October 20, 2019 Newsletter

Coming up this week: City Council will vote on a resolution creating a new Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) program in Old Palo Alto near the California Avenue bicycle/pedestrian underpass; Santa Clara County Supervisors will start wrapping up work on a General Use Permit for Stanford’s proposed expansion; and the city will hold a community meeting to explain a proposed regional partnership to build a local water desalination plant and expand wastewater reuse (council is tentatively scheduled to act on the agreement on November 18.)

Public hearing in Palo Alto could see action on Stanford GUP

Tuesday night, the County Board of Supervisors may take their first votes on Stanford’s application for a General Use Permit to add 3.5 million square feet of new campus development by 2035. Schools and the local impacts from Stanford’s tax-exempt presence around the region may feature heavily in the discussion as the supervisors transition from the study session to public hearing phase of their review with the October 22 hearing in Palo Alto City Hall. 

Interested parties have aggressively staked out their positions leading up to the hearing phase. Cities up and down the peninsula have warned of extensive local impacts generating the need for millions of dollars in mitigating investments for affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. Just last Friday, a coalition of elected officials and staff from six San Mateo cities and the county itself came out swinging with an impassioned demand that Stanford pay its fair share to accommodate the impacts of its growth. Most local cities depend heavily on property taxes to cover their General Fund expenses. However, according to the coalition letter, Stanford’s tax exempt status already takes an estimated $1.2 billion in Stanford property holdings out of the tax revenue base in San Mateo County alone. 

“The roads, bridges and pathways Stanford employees use daily receive no funds for repairs or upgrades from Stanford. Likewise, nothing for parks, 9-1-1 dispatch and first responders. Nothing.”

letter from coalition of San Mateo officials calling on Stanford to pay its fair share.

Similarly, the Palo Alto Unified School District has argued that the estimated 1,500 new k-12 students generated by Stanford’s expansion will irreparably damage the quality of education PAUSD can provide unless Stanford fully mitigates additional costs. According to PAUSD, “adding hundreds of students with little or no new additional property tax revenues would result in significant and permanent PAUSD budget shortfalls, class size increases and program reductions….”

The San Mateo coalition criticized Stanford’s refusal to acknowledge or discuss their concerns about the university’s expansion and said that Stanford told them it was only willing to negotiate with the coalition if they lobbied Santa Clara County to enter into a development agreement with the university. 

A development agreement would allow more flexible, and less public, negotiations around community benefits and the mitigations and conditions of approval that might otherwise be required under the traditional GUP and environmental review process. Under the traditional process in this case, Santa Clara County staff and Planning Commission have recommended, among other things, that approval of the GUP be conditioned upon a rough quadrupling of Stanford’s proposed new faculty and staff housing, to a total of at least 2,172 units.  

For its part, Stanford adamantly opposes the housing requirement and has dug in across the board to push Santa Clara County to enter a more flexible development agreement. Stanford insists that it will “only accept a general use permit that has feasible conditions that Stanford can implement and that is accompanied by a development agreement.”

Indeed, that pressure itself led to the breakdown of negotiations for a development agreement earlier this year when Stanford reached a separate bilateral agreement with the Palo Alto Unified School District but conditioned it on the county’s approval of the GUP and a development agreement. (Whether Stanford will still provide the promised PAUSD-related investments without a development agreement is uncertain). Although Stanford was free to enter a separate agreement with PAUSD, tying it to county action was thought to violate the ground rules for the development agreement negotiations. Seeing the move as an attempt by Stanford to gain leverage over the county, Supervisors Simitian and Chavez immediately halted negotiations over a development agreement. As of their October 8 study session, most of the supervisors seemed to think a development agreement is unnecessary. 

Tuesday’s hearing will begin at 6:00 pm at Palo Alto City Hall. Two rallies are scheduled on the steps of City Hall to precede the hearing: 4:00 pm Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035 (SCOPE 2035); and 5:15 pm PAUSD community.

The final hearing of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is scheduled for November 5 at 1:30 pm in San Jose (Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, 70 West Hedding Street).

Click here for more information from the county about the Stanford GUP.

