News

Grand jury takes aim at affordable housing in Mountain View, Palo Alto

New report offers contrasting pictures of 2 cities and their approach to housing crisis

Arbor Real homes in Palo Alto on Nov. 13, 2020. Photo by Olivia Treynor.

Palo Alto's efforts to build affordable housing are hobbled by disjointed plans, inadequate funding strategies and insufficient efforts by city leaders to obtain community support, according to a report that the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury released on Thursday.

Mountain View, meanwhile, has been far more successful in adding affordable housing, thanks in large part to the city's ability to work with property owners on "area plans" with mixed-use developments, the report notes.

Titled "Affordable Housing: A Tale of Two Cities," the new report targets the two north county cities of Palo Alto and Mountain View and, after reviewing their respective planning processes, funding sources, political climates and actual accomplishment, concludes that the latter city is doing far better than the former when it comes to meeting its regional mandates for below-market-rate housing. As of 2019, the report notes, Mountain View was on a path to meet 56% of its affordable housing targets for the period between 2015 and 2023, a number established through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process. Palo Alto, meanwhile, was on pace to meet just over 10% of its targets for low-income housing.

Things have only slightly improved since then. By the end of 2020, Palo Alto had approved permits for 101 residences in the "very low" income category and 65 in the "low" category, which in both cases constitute about 15% of the city's RHNA targets between 2015 and 2023. Mountain View did better, approving 218 and 212 dwellings in the two respective categories for an accomplishment rate of 27% and 43%, respectively.

The grand jury report includes recommendations for both cities to improve their housing policies, though it saves the bulk of them for Palo Alto.

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Failure to build affordable housing comes at a high cost, the report argued, with insufficient housing impacting the social fabric of the community.

"Homelessness was increasing in the County before the pandemic and the current economic uncertainty has made it worse," the report states. "Many low-income wage earners are one paycheck away from eviction."

Meanwhile, moving to lower-cost areas carries its own consequences, the report states, chief among them long commutes.

"About 120,000 Silicon Valley workers live long distances from their jobs," the report states. "Silicon Valley 'super commuters' drive three hours one way to work, resulting in traffic gridlock, air pollution, and degraded health and quality of life."

The report focuses chiefly on housing in the three below-market-rate categories: "low income," which is up to 80% of the county's area median income; "very low income," which is up to 50% of area median income; and "extremely low income" which is up to 30% of area median income. The area median income in Santa Clara County ranges from $82,450 for a one-person household to $127,200 for a five-person household.

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In Palo Alto, the city council has regularly designated "affordable housing" as one of its top priorities, though it has consistently failed to meet its goals for housing production. To explain the challenge they face, council members routinely point to the high cost to developers of building affordable housing as a top impediment and the lack of state funding to support regional mandates.

The grand jury argues in the new report that the fault, to a great extent, lies with the council itself. It blames Palo Alto's elected leaders for relying too heavily on the city's planning staff to raise awareness in the community about the importance of affordable housing, an approach that is not as effective as actually facilitating these conversations themselves.

"City staff do not have the same stature as elected leaders," the grand jury states. "Therefore, Palo Alto city council members cannot expect staff alone to lead community conversations that enable Palo Alto residents to understand (AH) affordable-housing needs and cost requirements and to build community support," the report states.

To support its case, the report focuses on two specific planning projects that had gone askew because of inadequate community consensus. One is the 2013 referendum over a housing development on Maybell Avenue that included 60 apartments for low-income seniors as 12 single-family homes. While the council approved a zone change to make the project possible, residents argued against the single-family homes and voters subsequently overturned the zone change in a referendum, scuttling the development.

Another is the city's more recent effort to redevelop a portion of the Ventura neighborhood by creating an area plan that includes, among other features, affordable housing, park space and other community amenities. A working group of area residents and citizens spent more than a year developing a plan, only to end up with three alternatives that left most members disappointed. Residents of the neighborhood, the report notes, feel that "staff and consultants controlled the process and did not listen to community concerns," leading to an outcome that one member characterized as "a terrible, disappointing, and unfortunate failure."

While the grand jury viewed the Palo Alto's council's failure to engage the residents as a major factor in the failures of the two efforts, the city's planning strategies are also to blame, according to the report. While Mountain View clearly identifies areas of the city that can accommodate affordable housing and has 25 "precise plans" throughout the city, which it updates every several years, Palo Alto has no such scheme. As a result, affordable housing in Palo Alto is addressed "in a confusing combination of general and specific approaches," according to the grand jury.

By contrast, the grand jury lauds the Mountain View approach, pointing to the city's strong communication between city leadership and the community throughout the planning process. The report notes that there is an ongoing dialog between staff and the community about the need for affordable housing — including the high costs and necessary trade-offs for new construction — and which areas are currently zoned for affordable housing development. The result is that residents are not blindsided when a developer comes forward with a proposal and are more likely to accept it.

"With this proactive communication, specific projects may be modified by resident input but are rarely derailed," the report states.

The report also makes a case that Mountain View residents are simply more inclined to support housing growth. Renters comprise close to 60% of the city's population and have been politically active for years, aligning themselves with affordable housing advocates and passing rent control in 2016 as a direct response to the lack of affordable units. (Palo Alto's renting population is closer to 50% and is not politically organized.)

Residents generally accept that some level of growth is necessary, which translates into less resistance and more community buy-in when projects are up for approval, said Mountain View City Council member Margaret Abe-Koga. She said one of the attractions that lured her and many others to Mountain View is the city's diversity, and that residents are willing to build the housing needed to protect it.

"It is such a diverse community and there definitely is a feel here, a vibe that residents really cherish that diversity and do whatever we need to do to maintain it," Abe-Koga said.

The Luna Vista apartments on El Camino Real in Mountain View on Nov. 18, 2021. Photo by Magali Gautheir.

While the grand jury report creates a contrasting picture of Palo Alto and Mountain View planning strategies — with the former depicted as a laggard and the latter as a leader — its evidence does not always align with this view. As an example of Mountain View's proactive approach, the grand jury points to the North Bayshore Precise Plan, where two property owners, Google and SyWest, could not agree on a development approach, prompting the city to create a new set of development standards for a 30-acre section. The plan includes a requirement for between 1,200 and 2,800 homes.

That plan, however, has not been universally welcomed. SyWest claimed that the city's approach is financially infeasible and, as such, is "fatally flawed." The company also accused the city in a letter of forcing its conclusion on property owners "without actual buy-in" and argued that its input has been largely dismissed.

Palo Alto's efforts in Ventura are also less doomed than the report makes them out to be. Despite a lack of consensus on the working group, the council generally agreed in September on an alternative that would gradually phase out office use and add about 500 housing units. For all its complications and disappointments, the planning exercise helped facilitate conversions between the city and the three major property owners in the planning area: The Sobrato Organization, Jay Paul and Smith Development, each of whom had contributed ideas for future housing development. And it raised awareness in the wider community about the lack of recreational amenities in Ventura, prompting a new effort to build a city gym in the area.

