Announcing Palo Alto Matters website!
We took advantage of City Council’s summer break to build our long-promised website. Now you can visit paloaltomatters.org to find past newsletters and additional resources to help you get informed and involved.
As you talk to your neighbors and rally the troops around Palo Alto issues, we want to help spread your word. So send us your stories and your calls to action; let us know about emerging issues in your neighborhood or grassroots efforts that missed our radar. Communication of community interests and priorities is key to attaining balanced and sustainable solutions.
The website is still a work in progress, so please send us your suggestions, be patient with our ongoing construction, and check back often for new content.
Rail grade separations for Palo Alto – avoiding a train wreck
Guest Commentary by Pat Burt – Former Palo Alto Mayor
The city council is scheduled this Tuesday to decide on the process for designing railroad grade separations across Palo Alto, but the current plan for the decision-making runs a high risk of running the project off the tracks. While debate over “process” can make most folks eyes glaze over, how we come to agreement as a community on the design for this very complicated and expensive project is critical to its success.
The Palo Alto grade separations project will be our largest, most complex and contentious transportation project ever, exceeding the challenges and divisions of the Oregon Expressway battle which divided the city physically and politically. Using the “best practice” of a Context Sensitive Solution (CSS) process, centered around a dedicated stakeholder group, is critical to expediently developing the best design alternative and producing community support for the design and funding. Proceeding with a process that is labeled CSS in name, but fails to include dedicated stakeholders as its backbone, is a rejection of the City Council’s long commitment to use CSS as the best way to achieve empowered community collaboration and a successful outcome.
Get Up to Speed
Two new housing projects and an 8th hotel on South El Camino Real enter the review pipeline … Council to vote on extension of interim office cap and adopt rail corridor design process … Planning Commission gets first look at Environmental Impact Analysis for Stanford expansion.
Two new housing projects proposed for El Camino Real in the Ventura neighborhood.
On July 12, the Planning and Transportation Commission recommended approval of a mixed-use (residential and retail) development put forth by the Sobrato Organization. The three- and four-story project at 3001 El Camino Real would include 19,800 square feet of retail and 50 apartments comprised of 34 studios and one-bedrooms, 15 two-bedrooms and one three-bedroom unit.
On August 28, Palo Alto Housing (formerly Palo Alto Housing Corporation) presented conceptual plans to City Council for a 100 percent below-market-rate (BMR) housing project nearby at 3703-3709 El Camino Real. The project would offer 61 units of much needed subsidized housing, but would require no fewer than eight major exceptions to zoning and development requirements, including exceeding the 35-foot height limit for its zone. Council weighed in on three possible strategies to accommodate zoning conflicts for subsidized housing projects such as this one:
- A local, density bonus law that would allow greater density for 100% BMR housing;
- An affordable housing combining district that would create a zoning overlay with more flexible rules in areas deemed appropriate for BMR housing; and
- Reviving the Planned Community (PC) Zone that would allow broad exceptions for individual projects on a case by case basis in exchange for a “public benefit.”
Yet another hotel planned in South Palo Alto
On the heels of Council’s June approval of two new Marriott hotels on San Antonio Road (despite strong neighborhood opposition), another South Palo Alto neighborhood is grappling with the potential impacts of a new hotel on their quality of life as the Su Hong restaurant site is eyed for a new development comprised of a five-story hotel and a row of three-story townhomes. The 50,600 square foot project is still early in the review process. If ultimately approved, it would join seven other hotels in Palo Alto’s stretch of El Camino Real south of Charleston/Arastradero Road.
Jobs/Housing Imbalance: Council to vote on extension of interim annual cap on office/R&D development.
In 2015, City Council adopted an interim limit on office/R&D development in order to manage the pace of office growth and its associated impacts on the community.
This Tuesday, September 5, Council will vote on a staff recommendation to extend the interim 50,000 limit on new office/R&D square footage in areas of Downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Real. If approved, the cap would be extended through June 2018 while the City considers options for a permanent cap.
