News

Palo Alto's push for more housing spreads to San Antonio

Planning and Transportation Commission open to giving developer incentives to build housing on city's southern edge

For years, Palo Alto's elected leaders have focused their housing efforts on downtown and around California Avenue, the two parts in the city with the most transportation options and retail opportunities.

But with the city's housing efforts falling well short of the City Council's goals, officials are now considering an option that would be almost unthinkable a few years ago: encouraging housing density along San Antonio Road, the very area that they previously deemed unsuitable for residential construction.

Palo Alto's plans for San Antonio remain modest compared to Mountain View, which in the last three years has approved more than 1,000 residential units along the busy east-west artery. Even so, they represent a shift for a city that has traditionally been cautious about approving housing in areas outside the core commercial areas.

Even though the City Council designated several sites on El Camino Real and San Antonio as potential housing areas in 2014, when it approved the latest Housing Elements, city officials generally agreed that these sites are intended to be "placeholders" until the city can identify better options in downtown and around California Avenue. But with the council approving the Wilton Court project on El Camino Real earlier this year and now considering a housing development with 102 units along San Antonio, these busy arteries are now seen as Palo Alto's most promising opportunity sites for new housing.

The latest sign of the shift came Wednesday, when the Planning and Transportation Commission discussed and generally supported the idea of extending the city's Housing Incentive Program — which offers density bonuses for residential projects and which currently applies only to downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Real — to San Antonio Road. The change was proposed by a developer who is looking to build a four-story, mixed-use building with 102 apartments at 788 San Antonio Road.

So far, the Housing Incentive Program hasn't drawn the type of interest from residential developers that the city has been hoping for. The council, which has a target of approving 300 housing units per year, has yet to review a single housing proposal under the new program in the three designated areas. In May, council members generally supported the prior version of the applicant's proposal, which included 64 units. Since then, the developer revised the plan to include 102 units.

Ted O'Hanlon, representing the property owner Yurong Han, told the commission on Wednesday that the site represents a great opportunity for housing, given its proximity to major employers, including Google; its accessibility to a major thoroughfare, U.S. Highway 101; and the existence of shopping areas within walking distance, most notably Charleston Shopping Center.

"The main message here is that Palo Alto has some very strong goals to build 3,000 units in 10 years — 300 units per year," O'Hanlon said. "We're proposing 102 units in this project and we think it will be a great fit."

The commissioners largely agreed, with varying levels of enthusiasm. Vice Chair Michael Alcheck was particularly excited about the prospect of bringing housing to San Antonio and pointed to Mountain View for example.

"To some degree, Mountain View has demonstrated that San Antonio is suitable for high-density residential," Alcheck said. "I'm thrilled that the council is exploring this idea of expanding the housing incentive program."

He later added that he doesn't think there is "a parcel in Palo Alto that isn't suitable for housing."

Others were more discerning about potential housing locations. Commissioners Ed Lauing and Doria Summa, while generally open to the idea of having housing at 788 San Antonio, pointed at the traffic and parking challenges that the area is already experiencing.

The city frequently requires developers of major projects to create transportation-demand-management (TDM) plans, which aim to steer tenants away from cars and toward modes such as transit and biking. Because of the shortage of good transit options and biking amenities in this area, such a program would have to be especially aggressive, Lauing said.

"This would have to be a Barry Bonds-on-steroids TDM program that we haven't seen, before you address what happens here with congestion and gridlock," Lauing said.

Lauing also questioned whether, given these challenges, the city should really be "liberalizing" zoning in this area by applying the Housing Incentive Program here.

If the council ultimately approves the 102-unit proposal, the site would be allowed to have a floor-area-ratio (a measure of building density) of 2.0, equivalent to what the Housing Incentive Program allows in the California Avenue area (in downtown, the program allows a FAR of 3.0). The prior proposal with 64 units would need FAR of 1.5, which is what the program allows along El Camino Real.

Summa said she was intrigued by the idea of having housing in this area but, like Lauing, cautioned about changing the development standards. She and Commissioner Asher Waldfogel both spoke in favor of a broader planning effort for the San Antonio area that would consider the needs of the growing neighborhood.

