News

Fine shares the spotlight, highlights housing challenges in 'State of the City' speech

In formal address, mayor invites community members to weigh in on their concerns

In his "State of the City" speech Wednesday night, Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine adopted an approach that both felt familiar in a city where tech is king and that broke sharply with all prior mayoral addresses: crowdsourcing.

Departing from the norm, Fine invited members of the Palo Alto community, including residents, business leaders and volunteers, to share the spotlight with him and to offer their own thoughts about the state of the city in front of a crowd of about 100 people gathered at Mitchell Park Community Center.

He also used the wide-ranging and largely upbeat speech to call for more action on housing, offer a coronavirus update and discuss some of Palo Alto's most pressing problems, including traffic congestion and a business environment that is showing signs of distress.

Fine, who is the City Council's youngest member and staunchest housing advocate, touched upon the recent demise of state Senate Bill 50, which would have mandated relaxed city zoning restrictions near transit hubs and in jobs-rich areas. He was the council's sole supporter of the bill, which was authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener and which fizzled in the state Senate in January.

While opponents of SB 50 derided it as an attack on local control (Councilman Eric Filseth devoted a large portion of his own "State of the City" speech last year to critiquing the bill), Fine suggested that the city has many opportunities to exercise its zoning powers to create housing — it just hasn't done it. He alluded to the 2013 referendum that killed a proposed housing development on Maybell Avenue, which would have included 60 units for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes, and the city's recent troubles in creating a new vision for the Ventura neighborhood.

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"Put simply, do we have the will to solve this housing crisis, or are we going to dither?" Fine asked.

While Fine didn't offer any specific proposals for boosting the housing supply, a goal that the city has struggled to achieve, he made a case for being more accepting of duplexes and houses with three or four units. He also used the Stevenson House, a residential community for seniors, as an example of the type of housing the city needs more of.

Fine recapped some of the council's small victories on the housing front, including a zone change to enable 55 small units on El Camino Real and Page Mill Road, a development that will be geared toward local employees. Yet he also referenced the loss of 75 apartments as part of the pending conversion of the President Hotel, a historic, six-story building at 488 University Ave., into a hotel. The council, he said, will take up the issue of the hotel conversion later this year.

"But I find it funny that one of the most beautiful buildings in town would be illegal to build today: too tall, too dense and too little parking. Why can't we do something like this again?" Fine asked.

Fine also pointed to some of the symptoms of the housing shortage, including the growing number of residents living in vehicles and the heavy traffic during commute hours.

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The city, he said, is now working with Santa Clara County and other partners to figure out ways to find housing for people living in their cars. In January, the council approved a "safe parking" program that would allow local churches to house up to four vehicles each on its property and that would require participants to partner with nonprofit groups to help families find regular housing.

To illustrate the city's traffic problems and the city's jobs-to-housing imbalance (which is estimated at greater than 3 to 1), Fine showed a slide of morning commuters on Page Mill Road and Hanover Street, with bumper-to-bumper cars heading east toward El Camino and empty westbound lanes.

"We've effectively externalized our housing demand to other communities, and the result is traffic," Fine said.

Fine also suggested that the local economy is showing signs of strain, as evidenced by increased vacancies at Stanford Research Park, including the recent departure of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The city's economy, he said, isn't as strong as it used to be. He also suggested that the city has become overly regulated and, as such, less competitive than other cities.

"With a recession on the horizon, we need to address this," Fine said.

Another community gem that is now in danger, he said, is Antonio's Nut House, a famously unpretentious bar on California Avenue that is well-known for its gorilla cage, floors covered in peanut shells and diverse clientele. As the Weekly reported last week, the landlord has hinted that he is planning to sell the land.

"You may have heard that the Nut House will potentially close if the lot is sold," Fine said. "So I challenge everyone here, anyone listening, anyone listening to this recording: If you have the resources and the interest, please step up to help save this community gem! I think it would be a real shame if we lost our dive bar."

Fine then handed over the spotlight to 10 members of the community: Lisa Van Dusen, a sustainability activist; Jon Goldman, a partner at Premier Properties; Jade Chao, president of Palo Alto Council of PTAs; the city's Fire Chief Geo Blackshire; resident and serial entrepreneur Mike Greenfield; Amy Andonian, CEO of Avenidas; Zareen Khan, owner of Zareen's; Jon Cowan, director of local government and community affairs at Stanford Health Care; Fred Balin, a resident and government observer; and the Rev. Kaloma Smith, pastor at University AME Zion Church.

