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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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My letter to council on PHZ zoning

Uploaded: Apr 11, 2021
Dear Mayor DuBois and council members,

I support maintaining the existing PHZ requirements and application at this time without adding any new restrictions on its use.

As the staff report notes, the PHZ has succeeded in bringing forth new housing proposals and has provided a learning process for the council and community. The staff report also notes the increased housing goals for Palo Alto. Finally the staff report notes “However, for the upcoming RHNA cycle (2023-2031), without significant land use policy adjustments to local zoning, meeting the anticipated market rate housing targets will be challenging. of ABAG’s allocation to the city of the regional goal.”

There are two reasons I oppose adding restrictions to the scope and application of the PHZ at this time. The first is about process. The City is at the very beginning of developing an new Housing Element. Last week you appointed a working group and the consultant contract is on your agenda this week.

As a result, we have no analysis of alternative sites and policies and no way of knowing what is needed to develop a legal Housing Element. To say or imply that council knows today that the full or even expanded use of the PHZ tool is not needed for our new Housing Element is blatantly and transparently false and will be seen as such by HCD, ABAG and others causing potential legal challenges to the City.

The second reason is about policy and vision. Right now, it is very expensive to buy or rent a single-family home in Palo Alto’s residential neighborhoods. I want to make it possible for more middle-income families to live in these neighborhoods and, except possibly for ADUs, the only way to achieve that is to allow housing like duplexes and small apartments that, while not cheap, are affordable to many middle-income families.

I have seen examples of this where my son previously lived in Costa Mesa. He lived on a street with a mix of housing types and a neighborhood school. In the single-family homes stretches on his street, nearly every corner has a duplex, triples or small apartment building. We have many streets like his in Palo Alto.

Not to do this says clearly that R-1 neighborhoods should be reserved for only families that can afford $2-3 million or more for a home. I do not support such a policy. While I do not believe residents or council members wanting to restrict the PHZ application are motivated by racial prejudice or the desire to exclude people on the basis of race or ethnicity, such policies do, even if unintentionally, impose restrict economic diversity that is not in keeping with who we are or want to be.

I definitely want to see applications for small multi-family projects in our R-1 neighborhoods, perhaps starting with corner lots and see what comes forth in terms of projects and affordability.

With regard to concern about a current proposal in College terrace, I am confident that the council can review this application and hear concerns without needing to restrict the PHZ process.

Stephen Levy
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Amy Sung, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 11, 2021 at 12:25 pm

Amy Sung is a registered user.

Well said, Steve! This proposal indeed serves as a learning experience for us all. If anything, I'd say let's get the project off ground ASAP for one simple reason- it only gets more expensive. The raw material, the finished products, and the labor costs. Let's do this, ppl.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 12, 2021 at 10:24 am

Online Name is a registered user.


if you have a different policy position, feel free to post it

personal comments are not appropriate

Posted by Jean Lythcott, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 12, 2021 at 11:30 am

Jean Lythcott is a registered user.

Palo Alto City Council,

portions deleted--the working group topic is available for comment on the main TS thread. This post is about the PHZ decision.

the decisions both to lock in R-1 zoning and to make building multi-unit complexes even more expensive continues the systemic racist stance to work really hard to keep certain people out of Palo Alto.

portion deleted

Jean Lythcott
4135 Maybell Way

Posted by rita vrhel, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Apr 12, 2021 at 11:31 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

portion deleted
personal comments are not appropriate

I am just an ordinary resident since 1984. I don't work for any pro-growth group. I would support low income housing as recommended by Lydia Kou and other council members. Don't destroy R-1 neighborhoods. Rise up against Sacramento and those among us who would.

And please City Council, pass a Regulation that every unit of low cost housing destroyed in the name of "progress" must be replaced by the developer and the numbers kept current. Then the required BMR units are added to that.

According to the 9/2019(pg.26)publication, Palo Alto is among the best City in which to build with an average ROI of 39%!!!!!

City Council, please just say NO!
Thank you

Posted by Dick D., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Apr 12, 2021 at 1:22 pm

Dick D. is a registered user.

I believe Steve Levy's suggestion is very reasonable despite widespread objection by NIMBYs

Like many peninsula towns/cities we have little space to accommodate many more single family homes and lots of objections to modifying existing zoning regulations.

The fact is there are too many of us looking for a roof over our heads with the current regulations in effect, not allowing that. Seems the only solution is to go the way of many prosperous and quite pleasant ares in the country have done - increasing head count and housing per acre - more people per lot with more housing units per acre �" that means accommodating duplexs, three, four and more living units per current lots with single family homes.

