News

Teacher housing plan moves ahead in Palo Alto

Santa Clara County's proposed 110-apartment complex heads to City Council Monday night

Santa Clara County's proposed development would provide 110 apartments for teachers and school district employees at 231 Grant Ave., near the Palo Alto Courthouse. Rendering by Van Meter Williams Pollack LLP.

As Palo Alto continues to lag in its effort to build affordable housing, Santa Clara County is advancing its own plan to create an apartment complex for teachers in neighborhood that is already undergoing a dramatic transformation.

The county's plan, which the City Council will get its first look at on Monday night, would bring 110 apartments to 231 Grant Ave., across from the Palo Alto Courthouse in the California Avenue business district. Developed by nonprofits Mercy Housing and Abode Communities, which specialize in affordable housing, the apartments would be open to teachers and school district employees from participating districts in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Unlike other proposed developments in Palo Alto, the Grant Avenue development would be built on county land and, as such, does not require formal approval from the city. The county enjoys "sovereign immunity" when it comes to adding government functions and, as such, has the power to exceed the city's zoning rules.

To date, county staff had signaled their intent to adhere, to the extent feasible, to the development standards in the city's recently created "workforce housing" zone, according to a new report from the city's Department of Planning and Development Services. At the same time, the project exceeds several design standards. With a height of 55 feet, the apartment complex would exceed the city's 50-foot height limit. Its density of about 80 dwellings per acre is twice the number that the city typically allows in its multifamily zoning districts (RM-40). The recently created workforce zone, however, does not set limits on units per acre.

The project's building density, however, falls below the city's limits. The proposal would have a floor area ratio (FAR) of 1.85, below the 2.0 FAR allowed in the workforce housing zone. And even though it would exceed some development standards, city staff had concluded that the project is "generally consistent with the City's housing goals, which express an interest in providing high density multi-family housing near transit," according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.

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Plans for the project show two C-shaped, four-story buildings, each with a courtyard. A third courtyard separates the two buildings. The project also includes a community room and a "flex room," which could accommodate a café or another use, at the portion of the property closest to the corner of Grant Avenue and Park Boulevard. An at-grade garage behind the apartment buildings would include 112 spaces for cars through the use of stacked parking structures, along with 134 spaces for bikes. A report from the county's Facilities and Fleets Department notes that the project's "proximity to transit and farmer's markets, groceries, shops, restaurants, parks and libraries can help residents reduce trips for daily tasks, cutting down on vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions."

If the county Board of Supervisors ultimately approves the project, as is expected, the apartments would go up in an area that is already going through a dramatic transformation. The teacher complex will go up just blocks from the city's newly built parking garage at 350 Sherman Ave., and from an adjoining site at 250 Sherman Ave. where the city is about to commence construction on a public safety building. The housing complex would replace an existing office building near the intersection of Grant and Park Boulevard. The project is also just a few blocks from the Ventura neighborhood, where the city is preparing to adopt a new land use vision with the goal of encouraging more housing, park space and community amenities.

A Santa Clara County-owned site at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto will become an apartment complex for teachers and school district employees in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

While city and county staff have been discussing the teacher housing project for nearly two years, the Monday hearing will give the council and residents their first chance to offer feedback on the preliminary plans for the proposed development, which will go through the environmental review process later this year.

So far, the city has requested that the county refrain from adding any curb cuts along Park Boulevard, a popular bike route. The city is also urging the developers to consider measures to regulate the volume and speed of traffic in the area. Claire Raybould, a senior planner at the Department of Planning and Development Services, also requested that the county consider the cumulative traffic impacts of both this project and the concurrent construction of the city's new public safety building. This includes ensuring that adjacent properties maintain their access to the streets during construction.

"Coordination between the County and City of Palo Alto must occur to minimize potential impacts associated with street closures, vehicle deliveries and other construction activities," Raybould wrote.

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The Grant Avenue project was spearheaded by county Supervisor Joe Simitian, who in 2018 suggested using county land for teacher housing. The county and the city agreed that year to commit $6 million and $3 million to the project, respectfully. The county approved its partnership with Abode Communities and Mercy Housing in August 2019 and Facebook gave the project a boost in October 2019 with a donation of $25 million.