In addition, Council will direct staff on what a permanent ordinance should look like. Issues teed up for consideration on September 5 include:
- Boundaries of the areas that should be subject to an annual cap;
- The quantitative limit – should it be 50,000 sf or something different;
- Whether unused annual allocations should be “rolled over” to raise the cap in subsequent years;
- Whether current exemptions to the limit should be continued or modified; and
- How projects should be reviewed – competitive, first-come first-serve, or some other process.
Rail Corridor: City officials try to balance speed with community inclusion, just as Measure B funding hits a potential two-year snag.
Seeking a grade separation design process that would allow Palo Alto to catch-up with neighboring cities in a race for funding from Measure B’s transportation tax, while ensuring meaningful public participation in design development, the Planning and Transportation Commission and City Council’s Rail Committee offer competing recommendations.
Rejecting the PTC’s recommendation to form a dedicated stakeholder’s group, the Rail Committee opted instead to rely on community workshops and focus groups and to direct staff to explore adding community representatives to an expert Technical Advisory Committee.
On September 5, City Council will adopt a review and design process and a problem statement, objectives and evaluation criteria to guide it. See staff report here. Meanwhile, the Measure B funds remain under a cloud of uncertainty pending resolution of a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the tax.
Impact analysis of Stanford expansion plans nears completion.
On August 30, the Planning and Transportation Commission got a sneak peak at Santa Clara County’s analysis of potential impacts on the roadway network, freeway segments, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian access due to Stanford’s expansion proposal. The complete Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the university’s 2018 General Use Permit (2018 GUP) application is planned for release on September 11, 2017. The 2018 GUP application seeks approval for:
- 2.275 million net new square feet of academic and support space;
- 3,150 net new housing units;
- Up to 40,000 net new square feet of child care centers and facilities to support trip-reducing uses; and
- Continued use of 50,000 square feet of temporary trailers for surge space during construction.
Click here for Palo Alto’s formal comments on the initial GUP proposal, submitted in March 2017. Once the DEIR is released, the public will have up to 60 days to submit comments regarding the DEIR findings, impacts or issues that need further analysis, and the sufficiency of proposed mitigations and the City will submit an additional formal letter to the County.
Council takes next step to keep animal shelter in town
On August 21, Council voted 7-1 (Wolbach dissenting) to approve a letter of intent to develop a management agreement between the City and a nonprofit, Pets in Need that would allow the transfer of shelter operations to Pets in Need and lay the groundwork for a possible new facility.
Notable Upcoming Action
Extension of 50,000 square foot office cap: Council will vote on PTC recommendation to extend the interim annual limit on net new office/R&D square footage on September 5, beginning at 6 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.
Rail corridor grade separation design process: Council will adopt a Community Engagement Plan, Problem Statement, Objectives and Evaluation Criteria for grade separation alternatives on September 5, beginning at 8:30 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.
City Council Rail Committee plans to hold a special meeting on September 6, beginning at 8 am – Agenda and Packet will be available here.
Comprehensive Plan Update – Land Use and Transportation Elements: The Planning and Transportation Commission will prioritize and debate issues of contention to develop recommendations for Council on September 13, beginning at 6 pm (City Hall). Agenda and packet will be posted here on Thursday, September 7.
Community workshop on rail corridor: The Palo Alto Rail Program – now called Connecting Palo Alto – is a community based outreach designed to inform decisions affecting both aesthetics and mobility choices for the future. It will address longstanding challenges associated with the four grade crossings on the Caltrain rail corridor that runs through Palo Alto & will evaluate potential grade separations at Charleston Rd, Meadow Dr, Churchill Ave, and Palo Alto Ave (Alma St). Workshop II: September 16, from 10 am – 2 pm (Art Center Auditorium). For more information, click here.
Board/Commission application deadline: Architectural Review Board, Historic Resources Board, Planning & Transportation Commission are all recruiting for new members. Deadline to apply: September 19 at 4:30pm. Click here to apply.