News

Palo Alto mayor challenges Sacramento on housing

Mayor Eric Filseth uses 'State of the City' speech to criticize Senate Bill 50, explain pension problem

Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth outlines the various issues the city will need to tackle in 2019 during his State of the City address at Mitchell Park Community Center on March 5, 2019. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth used his "State of the City" address on Tuesday to launch a scathing critique of Sacramento efforts to address the state's housing crisis and to make a case for requiring greater contributions from Silicon Valley's high-tech titans.

In an hourlong speech that was partly a recap of the council's recent accomplishments, partly a preview of its 2019 plans and partly an economics seminar, Filseth used charts, graphs, statistics and renderings of hypothetical multistory developments to build a case against Senate Bill 50, a proposal by state Sen. Scott Wiener to encourage more housing by restricting the abilities of cities to reject residential developments near jobs and transit. He contrasted Sacramento's legislative approach, which curbs local zoning powers, with his own vision, which leans on companies like Google, Apple and Facebook to build housing (or contribute housing-impact fees) in conjunction with new office developments.

For an example of success, Filseth pointed to Mountain View's recently adopted (and not yet implemented) North Bayshore Precise Plan, which includes 3.5 million square feet of office space and 9,850 units of housing.

Filseth lauded the plan, which was forged out of negotiations between the City Council and Google, as a rare example of a project that produces jobs without making the housing shortage any worse. He contrasted that with Cupertino's development at the Vallco Mall site, which includes 1.5 million square feet of office space, 485,000 square feet of retail and 2,923 units of housing. That development, he noted, was approved despite the council's initial opposition thanks to Senate Bill 35, a Wiener-authored bill that creates a streamlining process for multifamily housing developments.

Filseth argued that the number of housing units in the Vallco development is insufficient to meet the job growth, worsening the area's housing shortage by between 2,000 and 3,000 units. It's hard to make an argument, he said, that such a project is good for Cupertino.

"If you are a person who believes that the right way to solve the region's housing crisis is to turn control over to Sacramento, then this case provides a counterexample," Filseth said.

The speech, which Filseth delivered to a packed house of more than 100 residents and city employees at the Mitchell Park Community Center, was a remarkable departure from typical "State of the City" addresses, which tend to be high on ceremony, platitudes and anecdotes and low on pie charts, bar graphs and economic theories.

As per custom, Filseth recapped the council's 2018 accomplishments — including new contracts for the animal shelter and Rinconada Pool, progress on a new public-safety building and approval of Palo Alto's first affordable-housing development in seven years — and briefly touched on the council's four priorities for 2019: transportation, grade separation, climate change and long-term financial sustainability.

He cited the city's efforts to reduce traffic congestion, including the progress of the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (a nonprofit charged with reducing traffic); mentioned recent efforts to encourage electric vehicle use; and, in talking about grade separation, acknowledged that a citywide tunnel along the Caltrain tracks is probably not going to happen.

"It's still conceivable to do a citywide tunnel, but the problem is it's very expensive and it's not clear where the money would come from," Filseth said.

As the council's leading proponent of pension reform, Filseth also delved into the council's recent decision to change its assumptions about CalPERS investment returns. The shift from an anticipated rate of return of 7 percent to 6.2 percent, which is embedded in the city's new budget, is requiring the city to budget more for pensions in the short term. But Filseth noted that it is also making the city's pension system more stable. Palo Alto, he said, is the only city in the state that is using the lower rate, which is based on an estimate from CalPERS consultants.

"What this means is that you as an employee, if you come to work for us in Palo Alto ... your pension will be fully funded. Your pension will be fully secure. You go to any other city in the state? I don't know," Filseth said, shrugging.

The bulk of his speech, however, was devoted to housing, which is no longer an official council priority but which remains a topic of widespread community concern (the most recent National Citizen Survey showed only 23 percent of the residents giving the city a high grade when it comes to "housing"; only "traffic" scored higher on the list of problem areas). He framed the state's housing crisis in terms of economics: building housing is expensive, he said. Building affordable housing even more so.

Sacramento efforts like SB50, which curb local zoning powers, don't address the economics of building affordable housing and "don't really fix the process," which encourages commercial development (and its more lucrative rents) over residential, Filseth said. Though he highlighted the council's recent approval of the 59-unit Wilton Court development on El Camino Real, which consists entirely of below-market-rate housing, he noted that the project required a $10 million contribution from the city and effectively depleted the city's pool of affordable-housing funds.

The best that efforts like SB50 can do, Filseth argued, is "extend the existing process for a few more turns" by creating a small amount of market-rate housing.

