City steers denser housing away from single-family neighborhoods | April 16, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 16, 2021

City steers denser housing away from single-family neighborhoods

City Council votes to focus contentious zoning tool on commercial areas

by Gennady Sheyner

The Palo Alto City Council moved Monday to curtail its most promising — and unpredictable — zoning tool when it voted to keep "planned home" projects out of single-family neighborhoods.

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Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]


Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 13, 2021 at 9:18 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

The reason why housing prices continue to climb in Palo Alto (and the Bay Area) is because the number of new jobs has grown much faster than the number of new housing units. That's it, full stop.

In the last 20 years, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Palantir, Tesla and many other companies have added hundreds of thousands of additional jobs combined locally and housing has not been able to keep up. In part because its twice as profitable for developers per square foot as residential so there is very little incentive for developers to do so. In downtown Palo Alto it was about a 10 to 1 ratio of new office buildings to apartment buildings, even though downtown is a great location for apartment buildings and very walkable.

Until we address the root cause, local jobs expansion, the problem will continue to worsen.

Of course the two council members who favor business over residents (McCormack & Tanaka) want to upzone R-1 to support further business growth at the expense of family home owners.

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 13, 2021 at 9:30 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Thank you Council for your discussion and vote. There is room for large projects in PA but NOT in R-1 zones. When I look at all the vacant land in Fremont, Union City, Newark maybe PA makes an agreement with "land rich" cities to build denser.

But we will never catch up if the new number of jobs keeps soaring. Apple, Google, Facebook should be required to provide housing for their own employees. 20,000 new Google jobs in SJ and 1,000 apts. Does not add up; never has/ never will.

Please don't destroy what makes PA attractive and unique. Thank you.

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2021 at 9:46 am

felix is a registered user.

It says here that R-1 makes up 70% of the city. I believe what is met is it makes up 70% of our residential housing, not of all city land. The 70% is according to the Dir. of Planning.

I have heard Open Space and parks comprise 46% of city land?

What isn’t correct is the 87% R1 housing figure that PA Forward asserts and was repeatedly echoed by its followers last night in their comments to Council.

Will PA Forward now issue a prompt correction to its followers? Knowing of less R1 would surely be a solace given how upsetting it is to them.

I was disappointed that Council didn’t take housing east of 101 completely off the table (there is none now). With sea and ground water rise, and keeping our bayland area as free from more development as possible, this seems a no brainer.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2021 at 9:50 am

Resident is a registered user.

California Catalysts says the job “YIMBY Field Organizer” pays $70,000/year. Pro’s at work last night, but it’s an uphill battle because PHZ never intended for R1. Even Cato Investments knew that.

Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 13, 2021 at 10:39 am

anon is a registered user.

I believe councils intention was to exclude R-1 and the low density zones, which are R-2, R-E and RMD from PHZ applications but to allow it in multi family zones, which are RM-20, RM-30 and RM-40, and commercial zones.
In the motion the only exclude PHZs in R-1 and 2 of the three Low density residential zones R-2 and R-E, which is an error i think. Hopefully someone will catch this!

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 13, 2021 at 10:45 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Articles in the papers this weekend were pointing to North San Jose and Santa Clara as the place where new housing is going to go. There is available land out there next to transit - directly next to transit.

Palo Alto is built out. We are done with exception to new builds on open land like the new Orchard Neighborhood. There is open land that is available in this county.
Quit with the shredding of the hankies about housing in PA. Housing is going up if you get in your car and go look around - New buildings on San Antonio, ECR near San Antonio, Park section coming up - FRY's. There are projects in place that are waiting to start.
The Progressive wing that feels the need to overload any one city needs redirection. And the PACC members who provide access to those who are centered on this city as a salve for the housing "crises" need to vote them down.
The progressive wing is responding to the Weiner group and look what they have accomplished in SF - total mayhem.

Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Apr 13, 2021 at 11:03 am

Chris is a registered user.


Felix: R-1 is 87% of land zoned RESIDENTIAL.

Resident: Palo Alto created the jobs housing imbalance on its own. It can’t then shirk its housing responsibility by telling other cities: We are first. You STOP creating jobs and build only housing.

Just like Palo Alto lost on Foothills Park, it is setting itself up for a big loss on the housing issue. Hopefully, the city fathers and mothers will wake up in time. Palo Alto is outnumbered on this issue, and is being called out regionally and nationally for its irresponsibility.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 13, 2021 at 11:17 am

Annette is a registered user.

I very much appreciate the corrections and reminders offered by the mayor and vice mayor last night. R1 can already be developed more densely than PAF and others such as the CATO spokesperson are so fond of saying. And the 87% number is bogus. Progress on this issue is more likely if the discussion is credible and based on fact rather than fiction.