"I think there is an opportunity to do it holistically and make sure we get the things we want there. ... Doing it piecemeal might mean we don't get the things we want," Summa said.

Not everyone is welcoming the prospect of new housing coming to the block. Several residents of Greenhouse 1 and Greenhouse 2, residential complexes across the street from the site, attended the meeting and warned the commissioners that approving more dense development would add to the area's traffic congestion. Some pointed to the two recently approved Marriott hotels that are now in construction near the proposed project site.

Resident Joan Larrabee pushed back against the notion that San Antonio should be treated like El Camino Real when considering housing opportunities. San Antonio has only four lanes, while El Camino has six. Also, the lanes on San Antonio are narrow, making bicycling hazardous.

"It's not safe for bicycles. It's hardly safe for pedestrians and cars," Larrabee said.

Warren Storkman, who also lives near the project site, concurred. The road, he argued, doesn't have the capacity to accommodate the hotel projects and the proposed residential complex.

"San Antonio Road is going to be gridlocked from there all the way to El Camino Real in a short while," Storkman said.

Stephen Levy, an economist and housing advocate, took the opposite position and told the commission that the city will need to significantly ramp up its residential production to meet its regional housing allocations. This is becoming particularly important given Sacramento's recent push to more aggressively enforce housing targets.

"How are you going to meet our housing goal without at least opening up incentives for what looks like it could be a reasonably large number of units — and then working like hell to solve the traffic problems here and in every place?" Levy said.

The commission didn't take any votes on the project, which will face reviews from the Architectural Review Board before returning to the commission and ultimately the council. The Wednesday meeting served as a scoping session for an Environmental Impact Report that will be prepared for the project.

Residents who wish to comment on what the EIR should study have until Oct. 7 to weigh in. Comments can be emailed to SAhSing@M-Group.us or mailed to Sheldon S. Ah Sing, City of Palo Alto, 250 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301.

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Comments

53 people like this
Posted by Invisible Hand
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 11, 2019 at 9:05 pm

How about no?


48 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2019 at 9:56 pm

More housing = more population = traffic. It's that simple.


53 people like this
Posted by Local
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2019 at 10:07 pm

Can we just ban all new office developments. These new jobs are causing the housing crisis as people flood into Palo Alto.


35 people like this
Posted by Don't be EVIL Companies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2019 at 1:46 am

The City should be looking to convert office space into housing, and getting employers to move jobs to where the housing is, which is a much more sustainable longterm goal. The infrastructure here is maxed.


41 people like this
Posted by Birds
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 12, 2019 at 5:40 am

Birds is a registered user.

As said above....no more office complexes. They are causing the problem (creating more housing demand) and using land that could be used for housing. And plenty of other areas of our state/country need more businesses. We dont.


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 12, 2019 at 10:29 am

I’m not sure! I generally like this housing.
I think the devil is in the details.
It would help if Palo Alto and Mountain View would work cooperatively in that borderline and crossroads location with respect to traffic levels and flow and parking..
Nothing wrong with living in new housing in s thriving area. Meanwhile, it would be better if the cities discussed how to streamline traffic, encourage pedestrians, etc.


23 people like this
Posted by Parking
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2019 at 11:14 am

Where will they park? This is a car centric location. Bicycling access is poor. Transit access is worse. There is inadequate parking in the proposal for this location.


20 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2019 at 11:18 am

Buses stuck in rush hour traffic are useless "transit". IF San Antonio is going to become devoted to housing, without some kind of real transit option for the people who live there, THEN it is going to get even more gridlock than it is already. It is irrational to deliberately create a gridlocked area like that.


17 people like this
Posted by sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 12, 2019 at 12:03 pm

sheri is a registered user.

Get real! Charleston Shopping Center is not remotely within walking distance of this development, especially for food and pet supplies shopping. Even Costco is a bit of a stretch. Not to mention the already horrendous traffic on San Antonio.