A better approach, he argued, is to require tech companies like Google and Apple to build housing in conjunction with office growth. This could mean requiring companies to build a unit of housing for every job (or two jobs) and to build a school for every 1,000 jobs. Filseth also advocated raising the affordable-housing impact fee from the current level of $30 for every square foot of commercial development — a proposal that has in the past divided the council.

Filseth noted that in the past year, the top 150 companies in Silicon Valley have reaped $934 billion in sales and suggested that they can do far more to assist to the communities that they depend on to house their workers. He framed the difference between his view and that espoused by proponents of SB50 as a clash of two hypotheses: one that sees "local zoning in the suburbs" as the biggest problem and another one that places blame in the region's "underinvestment in core infrastructure." He said he leans toward the latter.

"It's very hard to find examples of industry in the West, where titans were brought down by city councils in suburbs," Filseth said. "However, it is replete with titans who are brought down by the distraction on short-term results on slowness to invest in the core infrastructure that supports the foundation of their business."

Even as he bashed SB50, Filseth lauded Gov. Gavin Newsom's proposed "Marshall Plan" for affordable housing, which calls for investment in housing by both the state and by large corporations. Newsom also supports penalties (in the form of withheld transportation funding) for cities that fail to meet their housing obligations.

Not everyone agreed with Filseth's critique of SB50 and other Sacramento efforts to curb local zoning powers. Vice Chair Adrian Fine, who supports the Wiener bill, said it's perfectly possible to believe in both hypotheses: that companies can contribute more and that cities can do more to support housing.

"Until cities can prove that they are willing to invest, whether monetarily or with policies, into the housing side, the state will keep on coming at us," Fine told the Weekly after the speech.

This was the second year in a row in which housing was the central issue in a "State of the City" speech (last year, then-Mayor Liz Kniss focused her speech on the importance of affordable housing in preserving community diversity). Since Kniss made her speech, the council has made some progress on the housing front. This includes approving the Wilton Court development, creating a new affordable-housing overlay district; and revising the zoning code to, among other things, eliminate the "maximum units" requirements in multifamily residential zones and the creation of "housing incentive programs" with significant density concessions for residential projects in downtown, around California Avenue or along El Camino Real.

The new incentive programs, which Filseth supported, were designed to give developers an alternative to SB35.

Filseth, a retired tech executive who is one of the council's most moderate and pragmatic members, didn't propose any flashy new initiatives in his speech. Rather, he said 2019 will be a "nuts-and-bolts year."

"This year, we're going to focus on good government, focus on high-quality and efficient services to the residents and being a good neighbor to the region," Filseth said. "There are some times (when) you've got to be a rock star. Other times you've got to be rock solid. This is the year for the government in Palo Alto to be rock solid."

Watch Filseth's full speech through this video provided by the MidPen Media Center.

Filseth explains his opposition to Senate Bill 50 on "Behind the Headlines," now available on YouTube and our new podcast.

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Comments

21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2019 at 9:00 am

Whereas it seems to me that I agree with a great deal of what was said in this presentation, I would have liked the mayor to have linked his comments on housing with that of public transportation. I tend to think that they are hand in glove issues. We all choose to live where we live for reasons that seem appropriate at the time, but if we change jobs or our jobs move, we do not always want or can justify moving home to where the job takes us, or even that both partners in a home are going to work near each other. For this reason for the great majority of people, driving to commute is the only possible alternative. A one hour commute by public transport for a 5 mile drive is not something people will make a choice to do.

Public transportation works in other cities the world over. We are not a stand alone city, but part of a region that is huge, with plenty of reverse commutes and traffic flows in both directions on freeways and arteries at both morning and afternoon commutes. There has to be a better way to get efficient, comfortable and affordable public transportation to get commuters where they need to go in realistic times, for realistic costs, and of course reduction in traffic and parking needs. It isn't just a Palo Alto or Santa Clara solution, it has to be a regional solution.


53 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 6, 2019 at 9:21 am

Allen Akin is a registered user.

It's really encouraging to see more recognition that fixing the jobs/housing imbalance depends on fixing the economic incentives for development. Thanks to Mayor Filseth for making this case so clearly.


61 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2019 at 9:37 am

Thank weekly for your reporting and thank you Mayor Filseth for one of the best State of the cities speeches i have ever heard.
It was certainly the most data rich analysis i have heard.

It is very important to inform the residents of this ( and all other communities ) about SB50 and the other state bills in the legislative process, that seem to be oblivious of fact that the a "one size fits all " approach won't work, especially in places that are so woefully defficient in public transportation options.
The attack on local control seems undemocratic, period!

