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Questions for Council Candidates--Housing

Uploaded: Aug 21, 2014
Below are six questions related to housing. Readers as well as candidates are invited to respond. Following the questions is a short set of background material. The guidelines for commenting remain as they have been—1) answer the questions, 2) stick to the topic, 3) no personal comments and 4) no put downs.

Question 1—The City with I believe unanimous Council approval has submitted a draft Housing Element update plan to the state for comment. There is still time for revisions. The update identifies sites that could accommodate the 2,000 housing units for the next eight years in response to state law.

If elected, will you support this Housing Element update or one with similar numbers of units in different locations?
If not, how do you plan to avoid state penalties and the resulting lawsuits if PA violates state law?

Question 2
In recent meetings Tom DuBois, Greg Schmid and I (there may be others) have suggested identifying sites for more housing in downtown and around Cal Ave and less in south PA than is in the current draft?

Do you support this change?

Question 3
State law requires identifying sites for housing where residents receive subsidy assistance to be able to live there, i.e., housing for low income individuals and families.

Do you support this state policy? If not, what do you propose to do?

Question 4
Do you support changing zoning to allow for smaller units that could reduce the cost of housing such as second units on existing sites and smaller units that might be of interest to 1 or 2 person households?

Question 5

Palo Alto has just over 3% of the county's population, 9% of the county's jobs and 20% (not counting San Antonio) of the county's regular use Caltrain stations. Palo Alto was allocated just over 3% of the county's housing target. Is this fair?

Question 6
There is a proposal for all of the cities in the County to decide how the county's housing target should be split among cities and the unincorporated area.

Do you favor this proposal and how do you think it will affect the allocation?


1. State law requires regions and local jurisdictions to make land available for housing sufficient to meet forecasted needs. The state gives a regional planning target to regional agencies, which in turn asks members to develop allocations to local jurisdictions. The planning period is for eight years into the future.
2. The current allocation was based on a state target developed before the recent surge in jobs and population. If a new target were developed today, it would be higher.
3. The state law responds to two main policy objectives—1) to provide enough housing to support projected job growth and 2) to locate housing in such a way to minimize commuting AND non-commute travel.
4. Within the Bay Area the allocation was based on current and projected jobs and housing, access to transportation and, in the case of low income housing, based on a formula to allocate more to areas that have a less proportionate share currently.
5. The City has certified that there are no environmental or infrastructure constraints to these housing sites. Education and infrastructure requirements are NOT a legal basis for refusing to plan for enough sites.
6. The Palo Alto update process can be accessed by searching for Palo Alto Housing Element update. The next committee meeting is August 28th at Lucie Stern. The agenda is not posted yet. The draft submitted to the state is on the update website.
7. The current schedule is for the plan to go to the Planning Commission in September to a council committee in October and to the Council in November and then to the state for review after which changes can be made.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Palo Alto Lifer, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Aug 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm

This summation is more of the same on the housing debate. Post Maybell, many residents want a break from the high density/pro developer agenda that has dominated discussion on this topic. The argument that our hands are tied by state law is also getting tiresome when we don't see many of our neighboring towns falling into the same trap.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 21, 2014 at 12:39 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ palo alto lifer.

read the guidelines again about responding. Answer the questions if you want to post here.

And you are wrong re other cities.

Perhaps this is part of the problem.

there are roughly 100 cities in the ABAG region.

92 accepted the housing targets.

4 or 5 including PA made minor technical complaints. PA asked that housing on Stanford land in PA be counted toward our goal and I supported this with ABAG staff. PA on advice of counsel did NOT submit arguments other than this.

3 or 4 cities out of the 100 argued against the program, all I think in Marin.

In the one lawsuit settled so far, ABAG agreed (against my sense of what is best) to increase the housing allocation within the region in respone to the building industry suit.

Posted by I agree, a resident of College Terrace,
on Aug 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm

These are excellent questions that I hope the CC candidates answer fully. I'd also be interested in the answers of BOE candidates, who may well be planning to run for CC at a later date.

Posted by iconoclast, a resident of University South,
on Aug 21, 2014 at 3:30 pm

What are the penalties for accepting the housing targets and then failing to meet them?

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 21, 2014 at 3:51 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ iconoclast

I will be happy to answer your question to the best of my ability if you respectfully answer the questions I posed including one added question--do you tell your children to ignore the law depending on the penalty.

Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 21, 2014 at 4:40 pm

@Stephen Levy - these are all good questions and I look forward to hearing the candidates responses. I have a question for you - Can you give us more details or provide a link to the "proposal for all of the cities in the County to decide how the county's housing target should be split among cities and the unincorporated area" Question #6. I've always thought that we should be able to spread out our allocation more regionally. For example, Caltrain goes through Atherton yet they have a very small housing allotment. Los Altos Hills and Los Altos both have easy access to 280 and buses could easily service both those towns. EPA would be an easy bike ride to Google. You get the idea.

