Seeking grants, Palo Alto designates downtown as ripe for growth | News | Palo Alto Online |

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Seeking grants, Palo Alto designates downtown as ripe for growth

Council agrees to dedicate main transit hub as a 'priority development area'

Despite a shared desire to further development near Palo Alto's downtown transit hub, the City Council clashed on Monday over the role that regional planning agencies should play in shaping that vision.

After a robust debate, the council voted 4-3 to designate downtown as a "preferred development area," a label that could help the city attract funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. At the same time, some city leaders believe the new designation may spur the agency to increase the city's regional housing allocation and require it to plan for more units.

The narrow vote means that downtown now joins the California Avenue business district as the city's only two preferred development areas. The four members who supported the designation, most notably Mayor Adrian Fine, touted the financial benefits that the move could bring, including funding for bike improvements and for planning efforts involving the downtown transit center and Caltrain station.

Fine, who had worked at the MTC before joining the council, said the agency's goal — to concentrate growth near transit — is perfectly consistent with the city's plans, as articulated in the Comprehensive Plan. The agency, he noted, has already given out about $630 million in planning grants. If Palo Alto competes for the agency's funding, it's share would amount to about $5.5 million, he said.

"If we choose to go ahead with this, it gives us the ability to seek planning money to focus development downtown, which I think makes eminent sense," Fine said.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack agreed that the city should move ahead with the designation, which could help it obtain funding for grade separation, the redesign of grade crossings so that the railroad tracks would not intersect with local streets. The city is in the process of narrowing down design options for grade separation at three crossings: Churchill Avenue, Charleston Road and Meadow Drive.

The council also decided last year a fourth crossing, at Palo Alto Avenue, should be explored through a broader area plan for the downtown area.

"Soon we will have many people here saying we need grant money," Cormack said. "Where will we get the grant money to do all these things?"

But while council members Greg Tanaka and Liz Kniss joined Fine and Cormack in supporting the new designation from the downtown area, the three council members in the "residentialist" camp strongly disagreed. Rather than focusing on the funding, Councilman Eric Filseth emphasized the strings that would be attached to that funding. Approving the designation would likely increase the number of housing units in Palo Alto's regional allocation.

The grants may include onerous conditions such as deadlines that, if unmet, would require the city to pay back the grant funding, he said.

Palo Alto has a history of getting shifted by state agencies, he said, citing transportation measures that direct local tax funds to other parts of Santa Clara County (usually San Jose) and transit agencies that keep shrinking their footprint in the northern section of the county (a reference to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority's recent service changes). The council, he argued, should be very careful about "deliberately building more dependency on remote agencies."

"God gave people two legs to walk away from deals they shouldn't sign," Filseth said. "I think we're already capable of planning and zoning and I think our inclination ought to be: Live within our means, be careful about getting involved in these regional agencies, especially the MTC, and focus on executing the stuff we're committed to."

Councilwoman Lydia Kou and Vice Mayor Tom DuBois both joined Filseth in dissent. Kou argued that the funding would be too constrained and that it would come with "huge strings" attached.

"The trade-off at this point is way too high to have another priority development area designated," Kou said. "It kind of puts the writing on the wall that there will be more jobs, which means that the RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) numbers are going to be higher."

There was far less debate on Monday about a proposal to designate 2,629 acres in the Baylands and 5,260 acres in the foothills as "priority conservation areas," making them eligible for conservation funding. According to Planning and Development Services staff, the funding could be used to study and address the impacts of sea level rise and the preservation of open space.

With little discussion and no drama, the council unanimously agreed to make the designation for the open space preserves.

View an interactive map of the downtown priority development area here.

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Comments

43 people like this
Posted by Stop Making Things Worse
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2020 at 6:13 pm

What a waste of time and money. Traffic and parking problems are already out of control Downtown. Promised improvements never happened. Does anyone half awake still trust our city planners know how to make things better? Instead, they'll just craft more loopholes to help mega-millionaire developers get even richer while the rest of us pay for it.

Let's turn this around in November by electing more pro-community councilmembers.


26 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2020 at 7:31 pm

>> attract funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. At the same time, some city leaders believe the new designation may spur the agency to increase the city's regional housing allocation and require it to plan for more units

Another bargain with the devil. Funding will require more housing allocation which will only "pencil out" when office space is added, making the housing deficit worse. Can't we modify the city charter to require that no project can be approved which adds to the housing deficit?