Your solid responsible adult approach to governance is refreshing.


103 people like this
Posted by Profiles in Cowardice
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2019 at 9:44 am

Fine is quoted in this article as saying, "the state will keep on coming at us", if cities do not invest more in housing. Fine is one of the most vocal proponents of SB-50 and has been an advisor to Senator Weiner on that bill. The state will keep on coming at us because we have a Vice-Mayor who disregards the importance of local control, and would rather surrender our ability to govern ourselves to the state. Fine has said in the past with regards to SB-50, "we need the state to step in and help solve the housing crisis . . . the idolatry around local control are not going to solve our housing issues." Local control is not idolatry, it is our right as a charter city to determine the future of our city.

I'm relieved Mayor Filseth stood up for the interests of Palo Alto and for our low-income communities by speaking out against SB-50, and the negative implications it will have on our city.


57 people like this
Posted by Big picture
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2019 at 9:49 am

for the greatest bang for the buck this would also suggest big companies to go to areas which are less expensive to live in.

The problem we are left with however are a bunch of not-really-titans who can’t afford to invest or are too cheap like Palantir (who needs to use our soccer fields at low fees for corporate parties) and they just want cities to foot the costs of the imbalance they create. Free company campuses.

Unti this gets sorted out there should be disincentives for adding to the jobs/housing imbalance problem.


57 people like this
Posted by Better informed
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2019 at 9:54 am

Better informed is a registered user.

So refreshing to see a State of the City speech that goes beyond platitudes to actually explain the complexity of the big challenges facing the city.


59 people like this
Posted by Good Mayor
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2019 at 10:51 am

Great to finally have a Mayor who is intellectually up to the job.
And who is in touch with residents views, not just developers views.


39 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2019 at 10:59 am

I agree with others that this seems to be a tilt towards a more data-informed and logical approach. Let's keep the actual data coming, and, let's see the CC adopt policies that are logically compatible with the data.


52 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 6, 2019 at 11:05 am

Annette is a registered user.

Good for Mayor Filseth for using this particular podium to challenge SB50. Now it is time for US to support that position and do what we must to keep the State at bay. I'm in.

And thank you to @Profiles above for the reminder about Fine's "idolatry of local control" comment. That single comment tells you all you need to know about Fine's priorities. He will forfeit local control in a heartbeat.

Suppose Weiner and Fine and the State prevail and the desired additional housing is built in so-called transit rich areas. What kind of housing will it be - affordable or workforce? And will the State step up and provide the funding for the infrastructure needed to support the growth? It's a stretch to call what exists here "transit rich" because what exists is inadequate for the level of housing that exists which is inadequate for the number of jobs that exist.

Bills that target transit-rich areas are bills based on a false premise. Instead of putting the cart before the horse and building more housing, how about some smart sequencing, starting with limiting commercial growth (so we stop exacerbating existing problems) and improving transportation (so we become transit rich)?


31 people like this
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2019 at 11:47 am

Mama is a registered user.

Thank God for Eric Filseth! Our community is so lucky to have him.


47 people like this
Posted by Need the city council to step up
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 6, 2019 at 11:55 am

If we could only get a city council to support retaining local control, stopping office development and reining in growth until fixes to transportation have been made. But no, with the recent "turn coat" move of Allison to support removing the down town cap to office growth we have a 4-3 split on council to continue to support the growth mantra.

Mayor Filseth has it right - if companies add one job they need to add one house, when they get to 1000 jobs they add a school, 2000 jobs they add a park and so on. Not hard to imagine that some roads and markets and such are also in the mix. These companies benefit so they need to pay - end of story!


15 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2019 at 12:09 pm

Great State of the City address by Filseth. Is it any wonder why Sacramento has taken this up? We have failed as a community/region for decades and that is why we have too much traffic and not enough housing. Somebody needs to do something and if a threat from Sacramento is what it takes, I'm all for it. Something needs to change. Burying our heads in the sand while another thousand units are built here and there is not going to do it. The 50' height is too limiting and will force the paving over of what's left of California. We have major arteries that run the length of the peninsula - 101, 280, El Camino - that could be used for trains, tunnels, etc. We need big ideas and big dollars, very big dollars. The $500,000,000 from the "titans" sounds nice but it will get maybe 1000 living units, a drop in the bucket. If you don't like SB50 quit whining and figure something else out.


43 people like this
Posted by Big picture
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2019 at 12:22 pm

Mama

"Thank God for Eric Filseth! Our community is so lucky to have him."

It shouldn't be luck but to an extent it is.

