Condominium project tests the limit of Palo Alto's new housing law | News | Palo Alto Online |


Condominium project tests the limit of Palo Alto's new housing law

Formal hearings to kick off Thursday on a 102-unit plan on San Antonio Road

Encouraged by the Palo Alto City Council's newfound appetite for approving more housing on San Antonio Road, a local developer is moving ahead with a proposal to build 102 condominiums on a site that currently includes a martial arts studio and a contractor's office.

The application by Yurong Han calls for demolishing two buildings at 788 San Antonio Road, south of East Charleston Road, and constructing a four-story building with retail on the ground floor and an underground garage. Sixteen of the building's 102 units would be offered below market rate, consistent with the city's affordable-housing requirement.

If Han gains the city's approval, the new building would be the largest residential project to win over the council this year. Despite its goal of generating about 300 housing units annually, this would be only the second major project to advance and the first since the council approved in January a 59-unit residential complex on El Camino Real and Wilton Avenue. Both projects are relying on the city's new "Housing Incentive Program," which grants density bonuses to residential developers.

The San Antonio Road project seeks to not only take advantage of the program; it also looks to expand its reach. When the council approved the Housing Incentive Program last year, the program only applied to downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Real. But during a study session in May, council members largely supported a request from Han's representative, Ted O'Hanlon, who made the case for stretching the program to San Antonio, thereby enabling the condominium project.

The zone change isn't the only hurdle facing the developer. On Thursday, the project will undergo its first hearing before the city's Architectural Review Board, which is charged with vetting the development's compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. The board is expected to defer its vote on the proposal to a future date.

The area around the site is already in the midst of a significant transformation. Palo Alto had approved in 2017 the construction of two Marriott hotels with a total of 294 rooms at 744 and 748 San Antonio Road. In Mountain View, city leaders have been even more enthusiastic about San Antonio's development potential, having recently approved hundreds of housing units along the prominent commuter corridor that separates the two cities.

The list of new housing developments in Mountain View includes the 623-unit apartment complex being developed by Greystar at San Antonio and California Street, which the council approved last year; and the 583-unit apartment project from Prometheus Real Estate at 400 San Antonio Road that the council approved in 2016.

While Palo Alto's plans for San Antonio are far more modest, the council's early feedback on the proposal for 788 San Antonio Road suggests an evolution in thinking. In years past, council members leaned almost exclusively on downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Real as potential housing areas, with little to show for their efforts. In May, however, most council members favored granting the developer zoning bonuses that would enable a "floor area ratio" of 2.0, similar to what the city allows in other commercial areas. The project, which once consisted of 47 condominiums, now proposes more than twice as many.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack acknowledged during the May discussion that the project would be "pushing the boundaries of what ... the community would be comfortable with" but said the discussion is well worth having. Vice Mayor Adrian Fine and Councilwoman Liz Kniss both were less ambivalent and supported the project as presented.

"This meets lots of requirements," Kniss said. "I still know it will get lots of pushback. I hope in the end we will end up accepting this and get on a pathway with 300 (housing units) a year."

Others on the council were less enthusiastic. Councilman Tom DuBois noted that the council had previously deemed San Antonio Road as a poor site for housing, owing to its relatively scant transportation options. He called the project site a "car area" and pointed to the council's prior decision to shift some of its planned housing units from San Antonio to the downtown area.

"We chose the locations that we did because of where they are — near functioning transit," DuBois said.

Councilwoman Lydia Kou argued that the project doesn't include enough community amenities or affordable-housing units. She suggested that the project could worsen the neighborhood's parking situation and criticized the proposed zone change as "spot zoning."

"There should be an effort to have consistency and predictability," Kou said. "This is just piecemeal zoning."

Mayor Eric Filseth agreed that the project will likely be a "car-centric" one, though he also said that he sees no reason not to extend the zoning program to San Antonio.

The project that the board will consider Thursday includes 32 studios, 63 one-bedroom apartments and seven two-bedroom apartments, as well as 1,779 square feet of retail space (likely a coffee shop or a salon, according to the applicant) on the ground floor.

