Uploaded: Wed, May 1, 2013, 10:56 pm
Regional housing projections called 'excessive'
Palo Alto council members, planning commissioners criticize Plan Bay Area
Palo Alto takes great pride in its ongoing, aggressive efforts to fight climate change and encourage transit use, but a regional plan to do the same is rubbing local officials the wrong way and prompting an outpouring of criticism from City Hall.
The city, like other Bay Area municipalities, is now in the final stages of reviewing Plan Bay Area, a state-mandated vision document filled with strategies for reducing carbon emissions by 15 percent by 2040 and providing adequate housing to accommodate job growth. The goal is to make sure each community in the Bay Area provides its "fair share" of housing, thereby reducing the need for sprawl and the number of vehicles on state highways carrying just one person.
The plan, which was released in March by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, seeks to accommodate a projected increase of 2.1 million residents and 1.1 million jobs in the Bay Area in the period between 2010 and 2040. In recent months, the new plan has been a thorny subject for the City Council, which had formed a committee two years ago specifically to deal with the latest housing mandates. Members have consistently disagreed with the regional agencies about the growth projections, arguing that they are overstated and that the housing mandates cannot be reasonably met.
On Wednesday night, May 1, the Planning and Transportation Commission took its own crack at Plan Bay Area and voiced similar concerns. The commission voted 5-0, with commissioners Alex Panelli and Greg Tanaka absent, to approve a letter from the city to ABAG challenging the agency's approach for allocating housing and calling its projections "highly unrealistic and excessive."
Palo Alto, under the plan, would have to build 2,860 housing units over the next decade, growth that council members have long argued cannot be accommodated in a city with astronomical real estate prices and a shortage of undeveloped land. The city's letter argues that expecting Palo Alto to increase its housing supply so significantly is "entirely unrealistic, and using such an assumption as the basis for growth scenarios and transportation investments will likely result in failure of the planning effort."
Planning Director Curtis Williams called the regional projections "aspirational" rather than realistic.
"We believe they are very high, most likely overstated, but there seems to be a drive from a business (and) economics standpoint to shoot for the greatest amount of growth that we think the region could have," Williams said.
The letter from the city recommends that the agencies' plan include a range of forecasted growth, with a "low," "medium" and "high" scenarios; that the plan give communities more flexibility for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions; and that it include projections that are "not allocated to cities and counties but are used to provide context for regional transportation projects."
Plan Bay Area's chief tool for fighting sprawl is requiring cities to plan for more housing near major transit hubs. Cities were asked to identify "priority development areas" that could accommodate the bulk of the new housing. Grants would then be made available to help cities add transportation amenities in these areas.
In Palo Alto, the only "priority development area" is around California Avenue, where the council has been pursuing road improvements and encouraging mixed-use developments with housing components. The number of jobs in the area, according to Plan Bay Area, is expected to increase by 1,660 between 2010 and 2040. Two other areas, around downtown and on El Camino Real, were also considered, Williams said.
Plan Bay Area states that the distribution of housing "directs growth to locations where the transit system can be utilized more efficiently, where workers can be better connected to jobs, and where residents can access high-quality services." But some commissioners argued Wednesday that the city doesn't have the type of transit infrastructure that would be required to get people out of their cars. Building the kind of housing the plan demands would make the city's traffic congestion even worse than it already is, they said.
Chair Eduardo Martinez said he was concerned about a process that first identifies housing sites and then proceeds to transportation funding. He likened it to "chicken coming before the egg."
Commissioner Arthur Keller agreed.
"What Plan Bay Area seems to be designed to do is make it impossible to drive in communities like Palo Alto, so people will be forced to essentially take transit that doesn't exist," Keller said.
Keller also argued that the regional process should give more latitude to cities for reducing greenhouse gases. The city has recently celebrated a series of major accomplishments on that front, including an adoption of a carbon-free electric portfolio and a 53 percent reduction in emissions from citywide operations between 2005 and last year.
"We're forced to shoehorn into the techniques of the region instead of getting credit of what we're actually accomplishing," Keller said, adding that the plan's process "doesn't necessarily work for us."
Plan Bay Area also projects a major increase in multi-family housing, particularly in urban areas near transit hubs. Multi-family housing, the plan says, comprised 35 percent of housing construction in the Bay Area in the 1990s. That percentage went up to nearly 50 percent in 2000 and to 65 percent in 2010. The number of people per household is also expected to rise from 2.69 in 2010 to 2.75 by 2040.
"Market demand for new homes will tilt toward townhomes, condominiums and apartments in developed areas near transit, shops and services," Plan Bay Area states.
The plan projects that the number of jobs in Palo Alto will grow by 33 percent between 2010 and 2040. The city boasted 89,370 jobs in 2010, trailing only San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Santa Clara and Fremont in the nine-county area.
The City Council is expected to officially approve the letter to ABAG later this month.
Posted by Longtime Palo Altan,
a resident of Green Acres
on May 2, 2013 at 9:52 am
Thank you for the clarification. That's a very good point about moving adult leagues to the Baylands, but it still doesn't address the fact that on this side of town, we don't have a real sports field, so whether kids have to be trucked to the Baylands or somewhere else across town, kids on THIS end of town will still spend a lot of time in cars going to games (especially because of our often stop-and-go traffic in and out of the neighborhood). Our problem is mostly not adult leagues crowding out kids on this side of town from all the playing fields, it's that we don't have a real playing field on this end of town!