Remember that Filseth is part of the minority on Council so Palo Alto really has work to do to stem the developer funded types who win and win and win (hiding their true colors during elections).Yes how lucky we are but also stupid we are having to rely on luck.


34 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 6, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Adrian Fine : ""Until cities can prove that they are willing to invest, whether monetarily or with policies, into the housing side, the state will keep on coming at us," Fine told the Weekly after the speech. "

If we don't foul our own nest first, the State will come and foul it for us. Great leadership.


15 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 6, 2019 at 1:22 pm

Contact our state representatives to express your opinion about SB50:

Assemblyman Marc Berman: Web Link

State Senator Jerry Hill: Web Link


24 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2019 at 1:27 pm

jh is a registered user.

This is an excellent report as to exactly which areas, and how, SB50 would impact Palo Alto residents:


Web Link

I believe many people will be really surprised to find that they live on streets that could see 40' high buildings with minimal parking if SB50 passes.


39 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 6, 2019 at 1:44 pm

Following up on Annette's comment regarding transit...

Per the 2018 National Citizens Survey, only 22% of Palo Alto residents rated our public transportation as "good" or "excellent".

It is wishful thinking when Adrian Fine calls downtown "transit-rich".

SB50 proponents are misguided if they expect most people living within a half or quarter mile of a transit stop to do without a car. Sure, it is feasible in a city like SF, but we simply do not have the infrastructure down here and there are no plans to build it.

Adrian Fine, Scott Wiener, and their acolytes want to bring us only the downsides of city life without any of the benefits.

Palo Alto has grown considerably in terms of jobs and residents in the past 25 years. But do we have better public transportation? Better recreation? Better anything? No, no, and no.


19 people like this
Posted by Good Mayor
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2019 at 2:33 pm

I should have added, "and who isn't on the take from developers"
as our last two Mayors are.

>Great to finally have a Mayor who is intellectually up to the job.
>And who is in touch with residents views, not just developers views.


11 people like this
Posted by Shame On You PA
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2019 at 4:23 pm

Time to also wake up to the fact that all coral reefs will be dead in our lifetime!

I for one support doing something to curb driving bu putting more housing next to jobs and retail/services and make a dent in our county’s ridiculous GHG emissions.

We all need to attack the larger issue of GLOBAL WARMING with smart, dense, compact development where people live in smaller units, support local retail, and don’t have to drive. Everyone goes to dense cities in Europe, walks and bikes around then talks about what a great trip they had. Density can be amazing (and healthy) for all!


2 people like this
Posted by @Shame On You PA
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2019 at 4:44 pm

But that will mean building MUNDANE apartment buildings!

We're about 5 years away from the Boomer generation shrinking enough for this issue to finally get tackled.


20 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 6, 2019 at 4:55 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Shame on You - what you write makes sense but it assumes the existence of two critical pieces of infrastructure: adequate transit options and local retail/services. We aren't well positioned regarding transit options and we are systematically pushing out retail and services.

Like hamsters on a wheel, we are getting nowhere. Those with approval power assiduously approved the building of spaces for jobs, paying no heed to the need to simultaneously build living spaces for the people doing those jobs. I think the mayor's idea to require companies to build a housing unit for every job created makes good sense but that also depends on improving transit. We cannot be "transit rich" without adding transit. That's key. European cities apparently figured this out decades ago; California developed differently and it is, obviously, a struggle to retool the state.


18 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2019 at 5:22 pm

Adrian Fine is correct. If Palo Alto does not add housing - which means adding density, the State will "keep coming." The State has made it extremely clear that denser housing is not only about providing housing, it's about reducing the impacts of climate change by stopping the sprawl of cities into agricultural land which is needed both for food security and as a carbon "sink."


22 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2019 at 5:37 pm

Posted by jh, a resident of Evergreen Park

>> This is an excellent report as to exactly which areas, and how, SB50 would impact Palo Alto residents: Web Link

Interesting report. (Note, it looks like "Site 5" is incorrectly labeled "243 Margarita; looks like 269 Margarita according to Zillow).

Your point is well-taken though -- everyone should take a look at page 17 and ask yourself if this makes any sense at all.


Posted by Crescent Park Resident, a resident of Crescent Park

>> Adrian Fine is correct. If Palo Alto does not add housing - which means adding density, the State will "keep coming." The State has made it extremely clear that denser housing is not only about providing housing, it's about reducing the impacts of climate change by stopping the sprawl of cities into agricultural land which is needed both for food security and as a carbon "sink."

Actually, this is nothing more than a money/power grab by developers.


29 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 6, 2019 at 6:28 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

There are a number of problems with the "density will solve all our ills" approach.