21 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Article: "Palo Alto's plans for San Antonio remain modest compared to Mountain View, which in the last three years has approved more than 1,000 residential units along the busy east-west artery. Even so, they represent a shift for a city that has traditionally been cautious about approving housing in areas outside the core commercial areas."

Which busy east-west artery are they referring to? Leghorn St? It is east-west, but, medium-traffic, not an artery. San Antonio is an artery, which happens to be almost north-south at that intersection. New Mtn View housing on San Antonio is a mile south on the other side of the tracks/viaduct. I'm confused about what Mountain View housing this proposal is being compared to.

In any case, this is a very car-centric location, so, I would expect one car per adult, both parking, and, traffic-wise.

"The city frequently requires developers of major projects to create transportation-demand-management (TDM) plans, which aim to steer tenants away from cars and toward modes such as transit and biking. Because of the shortage of good transit options and biking amenities in this area, such a program would have to be especially aggressive, Lauing said."

"Aggressive"? Did they really say this with a straight face? Are they going to make it illegal for residents to own cars? If they do, residents will get relatives to assume ownership under their names and park down Leghorn. This is a driving location, and, there is no feasible way to make it transit-friendly. Build it and residents will drive. Guaranteed.


23 people like this
Posted by Parking
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2019 at 12:31 pm

Anon is right. Has Palo Alto ever enforced a Transportation Demand Management program? Name just one that our city leaders has enforced. Are they even posted in a prominent, easy-to-find location on the city's website?


26 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 12, 2019 at 1:37 pm

What's next? Will the City Council propose we buy all these new residents on "car-light" private property electric chargers for another $9,000,000?

Seriously, stop allowing new offices which generate more traffic,


19 people like this
Posted by Don’t be EVIL Companies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2019 at 2:32 pm

“irrational”

Thank you. Palo Alto should just rename planning and transportation as”department of irrational and magical thinking”.


12 people like this
Posted by Make a PLAN.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2019 at 2:39 pm

I'm not opposed to housing on San Antonio, but if they do this, the city MUST preserve Cubberley for public uses: schools, community center space, playing fields. We will need capacity to serve all of the new housing (3,000 units) with community services, public schools. The site is zoned for Public Facilities for good reason.

Mayor Filseth RAN on the Comp Plan. CM Cormack seems not to understand land use planning and transportation generally. Kou is interested in parking homeless people out of sight in their cars. Good grief. Let's consider all of this comprehensively. We can build housing AND maintain quality of life if we PLAN comprehensively.

Slapping housing on Cubberley and parking homeless in the baylands is short-term, easy, and foolish if we are going to build all of this housing on San Antonio. We need to work with the county to facilitate integration of affordable housing with market-rate housing. We need to PLAN where that should go. San Antonio was not identified in the updated Comp Plan for high density housing? There is no PLAN for this. Put together a BALANCED vision and plan for growth vote on it. Once approved, stay the course.

Every single member of this Council ran on strategic, comprehensive planning. Every one of them seems to have abandoned that approach. This is not good for our community. This is not good leadership. Staff should know better and so should Council.


1 person likes this
Posted by Liz Gardner
a resident of Mayfield
on Sep 12, 2019 at 4:13 pm

Gennady, YES to housing. There is no mention in this article of what percentage is deemed affordable and what the AMI will be for this percentage. Thank you!


7 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 12, 2019 at 4:19 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

So let's see - housing at FRY's seems to be in limbo because that would respond to most of the requirements of the city at this time. So that conveniently creates a "dilemma" justification for all other crazy ideas. The PACC wants to stampede stupidity. Meanwhile there is the Palo Alto Business Park which has many empty buildings and a huge amount of space. No mention any where as to the options for that property. Very tiring that the PACC is manipulating the scene here.

No housing at Cubberley - that is a school that is going to be desperately needed in the immediate future - as a school. You cannot keep adding people to the scene without covering the growing population with schools and amenities.