The grand jury report does, however, accurately capture a wide discrepancy in Palo Alto between its plethora of housing policies and its meager results. To spur housing production, the city had adopted new zoning designations (including an "affordable housing" zone with less restrictive design standards) and a new "housing incentive program" aimed to streamline approval for housing projects in certain portions of the city. It had also regularly updated its Housing Element and Comprehensive Plan to add policies pertaining to affordable housing.

Despite these efforts, the only major affordable housing development that the city has approved in recent years is the Wilton Court project at 3703 El Camino Real, which is now being developed by the nonprofit Alta Housing and which features 59 apartments for low-income residents and adults with developmental disabilities.

The grand jury blames the city's failure to craft clearly defined area plans, in the manner of Mountain View, as a chief reason for the city's inadequate results on housing.

"To match affordable-housing outcomes with their policy goals and campaign platforms, Palo Alto leaders need to employ best planning practices such as creating specific planned areas with identified densities, setbacks, height limits, etc., that support affordable-housing development," the report states. "The Palo Alto City Council should identify specific regions where zoning will allow affordable-housing to be feasible and clarify and simplify zoning requirements. This should be done with wide community input and education."

Abe-Koga said she has really come to believe in Mountain View's precise plan approach, which benefits both residents and developers by providing clarity on important aspects like allowed densities and design standards across large swaths of the city. It also lays out what mitigation measures are needed to accommodate growth, and what community benefits developers can offer up to allay those concerns. Once a precise plan is established, developers can often slide through the review process by following those zoning rules.

'Homelessness was increasing in the County before the pandemic and the current economic uncertainty has made it worse.'

-Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury, from report titled 'Affordable Housing: A Tale of Two Cities'

To some extent, the conversation is already happening in Palo Alto. The introduction of the "planned home" zone, which allows developers to negotiate with the city over development standards, has succeeded in bringing about new applications for housing proposals. Over the past year, the council has been weighing the merits of each proposal and gradually modifying the parameters of what these projects should include and where they should — and should not — be located. In April, council members rejected a proposal for a 24-apartment complex that was eyed for a single-family zone in the College Terrace neighborhood and prohibited future planned-home projects in single-family neighborhoods. The council also signaled its support over the past year for several housing projects in commercial and mixed-use zones, including a 70-apartment complex at 660 University Ave. and a 113-apartment development proposed for 2951 El Camino Real.

Both of these projects, however, still face a long road toward approval. Palo Alto's process requires developers behind "planned zone" projects to go through a preliminary review before filing formal applications, which then must go through formal reviews by the Architectural Review Board, the Planning and Transportation Commission and the council.

In its review, the grand jury concluded that Palo Alto's process is far longer than it needs to be. In Mountain View, the report notes, the city approved two developments — a 58-townhome project at 535-555 Walker Drive and a 144-unit project at 394 Ortega Ave. — in less than a year.

In Palo Alto, it took the city two years and one month from the date of the preliminary screening to approve a 57-unit project at 2755 El Camino Real, while the 102-unit project at 788 San Antonio Road took one year and eleven months (it should be noted that both of these projects relied on newly created zoning designation to win approval and neither is "affordable" by the grand jury's definition).

To speed things up, the grand jury offers two ideas. One is following the Mountain View approach by creating area plans with precisely defined design standards, thus obviating the need for preliminary reviews. Another is combining the Planning and Transportation Commission and the Architectural Review Board into a single body, thus reducing the number of meetings that are required for a project to advance.

The report also recommends that both cities conduct "housing impact studies" to evaluate the impact that new commercial development has on demand for affordable housing. Palo Alto has maintained for years that the link is essential. In recent years, it has moved to limit commercial development both through an annual cap and through a citywide limit in the Comprehensive Plan. Council members and city officials have consistently argued that reducing commercial development and limiting job growth reduces the demand for housing and helps both the city — and the region — attain a better jobs-housing balance.

Council member Eric Filseth made that argument in October, when he made his appeal to reduce the city's housing targets for the Regional Housing Needs Allocation next cycle, which spans from 2015 to 2023.

"We're now producing more housing supply faster than new housing demand, which is just unheard of in Bay Area cities," Filseth told an Association of Bay Area Governments committee, which subsequently rejected the city's appeal.

While ABAG rejected the city's arguments that limiting commercial development is in itself a pro-housing policy, the grand jury takes a more nuanced position on commercial development. Its report acknowledges that funding is a major challenge for affordable-housing projects and argues that mixed-use developments with commercial components can represent a partial solution to the housing crisis.

On this approach, more than any other, Palo Alto and Mountain View have taken different paths. Mountain View has welcomed mixed-use developments, recently rezoning the East Whisman area for 2 million additional square feet of offices alongside 5,000 new homes. Palo Alto has largely opposed all projects that include major commercial components and rejected them as alternatives in the Ventura plan. Allowing more offices, city officials have argued, would effectively nullify its progress on housing.

The grand jury report tries to take the middle road. It recommends that Palo Alto put together a plan for funding affordable housing through mixed-use projects, as well as other mechanisms such as a property tax and a business tax (the city is already exploring the latter). But recognizing the unintended consequences of commercial development — namely, additional housing demand — it recommends that both Mountain View and Palo Alto perform a housing impact study that "informs decision-makers about how the proposed project affects the job-to-housing ratio."

The report also calls on both Mountain View and Palo Alto to come up with new plans to pay for affordable-housing projects by July 30. Oddly, it claims that Palo Alto does not have an affordable housing fund. The city in fact has such a fund, which the council relied on in recent years to support the preservation of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park and the construction of the Wilton Court project.

The city of Mountain View has yet to formally respond to the grand jury report and its recommendations, but reaffirmed its commitment to building more affordable housing units in the coming years. Mayor Ellen Kamei said in a statement Friday that the city has 1,000 additional affordable housing units in the planning pipeline, including 120 deed-restricted units on one of the city's downtown parking lots, and that more are planned on a former Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority lot near the downtown transit center.

"These are only a few examples of how our City's affordable housing strategy is working to address a critical need in Mountain View and in our region," Kamei said.

In discussing the new report, Palo Alto Mayor Tom DuBois argued that the grand jury report fails to consider many of the city's current and past efforts to encourage affordable housing. He noted that 9% of the city's existing housing stock consists of units in the "extremely-low" to "moderate" categories, which is a higher rate than in most cities in the county (Mountain View's rate is 3.9%, according to the housing advocacy group [email protected]).

"We've done a lot of zoning changes and we're trying to incentivize housing," DuBois said in an interview. "We've also spent tens of millions of dollars, under council direction, out of our affordable-housing fund."

There are areas, he said, where Mountain View is leading and Palo Alto is trying to follow its example. This includes a tax for large businesses to pay for transportation and housing. Palo Alto, he noted, is planning to place a similar measure on the 2022 ballot.

DuBois said he was not convinced, however, that area plans with commercial components are necessarily a solution. If you're creating more demand for housing that you're building, he asked, are you really getting ahead?

"We're really trying to take a new tack, where I think a lot of cities in the county are sticking to the old recipe of mixed-use development, which doesn't seem to be working," DuBois said. "At least Palo Alto is trying to do something different — restraining office growth and trying to incentivize housing."