As for the "what's so scary about affordable housing" question that has been asserted regarding the CATO proposal for College Terrace, that is also bogus. College Terrace is a diverse neighborhood that is one of the more affordable neighborhoods in Palo Alto. It is also more densely built out than other parts of the city. Objection to the CATO project had nothing whatsoever to do with who might live in the apartments. I have lived in CT for 4 decades and cannot imagine this neighborhood not welcoming someone because that person happens to live in affordable housing; the inferred accusation is absurd. And offensive. The widespread objections to the CATO proposal were to the particulars of the project which is simply inappropriate for the location.

Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 13, 2021 at 11:20 am

anon is a registered user.

Actually, the Comprehensive Plan state In the Housing Element page 1 states that the city is "approximately 26 Square miles, one third is open space.."
so the claim that 87% percent of the city is R-1 is absurd.

Posted by Here SInce 1979
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 13, 2021 at 2:42 pm

Here SInce 1979 is a registered user.

I acknowledge all the housing needs, BMR, transit issues, BUT no one is talking about how the new residents will get their water. We are currently at approx. 24 - 26% of normal rainfall with little rainfall in sight. Our reservoirs are about the same. Water is essential for human existence (not finding a residence close by). The last three droughts were increasingly more severe and took years to recover. How can you justify building more and more when you can't provide water for those coming in?
Sounds like the developers and their supporters are looking to get rich and then buy their water from other sources.

PS. We did have water contracts with other states and communities. They all backed out and we received no water during the drought.

Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2021 at 3:43 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

What a relief to know that our current City Council is looking out for people who already live here! I echo Resident 1; Palo Alto is built out. It's unreasonable to expect us to pack ourselves in like sardines to keep up with businesses that like having that prestige, sounds like the heart of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto address. And right on their heels are the developers who have stoutly resisted increasing BMR numbers in their projected developments.

And I am also not thrilled about the greedy owners of Town & Country who now want medical offices to replace needed retail. They were more than happy to gouge the existing businesses there when they bought the center. Lots of people took a hit from COVID-19. Why should they be subsidized by replacing some lost tenants with medical offices? Those retail outlets may well be replaced with good retail stores after shopping returns to normalcy?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 13, 2021 at 5:05 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Indeed it's a relief to have a City Council majority that's pushing back against the pro-densificatio pro-gentrification lobby that hypocritically claims "density" will "cure" racism" and make housing more "affordable" when in fact it does exactly the opposite.

We currently have a 20:1 office space vs housing ratio which is no surprise since offices are at least twice as profitable as market rate housing. Meanwhile Google continues to create new office complexes that will add 20,000 new jobs/commuters but only 1,000 "affordable" housing units with is really just another name for "workforce housing" aka market rate housing for well-paid techies who can easily qualify for mortgages.

Instead of making housing more affordable, office complexes like increase competition for housing 29:1 AND displace minority /ethnic neighborhoods.

Re Town & Country, so glad that most of the new CC is pushing back on the landlord's absurd claim that people will shop MORE after their painful medical appointments and sweaty workouts to make up for the city's lost sales tax revenue.

Posted by tmp
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 13, 2021 at 6:03 pm

tmp is a registered user.

Thank you city council. We need to continue to fight against the loud voices that promote growth and density over the environment and quality of life.

There is not enough water to continue to add to the population of the bay area. The air is dirty, roads are clogged even now with fewer people driving due to the slow return from Covid. The city has not added park space per the comprehensive plan as required but has continued to allow the population of the city to increase.

Citizens of California need to contact their state representative and state senators and tell them not to vote for the bills that are removing local control of density and zoning and allowing developers to put high-rise developments where ever they want to. (Check out SB 9 and SB10). Developers are buying our state government and our quality of life is suffering with the increase population growth, development and worsening pollution and overcrowding.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 13, 2021 at 8:11 pm

Annette is a registered user.

What's missing from the development analysis is current information on water supply. The City is mandated to update its urban water management plan. Will the newly formed housing element committee be advised to take water supply into consideration and have updated information? Growing the population and augmenting our built environment needs to be done responsibly. We need to know how much growth we can sustain b/c if we aren't mindful of our resources we could easily make our problems worse than they are now. I get that we need more housing, but let's not pretend we've got the same level of buildable land and natural resources that existed when Pat Brown was governor. Or that climate change isn't giving us hideous weather disasters to deal with every year. As unwelcome as this may be, I think we may have accelerated development to the point that we must now choose between commercial growth and residential growth and hold ourselves to a conservative limit either way.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2021 at 9:08 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Put accurately, 87% of residentially-zoned lots are designated R-1. This is higher than in other cities. For example, I own a SFH in San Francisco which I rent to tenants. There is only one home on my lot, but it is zoned R-2, just like all of the SFHs in the neighborhood (Noe Valley).

