News

Adrian Fine

'I'd rather have homes than parking spots'

Adrian Fine, the chair of the city's Planning and Transportation Commission, isn't exactly a "Grow, baby, grow" kind of guy.

He has advocated for taller buildings in the past, calling the city's 50-foot height limit "pretty arbitrary" during a May meeting of the Citizens Advisory Committee that is updating the city's long-term vision document, the Comprehensive Plan. But now he opposes breaking the barrier, telling the Weekly that he doesn't see any point in "blasting it right now." He would like to see more development in areas well-served by transit but argues that single-family neighborhoods need to be preserved and protected from new development.

He was also initially skeptical about the city's cap on new office development, calling it a "blunt instrument" during the commission's review and, at one point, voting against it. But now that it's the law, he said he sees no reason to mess with it and favors keeping it until the city adopts its updated Comprehensive Plan, at which point, he hopes, the city will have better controls over office growth.

Rather than a cap, Fine prefers conditioning approvals of development on performance metrics (the development's impacts on traffic, parking, etc.) and its support for the city's Transportation Management Association, the nonprofit aiming to reduce traffic in downtown Palo Alto. He noted the city can learn from many similar efforts in the area, whether it's Stanford University's cutting-edge transportation-demand management program on its campus or the recent associations formed by cities like Walnut Creek and Emeryville.

Fine also said he is concerned about the prospect of the office cap (which currently applies to downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Real) simply pushing development to other areas.

"We may see new office development in other areas and we're still not addressing the impacts there," Fine told the Weekly. "I'd rather see the cities address the root issues rather than the symptoms."

While controlling office development is one theme of the current council race, encouraging more housing is another. Some candidates, including Stewart Carl and Lydia Kou, have made the former the pillar of their respective campaigns; Fine is laser-focused on the latter. He believes that the city is in a deep hole when it comes to housing and that something needs to be done. A renter who lives in College Terrace with his fiancee, he points out that renters make up 45 percent of the city's population but have virtually no political representation. He hopes to apply Palo Alto's famous spirit of innovation to the housing crisis.

"When you have 70 percent of Palo Altans saying 'We need more housing' and we're really not producing housing, that's a shame," Fine said, noting that between 2007 and 2014, the city had built only about 13 percent of the units that it was required to plan for under the Regional Housing Need Allocation. "No wonder we have a housing crisis!"

Fine believes the city should be more aggressive when it comes to housing, whether this means experimenting with very small apartments ("microunits)" or allowing some new housing in Residential Parking Permit districts and not distributing permits to the new occupants. This, he said, would force them to bike, walk and take transit. (Fine practices what he preaches; he doesn't own a car.) The city can never change the market dynamics that drive up housing prices, Fine said, but it can do its "fair share" for the region in creating some new supply.

"We're in an enormous housing hole and, as a region, we all need to step up to that," Fine said. "That means each of us has to play our part, and we can't get caught in a prisoner's dilemma of saying, 'Other cities are doing things but it doesn't affect housing prices, and therefore we shouldn't do anything.' I don't think that's responsible."

Fine is a Palo Alto native who learned to ride a bike on Bryant Street and who holds a master's degree in city and regional planning from University of Pennsylvania, spent two years working for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (the regional body best known for supplying grants for transportation projects), currently works for the social-network site NextDoor, and, in November of 2014, inadvertently stumbled into the middle of the city's political tug-of-war.

Days after voters brought a slow-growth "residentialist" majority to the City Council, the outgoing council voted to appoint Fine to the commission. In doing so, they declined to re-appoint Arthur Keller, a two-term commissioner with a record of challenging new developments. Suddenly, Fine found himself cast as the "pro-development" guy and saw his appointment characterized by some as a "parting shot" fired by the lame-duck council after an election loss. Fine, for his part, was puzzled by such characterization.

