Town Square

Palo Alto set to adopt new, belated, housing vision

Original post made on Apr 11, 2013

Palo Alto's newest vision for housing is at once a broad roadmap and a delicate compromise, a document that both expresses the city's values and that complies, however grudgingly, with state requirements. After years of revisions and negotiations, the ambitious document is finally on its way to getting approved.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 8:00 PM


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 11, 2013 at 11:09 am

How about concentrating on appealing the density requirements like other cities are? How are we going to absorb 1 MILLION more households with, say 2.45 people per household? The idiotic plan assumes that everyone will work near their jobs, never change jobs and never ever drive their cars so they won't cause any additional traffic.

I've got a nice bridge to sell you, too.

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Posted by Eileen Altman
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 11, 2013 at 11:13 am

I note that on p. 160 of the plan, there is an intention to prevent conversion of affordable housing to market rate. On p. 186, there is a goal to maintain the number of BMR units. On p. 189 there is a goal of encouraging, fostering and preserving diverse housing opportunities for very low-, low-, and moderate-income households. How does this apply to the Buena Vista Mobile Home park community?

I note that p. 192 specifically mentions Buena Vista and says,
"Recognize the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park as providing low- and moderate- income housing opportunities. Any redevelopment of the site must be consistent with the City’s Mobile Home Park Conversion Ordinance adopted to preserve the existing units. To the extent feasible, the City will seek appropriate local, state and federal funding to assist in the preservation and maintenance of the existing units in the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park.
Buena Vista Mobile Home Park continues to exist and provide low- and moderate-income housing opportunities. There has not been any plan to redevelop the park.
This program effectively preserves the existence of the only mobile home park in the City.
This program is appropriate for continuation in the Housing Element update."

If this plan is adopted, can it be used to save the homes of the 108 families living in Buena Vista? I certainly hope so.

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Posted by Do-You-Live-In-The-Same-Town-Were-You-Work?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2013 at 11:19 am

> The idiotic plan assumes that everyone will work near their jobs

The State requires that Cities run an exercise called a "Nexis Study" prior to the imposition of certain kinds of fees/taxes. This study attempts to determine the number of people who live in the same town where they are employed.

For the few towns that have actually run these exercises--most show that the number of people living in the same town where they work at less than 20%.

Sadly--this information rarely seems to make its way into these sorts of discussions.

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Posted by Concerned
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2013 at 2:25 pm

While they prepare for throngs of new residents here, business is leaving California to go to Texas and other places, where state government is business friendly.

I recently heard a national real estate call-in radio program where a young teacher asked if she should buy her first home. I was surprised when the host suggested she buy, but only depending on the state. The caller lived outside of Washington, DC, & was given a cautious yes. But California is on his "Buyer Beware" List, the result of this state's poor treatment of business with taxes, and this business radio program hails from southern California.

Should Palo Alto have a glut of homes, based on inaccurate projections of the resident/job balance, the demand may not equal the supply, causing house prices to plunge, and in an area that has, up till now, been almost recession proof.

ABAG forcing these new projects may have unintended consequences to us all, and for years to come. Cities ought not be coerced. We should be able to honor our own Comprehensive Plan, designed by feedback from the community and elected leaders.

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Posted by Concerned
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm

The other questionable idea currently on the table is making El Camino Real into a "Grand Boulevard", reducing a lane of auto traffic and trying to get pedestrians to walk Highway 82, and get bicyclists to ride Highway 82 too.

Since most people drive, how long will ABAG's new residents tolerate traffic jams all over, made worse with Highway 82 being put on a road diet, before they move out of the area, just to maintain a better quality of life and keeping their sanity? That's even if they have a job.

Keep in mind even Highway 101 will have "tolls" for us to pay, similar to what's all over the Bay Area now. FAST TRAC lanes for those that can afford it.

Sometimes new ideas are just bad. How did it happen that cities are being forced by ABAG? How did reducing a driving lane on Highway 82 come to be? Whose idea is it, to make Highway 82 into a Pedestrian Walkway spanning Santa Clara to San Francisco, and at the expense of drivers? Who came up with all these tolls for freeways?

The Golden Gate Bridge was, I believe, to be paid off at some point. But not only do we have tolls there, but they are being increased, and placed almost everywhere! Doesn't gas tax money go for freeway upkeep? Why all the tolls, and all the new tolls, at that? Please, someone explain.

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Posted by Charles
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Apr 11, 2013 at 5:53 pm

It's a beurocracy running our lives! The tolls from Highway 101 will feed the transportation projects that reduce drive lanes on El Camino Real and other high density pedestrian areas. Makes sense if you work for ABAG or Caltrans and you are truing to generate revenue to fund salaries and benefits. Doesn't make sense for residents that are not able to abandon cars since there's no viable public transit.

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Posted by anecdote annie
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm

For 21 years I worked 3 miles from home here in Palo Alto. Thanx to what John Arrillaga did to the Stanford Equestrian Center, I now have to drive thirty miles round trip to work in Milpitas!

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 11, 2013 at 8:21 pm

The quest to put density willy nilly regardless of how it affects existing neighborhoods and property values -- even rezoning single-family areas -- has gotten so out of hand, I don't see how this document will change anything.

"The new document also offers incentives for developing housing under existing zoning while avoiding increasing the density in single-family neighborhoods."

