News

Plan to boost renter protections fizzles

Palo Alto officials opt not to explore rent stabilization measures

Advocates and opponents of rent control hold up competing signs during the City Council's discussion of the topic on Oct. 16, 2017. Photo by Gennady Sheyner.

Palo Alto's foray into rent stabilization blew up at the starting line Monday night after the City Council majority struck down a proposal from three council members to strengthen the city's tenant-protection laws.

After a marathon discussion that featured philosophical clashes, procedural disagreements, personal attacks and testimony from nearly 70 public speakers, the council voted 6-3 to reject a recommendation from council members Tom DuBois, Karen Holman and Lydia Kou to consider rent-protection measures such as limitations on rent increases and restrictions on no-cause eviction. The vote means that the proposals in the memo will not be studied.

The council decided not to move ahead with the memo's recommendation even as it repeatedly acknowledged the city's crisis of affordable housing. Underscoring the urgency of the topic, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 150 people packed into the Council Chambers to voice their opinions. One group sported green stickers with the words "NO RENT CONTROL"; the other held up orange signs reading "PROTECT RENTERS."

In the end, it was the former who cheered, clapped and posed for photos with Mayor Greg Scharff, a leading opponent of the proposals. In speaking against rent-stabilization policies, Scharff quoted the old adage, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." The proposals, he said, will only restrict the supply of housing further.

By limiting rent increases to a certain percentage for multi-family housing built before 1995, as the memo proposed, the city would have the effect of taking these units off the market because existing tenants would never leave.

"There will be no way anyone will be able to get into those apartments," Scharff said.

He also panned a proposal to explore measures to protect tenants against no-cause termination, arguing that landlords already have every incentive to avoid tenant turnover.

Councilman Eric Filseth lauded the memo for identifying a proper goal -- making housing available for longtime residents who provide valuable services and whose moderate incomes make it impossible for them to remain in Palo Alto. But the remedies proposed in the memo, he argued, are both too prescriptive and too unclear. And rent control, he said, has a "strong tendency to help a few people right away and hurt a lot more in the long run."

While Filseth said he'd be willing to support preventing rent spikes of 30 percent (as opposed to 5 percent or so), Councilman Adrian Fine took a broader philosophical stance against rent control, claiming that it "doesn't solve affordability; it reduces availability and decreases housing quality."

Councilman Cory Wolbach was more open to the idea of rent stabilization, as long as it's part of a broader suite of solutions that also includes construction of both market-rate and below-market-rate housing.

But in explaining his opposition to the memo, Wolbach questioned the sincerity of its authors, as well as their willingness to pursue other means for addressing the housing shortage.

For evidence, Wolbach pointed to tweet that Kou, a Realtor, wrote on April 25: "There's plenty of housing, you just need a superb Realtor like me." He did not mention that the tweet accompanied to a link to a news article about strong growth in new condominiums in San Francisco.

"I don't think this is sincerely being offered as part of a comprehensive solution," Wolbach said.

Holman took umbrage at Wolbach's assertion and chided him for getting personal.

"It's not okay," Holman said. "It became personal and it shouldn't be that. We could have differences of opinion, but please don't question the sincerity of people putting forth a memo.

"That implies we're intentionally wasting staff's time, wasting the public's time, wasting the council's time. It's upsetting to me personally because this is sincere."

In their memo, the three council members called for measures to address the predicament of Palo Alto's renters, who make up 44 percent of the population and who are increasingly say they are leaving the city because of spiking rents. The memo notes that the monthly rent in Palo Alto has soared by 50 percent since 2011, while Santa Clara County's median income has only risen by about 5 percent.

"Our affordable housing supply is far below demand while the cost of building new affordable units dwarfs our available resources," the memo states. "Furthermore, many vital members of our community have moderate incomes and are not eligible for our limited affordable housing; teachers, policemen, service and retail workers, nurses and health care providers are continuing to be priced out of their homes."

Many speakers concurred with the memo's diagnosis. Lynne Krug, president of Service Employees International Union, Local 521, said 97 percent of the union's roughly 600 city employees cannot afford to live in Palo Alto, including utility workers who provide critical services and whose distance from the city endangers it.

Krug herself lived in Palo Alto for many years before moving last June due to high rents. Now she spends two hours every day commuting, she said.

"How many employees do you think you'll keep if they are commuting an hour each way to work and don't see their families?" Krug asked. "We need to provide housing for all strata of economic levels to keep the city diverse and to keep our city economically healthy."

Local teachers are facing the same dilemma, said Teri Baldwin, president of the teachers' union, Palo Alto Educators Association. Rising rents are leading to teachers commuting from places as far away as Gilroy, Dublin and Santa Cruz, she said.

"They don't want to have such long commutes," said Baldwin, a former Palo Alto resident who now lives in Mountain View.

While the council majority cited the harmful consequences of rent controls, many residents argued that it would offer them stability and protection against rapidly rising rents. Edie Keating, a housing advocate, argued that the measures proposed offer residents a possibility of rent security.

"The area has already become a dystopia," Keating said. "It is really difficult to live here if you're a renter and you haven't already bought your home."

Susan Leech, who pays $5,500 a month to rent an 1,800-square-foot Eichler home in the Fairmeadow neighborhood, described her city as a "resort community."

"No one who works here can afford to live here," Leech said.

Their voices were countered by those of rent-control opponents, dozens of whom attended the meeting with signs that read "=Rights 4 Mom & Pops" and "JCE = high crimes" (a reference to just-cause evictions). Kathy Edholm, who immigrated to Palo Alto from China 20 years ago, was among them. A former tenant who is now a homeowner, Edholm described rent control as a "very dangerous social experiment."