Because the amount of retail (or "retail-like") space in the project plans falls well short of what is there today (the existing tenant, Studio Kicks, comprises 5,897 square feet of space), the proposal runs afoul of the city's retail-protection law. As such, Han will need the council to grant it an exception from the city's retail-protection ordinance before the project gets the final green light.

In a July 9 letter to the city, O'Hanlon, who represents the property owner, made the case for approving the project and applying the Housing Incentive Program more broadly. The program, O'Hanlon wrote, encourages housing and, when compared with the state's density-bonus laws, "retains more local control to the City in approving housing developments."

"The Housing Incentive Program (HIP) has been called an important step to address the jobs-housing imbalance at a time where the City needs to aggressively adopt pro-housing policies," O'Hanlon wrote. "To avoid falling short of the City's adopted goal of generating 300 housing units this year (and it is currently anticipated that the City will fall short), the City is considering (and has shown preliminary support for) a zoning text amendment to apply the HIP more broadly.

"Doing so will allow projects like this one to maximize the production of residential units on the Property to help the City meet its housing unit goals."


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 12, 2019 at 3:49 pm

What would happen to the Martial Arts Studio and the Contractor's Office. Are they going to be able to find suitable alternative premises in the area without huge increases in rent?

It is not a reasonable thing to do to evict businesses that are serving the community. We are losing everything useful in Palo Alto, and Mountain View. We need these businesses.

55 people like this
Posted by longtime resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 12, 2019 at 4:56 pm

We. Need. This. Housing.

52 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth Wahl
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 12, 2019 at 5:01 pm

Is the Palo Alto Council aware that there is a train station at San Antonio? And that it has several bus lines crossing it? Why not encourage Caltrain to offer more stops at San Antonio and VTA to increase its bus service? That could offset additional traffic.

To me this looks like a good corridor for high density housing, especially if the development comes with thoughtful coordination with VTA and Caltrain.

40 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Aug 12, 2019 at 5:18 pm

San Antonio road is already gridlocked with all the new apartments added. It is a terrible idea to inject more traffic to this road by building more apartments.

15 people like this
Posted by Housing vs Retail, North vs South
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 12, 2019 at 7:27 pm

Housing vs Retail, North vs South is a registered user.

Since we have been adding so much housing to South Palo Alto, as well as hotel space, I suggest adding retail and other services for residents and visitors to that area, not taking it away as this project suggests. We should be adding housing to North Palo Alto, where there is (was) a downtown, which we can hope will have useful retail again some day. Both Paly and Addison have received large sums of money in the last few years, and they will have some extra capacity. Medical services are nearby, etc. South Palo Alto is a residential and hotel wasteland. Let's not make it worse.

16 people like this
Posted by Plenty of retail
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 12, 2019 at 7:35 pm

Not sure how Studio Kicks qualifies as retail. But speaking of retail there are two shopping centers nearby ( of course they are in mountain view), plus there is the piazzas area close by also. Plenty of retail nearby. [Portion removed.]

30 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 12, 2019 at 8:44 pm

Make them all below market rate or deny the permit. This is just more sacrificing Palo Alto livability so developers can make bank on highly paid Google and Palantier engineers.

We need housing. We don't need THIS housing.

And is anyone insane enough to think that Caltrain and VTA will ever offer a viable alternative to private transportation? Might as well offer a free bicycle and spandex outfit with each apartment. :rolleyes:

14 people like this
Posted by Ugh
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 12, 2019 at 8:55 pm

Can't you find someplace to put housing in your own community? Seems like you are taking advantage of the fact you are MV adjacent to over-build without pissing off the PA nimbies. The hotels you forced on us are disastrous. Now you add housing in an industrial area. Don't give in to your guilt over Mayfield and stick to the rules.

28 people like this
Posted by Sickening
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 12, 2019 at 9:55 pm

Absolutely sickening. NIMBY north PA shoving all the development to MV while making ZERO efforts to improve transit/infrastructure. Anyone living within a mile of this area won’t be able to move 500ft in10 minutes.

Developers and the politicians in their pockets are destroying livability and we can’t stop it. Sickening.

