In This Issue
Looking Ahead: As Sacramento seeks to supplant local housing efforts with wide-reaching state mandates, a last minute twist in the Cubberley Master Plan, strains on our transportation department, a 35 item to-do list to improve the residential permit parking program, and a potential clash of interests regarding the Stanford GUP highlight some of the local trade-offs and challenges associated with a push for more growth.
Get Up To Speed: Under pressure, the City adopts controversial standards for wireless equipment installations, but promises future improvements; New grade separation work plan calls for new working group and decision by October; City to explore business tax to help fund transportation improvements.
Housing, housing, housing.
If you’ve followed our coverage over the past two years, you know that the City of Palo Alto has worked intensively to complete several ambitious, and often controversial, steps to address the housing challenges posed by the recent and continuing jobs boom in Silicon Valley. Beginning with adoption of a new Comprehensive Plan focused on pursuing sufficient new housing to meet and exceed our regional share of new housing development (known as the Regional Housing Need Allocation or RHNA), the city has also:
- encouraged new accessory dwelling units (known as ADUs or granny flats) in residential neighborhoods, exceeding state mandated incentives;
- adopted special zoning overlays to encourage workforce and below-market rate housing development;
- revamped the citywide zoning code to create major new developer incentives, including reduction of on-site parking requirements and up-zoning for denser housing near transit, our downtowns, and El Camino Real;
- created a new streamlined approval process for residential and mixed use (housing plus office or retail) projects that include affordable units; and
- adopted a citizens’ initiative to reduce the cumulative office/R&D square footage allowed in the city over the next 15 years in order to create room for housing to compete with the profitable allure of commercial rents.
Those efforts are just beginning to bear fruit, including 82 new applications for ADUs, and 50-plus unit housing projects approved in both of the special “affordable” overlay zones. This progress and the prospect of more to come from the city’s new up-zoning and streamlining programs is promising. Cities across the Bay Area are similarly making big changes to encourage more housing. Nonetheless, the State Legislature is pursuing a wide ranging strategy to wrest land-use decision-making from local communities, replacing zoning designed to suit local conditions with state-wide mandates that also block cities from making future adjustments as population and community impacts take shape.
You may have heard of Senate Bill 50, but did you know that there are over 200 housing-related bills before the State Legislature this year? Monday, May 6, the City Council will hold a joint study session with council members from Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, to hear from Palo Alto’s state lobbyist about where those bills stand, ask questions, and discuss opportunities to influence state legislation as it moves forward.
But … there will be trade-offs.
Should we give up community space for housing? Key trade off could be capacity to meet future service needs.
The Cubberley Community Center Master Plan offers an example of the tensions and trade-offs involved in an all out push to build housing supply — in particular, whether limited publicly-owned land should be committed to long-term residential use or dedicated to the community services and facilities necessary to support a growing population.
On May 9, city consultants will convene the fourth and final community engagement session on a master plan to redevelop the Cubberley site. Anticipated as a wrap-up of the community co-design process, the consultants recently announced, based on discussions with City Council and the School Board, that the final meeting will also cover four brand new housing scenarios for the site. The scope and magnitude of the new housing concepts have not yet been released. But to the extent they impinge significantly on the priorities developed throughout the seven-month community “co-design” process, they could meet with some pushback.
The first community meeting focused on identifying the kinds of programming/uses participants hoped to see on the consolidated 43-acre site (Cubberley plus Greendell School plus PAUSD owned property at 525 San Antonio Road). The second meeting focused on prioritizing those uses. Affordable housing registered as desirable to some in both meetings, but in both instances was heavily outweighed by other priorities. The third meeting presented a draft concept plan that introduced potential teacher housing on the PAUSD property at 525 San Antonio, but focused primarily on site organization, massing, circulation, parking, and architecture and landscape styles. After that meeting, 73 percent of participants agreed or strongly agreed that “The Cubberley Master Plan is on the right track.”