Realtors, developers and property owners also submitted identical letters arguing that the memo from Holman, DuBois and Kou "doesn't consider the negative impacts of rent control."

"It doesn't consider the high crime rates of cities with rent control, the decline in maintenance from the decrease in operating income, or the added expense and administration the city needs, as evidenced by the city of Mountain View that recently determined that it will cost approximately $2 million per year to operate their rent-control program," the letters stated.

DuBois, the principal author of the memo, acknowledged that rent stabilization will not solve the city's housing crisis. But it's one of many things that the city can do on the topic and it's a way to protect longtime community members from marketplace price spikes, he said.

"I think too many people are being pushed out by Adam Smith's invisible hand," DuBois said. "We need to recognize the distortions that the free market causes."

While the council's vote deals a fatal blow to proponents of rent stabilization, members indicated that they are as committed as ever to tackling the city's housing shortage. Some, including Scharff, Vice Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilman Greg Tanaka, argued that exploring rent control isn't the best use of the city's staff.

Kniss also said she had co-authored a memo with Wolbach and Fine that proposes ways to spur more housing construction. That, Kniss said, is where she'd like to see city staff spend their time.

"I don't think rent control is an effective tool for addressing the housing issue," Kniss said.

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Comments

58 people like this
Posted by New Luxury Housing Does Not Address Cost
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2017 at 3:21 am

Building new luxury housing will not lower the cost of housing. Look at the housing built at San Antonio Road and El Camino Real in Mountain View. Studio apartments are $2745+, 1 bedroom apartments are $3150+, and 2 bedroom apartments are $4205+. Web Link

See also Web Link



34 people like this
Posted by Renter
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 17, 2017 at 3:25 am

Filseth said it best:
"Councilman Eric Filseth lauded the memo for identifying a proper goal -- making housing available for long-time residents who provide valuable services and whose moderate incomes make it impossible for them to remain in Palo Alto. But the remedies proposed in the memo, he argued, are both too proscriptive and too unclear. And rent control, he said, has a “strong tendency to help a few people right away and hurt a lot more in the long run.""


9 people like this
Posted by Sea Seelam Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 17, 2017 at 4:10 am

Sea Seelam Reddy is a registered user.

Here was gathering of sincere and palo alto loving citizens debating for right way to move forward.

Palo Alto is not ready for rent control. However Palo Alto need daring approaches to accommodate more people to live here that work here. Be like Menlo.

I am torn. Beautiful city, people and trees!

Request people help each other out. Be little easy on people that need affordable accommodation. But, retain the quality of life we have. There is no other city like Palo Alto. We need to keep the way it is.

Respectfully


35 people like this
Posted by Susan Monk
a resident of University South
on Oct 17, 2017 at 4:12 am

I'm a renter and I'd love to see some type of rent stabilization to alleviate the anxiety that accompanies my annual lease re-negotiation. But after hearing tonight's discussion, I'm not convinced that a 3% cap would help me. For example, this last time, my landlord offered to increase just 2%. If rent control was in effect, it'd go up 3% for sure, which adds up when paying +$5k/mo! And, I'm grateful for the improvements the landlord is always willing to make - not sure that'd continue under rent control.
I think the memo is well intentioned, but not without flaws and I'm hopeful that Council's concerns to protect renters remain a top priority. Especially given those extreme instances, such as Council Member Adrian Fine, who was retaliated against with a 30% increase!
That's truly appalling and inhumane. And I plan to look into whether the Palo Alto Mediation Program provides sufficient remedies for such egregious landlord behavior.


52 people like this
Posted by The Rich vs. the Rest
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 4:22 am

Well, this sure punctured the myth that the Gang of 5 (now 6 with Filseth having switched sides) on the Council care one whit about all the folks struggling to afford to live in Palo Alto.

Just as Republicans in Congress claim to be for the little guy but instead hand huge tax breaks to the rich, so the Gang of 6 say how much they sympathize with renters but then vote to ensure that those same renters pay absolute top dollar to landlords. Look at whom developers backed in recent elections and you could have predicted last night's outcome.


65 people like this
Posted by Howowner for renters
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 17, 2017 at 5:55 am

I read the colleagues memo by DuBois, Holman and Kou and it proposed a balanced framework for greater renter protections that aims to maintain some social and economic balance inour community. The proposed actions would be addressed through a public process creating limits on annual rent increases and a balanced approach to evictions. That framework is similar to what already exists in Mountain View and San Jose, most of the county population.
It's hard to recognize the proposal from the spurious characterizations made by Wolbach, Scharff, Kniss and Fine.
It would be great if posters would make a list of theiTop 10 Reasons to Oppose Renter Protections offered by the council majority. High on my list would be Scharff claiming it would bring gangs to Palo Alto and Wolbach's that he would oppose it because he questioned Kou's motives.
That last one has to rank among the most crass and politicized statements made by a council member in memory. He is willing to throw renters under the bus while inappropriately accusing Kou of incincerity. That must be some sort of a record for hutzpah. If anything, it looks more like Kou was willing to put her economic self interest second to her responsibility to the community, something we should wish Scharff, Fine and Kniss would do as well. Well done Kou, shame on Wolbach and the rest.


51 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2017 at 6:23 am

Time to leave. Really, it's time to find a new place to live. Renting in Palo Alto is not a winning choice. I don't even
believe in rent control. I believe in natural consequences. All of you hard working renters 44% of the population, they say. Vote with your feet. Godspeed.


47 people like this
Posted by probably the right decision
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2017 at 7:30 am

I was torn on this one.

