Housing, housing, housing.

May 5, 2019 – Palo Alto Matters

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.

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