Truthfully, many cities have mostly R-2 zoned lots because as a rule R-2 lots are far more valuable than R-1 lots due to the flexibility that these lots allow. Here in Palo Alto, there are many Single Family Homes on R-2 lots similar to mine in San Francisco (except a lot more valuable!) and often residents are not aware that their lots are R-2 because they always have been used for one home alone. Changing zoning from R-1 to R-2, R-3, or R-4 does not and cannot automatically transform lots with a SFH into lots with duplexes, triplexes or quad-plexes! Rather, the property owner has the right to choose how to use their lot. In many cases, they will choose to have a large house with a big yard, rather than to maximize density as allowed by zoning, which would result in smaller yards and more sharing.

I think a possibly bigger problem is the corporate ownership of Palo Alto. The vast majority of Palo Alto land - as much as 80% of non-open space -- is owned and controlled by corporations, which leads to issues. Because Prop 13 has allowed corporate owners to escape reassessment of their properties since 1975 (when corp-owned properties change hands, usually just the owners of the corporation change so the owner of the land stays the same), the fact that so much of our extremely valuable land is corporate-owned has deprived the general fund of billions of dollars in property tax. If corp owners paid taxes like residential owners do, the city could reclaim corporate land for housing. We have more than enough land here -- it's allocated wrong.

Finally, ghost houses create a problem. If ghost houses were regulated as they are elsewhere, empty homes could be reclaimed for housing!

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 13, 2021 at 10:51 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Sorry - comparison to San Francisco housing zones has nothing to do with Palo Alto. SF - the city was built from the gold rush up and has a tangled history on housing. SF is a major city with a large tax base. Palo Alto is a Suburban city. Different housing goals - a lot related to family life and schools with the traditional goals for family life. We are not going to look like SF. And SF today is going down the tubes for every aspect of living.- especially family life and schools. If you want a SF city then go live there - do not try and convert every suburban city into a major city housing complex. Every location has a role to play but not the same role - it is called diversity - diversity goes both ways. Anyone can play the diversity card.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 14, 2021 at 7:23 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

[Post removed; consecutive comments from same poster are not permitted.]

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 14, 2021 at 9:50 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2021 at 7:15 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

A larger percentage of Palo Alto land is owned by businesses than the percentage of San Francisco land that is owned by businesses.

I think that people need to realize that calling a city a suburb does not make it so. 80% of our property owners are corporations that pay very little taxes. That is not a suburb. It is a city that has been misled greatly.

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 14, 2021 at 8:51 pm

eileen is a registered user.

I agree with Rebecca. Almost half of our Palo Alto homes are rental properties.

These homes are owned by large corporations, overseas investor LLCs, and
real estate investment groups. They commonly buy a property and sell units to investors while taking responsibility for the administration and maintenance of the property.

The city council should start thinking about taxing these corporate property owners!

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 14, 2021 at 10:17 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Eileen's post reminds me that big cities like New York City and Vancouver, CA, are also considering implementing a "concierge tax" for all the ghost houses/ ghost apartments purchased strictly for investment purposes and often never even seen by the investors, often foreigners, seeking safe havens for their cash.

The city should indeed start taxing these property owners as well finally implementing a business tax, esp. since the big companies continue to create new jobs at the rate of 20:1 for each new housing unit.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 15, 2021 at 9:59 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I have made it a point to visit every Neighborhood listed in the PA Neighborhood book. Every neighborhood is filled with homes with families with children that are going to our schools, playing on teams, participating in school activities. My block has a high percentage of [portion removed] people who want their children to go to our schools so they can then fit into the college of their choice. If they own or rent is irrelevant - the overall goals are the same. This is a city of families and homes. There is no major shipping port, major airport, major manufacturing. There is no major auto assembly line. We are lucky to have a golf course and playing fields for the community enjoyment. That is a suburb. San Francisco is a City. No matter who owns the land the end result defines the classification of a city.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 15, 2021 at 12:49 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

Once again inclusive housing is kicked to the curbside. Q: When referring to CalAve for housing, where? There is lots I can see for such a build. BTW what looks good and attractive on the outside can be to cheap schlock jobs on the inside. Our council make up is the opposite of the Paris Pompadu : CC is all pretty daisies on the outside and ugly doing on the inside. This reality oozes out w every bad anti housing decision they make from behind their Zoom screens pretending a public service dias.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 15, 2021 at 4:45 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

There are apartment buildings all over this city. Get in your car and go look. The apartments are grouped in sections throughout the city. If that is a persons definition of inclusive housing then it is all over the place. If you want to live in an apartment house then it is there. Go look. tired of people working in a make or break mind set. Every city has houses, every city has apartments. And every city puts them in logical locations the same as every other city.

