower expectations, with carefully-worded statements that any improvement in housing affordability is only "likely...but difficult to measure" or won't happen quickly.

Looks like Mountain View is testing the idea of jobs/housing linkage, and also talking seriously about the impact of growth on schools (Web Link). That will be interesting to watch.

I'll stick with my earlier prediction. If SB 50 passes in something like its current form, the effect here in Palo Alto will be the construction of a small number of expensive apartments and condos, the destruction of a few neighborhoods, and increased traffic and parking issues for everyone. But not more-affordable housing.


7 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Q for Kenny: how are you defining affordable housing? Homes in Palo Alto have sold for over $30M so I think it is safe to say that every price point is affordable to someone. Market rate housing prices fall into a wide range here. Are you expecting SB50 to open up affordable housing, market rate housing, or below market rate housing?

Every day the papers are full of real estate ads for expensive homes for sale and recently there have been reports that the real estate market is cooling. And when I bike around I always see a few "for lease" signs. My conclusion is that housing is available, albeit much of it is pricey. I also think the SB50 campaign seeks to have people believe that, in Palo Alto, there will be a surge in BELOW MARKET rate housing and that those who have long wanted to live here will be able to, thanks to SB50. The cynic in me is reminded of the old joke about the Brooklyn Bridge.

I do not seek to argue with you, but I am curious about what it is that you and those who support SB50 honestly expect. Despite the "campaign rhetoric" I don't think SB50 is going to move the needle on housing for those who need it most or bring prices down. Meanwhile, cities will have lost local control, there will be more unmitigated development, and despite all the talk, the big problem will not be any smaller. I am skeptical about a bill that will not contribute much (if anything) to solving a problem, will create new problems, is not paired with some sort of moratorium on commercial development here, and that doesn't encourage the development of job meccas in areas of the state that can support the growth.


2 people like this
Posted by @Annette
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2019 at 4:42 pm

Building housing in job centers like Palo Alto and San Francisco keeps housing prices lower in other cities in the Bay Area. Palo Alto needs to house it's workers and not push that off onto to rest of the region.


5 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2019 at 5:35 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Annette. Every community should strive to house those who work there - not necessarily 100%, but certainly more than what we have achieved. This needed to be incorporated into our planning years ago. At this point, people are likely to be frustrated and angry over this issue for a very long time because we cannot catch up with demand, particularly when demand continues to grow. It's easy enough to say "Palo Alto needs to house its workers" but quite another thing to do that given the realities of the market, what the infrastructure can support, the geography of the area, and the fact that our closest neighbor is a world class university that can easily absorb all available housing inventory.

When the obstacles are such that any effort will yield only a small portion of what's needed, don't you think it makes sense to focus demand on other areas of the state that want and can support the growth? Is a Palo Alto address really worth a Pyrrhic victory?

Also, set aside legalities for a moment and consider what would happen if Palo Alto were to prioritize eligibility for housing in such a way that those with community-serving jobs got first dibs on new inventory. How much would be left as work-force housing for all the employees of the tech companies that insist on being right here and only here? At some point I think companies are going to have to look beyond the boundaries of this little city.


2 people like this
Posted by @Annette
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2019 at 5:47 pm

If your country is starving and you're only able to increase food production enough to feed a portion of those who need it, you don't go "whelp, whatever extra we make is going to get totally eaten up, so what's the point?".

Any extra that Palo Alto can build helps.


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2019 at 5:54 pm

The notion that Palo Alto should house all its workers is ludicrous in many ways. To begin with, many do not want to live here. Many like the vibe in San Francisco, or San Jose, or living by the coast or in the more rural setting along 280, etc.

The truth is that many people who live in Palo Alto do not work here. We have many who work at Stanford, both the University and the Hospital. Not all Stanford faculty and medical staff live on Campus.

Spouses often want to live near where their spouse works, nothing to do with proximity to their own jobs. And since people change jobs more often than they change housing, it makes no sense to limit housing to those who work here.

Lastly we keep hearing about how people should live near their jobs. So why do we have so many people choosing to live in Palo Alto and work elsewhere. The on ramps to highways are busy each morning commute and both Caltrain stations are busy with people commuting out of town as well as the Caltrain parking lots.

We cannot legislate that people live near their jobs. We have many commuting out of Palo Alto on a daily basis. Their homes are not available to those who work here. We are going round in circles on this one. Housing demand is bad all over the Bay Area. We can't make every city a little company town. Some towns have more housing than jobs. Some don't. The bigger question has to be how to get people where they need to get.

Improve public transportation and make it workable for more to commute longer distances in less time than it would take to be stuck in traffic in a car with nowhere to park at the end.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2019 at 6:34 pm

Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace

>> @Annette. Every community should strive to house those who work there - not necessarily 100%, but certainly more than what we have achieved. This needed to be incorporated into our planning years ago.

