SB-827 height overlay map

“Transit rich” housing. Sounds good, right? Is this what you expected?

State Senator Scott Weiner (D-11th District), the author of last year’s “By-right Housing” law, (SB-35), has a pair of new “go-big” proposals. Designed to incentivize construction of dense, multi-family housing near transit, SB-827 would “up zone” all parcels, statewide, within 1/2 mile of a major transit stop or within 1/4 mile of a high quality transit corridor. Residential development projects in those “transit rich” areas would receive a “transit-rich housing bonus” exempting them from local rules regarding density, parking, floor area limits and design standards. Height limits would be set between 45 feet and 85 feet, depending on location. SB-827 does not specify any affordability requirements or minimum residential component.

Following on the heels of new State penalties for failure to meet regional housing allocations (RHNA), Senator Weiner’s second proposal, SB-828, would effectively double the RHNA requirements for all local jurisdictions, requiring that they “plan and accommodate for 200 percent of the local housing allocation for every income category in its housing element.”

So what would SB-827 mean for Palo Alto? More than a third of the city’s built environment would be eligible for conversion to dense “housing developments” up to as much as 85 feet high: approximately 6,000 parcels (out of 18,050 total parcels in the city), including 3,694 parcels currently zoned for single family homes and 1,416 zoned for multi-family residential (which currently have height limits of 30 to 40 feet). As written, SB-827 appears to apply across all zoning categories.

Click the image below for a story map with multiple tabs analyzing the impacts of SB-827 on Palo Alto (created by AnimaDesigncourtesy of the Embarcadero Institute, 501(c)3).

The zoomable map shows the new maximum building heights in the areas impacted by the Weiner proposal. Yellow = maximum height of 45 feet, Orange = maximum height of 55 feet, and Red = maximum height of 85 feet. If the project is eligible for another state “density bonus,” heights could go up to 105 feet. On site parking, area wide, will be left entirely to the discretion of the developer.

What do 55 foot and 85 foot buildings look like?

It is widely agreed that passage of SB-827 would substantially curtail the decision-making powers of local government, but community advocates are lining up both for and against the bill. Many avid housing proponents see less local control as a good thing, but it does raise some thorny questions.

Will it disrupt carefully crafted area plans, such as SOFA I/II and the soon to kick off North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan or the local balance and distribution of schools, parks and other community facilities? How will it impact the local economy when all commercial uses within the transit-rich area have to compete with more highly entitled housing developments (akin to government incentives for office growth in recent years)? Will they have to move farther from transit? Will it promote displacement of low and moderate income residents from older, more affordable housing stock? What happens if transit routes change? Will it deter the creation of new transit routes? What will be the likely service demands and fiscal impacts on the City?

The City of Palo Alto announced its opposition to the bill in a letter signed by Mayor Kniss on February 13. The League of California Cities also opposes SB-827. On the other side of the debate, in an unusual departure from Mayor Kniss, Councilmember Adrian Fine plans to actively support the bill. The California YIMBY Tech Network recently gathered signatures from 130 tech leaders on a letter of support.

Whether SB-827 will move out of committee and forward to passage is still an open question. Let your local representatives know what you think about the bill: City Council, County Supervisor Joe Simitian, State Assemblymember Marc Berman, and State Senator Jerry Hill.

Assemblymember Berman will hold a community open house on February 22 from 4:00-6:00 pm at his District Office in Los Altos, and will join Menlo Park Mayor, Peter Ohtaki for a community coffee on February 26, 8:00-9:30 am in Menlo Park.

City Council adopts 2018 goals

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / February 3, 2018

City looks to choose grade-separation alternative, add 300 housing units this year

Palo Alto needs to approve 300 housing units, select a new alignment for the rail corridor and make inroads in fighting traffic and addressing budget challenges before the end of the year, the City Council agreed during its priority-setting retreat Saturday.


By a 7-0 vote, with councilmen Tom DuBois and Greg Tanaka absent, the council chose four official priorities for 2018: transportation, housing, finance and grade separation. The council also specified that the “finance” priority should include as a special focus the creation of an “infrastructure funding plan” that considers the recent escalation of construction costs.

Palo Alto: Southgate parking permit trial already under fire

Mercury News – by Kevin Kelly / February 1, 2018

Southgate residents want office employees off their streets, while city looks to add permits to El Camino

Some Southgate neighborhood residents are upset that Palo Alto officials are already talking about changing an experiment designed to make it easier for them to find street parking in front of their homes.

But the council unanimously decided to revisit the trial in June. If Caltrans, which owns and operates El Camino Real, meanwhile agrees to allow permitted parking on the west side, the council indicated it will issue the additional 15 permits to businesses with the intention that they park on El Camino.

On Monday, the council is to consider modifying a parking permit program in the adjacent Evergreen Park/Mayfield neighborhoods. Staff is suggesting that the trial phase there be made permanent.

Changes eyed for Southgate’s parking program

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / January 30, 2018

To assist area employees, City Council looks to add portion of El Camino Real to Residential Preferential Parking district

For residents, Southgate’s new Residential Preferential Parking program is a huge success and should be continued as is. For nearby businesses, the picture is starkly different.

