But things have been quieter at home, given that Palo Alto's zoning is generally more restrictive and less flexible.
"We don't have the zoning to produce financially feasible projects," Gonzalez told the Weekly.
As part of the city's effort to change that, the council this year adopted a Housing Work Plan that includes as one of its programs the creation of an "affordable-housing combining district" — a zoning tool that would grant some height and parking-requirement exemptions for developments that are 100 percent affordable housing.
But even if the council opts to adopt this tool, its utility will be limited. It would only apply to commercially zoned sites near public transit. And it still requires the affordable-housing developer to navigate the full rezoning process.
"You still go through all the public hearings, the design review, the Planning and Transportation Commission and the City Council. It's a full rezone with no streamlining, which means there's a lot of uncertainty," Gonzalez said.
It's not uncommon for proposed developments to undergo three separate hearings — stretching more than three months — in front of the Architectural Review Board. At the planning commission, its members can approve, deny or form a committee to study the application further.
Things work differently in Mountain View. When Palo Alto Housing was moving ahead with the 67-apartment project currently under construction at 1701 West El Camino Real, the design process entailed one meeting with a two-member design committee.
"They made some suggestion and set some conditions, which we met, and they approved the project," she said.
Getting neighbors of a proposed development and other community members to support a project also takes longer in Palo Alto, she said.
"We do more public hearings in Palo Alto because it's a very engaged community, and there's often a little more questions and concerns around projects," she said. "In a community like Mountain View, we might do five of six meetings over the course of the year. In Palo Alto, it could be more like 20 or 30."
Both the Mountain View project and the one in unincorporated San Mateo County are being developed under area plans — a tool that she said is an effective way to encourage affordable housing.
"A developer knows that 'If I buy this property and I meet these standards, I can yield these units.' It takes away a lot of uncertainty," Gonzalez said.
Fran Wagstaff, retired executive director of the nonprofit Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition, credits a difference in attitudes with the housing progress in other cities.
"When you look up and down the Peninsula at cities like Redwood City and Mountain View — you don't have to go far to see this incredible uptick in densities in those cities," Wagstaff said. "They are being responsible in trying to provide housing for all the businesses whose workers have to live in this area."
The cities that have been successful in getting affordable housing have taken on the role of housing advocates, she said.
"They're bending over backwards to expedite things, to minimize the number of conditions they put on the housing, to allow flexibility in the number of housing that needs to be built," Wagstaff said.
Many contractors view Palo Alto as a difficult place to do businesses, in part because of the extensive review process.
"The (affordable-housing) developer building housing has a schedule that they have to comply with if they are competing for funding. The longer the process drags on, the more costs they entail because you have to put the money out for architectural plans and engineering. The delays cost a lot of money," Wagstaff said.
Gonzalez noted that in the five years since the Maybell referendum, not a single affordable-housing project has been proposed and approved in the city (aside from a Stanford University project — Mayfield Place — approved as part of a 2005 agreement between Stanford and Palo Alto).
Palo Alto Housing supports Palo Alto's proposed affordable-housing combining district, which would help the nonprofit construct its first affordable-housing project in the city since the Maybell defeat — a 61-apartment development on El Camino Real, near Wilton Court.
"Doing the overlay zone is a step in the right direction — it's better than doing nothing," Gonzalez said, "though it won't necessarily yield (the city's goal of) 300 units per year."
It may, in fact, not even yield one. On March 14, the Planning and Transportation Commission decided by a 4-3 vote not to adopt the overlay zone — for the moment. While voicing support the Wilton Court project, members of the commission's majority — Chair Ed Lauing and Commissioners Przemek Gardias, Doria Summa and Asher Waldfogel — said they would prefer to see it advance under the "planned community" process, while the overlay district is further refined.
The planning commission reached its March 14 decision despite hearing from about two dozen residents, most of whom urged the commission to approve the affordable-housing overlay.
Per Maresca told the commission that he speaks for himself and hundreds of other residents who have developmental disabilities and who are short on housing options. Maresca said he supplements the income he gets through Social Security with a part-time job at a local hotel.
"I was born and raised in Palo Alto and I want to continue to live here," Maresca said.
Jessica Clark said she had to close her day care center in Palo Verde six years ago because the rent was too high, and she moved into a smaller apartment, where she's paying twice the rent. She applied for a below-market-rate units and found herself in the mid-300s on the waiting list, she said. Since then, she's moved up to 184.
Clark said, however, that she suspects her advancement on the list was because people left Palo Alto rather than found housing opportunities here.
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