In fact, if Maybell/Clemo, which is now an old orchard, would remain open space as a sports field, your point would help allay the concerns of people who are concerned about adult leagues using a neighborhood field, as they (I'm sorry to say) tend to be a little harder on the neighborhood than kids.
That 2.5 acres plot, by the way, would fit a full regulation-sized soccer field and another field, and is across the street from an existing park (so younger siblings would have a place to play).
Actually, it is big enough to comfortably put Hostess House there (out of harm's way), and still have a regulation-sized soccer field, which kids could reach by foot or bike from numerous local school areas (schools that either don't have such fields themselves like Briones, Keys or Bowman, or as in the case of Gunn, don't have public access to them, or as in the case of Terman, just have insufficiently-sized school field space). In fact, if the city were to decide to put a field there and Hostess House, it would be a much-needed gathering space as it was of old, that we also don't have on this side of town. (Putting Hostess House at the Baylands is an upkeep nightmare with the air/damp/salt.)
The advantage of a field over here is that so many kids could walk or bike here. The ability of kids to be independent then, and to get the activity we want them to have, is priceless. The conversion costs to make that already open space a field are minimal. The neighborhood would be in support. It would not add to the traffic at the most critical times, because the kids who would use it would be in school, nor at other times, as they could walk. It could be a tremendous resource in the event of emergencies on this side of town, as it is situated across from a fire station, too.
I could continue on for pages, but there's no point, as things like open space, kids independence and having services near where they live so they can walk, emergency access to the neighborhood, emergency "quakeville" space, quality of life, cutting emissions from people in the neighborhood in daily stop and go traffic, honoring zoning laws and principles, etc etc -- none of those things matter. All that matters in the process, the most important thing, the ONLY thing that planners seem to care about, is that we are adding density.
It's Miki's Market all over again. In fact the City loaned $3million for a project that can only be built if it rezones to high density PC zoning - with NO restrictions on setback or height! -- right in the middle of an R-1 region. Do you know what they proposed when neighbors complained of 16 tall, skinny 3-story homes being planned on tiny lots with almost no setback on Clemo/Maybell (where currently 4 sit), which is effectively a one-lane street much of the day? They proposed to turn the houses around so that they face away from the street!
Nothing matters but density. Nothing has changed since the MIki's Market debacle. In another time, that orchard going on the market would have been seen as the opportunity it is to provide a field across from an existing park (that doesn't have full-sized flat space for a real sports field, though it gets used for peewee games). Once it's gone, it's gone.
Posted by Longtime Palo Altan,
a resident of Green Acres
on May 5, 2013 at 9:21 pm
You wrote "The free market -- esp. the real estate market -- can be cutthroat, but rational zoning can help..... and "Find a way to accommodate senior citizens without segregating them in marginal areas, and there will be a place for you in your own neighborhood when you need it."
This is the same kind of glib detachment from the facts that threatens to overwhelm important examinations of safety and traffic issues with the Maybell site. First of all, what's free market about the Maybell project? The city loaned PAHC millions to buy the property -- which, in a free market, would have stayed on the market longer, price dropping -- on the promise that they be paid back when the (tall, skinny, no setback) market-rate housing sells, and the developer will only do that deal if the city rezones the property to high-density first. There's a word for that where I come from and it ain't "free market".
Secondly, there are many seniors in this neighborhood, and has been stated above, they prefer to a one to go out feet first. No one moves to apartments. In fact, I'd say seniors represent the majority of neighbors. And there won't be a space for me in apartments here, because I own a home, and if I sold it, I wouldn't quality for the housing like most people who own homes already. I fully expect I'll have to make the decision whether to move away for financial reasons when I am older if I can't stay in my home, that's just life in the Valley.
Lastly, why do you think no one is accommodating seniors? At the Maybell site at least, neighbors would welcome PAHC to build for seniors under existing zoning, but they're not interested.
Moldaw has 20 senior units in the BMR program that have gone unfilled for years.
At Maybell at least, it isn't about senior housing,affordable housing, it's about that exact location having only two routes in and out of the neighborhood, routes that are already horribly congested at certain times of the day, are the ONLY routes in and out of that and other neighborhoods in the area, and are also safe routes to school traveled every day by over a thousand school children on bicycles (soon to be hundreds more). Maybell is effectively a one-lane road where the rezoning would put tiny tall houses with little setback on a street with R-1 zoning to either side (can you say "Miki's Market/Alma Plaza"?)
The traffic study didn't even take the bicycles into account.
Lastly, the whole goal of ABAG is to reduce congestion by putting homes near where people do business. So why put seniors right where they have zero services, not even grocery, nearby? They have to drive for everything or have someone drive for them. This is clearly about sticking high density anywhere possible because of ABAG's mandate, no matter how much it CAUSES congestion and emission!
If you think this is about seniors, let me ask you an important -- and serious -- question, not rhetorical. If you think this project is such a great idea, why don't you help find a safer location that PAHC can put this project, that would be better situated nearer to Stanford (medical, Avenidas, adult school classes, enrichment at Stanford, restaurants, Trader Joe's and Sigonas, etc etc)? How about Professorville? Last I checked, they hadn't taken nearly the affordable housing stock our small neighborhood has. Anyone else?
Perhaps this could be like Ohlone taking the Mandarin immersion program, where instead of people criticizing the schools that don't have space for another program, someone steps up to make space where space can be made. How about your Palo Alto neighborhood? Instead of criticizing, how about stepping up and finding a place to rezone a low-density residential space for high-density PC with no limitations on height or setback? I"m sure with $16million, you could find something.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]