The housing will be available to teachers and school staff from the Palo Alto Unified School District, Mountain View Whisman School District, Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, Ravenswood City School District, Menlo Park City School District, Las Lomitas School District, Sequoia Union High School District, Los Altos School District and Foothill-De Anza Community College District.

In a Thursday statement, Simitian said that "no one wins when local teachers have to commute from miles and miles away."

"It's just that much harder to attract and retain the best teachers available," Simitian said. "Time in the car is time not spent with students or preparing lesson plans. And our teachers become more and more remote from the communities where they teach."

Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educators Association, said in the statement that the local school district has teachers who commute from Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Aptos and Dublin.

"This long commute takes a toll on our teachers' quality of life and decreases the value of their salaries," Baldwin said. "It also adds to traffic and pollution problems in the county.

"When teachers live in or near their school communities, students also benefit. We want to be part of the community we teach in. We want to organize or attend after school events and support and encourage our students."

The county plans to go through the design and environmental review processes this year, with the goal of launching construction in August 2022 and completing the project in February 2024.

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Teacher housing plan moves ahead in Palo Alto

Santa Clara County's proposed 110-apartment complex heads to City Council Monday night

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Feb 4, 2021, 9:37 am
Updated: Thu, Feb 4, 2021, 2:26 pm

As Palo Alto continues to lag in its effort to build affordable housing, Santa Clara County is advancing its own plan to create an apartment complex for teachers in neighborhood that is already undergoing a dramatic transformation.

The county's plan, which the City Council will get its first look at on Monday night, would bring 110 apartments to 231 Grant Ave., across from the Palo Alto Courthouse in the California Avenue business district. Developed by nonprofits Mercy Housing and Abode Communities, which specialize in affordable housing, the apartments would be open to teachers and school district employees from participating districts in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Unlike other proposed developments in Palo Alto, the Grant Avenue development would be built on county land and, as such, does not require formal approval from the city. The county enjoys "sovereign immunity" when it comes to adding government functions and, as such, has the power to exceed the city's zoning rules.

To date, county staff had signaled their intent to adhere, to the extent feasible, to the development standards in the city's recently created "workforce housing" zone, according to a new report from the city's Department of Planning and Development Services. At the same time, the project exceeds several design standards. With a height of 55 feet, the apartment complex would exceed the city's 50-foot height limit. Its density of about 80 dwellings per acre is twice the number that the city typically allows in its multifamily zoning districts (RM-40). The recently created workforce zone, however, does not set limits on units per acre.

The project's building density, however, falls below the city's limits. The proposal would have a floor area ratio (FAR) of 1.85, below the 2.0 FAR allowed in the workforce housing zone. And even though it would exceed some development standards, city staff had concluded that the project is "generally consistent with the City's housing goals, which express an interest in providing high density multi-family housing near transit," according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.

Plans for the project show two C-shaped, four-story buildings, each with a courtyard. A third courtyard separates the two buildings. The project also includes a community room and a "flex room," which could accommodate a café or another use, at the portion of the property closest to the corner of Grant Avenue and Park Boulevard. An at-grade garage behind the apartment buildings would include 112 spaces for cars through the use of stacked parking structures, along with 134 spaces for bikes. A report from the county's Facilities and Fleets Department notes that the project's "proximity to transit and farmer's markets, groceries, shops, restaurants, parks and libraries can help residents reduce trips for daily tasks, cutting down on vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions."

If the county Board of Supervisors ultimately approves the project, as is expected, the apartments would go up in an area that is already going through a dramatic transformation. The teacher complex will go up just blocks from the city's newly built parking garage at 350 Sherman Ave., and from an adjoining site at 250 Sherman Ave. where the city is about to commence construction on a public safety building. The housing complex would replace an existing office building near the intersection of Grant and Park Boulevard. The project is also just a few blocks from the Ventura neighborhood, where the city is preparing to adopt a new land use vision with the goal of encouraging more housing, park space and community amenities.

While city and county staff have been discussing the teacher housing project for nearly two years, the Monday hearing will give the council and residents their first chance to offer feedback on the preliminary plans for the proposed development, which will go through the environmental review process later this year.

So far, the city has requested that the county refrain from adding any curb cuts along Park Boulevard, a popular bike route. The city is also urging the developers to consider measures to regulate the volume and speed of traffic in the area. Claire Raybould, a senior planner at the Department of Planning and Development Services, also requested that the county consider the cumulative traffic impacts of both this project and the concurrent construction of the city's new public safety building. This includes ensuring that adjacent properties maintain their access to the streets during construction.