One of the five priorities in the city’s 2018 Housing Work Plan included “engag[ing] in community conversations about the use of publicly-owned land for affordable housing.” With no city action on that goal to date, the introduction of new housing concepts at the final meeting of the Cubberley design process may demonstrate that the “conversation” is past due.
The new housing scenarios for Cubberley will be presented on Thursday May 9, at the Cubberley Pavilion, 4120 Middlefield Road. Click here for more information on the Co-Design process and progress to date.
Can transportation services and infrastructure meet the challenges of new growth? The staff-strapped Transportation Department will need help.
Housing did not make the cut for City Council’s top four priorities this year, but a transportation priority was carried over from last year with an added focus on traffic. On Tuesday, May 7, the Council Policy and Services Committee will review the 2019 Transportation Work Plan and make a recommendation on City Council approval.
Given expectations for a growing resident population, existing public dissatisfaction with traffic and parking congestion, and continuing regional jobs growth, demand for transportation solutions is high. But with senior staff vacancies (including the Chief Transportation Officer) and a to-do list that already exceeds staff capacity, new big fixes will remain elusive.
In contrast to last year’s comprehensive Housing Work Plan, the Transportation plan is not chock full of ambitious new programs and strategies. Instead, the plan strives to complete a staff reorganization, address understaffing, and otherwise basically stay the course. That’s not to say they’re sitting idle, but rather indicates that resources are thinly stretched just to serve current needs. The department already has twenty items on this year’s council agenda related to parking, mobility, traffic engineering and rail. Big Initiative Activities will continue to include:
- ongoing work on rail grade separation planning (another council priority, with a separate work plan approved on April 22);
- evaluating and updating the residential preferential parking (RPP) permit program (see below);
- instituting a revised community engagement process for transportation projects; and
- considering opportunities to increase automated data collection systems.
The Council Policy and Services Committee will consider the Transportation Work Plan on May 7 at 6:00 pm in the Community Meeting Room at City Hall. Click here for the staff report.
Can permit parking zones keep up with parking congestion in neighborhoods? Paid parking and outcome measures thought to be key.
The general, yet imperfect success of Palo Alto’s Residential Preferential Parking permit program has brought some relief to neighborhoods overrun by all day commuter parking, but not without considerable conflict, frustration, cost and effort. Pressure and pushback about gradual reduction of commuter permits has been steady across most RPP districts, complaints about the permit processing, monitoring, and enforcement system have been relentless, and staff turnover has been frequent, largely due to burnout and frustration.
Meanwhile, neighborhood demand for RPP protections continues to grow. A petition to evaluate an RPP district at the east end of the California Avenue underpass received the Planning Commission’s endorsement in late March and is likely get council’s green light on May 13. Another petition, from the Green Acres neighborhood, is waiting in the wings, as are requests to annex additional street parking into the Evergreen Park-Mayfield RPP district and to modify the days and hours that parking is controlled in both Evergreen Park-Mayfield and the Downtown RPP zones.
A newly released RPP study has produced a far reaching recommendation including 35 changes to the city’s parking services designed to make the overall RPP program “more effective, sustainable, and efficient.” The recommendations include council action to contract for an improved permit management system and a study of how to move from pre-paid permits to a system featuring dynamic monitoring and pricing, creation of a new city Parking Manager position, and a dedicated community engagement effort to consider modifications to the RPP program, either through the Planning and Transportation Commission or a small working group including both business and resident representatives. Nine specific issues have been teed up for consideration through that engagement effort.
Other recommendations target improved management, processing, payment mechanisms, enforcement, and user interface for parking permits both in RPPs and in city lots and garages. The study also calls for an evaluation of the policy, administrative, and legal implications of giving “neighborhood serving businesses” preference in getting employee parking permits.
Notably, the study’s recommendations seem to implicitly concede that RPPs alone are insufficient to manage the city’s parking congestion problems – a challenge that may well intensify due to recently reduced on-site parking requirements for new residential and mixed-use developments. Study recommendations that reach outside the box of parking permits include:
- Develop a plan to initiate paid hourly parking in the city’s garages and parking lots.
