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November 3, 2017

As Comprehensive Plan Update approaches final vote, worrisome Stanford expansion impacts come to light and Fine/Kniss/Wolbach advocate parking reductions and zoning changes for new housing.

Many thanks to all of you who wrote to City Council or stood up to share your thoughts on the Comp Plan Update. If you haven’t yet had your say, you can still do so on November 13 or send your comments by email to city.council@cityofpaloalto.org. On November 13, Councilmembers will offer final amendments and adopt a final plan.

  • Comp Plan wrap-up: The City’s Comp Plan analysis doesn’t include Stanford’s expansion plans, but the cumulation of impacts is likely to be significant. Lively discussion is anticipated on November 13 over what impacts should be tracked by way of “community indicator” metrics.
  • Get Up to Speed: Fine, Kniss and Wolbach propose reduced parking and looser zoning rules to encourage housing construction; renter protections rejected; marijuana sales prohibited.
  • Keep track of notable upcoming city action: another busy month ahead including Colleagues Memo on parking and housing, speed limit adjustments, waivers from ground floor retail requirements, and roof-top decks downtown. Also, new grade crossing discussions, Stanford expansion impact study and final vote on Comp Plan.

Final Comp Plan Vote Set for November 13

In refreshing contrast to the heavy-handed fast-track votes that triggered widespread public condemnation in January, Council entered its final Comp Plan deliberations with patience and civility. After hearing from 47 public speakers (along with even more written comments) on October 23, Council added an additional hearing for October 30 at which more residents weighed in and Council began it’s review of Comp Plan revisions recommended by the Planning Commission (PTC).

For the October 30 Council meeting, staff took the liberty of offering policy/program language to implement the PTC recommendations (although the PTC had offered to do so itself). This led to some uncertainty as to whether the language reflected PTC intent, but Council accepted several of them with minor revisions. Most notably, a majority agreed to:

  • Identify development opportunities for “BMR and more affordable market-rate housing” on publicly owned properties (6-3, Filseth, Holman, Kou opposed).
  • Study the feasibility of converting parts of University Avenue to a pedestrian zone (9-0).
  • Pursue full participation by Palo Alto employers in the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (9-0).
  • Add Community Indicators (metrics to evaluate key impacts of development), including: greenhouse gas emissions, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), jobs/housing balance, number of BMR units, and progress toward Housing Element goals. Council also directed staff to return with up to three additional metrics. (9-0)

On November 13, Councilmembers will offer their own revisions and debate inclusion of additional “Community Indicators” to monitor future quality of life impacts and progress toward priority goals. Although the Comp Plan Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) advocated the inclusion of Community Indicators to assess quality of life impacts under the Plan, it did not have sufficient time to reach consensus on specific metrics, instead recommending inclusion of a Comp Plan program to develop them. A rough list of CAC suggestions can be found on page 7 of the November 13 Council staff report. If you feel strongly about inclusion of any particular indicator, email City Council before November 13 at city.council@cityofpaloalto.org.

Community Impacts

While approval of the Comp Plan Update is likely a fait accompli on November 13, the Plan’s impacts on the community (both good and bad) will be large and far-reaching. So will the additional impacts from Stanford’s expansion. Palo Alto and its citizens must weigh in as the Stanford plan moves through the approval process. The Planning and Transportation Commission will hold a public hearing on the DEIR on November 8 at 6:00 pm (City Hall). The public comment period for the Stanford expansion DEIR closes on December 4, 2017.

As the Comp Plan implementation and Stanford expansion move forward in coming years, efforts to manage and mitigate the impacts described below must continue. Both City Council and the community should remain vigilant, flexible and nimble to address changing conditions and prioritize community needs.

Comp Plan Final Environmental Impact Report

The addition of up to 1.7 million square feet of commercial development (plus the 1.3 million currently under construction for the Stanford Medical Center) and up to 4,400 units of new housing will create substantial new costs and challenges. Click here to see big picture impact data revealed in the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) as well as policy issues of particular concern to residents.

Key FEIR findings include:

  • Significant unavoidable traffic impacts including increasing delays at intersections and freeway segments and impeding the operation of transit systems due to congestion
  • School enrollment that will exceed the maximum physical capacity of PAUSD elementary and middle schools while pushing the limits of high school capacity
  • Significant unavoidable air quality impacts
  • Net increase in urban parkland deficit of 33.7 to 41.8 acres

Stanford GUP Draft Environmental Impact Report

The impacts of Stanford’s proposed expansion (commonly referred to as the GUP, based on the University’s General Use Permit application that describes the expansion plans) are not incorporated into the City’s long term impacts analysis.