Posted by Free truth
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2021 at 7:21 am

Free truth is a registered user.

My neighborhood enables kids to play outside, has no traffic noise and is full of people from Stanford who basically cannot afford non-campus homes. Adding high density building units might not solve the housing problems as seen by what has happened to such units in SF. Furthermore it makes neighborhoods lose their character and why some people are willing to pay more to live here. If Palo Alto wants, it should be investing in supporting neighboring cities recover areas that are very degraded by creating better living conditions. Adding high cost units in traditional neighborhoods does not achieve that.... Berkeley used to be an epicenter of great living and disastrous housing policies have led it to a mix of high gentrification and low cost apartment slums - with most traditional residents now regretting all their choices in the past.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2021 at 8:24 am

Bystander is a registered user.

We have to look at what a family home should look like. Families need a certain amount of space both inside and outside. With the trend to spending more time working from home not likely to disappear entirely, space is now more necessary for congenial family life more than ever and likely to continue for some time to come.

Some of these comments come across as anti-family. Keep our family neighborhoods the way they are.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 16, 2021 at 11:01 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

You have to look at who is pushing for change. The Cato Institute policies can be reviewed in Wikipedia. They are dedicated to pushing for change as a policy, regardless of the end result which in the case of College Terrace would be counter-productive. They have an opinion as to what is suppose to be going on. The taxpayers have an opinion as to what their neighborhood is suppose to look like. The people who live there have expressed their opinions.

Posted by Terrace Antelope
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 17, 2021 at 2:12 pm

Terrace Antelope is a registered user.

I don't understand the following logic this -- "I got a job in Palo Alto so therefore I have a right to live in Palo Alto in housing that I can afford."

It's a silly and naive sense of entitlement. The only exception that I could maybe agree with is public servants such as teachers, firemen and such.

Palo Alto is a great town, but there simply isn't room for everyone who wants to live here. It took me 10 years of commuting from Fremont, working my butt off and saving before I could even buy a crappy little house and lot to fix up over the ensuing 20 years.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 17, 2021 at 3:31 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"I don't understand the following logic this -- "I got a job in Palo Alto so therefore I have a right to live in Palo Alto in housing that I can afford."

There is no logic. Like no one ever changes jobs in Silicon Valley??! Like the creation of 20 jobs to 1 housing unit's going to increase affordability! Like the poor under-paid gig workers are ever going to afford a down payment!

Sure, give everyone a $3,000,000 house. Give me a Hawaiian island just like Larry Ellison's and an $80,000,000 mansion so I can tear it down because I feel like it. And a Pacific Heights townhouse so I can hobnob with the Getty's while funding the YIMBY party and moving out of PA when they demand a raise! It keeps them off my back and onto yours!

Right on! Oh, don't forget I want a pony, too, and a stable and land...

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2021 at 4:28 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

What makes a house a home? Good Neighbor? Community involvement/volunteerism? Family? Nice stuff? A yard? Ownership? Wealth? The realtors are scamming a nonsense concept that cloaked in “charm & character” that has zero to do with what a house provides people that reside under its roof. PA is loosing the social context of family and community at every click of their mouse and sent email file. Please. Throw up the real gates like the “no outlet” quaint dead-end streets in CTerrace and Old PA. Call a spade what it is: a spade. Check your income at the door and get-out. Yuck.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 17, 2021 at 4:46 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

The Palo Alto Weekly that came out this week is a Real Estate Extravaganza. What is great that they have all of the apartment projects that are currently approved and in-process. When you see everything it makes you feel good that a lot is happening. They all look good.

Then they discuss the College Terrace Cato project and show a picture of that. Worst architecture ever. Glad they did not approve that.
Between the papers there are two College Terrace heritage houses for sale that are all fixed up - they look great - and not cheap.

The bottom line is that the cost of a house is huge - a really big investment. In this city from end to end do not let the PAF's/others dig into neighborhoods and ruin them.

Barron Park when you drive in has some really big, new houses. Their location is a bit rural with a stream and big park at the back. Put some new restaurants on ECR and you have some real gold there.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2021 at 5:57 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

[Post removed; consecutive comments are not permitted.]

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