"You can peg me one way or the other, but I'm taking the 'Palo Alto' view," Fine said in a recent interview, explaining his decision to run for council. "To me what that means is: It's about the community members; it's not about whether I'm pro-development or anti-development, (or) am I for Maybell or against Maybell? I'm trying to take a 30,000-foot view on this thing, which is that I love this city. There's a lot of people who worked hard to be here. But I also want us to be an inclusive, walkable, multi-generational city of the future."

Fine has several ideas for achieving this vision. The central one involves the creation of "area plans" -- neighborhood-specific vision documents forged through collaboration of residents, city planners, business owners and other stakeholders. By crafting such plans for the downtown area, for California Avenue (where such a plan was recently created but not adopted) and perhaps for the San Antonio Road area. Through this effort, the community can identify potential sites for housing, figure out needed traffic improvements and come up with policies to ensure adequate parking.

As a planning commissioner, Fine has favored technical critiques over ideological stances (his panning of the council's office-cap proposal was a notable exception). An avid bicyclist, he has been enthusiastically approving the city's recent bike projects, including a new plan for dedicated bikeways on Embarcadero Road. Yet he has also found fault with the council's recent plan to raise impact fees on new developments to support affordable housing. In August, Fine supported the idea of spreading out the fee increase for non-residential projects over a five-year period but then held off on a formal recommendation, agreeing instead to form a new subcommittee to vet the issue further.

To address the city's traffic and parking problems, Fine advocates for proactive engagement with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and other grant-making regional organizations and a revision to the city's parking policies. This means doing a better job in providing information about available parking spots in local garages. It also means eventually going to dynamic pricing for parking to pay for transit efforts. He acknowledges that getting rid of free downtown parking probably won't be popular but "we've got to eat our spinach," he said.

"We're giving away an enormous resource for free and that's why you can't find parking," Fine said.

Ultimately, Fine said, addressing the city's transportation challenges comes down to two options: Palo Alto can build more roads or it can manage things better. He said he is clearly in favor of the latter.

"I'd rather devote more space for people than for cars," Fine said. "I'd rather have homes than parking spots."

Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Reasonable and knows our city
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 14, 2016 at 8:49 am

Adrian knocked on my door and and shared good ideas plus questions about what he called "palo altos issues and opportunities". He listened, was thoughtful, and clearly knows his stuff around planning and transit. He also knows this city really well and brought up memories (fosters freeze, Wilbur) He's got my vote!


9 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 14, 2016 at 9:10 am

I serve with Adrian Fine on the Planning and Transportation Commission. We elected him Chair because he has been both a deep thinker and a consensus builder. He does his homework, has an academic background in city planning, and is not an ideologue. We would be lucky to have him on Council. At a time when Council seems highly divided, and often lacking in expertise, Adrian would bring both collaboration and expertise. I strongly endorse.


9 people like this
Posted by Smart and open-minded
a resident of University South
on Oct 14, 2016 at 9:24 am

I support Adrian Fine because he's smart and he listens to all residents. He's not afraid to dive into issues and look at both sides. As a native Palo Altan, he has deep roots here and he appreciates what has always made Palo Alto a great city to live in.

He is also endorsed by Joe Simitian, Anna Espoo, Rich Gordon, the League of Conservation Voters, and the county Democratic Party.

I believe he will be an asset to our community if elected to City Council, and I am proud to support him.


9 people like this
Posted by Yes!
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 14, 2016 at 9:31 am

Yes, more of this please! Finally a level-headed person willing to tell it like it is. No bombast, no superlatives, just a focus on good policies that serve the many and not the few.


6 people like this
Posted by Proud Palo Altan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 14, 2016 at 12:27 pm

Watching Mr. Fine at the PA neighborhoods forum, I was proud to live in a city that can produce a young man who is articulate, caring, volunteers his time to serve, and has fresh ideas about solving our problems. He stood head and shoulders above the other candidates, and clearly gets what Palo Alto is about: it's both a wonderful place to raise a family AND it's a world-class center of tech.