We're not transit-rich. Our segment of Caltrain and our major roads are running full-capacity during the peak parts of the day. Caltrain electrification gains us only 21% more capacity, half of which is going to be used by Stanford. In a generation Caltrain could do a lot more, assuming someone comes up with the necessary tens of billions of dollars, but for the foreseeable future we have very little headroom to grow.

Expanding jobs and housing close together doesn't help because people change jobs so often and the jobs are already widely spread. 72% of employed Palo Altans work elsewhere, despite the fact that they live in one of the most jobs-rich towns in the country. This has been surprisingly consistent over a long period of time.

Building reasonably-priced housing here hasn't been a good economic proposition for a long while, and that's not likely to change soon. The opportunities are already out there, but they simply aren't profitable enough. Otherwise Google's "transit village" in San Jose wouldn't have a 2-to-1 jobs-to-housing imbalance, and plenty of dense housing would already be under construction in Stanford Research Park. Zoning is not what's preventing these things.

In a larger sense, it might just be unwise to put so many of our economic eggs in a hyper-expensive basket that's prone to earthquakes and sea-level rise. One reason Silicon Valley exists in its present form is that planners of the post-WWII era felt there was too much strategic risk in centralization.

There's more but you get the idea. It's not enough to have a dream for how you want things to be. You also need a plan that's workable, and funding to get you there. I'm glad to see Mayor Filseth take steps along those lines.


12 people like this
Posted by Unfunded Mandates
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2019 at 7:37 pm

Wasn't there a state proposition that compels the state to pay for any unfunded mandates? Why aren't we busy creating a laundry list of costs the state's overdevelopment-cloaked-as-good-things mandates have already foisted on us, and what this SB will foist on us, and go after the state for the funds? Get together with other cities to sue the state for the funds.

We should also be focusing on better wages for people who need the affordable housing, so that we are not just creating a permanent underclass of people who can never grow any personal wealth over their lives or get a living wage for their work. I personally believe the companies should pay into a fund that allow the City to purchase retail areas the way Stanford makes nice neighborhoods available at an affordable cost for its faculty -- it owns the land and rents it out longterm for cheap. Over time, this would allow the City to leverage higher wages for traditionally low-wage workers. Retail would win, the City would win, and residents would win. The benefit would only grow without any additional cost. This is how people get into houses in Silicon Valley, at least, ordinary people. Lot of sacrifice over extended periods so that they can be stable even though by the next week they can't afford their own home.

Anyway, sue the state to pay for the cost of the unfunded mandates. Get together with other cities. The state will have to back down.


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 6, 2019 at 7:45 pm

Mayor Eric Filseth is showing leadership I appreciate - with respect to housing & related issues - know there may be repercussions/unintended or intended results, we all need to engage on the State’s proposals (or Wiener’s....) to make sure what materializes makes sense.
Sounds like the Mayor is engaging on these complicated issues. We better, too.
I’m not sure I agree with multiple wildly complicated government “incentives” or requirements or favoring of certain identity groups for housing schemes. Eventually, everyone will demand free housing.
Someone, whatever the scheme, will be appointed bureaucrat to favor their friends and make decisions and operate these schemes. These paper shufflers are unelected decision makers.
Many of us don’t get to live in the citybwherevwe work; many of us didn’t start outnin Palo Alto, by any means.
Growth in housing is nevessary, but overdevelopment may create a huge problem in the next cycical downturn orvrecession, add traffic in new, challenging ways (and air pollution from idling).
It would be better to make the market overall more appealing for building middle class gousing across thevstate.


16 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2019 at 8:17 pm

jh is a registered user.

"failed as a community/region for decades"

It is only about fifteen years ago that companies began to intensify their use of office space and cram in about four times the number of employees as there were previous to that. Remember around 2004 what a novelty it was when Facebook was featured all over the national news because their downtown Palo Alto offices had employees piled into offices sitting at desks elbow to elbow, on the floor, in the hallways, sitting on the stairs and without a traditional desk in sight?

There is no shortage of blaming Palo Alto residents for failing to look into the crystal ball "decades" ago and know that powerful laptops would permit an explosion of office employee density in less than a decade and a half.


12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 6, 2019 at 9:11 pm

One of the most distressing elements on this topic is going up to the SF city and seeing so many closed, empty buildings with posters on them. It is like they have no control over the city so are trying to shove the problems down the peninsula. Maybe counter sue the SF city for the number of unused buildings that require fix-up so they have no time to spread problems elsewhere. Of course that means that we need to assemble a list of problem buildings in our city that are sitting there unused and be willing to take action. East Bayshore - if no use of building then tear down and build apartments on high level. There are a number of buildings that sit empty with "for lease" signs for ages - force the hands of the owners. Do not let there be empty buildings and then target houses in R1 neighborhoods.