Rent Control has a really bad history. It helps a minuscule number of lucky people (who somehow find their way into a controlled unit) while hurting a lot of other people (it makes building new units a riskier proposition, so supply gets constrained).

On the other hand, our rents are absurd, and we need to find a way to protect people.

I hope that this council works on a more serious solution. This one smacks of a political stunt by Kou, Dubois, and Holman to pay lip-service to renters.


48 people like this
Posted by True Residentialist
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 7:55 am

This is just a stunt from the NIMBY crowd as DuBois gears up for his reelection bid. The whole point was to get the actual pro-housing majority on record opposing dubious "protections for renters." In other words, a cheap political stunt.


46 people like this
Posted by More interesting if sincere
a resident of University South
on Oct 17, 2017 at 8:04 am

It's hard to see this as a sincere attempt coming from Kou and Dubois, who both got their start in politics opposing an affordable housing project. Notably, Dubois's rationale in the previous article was "if we don't do something small now, we might get a real revolt." That doesn't sound like honest concern for the needs of renters. And Kou has been even more vociferous online.

This just looked like a cheap political stunt. If they really cared, they would have gotten their ally Filseth on their side first.


20 people like this
Posted by only old buildings
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 17, 2017 at 8:13 am

only old buildings is a registered user.

Rent control can only apply to buildings built before 1995. Rent control in mountain view has already caused one owner to sell his property which is going to be torn down for condos.


59 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2017 at 8:21 am

Between rude, disrespectful and disingenuous, Wolbach, Fine and Scharff hit a new low last night. Over and over Wolbach proves he lacks the self-control adults need in responsible positions that we expect in Palo Alto. Instead of sticking to the issues, he choose to attack Dubois, Holman and especially Kou. I sincerely believe he is not fit for office because he never learns, and though he aspires to higher office, I shudder to think of what that means for us and those he would work with if successful. Most mind blowing, he said he wanted to sign onto this memo but was told no by the writers, so instead he voted against it. Go figure - that's mature.
Fine was disingenuous in listing all the things the proposal wouldn't do, like saying a car wouldn't shampoo the dog and take out the garbage so he couldn't vote for it, saying so with the arrogance developed by a person 3 times his age. So tiresome and embarrassing.
Then there was Scharff who once again grabbed the mic as the 2nd speaker rather than acting in his role as Mayor who is to facilitate the other council members speaking first. His contribution was that of a rich real estate attorney saying why renter protection is a bad idea.
They kept saying renter protection wouldn't get anymore housing built. Well no. But it would keep a boatload of renters in their homes and not displaced from Palo Alto. What a shame.


63 people like this
Posted by Thank you council!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 8:23 am

Thank goodness the majority of council did their homework and understands the massive impacts of rent control. Of course we want to support PA renters, but rent control had been proven over and over to ruin housing affordability. Talk to any economist. Lydia Kou, Karen Holman and Tom DuBois DO NOT care about residents; they simply want to freeze Palo Alto in time.


33 people like this
Posted by Howowner for renters
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 17, 2017 at 8:28 am

The memo was clearly sincere. It made clear and rational arguments, was moderate in its proposals and the authors welcomed constructive amendments to get to five votes.
What was surprising was that so called housing advocates like Wolbach and Fine did not support it. Filseth has been the most strident anti growth and has appeared in the political pockett of Scharff all year for reasons unclear.
Real residentials care about a socially and economically balanced community. A moderate, sustained rate of housing growth, mostly near transit centers, is needed and can be accommodated. The current council majority is supported by developers and big property owners and is more concerned with rapidly expanding the high paid tech workforce than in supporting teachers, nurses, police, fire, utility workers and others who make up a real community that is sustainable. This measure was important and should have passed. The fault for its failure lies with those who opposed it.


48 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 9:04 am

Wolbach was elected because he promised voters lower rent....He has not delivered and stands in the way of even modest measures proposed by his colleagues that would help renters a little bit.
He also ran on a platform of "civility" though he has demonstrated that he will "go low" abandoning any such principals to serve his political ambitions.

He votes in favor of our city continuing to allow the sales of flavored tobacco and other nicotine products that are primarily marketed to children, insuring a new generation of nicotine addicted individuals to keep BIG tobacco rich.
He votes against services for pets and votes against helping renters from no -cause evictions!

He questions the motives of his colleagues that authored the ( modest ) proposal; instead he should be questioning his motives. With a voting record like his he is not serving the public good and should not remain in in public office.


21 people like this
Posted by 3-legged stool
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2017 at 9:21 am

Wolbach talked about needing a 3-legged stool to address the housing crisis - renter protection, below market rate affordable housing, and more supply to address the underlying shortage.

Kou's statement was a speech against addressing the shortage, with misinformation. "San Francisco has built a tremendous amount of housing", but San Francisco has not met their state housing obligation for affordable housing. And bringing every excuse about why Palo Alto should add minimal new housing.

She was very clear about a strategy to create "San Francisco disease", an alliance of homeowners and renters with rent control, both groups of incumbents fighting to keep out new people. Unless you are well-off or well-connected to get one of the few rent-controlled spaces that open up, new people can't move into San Francisco. It's the end of opportunity and mobility.

There are two very different visions, wanting to solve the housing crisis over time and protect renters in the meantime, or accepting that opportunity and mobility in our area are over.


39 people like this
Posted by double talk
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2017 at 9:31 am

Kniss talked about the need for 'affordable housing' which she knows very well is undefined. The term she carefully avoids is Below-Market Rate.

Given her years of experience with the League of Women Voters working for BMR housing she now betrays them by advocating for "affordable."
That is, affordable by millionaires.

