September 10, 2018 Newsletter

In this issue:

  • Renter Protections 101:  a primer on an array of available policy strategies to protect renters from eviction and/or displacement.
  • Get Up To Speed:  Animal shelter plans take big step forward; Business registry needs work; Cool Blocks program returns to council; Condo development proposed on San Antonio Road near newly approved Marriott hotels.
  • Looking Ahead:  Community meetings on re-design of Cubberley Community Center, Public Safety Building and Garage, and train impacts; Proposed conversion of Addison Avenue mortuary to private women’s club.

Renter protections move to the forefront of housing debate.

With the exception of the long battle over preservation of existing affordable housing at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, Palo Alto’s efforts to address the housing affordability crisis have primarily focused on production of new housing, (including an ordinance to increase granny/in-law units, zoning changes, and loosening or elimination of parking and development standards to incentivize housing construction). The largely neglected third leg of the housing policy stool, protection from displacement, is now taking center stage – stimulated by the upcoming eviction of every resident in the 75-unit Hotel President Apartments on University Avenue.

A majority of City Council lacked the appetite to explore renter protections when proposed by Councilmembers DuBois, Holman and Kou last fall, however regular headlines about the plight of the Hotel President renters appears to be changing some minds. On August 27, council passed an “emergency ordinance” requiring landlords to pay relocation assistance for tenants evicted at no-fault of their own from multi-family apartment buildings of 50 units or more. Council also passed a duplicate, permanent ordinance that will get a second reading on September 10, before becoming law.

An emergency ordinance, which takes immediate effect, requires a four-fifths majority to pass. Thus a minority of council members (Mayor Kniss and Councilmember Scharff) were able to impose income limits on the new relocation assistance requirement, despite a 5-vote simple majority that opposed them. Councilmember Tanaka opposed any new renter protections and Councilmember Fine was absent. The minority motion also forestalled debate regarding an alternative recommendation that would have defined allowable “just-cause” for evictions.

On Monday, September 10, City Council will take up a revised version of last fall’s Colleague’s Memo to consider expanded renter protections. The DuBois, Holman and Kou memo no longer seeks council exploration of rent stabilization opportunities, but it has picked up the signature of Councilmember Wolbach. The four council members want the council’s Policy and Services Committee to study existing renter protections in Palo Alto and the Bay Area and specifically to look into relocation assistance for “tenants in properties with 5 units or more displaced due to change of use, sizable rent increases or evictions without just cause, while protecting the fair rights of property owners.” In addition, the memo seeks  stronger enforcement of the city’s existing requirement of annual leases as well as additional mediation services for tenants.

Renter Protections 101

Most of us don’t know much about the complexity and diversity of renter protection rules. But as Palo Alto gives them a closer look and voters statewide consider Proposition 10 that would eliminate major restrictions on local rent control rules, it’s time to get a better sense of the basics and where Palo Alto law stands.

Renter protections vary extensively by local jurisdiction, but they essentially fall into three main buckets reflecting increasingly more intensive regulation of the landlord-tenant relationship. The summary of key strategies below is drawn primarily from the Palo Alto Municipal Code and a September 23, 2015 San Mateo County analysis of the “Continuum of Residential Tenant Protection Measures.” The full county memo appears at Attachment A accompanying the Palo Alto Colleague’s Memo on renter protections. Check out our overview below and then click here for excerpts outlining commonly advanced pros and cons of policies regarding just cause eviction, relocation assistance, and rent stabilization.

Read full story…

Get Up To Speed

Council green lights interim investments in animal shelter.

By an 8-0 vote (Fine absent), City Council agreed to spend an estimated $3.4 million to renovate and expand Palo Alto’s animal shelter facility, clearing the way for final contract negotiations to allow the Redwood City-based nonprofit Pets In Need to take over shelter operations. If the contract is finalized, the upgrades would come in two phases. The City and Pets In Need share the view that plans for a new facility will not come to fruition for several years and that the proposed improvements are necessary to properly run the shelter. Furthermore, city staff estimates that the City will save approximately $500,000 per year in operating costs once Pets In Need takes over.

