Regional housing plan splits elected leaders | January 11, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 11, 2019

Regional housing plan splits elected leaders

Casa Compact aims to promote new housing while overriding local authority

by Gennady Sheyner

A sweeping plan to preserve and expand the Bay Area's housing stock by passing new renter protections, loosening zoning restrictions and expediting the approval process for residential developments is making its way to the state Legislature despite a flurry of opposition from local leaders, many of whom decry the proposed policies as unfair, anti-democratic and potentially counterproductive.

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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at [email protected]


64 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2019 at 5:53 am

How about no new office development until there is a balance of housing & workers? How about the forced rezoning of commerical property to residential until there is a balance of housing & workers?

These big tech companies don't care about the communities they are located in.

1 person likes this
Posted by High Density Housing
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 11, 2019 at 10:19 am

Rising interest rates, Mortgage deduction cap, legionellosis.

1 person likes this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 11, 2019 at 12:33 pm

commonsense is a registered user.

Raise the height/density limit for housing only and developers will become more interested in building housing. Lower height limits and density coupled with 20% required to be BMR units makes office more profitable. Change the equation and the market will correct itself

35 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2019 at 12:37 pm

With the swearing in of the new governor the capture and integration of the Party into the real-estate industry is now complete.

10 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 11, 2019 at 12:38 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Thanks Gennady, for what appears to be a well researched and background checked article on the issue and the pros and cons of it. Of course you will get the usual 'slammers' comments for whatever you write. But when you actually quote people from our local governments (mayors and council members) and others in our communities, telling it like it is from their side, I think that carries weight. And thanks to now former mayor Liz Kniss for her letter and sharing her thoughts on the issue. I think she speaks for all us Palo Altoans. We like to take care of business in our own way and we have very qualified people to do it. Let our local issues remain local issues without the burden of piling on statewide issues.

"The housing situation in California is a massive public policy failure," Regan said at the Dec. 12 meeting. "All of these comments about how we need more 'democracy' -- that's what provided this problem. And saying we need years more of this is going to make it more intractable, not less intractable, because every day there are more people in tents."

"Wow" and "double wow". So now the democratic process is a bad thing and under attack by Regan? How did that happen? Actually we never had the true democratic process of the vote per man, and every man...that is every man who was qualified to vote...and that was a very small and limited select group. Our new enlightened Democratic Party likes to think they are serving the same purpose.

We have elected representatives to do our bidding in local governments, state legislatures, and at the federal level. They do the best they can, I think, to represent their constituencies in this abridged version of the old Greek democratic process. But to attack the process and those subscribing to it is just not right. It's buyer beware, and take note, seriously consider who you will vote for next time around in our local election cycle. You (we) are in control (well, maybe, sort of), although sometimes our elected representatives appear to be out of control. We elected them, but we can also un-elect, i.e., not re-elect them. It's happened before. And yes, your vote, my vote, and every vote, counts.

15 people like this
Posted by Just me
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2019 at 2:18 pm

I hope their plans don't overlook climate change, wildfires, sea level rise.

"Across the Bay Area, the cost of damage to homes and businesses as a result of sea level rise and higher intensity storms is estimated at $70 billion dollars by the year 2100. As seas continue to rise over the coming decades, entire regions may be abandoned. Through smarter regional planning and nature-based infrastructure, we can begin to minimize the economic costs of sea level rise in the Bay Area." Web Link

33 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 11, 2019 at 3:10 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@common sense: fully agree; good thing the initiative to cap office development succeeded. Without that small nod to smart planning we would only continue to increase demand for that which is in too short supply.

Regan's correct to say that the housing crisis is a massive public policy failure. Those with the authority to approve commercial development should NEVER have allowed the ratio to get so far out of whack. But they did and now the fix is going to be much more disruptive and expensive than it would have been if there had been reasonable mitigation all along. And this is leadership? I think not; good leadership would have avoided this crisis.

Kniss is right that maintaining local control is critical. And yet she nominated Fine to be our vice mayor. Keep in mind that Fine is helping Scott Weiner, the state senator who aims to dismantle local control essentially state wide. Unfortunately, the current dynamic in Sacramento is helpful to that.

I offer this excerpt from Diana Diamond’s Dec. 11 blog:

“Palo Alto Councilman Adrian Fine, a zealot for more dense, transit-oriented housing, told the Daily Post that he is providing input into Weiner’s bill, at the senator’s request. Fine told the Post that the state needs to step in because “local councils and the idolatry around local control are not going to solve our housing issue.”