I would also be curious as to how many of the Caltrain riders to Palo Alto come from San Francisco (a group a lot less likely want to move to Palo Alto than many others).

Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park,
on Aug 21, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

I look forward to hearing the candidates address these questions. Their answers, which I assume will all be reasonable and therefore disappointing to those who have encouraged Palo Alto to ignore ABAG requirements, will show that extreme ideological positions aren't winners here.

As the discussions in Our Palo Alto sessions showed, there's a wide range of options for candidates to develop and advocate for regarding the housing element. Several of the candidates took part in at least one of the sessions.

I take that participation as an indicator of whether a city council candidate is serious about working with continuing and newly elected council members on policies that make sense and can get public support.

I'd like to see the Measure D campaign reexamined in the course of the campaign. Erik Filseth and Tom Dubois have chosen to run on a slate with Karen Holman, who supported Measure D, against the prodding of some elements of Palo Altans for Sensible zoning to partner only with those who were unalterably opposed to the Maybell low-income seniors housing project. How they square that circle will say a lot about the nature of the campaign we're just getting into.

Posted by Jack, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 21, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Q1: No
Q2: NA (since answer to Q1 was no)
Q3: No (ignore state law and join with other cities in opposing it)
Q4: No (would allow for much more density and traffic in PA)
Q5 (portion deleted)
Q6: Same deletion Q5

PA should lead the way to fight against this (portion deleted) mandate from the state. Just accept the fine, if it actually comes,and refuse to pay it. Other cities will follow our lead.

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 21, 2014 at 9:54 pm

iconoclast makes an excellent point. Why not face it?

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 22, 2014 at 12:12 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@iconoclast and curmudgeon

What point

Yes or no what

Try joining the blog conversation and responding to my questions. The guidelines were laid out clearly. For iconoclast's question, nothing happens if no one wants to build. Otherwise don't think penalties, think lawsuits by owners and best to ask an attorney who specializes in land use law and precedent. To my knowledge there have been no successful challenges to this state law and remember only 3 or 4 cities out of 100 raised a series claim about the targets and none of nearly 200 cities in So Cal.

Now, hopefully let's leave it to the candidates to say what they would do as several posters are asking.

@pa resident

San Mateo county jurisdictions have done their allocation with permission from ABAG and Joe Simitian said that cities in our county are considering the same. Portola Valley, Atherton and hills borough did not get much allocated to them under this process and it is not true that PA was over allocated on the ABAG criteria.

I will try and post data on this since it is a recurring theme. Read the "is it fair" data in Q 5. Hard to argue unfair when PA has 9% of county jobs and 3% of county housing planning allocation. I know it is a favorite theme of TS posters but not supported by data.

Posted by practical, a resident of Professorville,
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:18 am

You ask: Is the housing allocation fair?
Hmnn. Where are the boundaries of your "caring?"
Is it fair that jobs are increasing here but not in places where people need jobs?

And, for the sake of fairness and protecting the environment, shouldn't jobs go to regions where water is plentiful, real estate costs are low and people are crying for jobs?

Don't you notice real estate values and international investment driving up the cost of living? There are nearly as many longtime Californians leaving California as there are new immigrants. Why would that be, if the development you tout is so attractive?

Posted by Steve Levy, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:55 am

Steve Levy is a registered user.

The purpose of this blog is to invite candidates to respond to questions about their positions on housing. Others are invited to comment on the questions within the guidelines of no personal comments, no put downs or taunts, and stick to the topic.

If readers do not like the guidelines or the editing they are free to post on the main TS blog or not to post at all.

@ practical

I believe it is fair and helpful for companies to be able to locate where they wish as long as they abide by the laws governing location.

It is clear for many good reasons that companies who are free to locate elsewhere choose to locate here.

If you have some practical approach to convincing them to locate elsewhere, please elaborate. You may have noticed that in 2014 the Bay Area mainly the peninsula share of venture capital funding is the highest on record and the Bay Area and Santa Clara County population growth leads the state.

These are the facts, not advocacy.

Yes popular places are more expensive than unpopular locales just like popular actresses or tennis players command more in endorsements than less popular ones.

Migration has two components--mainly in response to job opportunities and some for retirement. When CA was in a recession people did move to other locations to offset foreign immigration. Retirement migration does tend to go to other places. But in recent years net migration into the Bay Area, which is the topic of this blog, is surging in response to job growth despite high housing costs. And foreign immigration is also rising.

The fairness issue was in response to posters arguing that PA was getting an unfair share of Bay Area housing planning targets. That does not seem consistent with the 9% of county jobs but only just over 3% of the housing allocation while we have great access to trains and freeways.