Partnership Plan Overview

Proposed water reuse partnership has control, supply, and land use implications

On September 23, City Council held a study session on a proposed partnership between Palo Alto, Mountain View and Valley Water (formerly the Santa Clara County Water District) to expand county-wide wastewater reuse and secure alternate future water sources. The plan includes construction of a salt removal facility at or near Palo Alto’s Regional Water Quality Control Plant to improve the quality of recycled water available for non-potable and irrigation use. In addition, surplus effluent from the RWQCP would be transferred to Valley Water for further treatment and eventual potable reuse in Santa Clara County.

Under the plan, Valley Water would pay the bulk of capital costs for the desalination plant and $1 million per year for the effluent transfer. Palo Alto (and Mountain View) would have higher quality water to use in its recycled water systems, and Palo Alto would have the option to supplement its water supply (currently imported from the Hetch Hetchy system via the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission) in future years with additional potable and non-potable water purchased from Valley Water.

Potential sites for the desalination plant include a portion of the area in Byxbee Park set aside under Measure E for a potential anaerobic composting project (and available for rededication as parkland in 2021) and the former Los Altos Treatment Plant site on East Bayshore Road (under consideration as a possible “safe parking” facility for car and RV dwellers). Although the plan would expand the drought-resistant water supply for Santa Clara County and give Palo Alto a new potential water source in the future, approximately half of the RWQCP’s effluent would no longer be controlled by the city for up to 76 years, constraining the city’s ability to pursue locally-controlled, large-scale potable reuse projects.

City Council is expected to vote on approval of the partnership agreement on November 18, 2019, but it’s not too late to learn what it’s all about and weigh in. The city has scheduled a community meeting to explain the plan and take questions on Wednesday, October 23 from 6:00 to 7:30 pm at Lucie Stern Community Center, Community Room. 

For more information you can also review the staff report and the powerpoint presented to council at the September 23 study session. 

The city is recruiting volunteers to join the Historic Resources Board, the Parks and Recreation Commission, and the Planning and Transportation Commission. Board and commission members play a critical role in shaping the future of our community. Apply today! Applications are due at 4:30 pm, November 5, 2019. Click here for more information.

Get Up To Speed

Parks and Recreation Commission promotes non-resident access to Foothills Park 

A proposal to allow limited access to Foothills Park for non-residents gained momentum last month when Parks and Recreation Commissioners expressed general support for a one-year pilot program proposed by a commission ad hoc committee. The pilot program would allow up to 50 non-resident passes per day, seven days a week, and establish new rules to encourage school field trips. Non-resident passes would be managed through an on-line reservation system. The commission is expected to vote November 26 to recommend that council take up and adopt the pilot program. Click here to see the pilot proposal.   

Dormant affordable housing strategies get renewed push

In response to a Colleagues’ Memo from Councilmembers Kou and DuBois, on September 23 City Council voted unanimously to prioritize and accelerate targeted efforts to produce affordable housing. Key strategies getting a boost include implementation of the “Palmer fix” that would extend the city’s inclusionary rules (requiring a minimum percentage of below market rate units) to new rental housing projects. Also getting new focus: the feasibility of requiring in-lieu fees or off-site replacement if existing residential units are removed from the housing stock; protection of cottage cluster developments and existing duplexes in low density and commercial zoning districts; and possible citywide regulations to prevent conversion of existing housing to commercial or hotel use.

Perhaps most notably, a majority of the council indicated support for nearly doubling affordable housing impact fees charged to commercial developments. This represents a sharp reversal since early 2017 when the newly elected council majority “undid” the previous council’s approval of higher impact fees, lowering the charge from $60 per square foot to $35/sf. Council directed staff to commission the required nexus study to justify the increase. Because the nexus study performed in 2016 indicated that up to $264 per square foot could be justified, all expect the updated study to support a new increase.     

City agrees to 5-year lease extension at Cubberley

Proposed Cubberley Design

On October 7, City Council voted 6-1 (Cormack dissenting) to continue leasing the PAUSD-owned portion of the Cubberley Community Center for five years. As a consent calendar item, the lease was not subject to public discussion prior to the vote. However previous discussions about a joint master plan for redevelopment of Cubberley and school board comments regarding a lease extension revealed that the city and school district remain at odds over the urgency of redeveloping the site and whether the district should help pay for new shared-use facilities the district doesn’t yet know it will need. The city is anxious to move ahead on updating the aged facility while the PAUSD prefers to maintain the status quo (despite increasingly costly maintenance requirements) until new school needs emerge. 