Each talked about what they most like about Palo Alto and what they see as a challenge. Blackshire lauded residents' strong engagement in the community and said members need to become more prepared for emergencies.

"The challenge is getting the community to understand that they are the first line of defense," Blackshire said.

Cowan lauded the city's spirit of collaboration and strong knowledge base. A challenge, which is not unique to Palo Alto, is the tone of local dialogue and debates, he said.

"Unfortunately, in the political space today, it's become more common to criticize or attack people's motivation or what they're thinking as well as their positions," Cowan said. "We're going to disagree and not always agree on things. But the more we can set that aside and focus on the policy and not the personal issue, the better solutions we can all find."

Smith praised Palo Alto's compassion and pointed to the Dec. 28 vandalism of his church, which later held a solidarity sitting that attracted 500 people. Yet partly because of the community's diversity, many groups of people don't really interact, he said.

"We have a great mix and aggregation of people walking in the street but they're not living life together. Everybody goes to their own silo," said Smith, who chairs the city's Human Relations Commission. "So the greatest challenge for us is: How do we as a community start building in organic and natural ways?"

While Fine's address focused mostly local issues, the event featured numerous reminders of the top national story of the day: the spread of coronavirus. To ensure healthy hygiene, the city eschewed the usual pre-speech buffet and instead had top City Hall executives (as well as Councilwomen Alison Cormack and Liz Kniss) serving up dishes at rows of tables set up against the back of the room.

Fine also used a portion of his speech to provide a local coronavirus update. While Palo Alto hasn't had any reported cases, there are 14 cases in Santa Clara County as of Wednesday and one veteran who was transferred from another county in the state to the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System's Palo Alto facility.

"It's not a cause for concern, but we do need to be prepared," Fine said.

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Fine shares the spotlight, highlights housing challenges in 'State of the City' speech

In formal address, mayor invites community members to weigh in on their concerns

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Mar 5, 2020, 12:01 am

In his "State of the City" speech Wednesday night, Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine adopted an approach that both felt familiar in a city where tech is king and that broke sharply with all prior mayoral addresses: crowdsourcing.

Departing from the norm, Fine invited members of the Palo Alto community, including residents, business leaders and volunteers, to share the spotlight with him and to offer their own thoughts about the state of the city in front of a crowd of about 100 people gathered at Mitchell Park Community Center.

He also used the wide-ranging and largely upbeat speech to call for more action on housing, offer a coronavirus update and discuss some of Palo Alto's most pressing problems, including traffic congestion and a business environment that is showing signs of distress.

Fine, who is the City Council's youngest member and staunchest housing advocate, touched upon the recent demise of state Senate Bill 50, which would have mandated relaxed city zoning restrictions near transit hubs and in jobs-rich areas. He was the council's sole supporter of the bill, which was authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener and which fizzled in the state Senate in January.

While opponents of SB 50 derided it as an attack on local control (Councilman Eric Filseth devoted a large portion of his own "State of the City" speech last year to critiquing the bill), Fine suggested that the city has many opportunities to exercise its zoning powers to create housing — it just hasn't done it. He alluded to the 2013 referendum that killed a proposed housing development on Maybell Avenue, which would have included 60 units for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes, and the city's recent troubles in creating a new vision for the Ventura neighborhood.

"Put simply, do we have the will to solve this housing crisis, or are we going to dither?" Fine asked.

While Fine didn't offer any specific proposals for boosting the housing supply, a goal that the city has struggled to achieve, he made a case for being more accepting of duplexes and houses with three or four units. He also used the Stevenson House, a residential community for seniors, as an example of the type of housing the city needs more of.

Fine recapped some of the council's small victories on the housing front, including a zone change to enable 55 small units on El Camino Real and Page Mill Road, a development that will be geared toward local employees. Yet he also referenced the loss of 75 apartments as part of the pending conversion of the President Hotel, a historic, six-story building at 488 University Ave., into a hotel. The council, he said, will take up the issue of the hotel conversion later this year.

"But I find it funny that one of the most beautiful buildings in town would be illegal to build today: too tall, too dense and too little parking. Why can't we do something like this again?" Fine asked.

Fine also pointed to some of the symptoms of the housing shortage, including the growing number of residents living in vehicles and the heavy traffic during commute hours.

The city, he said, is now working with Santa Clara County and other partners to figure out ways to find housing for people living in their cars. In January, the council approved a "safe parking" program that would allow local churches to house up to four vehicles each on its property and that would require participants to partner with nonprofit groups to help families find regular housing.