I'm not saying we don't need housing but I sure am saying that we don't want Sacramento calling the shots.

23 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 11, 2019 at 4:11 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

"In Los Altos, the council took a stand against the compact, arguing... that it 'overstates the benefits of transit-oriented development and the ability of transit systems to truly accommodate the increased density.'"


I was interested to see Gavin Newsom warn the corporate community that it's time to contribute more to housing, although the amount he suggested is probably an order of magnitude less than what's appropriate: Web Link Once the organizations causing the shortage and displacement have to bear a proportionate share of the costs, they'll have the economic incentive to bring demand back into balance.

Newsom needs to do the same for transportation infrastructure.

35 people like this
Posted by Keep it local
a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2019 at 4:24 pm

In an MTC presentation yesterday (1/10/2019) in Sunnyvale a lot of people, including many city council members from around the area, ripped up CASA.

One complaint was that there was no input from the cities on CASA except for the big 3 who can expect to get all the money. MTC convened a bunch of builders, construction unions, and "housing advocates" sent their recommendations on to Sacramento and then told the cities this is what MTC was recommending - what the rest of the cities and their residents wanted didn't matter at all - 70% of the SF Bay's population was not represented in formulating CASA.

There are also some "facts" that are so de-contextualized as to be "fake facts". One is the oft-repeated "since 2010, XXX jobs have been added but not enough housing." The reason this is "fake" is that 2010 was the low point for employment in the SF Bay area. *Employment did not get back to 2002 levels until 2012* (2013 in some counties) so housing prices were >declining< from 2008 through 2012. No one will build in a >declining< market. The number of jobs did not exceed 2002 levels until 2013 so there was presumably no need to build housing.

graphs and sources for employment and housing price real facts here:
Web Link

Mayor Lynette Lee Eng of Los Altos pointed out that all the freeways and El Camino are parking lots during commute hours while CalTrain is "Standing Room Only" - adding more housing without more transit options will worsen the nightmare. The MTC representative replied "transit wasn't considered". This drew widespread laughter and later one comment that the "T" in MTC wasn't for "towers".

Another issue was that the amount of money MTC is targeting is huge. $2.5B every year to construct housing. That is almost exactly the entire general fund budgets of all the cities in Santa Clara County combined!

details here:
Web Link

Finally, adding housing in Palo Alto and other cities in Silicon Valley won't lessen the commuting from Contra Costa and Alameda Counties since no one is going to be tearing down housing there, people will still live there, and there aren't many jobs there.

So what would be accomplished except to provide more housing for high-paid engineers near work while a few get some BMR housing and even more people that aren't highly paid commute from even further out?

30 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 11, 2019 at 5:25 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Allen Akin and Keep it local - thank you for all that you wrote. Especially about transit.

It's kind of oxymoronic to add dense, transit-oriented housing if the transit resource either doesn't really exist or is projected to be inadequate. Stanford has in essence called dibs on the planned increase in Caltrain capacity. This means that the very resource used to validate increased density (and decreased parking) in transit districts will be inadequate to demand. It’s ludicrous. And circular.

If the goal is to get people out of cars, shouldn't there be a reliable multi-faceted public transportation system as an alternative? And shouldn't this system be functioning before housing is added so that we know the resource identified as the justification for the densification is in fact an available resource and not just a theory?

42 people like this
Posted by Don't be EVIL companies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2019 at 5:58 pm

"The Casa Steering Committee, whose roster includes area council members, developers, planners, union leaders and representatives from large employers such as Google, Facebook and Genentech, "

Yep, this is basically developers and companies that want to turn their community of choice into their own private office park with the public suffering for (including in safety and displacement of existing residents) and footing the bill for their overpopulation of new transient workforce.

The government should not be enabling this. The role of government is to serve everyone, and put the brakes on this, and to provide ways for the above entities to partner with government to enable NEW centers of innovation (with the amenities companies want for free here) to develop so we multiply the job centers. I do so wish they would realize this and start now, I would like to move to one of them.

This is going to kill the ascendance of the Democratic party in California. Overdevelopment is now corrupting Democrats just like Republicans have been corrupted by big money, and it will destroy what is working for our state now. Which would be tragic since Republicans have become a decidedly UN-fiscally-responsible dishonest cult in recent decades.

9 people like this
Posted by Wolves
a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2019 at 7:37 pm

The local Democratic party act more like Republicans. They mirror the Republicans supporting Trump.