3 people like this
Posted by Liz Gardner
a resident of Mayfield
on Sep 12, 2019 at 4:21 pm

Note: We must be also mindful that pushing multi family housing away from single family home owned properties with a lack of amenities is not wise for diversifying neighborhoods, our carbon footprint or our social fabric of future generations. Is San Antonia 102 unit housing project only serving giants employees like Google?? Too. Anyone who travels along Alma between Oregon and San Antonio can see how no one walks, rides bikes along there and it's pretty much where all the "poor" people are pushed to house themselves. Please urge and lure Mid-Pen, Bridge, Eden Housing along Winn Residential to develop housing here with tax incentives for the low and moderate wage earners. Let's keep it real.


15 people like this
Posted by I laugh at the quoted text
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 12, 2019 at 4:53 pm

" Charleston Shopping Center is not remotely within walking distance of this development, especially for food and pet supplies shopping."

The shopping center is a 0.7 mile distance from the proposed housing? Not remotely within walking distance??? Maybe to the people who oppose any and every housing development in town this is the excuse de jour. The original poster has always supported walkable neighborhoods. I wonder why she opposes this one.
It is also within walking distance of Costco and there is a small grocery store on San Antonio as well.
Plus as we all know, housing does not generate that much traffic. People go to work and then come back--not like a business where you have constant comings and goings.
Shall we try again????


11 people like this
Posted by Why
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 12, 2019 at 6:00 pm

Forcing out small businesses to build homes...where are the shops will be...I'm already traveling distant just for milk..traffic is bad enough..


2 people like this
Posted by Might As Well
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 12, 2019 at 6:41 pm

The San Antonio Road shopping district has been totally destroyed so a new housing complex won't make any difference appearance wise & at this stage of the game.

You can't go back to the way things were.


6 people like this
Posted by Dangerous, unpleasant, and service-free
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 12, 2019 at 9:22 pm

Dangerous, unpleasant, and service-free is a registered user.

@I laugh. Really? Would you carry your gallon of milk, half-gallon of ice cream, and frozen vegetables 0.7 miles back to your house from Piazzas, assuming you can even afford Piazzas? It is a very unpleasant walk. I've done it. It's also a dangerous bike. A kid who was obeying all the traffic rules was just run over at that intersection in the past few days. Live it before you talk it.


6 people like this
Posted by I laugh at the quoted text
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 13, 2019 at 6:44 am

Dangerous, unpleasant....

How would you know how "unpleasant" it is living in Palo Verde- why would you shop at Piazzas and walk with you rgroceries to a housing development that does not exist yet???? 0.7 miles is not far--for decades residents have pushed the concept of "walkable neighborhoods"-- this is a perfect example- being within walking/biking distance of shopping. I saw nothing in the news or the accident reports indicating a bicyclist was run over at that intersection. But how do you know he was "obeying all the laws"??


10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2019 at 10:41 am

An aside, but, the usual radius for "local" is often given as around .5 miles/800m/10 minutes. But, a full load of groceries including frozen foods, -with ice cream- , would probably be driven by many people at that distance, especially on days when it is 94F out.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 14, 2019 at 8:32 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I drove around that CUB site yesterday and noted that the football field is under "renovation". The football field with bleachers is tucked away behind Greendell. I think we need an explanation as to what is going on there - I get he uneasy feeling that something is going very wrong there and that piece of property is being preempted for some other use. If anyone knows what is going on there then please let us know. I am sure that the residents in that neighborhood have an interest in that property. I would hate to see it torn up with no explanation as to the end use.


5 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 14, 2019 at 4:40 pm

Who is "Palo Alto" in this context? Who do we fire? The City Council? The City Manager? Let's see some names of the people who are promoting development over livability in this City. Who do we hold accountable for the traffic mess? The $9 million dollars wasted on a bike boulevard that citizens had to be up in arms about to get cancelled. The mess that Charleston Ave has become?


4 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 14, 2019 at 10:24 pm

I like the idea of letting high-density seep into Palo Alto where it can. We need
more non-super-rich people to balance that "Thurston Howell III" attitude we get
so often now in our fair city that used to be so down to earth. ;-)

You know ... Gilligan's Island, or am I dating myself?


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