Posted by Enough already, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Aug 23, 2014 at 5:54 am

Just take the penalty. ABAG goals, required housing, was never voted on by the voters of the Bay Area. For me it is basically a disaster. It is pretty obvious that Redwood City, Mountain View, San Jose, Oakland and other nearby cities have the capacity and desire to build up to the housing demand. Of course people want to live in Palo Alto, a "want" is not a need!. Seems ridiculous that the most expensive City (Palo Alto) is bearing the brunt of all these housing quotas. San Jose , Oakland , Redwood City, and San Francisco are cities with ability to build up to the demand (lot cheaper) and offer city amenities for all these young workers & their families. Every last bit of charm and college town ambience has been destroyed by overdevelopment!! When it takes 45 minutes to drive children to their music lessons,a playdate, sport teams practices, eat at a restaurant downtown or visit family in a neighboring town the advantages of living here are losing out... Most of the new families moving onto our block in the last 5 years (single family homes) plan on leaving the minute their last child graduates from Paly or Gunn.
Don't get me started on all the house flippers and money laundering taking place too.

Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 24, 2014 at 10:15 am

@Stephen Levy -

I would still like to know more about "There is a proposal for all of the cities in the County to decide how the county's housing target should be split among cities and the unincorporated area." Comments can't be made on a proposal if we don't have details. (Your question #6).

While I agree it is not fair that Palo Alto has a larger percent of jobs and a smaller percent of housing than other cities in the county, there are many more factors than those simple numbers that fall into play. Housing shouldn't be allocated by county, it should be allocated by logic. Palo Alto has a Caltrain with a bullet train. It is next to Stanford. It is accessible from 101 and 280. AND it has the name that you want on your letterhead, Palo Alto. There are actually many more reasons to locate a company here then there are to live here.

I don't believe there is any logical reason that communities immediately adjacent to Palo Alto shouldn't be included when it comes to considering housing locations. Especially since many of the top executives from these companies live in the surrounding towns of Atherton, Portola Valley, Woodside and Los Altos Hills (most of them are in another county).

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 24, 2014 at 11:01 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ palo alto resident

good questions--here is what I know

re local county option to allocate housing targets

It is state law and policy for local jurisdictions to identify sites for housing to match projected job and population growth.

In the regions I am familiar with (Bay Area, Southern Cal, San Diego and Sacramento) the state provides the regional planning agency (in our case ABAG) with a regional housing target for the next eight years. The regional planning agencies are in charge of developing criteria to allocate the regional total among cities and counties.

BUT the regional agency can delegate that authority to jurisdictions within a county to allocate the county's housing planning target.

This has happened in San Mateo County and Joe Simitian reported to the PA council that there was an effort underway to replicate this process in San Mateo County. Someone on the Council may have more information on what Joe said.

Re PA as a job site.

I agree with your analysis. PA is an attractive site for job location from the perspective of company's and workers.

re housing in adjacent locations

It is absolutely true that adjacent locations, particularly on the El Camino and CalTrain corridor, have housing targets consistent with the criteria applied for PA. It is also true for smaller communities such as Portola Valley BUT their allocations will be smaller as a result of their low share of jobs and less access to bus, train and freeway routes.

I know there is a lot of feeling that PA is being picked on and cities like Portola Valley are not asked to do their share.

I will try and put together a memo for the Council on this issue. Everyone needs to look at the numbers before reaching conclusions.

Posted by Jack, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 24, 2014 at 5:33 pm

"remember only 3 or 4 cities out of 100 raised a series claim about the targets and none of nearly 200 cities in So Cal."

OK, Steve, please tell us which of those cities actually put it to a vote of all the citizens in those municipalities.

Posted by Steve Levy, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 24, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

No cities held elections on this issue. I don't recall a city ever having an election to decide whether to violate state law.

I do not know of any city recently here that has refused to adopt a legal Housing Element.

What the two or three cities did as I recall is write what they knew was a futile appeal letter to ABAG.

PA did not follow this course on advice of counsel but did submit a specific protest over one piece of land, which I supported with ABAG. PA was given the chance to negotiate with the county.

Look on the ABAG site for more details on the RHNA if you are interested.

But if you want to organize an election to put PA in violation of the law and at certain risk of lawsuits from property owners you are free to give it a try. Of course you could not do so anonymously, which you seem to want to remain.

Posted by Jack, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 8:09 am

"at certain risk of lawsuits from property owners you are free to give it a try"

What property owners would sue? Is there some secret cabal of developers who are behind this state mandate? In a more general sense, who pushed for this state mandate? Did you, Steve?

Posted by Steve Levy, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 8:40 am

Steve Levy is a registered user.

Only thing secret going on here "jack" is your identity.

The state housing laws were passed by,large majorities including all nearby peninsula legislators as I remember. They are supported by a wide variety of groups including advocates for low income housing, environmental groups and Bay Area businesses.