Randy Tsuda, president and CEO of the nonprofit housing developer Alta Housing, said the report underscores just how much work is needed to construct more affordable housing, and cautioned against seizing on just any one solution proffered by the grand jury. Area-specific plans help, he said, but there also needs to be financial mechanisms to make affordable housing feasible while state-level support continues to fall short. That could mean more public subsidies or easing of design standards for projects that bring badly needed affordable units to the community.

"The report pointed to a need for an ecosystem of support for affordable housing to make it successful," Tsuda said. "It's not simply political will, it's not simply community support or effective land use policies and plans. You need it all, and you need the funding."

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Gennady Sheyner is a staff writer for the Palo Alto Weekly. Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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Grand jury takes aim at affordable housing in Mountain View, Palo Alto

New report offers contrasting pictures of 2 cities and their approach to housing crisis

by Gennady Sheyner and Kevin Forestieri / Embarcadero Media

Uploaded: Fri, Dec 17, 2021, 1:54 pm

Palo Alto's efforts to build affordable housing are hobbled by disjointed plans, inadequate funding strategies and insufficient efforts by city leaders to obtain community support, according to a report that the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury released on Thursday.

Mountain View, meanwhile, has been far more successful in adding affordable housing, thanks in large part to the city's ability to work with property owners on "area plans" with mixed-use developments, the report notes.

Titled "Affordable Housing: A Tale of Two Cities," the new report targets the two north county cities of Palo Alto and Mountain View and, after reviewing their respective planning processes, funding sources, political climates and actual accomplishment, concludes that the latter city is doing far better than the former when it comes to meeting its regional mandates for below-market-rate housing. As of 2019, the report notes, Mountain View was on a path to meet 56% of its affordable housing targets for the period between 2015 and 2023, a number established through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process. Palo Alto, meanwhile, was on pace to meet just over 10% of its targets for low-income housing.

Things have only slightly improved since then. By the end of 2020, Palo Alto had approved permits for 101 residences in the "very low" income category and 65 in the "low" category, which in both cases constitute about 15% of the city's RHNA targets between 2015 and 2023. Mountain View did better, approving 218 and 212 dwellings in the two respective categories for an accomplishment rate of 27% and 43%, respectively.

The grand jury report includes recommendations for both cities to improve their housing policies, though it saves the bulk of them for Palo Alto.

Failure to build affordable housing comes at a high cost, the report argued, with insufficient housing impacting the social fabric of the community.

"Homelessness was increasing in the County before the pandemic and the current economic uncertainty has made it worse," the report states. "Many low-income wage earners are one paycheck away from eviction."

Meanwhile, moving to lower-cost areas carries its own consequences, the report states, chief among them long commutes.

"About 120,000 Silicon Valley workers live long distances from their jobs," the report states. "Silicon Valley 'super commuters' drive three hours one way to work, resulting in traffic gridlock, air pollution, and degraded health and quality of life."

The report focuses chiefly on housing in the three below-market-rate categories: "low income," which is up to 80% of the county's area median income; "very low income," which is up to 50% of area median income; and "extremely low income" which is up to 30% of area median income. The area median income in Santa Clara County ranges from $82,450 for a one-person household to $127,200 for a five-person household.

In Palo Alto, the city council has regularly designated "affordable housing" as one of its top priorities, though it has consistently failed to meet its goals for housing production. To explain the challenge they face, council members routinely point to the high cost to developers of building affordable housing as a top impediment and the lack of state funding to support regional mandates.

The grand jury argues in the new report that the fault, to a great extent, lies with the council itself. It blames Palo Alto's elected leaders for relying too heavily on the city's planning staff to raise awareness in the community about the importance of affordable housing, an approach that is not as effective as actually facilitating these conversations themselves.

"City staff do not have the same stature as elected leaders," the grand jury states. "Therefore, Palo Alto city council members cannot expect staff alone to lead community conversations that enable Palo Alto residents to understand (AH) affordable-housing needs and cost requirements and to build community support," the report states.

To support its case, the report focuses on two specific planning projects that had gone askew because of inadequate community consensus. One is the 2013 referendum over a housing development on Maybell Avenue that included 60 apartments for low-income seniors as 12 single-family homes. While the council approved a zone change to make the project possible, residents argued against the single-family homes and voters subsequently overturned the zone change in a referendum, scuttling the development.

Another is the city's more recent effort to redevelop a portion of the Ventura neighborhood by creating an area plan that includes, among other features, affordable housing, park space and other community amenities. A working group of area residents and citizens spent more than a year developing a plan, only to end up with three alternatives that left most members disappointed. Residents of the neighborhood, the report notes, feel that "staff and consultants controlled the process and did not listen to community concerns," leading to an outcome that one member characterized as "a terrible, disappointing, and unfortunate failure."

While the grand jury viewed the Palo Alto's council's failure to engage the residents as a major factor in the failures of the two efforts, the city's planning strategies are also to blame, according to the report. While Mountain View clearly identifies areas of the city that can accommodate affordable housing and has 25 "precise plans" throughout the city, which it updates every several years, Palo Alto has no such scheme. As a result, affordable housing in Palo Alto is addressed "in a confusing combination of general and specific approaches," according to the grand jury.

By contrast, the grand jury lauds the Mountain View approach, pointing to the city's strong communication between city leadership and the community throughout the planning process. The report notes that there is an ongoing dialog between staff and the community about the need for affordable housing — including the high costs and necessary trade-offs for new construction — and which areas are currently zoned for affordable housing development. The result is that residents are not blindsided when a developer comes forward with a proposal and are more likely to accept it.

"With this proactive communication, specific projects may be modified by resident input but are rarely derailed," the report states.

The report also makes a case that Mountain View residents are simply more inclined to support housing growth. Renters comprise close to 60% of the city's population and have been politically active for years, aligning themselves with affordable housing advocates and passing rent control in 2016 as a direct response to the lack of affordable units. (Palo Alto's renting population is closer to 50% and is not politically organized.)

Residents generally accept that some level of growth is necessary, which translates into less resistance and more community buy-in when projects are up for approval, said Mountain View City Council member Margaret Abe-Koga. She said one of the attractions that lured her and many others to Mountain View is the city's diversity, and that residents are willing to build the housing needed to protect it.

"It is such a diverse community and there definitely is a feel here, a vibe that residents really cherish that diversity and do whatever we need to do to maintain it," Abe-Koga said.

While the grand jury report creates a contrasting picture of Palo Alto and Mountain View planning strategies — with the former depicted as a laggard and the latter as a leader — its evidence does not always align with this view. As an example of Mountain View's proactive approach, the grand jury points to the North Bayshore Precise Plan, where two property owners, Google and SyWest, could not agree on a development approach, prompting the city to create a new set of development standards for a 30-acre section. The plan includes a requirement for between 1,200 and 2,800 homes.

That plan, however, has not been universally welcomed. SyWest claimed that the city's approach is financially infeasible and, as such, is "fatally flawed." The company also accused the city in a letter of forcing its conclusion on property owners "without actual buy-in" and argued that its input has been largely dismissed.