To illustrate the city's traffic problems and the city's jobs-to-housing imbalance (which is estimated at greater than 3 to 1), Fine showed a slide of morning commuters on Page Mill Road and Hanover Street, with bumper-to-bumper cars heading east toward El Camino and empty westbound lanes.

"We've effectively externalized our housing demand to other communities, and the result is traffic," Fine said.

Fine also suggested that the local economy is showing signs of strain, as evidenced by increased vacancies at Stanford Research Park, including the recent departure of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The city's economy, he said, isn't as strong as it used to be. He also suggested that the city has become overly regulated and, as such, less competitive than other cities.

"With a recession on the horizon, we need to address this," Fine said.

Another community gem that is now in danger, he said, is Antonio's Nut House, a famously unpretentious bar on California Avenue that is well-known for its gorilla cage, floors covered in peanut shells and diverse clientele. As the Weekly reported last week, the landlord has hinted that he is planning to sell the land.

"You may have heard that the Nut House will potentially close if the lot is sold," Fine said. "So I challenge everyone here, anyone listening, anyone listening to this recording: If you have the resources and the interest, please step up to help save this community gem! I think it would be a real shame if we lost our dive bar."

Fine then handed over the spotlight to 10 members of the community: Lisa Van Dusen, a sustainability activist; Jon Goldman, a partner at Premier Properties; Jade Chao, president of Palo Alto Council of PTAs; the city's Fire Chief Geo Blackshire; resident and serial entrepreneur Mike Greenfield; Amy Andonian, CEO of Avenidas; Zareen Khan, owner of Zareen's; Jon Cowan, director of local government and community affairs at Stanford Health Care; Fred Balin, a resident and government observer; and the Rev. Kaloma Smith, pastor at University AME Zion Church.

Each talked about what they most like about Palo Alto and what they see as a challenge. Blackshire lauded residents' strong engagement in the community and said members need to become more prepared for emergencies.

"The challenge is getting the community to understand that they are the first line of defense," Blackshire said.

Cowan lauded the city's spirit of collaboration and strong knowledge base. A challenge, which is not unique to Palo Alto, is the tone of local dialogue and debates, he said.

"Unfortunately, in the political space today, it's become more common to criticize or attack people's motivation or what they're thinking as well as their positions," Cowan said. "We're going to disagree and not always agree on things. But the more we can set that aside and focus on the policy and not the personal issue, the better solutions we can all find."

Smith praised Palo Alto's compassion and pointed to the Dec. 28 vandalism of his church, which later held a solidarity sitting that attracted 500 people. Yet partly because of the community's diversity, many groups of people don't really interact, he said.

"We have a great mix and aggregation of people walking in the street but they're not living life together. Everybody goes to their own silo," said Smith, who chairs the city's Human Relations Commission. "So the greatest challenge for us is: How do we as a community start building in organic and natural ways?"

While Fine's address focused mostly local issues, the event featured numerous reminders of the top national story of the day: the spread of coronavirus. To ensure healthy hygiene, the city eschewed the usual pre-speech buffet and instead had top City Hall executives (as well as Councilwomen Alison Cormack and Liz Kniss) serving up dishes at rows of tables set up against the back of the room.

Fine also used a portion of his speech to provide a local coronavirus update. While Palo Alto hasn't had any reported cases, there are 14 cases in Santa Clara County as of Wednesday and one veteran who was transferred from another county in the state to the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System's Palo Alto facility.

"It's not a cause for concern, but we do need to be prepared," Fine said.

Comments

Not Fine
Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2020 at 6:16 am
Not Fine, Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2020 at 6:16 am
67 people like this

Fine isn't trying to solve our housing problems. He's making them worse.

He voted FOR eliminating the downtown cap on commercial growth. He voted FOR higher office growth citywide. He voted FOR reducing fees office developers pay so we can build subsidized housing for those with lower incomes.

If you care about housing, pray that this is his final year on the Council.


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 7:22 am
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 7:22 am
9 people like this

"Tech is King". You wouldn't know that trying to park in Palo Alto. Nothing high tech about driving or using public transport around here.


Anon
Evergreen Park
on Mar 5, 2020 at 7:30 am
Anon, Evergreen Park
on Mar 5, 2020 at 7:30 am
68 people like this

Agree with poster above, Fine isn’t pro housing or pro renter just pro developer !
He bemoans the loss of the President apartments as if he had no role to play in protecting those renters and 75
Units of housing.
Fine doesn’t vote pro housing or pro renter so vote him OUT?