26 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2019 at 11:12 pm

I agree with the first comment. However I'd go even further:

There is no housing crisis. There is only transportation crisis.

If we solve public transportation we solve housing. New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Paris, London, ... all have much better public transportation so that people don't have to live close to work.


15 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 7, 2019 at 6:06 am

So now Palo Alto is being targeted in the newspapers - today 03/07. Who do we have to thank for that? Who comes up with these numbers as to how much housing this city has to produce? And Scott Weiner who is pushing these bills lives in the SF city. Can someone please check out the status of his neighborhood on number of homes and buildings that are sitting there falling apart and unused? I suspect that Scott cannot fix the city he lives in so has to shove his virtue signaling down to other successful locations. If you look at the Caltrain tracks in San Mateo county the space next to the tracks is parking spaces. I have had it with SF city people who live in filth that they cannot clean up get busy "organizing" other cities lives. Time to sue the SF city for their disorganization and lack of management. And Newsome is no help here. Templing his fingers to show his virtue signaling that disrupts long established city streets is appalling. However el Camino does have a section on run-down buildings that does need a make over. I wonder how those run down buildings can withstand the constant rain and termites that must be consuming them.


8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 7, 2019 at 6:21 am

Like to point out that Newsome is suing Huntington Beach for not building more homes. Anyone who has lived in a beach city already knows that building in those areas is tricky because that is where water to going to the ocean - lots of underground streams. The ground is not stable. So if Newsome is busy suing cities then cities should get busy suing Newsome. This state has made a huge number of errors already and when the snow melts you are going to see those errors in full layout - probably in East San Jose which flooded last year. And SU still has not fixed the dam at Searsville Lake so the north part of the city is a sitting duck for that disaster when it happens. Cause and effect it predictable and no you cannot blame any sitting president for the problems that have been deteriorating for ages. So stop scapegoating any sitting president for the problems that the city and state has brought upon itself.


14 people like this
Posted by Big Picture
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2019 at 8:17 am

Shame on Palo Alto

"Everyone goes to dense cities in Europe, walks and bikes around then talks about what a great trip they had. Density can be amazing (and healthy) for all!"

Yes that's what tourists do, they have fun. The bikes, scooters and Segway *city tours* in Europe are *for tourists.*

The work force and masses use real public transportation, not bikes and scooters. And no - the dutch don't skate to work either Web Link

The dense major cities in Europe have real public transportation. How are San Francisco and San Jose doing with that by the way?

Agree that the hosing discussion should be hand in glove with transportation issues, and transportation does not mean bicycles. Need data about how green bikes are compared to real mass transportation.


31 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 7, 2019 at 8:20 am

Annette is a registered user.

What I find distressing about the push for housing statewide is the complete absence of discussion about the various ancillary planning and building that must accompany the addition of housing. The list is long and it includes: roads, public transportation, hospitals, schools, additional public safety personnel, basic retail, water treatment facilities, sewage system, recycling, waste treatment, utility capacity, emergency services. Add to this the very legitimate question of water supply. And money. The additional growth will require more personnel which will increase operating costs and, of course, pension liability. We should build only what we can afford and sustain - and those projections need to be done BEFORE we embark on a growing spree.

It is utterly irresponsible to add housing that cannot be supported. If the foundation for the additional housing is not adequate the ramifications of that will be immense. We don't have to look far to see examples of devastation caused by severe weather. And there's no reason to believe that severe weather is but a blip. Over-building anywhere that does not have all the key infrastructure elements in place to adequately support that development is akin to signing up for trouble. I think the built environment here (and elsewhere) has reached, if not exceeded, what can be supported. If we want to build more we need to augment our infrastructure first.

Building inspections are also critical. That job cannot be rushed and it must be done by people with experience. Right now there are 3 buildings in San Francisco with problems (the new transit center, Millennial Tower, Salesforce Tower). Little things can be overlooked when people are rushed or have too much to do. As we proceed here, we need to solve problems, not make new ones.


2 people like this
Posted by @Annette
a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2019 at 9:11 am

All of those things are paid for via property taxes from the new residential properties.


32 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 7, 2019 at 9:16 am

Pat Burt is a registered user.

