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.

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.

County blesses plan for teacher housing on Grant Ave.

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

Santa Clara County supervisors voted unanimously yesterday (Jan. 23) to usher ahead a plan to house public schoolteachers on a 1.5-acre plot of county-owned land across the street from the Palo Alto courthouse.

“This is an idea that has been rolling around in my head and my office for the last couple years,” Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian of Palo Alto said at the meeting. “There’s an opportunity for us to not just do a good thing for a particular part of the county, but to explore some new models.”

The lot at 231 Grant Ave. could fit between 60 and 120 apartments, according to Simitian’s proposal. The site is currently home to a modest 8,000-square-foot building that houses nonprofits and part of the public defender’s office.

New housing laws rolling out

The Daily Journal – by Samantha Weigel / January 22, 2018

Legislation affecting local governments draw statewide attention, could spur more construction

As the new year unfolds, local governments are expected to begin unraveling the practical implications of new statewide laws designed to promote affordable housing.

The laws touch on a range of issues including streamlining the planning process for certain housing developments, which some worry will strip local control; creating a new permanent affordable housing funding source, the first since the dissolution of redevelopment agencies; and encouraging governments to plan for transit-oriented developments.

Supervisor Simitian proposes teacher housing in Palo Alto

Project would require ‘innovative’ partnerships with school districts, cities

Palo Alto Weekly – by Elena Kadvany / January 21, 2018

To help teachers cope with the increasingly high cost of living in the Bay Area, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian is proposing the county partner with local school districts and cities to build a 60- to 120-unit affordable housing complex in Palo Alto.

The teacher housing would be built on a county-owned, 1.5-acre site at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto, near the California Avenue Business District.

New accessory-dwelling units law brings hope, confusion

City’s 2017 ordinance sparks big questions about little dwellings

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / January 15, 2018

The city has seen some modest successes with the new law since its passage in April. Traditionally, the city has seen only about four accessory-dwelling units constructed per year, according to staff. Last year, planners had issued permits for nine new ADUs. Another 14 applications are currently under review, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.

But as the commission learned on Wednesday, the new law is also riddled with kinks and ambiguities, which at times lead to confusion and unintended consequences.

New mayor signals heavy push on housing

Liz Kniss proposes new housing committee, senior-housing complex

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / January 12, 2018

In a rare departure during an annual meeting typically devoted to pomp and plaudits, Kniss proposed on Monday establishing a special council committee to focus exclusively on housing. She also called out housing for seniors as a particularly urgent need and pointed to long waiting lists at all of the city’s senior-housing complexes. A new development for this population, she said, is a “serious project we can do this year.”

Housing crisis spurs Berkeley to consider a fast track for affordable housing

Mercury News/Bay Area News Group – by Katy Murphy / December 8, 2017

BERKELEY — Responding to growing concerns about the lack of affordable housing for low-income residents, Berkeley is inching toward a solution that would dramatically speed up approvals for subsidized housing developments.

In a departure from its famous embrace of civic engagement for matters large and small, the Berkeley City Council late Tuesday unanimously directed the city’s planning commission to rewrite the rules so projects meeting Berkeley’s zoning requirements will be automatically issued permits — without any public hearings.

City braces for impacts of new housing laws

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / December 5, 2017

Palo Alto council members, planning staff say recently passed bills could reduce local control, spur major change

For Palo Alto’s housing advocates, the broad package of bills that Sacramento lawmakers signed into law this fall are exactly the type of disruption that the city needs after years of sluggish residential construction and a deepening crisis of affordable housing.

But for the Palo Alto City Council, which has made housing one of its top priorities for the year, the Sacramento-administered medicine comes with a host of unpredictable side effects. The new laws could upend the city’s policies on everything from parking requirements to architectural reviews. And with the new laws kicking in on Jan. 1, City Hall staff are scrambling to understand the implications and come up with new procedures and policies to address them.