If you are interested in legal issues, ask the city attorney or a land use lawyer.

When staff reviewed what cities are doing to manage growth, my memory was thst all,lawsuits were decided in favor of the state law.

I am less interested in anonymous posters advocating violating state law than having council candidates tell us how they would answer the questions about housing that I posed.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 12:19 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Perhaps it would be helpful for readers to understand why the laws regarding planning for housing have such broad support throughout the state.

Business groups like the Bay Area Council and Silicon Valley Leadership Group and their counterparts throughout the state are concerned that not enough housing is being built at all price ranges for them to attract the workers they want. To them (and me) housing is an economic competitiveness issue.

Groups interested in housing equity and diversity support these laws as they require cities to identify sites for subsidized housing. While these efforts have produced a relatively small number of units to date, funding is now increasing thanks to the cap and trade auction revenues and cities adopting fees based on their nexus studies. So more proponents will be able to bring projects forward in the future.

Environmental advocates favor the housing laws as they now require greenhouse gas emission reductions. The idea is to build housing closer to job bases. This does NOT mean building housing for workers that work in each city but is a subregional concept.

I do not completely agree with the environmental push for all housing to be built within the nine county region because I think housing close to regional jobs but just outside the region boundaries may give residents a wider choice of prices and housing types.

But in the end the laws promoting sufficient housing have broad support.

Posted by Jack, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 5:05 pm

"But in the end the laws promoting sufficient housing have broad support."

(portion deleted)

Therefore, Steve, if the decision is left to each town/city (secret vote of the citizens), would you still insist that there is broad public support?

Posted by Steve Levy, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

@ Jack

Will readers help Jack and the blog by asking candidates to share their views on housing. Jack seems to hint that voters would vote to disobey state law even though no city has voted to do so and no candidate that I know about here has advocated such a move.

Since most citizens want to obey laws and these laws were passed by their representatives elected by large majorities my answer to Jack's question is yes, if anyone could get a vote on the ballot to disobey state law, voters would reject such an idea.

Posted by Steve Levy, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

@ Steve from Menlo Park whose post I deleted.

I asked readers participating here to respond to my questions and stick to the topic with no put downs or personal comments or taunts.

If you have something to say in response to the questions, please join in.

I am sorry you are angry with my blog but you did what you accused me of, which is to not respect my request or respond to anything about housing.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 26, 2014 at 11:29 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

While I was on vacation the city clarified some of the issues being raised here. The text below is from the staff report to the council committee overseeing the regional housing planning target discussion. The staff report confirms that 1) it is state law that is operative, 2) state law prevails even if PA withdraws from ABAG and 3) that the city faces both penalties and risks of lawsuits if a housing element is not adopted and faithfully carried out. If no or an insufficient number of legal proposals for housing are received, there are no penalties.

The next discussion of the housing element is Thursday at 4:30 at Lucie Stern and materials can be found on the city's housing element update website.

"The City of Palo Alto is required to update its Housing Element on a regular basis per State Housing Element Law (Government Code Section 65580 et seq.). Housing elements identify the existing and projected housing needs of all economic segments of a community,including the homeless and persons with disabilities, and promote a variety of housing types, including multifamily rental units, transitional and other types of supportive housing. Housing elements also define the policies and programs that a community will implement to achieve the goals and objectives it develops and adopts to address housing needs.

The State deadline to update the Housing Element for the time period 2015-2023, is January 31, 2015. For this update cycle, the State legislature has enacted legislation that imposes a strict penalty if certification is not approved by the deadline (although there is a 120-day grace period). If the Department of Housing and Community Development's (HCD's) certification is not received on time,jurisdictions must update their Housing Element every four years instead of on an eight year cycle. In addition,the City risks potential litigation if it does not update its housing element on time and a plaintiff could request the court to compel the City to comply with the housing element statutes, and to retain jurisdiction over City planning and permitting until the City comes into compliance. This potential loss of local control over zoning decisions is perhaps the most significant risk of noncompliance, however the City would also be ineligible for certain regional transportation funding programs .

California State Housing Element law requires each city and county to provide sites for sufficient new housing to meet their fair share of the regional housing need. As part of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process,the City has been assigned an allocation of 1,988 units. The allocation is broken down by income categories as follows:

City of Palo Alto RHNA
Very Low Low Moderate Above Moderate Total
691 432 278 587 1,988

It is important to note that under State law, the City would receive a RHNA allocation and be required to identify sites to accommodate multifamily housing even if it withdrew from the

Association of Bay Area Governments. However, Housing Element law only requires the City to provide residential zoning opportunities to accommodate its RHNA allocation. The law does not require the City to approve or construct housing, although there is a requirement that the City actively monitor housing production and implement programs to further housing objectives. In past housing cycles, the City has identified sufficient sites for its RHNA, but has never seen all of those units actually built."

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