Yet another housing debate in front of City Council with residents claiming the project is too big and will be a disaster on one side, and housing advocates making desperate pleas for the basic human need of decent housing near their work so they don't have to choose between being unemployed or losing their minds on the other. Both are right. The developments, as planned, are disastrous. They are, as former council member Karen Holman said, warehouses for people. Not only that, but the locations are almost always terrible. Who wants to live on El Camino or backed up onto Highway 101?
There is a solution, but no one is going to like it: Abolish R-1 zoning. Vice Mayor Pat Burt's response to this possibility is that R-1 pretty much doesn't exist anymore. What he means by this is that those of us who own R-1 properties can pack them to the gills with Accessory Dwelling Units, but that's not what we need. People want to own their homes, and they want their homes to be in low-traffic neighborhoods with walkable and bikeable proximity to goods and services. If Palo Alto allows a 4,000-square-foot house on a 5,000-square-foot lot, it can allow three 1,300-square-foot condos in the same space.
Right now, Palo Alto is imploding. Allowing reasonable density to be built where people want to live rather than in the leftover scraps of land that nobody wanted for good reason would have prevented this. It may be an idea too late, but I still think it's worth a try.
Birch Street, Palo Alto
Misleading Castilleja survey
Castilleja School's expansion project is likely coming before Palo Alto City Council in March. Friends around town let us neighbors know about a "survey" they received, following closely on the heels of an official city of Palo Alto survey. However, although it is titled "independent survey" about Palo Alto issues, this one is paid for by Castilleja. It is anything but impartial and gives you false choices. Very misleading questions ensure the results will be pre-ordained.
For example, if they were truly feeling out the residents, they would ask: "How do you feel about a private school in an R-1 neighborhood increasing enrollment by 30%, building a large modern building on a small bucolic site and putting underground garage access on the Bryant Bike Boulevard and Emerson, a very narrow residential street?" Instead, it asks: "Would you rather have a large above-grade garage structure or an underground garage?" Please note that with a lower enrollment request, they do not need more parking than they already have on campus, per muni code requirements.
Three important points:
1: The neighbors have never been against the school re-building and modernizing; they oppose the scope of the expansion.
2: The Planning Commission did not approve or even strongly recommend the proposal; all the votes were split.
3: Castilleja is requesting exceptions to the muni code (asking for more floor area than is allowed); weeknight and weekend events that no other private schools in R-1 districts are allowed; a student-per-acre density that is already twice that of all private and public schools in Palo Alto; and an environmentally unsustainable and highly polluting underground garage that invites more traffic.
If the school had submitted code-compliant plans in 2016, lowered their demands and worked with the neighborhood, they could be re-built by now.
Melville Avenue, Palo Alto