7 people like this
Posted by Debbie Mytels
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Adrian Fine seems to have a balanced approach to the needs of our community. His background in city planning, his roots in Palo Alto and his service on the Planning Commission all point to a candidate who's prepared for the challenges of being a Council member. Please join me in supporting him.


7 people like this
Posted by Bobak Esfandiari
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2016 at 2:18 pm

Adrian is a breath of fresh air compared to the rhetoric I've been hearing out of Palo Alto government in recent months. Knowing him and his "no-nonsense" approach to solving thorny problems, I know he'll do amazing things if he gets the opportunity to serve on the Palo Alto City Council.


49 people like this
Posted by PAF
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 14, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Adrian Fine strikes me as more politic than Kate Downing, who was appointed with him to the Parking and Transportation Commission by the outgoing, lame-duck CC. Unlike Downing, Fine does not play a leadership role in PAF and downplays any affiliation with it. Nonetheless, he also strongly advocates for more high-density development in Palo Alto.


38 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2016 at 5:49 pm

He won't be getting my vote. This interview shows a pretty clear disdain for the type of community I sought out when I moved here:

Web Link

highlights:
TBL: What kind of regulations are contributing to the housing shortage?

AF: We are predominantly zoned R1, which is the classification for single-family detached homes. We have minimum parking requirements and minimum lot sizes. There are a number of rules that really limit the diversity of housing production, not only as a matter of affordability but also as a matter of housing types.

"He has a simple plan to deal with the problem: Roll back regulations that currently make it too difficult to expand housing. He would use the added property tax revenue to upgrade city infrastructure like roads, schools, and parks."

TBL: The average home in Palo Alto now costs $2.5 million. How did Palo Alto’s housing shortage get so severe?

AF: This is a story that's shared by a lot of American cities: In the 1950s and 1960s we built tract homes and suburbs. Then we ceased building and increased regulation.

These regulations are at fault. As is frankly the attitude of folks who have their single family homes.

TBL: Is one of the problems here that too many decisions get made at the local level? A lot of these housing and transportation issues we’ve been talking about seem too big to be solved by any single municipality.

AF:There's a lot of backlash against regional planning groups. There are two of them: the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Some people feel this is a top-down mandate by Big Brother, but they’re just saying you have to plan for the level of growth you expect. Cities say, “Okay, we'll plan for it begrudgingly, then restrict it and strangle it wherever we can.”


1 person likes this
Posted by Gabie S
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2016 at 9:26 pm

I think Adrian Fine has done an admirable job navigating palo altos challenges around growth and traffic. The article says he focuses on technical details, and from what I've read of him, he also cares about our community being an inclusive place. Palo Alto is not only for the rich!


38 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2016 at 10:21 pm

I watched the video of the Adrian's talk with the Editorial Staff; they talked about housing, and Adrian gave his vision of building a greater variety of housing like high density micro-units. Bill Johnson asked him about 2500+ units of high density housing that is being built in Redwood CIty, and that all the rental units are luxury, high rent units (like $3500+/month for a 1 bedroom apartment). Adrian considers 2500+ units a "drop in the bucket" - that's why Redwood City did not affect rental prices.

I wish the Editorial Staff would have asked Adrian, how many units would need to be built before it would not be considered a "drop in the bucket" - is it 25,000, or 250,000?

And Adrian showed his lack of knowledge/real world experience, in that private investors will only build what maximizes their profit. Building low rent units provide substandard investment yields, and private investors won't fund those projects.


2 people like this
Posted by Amie A
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2016 at 2:18 pm

This is my vision of the community I want to live in too, otherwise I would move to boring Los Altos: "But I also want us to be an inclusive, walkable, multi-generational city of the future."

We need to be open to new ideas and a fresh perspective on how we get there. A philosophy of NO to everything does not help us create a vibrant, healthy, interesting community. I fully support Adrian Fine!


Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 16, 2016 at 2:58 pm

I will support any candidate with integrity who supports more housing. Increased density would alleviate housing costs, improve commuting times, and decrease environmental pollution. Environmental impact fees should reflect not only local impacts, but the savings from having the same people commute in from Tracy or Stockton, as some workers in PA are forced to do. Furthermore, every person that leaves coastal California for places like Phoenix places a large burden on the environment. Web Link. This giant coal-fired power plant is the third largest CO2 emitter in the US, and exists to pump water over the mountain ranges of central Arizona and to the cities of Tucson and Phoenix. Every time a city council makes a decision that increases land prices in coastal California, picture this giant power plant, endlessly spewing particulate into the desert sky.


23 people like this
Posted by Voter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 16, 2016 at 4:55 pm

I cannot support a candidate who changes is mind every few days.
His remarks about Parking in his neighborhood are particularly untrustworthy.

He doesn't think there was a parking problem in College Terrace?
He does and does not own a car?
[Portion removed.]


25 people like this
Posted by Density increases housing prices
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 16, 2016 at 6:39 pm

It's well established that one result of increased density is increased prices for buying or renting housing.

This guy's goals will reduce the opportunity for middle class residents to find a place to live in Palo Alto.

When did "more and bigger is better" come back in style? Perhaps those who remember it's problems are not those who support such candidates.


40 people like this
Posted by PAF
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 16, 2016 at 7:39 pm

Kate Downing donated $1000 to Adrian Fine's campaign. Enough said.


5 people like this
Posted by Pro Adrian
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Adrian Fine was born in Palo Alto, went to school here, studied city planning and transportation, worked in local government, and now works at Nextdoor.com. This is EXACTLY the type of person we want on city council! Someone who knows our history, has ideas for our future, and has devoted his education and career to making cities more sustainable, efficient, and sustainable!

Adrian Fine 100%!


22 people like this
Posted by Adrian Not Fine
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 17, 2016 at 10:26 pm

Adrian Not Fine is a registered user.

OMG, he studied city planning and transportation, that explains a lot. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Adrian, this is not a big city, and has no such aspirations. As much as you may want to ply your trade where you grew up, Palo Alto is not a place that wants to densify and urbanize. You've got lots of ideas, and I'd advise you to try them elsewhere, you will have more impact where they are welcome.


3 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 17, 2016 at 11:02 pm

Dear "A resident of Southgate"

I believe you have reversed causality. Please let me know who has established the fact that increased density leads to increased prices. You can look to the work of several economists, including Edward Glaeser, or at the trends in Seattle, Washington DC, and other cities that have had real estate booms in the past few years, where increasing high density construction has stabilized or decreased prices. High prices lead to high density, and not the reverse.


22 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 18, 2016 at 1:06 am

Re transportation studies, either they stopped teaching that rush hour occurs at highly predictable times of day and/or he missed those classes.

A case in point were his responses to numerous complaints about the Jordan bike lane that backs up Middlefeld traffic to and INTO Oregon Expressway and whose design is so bad the principal won't let the kids use it.

He was indifferent to the fact more than 70 residents had told the city the design was problematic on an already clogged street.

He defended the design that prevents cars from going around turning traffic, noting they'd checked traffic mid-day. When reminded that mid-day is NOT rush hour which occurs HOURS later, his "solution" was that city would START talks with the COUNTY to get the COUNTY to change the OREGON light timing to accommodate the CITY's bad design -- as if the County's ever fixed light timing in less than 5 years and as if Oregon and all the 101 feeder roads aren't already jammed during rush hour!

Hardly an impressive exchange from a candidate and chair of the Planning and Transportation Committee re leading the city in taking the initiative to find realistic solutions (removing the Botts Dots impeding through traffic), awareness of the long-standing complaints about Middlefield, concern for community safety and input, and what it's like dealing with the county on traffic issues.


2 people like this
Posted by SRB
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 18, 2016 at 8:33 am

SRB is a registered user.

I have no bones in that election but was curious about something said in the interview.