Palo Alto's efforts in Ventura are also less doomed than the report makes them out to be. Despite a lack of consensus on the working group, the council generally agreed in September on an alternative that would gradually phase out office use and add about 500 housing units. For all its complications and disappointments, the planning exercise helped facilitate conversions between the city and the three major property owners in the planning area: The Sobrato Organization, Jay Paul and Smith Development, each of whom had contributed ideas for future housing development. And it raised awareness in the wider community about the lack of recreational amenities in Ventura, prompting a new effort to build a city gym in the area.

The grand jury report does, however, accurately capture a wide discrepancy in Palo Alto between its plethora of housing policies and its meager results. To spur housing production, the city had adopted new zoning designations (including an "affordable housing" zone with less restrictive design standards) and a new "housing incentive program" aimed to streamline approval for housing projects in certain portions of the city. It had also regularly updated its Housing Element and Comprehensive Plan to add policies pertaining to affordable housing.

Despite these efforts, the only major affordable housing development that the city has approved in recent years is the Wilton Court project at 3703 El Camino Real, which is now being developed by the nonprofit Alta Housing and which features 59 apartments for low-income residents and adults with developmental disabilities.

The grand jury blames the city's failure to craft clearly defined area plans, in the manner of Mountain View, as a chief reason for the city's inadequate results on housing.

"To match affordable-housing outcomes with their policy goals and campaign platforms, Palo Alto leaders need to employ best planning practices such as creating specific planned areas with identified densities, setbacks, height limits, etc., that support affordable-housing development," the report states. "The Palo Alto City Council should identify specific regions where zoning will allow affordable-housing to be feasible and clarify and simplify zoning requirements. This should be done with wide community input and education."

Abe-Koga said she has really come to believe in Mountain View's precise plan approach, which benefits both residents and developers by providing clarity on important aspects like allowed densities and design standards across large swaths of the city. It also lays out what mitigation measures are needed to accommodate growth, and what community benefits developers can offer up to allay those concerns. Once a precise plan is established, developers can often slide through the review process by following those zoning rules.

To some extent, the conversation is already happening in Palo Alto. The introduction of the "planned home" zone, which allows developers to negotiate with the city over development standards, has succeeded in bringing about new applications for housing proposals. Over the past year, the council has been weighing the merits of each proposal and gradually modifying the parameters of what these projects should include and where they should — and should not — be located. In April, council members rejected a proposal for a 24-apartment complex that was eyed for a single-family zone in the College Terrace neighborhood and prohibited future planned-home projects in single-family neighborhoods. The council also signaled its support over the past year for several housing projects in commercial and mixed-use zones, including a 70-apartment complex at 660 University Ave. and a 113-apartment development proposed for 2951 El Camino Real.

Both of these projects, however, still face a long road toward approval. Palo Alto's process requires developers behind "planned zone" projects to go through a preliminary review before filing formal applications, which then must go through formal reviews by the Architectural Review Board, the Planning and Transportation Commission and the council.

In its review, the grand jury concluded that Palo Alto's process is far longer than it needs to be. In Mountain View, the report notes, the city approved two developments — a 58-townhome project at 535-555 Walker Drive and a 144-unit project at 394 Ortega Ave. — in less than a year.

In Palo Alto, it took the city two years and one month from the date of the preliminary screening to approve a 57-unit project at 2755 El Camino Real, while the 102-unit project at 788 San Antonio Road took one year and eleven months (it should be noted that both of these projects relied on newly created zoning designation to win approval and neither is "affordable" by the grand jury's definition).

To speed things up, the grand jury offers two ideas. One is following the Mountain View approach by creating area plans with precisely defined design standards, thus obviating the need for preliminary reviews. Another is combining the Planning and Transportation Commission and the Architectural Review Board into a single body, thus reducing the number of meetings that are required for a project to advance.

The report also recommends that both cities conduct "housing impact studies" to evaluate the impact that new commercial development has on demand for affordable housing. Palo Alto has maintained for years that the link is essential. In recent years, it has moved to limit commercial development both through an annual cap and through a citywide limit in the Comprehensive Plan. Council members and city officials have consistently argued that reducing commercial development and limiting job growth reduces the demand for housing and helps both the city — and the region — attain a better jobs-housing balance.

Council member Eric Filseth made that argument in October, when he made his appeal to reduce the city's housing targets for the Regional Housing Needs Allocation next cycle, which spans from 2015 to 2023.

"We're now producing more housing supply faster than new housing demand, which is just unheard of in Bay Area cities," Filseth told an Association of Bay Area Governments committee, which subsequently rejected the city's appeal.

While ABAG rejected the city's arguments that limiting commercial development is in itself a pro-housing policy, the grand jury takes a more nuanced position on commercial development. Its report acknowledges that funding is a major challenge for affordable-housing projects and argues that mixed-use developments with commercial components can represent a partial solution to the housing crisis.

On this approach, more than any other, Palo Alto and Mountain View have taken different paths. Mountain View has welcomed mixed-use developments, recently rezoning the East Whisman area for 2 million additional square feet of offices alongside 5,000 new homes. Palo Alto has largely opposed all projects that include major commercial components and rejected them as alternatives in the Ventura plan. Allowing more offices, city officials have argued, would effectively nullify its progress on housing.

The grand jury report tries to take the middle road. It recommends that Palo Alto put together a plan for funding affordable housing through mixed-use projects, as well as other mechanisms such as a property tax and a business tax (the city is already exploring the latter). But recognizing the unintended consequences of commercial development — namely, additional housing demand — it recommends that both Mountain View and Palo Alto perform a housing impact study that "informs decision-makers about how the proposed project affects the job-to-housing ratio."

The report also calls on both Mountain View and Palo Alto to come up with new plans to pay for affordable-housing projects by July 30. Oddly, it claims that Palo Alto does not have an affordable housing fund. The city in fact has such a fund, which the council relied on in recent years to support the preservation of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park and the construction of the Wilton Court project.

The city of Mountain View has yet to formally respond to the grand jury report and its recommendations, but reaffirmed its commitment to building more affordable housing units in the coming years. Mayor Ellen Kamei said in a statement Friday that the city has 1,000 additional affordable housing units in the planning pipeline, including 120 deed-restricted units on one of the city's downtown parking lots, and that more are planned on a former Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority lot near the downtown transit center.

"These are only a few examples of how our City's affordable housing strategy is working to address a critical need in Mountain View and in our region," Kamei said.

In discussing the new report, Palo Alto Mayor Tom DuBois argued that the grand jury report fails to consider many of the city's current and past efforts to encourage affordable housing. He noted that 9% of the city's existing housing stock consists of units in the "extremely-low" to "moderate" categories, which is a higher rate than in most cities in the county (Mountain View's rate is 3.9%, according to the housing advocacy group [email protected]).

"We've done a lot of zoning changes and we're trying to incentivize housing," DuBois said in an interview. "We've also spent tens of millions of dollars, under council direction, out of our affordable-housing fund."

There are areas, he said, where Mountain View is leading and Palo Alto is trying to follow its example. This includes a tax for large businesses to pay for transportation and housing. Palo Alto, he noted, is planning to place a similar measure on the 2022 ballot.