Thanks to Mayor Filseth for framing the issues with data and a vision.
It was also interesting to see Vice-Mayor Fine comments that seemed to support requiring big business to pay a fair share to address the problems that they are largely creating. That would be a welcome change in his position from 2017 when he and the council majority reversed a commitment that the council had made unanimously in 2016 to establish a stakeholder group which would identify uses, amounts and forms of a business tax for the 2018 ballot.
He also implied that Palo Alto has not acted to address housing. In actuality, the city has expanded ADU zoning beyond state requirements, adopted an affordable housing overlay zoning, and up-zoned housing in areas identified in our state approved Housing Plan. Unfortunately, substantial housing is not likely to get built in the Downtown area because of the recent council action to eliminate a cap on office development there, since new office still has a higher financial return for developers.


4 people like this
Posted by @resident
a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2019 at 9:16 am

Yeah, who do these city folks think they are telling Palo Alto that they need to build more housing just because they've amassed a staggering number of jobs without anywhere near the amount of housing to offset it? Who cares if it's snarling traffic because everyone needs to cross the bridge or pile onto the highway to get to their job in Palo Alto, or that it's pushing up housing costs in other cities. No of has a right to tell Palo Alto what to do, no matter how many negative externalities they put on the rest of the region!


27 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 7, 2019 at 9:42 am

I am greatly concerned about the claims regarding bus routes being rich transit. If the VTA continues in the direction it is going there could soon be no north county VTA at all or maybe even any VTA service with the exception of San Jose.

Who then provides affordable transit service for all this dense development with no parking? The city?
that is an unfunded mandate!

This is another example "emperorers new clothes " Fairy dust" style governance which will not result in more affordable housing choices and will exacerbate the existing conditions that negatively impacts the lives of residents!!!!


14 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 7, 2019 at 10:05 am

The job growth is in Mountain View (google) and Menlo Park (Facebook). Redwood City is building away and looking good. So why is Palo Alto the target here? NO - we are not required to house all of the employees of Google and Facebook. And our train depot is not bigger than that of Mountain View so the train station is not the wedge they need for this effort. Maybe the PACC could shut up for a while and quit advertising to the world like we are the answer to everyone's prayers and the "leader" of new ideas. Actually - we are falling behind and should lay low for a while. I am sick of a bunch of people trying to toot their horns when there is no actual music coming out.


3 people like this
Posted by AnthroMan
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 7, 2019 at 10:09 am

Things would be so much simpler if Palo Altans went back to the ways of the Ohlones...living in replaceable tule huts, eating acorns & scavenging for small animals to roast over an oak flame.

A very low environmental impact + there would be nothing for outsiders to come & steal.

Modern man has allowed things to get way too complex in Palo Alto & other locales.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2019 at 10:34 am

Posted by resident, a resident of Adobe-Meadow

>> One of the most distressing elements on this topic is going up to the SF city and seeing so many closed, empty buildings with posters on them.

I'm not saying that you are incorrect, but, the only closed/empty buildings I've seen in SF look seismically unsafe to me. Unfortunately, seismic upgrades of some old brick buildings cost a lot more than brand-new construction. Is there a list somewhere of safe buildings that are sitting unused? I could be wrong, but, I think you are seeing a seismic upgrade problem, not an "unused space" problem.


2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 7, 2019 at 10:45 am

I got trapped on Mission Street and I can assure you that the buildings that are closed on that street are cheap wooden building that should be torn down. If you read the SF Chronicle this topic is discussed all of the time. Market street closed buildings. Lack of Mom and Pop business. They talk about this all of the time. Try expanding your information sources to local papers including the Chronicle.


15 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2019 at 10:54 am

Posted by @resident, a resident of another community

>> Yeah, who do these city folks think they are telling Palo Alto that they need to build more housing just because they've amassed a staggering number of jobs without anywhere near the amount of housing to offset it? Who cares if it's snarling traffic because everyone needs to cross the bridge or pile onto the highway to get to their job in Palo Alto

You have a point @resident. I think Palo Alto should pass an emergency ordinance immediately that mandates at least 120 square feet of dedicated office space for each individual, with a total space including meeting rooms, restrooms, hallways/access/etc, of 250 square feet per person aggregate. The last 15 years has seen an incredible squeeze-- I can't believe some of the workspaces I've seen the last couple of years.


7 people like this
Posted by Bad mayor
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 7, 2019 at 11:52 am

Eric fillets is just the spokesman for the anti-housing mandate being pushed by PASZ. Him and his gang on the city council are against most every housing plan- and when they are forced to support housing it is done begrudgingly and with much delay and added obstacles for the developer to meet. Do not forget Maybell.


29 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 7, 2019 at 1:49 pm

jh is a registered user.

Menlo Park just approved plans for a new office building on Middlefield and Willow with a restriction on the number of employees that can work in those offices.