- Evaluate use of services like Uber and Lyft to reduce the demand for parking as well as the impact on traffic.
- Use outcome-based measures to assess the effectiveness of Transportation Demand Management initiatives in reducing the number of commuters and business patrons who would otherwise need parking spaces.
- Institute a performance-driven system based on user-perception to measure quality of service and identify areas where corrective action is needed.
On May 13, beginning at 6:45 pm, City Council will discuss the study, direct staff to develop a work plan, and identify the preferred mechanism for community engagement tasks outlined in the recommendations. Click here for the staff report.
Stanford just drove a wedge between the county and PAUSD. Will the rift undermine shared community interests in the face of massive university growth?
Stanford’s proposed 2.3 million square foot academic expansion will have far reaching local impacts on housing, traffic, schools, open space and more. The city, school district and our county representative, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian, have been mutually supportive throughout the process of assessing the impacts of the university’s General Use Permit application, known as the GUP, and identifying mitigations and community benefits that could offset them. All three agencies recently participated together in a rally calling for full mitigation of Stanford’s PAUSD enrollment impacts.
Last month, the county was poised to issue a list of demands in the form of conditions of approval and community benefits that would form the basis for negotiation of a development agreement to govern the Stanford project. Meanwhile, the school district met with Stanford to discuss school impacts and emerged with a ready-to-sign agreement whereby Stanford would partially offset the per-student cost of new Stanford kids from tax-exempt housing, build a $15 million “innovative space” to be shared with the school district, and provide $500,000 for school transportation improvements. In exchange, the district would drop its demands for a new elementary school site on Stanford land, give up its right to sue and agree not to oppose any development proposed in the GUP.
Unfortunately, the proposed agreement also came with a big catch: the benefits would only materialize if the county signed on to a development agreement to approve Stanford’s expansion. Citing violation of established ground rules that forbid third party negotiations pertaining to the development agreement, Simitian and county staff immediately suspended planned discussions with Stanford and put development agreement negotiations on indefinite hold.
While Simitian has long welcomed negotiations between Stanford and PAUSD, he has made clear that they must proceed independently of the development agreement. News of the proposed PAUSD agreement elicited an unusually strong reaction from him as he criticized Stanford for using kids and schools as a cynical political weapon to force county concessions regarding housing, traffic, open space and other critical impact areas – issues that are of shared concern to constituents of the school district, the city, and the county alike.
The School Board gave the deal an initial enthusiastic reception, but it has not yet been agendized for approval. Supervisor Simitian says that development agreement negotiations will not resume unless Stanford modifies its deal with PAUSD to remove any conditions relating to county approval of the GUP.
For now, Stanford’s GUP will continue to be processed on the traditional review track. The county will release Conditions of Approval in response to the project’s Final Environmental Impact Report on May 23 and the County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at Palo Alto City Hall on May 30 at 6:00pm. The Conditions of Approval will be available on the County Planning Commission’s website as part of the packet for it’s May 30 meeting.
Meanwhile, the city budget keeps getting tighter
The Council Finance Committee will kick off three budget hearings on May 15. The city’s proposed Fiscal Year 2020 Budget anticipates healthy revenue growth from sales tax (9.9 percent), property tax (7.3 percent), and hotel tax (17 percent), but expects labor costs to rise by 9.2 percent – a costly increase when the city has so many infrastructure projects lined up. Taking that and the city’s growing pension and retiree benefit obligations into account, even with healthy revenue growth, the proposed budget calls for a reduction of the equivalent of 9.95 full time employees, phasing back of city investments in Project Safety Net (a community collaboration to promote youth well-being), and a “service inventory” to evaluate city programs and their costs, with an eye toward reducing ongoing costs and identifying areas that can be cut to provide $4 million in savings to put toward long term pension liabilities.
