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.

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.

Residents sound off on Stanford’s expansion

Questions linger over university’s ability to address growth impacts

Palo Alto Weekly – by Sarah Klearman / January 24, 2018

More than 200 residents of Palo Alto and surrounding communities attended a meeting on Stanford University’s proposed expansion Tuesday, with many citing traffic, parking, housing and foothills protection as their top concerns about the project.

Hosted by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, the meeting focused on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for Stanford University’s General Use Permit (GUP). If approved by the county, the permit would allow Stanford to build 2.275 million square feet of academic space, in addition to 3,150 housing units and 40,000 square feet of child care centers by 2035.

How big should Stanford get? Palo Alto asks for permanent limit.

Palo Alto Daily Post – by Allison Levitsky / January 23, 2018

Palo Altans will have another opportunity at City Hall tonight (Jan. 23) to sound off on Stanford’s application to expand its academic facilities by nearly 2.3 million square feet.

Last night, Palo Alto City Council signed off on its final 35-page comment letter on Stanford’s Draft Environmental Impact Report, in which the city officially responds to the university’s request. That letter will be sent to the county, which has the authority to grant or deny Stanford’s application.

Council made a few notable changes to the letter last night, including a call to set a permanent limit on how much Stanford will ever be allowed to build, referred to as a maximum buildout.
The suggestion narrowly passed, with councilmen Greg Scharff, Greg Tanaka, Cory Wolbach and Adrian Fine opposing.

Menlo Park appeals Stanford project — will new med school building worsen Sand Hill Road traffic?

Palo Alto Daily Post – by Elaine Goodman / January 22, 2018

The city of Menlo Park’s attempt to block a Stanford development project that officials fear will worsen traffic on Sand Hill Road will be reviewed by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors tomorrow (Jan. 23).

The project is a four-story, 153,821-square-foot office building for medical school faculty that Stanford calls the Center for Academic Medicine. It would be built at the site of a 245-space parking lot at 453 Quarry Road. The building’s three-level underground parking garage would include 830 spaces, for an increase of 585 spaces. The building would also include a cafeteria and fitness center.

Menlo Park says that county planners haven’t taken into account the cumulative traffic impacts of the project in the Sand Hill Road vicinity in its analysis of the new proposal, including 1 million square feet of growth at Stanford Hospital and the recently approved Middle Plaza project at 500 El Camino in Menlo Park.

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.

Meeting set for Tuesday on Stanford expansion

Public comment period winding down for university’s large-scale expansion plan

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / January 18, 2018

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian will host a public meeting on Tuesday regarding Stanford University’s 2018 General Use Permit (GUP) application. As the public comment period is ending Feb. 2, the meeting will be one of the last opportunities for residents to make verbal public comments regarding the GUP.

If the permit is approved, the permit will allow Stanford University to build up to 2.275 million square feet in academic space, 3,150 housing units and 40,000 square feet of child care space and other supporting facilities between 2018 and 2035.

Should there be any limit on Stanford’s growth? How dense should campus become?

Palo Alto Daily Post – by Allison Levitsky / January 17, 2018

As Stanford seeks Santa Clara County leaders’ approval to build nearly 2.3 million square feet of new academic facilities, one question lingers. How much should the university be allowed to build on its campus? How high? How dense? How wide?

Because Stanford occupies an unincorporated part of the county, the Board of Supervisors signs off on all major expansions.

But the land isn’t subject to zoning limitations on density per parcel, so the county has been approving the university’s growth in increments. The county issued Stanford’s last General Use Permit, or GUP, in 2000, allowing for more than 2 million square feet of academic facilities and 3,018 housing units.

San Mateo: Citizens group urging height, density limits before measure ends

San Mateo City Council asked for ballot measure ahead of general plan update

The Daily Journal – by Samantha Weigel / January 15, 2018

As communities across the Bay Area strive to balance disparate viewpoints while navigating the effects of growth, the impassioned debate over height and density restrictions in San Mateo may reach a critical point sooner than some anticipated.

A citizens group that originally spurred San Mateo’s voter-approved limits more than 25 years ago has returned. Members are now urging the City Council to place a measure on the ballot that would keep in place 5-story height limits in most parts of the city, and restrict how dense housing and commercial developers can build.

While the city is about to initiate an extensive community outreach effort for its General Plan update — the most comprehensive land use and zoning document in San Mateo — concerns have arisen about Measure P sunsetting at the end of 2020.

Hotel plan draws opposition in south Palo Alto

Residents concerned about building’s density, traffic impacts

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / January 9, 2018

For Palo Alto’s elected leaders, the hotel boom that is transforming south El Camino Real is a trend to be embraced: a welcome boost to the city’s revenue stream at a time of rising infrastructure costs and growing pension obligations. The City Council signaled as much last year, when it voted to explore allowing greater density for new hotels, particularly in the downtown area.

But for residents of Palo Alto Redwoods, the promise of new riches comes at a high cost. On Dec. 21, a group from the 117-unit condominium complex came to City Hall to protest the latest entry into the crowded field: a 90-room hotel proposed for 4256 El Camino Real, site of Su Hong restaurant. From their point of view, the new project will cause traffic havoc, threaten the health of area redwoods and create parking problems.

If approved, the new hotel would occupy a stretch of El Camino that has become a magnet for hotels, big and small. These include two recently constructed hotels — Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites — as well as Crowne Plaza Cabana, Palo Alto Inn, Americas Best Value Inn, Oak Motel and Dinah’s Garden Hotel.