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Despite signs of promise, Palo Alto's newest housing tool fails to deliver

Original post made on Feb 17, 2022

When Palo Alto created the "planned home" zoning designation in 2020, city leaders hoped it would spark a wave of new housing, but the zoning tool has so far failed to deliver any new projects.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, February 17, 2022, 8:55 AM

Comments (7)

Posted by Sunny Living
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2022 at 9:56 am

Sunny Living is a registered user.

Obstruction. Call it what it is. Anyone who has done battle with Palo Alto's planning department knows the lengths the city will go to in order to avoid development.

Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 17, 2022 at 11:13 am

ALB is a registered user.

The thesis statement here is applications from developers are not being submitted.
To place blame on the city for not building housing is incorrect. PHZ was never intended for R1 and the investment firm, Cato LLC knew that when they tried to set a precedent for the entire city when this 24 apartment proposal was pitched. It was the wrong place. It would have been suited for the El Camino Real.

What is the real story here? Did these developers have difficulties getting bank loans?

It is not fair to say that the city is at fault for the lack of housing.

Posted by anon
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 17, 2022 at 11:16 am

anon is a registered user.

To the commenter above Sunny Living:
According to Senior Planner Jodie Gerhardt with the city of Palo alto planning Department "99 % of applications the city receives are approved."
The city's planning department does not try to obstruct development.

The article makes it clear that some projects proposed under the PHZ zoning were withdrawn by the applicant. Probably because of a variety of reasons ; bank loans not available, cost of materials has skyrocketed and the shortage nationwide of workers in the building trades , or site acquisitions that didn't pan out.

Some projects such as the Cato Project 24 unit apartment building proposed in a single family zone were considered inappropriate for the location. The Cato project would have been a good "model " for another location as it was all housing with no new Office added; proving that an all residential project is financially viable!!!

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 17, 2022 at 11:33 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"According to Senior Planner Jodie Gerhardt with the city of Palo alto planning Department "99 % of applications the city receives are approved."
The city's planning department does not try to obstruct development.

That's the understatement of the decade; look at how they've jumped through hoops for Casti.

As for a PA tool not working, not surprised. How many times has PA announced they announced the launch of their app to track road work and construction to help us avoid traffic delays? Anyone else tried the new Crime Tracker tool?

Posted by Sunny Living
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2022 at 1:49 pm

Sunny Living is a registered user.

Have any of you actually worked with the city on a project? I've done a residential project and also a commercial office. I'm not a large scale developer or expert, just a resident who also works here. That said, doing anything with the city of Palo Alto is like pulling teeth. Saying something like "99% of projects are approved" ignores the scope reduction and delays required to play ball with the city. By the time you do that scope reduction, many projects no longer make sense. In addition, residents have weaponized comment periods and environmental review to avoid any slight inconvenience that might affect them. You see the evidence of these fundamental issues spread out across many high visibility projects. The Castilleja back and forth has been going on for years. Cubberley just got pulled again. If Palo Alto (and its residents) wanted more housing, they would operate very differently.

Just look at the results. 6 new homes in Palo Alto built in 2021 (we all know those ADUs are primarily being used as WFH offices). Does no one else see a problem with that? Sure. Maybe these specific residential projects all failed because banks pulled funding (read the quotes, people are implying it was a bigger issue than that), but *6* new houses, even *95*, if you give those ADUs the benefit of the doubt, in a city our size and density is absurd.

I want more housing in Palo Alto. Normal people can't live here - I have multiple friends who work in the Stanford medical system who can't afford a place in Palo Alto, WTF people. I would like our council to find ways to encourage development of new housing and to welcome developers. That means taking a hard look at the way the city works and driving reform. We can't let ourselves stagnate just because so many of you are afraid of progress. I welcome state intervention at this point, it's clearly the only path forward to build the housing we need.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 18, 2022 at 6:11 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

One answer is obvious-Sunny wants PA to provide housing for people working at SU. The one organization that has land to build on is SU. SU has a huge amount of land - why do their employees have to look for housing in PA? SU was going to build in Portola Valley but PV put up a big stink about that - now sure what that outcome is.

Time for SU to be on the hook for building more housing for people that work at their facilities.

Does ABAG see SU as a separate entity for building? Or is ABAG making PA accountable for SU's hiring practices and land management practices? Someone needs to take on the facts concerning land management accountability regarding SU and PA. Why should our quality of life be on the hook for what SU does - or does not do. They are the only ones here who have land that qualifies for development.

Oh - and check out if they plan on electricity only facilities. The big crunch is the cost of the utility systems - water, sewer, electricity hook-ups. Just laying those basic elements is a huge expense. People think it is just plunking a house on the land - NO - big cost to put in the utility systems for undeveloped land. And SU would have to pay for that.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 18, 2022 at 6:21 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Why do you think more housing will make things more affordable when the pace of job creation and office construction still dramatically outpaces housing?

Has land gotten cheaper? Will more people competing for the same number of housing units reduce costs? How? Have building materials gotten cheaper?

As for working with the city, I still laugh at the hoops and amount of time my friendly plumber and I had to jump through to get the $25 promised rebate for a new water heater! The city wouldn't let the homeowner apply, only the plumber!

News flash: plumbers make more than $25 an hour!!

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