"Coordination between the County and City of Palo Alto must occur to minimize potential impacts associated with street closures, vehicle deliveries and other construction activities," Raybould wrote.

The Grant Avenue project was spearheaded by county Supervisor Joe Simitian, who in 2018 suggested using county land for teacher housing. The county and the city agreed that year to commit $6 million and $3 million to the project, respectfully. The county approved its partnership with Abode Communities and Mercy Housing in August 2019 and Facebook gave the project a boost in October 2019 with a donation of $25 million.

The housing will be available to teachers and school staff from the Palo Alto Unified School District, Mountain View Whisman School District, Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, Ravenswood City School District, Menlo Park City School District, Las Lomitas School District, Sequoia Union High School District, Los Altos School District and Foothill-De Anza Community College District.

In a Thursday statement, Simitian said that "no one wins when local teachers have to commute from miles and miles away."

"It's just that much harder to attract and retain the best teachers available," Simitian said. "Time in the car is time not spent with students or preparing lesson plans. And our teachers become more and more remote from the communities where they teach."

Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educators Association, said in the statement that the local school district has teachers who commute from Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Aptos and Dublin.

"This long commute takes a toll on our teachers' quality of life and decreases the value of their salaries," Baldwin said. "It also adds to traffic and pollution problems in the county.

"When teachers live in or near their school communities, students also benefit. We want to be part of the community we teach in. We want to organize or attend after school events and support and encourage our students."

The county plans to go through the design and environmental review processes this year, with the goal of launching construction in August 2022 and completing the project in February 2024.

Comments

eileen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Feb 4, 2021 at 10:50 am
eileen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 10:50 am

How can we ensure that these apartments will only be rented by teachers?
I hope there is some policy in place.


cmarg
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Feb 4, 2021 at 11:36 am
cmarg, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 11:36 am

Great to hear that the housing is rental apartments. Like Eileen noted above, how will they ensure it is only teachers and employees of schools in Santa Clara County that are renting there? There needs to be a process done at the schools so when a teacher leaves or resigns, they have some process to make that unit available for another employee. Challenging and the guidelines for use need to be quite specific so that there is no misunderstanding on the part of those renting. Clearly not a straight forward process. I hope they are looking at all the implications for those renting.


Annies biped
Registered user
Midtown
on Feb 4, 2021 at 12:00 pm
Annies biped, Midtown
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 12:00 pm

What a great idea! Knowing that Abode is involved is truly comforting. Their track record in developing, providing and maintaining housing for the unhoused is second to none. If anyone could navigate the intricacies of renting to teachers and school district employees only, they could. Bravo for this much needed project!


Susan
Registered user
Professorville
on Feb 4, 2021 at 2:53 pm
Susan, Professorville
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 2:53 pm

The Santa Clara County proposal to a teacher housing plan is a great idea. Teachers and school district employees need to be able to afford to live close to where they teach and work. However, after renting for a few years, teachers would like to own their own homes also. The County and the surrounding school districts should provide support for a downpayment to a first home to those teachers whom the districts have valued by granting them tenure. Most of the time, it is the high cost of a downpayment to a home that is the obstacle to staying within the school district. One of the goals of our local school districts is teacher retention. This teacher rental housing project is a good first step, but should be followed by home downpayment assistance in grants and/or loans.

The need for teacher affordable housing is also indicative of a deeper problem, teacher salaries are so low that they must live in designated low income housing. Teachers are professionals with college and post graduate degrees. We place our most valuable possession, our children, in their care and tutelage. They have our respect and should have the ability to choose where they live and work.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 4, 2021 at 3:05 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 3:05 pm

112 stacked parking spaces for 110 apartments. Good thing teachers don't have working partners or kids who need to get anywhere or guests. This will really help the CA Business District shoppers.

What happens if a teacher leaves his/her job? Do they get evicted?


MG
Registered user
Downtown North
on Feb 4, 2021 at 4:01 pm
MG, Downtown North
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 4:01 pm

Some much needed good news and some much needed housing for teachers! This is a great and meaningful start to solving our housing needs in Palo Alto.


