SB-50 targets high quality school districts in renewed effort to limit local control over housing

Palo Alto Matters – December 8, 2018

Following the defeat of SB-827 in the 2018 legislative session, State Senator Scott Weiner circled the wagons and returned this month with a new proposal, SB-50, that adds some protections for existing rental housing sites and temporarily preserves local control for “sensitive communities” that are particularly vulnerable to displacement pressures. At the same time, however, SB-50 reaches far beyond the “transit-rich corridors” targeted for state mandates under SB-827.

SB-50 would require local governments to grant housing developers an “equitable communities incentive” not only for housing projects within a half mile of a major transit stop (rail station or ferry terminal) or a quarter mile of a stop on a high quality bus corridor, but also ANYWHERE that housing is allowed in an area deemed “job-rich” based on indicators such as “proximity to jobs, high area median income relative to the relevant region, and high-quality public schools.”  

At a minimum, the equitable communities incentive must include waivers of parking requirements greater than 0.5 spots per unit and any maximum density controls, as well as up to three additional incentives and concessions available under the existing State Density Bonus law. Those additional concessions include such things as increased height, site coverage, and Floor Area Ratio limits; reduced side- and rear- setback requirements; and reduced daylight plane requirements. 

Projects that are also close to transit and include a minimum, unspecified percentage of affordable units are then entitled to additional waivers as follows:

  • Within 1/2 mile, but more than 1/4 mile from a major transit stop: no height limits less than 45 feet, no Floor Area Ratio limits less than 2.5, and no parking requirements.
  • Within 1/4 mile of a major transit stop: no height limits less than 55 feet, no FAR limit less than 3.25, and no parking requirements.

The new, greater unit densities enabled by the waivers will form the baseline for calculating available additional concessions under the State Density Bonus law. 

SB-50 has only just been introduced and is likely to undergo some amendment before coming to a vote. However, if passed in its current form it would likely apply to all residential, mixed use, and commercial zones in Palo Alto, including every single-family neighborhood. Council members have already begun to weigh in with differing perspectives. On one hand Councilmember Adrian Fine expressed general support, saying “we need the state to step in … [l]ocal councils and the idolatry around local control are not going to solve our housing issues.” In contrast, Councilmember Eric Filseth said the bill was “horrible for voters” because it ignores that addressing the housing crisis depends on paying for all the infrastructure necessary to sustain regional growth. SB-50 “skips all that.” Whether City Council will take a position on SB-50 remains to be seen.

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.

District grapples with ongoing budget deficit

Palo Alto Unified’s 2016 tax misestimation and 2017 contract blunder will affect bottom line for several years

Palo Alto Weekly – by Elena Kadvany / January 19, 2018

Palo Alto Unified, a well-resourced district that has set ambitious and costly educational goals for the next several years, is facing a financial squeeze: There is no ongoing revenue to pay for budget additions in the next school year, staff said Thursday.

This prompted board President Ken Dauber to ask Interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks to come up with $3 million to $5 million in administrative cuts, an amount he warned “may not be ambitious enough” to address an ongoing deficit.

Mountain View Council won’t insist on new neighborhood school

LASD to decide whether to put Bullis charter at San Antonio site

Mountain View Voice – by Kevin Forestieri / January 18, 2018

Despite concerns about traffic and a desire to bring a local neighborhood school to families living in the San Antonio area, a majority of Mountain View City Council members agreed Tuesday night to let the Los Altos School District decide whether to relocate Bullis Charter School to Mountain View.

The council was split on a 5-2 vote, with members Margaret Abe-Koga and Pat Showalter opposed. The council majority said district officials should decide what kind of school would occupy a future campus in the San Antonio area, despite the major financial support from Mountain View to ensure that the densely populated neighborhood gets a local school and acres of park space.

For new bike boulevard, it’s not smooth sailing

Palo Alto Weekly – by Sue Dremann / December 8, 2017

New Ross Road fixtures are confusing bicyclists and drivers, creating danger, residents say

The city of Palo Alto’s effort to turn a south Palo Alto street into a bicycle-friendly boulevard is encountering a chorus of complaints from residents who say that the changes are making the road more dangerous.

Editorial: The risks of secrecy

Palo Alto Weekly – by PA Weekly editorial board / December 8, 2017

School board splits on whether and how to accept large anonymous donations

When developing a new public policy, a sure warning sign should be when the policy has to thread a needle to avoid violating existing laws and, in doing so, becomes convoluted and irrational.

The Palo Alto school board struggled Tuesday night trying to balance competing interests of transparency and donor privacy, and a bare majority (Ken Dauber, Jennifer DiBrienza, Terry Godfrey) approved a new policy that, in our opinion, skates on the edge of the law and brings an unacceptable level of secrecy.

School board approves new rule for anonymous donations

Palo Alto Weekly – by Elena Kadvany / December 6, 2017

Members disagree on how to balance gifts and public accountability

The need to strike a balance between welcoming anonymous donations and providing transparency as a public agency divided the Palo Alto school board on Tuesday night, with its members ultimately approving in a 3-2 vote a new requirement for internally disclosing donors’ identities.

People or organizations who give the district more than $50,000 and wish to remain publicly anonymous will now have to disclose their identity to the superintendent, who would then inform each board member verbally, one by one. The board can waive this requirement in public session.

City seeks more protection from Stanford expansion

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / December 1, 2017

Palo Alto officials, residents question university’s plans to manage anticipated traffic and housing problems

The City Council plans to approve on Monday night a comment letter on the project’s voluminous draft Environmental Impact Report, which assesses likely consequences of the expansion. The letter takes issues with Stanford’s assumptions about traffic, groundwater and fire-service demand, among many other things.

Board: Stanford growth could require new school

Palo Alto Weekly – by Elena Kadvany / November 14, 2017

School trustees to discuss response to university’s proposed general use permit

Stanford University’s proposal to build hundreds of new housing units for graduate students, faculty and staff over the next 17 years represents a level of growth that a majority of Palo Alto school board members said will likely require a new school in the future.