What incentives? The city loaned the PAHC $3 or $4 million to buy some property, on the proviso that they pay it back when they sell a bunch of densely packed houses that can't be built under the existing single-family zoning, in order to put up a high-density project in that spot not currently zoned for high-density either.

So the city has a conflict of interest now to do away with our existing neighborhood zoning, which the neighbors are mad as bees about. We aren't opposing other high density projects on the El Camino corridor, just where they have to carve out our small neighborhood and foist high density on us right at a traffic bottleneck. Avoiding increasing the density in single-family neighborhoods? They've created a conflict of interest to rubber stamp the rezoning and ignore safety concerns of the neighbors in favor of a developer-centric view, reminiscent of the Alma Plaza mess only hitting us right where we live.

How much do these plans affect anything in the works?

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Posted by It's nonsensical
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2013 at 1:28 am

"...commits the city to give preference, when considering residential projects, to those developments that serve people who have extremely low incomes." What that means is that we'll end up with high-income and very-low-income people in Palo Alto, and not much in between. How is this better than having a more-even distribution of income in the area?

Also, if middle-income and low-income people live outside the area and have to commute to work, who's more likely to drive, and who to bicycle or take mass transit? Giving very poor people preference in housing over middle-income would increase commute traffic in the city.

I can see giving a preference in housing to low-income retired folks who have lived and worked in the city and now may need some help to stay in their home town, where they have roots, or to disabled members of local families who are trying to establish a degree of independence and may never have great earning power. But those categories of people are relatively low in number.

Other than that, why not just build housing at market rates? Very well-off people are not going to be buying the high-density stuff in busy, noisy locations that is what's going to be built; it will more likely be young tech workers getting a foot in the door, or young people desperate to get their kids into Palo Alto schools. (Or they can rent, as we have for the past quarter-century.) So you'd be getting more middle-income people (or high-middle) moving into these developments, not rendering Palo Alto a city only for the very rich or the very poor.

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Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:30 am

In the past, states, regions, and cities passively experienced population growth without proactively shaping that growth. In the past 20 years, California has adopted commendable, if sometimes unpopular, planning policies to minimize GHG and traffic congestion. The two main planks are: 1) maximize mixed-use transit village apartments/condos (to produce one-fourth the carbon footprint and driving of single family homes), and 2) add housing where there is a jobs imbalance. Taken together, these two planks reconfigure the geometry of human settlement patterns, minimizing the distance/energy between home, work, and activities.

Weekly Editor Emeritus Jay Thorwaldson wrote a 1968 article on Palo Alto's jobs/housing imbalance, with 2.4 jobs for every household in those days. Jay’s comment on Palo Alto’s current jobs/housing imbalance: "Well-intentioned and environmentally conscious Palo Alto has restricted housing to create a terrible environmental situation with long commutes wasting fuel. It’s an insoluble situation. Long commutes damage the social fabric and create lower quality of life. Workers are forced to commute (77 miles) from Manteca, etc. Palo Alto has a drawbridge mentality. Compounding the insolubility, objections raised by neighborhood associations are legitimate." [So Jay is saying that slow-growther concerns ARE very legitimate. Creating a win/win growth strategy for the region and for Palo Alto is very difficult.]

For Silly: A UC Berkeley study found locating housing next to jobs is the most effective [but by no means perfect] strategy in reducing vehicle mileage (and generation of carbon dioxide). Their conclusions are detailed in an article, "Which Reduces Vehicle Travel More: Jobs-Housing Balance or Retail-Housing Mixing?" in the Autumn 2006 Journal of the American Planning Association.

For Concerned: It is very interesting to think of business-friendly cities like Houston in Texas, where they mostly have zero zoning restrictions. If that were to be applied to downtown Palo Alto, then I would expect a business-friendly real-estate free market would produce 30 story apartment/condo towers on University Ave.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 12, 2013 at 12:41 pm

My problem with public transit is the "public" part. I grabbed the 10:41am Samtrans 292 from SFO to the Broadway Caltrain last Sunday morning and thought I'd need a barf bag from the stench of body odor. Didn't want to sit down on any of the urine-reeking upholstry. But that's the price of being frugal, and I don't expect much for $2 other than just being on schedule, for which I commend Samtrans on that segment.

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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2013 at 2:59 pm

" I would expect a business-friendly real-estate free market would produce 30 story apartment/condo towers on University Ave."

Wrong. Totally wrong. A business-friendly real-estate free market would produce 30 story OFFICE towers on University Ave.

Without parking, of course. As we now see, the free market does not favor on-site parking; it would eat into office space and its revenues. The workers can park in P-Ville.

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Posted by toodense
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 13, 2013 at 9:25 am

There is way too much high density apartment buildings being built right now on the southern border of Palo Alto, at El Camino and San Antonio. For example the old bowling alley site, and quite a few huge projects which are in Mountain View, in and near the revamped San Antonio Shopping Center. True, these monstrous apartement buildings are in Mt. View but they will impact traffic for those of us in south Palo Alto and should be taken into consideration by our city leaders who are trying to appease ABAG. What will traffic be like when these projects are done?

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Posted by j99
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2013 at 11:29 am

No more housing, too much gridlock traffic already. And close the Buena Vista Trailer Park, we are tired of the crime, graffiti and illegal aliens in our community. No more "affordable housing", at this rate residents will have to carry a gun to go downtown at night.