19 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 12, 2019 at 9:32 pm

The housing price problem was created by developers and over-development of commercial real estate. Developers got rich while long-time residents got priced out. Isn't it convenient that developers will make billions "solving" the problem. Remember, if it doesn't work, it's because we didn't give enough handouts to developers.

15 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2019 at 8:52 am

The goal of raising height limits is not "housing". Once higher apartment buildings are allowed, developers will argue that limiting the height of office buildings while allowing taller apartments looks irrational. The allowed height of office buildings will then ratchet up.

We don't need more office space in Palo Alto. Just say no to taller buildings of any type.

There are few opportunities to build significant additional housing in Palo Alto. The Fry's area is one such opportunity. Are all the developers/participants willing to guarantee that there will be -no office space- as part of that redevelopment?

7 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 13, 2019 at 10:17 am

My concern is less about a specific height limit and more about creating a bureaucratic monster. The expansion of government may be expensive in itself.
It seems we individual taxpayers will have verrrrry little say in devisions made by the proposed new regional entity. I realize regional cooperation in theory “could” help our bad traffic and lack of reasonable housing, BUT be careful about the bureaucrats quickly raising taxes, fees. We already pay high income taxes, property taxes, bridge tolls (for commute to/from work), and high county sales tax. I suggest detailed accounting and reporting be required- with full annual disclosure to the public. Otherwise, WE may not see any results in our area yet have contributed ever more dollars to the new bureaucracy.

17 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 13, 2019 at 10:48 am

Thanks to council member Fine for being willing to stand by his convictions.
Last year, he was the only council member who supported Wiener’s similar SB827. None of his colleagues would go that far. He now supports Wiener’s SB50 which would require that very dense 4-5 story apartment buildings be allowed in R1 many neighborhoods “by right” and cities would not be allowed to stop them or require any on site parking. Cities could not require even a single parking space to be shared by 20 apartments in the middle of single family neighborhoods. The state would take over the rights of any city to regulate that zoning. That’s how radical SB50 is.
However you feel about the housing problem, SB50 is an extreme and ill thought bill where the state would take over local zoning decisions from municipalities and impose extreme social engineering on communities.
Instead, the state and cities should slow the rate of growth of the giant tech companies in areas that are already overwhelmed by traffic and have a disproportionate share of high income tech workers squeezing out the vital middle and working class. Big tech should be subject to local taxes, similar to what San Francisco charges, so they pay their fair share of the transportation and affordable housing needs that they created.
Instead of SB50, we need more affordable housing like the Wilton Court project. That project, including 30% of the units for disabled adults and a strong TDM program, will be before the council this Monday. It deserves our support.

20 people like this
Posted by Wrong Questions!
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2019 at 1:02 pm

This group SHOULD be asking: 1) Does this area have adequate water, schools, and infrastructure to handle this rate of growth? 2) Should the largest companies (FB, Google, Apple...) be allowed to add jobs in this area at an exponential and unchecked rate? 3) How to incentivize companies to hire and train local talent instead of recruiting people from all over the world to move here; 4) How to encourage the largest companies to open more branches elsewhere around the U.S.(spreading the wealth) to preserve space in the Bay Area for small start-ups to prosper. And this group should insist that the largest companies (FB, Google, Apple...) be held to the same standards as Stanford in terms of limiting traffic (no new net-trips), contributing to transportation infrastructure, providing housing for employees, and providing land for low income housing and schools.

11 people like this
Posted by Wrong Questions!
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2019 at 1:14 pm

....Unfortunately, this group consists of the wrong parties (who are too focused on $$$) to ask the right questions that might lead to optimal solutions for our area.

2 people like this
Posted by Mr Doubletalk
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2019 at 3:34 pm

Pat Burt begins with this sentence:
"Thanks to council member Fine for being willing to stand by his convictions."
Then he goes on to say that Fine is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Confusing to the reader. Mr Burt often plays both sides of an issue and here is another example.

12 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 13, 2019 at 9:22 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I agree that Burt's opening comment is incongruent with the balance of his post. Odd. But I think he is right about the Wilton Court project.

ANYTHING "By Right" is an open invitation for abuse. Maintaining local control is best for all sorts of reasons. Fine tells us the State has to step in b/c w/o that we won't solve the problem. Guess what? We CANNOT solve the problem b/c the problem has gotten too big and Palo Alto doesn't have the land or the infrastructure needed to solve the problem. At best we can improve the situation. A little.

And we can put the brakes on making the problem worse.