-Reduce the housing deficit: No more office space!-


41 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 15, 2020 at 9:25 am

Well, this is how traffic gets worse and housing gets more expensive: One short-sighted decision at a time.


37 people like this
Posted by traffic warrior
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 15, 2020 at 12:17 pm

Perhaps City Council should have followed the norms of a democracy and asked the people who live near our downtown how they feel about making it a "preferred development area." Residents in Downtown North, Crescent Park, Community South and University South already live with the impacts of over-development and insufficient infrastructure. I would like to see every future traffic nightmare (remember carmageddon?) named for one of the "Gang-of-Four" who voted for this ill-considered change. Maybe we could begin with our traffic-denying former mayor Kniss.


25 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 15, 2020 at 12:36 pm

The City Council pro-development already knows how people feel ever since they got the thousands of signatures to curb office growth but they simply don't care. They don't care about the declining satisfaction ratings, they deny we have traffic problems etc. because they know we have less money than the well-paid lobbyists working tirelessly to shift the tax burden from businesses to residents.

[Portion removed due to inaccuracy.]


15 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2020 at 1:09 pm

I'm not opposed to reasonable *housing* additions downtown. That is, housing *only*. We already have far too much office space. Our outdated planning documents don't recognize that modern business practice stuffs twice as many people into the same space as in the past-- and, sometimes, far more than that. In the meantime, SB50 may allow 46,000 new housing units to be built-- that is, 58,000 units replacing 12,000 existing units. Web Link. What I don't understand is how SB50 proponents think that people will get from these new units to their jobs at, say, Apple, or Intel, or ... ? Because you know that they are going to want to drive to most locations to the south and east. Only people working in one of the downtown areas along the linear city will be able to take Caltrain.



18 people like this
Posted by Palantir not
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 15, 2020 at 2:03 pm

Yes. Let’s get funds to grow more office space for the Palantir company spies. Let’s face it. All of downtown is owned by them now.


21 people like this
Posted by No more growth
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 15, 2020 at 11:30 pm

Elections are coming in November. Vote out the "growthers" - Fine, Tanaka, Cormack. Thankfully Kniss is termed out!

Hopefully we can get some people to run who understand that massive office development has led to the oft quoted "housing crisis". It was created by developers and large businesses. The same people pushing these zoning areas to give themselves more area to develop.

This is a deal with the devil. Once we declare an area to develop, they will come in and make us put high rises there and make all of the problems worse.

Vote for anti- growth, pro- environment and quality of life people in the coming election and hopefully they can work to slow the stupidity and greed of Sacramento and developers and tech giants.


15 people like this
Posted by No-Escape-From-A-Black-Hole
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2020 at 11:39 pm

What does this designation do to the downtown development cap that was put in place a couple years ago?

People need to think long and hard about more residentialists for the council.


5 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2020 at 2:38 pm

Come election campaigns, we have seen that everyone proclaims they are for the residents and keep very quiet about their track record of never having seen an office development they didn't vote for. During the coming council elections campaigns I hope residents wise up and look at what council members have done and said in the past, not what they say and do during their re-election campaign.

Hopefully, none of the candidates will try and game the system by saying they won't take money from developers. Then personally loan their campaign a significant amount of money, while after it is too late for voters to know find out before voting, accept money from developers that magically amounts to the amount of the original personal loan.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2020 at 2:48 pm

Posted by No-Escape-From-A-Black-Hole, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> People need to think long and hard about more residentialists for the council.

I'm dreaming about it. Unfortunately, the Developers will spend enough money to muddy the waters and confuse voters. Every election, it seems like there is at least one stealth pro-office-space candidate, and it is often difficult to tell who it is until after the election. Money talks. Don't listen to it.

-No more office space.-


8 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 17, 2020 at 10:06 am

Anon wrote:

"Every election, it seems like there is at least one stealth pro-office-space candidate, and it is often difficult to tell who it is until after the election."

----------

My feeling is that endorsements are one of the most accurate ways to predict a candidate's future voting patterns. In the last council election, for example, Liz Kniss was one of Alison Cormack's most enthusiastic promoters. It comes as no surprise, at least to me, to see that Ms. Cormack has joined the pro-developer faction on the dais.


6 people like this
Posted by Not Fine!
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 17, 2020 at 6:51 pm

Signs up for this without knowing the details and constraints? Bush league. Vote him out in November.


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