The Wind in the Willows
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2021 at 4:23 pm
The Wind in the Willows, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 4:23 pm

I am glad that we have local housing for teachers. However, this brings up a couple question:

1. Is Palo Alto going to get any property taxes from these housing/lands? Maybe not since Santa Clara county is not for profit.
2. Will children of these teachers who live in the Teacher Housing be allowed to go to PAUSD? I believe so, since they live in PAUSD boundaries.
3. So, how will PAUSD pay for the extra costs of increased number of students from these Teacher Housing (similar to the Stanford Full Mitigation Request?)

According to National Center for Education Statistics (Web Link), PAUSD spent more than $24,000/student in school year 2019-2020. If these teacher housing are going to bring in 100 new students (some will not have children, some will have two or more, just an estimate), PAUSD will need additional $2.4 million per year (and increasing overtime of course).


blah
Registered user
another community
on Feb 4, 2021 at 7:26 pm
blah, another community
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 7:26 pm

A lot of people have commented that they are opposed to more affordable housing in Palo Alto (e.g., in this other PA Weekly article: Web Link) because they believe it will lower their property values and for other reasons that basically amount to exclusivity. I do not think these people realize that their property values are high in part due to the quality of Palo Alto's schools. If you do not make it affordable for the awesome teachers we have to live in the communities in which they teach, then the quality of the schools is going to decline because let's be honest, if I had to commute for multiple hours of the day to get to a job that doesn't pay as well as other types of jobs in a community that obviously doesn't value my contributions, then why should I put myself through that crap when I can move to Ohio and buy a 5 bedroom house for $200,000?

Many of the people who leave comments on these PA Weekly articles are apparently the type of people who are so blinded by their selfishness that they will quibble over 5 cents and totally ignore the $100 bill that just fell out of their pocket. This is basically what is happening with the debate over the federal COVID relief bill—Republicans are proclaiming we will save money by lowering the payment amount, but they fail to realize that the money we spend now to help our neighbors (who, I might remind you, are fellow human beings) will save more money in the long run by averting a huge increase in the amount of government spending that will eventually be required if the larger payments that could prevent some people from becoming homeless are rejected.

The people commenting on these articles proclaim their support for "social justice" but it is obvious they do not actually live their proclaimed "values". If you're going to talk the talk, you should be prepared to walk the walk.


marc665
Registered user
Midtown
on Feb 4, 2021 at 9:22 pm
marc665, Midtown
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 9:22 pm

So what happens when someone gets mad at teachers and now knows where they live? We are building a ghetto for the teachers. Will the school district now throw more work on them since they live "close" to the school. Will they get treated differently than teachers that don't live in town?

/marc


CP
Registered user
Midtown
on Feb 4, 2021 at 9:43 pm
CP, Midtown
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 9:43 pm

Much need housing for educators! The quality of our schools is dependent on the ability for educators to live within proximity.

If demand exceeds supply, how will housing be prioritized?


Why?
Registered user
Stanford
on Feb 5, 2021 at 4:48 pm
Why?, Stanford
Registered user
on Feb 5, 2021 at 4:48 pm

Who will decide the teachers that will get to live here and for how long? Have the tax implications of this housing benefit been studied? The idea is good but the details are difficult.


Chris
Registered user
University South
on Feb 6, 2021 at 7:26 pm
Chris, University South
Registered user
on Feb 6, 2021 at 7:26 pm

Why,

There are a lot of affordable housing developments. The issues you raise are not really any different here. Just red herrings and smoke screens for a much needed project.

Palo Altans are being laughed at all over the country for their opposition to housing.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 8, 2021 at 11:16 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Feb 8, 2021 at 11:16 am

Chris - every city has their own problems - read a newspaper. Every city is dealing with the breakdown in the business and commercial sector. Each city has their own specific problems. Each city does not have a major university that is the biggest landholder and employer in the area. SU is expected to manage their own housing.

Palo Altans are not against housing. The problem is where the housing is. Most cites on the peninsula concentrate the apartments and condos in the downtown area where the commercial shops and transportation is. That would be your location. That is what is happening in RWC. That is what we all are trying to do with the Fry's site and the commercial sector along ECR. Every one out there is against the breakdown of the residential areas except the "Housing advocates" which are a paid group of people whose job is to "sell" a concept that has no takers, except for the advocates.

No one else cares about our housing except the advocates who go to the papers to sell an idea to prop up their positions.


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