DuBois said he was not convinced, however, that area plans with commercial components are necessarily a solution. If you're creating more demand for housing that you're building, he asked, are you really getting ahead?

"We're really trying to take a new tack, where I think a lot of cities in the county are sticking to the old recipe of mixed-use development, which doesn't seem to be working," DuBois said. "At least Palo Alto is trying to do something different — restraining office growth and trying to incentivize housing."

Randy Tsuda, president and CEO of the nonprofit housing developer Alta Housing, said the report underscores just how much work is needed to construct more affordable housing, and cautioned against seizing on just any one solution proffered by the grand jury. Area-specific plans help, he said, but there also needs to be financial mechanisms to make affordable housing feasible while state-level support continues to fall short. That could mean more public subsidies or easing of design standards for projects that bring badly needed affordable units to the community.

"The report pointed to a need for an ecosystem of support for affordable housing to make it successful," Tsuda said. "It's not simply political will, it's not simply community support or effective land use policies and plans. You need it all, and you need the funding."

Gennady Sheyner is a staff writer for the Palo Alto Weekly. Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Local Resident
Registered user
Community Center
on Dec 17, 2021 at 2:35 pm
Local Resident, Community Center
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2021 at 2:35 pm

So Palo Alto has twice the percentage of affordable housing as Mountain View but the grand jury thinks Mountain View is doing a much better job? They lied about the fact that Palo Alto does not have an affordable housing fund. Failed to mention Buena Vista. I guess it all depends on the agenda of the people writing the report.

The Ventura project, where the City of Palo Alto Planning Department completely ignored 2 years of residents input and proposed an alternative that only had one vote of support from the entire Venture Planning Group, which included both residents and developers, in part because it included new high rise office buildings to help pay for the housing. Mountain View also uses this approach which does not solve the housing affordability problem. Unless the ratio of housing to office improves there will be no progress on housing affordability and we'll just end up like New York City and Vancouver, which got density but not housing affordability.


felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2021 at 3:34 pm
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2021 at 3:34 pm

Tsuda, CEO of of Alta Housing states that for cities to get more affordable housing, design standards must be eased or more funding must be gotten.

Easing design standards is shooting ourselves in the foot, so funding must be provided by the State or Feds for more affordable housing for all sizes of households. It’s not genius.

Instead, RHNA requires Palo Alto to magically produce thousands of affordable housing units, providing no money. No city builds housing and there’s no profit in it for private developers, and lands too expensive for non-profit developers of housing. It’s doomed to fail.

Funding is the key, but now it is going to house the homeless (good), with limited funding otherwise (bad).

Palo Alto is way ahead of MV, RWC SV, etc., in not making its jobs/housing imbalance worse. MV may have 1000 housing units in the pipeline, but it doesn’t mean jack cause it also allows a zillion square feet of offices permitted, canceling any good more housing would have.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 17, 2021 at 3:41 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2021 at 3:41 pm

Who referred this to the grand jury? The article doesn't say.

""We're really trying to take a new tact, where I think a lot of cities in the county are sticking to the old recipe of mixed-use development, which doesn't seem to be working," DuBois said. "At least Palo Alto is trying to do something different — restraining office growth and trying to incentivize housing."

Thank you, Mayor DuBois, for pointing out the obvious that more offices only makes things worse even though offices are more profitable for developers and landlords.


Eric Filseth
Registered user
Downtown North
on Dec 17, 2021 at 4:26 pm
Eric Filseth, Downtown North
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2021 at 4:26 pm

The Report focuses on the period from 2015 to 2020. The overall picture, per [email protected], is 2,300+ BMR units in Palo Alto vs 1,400+ in Mt View (Web Link

From 2015 to 2020 our two cities also produced about 25K new jobs – 4K in PA and 21K in MV (ACS table B08601), so Palo Alto actually produced over 2x more new AH units -per new job-. But 25K new jobs maps to a need for around 9,000 new AH units. All our AH production pales next to the new demand we’re still creating as a region.


The Report has both useful suggestions and odd misses, but IMO its real strength is its discussion of AH Financing, an insightful, even bracing analysis. For those who argue “just build it,” the Report lays out concisely what it takes to get that done; everybody should read that section. It walks through the two ways to produce AH: (1) with public money and nonprofits; and (2) by negotiating some AH as part of private mixed-use projects, usually via office space.

To their immense credit, the Grand Jury explicitly asks the seminal question: if an office/mixed-use project produces more Demand for AH than Supply (including via fees, taxes etc), should the project even be done at all?

So many parties – business groups, electeds, developers, even some housing nonprofits - run like heck away from that question, but it’s foundational for the Valley. If a project produces 10 new units of AH, but also a need for 20 units more, are you ahead 10 units or behind 10 units?

Kudos to the Report for the question; frustratingly, it punts on the answer: Rec 14 is “there should be a study.”

Avoiding such projects reduces PA’s numbers. But once you include the “negative units” issue, the model’s recent history in the Valley is extremely poor. Big hats-off to Mt View for trying very hard to make it work in North Bayshore; if they succeed, they may give us all a model. The economics (as with NVCAP, and the Stanford GUP) are brutal.


William Hitchens
Registered user
Mountain View
on Dec 18, 2021 at 6:11 pm
William Hitchens, Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2021 at 6:11 pm

My city of Mountain View is being destroyed by "affordable housing" approved by an incredibly economically ignorant and politically stupid "city council" of ignorant but well-meaning "progressive" fools. In MV, the road to destroying quality of life is being paved by fools with "ignorant, stupid good intentions." I applaud Palo Alto for resisting affordable madness to protect quality of life and the greater good of its homeowners and businesses. They pay the local taxes, they should get special treatment. Isn't that the way that local politics is supposed to work? Protect the taxpayers in return for their taxes.

Anyway, "affordable housing" is just more nasty discredited 60s "public housing" with another, more politically correct name. It is NOT "affordable" at $400K plus for utility apartments in 4 to 5 story cheap, ugly, and crime breeding "prison blocks" with NO on-site parking except for local residents' and businesses' streets. And guess who pays for it? The tenants? Nope. They get a free ride on the backs of productive people and companies paying steep property and sales taxes in Palo Alto (or in Mountain View).

Time to say NO to destruction of quality of local life. Take back control of local housing and land use authority from a State govt gone totally bonkers. Or from a bone bonkers City government, in my case.


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2021 at 1:34 am
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 19, 2021 at 1:34 am

This biased, 2-dimensional false view of the Maybell referendum is a tragedy/travesty; it divided/divides the community and prevented people from coming together for the affordable housing. Sure seems like grand jury members were motivated by past biases.

Reading this article, you would have no idea that a main objection at Maybell was the majority—over 60%—was all-for-profit benefitting developers, not affordable, of towering dense for-profit chimney homes way outsized for the area. You would have no idea neighbors asked for a working group to try to save JUST the affordable housing, as happened in a nearly identical battle 20 years earlier in the same neighborhood that resulted in Fletcher school site saved and just the affordable housing was built from that battle. Many of the same people involved.

