Nine apartments would be designated for those making between 51% and 80% of area median income, while the remaining 35 would be offered to households that make between 81% and 120% of area median income.
That's the vision that local resident Jason Matlof is proposing with his new application, which has the strong backing of the Palo Alto Educators Association, the local teachers union. Matlof, who has three children who went through Palo Alto schools, said the goal is to allow more teachers to live in the community that they serve.
"This community prides itself on being one of the shining stars in public schools — not only in California but in America. We can't be that community and not provide affordable housing for our teachers. It's not just shameful, it's just not viable," Matlof said in an interview. "You can't aim to have this objective and not provide housing for the people who provide that objective."
To get the project approved, Matlof's real-estate development company Half Dome Capital is relying on the "planned housing zone" (PHZ), a city tool that allows developers to request various zoning exemptions in exchange for provision of housing. In this case, this would mean exceeding the underlying regulations on height, density and parking space. It would be 55 feet tall, going above the citywide 50-foot height limit, and it would include 22 parking spaces, or half a space per unit. And with a floor-area-ratio (FAR) of 3.52, it would greatly exceed the underlying standard for building density of 0.6 FAR. FAR is the ratio of building floor area to parcel size.
Matlof noted that the building's location on El Camino Real makes it particularly suitable for reduced parking. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority bus Route 22, which runs along El Camino, passes within half a mile of five public schools and within two-thirds of a mile of seven schools.
Unlike other recent developments that have been relying on new state laws to lock in zoning standards or to limit city's ability to modify or deny projects (a list that includes The Sobrato Organization's townhouse plan for the 200 Park Blvd. and Roger Fields' condominium proposal for 300 Lambert Ave.), Matlof's proposal is relying on a process that gives the City Council broad discretion to request modifications or to deny the plan.
Under the PHZ process, the council typically vets applications in a pre-screening hearing, during which no votes are taken, to provide early feedback and help the developer determine whether to file a formal application. With Matlof filing the application on Thursday, April 20, the pre-screening will likely take place in the next few months.
Known as The Academy, the El Camino Real project is one of two new developments that target teachers. Santa Clara County is now proceeding with its own project at 231 Grant Ave., a 110-apartment development across from the Palo Alto Courthouse that designates apartments for school employees from participating districts. The Palo Alto Unified School District would have access to 29 of the apartments, while the rest would be designated for other districts in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
The El Camino Real project would differ from the Grant project in several key ways. Smaller in scope, it would focus exclusively on Palo Alto educators. Teri Baldwin, president of Palo Alto Educators Association, said the goal is to address the "missing middle" problem that is well familiar to local teachers: most make too much to qualify for below-market-rate housing but not enough to afford market-rate homes.
For Baldwin, the issue hits close to home. Earlier in her career, she lived a block away from her school, Addison Elementary, but had to move when her building was sold and rent went up by about 30%, she said in an interview with the Palo Alto Weekly. While she was able to find a place in Mountain View, she and Matlof both noted that some teachers commute from as far away as Stockton, Tracy and Morgan Hill. According to Baldwin, 87% of PAEA members live outside Palo Alto.
(According to a Palo Alto Weekly article that analyzed school district data for the 2015-16 school year, however, more than half of Palo Alto teachers lived in the area between Redwood City and Mountain View, with the remainder concentrated in the cities just beyond.)
With teacher salaries starting at about $70,000, it's pretty much impossible for most teachers to afford Palo Alto's typical monthly rents of about $4,000, they noted.
Baldwin said she believes the addition of teacher housing will help the district with recruitment and retention. Many teachers, she said, want to feel like they are part of the community.
"For those people who have to drive from so far away, it's hard," Baldwin said. "In elementary school, kids want you to go to their play after school, and for the older kids, their sporting events. You want to do those things but if you have an hour-or-more commute, you just can't do it. So just to be more of a part of the community is great."
The El Camino Real project also differs from the Grant Avenue one in that it is not seeking public funding (the Grant Avenue development included a $3 million contribution from Palo Alto and additional funding from participating school districts). Matlof believes that if the city grants him the zoning concessions, the project could be economically viable without any subsidies from the city's affordable-housing funds.
"We can both make a for-profit, economic project viable while at the same time doing good on the goal and objective of trying to protect and promote the welfare of teachers in Palo Alto," Matlof said.
The Academy is part of a recent wave of housing projects eying the centrally located Ventura and Barron Park neighborhoods just south of Oregon Expressway. In addition to the Sobrato proposal at the former Fry's Electronic site, which includes 74 townhomes, the city is reviewing two much larger proposals just blocks away from the El Camino site. The developer Acclaim Companies has recently proposed a 380-apartment development at 3150 El Camino Real, which would involve demolishing the building that houses The Fish Market. Another project, proposed by Oxford Capital Group, aims to replace Creekside Inn with a two-building apartment complex featuring 382 apartments at 3400 El Camino.
The nonprofit Charities Housing, meanwhile, is proceeding with a 129-apartment complex for low-income residents at the former Mike's Bikes site at 3001 El Camino Real.
This story contains 1142 words.
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