The candidate talked about the need to collect taxes on Airbnb listings. Isn't it the case already in Palo Alto? see here: Web Link


34 people like this
Posted by Roots in community
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2016 at 9:29 am

Fine paints a self-serving picture of housing history, ignoring that many cities overbuilt during boom times and face serious problems to this day because of it. Many cities are facing a loss of people as jobs concentrate in "desirable" places that then get ruined. We are facing the results of decades of laissez-faire economics in this country, in which investment in infrastructure and government were treated as dirty words. The best thing for our country and region is to do some smart planning that invests in "desirability" infrastructure in places that want more workers and development. Having more places that people want to live is ultimately the healthiest, we cannot pack the entire nation into the SF Peninsula. LA should be the cautionary tale if what hapoens when you try.

Palo Alto allowed overbuilding of office space. At the same time, a few big players like Palantir moved into downtown and have been trying to stack the Council, decisionmaking (comp plan), and commissions with people who will let them take over and make the city center their own private compounds. This is already destroying quality of life and the culture that fostered startups (even through other expensive boom times). That is the mistake that must be addressed. Bringing in more people who want to transform Palo Alto into a densified company town for a few companies will only make it impossible to solve problems. We don't need more people who will give away our town to a few big companies with developers laughing all the way to the bank.

Anyone reading these posts needs to realize the PAF network busily stacks their propoganda at the start of every TS issue of interest. The PAF showed its true colors when their leader Kate Downing moved away as soon as they found a large single-family home they liked - well within the price they could have found a small unit they advocate for more of here. Yet still she used it as a way to bash Palo Alto. We don't need more people who disdain what Palo Alto is. Yes, I would prefer it would be more like Los Altos! (Where I would now move if the housing prices hadn't gone up so much relative to Palo Alto's because of their attention to retaining quality of life.)

We already have enough forces pushing development with slick and changing justifications. We need people who are willing to stand up to that on Council. I am going to vote for Kou, Keller, Carl, and Stone, and hope we find a way to encourage the people who desperately wish to create the dense city of their dreams at residents' expense to instead go find and help that special town (of many) that dearly wishes to have that.


16 people like this
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 7, 2016 at 4:21 pm

In today’s papers there are several opinion pieces viciously claiming that Keller and Lou were falsely claiming that Adrian Fine was a proponent of high-rise development. My memory and newspaper’s archives are very clear that Keller and Kou stated that he was for high rise development before he declared for City Council, and they asked why the change? There might be good reason for a change of mind, but to say asking for an explanation is a hit piece is rich! I recommend the comments in Web Link .
I can personally verify that Fine was for eliminating the height limit. He also was against the Office cap. And the residential parking permit program. I had conversations with him on these topics.

I feel burned by the game 2 years ago – friends say we were Wolbached. And we do not want to be Wolbached again, people with more experience say Bermaned, by a candidate who becomes a born-again-residentialist, gets elected, and then never sees a building proposal he does not like in order to collect brownie points with the developers and associated professions. Just like Kniss, Berman and Wolbach.
There is a succinct description of the Planning and Transportation Commission meeting of April 29, 2015 in a letter to the City Council Web Link pp138-147 by Bill Ross with regard to the office-only building at 2555 Park Blvd. Form your own opinion about PTC Chair Greg Tanaka and member Adrian Fine, how they denigrated the residents with very inappropriate words and proposals.


18 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2016 at 4:48 pm

Marie is a registered user.

If any of Adrian Fine's campaign workers are reading these messages, please go remove your illegally posted signs from public property on Alma street, particularly the ones at Alma and Churchill which are on land owned by the city of Palo Alto and the county of San Mateo (Caltrain). Land between the sidewalk and the street is not available for posting signs.


14 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 7, 2016 at 5:01 pm

No Robert, increased density will only increase housing costs and will decimate what's left of our once high quality of life. If you think that increased density will elevate high housing costs, look at the experience of Redwood City, San Jose, San Francisco, NYC and many more places that made the fatal mistake of trying to build into affordability. It just made those places even less affordable.


2 people like this
Posted by easy one
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 7, 2016 at 6:20 pm

[Post removed.]


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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