The ambitious master plan for redesign of the site envisions shared use of several facilities between school and community functions as well as multiple scenarios for adding housing, including teacher/staff housing, on public land in the 35-acre Cubberley site and/or the adjacent, PAUSD-owned property at 525 San Antonio Road. But the lease extension suggests that the two parties will continue to go it alone – planning independently for redevelopment of their proportional ownership shares of the property.

Under the terms of the proposed new lease, work will continue on the master plan with completion slated for June 2020. By December 2020, the city will complete an infrastructure assessment and implementation plan for near- and long-term development including a conceptual design of first phase new building improvements. By the end of 2021, the district will either submit a housing application for 525 San Antonio or notify the city that it will not pursue near-term housing at that location and will notify the city of any planned school-related facilities at Cubberley as of that date. By December 2022, the two parties will discuss cost sharing of infrastructure improvements and agree upon lot line adjustments as necessary to accommodate the city’s building improvements.

Finance Committee recommends further belt-tightening to more quickly pay off city’s pension liabilities 

On October 15, the City Council Finance Committee indicated support for institutionalizing higher annual investments toward the city’s massive unfunded pension liabilities with the hope of coming close to catching up within about 15 years. The new approach could as much as double the annual amount the city sets aside for pension liabilities, requiring offsetting reductions in other city spending. 

Notable Upcoming Action

October 21, 2019

New RPP for Old Palo Alto: City Council will vote on a resolution to establish a new Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) program in the Old Palo Alto Neighborhood near the California Avenue bicycle/pedestrian underpass. Beginning at 7:35 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.

October 22, 2019

Stanford GUP: The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on Stanford’s application for a General Use Permit to add 3.5 million square feet of new development. The County Planning Commission recommended approval of the application with significant conditions including quadrupling the number of on-campus housing units, changes to how the university counts car trips, and long term protection from development for areas outside the academic growth boundary. Beginning at 6:00 pm (Palo Alto City Hall). A final hearing is scheduled for November 5, 2019 (1:30 pm, Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, 70 West Hedding Street, San Jose).

Click here for more information from the county about the Stanford GUP.

October 23, 2019

Community Meeting on Water Reuse: The City of Palo Alto and Valley Water (formerly the Santa Clara Valley Water District) will hold a community meeting to discuss a proposed partnership to increase wastewater reuse, including construction of a new desalination plant at the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant, and treatment of sewage effluent for expanded potable, non-potable, and irrigation use. Meeting from 6:00 to 7:30 pm (Lucie Stern Community Center – Community Room, 1305 Middlefield Rd). 

City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote on approval of the partnership on November 18, 2019. Click here for previous staff report.

October 28, 2019

874 Boyce Avenue: City Council will consider zoning code amendments to allow subdivision of the lot to allow new development in the rear while protecting a substandard R1 front lot under a historic covenant. Beginning at 7:45 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.

Grade Separations: City Council will hear an update from the Expanded Community Advisory Panel (XCAP) as well as an update on planned communication and community engagement efforts related to rail. Beginning at 8:30 pm (City Hall). 

October 30, 2019

Grade Separations: The Expanded Community Advisory Panel  (XCAP) will meet from 4:00 to 6:00 pm (City Hall, Community Meeting Room).

November 5, 2019

Stanford GUP: The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will hold its final public hearing on Stanford’s application for a General Use Permit to add 3.5 million square feet of new development. Beginning at 1:30 pm (Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, 70 West Hedding Street, San Jose). 

Board and Commission Recruitment: Deadline for applications to join Palo Alto’s Historic Resources Board, Parks and Recreation Commission, and Planning and Transportation Commission. 4:00 pm. Click here for more information.

November 7, 2019

Grade Separations: The city will host a citywide community meeting about grade separation alternatives. 6:00 to 8:00 pm (Mitchell Park Community Center, El Palo Alto Room). Click here for more information about the city’s planning process.

November 12, 2019 – (Tentative)

The Council Policy and Services Committee is tentatively scheduled to discuss safe parking alternatives for car and RV dwellers, revisions to Council policies and protocols, and hear a report from the city’s State lobbyist.

November 14, 2019 – (Tentative)

The Council Finance Committee is tentatively scheduled to discuss and recommend a 2020 tax ballot measure for City Council consideration.

November 18, 2019 – (Tentative)

City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote on a resolution approving the partnership between Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Valley Water to advance water reuse programs, hear anticipated appeal of Crown Castle wireless installations, and discuss possible 2020 tax ballot measure.