Steve Levy's suggestion of beginning this process with multifamily units on corner lots within the current areas now restricted to single family housing makes a great deal of sense. Of course it also makes sense to reconsider the multistory building near the University Avenue train station, impacting none of the current regulations or nearby residents, many already in multifamily buildings.

Posted by RPopp, a resident of Monroe Park,
on Apr 12, 2021 at 2:43 pm

RPopp is a registered user.

Well said Steve.

The very fact that the PHZ requires approval at Council should be enough. Council can evaluate and restrict as they deem appropriate when a proposal comes before them. (3997 Fabian is a great example for how this worked effectively!) To create restrictions and limits beyond those already defined will only serve to reduce the momentum we have just recently started to gain. Not one of us should doubt that if Palo Alto creates too much resistance to the housing goals, the ability to self-regulate will be ripped out from under our feet due to legislation at the State level.

Posted by Resident11, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Apr 12, 2021 at 5:00 pm

Resident11 is a registered user.

I would like to see more diverse and affordable housing in our city while preserving the green spaces, community spaces, and quality schools that make this a desirable place to live.

Housing in Palo Alto will always be priced at a premium due to proximity to jobs and the relatively good quality of life (weather, open space, etc). However, smaller housing options and dense housing in less desirable places such as along busy corridors and along the train tracks can help improve the socioeconomic diversity here.

City Council should ensure that our policies encourage the development that we want. I would like to see zoning concessions contingent on the net housing that is being added and on the affordability of that housing. Adding office space should make it harder to get zoning concessions. Replacing office space with housing should make it easier to get zoning concessions. Building high-cost housing should make it harder to get zoning concessions.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 12, 2021 at 9:26 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

The PHZ program is the best we have now, and for that reason, should not be destroyed, as the exemption of R-1 would do.

That said, the Cato project, which will rent 21 350-square foot apartments for $5000/month and 3 "affordable" 350-square-foot units for $3000/month is not going to provide any truly affordable housing. Neither will the 4 projects proposed for El Camino, all of which similarly produce a handful of $3000/month rentals for residents who make more than $100,000/year.

Palo Alto's public policy is created to eliminate affordable housing, and it is succeeding in that goal. Palo Alto is 4% towards its legal RNHA mandate for very-low-income housing, and no existing plans (not even PHZ) seeks to provide housing for the thousands of very-low-income Palo Alto essential workers who are becoming unhoused.

Other cities, including Mountain View, have had success, and we can do what they do, including:

1. Eliminate parking requirements for housing near public transit. Studies show that people who qualify for low-income housing are unlikely to own cars.

2. Eliminate height requirements on commercial roads. El Camino is home to giant office towers, yet restricts housing to 3 floors.

3. Enact an emergency tax on our largest and most profitable businesses. Mountain View's Google Tax has paid for thousands of affordable housing units - with more in store. Palo Alto is the only city with a business presence that does not make large employers to contribute to housing through a tax.

4. Raise impact fees on commercial development, and exempt fees on multi-family development (the OPPOSITE of what Council did tonight).

5. Require developers to make 20% of their units affordable to low-income residents, not "moderate" (over $100,000/year income) residents.

6. Use public funds! Homekey will be releasing $1.5 billion this year to cities for affordable housing, but we must apply. This is on top of existing sources such as Section 8.

We CAN do this if we want.

Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 10, 2021 at 2:14 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

@Steve While I agree with you generally, at this point you seem to advocate for more housing primarily by adding renters as opposed to adding owners.

It frustrates me that the goal of "more housing" always tilts too far to the side of developers asking to build rental properties.

While completely unrealistic at this point, I would love for my kids to be able to own a home within 10 miles of here when they are adults. Where are the starter houses and starter condos for 20 somethings?

Individuals and families who rent are wonderful people. I am one of them, and I speak for most of us when I say WE WOULD PREFER TO OWN!

It's rarely said out loud (and never at an ABAG meeting), but owner-occupied housing is better. It's just rarely better for the developers in our area (and there's the rub).

Creating more opportunity for ownership and having more citizens with an owner's economic stake in our community is ultimately better for Palo Alto than having more apartments.

I agree that our city desperately needs more housing. Bring on some thoughtful density! I'm all for it when it's done right (even a reasonable number of of micro-units!). I just hope our next housing boom will be one dominated by the development of market rate and BMR owner-occupied housing instead of rental housing.

At the same time COPA works hard to offer lower cost housing of all kinds, the city should keep a watch and tilt the ratio toward owner-occupied instead of rental housing within our community.

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