Words don't match actions
Southgate
on Mar 5, 2020 at 8:06 am
Words don't match actions, Southgate
on Mar 5, 2020 at 8:06 am
60 people like this

Mayor Fine says he wants to alleviate traffic and housing - yet he has no proposals for building housing - he just accuses everyone of not having the will to do it. It takes money and policies - not will!

He can't keep saying yes to office growth and then complain that our housing issues are getting worse.

He also claims to support things like transit and grade separations that will help relieve traffic, but he isn't willing to raise enough money from big business to pay for it.

He is simply there to complain about things - he makes a big stink as if he's solving problems, but instead he works hard to diss all the other council members and then he's surprised nothing can get done.

He has such disdain for Palo Alto, Palo Altans and his colleagues on council - why did he even run? Let's hope he doesn't run again.

The sooner he is out of office - the better.


Constantina Perron
Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2020 at 8:38 am
Constantina Perron, Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2020 at 8:38 am
48 people like this

Why does Palo Alto residents have to solve the housing crisis while the other cities keep building and expanding their office square footage?

Why does Palo Alto residents have to live with lesser park space, open space, road/street space, community centers, retail shops, grocery stores, trees and nature...?

Why does Palo Alto have to be like other cities?

Palo Alto is Palo Alto. Keep it special and not a wanna be San Francisco or Manhattan.


Allen Akin
Professorville
on Mar 5, 2020 at 9:14 am
Allen Akin, Professorville
on Mar 5, 2020 at 9:14 am
47 people like this

Hmm. Bumper-to-bumper traffic at Page Mill and Hanover, plus increasing commercial vacancies in the Stanford Research Park, plus "the city has many opportunities to exercise its zoning powers to create housing". Did Mayor Fine make the obvious connection here, or did he continue to emphasize eliminating single-family housing in existing neighborhoods?


Elizabeth Prindle
College Terrace
on Mar 5, 2020 at 9:59 am
Elizabeth Prindle , College Terrace
on Mar 5, 2020 at 9:59 am
15 people like this

We are so fortunate to have Mayor Fine in Palo Alto. Retail is struggling because people who work here can’t afford to live here. We need both, commercial and high density residential to support smaller businesses unless we are happy shopping at just Stanford mall and fancy high end restaurants. Allow the city to make high rises near retail and transit and see our community thrive. We don’t want Palo Alto to be another sleepy town like Portola Valley or Atherton!! We want it to look and feel like a vibrant University town! Thank you Mayor Fine for your hard work. Pl don’t listen to the Boomers.


george drysdale
Professorville
on Mar 5, 2020 at 10:07 am
george drysdale, Professorville
on Mar 5, 2020 at 10:07 am
10 people like this

Fine is fine. There is no big way to intervene. His assignment this year is to rid Palo Alto of inclusionary zoning. This impedes the development of housing. Subsidized housing is best left to San Jose where the land is cheaper. The San Jose Property Rights Initiative is ready to march after their election results. The revolution in Mountain View is most worth watching as it is the love child of San Francisco's rent control. Prediction: 200 mile fast balls right down the middle as money and the educated have no respect for weakling ball players. There goes price fixed rentals in Mountain View. Meanwhile I have hide as I don't want my picture to go viral. California is burning books and social studies teachers because they don't fit the profile for the model citizen of the Soviet Union.


Mike
University South
on Mar 5, 2020 at 11:01 am
Mike, University South
on Mar 5, 2020 at 11:01 am
15 people like this

I applaud Mayor Fine's push to fix housing in the area. He is right, SB50 failed because cities argued in favor of local control. So now let's talk to the community and see the best way to use local control to increase housing. Not doing anything is not an option, so let's pick amongst numerous options that increase housing in a way that fits the community best.


Another Giveaway
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 11:21 am
Another Giveaway, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 11:21 am
62 people like this

Density is NOT a virtue.

The corona virus has served as a stark demonstration of yet another way that density degrades the quality of life of residents.

Density is just a way to transfer wealth from residents to real-estate developers and a way for politicians to fund their political ambitions. Developers are only paying for half of the cost of a multistory building. The cost of all of the infrastructure (parking garages, roads, traffic controls, utility capacity, health care costs, parks, schools, etc.) needed to support the building is all paid by residents.

The cost of the infrastructure needed to support a multistory building probably exceeds the cost of the building itself.


