Palo Alto's effort to revise its zoning code to promote more residential development received a mixed reaction from a crowd of residents on Monday night, with some calling the proposed revisions a much-needed measure to address the ongoing housing crisis and others arguing that the new rules would worsen the city's parking problems while doing little to address affordability.
Dozens of residents representing both sides of the debate addressed the City Council, which on Monday began what promises to be a series of long and contentious meetings on the proposed revisions, which include the creation of a new multifamily zoning district, the establishment of a "housing incentive program" that gives developers major density bonuses and new parking rules.
Those who supported the rule changes pointed to the astronomical costs of Palo Alto housing and the exodus of professionals from the city. Some residents talked about the fact that most of their former classmates had already left Palo Alto because they could no longer afford to live here.
Ryan Globus, a renter who lives in Midtown, said the city's housing shortage is putting Palo Alto's status as a welcoming place for professionals at risk. If the city doesn't act now, it will "lose a generation of hard workers in all professions."
"When I have kids someday, I hope they can live here so they can be close to their grandparents but I'm sure many other residents in Palo Alto hope for these same futures for themselves and their kids but the lack of housing is pricing out the next generation and putting their hopes at risk," Globus said.
Deb Goldeen, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, concurred and pointed to the many people who work locally but who are forced to live in cars because they can't afford local rent.
"I feel this community has been criminally negligent from the social justice perspective in terms of not having maintained a decent housing stock," Goldeen said.
But while no one disputed the need for housing, many took issue with the specific proposals. Resident Carol Scott said she doesn't object to the city encouraging more housing density.
"But density should not be exporting negative externalities to residential neighborhoods," Scott said.
Shannon McEntee, a resident of the Mayfield neighborhood, said she supports building more affordable housing but questioned the city's decision to change its parking rules. Requiring less dedicated parking spots will "cause enormous problems for residents in any new buildings as well as new neighbors," she said. In her own condominium complex, more people are now sharing units because of the city's affordability crisis.
"We're seeing more people in one-bedroom units. We're seeing families of four in a one-bedroom unit and two adults in a studio," McEntee said.
The council's discussion on Monday was limited to parking, with several members questioning the methodology of a parking study that the city's consultants conducted to support the zone change. The proposed zone change would require developers to build one parking space for a studio or a one-bedroom apartment and two spaces for units with two or more bedrooms.
Under the current code, the city requires 1.25 parking spaces for studios, 1.5 spaces for a one-bedroom unit and two spaces for apartments with two or more units.
The council steered clear of any policy decisions relating to housing on Monday, other than the question of whether the entire discussion should be put off until January when the new council is sworn in.
Three council members argued for deferring, with Councilwoman Lydia Kou leading the charge. The proposed rules changes, she said, could benefit a particular downtown property owner who is trying to get a project approved by the end of the year (though she didn't mention the developer's name, she clarified to the Weekly that she's referring to a bid by President Hotel's new owners, AJ Capital, to convert the apartment building back to a hotel).
Taking up the item now "will further mistrust because there's going to be allegations that we're deciding things behind back doors."
"I highly object to this," Kou said.
Councilman Tom DuBois and Councilwoman Karen Holman supported delaying the discussion, with Holman saying that the proposed ordinance, as it stands, is "not ready for prime time." But the council majority supported moving ahead with the discussion, which members noted will likely take numerous meetings to conclude.
The council plans to continue its discussion on Dec. 3.