Her protege Wolbach is beneath contempt, well practiced in double talk.


69 people like this
Posted by Downtown Granny
a resident of Addison School
on Oct 17, 2017 at 9:32 am

A calculated political stunt and posturing by Kou, DeBois and Holman (probably orchestrated by Burt) to try to capture the vote of renters in the next election. That memo was vague and if they knew anything about rent control and cities that have implemented them, they'd know that IT DOESN'T WORK -- only makes it harder to rent because people hand down rental properties to "friends" and hold onto the lease. We DO need to help renters for sure and we all want to keep diversity in our city. It is too full of wealthy folks, but rent control/stabilization doesn't do it and they know it. A cheap political stunt meant to divide the city even further. Let's build housing for teachers, firefighters, hospital staff and low income workers who service our beautiful city. THAT would drive down rents. Build teacher housing at Cubberly, let's build housing on city-owned property for city workers, let's make sure we build housing near transit so residents can get around without cars. If I saw any movement by the 3 "residentialist" Council members to look at zoning to enable denser projects, relax the height limits to perhaps 50' for affordable housing, reduce parking requirements THEN I'd think they were serious. Holman blocked an affordable housing site that would have produced 60 units because it was 3' above the zoning code. Really? You're for affordable housing???? Don't get fooled by what went down last night.


7 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 9:59 am

Downtown Granny stated ?

"Holman blocked an affordable housing site that would have produced 60 units because it was 3' above the zoning code."

Could you say what project this was, When Holman voted against it?


46 people like this
Posted by My way or the highway
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2017 at 10:06 am

Sad display last night as council majority declined to even contemplate ways to protect existing residents from extreme spikes in rent. While playing lipservice to a “toolbox” of strategies to address housing affordability crisis, the council majority made clear that any approach other than building new housing, developers tool of choice, is a non-starter.

Wolbach even went so far as to PERSONALLY MALIGN the authors of this proposal that merely asked the council to look into what the city could do to prevent displacement of current residents – a population that turned out in droves to say that new market rate housing offered them no solution.

Their track record of cutting developer impact fees that fund below market rate housing, promoting a comp plan that worsens the jobs/housing imbalance, and turning a blind eye to residents displaced by rent spikes of 30% or more, belies their claim to be champions of affordability and community diversity.

Last night's discussion again showed that the Council majority cares little about affordability, sitting firmly and exclusively in the market driven express lane to build, build, build.


9 people like this
Posted by 3-legged stool
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2017 at 10:12 am

Also it was dismaying to hear council members talk about all of the help-wanted signs in local stores, and the challenge in retaining teachers.Renter protection will help people who still live in Palo Alto, and that is good, but it will not create a single new place for someone to come in and fill a job that is needed. To do that more housing is needed.


77 people like this
Posted by @3 legged
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2017 at 10:13 am

"Wolbach talked about needing a 3-legged stool to address the housing crisis - renter protection, below market rate affordable housing, and more supply to address the underlying shortage."

Then why would he purposely saw off the Protection leg? Lots of politics going around from all sides....on the back of renters.




42 people like this
Posted by Downtown Granny
a resident of Addison School
on Oct 17, 2017 at 10:15 am

@anon
When Holman and Burt were on the Planning Commission they voted down a proposal for 801 Alma that would have added 35 additional SENIOR AFFORDABLE housing units. The proposal was to add the ACE hardware site into the development with the stipulation that ACE would expand and have ground-floor retail. Ace needed an extra 3 FEET to make it work for the hardware store but Holman and Burt voted against it saying the 50 foot height limit couldn't be breached. So, are they REALLY for affordable housing? Does 3 feet really make a difference? Now there are 35 less AFFORDABLE SENIOR housing units in Palo Alto. They have a long history of not backing affordable (witness Maybell). You decide.


46 people like this
Posted by 30 Something Parent of 3
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 17, 2017 at 10:39 am

I personally pay very close attention to what each of our council members say and do. For example, Kou, Dubois, Holman and Filseth often say they are supportive of housing solutions but in fact they always stand firmly in the way of projects that bring opportunities for additional housing. Moreover, they are obstinately opposed to flexibility in our zoning that would make such multi-family opportunities possible.

I know some will read the preceding paragraph and think, "oh you're some developer interested in high rises that cause traffic." Not true. I want our town to be more accommodating to multi-family housing solutions and those solutions don't make economic sense unless they are large enough. 10 Units isn't going to cut it. The projects need to be 50 units. And if that requires some flexibility in the zoning we should consider it.

Similarly, when it came to ADU's, another example of saying one thing and doing another, Councilwoman Holman, did not support further development of ADU's but shockingly she is the proud owner of one and has acknowledged publicly that she relies on the rental income she earns from it. This seems very hypocritical to me.

I know some of you have got your sights aimed at Wolbach and Fine, and for that matter Scharff and Kniss - but I am not alone in my support of their efforts to be honestly pursuing greater housing development. They don't stand in the way of efforts to add to our housing supply and we should praise them for that.

For those of us who really don't want any additional development, Kou and Filseth and Dubois and Holman are ideal. But I believe that majority, yet often not vocal, of Palo Alto residents are in support of greater housing development.

We want to see our kids teachers who live in 1 or 2 bedroom apartments elsewhere on the peninsula or across the bay, find options for the same in our town. Instead of arguing about rent control, lets talk about subsidizing housing for those that work for the city. Why not develop a program to help school employees, or municipal staff, etc etc to afford multi-family housing inside our city. And yes, let us also BEND our zoning rules to create LOTS more housing.