21 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 13, 2019 at 12:08 am

Duh. Traffic on San Antonio is all transit, i.e. Los Altos Hills billionaires. Not local Palo Alto traffic. Building few condo complexes will not change that. Local residential generates little to no traffic. There are already two 100+ units each apartment complexes across the street (Greenhouse 1 and 2). Go and check one morning how much traffic they generate. It's like one car every few minutes. Virtually nothing compared to gridlock created by traffic to/from Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. Don't use traffic as argument against building more residential. It just doesn't hold water.

11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2019 at 8:20 am

Is there any guarantee that the "retail" won't just become more app developer cubicles?

Will there be convenient in-out parking for the proposed retail? As we have seen in other mixed-use developments, people don't want to spend 10 minutes parking their car for a 3-minute shopping experience. I'm guessing that the ground floor will have app developers in it after the initial retail goes bankrupt.

22 people like this
Posted by Traffic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 13, 2019 at 9:29 am

City of PA seldom considered the traffic. Driving on San Antonio and El Carmelo Real around there during busy hours are already painful nowadays. Can't imagine when it's built.

28 people like this
Posted by Ethically challenged
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2019 at 10:25 am

Would like to point out some ethical dissonance here. The developer, Ted O’Hanlon, is married to Candace Gonzalez who was longtime Exec Dir of PA Housing Corp before, during and after the Maybell Sr housing debacle. After, O’Hanlon and this same partner bought the land and developed it with 16 pricey homes after the BMR Maybell housing project was nixed by voters, thereby enriching PAHC’s own Executive Dir. Candace Gonzalez!

Gonzalez then quit to work for one of the more aggressive developers around that has its Edgewood Plaza market appeal mess up again for the city to deal with.

9 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 13, 2019 at 11:11 am

Re Traffic's comment above. The City of Palo Alto can't do anything about traffic on either El Camino or San Antonio. Almost all of that traffic is not local Palo Alto traffic. It's mostly transit traffic. Especially in the case of San Antonio. Even if the city allowed a dozen (or two) 100-unit condo complexes on San Antonio to be built, it wouldn't change traffic on it much. The additional traffic all those housing units would generate wouldn't amount to 1% of total traffic in that part of Palo Alto. Because almost all of the traffic (and gridlock) is from the transit traffic going between US-101 and Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. San Antonio being major connection between those cities and the US-101.

Complaining about traffic to block residential development sounds "plausible" and "convincing" to people who don't know anything about traffic (other than how to complain about it). But the reality is different. I'd challenge anybody pulling those arguments to actually (and literally) go and count traffic entering and exiting any of the existing 100+ unit condo complexes on San Antonio, and compare it to the total volume of traffic on San Antonio. All those condo complexes contribute very little to the total amount of traffic on that street. It's like drop of water in the bucket. Literally.

Seriously, don't argue it with me here. Go out there and count it for yourself. You'll quickly prove your "traffic will get worse" argument to be bogus.

What does generate traffic gridlocks is increasing the distance people have to travel to/from work.

7 people like this
Posted by Are you watching Menlo Park?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 13, 2019 at 12:52 pm

Hey Menlo Park! If you are looking for big housing projects, PA is showing you the roadmap: Shove it all in on the border of your town, so the affects are felt by the neighboring town more-so than your own town.
Remember, Go Big!

18 people like this
Posted by Developers advocates
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 13, 2019 at 1:01 pm

Vice Mayor Adrian Fine and Councilwoman Liz Kniss both supported the project as presented.
What a surprise. Developers have their steady supporters.

Ted Ohanlan is the husband of Candace Gonzalez who now works for Sand Hill Properties (now opposing the Edgewood grocery). She still appears at events as an advocate for below-market housing, like at the MidPen Community Cable Roundtable this week, along with several PAForward development supporters.

8 people like this
Posted by Facts n stuff
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 13, 2019 at 1:19 pm

@ ethically challenged

Get a life, friend. This isnt a conspiracy theory.

Developers know each other. They build homes. We need homes. There are developers and business interests in this world that you should actually be afraid of. Save your evergy for when they come around and actually threaten your fragile hold on your 1% wannabe community

12 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 13, 2019 at 2:00 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.