If the Maybell referendum had not succeeded, there is almost no chance Buena Vista could have been saved. It would have been a huge net loss of affordable housing.

The owner of BV was in contract with a major developer who was only interested if they got density. They would have evicted everyone at BV just like at the President Hotel if so. Once it became clear from the Maybell referendum that they could not in that neighborhood, the big developer pulled out at BV, immediately following the 2nd reading of the Maybell referendum results. BV owner proceeded trying to get another developer interested for a year, but could not because neighbors could enforce zoning. It was only because of this that the owner was willing to sell to the nonprofit. Like it or not, success of the Maybell referendum was essential to saving BV and all of its affordable housing, and I know for a fact that many neighbors anticipated this and were motivated in part by it, even as they were maligned by attacks and skewed reporting like this that continues to this day.

If residents could have protected zoning at the President Hotel, that affordable housing would not have been lost, either.


felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2021 at 7:52 pm
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 19, 2021 at 7:52 pm

Whoa - slow down @citizen with linking developer Prometheus giving up its million dollar option to buy Buena Vista to Maybell’s defeat. Simply wrong.
Then City Manager Jim Keene made it clear that the City would never grant Prometheus its needed RM-40 zoning change so it pulled out.
The BV owners then turned down offers over the next 4 or so years until Housing Authority purchased it in November, 2017.
The defeat of Maybell lost 60 units of below- market-rate housing for seniors, with nothing to do with saving Buena Vista.


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2021 at 5:15 am
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 5:15 am

@felix,
You are simply wrong.

First of all, Palo Alto had first right of refusal on Maybell property after the referendum. PA could have retained it & worked out JUST affordable housing which neighbors wanted, rather than cramming it onto 40% of the property and letting a for-profit developer put up a massive outsized for-profit development on 2/3 of it. Neighbors asked for a working group before the referendum & for the City to retain the property for long enough afterwards to work this out.

Affordable housing could have been achieved, just as it was in the same neighborhood with some of the same people in a similar development battle 20 years earlier, when a working group was granted.

But instead, PACC let Maybell be sold to a for-profit developer, warning the neighborhood would end up with more density/less safety (which didn’t happen). Staff reportedly worked hard trying to figure out how they could grant that density to the eventual developer.

The then City Council chose this outcome. The stubbornness of supposed advocates who thought their power lay in demonizing rather working with neighbors contributed. It could have been affordable housing just like after the Terman school development debates.

Your dates are all wrong, too.Funding to buy BV was being assembled in early 2015, around when the owner would have gotten approval to evict everyone.

The owner was only open to that offer because in the little over a year since the 2nd reading of the Maybell referendum, he was unable to get another large developer to get involved because of the success of the Maybell referendum in the same neighborhood.

Although a hindsight news stories shows the official pull out of Prometheus as several months after the 2nd reading of the referendum, their actual decision was common knowledge immediately following. The fact that neighbors could enforce the existing zoning is THE reason developers wouldn't get involved, it had zero do with City Staff gungho on density.


anon1234
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 20, 2021 at 8:54 am
anon1234, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 8:54 am

Thank you to Eric Filseth and Citizen for providing facts.
Not sure people care much about facts these days….one can still have hope


Eeyore (formerly StarSpring)
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 20, 2021 at 9:15 am
Eeyore (formerly StarSpring), Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 9:15 am

@William Hitchens. You are absolutely right. Enough said. Mountain View is being destroyed by for profit developers and the unsustainable infrastructure rot is spilling over into Palo Alto and neighboring communities. The traffic on San Antonio is already making it difficult to access the main route into and out of SPA.


Green Gables
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 20, 2021 at 11:59 am
Green Gables, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 11:59 am

Mountain View has had MORE vacant land than Palo Alto. It has MORE land period. The Mountain View Drive-In theater on Grant Road, where there is lots of housing, was out in the country. In fact, all that area of out in the country. Mountain View HS use to be downtown on Castro where there are office buildings.The present MVHS was a different high school (do not remember name).


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 20, 2021 at 1:41 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Reading this article in the BAN I felt it was a hit piece - not journalism. It seemed to ignore a reason why there would be a grand jury at all - what is the point? Did Joe Simitian have any involvement in this?
1. Mountin View and Palo Alto are two distince cities with no commonality in over- all size, percentage of commercial vs residential, and commecial that qulaifies for redevelopemnt.
2. Google is on the stock exchange and is the main driver for new building. In PA SU is the main employer - it is an educational institution that owns it's own property and runs it's own show. There is no comparison between the two.

3. Amount of buildable property east of 101 - no comparison between the two.

So who thought this up? Who is on the Grand Jury and why did they spend tax-payer money doing this? Does the BAN Opinion Editor vet what goes out the door for print?
They should be ashamed - this comes of as a bunch of people who think sniping in the media is going to win some points. No - you have embarrassed yourselves. And the writer of the piece has embarrassed himself.


Anonymous
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Dec 20, 2021 at 3:39 pm
Anonymous, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 3:39 pm

Chickens are coming home to roost for the Palo Alto NIMBYs. Good development.


chris
Registered user
University South
on Dec 20, 2021 at 5:33 pm
chris, University South
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 5:33 pm

The problem with what is going on in Palo Alto is that it shows whichever side you are on, the local politics get in the way of accomplishing housing, particularly affordable housing.

Palo Alto has to show that it can accomplish affordable housing using its own processes or the state will step in. The city has certainly had long enough to get its act together. Would the city be identifying sites for 6K+ units if it were not required to?


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 20, 2021 at 7:04 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 7:04 pm

The state doesn't care about affordable housing; if it did, it would have made sure that the 2 new housing bills had provisions for below-market-rate housing instead of just adding almost 1,000,000 people to the Bay Area.

Is Palo Alto suddenly supposed to invent $100,000 building lots and $200,000 homes when studios!! are renting for $3400??


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Dec 20, 2021 at 7:40 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 7:40 pm

I think it's pretty clear that economics is the hard problem here. You can pick which aspects you want to emphasize -- that the City of Palo Alto will never have the financial resources to build enough affordable housing to meet the population's needs, that income and wealth inequality have increased to the point that housing is unaffordable to a large fraction of the population, that investors will preferentially fund the most profitable projects (which, around here, means offices and high-end housing, not middle- or affordable housing), that housing is being financialized, that it's more profitable to hire a person than it is to house that person, and so on.

The idea that zoning is the hard problem is propaganda, and you can pick which proofs you like the best -- that previous RHNA rounds relaxed zoning but didn't result in a proportional amount of housing, that even places without zoning constraints still have affordability issues, that cities which have increased density haven't improved affordability, and so on.

The State's current approach is to leverage the propaganda to force changes with economic consequences, in hopes that will be enough to sustain another large round of growth. This involves a kind of denialism. As climate deniers assert that cramming CO2 without limit into the atmosphere is actually an advantage, or at least not a problem, or is easily manageable; so population deniers assert that cramming people without limit into a region is an advantage, or not a problem, or easily manageable (if only the NIMBYs could be eliminated). The reality is that in both cases you need to spend tons of money just to keep things functioning, and in the process a lot of people are forced to lead more difficult, more marginal, lives. In both cases better solutions exist, but the politics of implementing them are very difficult.