26 people like this
Posted by Lots of Fancy Talk
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 17, 2017 at 11:00 am

Adjacent cities of East Palo Alto and Mountain View have rent control. What's all the complaining about? Dealing with an hour commute each direction? With rent control in neighboring cities these whiners can be to work in 10 minutes. See how effective rent control is? Does nothing but make matters worse.

Expect to see the "Community Stablization and Fair Rent Act" on a future ballot. This is going down the same path as Mt. View. "The City Council didn't do enough so we took matters into our own hands."


47 people like this
Posted by double talk
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2017 at 11:19 am

I have read several criticisms of Scharff's violation of his role as Chair but he pretends he is above the rules, and pursues his lawyer-advocacy for developers.

Not cool, Mr.Scharff.


29 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2017 at 11:58 am

I was active when this was last addressed through many meetings and ridiculous claims that rent control wasn't legal even as it was established in E.Palo Alto and other areas.

Council is still tucked safely in the pockets of the wealthy land owners and developers. Just a snapshot that reflects the national powermongers. Council bought and sold.


43 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 17, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Who needs a theater subscription when there's a weekly show at 550 Hamilton? I am not a fan of rent control but my take on the memo was that the 3 were proposing that certain approaches be fully studied. Something creative and productive might have come from that. No chance of that now. Also no chance that this community can come close to balancing the jobs:housing situation as long as CC continues to approve commercial projects that bring in more employees who need housing. Palo Altans can be pretty clever but even so it's not possible to simultaneously dig and fill the same hole.

And to those who think the memo was a political move, I doubt that. If anything, it probably cost them. But they wrote it anyway. To my way of thinking, that was courageous.


17 people like this
Posted by Vote them out
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 17, 2017 at 12:30 pm

"Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act" now! Where are the people with clipboards?

oh, by the way, when is the next election to the Council? [Portion removed.]


21 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 17, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Is anyone surprised that once again Palo Alto makes a bad decision? I'm not.


46 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2017 at 1:36 pm

Granny - Correction. Holman was a champion for getting Maybell built. She was more outfront in the campaign for it than any other city council member even though she was up for re-election - a personal act of courage in the name of support for those 60 units of below market rate senior housing. She walks the walk. But she also respects the laws of our city and our Comprehensive Plan which governs development such as you refer to, including height.
Councilwoman Holman has great integrity and is not as you try to represent her. .


37 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 17, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

The only thing surprising about this is that the developer-backed majority can't even pretend to consider affordability by proceeding with a lousy study in a town where we've got so many $400,000 studies on less important issues.

They have proved yet again that "affordability" is only a song they sing at election time or when they're trying to rush through ADUs with no rent and/or occupancy limits.

So expect rents to continue to soar as the jobs/housing imbalance gets even worse and Stanford continues its huge expansion.


38 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Mr. Scharff is a landlord, and thats a fact.


44 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 2:51 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

I know enough about the complexities of rent control to know that I don't know enough to take a reasoned position. However, I do know that our political elite has failed in its responsible to the general population.
They salve their consciences with an extremely limited form of rent-control: Below Market Rate (BMR) housing which is available only to those fortunate few in a set income range and who are able to wait roughly 5 years to get to the head of the queue. For everyone else, they are at the mercy of "the market".

Palo Alto's Council majority undercut the ability to build more BMR housing by decreasing the fees paid by developers of commercial properties. This created the absurdity that those reducing the housing shortage by building more housing pay much more that developers who are making the problem worse.
The Council majority went further and directed that the CompPlan should have more job growth than housing growth (hearings on final approval start on 10/23).

I, and many others, are worried that current policies are putting this area in a death spiral. For example, the decreasing amount of affordable housing is making the construction of more housing more expensive because there is a shortage of construction workers (who have problems affording to live here).
- "Construction labor shortage will slow post-fire rebuilding efforts" by J.K. Dineen in SF Chronicle 2017-10-13 (Web Link)
- "Here's how construction worker pay is dominating California's housing debate", LA Times, 2017-05-12 (Web Link)

Those who argue that we can simply build enough housing to make it affordable are ignore the math and committing logical fallacies.
For example, they seem to assume, by omission, that additional housing won't further overload infrastructure.
For example, they seem to assume that job growth will somehow magically stop instead of the current and projected situation where job growth is outpacing housing growth.


11 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2017 at 3:21 pm

It's time to start building actual affordable housing and a lot of it, but people want to pretend their living in the suburbs.


42 people like this
Posted by @Jim
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 17, 2017 at 3:48 pm

Jim, you're 45 minutes from 3 major cities. If you want to live in a major city how come you haven't moved to any of them? Is it the crime? Is it that their schools are not as good? It is the noise and pollution? Or is it that they are still too expensive to live in the nice parts of, even with their high density that you profess will solve all our problems?

High density makes developers rich and at the end of the day that's what why they continue to oppose any the steps that would reduce housing costs for middle class folks that cut into their profit margins such as BMR, Rent Control, Zoning Enforcement to protect the neighbors, etc...


38 people like this
Posted by Anke
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm

"people want to pretend their [sic] living in the suburbs."

Pretend?? Please explain, @Jim. Palo Alto *is* a suburb, and its community members chose it specifically for the very reason that it is not an urban center.


15 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Oct 17, 2017 at 4:32 pm

Rent control is, always and everywhere, a terrible idea.


7 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2017 at 4:48 pm

Renters, you are blessed by the decision of your council last night!
Watch what's happening to Mountain View over the next few years because it was voted in. At least your home won't be bulldozed for 2 million dollar condos.