“This budget reflects the very difficult straddle we have before us, in which we have continued cost escalation of everything in the Bay Area, the increase in demand for services and infrastructure as our community grows and our move to accurately recognize some of our cost structure, including our commitment to fund our long-term liabilities. Those things to some extent mutually exclude one another.”– Mayor Eric Filseth
The May 15 budget hearing begins at 1:00 pm (Community Meeting Room, City Hall). Click here for agenda, including links (at top of page) for proposed capital and operating budgets. Subsequent hearings will take place on May 23 and May 28.
Get Up To Speed
Council reluctantly approves new standards for wireless equipment installations
With their backs against the wall, on April 15 City Council adopted new, objective standards for approving wireless equipment installations in the public right of way. Under new Federal Communications Commission regulations, the city would have no authority to reject new applications unless objective standards were in place by that date. The new ordinance creates a menu of acceptable installation designs including underground vaults; cylindrical pole-mounted “shrouds”; boxy “sunshields” for radio equipment attached to the side of poles; and equipment that can hide behind existing street signs.
Despite approval of the controversial new standards, the council heeded the pleas of dozens of residents seeking tighter controls. On a motion from Councilmember DuBois, they voted unanimously to direct staff to return within a year with an updated ordinance that considers minimum setbacks from homes and schools, minimum distances between cell antennas, and location preferences such as commercial vs. residential zones, arterial vs. neighborhood streets.
New grade separation work plan calls for new working group and decision by October
An effort to eliminate the popular, but complex and expensive citywide tunnel option for rail grade separations failed on a 3-2 (Kou, Tanaka dissenting) vote on April 22. (Because Councilmembers Filseth and Kniss are recused from grade separation decisions, four out of the remaining five votes are required for a motion to pass.) Along with retaining the citywide tunnel option, the council approved an updated work plan targeting adoption of a preferred grade separation alternative this October and including steps to engage the business community in planning for a potential ballot measure to raise revenues.
Council also agreed to a new 18-member working group, to be appointed by the City Manager, to help guide progress toward a final decision. The group will include the 12 members of the current Community Advisory Panel plus one representative each from Stanford University, Stanford Research Park, the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, the Palo Alto Unified School District and the Friends of Caltrain board. The final member will be a representative from either Stanford Health or Stanford Shopping Center.
The citywide tunnel question will return to City Council on May 13 when the council will decide whether to abandon it, refine the alternative to include a shortened tunnel from Channing Avenue to the southern city limit, or leave the alternative on the table as is. At that meeting the council will also consider an initial weighting scale for evaluation criteria in order to create a more dynamic model to guide discussion and decision making. The May 13 discussion will begin at 8:30 pm. Click here to view the staff report.
City to explore business tax to help fund transportation improvements
After several fits and starts in the past ten years, City Council voted 6-1 (Tanaka dissenting) on April 22 to begin laying the groundwork for a business tax to be placed on the ballot in 2020. The approved work plan presents an iterative approach to outreach, analysis, and refinement featuring frequent check-ins with council, the business community and the general public.
Initial thinking is for the revenue measure to support a variety of transportation improvements, including grade separations. The approved work plan calls for a decision this October on which type of revenue generating model to pursue, followed by polling and additional outreach and analysis, and culminating in draft ballot language by June 2020.
Notable Upcoming Action
May 6, 2019
2019 Housing and Other State Legislation: Joint study session of the City Councils of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and Menlo Park will hear an update from Palo Alto’s state lobbyist and discuss pending state legislation. Beginning at 5:30 pm (City Hall). No staff report is available.
Parks and Recreation: City Council will hold a study session with the Parks and Recreation Commission to discuss 2018 accomplishments and 2019 priorities. Beginning at 7:30 pm (City Hall).
Community Development Block Grant Action Plan: City council will vote on adoption of the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Action Plan and associated funding allocations, and approve Community Development Block Grant funds for FY 2019-20. Beginning at 9:05 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.
May 7, 2019
2019 Work Plan for Traffic and Transportation: Council Policy and Services Committee will vote to recommend council approval of the 2019 Workplan to address the council priority “Traffic and Transportation.” Beginning at 6:00 pm (Community Meeting Room, City Hall). Click here for staff report.