I don't agree with this. What I've seen is that people will live in what they consider the most suitable place for themselves within what they consider a reasonable commute-- which, for some people, is 10 minutes, and for others, 2 hours. And, with so many couples having both working for at least some, and sometimes all, of their lives, the chance of both members of a couple living AND working in Palo Alto is low. Likewise any other small city. San Jose is big enough that it sometimes happens.

I don't know who came up with this idea that jobs/housing have to balance within each civic entity, but, it really doesn't make much sense. Given that someone, somewhere has decided we have to do it that way, Palo Alto needs to find a way to build down the Stanford Research Park, since it has way too many jobs, but, could, with money, be turned into lots of housing.


2 people like this
Posted by @Resident
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2019 at 7:29 pm

"The notion that Palo Alto should house all its workers is ludicrous in many ways. To begin with, many do not want to live here. Many like the vibe in San Francisco, or San Jose, or living by the coast or in the more rural setting along 280, etc."

And yet Palo Alto seems filled with single family homes full of renters living in each of the bedrooms.


6 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 10, 2019 at 7:24 am

Annette is a registered user.

@Anon and @Resident: mea culpa! I did not intend to imply that a city is obliged to house all who work in that city and I agree that that would be a ridiculous expectation or goal. I also don't think this (or any) city is obliged to plan so that everyone who grew up here and generations of families are assured of being able to live locally, nice as that might be. As you point out, there are myriad reasons why someone would not want to live in a particular place. My own children have no interest in living here, are encouraging us to move, and have friends who have left Palo Alto. I do think, though, that Palo Alto is lopsided. The capacity for development here is constrained by geography, infrastructure deficits, the already-built environment, and Stanford. Our CC majorities chose to fill our capacity with commercial development, much of it unmitigated for impact, and as a result we have an enormous problem set that includes thousands of commuters, traffic congestion, circulation issues, parking problems, increasing infrastructure deficits, and pricing that effectively eliminates those in community-serving jobs. I think we could have done better.


9 people like this
Posted by Undecided
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2019 at 7:43 am

>@Anon and @Resident: mea culpa!

Annette, we'd do well to recognize both @Anon and @Resident are one and the same individual. And they have drunk the Kool-aid and are unlikely to be persuaded otherwise.

Your comments however can persuade and convince the vast and "undecided" majority. I'm one of those and now know the perils of SB 50.
Keep at it and all the best!


8 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 10, 2019 at 7:56 am

Worth considering who is backing this and why. Californians may be considered easily manipulated by a deeply entrenched and self serving machine that trades on an eternally gullible electorate.

Worth a read: Web Link

SB50 is more of the same


5 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on May 10, 2019 at 9:08 am

Annette, you get the highest grade today in land (real estate) economics. Land is too pricey in Palo Alto for anything except high end construction. That's why I'm trying to knock the price fixed mobile home parks in San Jose into the development of tens of thousands of apartment houses for those who have high enough incomes to live in the highest land prices in America (Bay Area). R.V.s are a good source of housing for construction workers as they have to move from site to site. Good pay and lots of overtime for those who ae working. SB0 includes rent controls and property controls which make it undesirable to social science teachers and those who can count. Redistribution doesn't work. Billionaire wealth would be immediately consumed by the enormous national debt and the trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities in California. You can't have open borders and a welfare state (California). Politically incorrect, no just what's being discussed in social studies classes in college.

George Drysdale social studies teacher and explainer


2 people like this
Posted by @Undecided
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2019 at 10:21 am

I'm sure that as a Boomer homeowner who's insulated from the consequences of the restrictive housing policies you support, everyone else just trying to survive around here, with no hope of any kind of property ownership, who sees the wealth and income disparity this is causing, has just drunk the kool-aid by thinking that more housing should be built during a housing shortage.


8 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 10, 2019 at 3:44 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

More housing would be gobbled up by Asian buyers and would just make housing prices higher. As long as local companies refuse to create job hubs in other areas and insist of hiring workers into the most expensive real estate area in the country which also commands the highest construction costs in the entire world, "more housing" is wishful thinking fantasy. Developers are in business for profit, so are buyers.


5 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 10, 2019 at 6:03 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@George - I read the article in the link that you provided. Thank you. Everyone should read it for a sobering reminder of how expensive, pervasive, and wasteful cronyism is. You nailed it when you said that SB50 is more of the same. We will get lots of what we don't need: bureaucracy, bloated politicians, the mucking up of local land use decisions, prices driven even higher, and very little of the sort of housing that is so badly needed.

The term snake oil salesman comes to mind. But since Weiner isn't acting alone, lets make that plural. If we had a margin for error this issue might not be as critical as it is. But we don't. So we need to be smart about what we do. Allen Akin has made some good suggestions. And I think the CC Minority is more likely to make sound decisions about SB50 and alternatives to it than the CC Majority is. After all, it is the CC Majority that backed us into this untenable corner.


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

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