I like your idea, but it will never happen. Developers don't build any more BMR units than they have too and sometimes they skirt any ordinance dealing with that by offering devious alternative proposals and relaxations on parking, etc., to allow pack and stack. I think PA's CC is trying so hard to reach that 300 new housing units per year goal that they will cave easily to developers' proposals, proposals that will do little or nothing for affordable housing for the very low income, low income, and median income people wanting to live here in our community to be near their places of our homes, restaurants, hotels, retail shops, salons, grocery stores, shopping centers, etc.

It's been a while since the VTA site development proposal and discussions surrounding it took place, before it was eventually approved. It was always confusing, to me at least, when it was discussed then, so would someone who is knowledgeable explain to us all again what the terms market rate, BMR (below market rate), and AMI (area median income) mean...with real current numbers and examples for Palo Alto... and how it was applied on the VTA project then, and how, and if, it will be applied on this project.

And one more question...what are the anticipated rent rates? I'm guessing they will be close to the rates at Carmel Village up the street...$3,200-$4,500 per month. So much for affordable housing for minimum wage earners. Techies and coders will do fine living there.

8 people like this
Posted by Ray
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 13, 2019 at 2:33 pm

Years ago when the downtown north & downtown south residents began complaining about the flood of traffic and parking in the neighborhoods, there was a considerable cry from many Palo Altons about nimbys but it seems the "nimbys" are the canaries in the coal mine. Complaining online doesn't help much but neither does reelecting Councilmembers who support unimpeded growth.

20 people like this
Posted by Not flooded downtown
a resident of University South
on Aug 13, 2019 at 3:32 pm

@Ray, I live downtown and have no issues with traffic or parking. There is predictable traffic coming in during the morning and going out in the afternoon, but otherwise the streets are calm. There are cars parked on the street during the day, but I’ve never not been able to find a spot. In the evenings, there is ample street parking. The parking and traffic problems are caused by lack of residences, not too many of them. If there were more homes downtown, fewer people would need to drive and park here. Saying “no” to more homes causes the very problems you seek to avoid.

12 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 14, 2019 at 10:43 am

Allen Akin is a registered user.

@Not flooded downtown: Just to review the data I presented to Council last October: At my residential corner in Professorville, traffic has increased steadily each year from 4200 cars/day in 2013 to 5600 cars/day in 2018. Traffic exceeds 200 cars/hour for 14 hours of the day; the average noise level is 80dB (similar to a garbage disposal). There is no hour of the day or night with zero traffic. The air quality index is never better than 130 ("unhealthy for sensitive groups") due to PM2.5 concentrations.

I should start a pool to bet on the first month we'll exceed 6000 cars/day. Probably it will happen late this year or early next year.

Because most vehicle trips are close to home, building housing doesn't reduce traffic near the housing; it actually increases it. A good recent discussion about this is in the Stanford GUP EIR.

The only practical way to reduce traffic is to develop a transit system that's an effective alternative to personal cars. This is certainly doable, but would require decades and tens of billions of dollars. Designing and funding such a system would be a major undertaking both technically and politically.

11 people like this
Posted by Not flooded downtown
a resident of University South
on Aug 14, 2019 at 12:27 pm

It sounds like Professorville has become an unlivable hellscape Allen. Perhaps consider a move to a remote hillside or rural area? Strangely, when I walk around your neighborhood, it strikes me as positively tranquil. I’m confident my street is much busier than yours, but I haven’t counted because that seems like a massive waste of time. I wonder what you attribute the increase housing? Seems like we have very little of that around downtown. I’ve seen more multi-family being torn down for single family than I’ve seen new multi-family. Last year, we lost more housing than we gained downtown. Surely, traffic must have gone down...

I’ve read plenty of studies that predict that new housing development can decrease traffic. Although people may still make car trips, they are not at peak times and not as long as they would drive if commuting from further distance.

However, if traffic is your main concern, you should be advocating for housing with 0 parking spots and regulation of on-street spots. Ban the cars, not the homes. See the President hotel for evidence that people can indeed exist without cars. People who don’t have cars exist and more of them might move here if we made spaces for them.

14 people like this
Posted by Larry Sergey
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2019 at 12:28 pm

There should be hundreds of these developments fast-tracked across PA and MV but specifically for this, it would great if the following changes were made:

- go much taller, add more housing
- dedicate more retail (possible by going taller)
- add underground parking

Note: NIMBY’s who oppose housing should move to Mars where there is no housing crisis.