Novelera
Midtown
on Mar 5, 2020 at 11:50 am
Novelera, Midtown
on Mar 5, 2020 at 11:50 am
31 people like this

[Post removed.]


Chris
University South
on Mar 5, 2020 at 12:05 pm
Chris, University South
on Mar 5, 2020 at 12:05 pm
13 people like this

The critics conveniently ignore Palo Alto’s EXTREME jobs-housing imbalance which existed even before Fine was born.

Unless PA quits dithering, the state will stick it to PA and the result will be much worse than if it had been proactive.


Gale Johnson
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 5, 2020 at 12:11 pm
Gale Johnson, Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 5, 2020 at 12:11 pm
20 people like this

@Novelera...yeah that was very apparent!


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 12:56 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 12:56 pm
36 people like this

Posted by Mike, a resident of University South

>> I applaud Mayor Fine's push to fix housing in the area.

The fastest way "to fix housing" is to reduce the number of jobs in the city. Do we "need" 500 units? Eliminate O(500) jobs.

>> He is right, SB50 failed because cities argued in favor of local control.

SB50 failed because it was a bad bill. The result of SB50 would be more traffic congestion and higher rental prices. Proponents have been unable, or, more likely, unwilling, to do the simple arithmetic.

>> So now let's talk to the community and see the best way to use local control to increase housing. Not doing anything is not an option, so let's pick amongst numerous options that increase housing in a way that fits the community best.

What will work will be to create jobs in other locations. That worked before, and, it will work again. There is no possible way for all software development and developers in the world to work and live in Palo Alto. It is absurd.


Gale Johnson
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 5, 2020 at 2:26 pm
Gale Johnson, Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 5, 2020 at 2:26 pm
42 people like this

HP figured it out 55 years ago. Opened new plants in CO and ID. Others can do the same now.


mauricio
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 5, 2020 at 3:27 pm
mauricio, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 5, 2020 at 3:27 pm
39 people like this

<<He has such disdain for Palo Alto, Palo Altans and his colleagues on council - why did he even run? Let's hope he doesn't run again. >.>

He serves as an agent for commercial real estate developers on the city council, that's why. He is actually housing's worse enemy. His mentor, Lis Kniss willl be termed out soon, and she needed someone to take her place, so she groomed him and a few others. If he has his way, traffic in Palo Alto will resemble that of Hong Kong in a few years, and Hong Kong as the best public transit in the world.

Anyone who still thinks density is good should observe the Coronavirus pandemic and valise that such a virus in a dense urban environment is the potential to wipe out entire communities. Living in a sardine can can be extremely deadly.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 5, 2020 at 3:51 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 5, 2020 at 3:51 pm
20 people like this

What we discovered in this election is that there are specific political groups funding specific people. The SB50 group - assume that they are all funded by the same people. I am not interested in having those people manage this state for their own benefit. We are already heading in the wrong direction and speeding downhill. We have to put the brakes on and make sure that we retain some semblance of balance in our cities - both big and small. There is no reason why the peninsula has to be turned on it's head - the big companies will move away and our cities will be horrible places to live in.


His speech
Community Center
on Mar 5, 2020 at 4:30 pm
His speech, Community Center
on Mar 5, 2020 at 4:30 pm
26 people like this

Fine took a less on from his mentor, Liz Knizz, and called up various of his supporters for a speech at the microphone. That's Liz' trademark, acknowledging her supporters from her seat on the dias. It's pretty obvious pandering by now.

Fine added his own wrinkle by praising a reporter he likes. The President would be proud of him. What's next? Call it Fake News when he doesn't like something?


Gnar
Charleston Meadows
on Mar 5, 2020 at 6:25 pm
Gnar, Charleston Meadows
on Mar 5, 2020 at 6:25 pm
18 people like this

Oh hey, Su Hong site at 4256 El Camino is a Housing Inventory site.

Maybe the City shouldn't be blowing it by developing it into yet another hotel.


Another Giveaway
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 6:35 pm
Another Giveaway, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 6:35 pm
26 people like this

YIMBYs are just yuppies hiding behind a smokescreen of social justice rhetoric.


Resident
Community Center
on Mar 5, 2020 at 6:36 pm
Resident, Community Center
on Mar 5, 2020 at 6:36 pm
18 people like this

"Fine added his own wrinkle by praising a reporter he likes. "

Who is the pet reporter? That should be humiliating for any reputable journalist, to be praised by an unabashedly partisan politician. Badge of dishonor.


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