The tussle between residents and businesses created a dilemma for the council. On the one hand, council members sympathized with the workers and deemed their concerns reasonable. On the other, the city didn’t start fully enforcing the one-year pilot program until December. Most residents at Monday’s meeting argued that changing it so early in the process is counterproductive.

The council balked at making any immediate changes. Instead, council members opted to wait another six months before reassessing the program. But in a nod to the employees, the council also supported expanding the Residential Preferential Permit district to the west side of El Camino Real, with the idea of making those parking spots available for area employees.

Palo Alto to challenge Edgewood Plaza ruling

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / January 30, 2018

City Council votes in a closed session to appeal ruling that favored Sand Hill Property Company

Palo Alto plans to appeal a December court ruling that invalidated the city’s fines against Sand Hill Property Company for failing to maintain an operational grocery store at the redeveloped Edgewood Plaza.

By a 7-2 vote, with Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilman Greg Tanaka dissenting, the council directed staff Monday night to appeal a Dec. 15 ruling by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Peter Kirwan, which effectively invalidated about $318,250 in fines that the city issued to Sand Hill last year.

In issuing its citations, the city had concluded that Sand Hill had violated the conditions of its “planned community” zone by not having an operational grocer at the plaza at 2080 Channing Ave.

Plan for dedicated El Camino bus lanes fizzles out

Mountain View Voice – by Mark Noack / January 29, 2018

Unpopular BRT project called off after $10.5M in preliminary work

After years of spinning its wheels, the controversial proposal to build dedicated bus lanes along El Camino Real appears to be dead in the water.

Originally proposed more than a decade ago, the $223 million project known as Bus Rapid Transit has languished in recent years amid pushback from residents and many elected leaders. Valley Transportation Authority officials say they are now pulling the plug on the idea after gaining insufficient support from cities along the El Camino corridor, even for a scaled-down version to test out the idea.

Palo Alto school board may ask Stanford for another school site

Palo Alto Daily Post – by Allison Levistsky / January 29, 2018

The Palo Alto school district has responded to Stanford’s plan to expand by 2.3 million square feet with nine demands, including a third elementary school on campus, more on-campus housing and a commitment by the university to not seek tax exemptions for new homes it builds.

In a draft of a letter to Santa Clara County planners that the school board will finalize at a board meeting tomorrow (Jan. 30) night, the district calls for the university to increase its student generation rate, or the average number of K-12 students expected to live in each home the university builds.

The university has set a student generation rate of 0.5, while the school district says 0.98 is more appropriate.

Editorial: Caution on teacher housing

Palo Alto Weekly – by Palo Alto Weekly editorial board / January 26, 2018

Simitian vision for subsidized teacher housing has long road to travel

Every organization in Palo Alto — business, nonprofit and government — is struggling with the lack of affordable housing and the resulting employee-recruiting and commute challenges. So before letting teacher housing become the sole focus, we’d like to see clear evidence of need and demand and a policy discussion about whether and why teacher housing should be a higher priority than other subsidized housing when considering the re-purposing of limited public property.

The value of teachers living within the community may very well be worth making it the priority for the use of this county property, but the public deserves a lot more analysis showing such a plan will actually result in the desired outcome before reaching that policy decision.

North Palo Alto residents ramp up traffic battle

Palo Alto Weekly – by Sue Dremann / January 26, 2018

Neighborhood warms to new and creative activism to unclog residential streets

Riled by daily traffic snarls on their residential streets, about 70 Crescent Park residents met with Palo Alto police and transportation officials on Jan. 18 to discuss how to end commuters’ occupation of their neighborhood.

Greg Welch, a Center Drive resident, spearheaded the neighborhood advocacy.

“As our next steps, we will have almost weekly meetings and will be coordinating (with the city),” he said, noting they plan to form a stakeholder group to develop a pilot traffic-management program. The group would work with Palo Alto’s transportation department on creating the program.

The meeting, just the latest movement in a wave of neighborhood activism, covered the expected discussion of pavement markings, traffic circles and stop signs — but also ventured into the realm of politics, with residents talking about potential candidates to support during this year’s City Council election.

Pope-Chaucer bridge: Replacement hits a snag

Palo Alto Daily Post – by Allison Levitsky / January 25, 2018

Replacement of the Pope-Chaucer Street Bridge — which was blamed for much of the damage in the 1998 flood that inundated Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park — could be delayed by a bureaucratic snafu between the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The creek authority plans to replace the bridge with one that doesn’t have concrete blocks that constrict the flow. Currently, so much sediment is built up at the bridge that there are large trees growing out of it, said Len Materman, the creek authority’s executive director.

Creek authority leaders are currently studying the environmental impacts that the project would have in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act.
But on Jan. 18, the water board sent a letter to the creek authority, urging them to take into account the expected increase in sediment loads flowing from Searsville Dam, a 65-foot masonry dam on Stanford lands upstream in the foothills.