13 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 14, 2019 at 2:24 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

@Not flooded downtown: If you're trying to make good-faith decisions about which policies to support, data matters. In general, more data helps, and (as @Ray's comment about "canaries in the coal mine" suggests) it can tell you about developing trends as well as the conditions of the moment.

I believe most of the traffic increase over the period I've measured is due to increasing job count downtown. This has several causes, including construction of new office space, conversion of retail and service spaces to offices, and increasing the number of employees per square foot of office space. One other factor that seems to be important is navigation apps routing traffic around congested arteries and through neighborhoods; particularly on Lincoln Ave, which is the most direct traffic-light-free path from the University/101 area to the Stanford side of downtown. Finally, some of the increase is probably due to the rise of Uber and Lyft, as noted in San Francisco: Web Link .

The vast majority of jobs in range of downtown Palo Alto are outside downtown Palo Alto, so it makes sense that the majority of employees living in downtown Palo Alto would commute to work elsewhere. This would be true of employees living in any new housing for the same reasons it's true of those in existing housing. And in fact, Census data offers some support for this claim. Roughly 8% of people living in Palo Alto actually work in Palo Alto, and this has remained pretty stable over a fairly long period, including times at which new housing was constructed. For an introduction, see Web Link .

So long as people need cars to get around, I don't think it works to insist on parking-free housing. Ride-hailing use will increase, and that adds more traffic than personal cars (due to cruising and the empty trips between fares). People will also game the parking rules, as they already do today. Yes, some people can get by without cars (I do, most of the time), but life circumstances can change, and as you can see from the data above the odds of car-free life here are low.

13 people like this
Posted by Gosh Awful
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 14, 2019 at 4:07 pm

To say this architecture is atrocious is an understatement.

We allowed the HUGE Hilton to slide by us, and look at that monstrosity! The Hilton overwhelms the neighborhood and looms over the street blocking all views of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

This is much the same architectural overreach. The condo project runs curb to curb and has little reference to the corridor as a whole.

We get that the developer wants to maximize the number of units on the property for the biggest profit possible. That is their prerogative, and fair enough. However, it is up to the community to say that this piece of architecture is not appropriate as currently depicted. I am embarrassed for the architect who was engaged to present this project.

Currently, San Antonio Road becomes a parking lot twice a day. When thousands of new apartments across from San Antonio Plaza come on line, the street will become impassable. This is actually very dangerous as the cross streets get blocked at San Antonio Road.

My vote is to shrink the project and move it off the sidewalk. For self-preservation reasons the number of units must be decreased.

Save our skyline.

5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2019 at 8:06 pm

I hate to break it to you folks, but, as much as we all love retail, it just so happens that (effective, profitable, etc) retail generates a lot of vehicle traffic. The San Antonio center has seen a big uptick in retail, and, traffic.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 15, 2019 at 9:18 pm

"Roughly 8% of people living in Palo Alto actually work in Palo Alto"

A startling statistic, but ambiguous as stated. Does "people living in Palo Alto" mean the employed population of Palo Alto, or is it ALL people living in Palo Alto including infants, toddlers, students in school, non-employed adults (e.g. stayathome parents), and retirees?

8 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 15, 2019 at 10:13 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

@Curmudgeon: That's a percentage of ALL people living in Palo Alto.

The latest information I have on-hand is for 2015; at that time, 72% of Palo Alto residents employed in any capacity had at least one job outside the city.

So another way to look at the data is to say that for every 4 workers you put into new housing downtown, plan for 3 of them to commute outside the city.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Portland's Thai food darling Pok Pok will be popping up on the Peninsula this spring
By Elena Kadvany | 2 comments | 3,437 views

Flying: How to lower your impact
By Sherry Listgarten | 16 comments | 2,833 views

Premarital and Couples: Here Be Dragons!
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 2,285 views

Pseudo-Primary for CA Senate District 13: some thoughts
By Douglas Moran | 3 comments | 1,429 views

Overachieving in High School: Is It Worth It?
By Jessica Zang | 6 comments | 1,368 views


Short story writers wanted!

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 27, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details