With council’s go-ahead to fund the upgrades, staff hopes to wrap up contract negotiations in the near future, enabling Pets In Need to begin running the shelter within a few months.

City Auditor finds Business Registry falls far short.

Launched in 2015, Palo Alto’s Business Registry was intended to collect data from local businesses to  inform policy and decision-making around development planning and transportation throughout the city. Yet rather than helping the city “… develop and measure the effectiveness of programs to reduce traffic congestion, better utilize parking, and coordinate with other transportation-related efforts” as intended, the registry’s data has proven inadequate and unreliable.

recent city audit of the Business Registry found the data to be “inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent,” limiting the usefulness of the data and creating risk of “incorrect conclusions about year-over-year business trends.” Likewise, the shortcomings of the data were cited by Transportation staff earlier this year as a major barrier to implementing a system that would prioritize community-serving businesses in the race for employee parking permits under the city’s Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) programs.

Council’s Policy and Services Committee will review City Auditor Harriett Richardson’s findings and recommendations on September 11.


Controversial Cool Blocks program to get up or down vote on council consent calendar.

On September 17, City Council will vote, without debate, to approve a $25,000 contract with the Empowerment Institute for continued support of the Cool Blocks neighborhood engagement program as a revised, phase 3 pilot. The contract also includes $75,000 of in-kind city staff time to support the program. The Enterprise Institute will match the city investment with $25,000 in direct costs and $75,000 to provide local, non-city staffing.

An earlier version of the proposal stirred community concern due to an up-front city commitment of $100,000, (including $75,000 in consulting fees to resident leader Sandra Slater), uncertain long-term cost commitments (estimated at over $1 million for three years after the pilot), vague metrics and data reporting from the completed pilot phases, and potential redundancies with existing city/volunteer efforts including the longstanding Emergency Preparation Volunteers program.

The revised proposal envisions using existing city staff and building internal capacity to operate the program in the future, with hopes of lower long term costs and greater flexibility. The new proposal would also incorporate a cost/benefit analysis of the program’s impact on the city’s infrastructure and service delivery expenditures to inform next steps following the revised pilot.

Click here to view the staff report with more detailed information about the program’s goals, metrics and budget.

48 new condos proposed near planned Marriott Hotels on San Antonio Road.

South Palo Alto neighbors near San Antonio Road will get their first look this month at a 48 unit condominium project proposed for 788-796 San Antonio Road (northeast corner of San Antonio Road and Leghorn Street). A formal application has not yet been submitted, but City Council will provide initial feedback at a “prescreening” of the project on September 17. The project proposes to use the state density bonus to gain an extra 3,165 square feet and is requesting concessions and waivers from a number of key development standards in order to implement the project, including building height, setbacks, and lot coverage. 

The developer also seeks a zoning change from Service Commercial (CS) to Multi-unit Residential (RM-40) to redevelop the site with a four-story, 49 foot tall residential project, including a total of 115 parking stalls (88 in mechanical lifts) and five below market rate units. According to staff, with such a zoning change commercial uses currently occupying the site (a fitness training center and electric wholesale supplier) would no longer be “protected retail” under the city’s ground floor retail preservation ordinance.

The proposed condos would be located directly across the street from the Greenhouse I and II multi-family community and less than a block away from two newly approved Marriott hotels that drew heated community opposition last June due to anticipated traffic and other localized impacts.

In case you missed it…

Notable Upcoming Action

September 10, 2018

Change of use at 980 Middlefield Road: Council will pre-screen a request to amend the existing Planned Community Zone in order to change the allowed use from mortuary to a private women’s club. Beginning at 5:15 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff reportLIKELY TO BE POSTPONED TO OCTOBER 1.

Grand Jury Report on Affordable Housing: Council will consider a draft letter of response to Grand Jury report. Beginning at 6:50 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.

Renter Protections: Council will consider a Colleague’s Memo regarding strengthening renter protection for Palo Alto residents. Beginning at 8:00 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.