Rather, they will add to growth analyzed under the Comp Plan FEIR, with cumulative local effect. The Stanford GUP proposes adding 3.5 million square feet of new development, including 3,100 new housing units/beds and anticipated on-campus population growth of 8,574.

Unlike the 2000 GUP, Stanford does not commit to achieving a No Net New Commute trips limitation. They can exceed the limit by paying mitigation fees or by paying towards congestion reduction elsewhere in the County.

It is noteworthy that those payments would be required based on an analysis of Level of Service (LOS) impacts regarding congestion at specific intersections. The State and several local advocates favor relying only on a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) analysis. The VMT offers a better picture of citywide and regional environmental sustainability impacts, but does not measure localized traffic congestion.
Under a VMT analysis, Stanford’s expansion would be deemed to have no traffic impacts and no mitigation would be required even if Stanford were to dramatically increase commute trips.

Furthermore, all of the additional traffic reduction assumed by Stanford is attributed to increased Caltrain use. However, it has not been shown that Stanford can further increase the percentage of existing employees who use Caltrain nor that new Stanford employees will live along the Caltrain corridor and commute by train.

Key impacts identified in the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Stanford GUP (GUP DEIR) include:

  • New demand for 2,425 off-campus housing units
  • Twenty-one intersections are predicted to face significantly more congestion. While some mitigations have been proposed, no feasible mitigations have been identified for at least five, including:
    • Middlefield Road/Oregon Expressway
    • Middlefield Road/Embarcadero Road
    • Middlefield Road/Lytton Avenue
    • Foothill Expressway/Hillview Avenue
    • Foothill Expressway/Edith Avenue
  • Eleven freeway segments along SR 85 and I-280 would face significant and unavoidable impacts
  • Potential PAUSD enrollment growth of 275 students from 550 new multi-family faculty/staff housing units (assumes NO school-age children will be generated by new Stanford student housing or off-campus housing)
  • Significant and unavoidable increases ambient noise levels


The GUP DEIR is currently open for public comment and the City is preparing its formal response. So now is the time to share any concerns with both Palo Alto and Stanford. You can submit comments on GUP DEIR (all comments submitted will be specifically addressed in the Final EIR) via phone, letter or email:

County of Santa Clara
Department of Planning and Development
Attention: David Rader
County Government Center
70 West Hedding Street, San Jose, CA 95110
Phone: (408) 299-5779
Email: David Rader

Be sure to cc City Council and Planning Director Hillary Gittleman, so their position can reflect your views.

Get Up to Speed

Councilmembers Fine, Kniss and Wolbach propose reducing on-site parking and increasing the number of required below market-rate units in both for-sale and rental projects.

On November 6, City Council will vote on whether to pursue recommendations put forth by Councilmembers Fine, Kniss and Wolbach to consider zoning changes designed to increase housing construction in Palo Alto.

Under the State’s new “by-right” housing law SB35, projects that meet local zoning codes, have affordable housing on site, and employ union workers will get to skip the traditional checks and balances of a public review process regardless of their specific local impacts. Thus changes to local zoning rules merit increased citizen scrutiny as the community will have little recourse to control future impacts, intended or otherwise.

Key features of the Colleagues’ Memo include:

  • Reduce on-site parking for new projects
  • Eliminate limits on number of units/acre
  • Require building at least 80% of the units allowed under zoning/land use regulations
  • Increase allowed ratio of built floor area to size of lot (FAR)
  • Expand inclusionary BMR (below market-rate) requirements to up to 20% and including new rental units
  • Streamline project approvals

Council majority declines to consider renter protections

On October 16, a Council majority voted to reject a Colleagues’ Memo recommending the City study increased protections for Palo Alto renters. Councilmember DuBois pointed out that because Mountain View’s new renter protections were passed by voter initiative, any changes required a new vote of the people.  As a result, the city has had little flexibility to manage significant implementation challenges. He argued that studying the issues now would allow Palo Alto to respond to voter concern through informed legislation, retaining control over the details, rather than be faced with inflexible initiative language should the voters act alone.

Much like the 70 speakers and standing room only crowd, City Council was split over what, if anything, the City should do to protect local renters, but ultimately the proposal put forth by Councilmembers DuBois, Holman and Kou failed on a 6-3 vote.

Councilmember Filseth expressed support for preventing major spikes in rent and displacement of longtime residents, but thought the proposal was insufficiently narrow in what it sought to achieve. Councilmember Wolbach seemed to support the goals of the recommendations, saying he’d asked to sign on as a co-author and had ideas about how to improve it. But in a bizarre fit of pique, he declined repeated invitations to offer amendments, instead launching a personal attack of Councilmember Kou and calling into question the motives of the authors.