36 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 17, 2017 at 4:59 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"But in explaining his opposition to the memo, Wolbach questioned the sincerity of its authors, as well as their willingness to pursue other means for addressing the housing shortage.

For evidence, Wolbach pointed to tweet that Kou, a Realtor, wrote on April 25: "There's plenty of housing, you just need a superb Realtor like me." He did not mention that the tweet accompanied to a link to a news article about strong growth in new condominiums in San Francisco."

Why attack the 3 proponents' sincerity? Affordability is a long-standing major issue so what's wrong with studying it and possibly coming to some solutions?

More misleading personal attacks by Mr. Wolbach who loves to sing the "civility" song only when he's trying to divert criticism from himself.

Glad that Holman called him on this!


45 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 17, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"Kniss also said she had co-authored a memo with Wolbach and Fine that proposes ways to spur more housing construction. That, Kniss said, is where she'd like to see city staff spend their time."

Well, of course Ms. Kneiss and her acolytes want more construction to reward their developer backers who will be the only ones benefiting. Too bad the new construction won't be any more affordable than what we're already got and the rest of us will have to cope with more gridlock.

Someone posted that the Los Altos Hills city charter explicitly requires their city government to govern for the benefit of the RESIDENTS. How about it, Palo Alto? Isn't it time to help the residents for a change instead of attacking those who are supporting the residents??


8 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 17, 2017 at 6:43 pm

Rent control limits housing availability and quality, while housing construction makes more housing available at all price ranges (with BMR programs).

Your approach will do much more to reduce the quality of life in Palo Alto than any housing construction program, but I guess you are locked into a 1960's mindset. You can't go home again.


16 people like this
Posted by The Idea Man
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 17, 2017 at 7:37 pm

(Kissing cousin of "The Business Man" in Mountain View--for those of you who know who I'm talking about) Every tenant in Palo Alto should be taxed a surcharge of $1,000/month and every homeowner in Palo Alto should be assessed $12,000/yr in additional taxes earmarked for affordable housing. See how quickly we can solve this problem? Then we can provide subsidized housing for all kinds of people who can't afford to live here.

While we're at it, any excess assessments collected can be redirected to subsidizing a Tesla purchase for $4,999.00 after Musk is mandated to lower his prices to a more affordable amount. That will also help the environment! Why stop with housing? Food is a necessity. Mandate by ordinance that Whole Foods and every other grocery retailer in Palo Alto establish a "Pay What You Can" policy. Also require PA Utilities to roll back their charges to 1950 rates. Food, shelter, utilities, transportation. Got it covered. Now we can all afford to live in Palo Alto. Cue the Stanford Marching Band.


8 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 17, 2017 at 9:20 pm

It is rather sad that only Mr. Moran has noted that the complexities of rent control. That;s understandable among the general populace (even though they love to pretend to be experts), but what did your CC do to really learn about it? How informed are they on rent control, really? How much due diligence did they perform? It is highly effective in California, allowing landlords to make a solid return on their investment and tenants to predict and budget increased housing costs.


13 people like this
Posted by Kidding me
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 17, 2017 at 9:46 pm

@Hmmm, are you kidding?? name ONE city where rent control has been highly effective. ONE.

IdeaMan.....lol, nice one!!


4 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 17, 2017 at 9:55 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Hawaii built shipping container housing for it's poor workers who work at their expensive tourist lodgings.

When you can buy a house with your security deposit and OWN a house for less than your rent right now, you can see why there are open jobs that pay far less than the actual $22.50/hr that make living in the SFBA possible.

THAT is the REALITY of true affordable housing. I knew this 40 years ago. Google is building another campus in Boulder, Colorado and is encouraging their employees to move there. Smart small businesses are filling up the DTC and are made welcome.

Everyone should step back and look at the fact that the hired help in the SFBA is getting smart and voting with their feet ( U-Hauls in this case ).

The Palo Alto City Council LOVE to cheat low income people and their day of reckoning is coming. They need to see the problem as the poor deal with it. Talk is cheap. Actions speak much louder than words.

I mentioned a fence rail and a bucket of tar and chicken feathers. I think you are going to need these items sooner than I thought before.


21 people like this
Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 10:49 pm

At the time Maybell was proposed ALL the City Council members were in favor o the development.

However for many reasons, including proposed zoning changes, a ballot measure was created with the required # of signatures. Following maximum community outreach and minimal campaign funds, the majority of those who voted disagreed with the CC. The project was killed fair and square. This is what a Democracy is about. Please get your facts straight!

I just finished listening to the CC discussion and was appalled at the personal attacks, bullying, incomplete quotes and outrageous statements made by many Council members. Shameful for such a TRUMP like display.

Civility is listening to others with respect. Agree to disagree but personal attacks and questioning the sincerity of your college is not civility.

The Memo was presented to start a long overdue discussion; too bad that did not occur.

Now renters have the option of gathering signatures for an Initiative. which will leave the CC out of the discussion and the solution.

Can someone provide the actual # of units, which were to be discussed? It was limited to apts. with over 5 units built before 1995. Would love to know the numbers.

I applaud Council members DuBois, Holman and Kou for trying to address a growing problem.

Watch out for fancy Council maneuvering on the former VTA lot which is currently NOT zoned for the proposed housing development. Another request for a spot zoning change which, if allowed, will greatly reward the buyer and developer. Any changes in zoning on this lot should NOT occur unless the developer gives the majority of the increased value directly to the City and builds mostly BMR units.