Wish our council majority would start limiting how many employees can work in a building. Instead the council majority, or at least Vice Mayor Fine, encourages continually expanding office space within the city while cleverly laying the blame on residents for not providing the companies occupying these offices with housing for their new employees. Quite the whiff of hypocrisy here.


7 people like this
Posted by PASZ stooges
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 7, 2019 at 2:54 pm

Jh- no the hypocrisy is of filseth and his pasz cronies constantly complaining about the city councîl members who are trying to address the housing issue, and then patting themselves on the back for finally approving the Wilton street housing despite Holman and Kuo’s attempts to delay the project,


23 people like this
Posted by @bad mayor
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2019 at 3:17 pm

It’s He and his gang, not ‘Him and his gang’.

And Filseth has supported every decision to build more housing. Check his voting record before you wheel out blantantly incorrect information. You lose all credibility when you make stuff up.


21 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 7, 2019 at 3:24 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@PASZ Stooges - I have a very different take on our CC. In the last CC, members DuBois, Holman, and Kou fairly regularly supported what I think you might characterize as a PASZ agenda. Filseth voted with them some of the time, but not always. Members Kniss/Fine/Scharff/Tanaka consistently voted pro-development, which in Palo Alto has translated for too long to pro COMMERCIAL development, which translates to voting in favor of worsening the jobs:housing imbalance. Without fail. Wolbach usually, but not always, voted with them. On the new CC, if her vote on the downtown cap is an indicator, Cormack has joined the pro-commercial development group.

Said differently, I think you may be irked at the wrong people.

Commercial development per se is not bad; it's the unbalanced aspect of it that is choking us and rendering people housing insecure, housing frustrated, and homeless. When so-called residentialists push back against development, I think that what is being objected to is the lack of balance and the unmitigated impacts.


23 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 7, 2019 at 5:47 pm

jh is a registered user.

"the city councîl members who are trying to address the housing issue"

Any council member who votes to make the jobs housing imbalance worse is is only pretending to be trying to address the housing issue.


6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 8, 2019 at 7:13 am

Article today 03/08 on this topic regarding Hillsborough - they will never allow any intrusion into their housing policies because they do not allow any businesses with any substantial number of employees. They are a no-commercial zone. Therefore no commercial business to drive a requirement for low cost housing. They control the algorithm that drives the requirement. Meanwhile in PA we are encouraging more business therefore setting us up for a numerical calculation that drives the requirements. That leaves us with some PACC members who stand out for creating and feeding this issue. We have enough on our plate with the Caltrain debate - we do not need to add more businesses to feed the housing debate. What we need to do is target buildings that are "for lease" all of the time and are empty. Does the presence of the buildings add to the calculation despite the fact that they are empty? Do marginal businesses in run-down buildings add to the calculation? I vote to target the unused or marginally used buildings in commercial zones to be converted to apartments to help change the calculation. It is within our rights as a city to demand that buildings do not sit empty.


3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 8, 2019 at 8:02 am

One issue needs clarification: Commercial buildings that sit empty are not generating profit and could be used by the owner to offset gains on other commercial properties. Score one for the owner if that is the intention. Then the question is if the algorithm for calculation of commercial space is that which is available - used or unused - so that we are being penalized at the city level for a calculation that is faulty and not generating any tax base for the city. It is all in the details and someone who has access to that information needs to explain the hows and whys that we are being evaluated for additional housing. What are the game rules. And should be available for legal challenge to any party that is feeding false calculations or not conducting business to the advantage of the city and state.


10 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 8, 2019 at 9:11 am

Excellent mayor. Excellent replies. SB-50 would be laughed out of any real estate economics class. Newsome former mayor of San Francisco the most devastated city in America (foundation work and structures ancient) leading with his chin will have his jaw broken by Huntington Beach. There's no land, no money to achieve all the housing desired. As governor Brown (of California) said things won't change much concerning the production of housing in California during the next five years. Rent control the biggest culprit.

George Drysdale land economist and initiator


5 people like this
Posted by Who needs housing with only 12 years left
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 8, 2019 at 2:21 pm

Why does any of this matter? According to AOC and her New Green Deal, we only have 12 more years on the planet before Climate issues due us all in.


2 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Mar 9, 2019 at 7:01 pm

Eric Filseth and his elite Palo Alto cronies may be surprised at just how little weight their opinion carries on a state wide basis.


6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 9, 2019 at 7:08 pm

We have congressional people who are very silent these days. Mr. Berman? Get yourself on record here - you are not going to float along in the job unless you actively support your congressional area. You will not proceed to any higher political office if you are silent here.


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

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