Mark
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2021 at 7:58 pm
Mark, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 7:58 pm

The GJ report seemed a amateurish, particularly in trying to create a one community against the other argument. Palo Alto simply cannot add housing by promoting mixed office/ housing developments. This may work for MV, but it just exacerbates the job to housing problem in Palo Alto.

Somehow these regional bodies, ABAG and whoever in Santa Clara convened this Grand Jury, appear to take no regional responsibility for housing or poor regional transportation, but assume a few target communities alone should fix everything.

The city needs to see this dumping of regional problems for what it is, a complete failure and abdication by state and country governments. And now with ABAG, cities get to gang up and dump the problem on a few.

Palo Alto planning may be a mess, but these state and regional dictates seem significantly more convoluted and counter productive.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 20, 2021 at 10:56 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 10:56 pm

is ABAG choosing the Grand Jury now?


tmp
Registered user
Downtown North
on Dec 20, 2021 at 11:08 pm
tmp, Downtown North
Registered user
on Dec 20, 2021 at 11:08 pm

This grand jury report is ridiculous. They sat around swatting at flies - which city can produce more affordable housing - to the tune of a few hundred affordable housing units.

Meanwhile the elephant in the room - adding tens of thousands of new jobs with no housing - was ignored and got fatter.

Mountain view with Google and Menlo Park with Facebook lose bigtime in causing gentrification and decreasing overall housing stock by adding those tens of thousands of jobs.

Palo Alto wins hands down in not making the housing situation worse. We are not adding new jobs. We have an office space moratorium. We are not making the situation worse like other cities, we are making it better. We add homes only and comparatively few jobs. We pay attention to elephants rather than ignore them, unlike that silly grand jury chasing flies.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 21, 2021 at 12:15 am
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 21, 2021 at 12:15 am

"Grand jury takes aim at affordable housing in Mountain View, Palo Alto". Are heading's like these produced by an algorithmn? The content of GS article is "oddly, tilted" with a bias, anti housing editorial -- poor ill informed journalism, fake news and spin.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 21, 2021 at 11:37 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Dec 21, 2021 at 11:37 am

There is a follow-up article in the BAN today concerning housing in Mt. View and their attempts to work with Google who is running their show in that city. The area north which will have housing and other projects have a thirty year window of completion. What ever their complications in that city should not drive what happens in this city. Our major employer - SU is concentrating on their new campus in RWC and their building in that city. We have little control over what SU does relative to housing for those people who are not SU employees or students. Who ever is the Grand Jury - no names ever provided - appears oblivious of the actual facts on the tax base of any city and amount of land that qualifies for redevelopment. Many opinion pieces in the BAN touting housing by people who have a vested interest the housing industry. Always with vague assertions about this city with no actual facts as to where this housing would be. Not in their neighborhood.


Eric Filseth
Registered user
Downtown North
on Dec 21, 2021 at 12:00 pm
Eric Filseth, Downtown North
Registered user
on Dec 21, 2021 at 12:00 pm

@Allen Akin is exactly right. Those who argue “Sacramento should take over” assume Sacramento will do better; Akin explains pithily why they won’t. Jerry Brown once said the easiest problems for Government to solve are the ones it created itself; the hard ones endure because they’re hard. “Propaganda” is cheaper than economics, and politically easier for all kinds of bad reasons.

The Grand Jury Report, despite flaws, actually brings up the “demand-from-job-growth” connection. That wouldn’t have happened, five years ago.

The Report’s focus is 2015-2020, coincidentally about the time Palo Alto started down what you might call a “Jobs/housing First” path, initially with the first office cap in 2015. With caveats that (1) it’s early, (2) ACS data isn’t perfect and ends with 2019, and (3) correlation isn’t causation, a couple interesting trends appear to be emerging.

First, believe it or not, Palo Alto’s jobs/housing ratio appears to be edging very slightly down, while the region’s continues to increase. At 3.45 (ACS 2019 data) Palo Alto’s JHR is higher than all cities except Menlo Park, but several others are now up into the 2.7-2.8 range and climbing.

Second, median rent appreciation in Palo Alto has actually slowed, unlike most other cities. From 2010 to 2015, median rents in Palo Alto rose 6%/yr; but over the 2015-2019 period that rate was a steady 3.8%/yr. Meanwhile, median rent appreciation in nearby cities actually accelerated over 2015-2019, such as 6.7%/yr (Cupertino), 8.4%/yr (Mt View), and 10.4%/yr (Sunnyvale). In 2015 median rents in Palo Alto were 25-30% higher than most other cities; by the end of 2019, both Mt View and Sunnyvale were very near parity with us, with Santa Clara just behind them.

It’s too bad (or maybe it’s just as well) paloaltoonline doesn’t support graphics; but if you’re an Excel-head and want to see this visually, you can plot it from ACS tables DP04 and DP05 (housing) and B08601 (jobs). It looks more interesting than it reads.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 21, 2021 at 12:22 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 21, 2021 at 12:22 pm

Thank you, Eric, Allen et al for injecting some reality into the discussion.

In one of the SJ Mercury's gushing articles about Google's latest huge development project, it was interesting to see way down in the article that yes, Google supports affordable housing for this and other projects BUT is relying on non-profits to build the BMR/affordable housing while Google itself will concentrate on the much more profitable "workforce" and market-rate housing.

See also PT Barnum.


chris
Registered user
University South
on Dec 21, 2021 at 2:54 pm
chris, University South
Registered user
on Dec 21, 2021 at 2:54 pm

Allen and Eric,

You are correct that the local politics are difficult and it will take much more leadership than Palo Alto has shown so far. At some point, Palo Alto has to show leadership. So far, Palo Alto has been in a defensive crouch, jabbing at the state initiatives. The best defense against state rules is to show that Palo Alto can do better. A careful analysis of sites of Palo Alto will show that there is a substantial amount of non R1 acreage where a reasonable housing development would be more valuable than current use. Is there anybody on the current City Council who is willing to work with housing experts on such a plan?


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 21, 2021 at 10:08 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Dec 21, 2021 at 10:08 pm

The key for Palo Alto is how much land is available that qualifies as prime for redevlopment. Mountain View has a lot more qualifing land prime for redevlopment -in the north section where you see a lot of car repair, truck rental, and commercial space that has been there for a very long time and is probably no longer profitable. That would be the section from San Antonio going down Old Middlefield to the 101.

Palo Alto does not have the same type section with an exception on El Camino - a couple of blocks.
Chris, et all - be speciic when you make comments that allude to locations for development. We all know the Fry's site. Bouncing on the city politics with no speciic locations is not helpful. It just comes off as a political jab.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Dec 22, 2021 at 9:34 am
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Dec 22, 2021 at 9:34 am

@chris: I'd say State politics are a bigger problem than local politics at the moment. The elimination of State funding for affordable housing, the failure to provide the type of transportation systems that we really need, the mismanagement of water, the stranglehold special interests have on the legislature. These have had, and will have, much more impact than issues at the City level.