City Tidbits

  • Despite differences of opinion on the dais, Council voted unanimously on October 30 to extend its ban on marijuana dispensaries and commercial activities except deliveries in Palo Alto.
  • Another new development in the Ventura neighborhood got the green light on October 23. Council approved (8-0-1, Holman abstaining) a Design Enhancement Exception and a Director’s Parking Adjustment for shared parking to accommodate a three- and four-story development at 3001 El Camino Real including 50 apartments and 19,800 square feet of retail at the former Mike’s Bikes location at 3001 El Camino Real in the Ventura neighborhood.
  • Determined to keep to an aggressive timeline for developing grade separation alternatives, the City announced four community round tables in the November to focus discussion on alternatives at specific crossings and more generally on trench and tunnel options. (See calendar below). On November 8, the Council Rail Committee will discuss the organization and format of future Rail Committee meetings for community input and will hear a presentation on Menlo Park’s proposed grade separations.
  • Council will act on two new requests for waiver of the ground floor retail requirements next week, the first for the former Pet Food Depot site at 425 Portage Avenue, and the second for the former Anthropologie site at 999 Alma Street. See calendar below for details.

Notable Upcoming Action

Rooftop Decks Downtown: Council will pre-screen suggestion (by applicant at 285 Hamilton) to legalize rooftop decks in the Downtown area. October 30, beginning at 9:30 pm (City Hall)Postponed to a future date, TBD. Click here for staff report.

November 6, 2017

Colleagues Memo on Zoning Changes to Promote New Housing Construction: beginning at 10:00 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.

Ground Floor Retail Waiver 425 Portage Ave: Council will decide whether to approve the Planning Director’s decision to grant a waiver from the ground floor retail requirement at 425 Portage Avenue (former Pet Food Depot), beginning at 8:45 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.

North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan: Council will approve a grant application for federal funds to develop a Coordinated Area Plan for the Fry’s site and its environs and an agreement with Sobrato Organization (owners of the Fry’s site) to provide required matching and environmental review funding. November 6, beginning at 7:35 pm. Click here for staff report(scroll down for map of proposed Area boundaries on p. 17).

November 7, 2017

Ground Floor Retail Waiver 999 Alma Street: Council will decide whether to grant a waiver from the ground floor retail requirement to allow 5,000 square feet of office space at 999 Alma Street (former Anthropologie), beginning at 7:15 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.

Speed Limits: Council will decide whether to increase speed limits on Deer Creek Road and Easy Bayshore Road, adopt Target Speeds for several streets that will allow speed reduction through roadway design, and reduce speed limits in school zones. November 7, beginning at 8:30 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.

November 8, 2017

Railway Grade Crossings: The Council Rail Committee will hear a presentation on Menlo Park’s grade separation project, discuss the organization and format of future Rail Committee meetings for community input, and discuss a draft rail corridor circulation study white paper. November 8, beginning at 8:00 am (Community Meeting Room, City Hall). Click on individual items in the agenda for more detail.

Stanford Expansion: The Planning and Transportation Commission will hold a public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Report for Stanford’s General Use Permit application (GUP DEIR). November 8, beginning at 6:00 pm (City Hall). Click here for the GUP DEIR.

Human Services Funding: The Finance Committee will approve the Human Relations Commission funding recommendations for 2018 social services grants under the Human Services Resource Allocation Process (HSRAP). November 8, beginning at 7:00 pm (Community Meeting Room, City Hall). Click here for staff report. 

November 13, 2017

Comprehensive Plan: City Council is expected to vote on final adoption of the Comprehensive Plan Update. November 13, beginning at 6:05 pm (City Hall). Click here for the staff report.

November 14 ,2017

Railway Grade Separations: The City will host a Community Roundtable to help evaluate potential grade separations at Charleston Road and Meadow Ave., November 14, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm (Mitchell Park Community Center, El Palo Alto room). Click here for more info.

November 16, 2017

Railway Grade Separations: The City will host a Community Roundtable to help evaluate potential grade separations at Churchill Ave., November 16, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm (PAUSD District Office, Aspen Room, 25 Churchill Avenue). Click here for more info.

November 28, 2017

Railway Grade Separations: The City will host a Community Roundtable to help evaluate potential grade separations at Palo Alto Ave., November 28, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm (City Hall, Community Meeting Room). Click here for more info.

November 30, 2017

Railway Grade Separations: The City will host a Community Roundtable to discuss Trench and Tunnel alternatives for grade separations, November 30, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm (City Hall). Click here for more info.

Stanford Expansion: Special County Planning Commission meeting to receive public comments on the DEIR for the Stanford GUP. November 30, 7:00-9:00 pm (Palo Alto Art Center Auditorium).