48 people like this
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 10:55 pm

Encouraging the Googles, Facebooks, Palantirs, Gileads, Genentechs, & similar companies of the future to come here, & offering tax incentives to lure huge businesses is a mistake. Those businesses need to go to areas where land & housing are cheap. It's the competition for available housing within a very crowded area, jammed between the Open Space protected foothills & the bay which drive prices to insane levels.
Transit based housing is a joke. The childless & fit can perhaps walk/cycle/bus/train where they need to go but they are in the minority. Families go to Costco & lug big lots home in SUVs. They, or their nannies (needed so both parents can work to afford housing) drive kids to school, related activities, medical & dental appts.
Increasingly dense housing overburdens freeways & neighborhood streets. I've gotten used to driving @ 40> mph on 101 @ 10 am, 1:30 pm,& other supposedly non-peak hours. Foster City to downtown Menlo used to take 20 minutes @ 8 am. Now its close to an hour. Ever try to get in & out of Foster City by bus? Don't. Foster City to SF by bus & CalTrain is close to 2 hours. Left Woodside Rd & 280 last Wednesday @ 11 am & got to USF at 12:10 pm.
Please, no more office parks. I can hardly wait until there are 1930 housing units @ Moffett Field dumping more cars on local roads. Web Link
If all companies with 60 or more employees would eliminate 5% of the least productive employees, traffic would get better, home prices would drop, rents might relax. People shouldn't have to work 2 jobs to pay rent, as many health care workers do, & still have to commute from outer San Jose to Palo Alto.
And please, no more letting the Larry Ellisons of the area re-purpose downtown senior apartments into hotels & bypass on site parking regulations, a la Epiphany.


43 people like this
Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2017 at 8:21 am

Downtowner has summed it up so perfectly. Transit is a joke and there is no short term or even long term solution. All of the big companies should look to other areas. Tracy, Merced, etc. Plenty of land and housing is affordable.


7 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 18, 2017 at 2:39 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I'm on the sideline on this one. I haven't read the entire memo so I shouldn't comment on it, but I will anyway. I'm sure it was intentional and well intended to get conversation started on the issue, but I think the words 'rent control' kept cropping up at the meeting. It got in the way of the real problem and issue that got sidetracked and derailed. Another choice of words would have been better. And, if a 'study' meant spending $400K+ for consultants to research the history and successes of rent controls in cities all across the country, that would have been a waste of money. We are a very unique community, not like other communities all across the country.

The real issue is affordable housing and rents. For all the rhetoric, which seems to become very pronounced during campaigning time before a CC election, it all sounds so good. More housing, affordable housing. Dwell, for a moment, on what affordable housing means. To some it means affordable for people that will never be able to afford it in PA...our gardeners, waiters, cooks, house cleaners, home care providers, salon workers, store clerks, mechanics, et al. Dream on if you will but may your fantasy disappear soon. But at the higher level, it also includes well educated people...teachers, young doctors, lawyers, dentists, and even some of the young techies that aren't looking forward to becoming instant millionaires when their companies go public.

More housing and affordable housing: Well, from what I can tell we already have affordable housing in PA because of the low vacancy rates. They're affordable for someone, but that is an illusory conclusion. For whom are they affordable? That could be part of the study, but I think it can be determined without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell us the result. And the current vacancy rate could change. I'm not a psychic but I do remember lots of 'for rent' signs on apartments along Alma years ago. And if rents are truly market driven then rent control won't be needed. Prices will drop by the supply and demand theory. And we're starting to read more articles about people packing it up and leaving the area and the state, and big tech companies building big complexes elsewhere. They are forward looking companies and want to retain employees by locating in areas that offer affordable housing. Good for them. PA is not the place, so let's not keep trying to make it the place.


8 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 18, 2017 at 2:50 pm

My take was that this "colleagues memo' was to ask if the other council members thought it worthwhile to see what options there might be to discourage sudden large rent hikes. Such as the one described by one of the younger council members who received a sudden 30% rent hike last year that forced him to move.

Also that the argument against studying ways to keep current Palo Alto residents who are in rental housing from being priced out by large rent hikes is that without them moving out there isn't an opportunity for non-residents to move in.


32 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 18, 2017 at 3:49 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I'm confused by why we're supposed to feel sorry only for the younger CC member (Mr. Fine) and his 30% rent increase but not for all the other renters to whom the same thing happens.

Why is he the only one whose situation is worthy of attention to find solutions? Wasn't that what the study of rental protections proposed by Kuo, Holman and Dubois was going to cover>

Maybe someone can explain


8 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 18, 2017 at 8:55 pm

I think Mr. Fine mentioned his 30% rental increase last year to drive home the need to build enough rental housing to allow those people who want to live in Palo Alto to do so without the competition that is pushing rental housing up. Although one figure that gets mentioned is that even if Palo Alto were to build 100,000 new housing units that would only decrease prices by 10%, such is the demand.


2 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2017 at 3:48 pm

Kidding Me - that fact that you have no idea of which areas in Calif successfully oversee rent stabilization indicates your lack of knowledge.


22 people like this
Posted by 30%
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 19, 2017 at 6:11 pm

Smart landlords know that it's wise to give good tenants modest (<5%) yearly rent increases so they're likely to renew their leases. [Portion removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Marknose
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2017 at 6:17 pm

Looks like Lydia Kou needs to do some personal reflection. Did she get elected just to add that to her listing presentation materials and CV? You have a day job as a real estate agent and you put on your 'Palo Alto' hat when you walk into the Council Meetings. Playing one off the other is a character flaw.


30 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 19, 2017 at 6:27 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Lydia serves her constituents well and puts her residential real estate expertise in tracking down answers for us, esp. in regards to the ADUs. There are plenty of other CC members who have blatant conflicts so I don't see why you're just focusing on Lydia.