May 8, 2019
Parking Innovations: The Planning and Transportation Commission will hold a study session on parking innovations. Chair Riggs and Vice Chair Alcheck have invited Evan Goldin to make a presentation. Meeting begins at 6:00 pm (City Hall). No substantive staff report available.
Comprehensive Plan Compliance Review: The PTC will perform its required annual review of the city’s Proposed Capital Improvement Plan (2020-2024) for consistency with the Comprehensive Plan. Meeting begins at 6:00 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.
May 9, 2019
Cubberley Master Plan “Co-Design”: Consultants for the city and school district will hold the fourth and final community engagement meeting on the redevelopment of Cubberley Community Center. In addition to reviewing updates to the draft plan, participants will weigh in on four new concepts for using the site for additionalhousing. Meeting from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm (Cubberley Pavilion, 4120 Middlefield Road). Click here for more information on the Co-Design process and progress to date.
Stanford GUP: The Santa Clara County Planning Commission will hold a study session on Stanford’s General Use Permit application for a 2.3 million square foot academic expansion. Beginning at 1:30 pm (1st floor, 70 West Wedding Street, San Jose).
May 13, 2019
2040 Caltrain Business Plan: Council will hold a study session including a presentation and discussion with the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) staff regarding Caltrain’s ambitious 2040 Business Plan. Beginning at 5:15 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.
Residential Preferential Parking (RPP): Council will review the RPP Program Study Report and offer direction to staff on workplaces, outreach, stakeholder process, and prioritization of programs, including newly proposed programs for Old Palo Alto and Green Acres. Beginning at 6:45 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.
Grade Separations: Council will offer direction to staff regarding the future handling of a citywide tunnel as an alternative to study (eliminate, revise, or make no change) and will establish weighting of evaluation criteria to guide further discussion and decision-making regarding all grade separation alternatives. Beginning at 8:30 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.
Consent Calendar: Notable items slated for council adoption without discussion or debate include:
- adoption of a resolution extending the City Manager’s authority to execute transactions up to $5,000,000 per year with pre-qualified suppliers under Master Renewable Energy Certificate of Purchase and Sale Agreements. Click here for staff report.
- second reading of recently approved ordinance to allow extra height and floor area for adding rooftop decks to existing downtown commercial buildings. Click here for staff report.
- second reading of recently approved ordinance to update the zoning code regarding wireless cell equipment to reflect recently adopted Federal Communications Commission regulations. Click here for staff report.
May 15, 2019
The Council Finance Committee will begin a series of all day hearings on the Fiscal Year Proposed Budget. Beginning at 1:00 pm. Click here for agenda, including links (at top of page) for proposed capital and operating budgets.
May 16, 2019
The City/School Liaison Committee will get an update on the Safe Routes to School program, discuss next steps for the Cubberley Master Plan, and continue its discussion of the committee’s format. 8:30 am to 10:00 am (Community Meeting Room, City Hall). Click here for agenda.
May 20, 2019 – (Tentative)
City Council is tentatively scheduled to:
- Adopt a resolution of intent and an ordinance to amend the city’s contract with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).
- Discuss airplane noise and community impacts.
- Adopt an ordinance amending the Health and Sanitation code to include disposable foodware packaging. requirements, requirements to maximize salvage and reuse of building materials, and requirements to increase recycling and diversion from landfills.
- Amend the 2019 Municipal Fee Schedule to adjust the parking in-lieu fee for the Downtown Assessment District.
- Offer staff direction regarding March 11 council motion on the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan.
May 23, 2019 – (Tentative)
Finance Committee Budget Hearing, 1:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
May 28, 2019 – (Tentative)
Finance Committee Budget Hearing, 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
May 30, 2019
Stanford Expansion GUP: The Santa Clara County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to discuss and receive public comments on progress toward approval of Stanford’s General Use Permit Application for a 2.3 million square foot academic expansion. Beginning on May 23, the county’s Conditions of Approval will be available on the County Planning Commission website as part of their 5/30/2019 meeting packet. Beginning at 6:00 pm (Palo Alto City Hall).