The City Council is preparing to appoint on Monday a new citizens panel devoted to crafting the city's Housing Element for 2023-2031. The state-mandated document they'll be working on will propose new housing programs and identify existing sites that can be used for housing.
The group also will attempt to bring the city into compliance with a new state law, Assembly Bill 686, which requires cities to "affirmatively further fair housing" by establishing a policy aimed at combating discrimination, overcoming patterns of segregation and promoting inclusion.
"It's looking at breaking down barriers to entry and discrimination in our zoning regulations to address social equity," Planning Director Jonathan Lait told the council during a Feb. 1 discussion of the new working group.
In Palo Alto, where new housing is both a top priority and a rare commodity, the panel's appointment comes at a time when city leaders are facing increasing pressure to relax zoning standards and consider new sites for residential construction. Under a methodology proposed in the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation process, Palo Alto will be expected to produce 6,086 housing units between 2023 and 2031. More than half of the new housing would be for people in the very low-, low- and moderate-income categories.
The Housing Element Working Group, which will consist of 15 regular members and two alternates, will be charged with evaluating strategies for meeting these goals in monthly meetings, starting on May 6 and concluding in October 2022. It will work with a new council ad hoc committee composed of Mayor Tom DuBois and council members Eric Filseth and Greer Stone to craft the document, which would then be submitted to the full council for review and potential approval.
Under state law, the document must include an analysis of the city's housing needs, an inventory of sites to accommodate future growth, a discussion of constraints that inhibit housing production and a list of programs that implement the city's housing policies.
Despite the complexity of the task and the time commitment it would entail, the city has seen a surge of interest from residents wishing to serve on the new Housing Element Working Group. According to the city's planning staff, 80 people applied for the panel by the March 5 deadline. Those interested include past and present city commissioners, housing advocates, nonprofit developers, community activists, school volunteers, unhoused residents and citizens interested in housing policies.
Stanford University also will have a role in the group. In choosing categories for the new group in February, Vice Mayor Pat Burt noted at the Feb. 1 meeting that the university owns land that could be critical to the future of local housing: Stanford Research Park. The city's Comprehensive Plan, he said, considers the possibility of building housing there.
"If we're going to have a program, we need to engage them, and they should have a seat at the table," Burt said of Stanford University.
Two representatives from Stanford University are included in the list of potential appointees: Jessica von Borck, director of land use planning, and Jean Snider, associate vice president for real estate. The list of applicants also includes representatives from two housing developers: John Hickey from SummerHill Housing Group and Sheryl Klein from the nonprofit Alta Housing.
The list of applicants also includes former planning commissioners Arthur Keller and Przemek Gardias and recent council candidates Raven Malone, Steven Lee and Ed Lauing, who is currently a planning commissioner. Numerous neighborhood activists have also applied, including Pria Graves from College Terrace, Kristen Flynn from Ventura, Arthur Lieberman from Barron Park and Hamilton Hitchings from Duveneck/St. Francis. So have housing advocates Angie Evans and Stephen Levy, an economist who is affiliated with the pro-housing nonprofit Palo Alto Forward.
In keeping with council criteria, the list of applicants also includes three advocates for the unhoused community (including two formerly unhoused individuals) and three who represent residents with special needs (including two parents of special needs children).
The full list of applicants is available on the city's website at CityofPaloAlto.org.