As for Mr. Fine's 30% increase, aren't increases like that are what the proposed renters protection considerations would have dealt prevented? Hence, it's odd for Mr. Fine's outraged followers to to demand tenant mediation services for Mr. Fine but not for anyone else.

Why the double standard and how will dramatically increasing the supply of rental housing help to rein in future renter abuse?


2 people like this
Posted by Wolbach Spoke Truth
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2017 at 10:04 pm

Wolbach is right. And the previous commenters claiming he's making it "personal" are either naive or insincere. [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Since Lydia is technically part of the real estate industry, she should recuse herself on all matters regarding real estate development and housing, as she has a conflict of interest by benefiting from continued high real estate prices.

She does get paid a percentage of a sales price, whether she's on the buy side or sell side. The more restrictive the development in the city, the higher the property prices go.

And more money in her pocket.


23 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 20, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Technically actually Greg Scharff is a real estate speculator, investor and attorney who has in the past NEVER revealed any sources of his family's income so that the public has no ideas of any potential conflicts of interests on his part.

Liz Kniss also owns income property.

They both depend on BIG donations $$$$$, from BIG developers, and always vote for BIG Office & R&D development to the detriment of housing!

Council member Kou doesn't have a conflict, but Scharff and Kniss might.... but they're just not going to tell you!!!!!


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 20, 2017 at 5:41 pm

@Me 2, your post that Lydia benefits from increased real estate prices blatantly ignores the fact that she would probably make lots more money if the housing supply were increased since she'd be involved in lots more sales.

Instead, she's putting the community ahead of her own personal gain. And at least she follows through on neighborhood issues while the other CC members stay silent and ignore communications from their constituents.

Why just pick on her rather than the other CC members with conflicts of interest? If, for example, Ms. Kniss owns income property, shouldn't she have recused herself on the vote re renter protections?


3 people like this
Posted by Kidding me
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2017 at 6:19 pm

@Hmmm. Yep, just as I thought, unable to provide even one example of successful rent control.

Palo Alto residents. Stop. Listen. Read. Learn. It is easy to pull on the heartstrings and say that rents are too high, people are being displaced, we need to control rent. But what is easy to say is not easy to do. Look at what is happening in MV. Read about it, learn. Not only are landlords of affected properties selling out to developers (who build even more expensive housing) but the cost to implement , monitor and maintain the rent control program has added additional costs and layers of bureaucracy.

RENT CONTROL DOES NOT WORK

And btw @homeowner for renters I find it ironic that you blithely and generously throw landlord/investors under the bus while sitting in your home protected by Prop 13 (which I support by the way)


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 20, 2017 at 6:27 pm

Renter protection is not necessarily rent control yet the CC refused to consider anything at all re renter protection.

Yet at the same time Susan Monk above writes "I think the memo is well intentioned, but not without flaws and I'm hopeful that Council's concerns to protect renters remain a top priority. Especially given those extreme instances, such as Council Member Adrian Fine, who was retaliated against with a 30% increase!
That's truly appalling and inhumane. And I plan to look into whether the Palo Alto Mediation Program provides sufficient remedies for such egregious landlord behavior."

I again ask why only Mr. Fine deserves to be protected against "such egregious landlord behavior," esp. when Mr. Fine has stated there are no possible remedies worthy of consideration.

Should all other renters be channeling their "appalling and inhumane" complaints to Ms. Monk or will she only be focusing on Mr. Fine? If not, why the double standard?


16 people like this
Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2017 at 10:59 am

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

One of the speakers asked if anyone on council owned apartments or had experience with rental property. Both Scharff and Kniss said nothing. Scharff owns hundreds of apartments and Kniss owns an apartment building in Palo Alto. The Weekky should investigate these property holdings. The public deserves to know when issues like this come up.

Is it surprising they orchestrated the defeat of even modest renter protections?


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2017 at 11:52 am

Online Name sez:

"@Me 2, your post that Lydia benefits from increased real estate prices blatantly ignores the fact that she would probably make lots more money if the housing supply were increased since she'd be involved in lots more sales."

Not really. She is in a prime position as a CC member to take advantage of the existing market conditions. And a 1 high property price sold/bought is much less work than 10 bought/sold. If there were more supply, there would be more brokers entering our market.

She doesn't want/need the competition.

"Instead, she's putting the community ahead of her own personal gain. And at least she follows through on neighborhood issues while the other CC members stay silent and ignore communications from their constituents."

Nope. High prices = more cash in her pocket.

"Why just pick on her rather than the other CC members with conflicts of interest? If, for example, Ms. Kniss owns income property, shouldn't she have recused herself on the vote re renter protections?"

That's hilarious. There's plenty of people poking holes in the other CC's resume. There's no one putting Lydia Kuo's conflict of interest under the microscope. What's more galling is that while you guys use innuendo to say developers influence the other CC members, she has a direct conflict of interest that you guys are ignoring -- or conveniently overlook because her conflict matches up with residentialist ossification interests.


4 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2017 at 2:49 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Steve Majors
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 21, 2017 at 7:27 pm

Silicon Valley is about creative destruction. New industries are created while old ones die in a bust. That is the core of the silicon valley model that has created huge amounts of jobs and wealth. A flexible housing plan is something that most accompany this. Every new Google has to be able to house its new workers while fading companies like Sun Microsystem's workers move on. Rent control with low housing turnover and creation is an anathema to this process of creative destruction. It would kill the golden goose. It you want cheaper housing, new housing and transportation is the only proven way to deliver it. It takes lots of effort, focus, and time but it can be done.


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

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