Palo Alto *is* leading on one issue that I think really needs attention -- balancing commercial growth and housing growth. In the long run the imbalanced development pattern in Redwood City and Mountain View and San José is going to cause exactly the same problems for those cities that it did for Palo Alto.

Regarding non-R1 acreage in Palo Alto, I'm still hopeful that space for housing can be found in Stanford Research Park. You can build more densely there without much impact on R1 neighborhoods; there's available land; there's an opportunity for shared parking; there are far more jobs there than in Downtown, so if you really believe the "live near your work" mantra, then that's where new housing should go; transportation access is better there than in many other areas of the City.

I know the folks in the Housing Element Working Group are aware of all that, so I'm expecting to learn a lot about what's actually viable from their report.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 22, 2021 at 2:05 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Dec 22, 2021 at 2:05 pm

No mention of the effects of redistricting of congressional districts. The BAN keeps saying Berman is Menlo Park. No - his office is in Palo Alto. He will be in competition with another member who has a much larger war chest. San Jose - the city - will be broken up in pieces vs having one person represent the 10th biggest city in the state - presumably Sam Licccardo. Google's plans for their development in that city will have to jugggle and create complications. Any assummptions as to having legislative help in funding for housing now gets more problematical. Housing depends on so many factors that are now in flux - water, transportation. political support with long term allies now in limbo. Add to that the press which is owned by national organizations that are marching to many bands - many out of state. The real estate activiities in the papers have many out-of-state corporations buying up major sections of property- they have their own agendas.
The City of Plao Alto is holding it's own in this mix - how disturbing that is to the activists trying to create actions via the press and local politics.


Hinrich
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 30, 2021 at 9:30 am
Hinrich, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 30, 2021 at 9:30 am

These discussions haven’t changed - or progressed - much over the past few decades because rapid expansion of business continues to outpace good planning. The challenge is regional. Palo Alto and the peninsula are not the first places in the country to grow. The problem to solve is broad and regional though the discussion remains local. Other cities plan major transit to move people in and out, thus spreading out the housing options across larger geographies. Other cities built up - something resisted locally. Easily, half the population struggling to find housing on the peninsula would gladly live in nice, spacious well designed hi-rise apartments than the options that currently exist for them. PA spends time thinking about RV housing and converting church parking lots. Build 20+ story apartments along el Camino and a serious subway but also work regionally to improve intercity rapid transit. We probably hire more gender advocates than urban planners and worry more about how to extend public benefits to the underserved than actually build stuff to provide for them. Build a surplus of mid tier housing - that creates a larger stock for everyone. Encourage the robber barons building big brothers to provide the Capitol - not just for their own but towards a larger, public/private redevelopment. It’s time. We don’t need to populate Mars - we need to rejuvenate our cities


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 30, 2021 at 12:13 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Dec 30, 2021 at 12:13 pm

Palo Alto has a unique problem. Caltrain is going through residential areas. In other cities Caltrain is going through the commercial sections of those cities. In PA - putting high rises next to the tracks is an intrusion into the residential neighborhoods. It is what it is. You are not going to change that. That leaves El Camino as the place for high rises. RWC has huge apartment complexs on El Camino next to the station market place. That is a good example of logical thinking. The multi-level residential section is in the downtown area, and in clusters next to commercial sections. Accept the parameters that you have to work with. And leave Mountain View out of this equation. It has a different tax base, different percentage of commercial property available for redevelopment. Palo Alto is not an extension of Mountain View and not a bunny hutch of apartments available for Google employees.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Dec 30, 2021 at 3:11 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Dec 30, 2021 at 3:11 pm

Apparently the lowest cost per square foot of living space occurs when you build roughly five stories tall -- the point at which you have to switch framing from mostly wood to mostly steel. This is pretty close to the 50-foot limit in denser parts of Palo Alto. Building taller than that makes a given-sized apartment more expensive. For example, according to rentcafe.com, the average rent in Manhattan is $4140/month, and the average apartment size is 702 sq ft. In Palo Alto it's $3544/month, and 889 sq ft. Hi-rises make housing less affordable, or smaller, or both.

I agree, subways are great. Just for a back-of-the-envelope calculation, assume that Caltrain will expand to carry all new north-south traffic as the Peninsula grows, so all we need to do is build east-west feeder subways to Caltrain. It's roughly 50 miles from downtown San José to downtown San Francisco. Let's say there should always be a subway line within a mile of any location, so that means we need about 25 feeder lines. From looking at the map, these would vary between 3 and 5 miles in length, so let's call it 4 miles on average. That's a total of 100 miles of subway line. The BART extension in San José costs about $1B/mile, so we can build a subway system for the Peninsula for the low, low price of about $100B. Funding method TBD.

Economics is really the hard problem here.


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 31, 2021 at 11:40 am
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 31, 2021 at 11:40 am

"Economics is really the hard problem here."

Allen - you throw this opinion around as if it were fact.

The fact is that regulations have made it more expensive to build here, whether it is zoning, greenwashing (e.g., no demolition allowed and dewatering regulations), BMR requirements, union labor, and so on. Add to that Prop 13, and you have a completely distorted market full of unintended consequences.

I'm laughing at your assertion that economics are the reason why we won't fund subways. No. We don't have the density now and in the foreseeable future to support fixed rail expansion and subways. Public transit works when there's enough density to support it. The tax base and potential ridership from a suburban landscape simply aren't high enough.

Economics? You're right - it is the nature of unintended consequences part of economics that is the problem.


Jim Rivers
Registered user
another community
on Dec 31, 2021 at 1:53 pm
Jim Rivers, another community
Registered user
on Dec 31, 2021 at 1:53 pm

Unlike a Criminal Grand Jury, a Civil Grand Jury carries minimal weight towards the larger scheme of things and is more along the lines of a toothless gripe-fest.

Best not to have any unrealistic expectations.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Dec 31, 2021 at 4:37 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Dec 31, 2021 at 4:37 pm

@Me 2: When you use phrases like "regulations have made it more expensive" and "the tax base and potential ridership from a suburban landscape simply aren't high enough" you're making economic arguments. If your main point is that other issues are involved, too, then I agree.

You missed the point of the subway thought-experiment. The idea was to bring the cost into perspective, not to argue that subways will or won't be built. That's a much more complicated issue.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 5, 2022 at 11:21 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jan 5, 2022 at 11:21 am

I read the article in the printed Weekly and it provided a lot of detail. My take on the problem here is that the starting point is the ABAG assingment of goals which are based on flawed criteria developed before the pandemic. People are working from home - not going to a business address. People are not commuting from three hours away. Each city has a main employer which is different in each city. In PA's case the main employer is SU and they only build housing for their students or workers - if that.

Comparing to Mountain View is a flawed set of assumptions as Google is the main employer and is on the stock exchange - different tax base for that city. The tax base for any city determines the amount of available budget over the basic services that any city has to provide. The amount of available land for redevelopement is a criteria that has been ignored. THe starting point is flawed and then they are trying to back themselves into justifying the numbers with more flawed information.


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