State and Local Legislative Update: Council will hold a study session to review recommended city positions for the 2018 League of California Cities Resolutions and State and Local Measures on the November 6, 2018 ballot. Beginning at 9:15 pm (City Hall). Click here and here for staff reports.

September 11, 2018

Business Registry and Audit Work Plan for 2019: The Council Policy and Services Committee will review an audit of the city’s Business Registry. The audit concluded that the Business Registry data was unreliable and offered recommendations for improvement. Beginning at 7:00 pm (Community Meeting Room, City Hall). Click here for staff report.

Policy and Services will also review the Fiscal Year 2019 Audit Work Plan. The Audit Work Plan outlines the audit activities and special projects the department will undertake in its ongoing oversight of city operations, including consideration of both risk factors and opportunities. Key upcoming audits include Code Enforcement, Parking Assessment Districts, Residential Parking Permit Program and city parking facilities, Transferable Development Rights, and data integrity and reliability. Click here for staff report.

Trains in Palo Alto – Impact on Traffic? Safety? Homes? – Nadia Naik of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) will present an update on what’s on the horizon for the rail corridor and how it may impact Palo Altans. From 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm at the Palo Alto Women’s Club (475 Homer Avenue, Palo Alto). Free event open to all.

September 12, 2018

Public Safety Building and Garage – Community Meeting: The City will host a community meeting for the public to learn about the new Public Safety Building and California Avenue Parking Garage project, including upcoming street and parking changes and tree removals in the area due to construction. 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm (Palo Alto Central Meeting Room, 122 Sherman Avenue, Suite A100, Palo Alto).

Tree Protection Ordinance: The Planning and Transportation Commission will comment on a draft update to the city’s tree protection ordinance. Beginning at 6:00 pm (City Hall). Staff report and draft ordinance will be available here on September 10, 2018.

September 17, 2018

Airplane Noise and Environmental ImpactsBeginning at 6:40 pm (City Hall). Staff report will be available here on September 13, 2018.

Rezoning of 788 San Antonio Road: Council will pre-screen a proposal to rezone from Service Commercial (CS) to Multi-Family Residential (RM-40) use and to redevelop the site with a four-story, 45,000 square foot residential project. Beginning at 7:40 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.

Public Safety Building: Council will hold a study session to review the public safety building design and status. Beginning at 8:40 pm (City Hall). Click here for staff report.

Cool Blocks Contract: City Council will vote on the consent calendar to approve a $25,000 contract with the Empowerment Institute for continued support of the Cool Blocks program as a revised Beta2 Pilot program. The contract also would include $75,000 of in-kind staff time to support the program. Click here for staff report.

Downtown Parking Garage: Council will hold a hearing to approve the Final Environmental Impact Report for the five-level parking structure at 375 Hamilton Avenue. POSTPONED.

Southgate RPP: Council will consider a resolution to continue the Southgate Residential Preferential Parking Program with Modifications, including limiting the number of available employee permits. POSTPONED.

September 26, 2018

Special Rail Committee Meeting 8:00 am. Agenda not yet posted.

September 27, 2018

Cubberley Re-design – Community Meeting: The City and the PAUSD will host the first of four, iterative Community Meetings, kicking off a co-design process for shared community and school district use of the Cubberley Community Center. 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm (Cubberley Pavilion, 4000 Middlefield Road). Click here for more information about the Co-design project. Click here to RSVP for the first community meeting.

October 1, 2018 – (Tentative)

Change of use at 980 Middlefield Road: Council will pre-screen a request to amend the existing Planned Community Zone in order to change the allowed use from mortuary. Tentative, TBD.

Transportation Impact Fees: City Council will vote to establish an updated citywide transportation impact fee (a one-time fee on new development and redevelopment throughout Palo Alto to fund transportation improvements to accommodate and mitigate the impacts of future development in the city) and update the municipal fee schedule. Tentative, TBD. 

October 3, 2018

Palo Alto Council Candidate Debate: Sponsored by Palo Alto Weekly, Chamber of Commerce and others. Time and Location TBD.

October 4, 2018

Palo Alto City Council Candidate Forum: Hosted by Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN). Beginning at 7pm (City Hall).