Supporting SB50 (as Fine does) is the same as supporting the elimination of R1 zoning. Suppose he and Weiner succeed and R1 zones become highly densified zones. The result will not be the healing of a self-inflicted wound. The result will be more people and more development relying on the same infrastructure that our current population relies on. See: above post by Wrong Questions! Our built environment will be more dense, but it will not be adequately improved and there will still be a huge housing shortage.

What's the point in creating new major problems while not really solving the housing problem we created for ourselves in the first place? If we aren't going to address the demand side of the equation or the need to improve key elements of our infrastructure (particularly transit) why irrevocably alter our built environment (in order to not really fix a problem)?

Another consideration: the expense of litigation for "takings claims" that are likely as people realize that their Constitutional property rights have been violated.

Our decision makers need to take off the blinders and acknowledge all facets of the problem. A one-sided solution (adding housing) is not really a solution.

12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2019 at 11:30 pm

Pat But said: "Thanks to council member Fine for being willing to stand by his convictions."

I interpret Pat Burt's comment as a back-handed compliment to Fine for finally being open and honest about something he was not completely open and honest about during his campaign for council and his early months in office.

However, many zealots campaigning for relaxed R1 zoning restrictions believe suburbia is the root of all evil (racism, patriarchy, homophobia, etc) and harbor an even more radical hidden agenda... the destruction of suburbia by any means necessary.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 14, 2019 at 6:32 am

The phrase "thanks to" does not imply gratitude; synonyms are "due to" or "as a result of."

19 people like this
Posted by Max
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 14, 2019 at 12:44 pm

The jobs/housing imbalance is the direct result of unmitigated growth of tech jobs by exceedingly wealthy institutions including Apple, Google and Stanford, just to name a few. Why are residents all over the Bay area expected to 'fix' this problems at their expense, while Tech Titans continue to swell their ranks and increase their profits? Redirect new jobs to communities where they are needed and wanted, and is the case here in Silicon Valley. The workers will follow.

9 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 14, 2019 at 3:02 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

I remember watching something online about a large ranch in Texas that provided housing for all of its employees. This benefited the ranch in attracting and keeping cowboys and other workers employed on the ranch. The ranch even had its own public school district. The cowboys had access to transportation on the ranch too -- and a transit system to the nearby town.

This might be something that cities like Palo Alto should consider when companies opt to locate in the area. Don't permit companies that don't provide housing and/or, more importantly, public transportation options for all of its employees.

I know that Facebook wants to build in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. However, I think that apartments would be a great idea. Moreover, it would be great for such companies to push complimentary transportation options for employees.

4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 14, 2019 at 9:36 pm

"It's kind of oxymoronic to add dense, transit-oriented housing if the transit resource either doesn't really exist or is projected to be inadequate"

The actual workability of public transit is irrelevant. "Transit-oriented housing" is dogwhistle for our mainstream NIMBYs. In plainspeak, it means "Build that ugly c..p over there by the tracks where I won't see it from my house."

Like this comment
Posted by @Curmudgeon
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2019 at 11:33 am

Even if that is the case, building dense construction near mass transit is the way to go, so let them NIMBY it over to the tracks if that's what gets it to happen.

11 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2019 at 2:53 pm

Calling Caltrain "mass transit" is very misleading since Caltrain even after electrification will only have the capacity to carry about 1.2-1.5% of the Peninsula's population. "boutique transit" would be a better descriptor for Caltrain.

The real "mass transit" system that actually carries masses of people is our network of roads and highways which serve everyone including pedestrians (sidewalks), bicyclists, scooters, motorcycles, automobiles, trucks, and buses. Even Caltrain riders use the highways for all of their transportation needs except their station to station commute.

2 people like this
Posted by @Ahem
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2019 at 9:06 pm

Ahem, why do you knowingly present misleading arguments over and over again? You consistently quote a percentage that's supposedly in relation to the entire population of the peninsula when you know, having had it explained to you multiple times already, that the useful metric is the percentage of commuters that Caltrain transports. More commuters taking Caltrain to and from work means less strain on highways during rush hour traffic.

2 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 15, 2019 at 10:24 pm

eileen is a registered user.

@Curmudgeon, please explain why the city of Palo Alto, which has over 64, 000 workers commuting into the city every day, needs to build housing near Caltrain? Are we providing housing for the workers that work in Palo Alto? If that's the case, the housing can be anywhere, even in Old Palo Alto. Or is this housing for people that work elsewhere but want to live here? Why do the workers who work here need to live near mass transit?? Why can't we create this housing all over the city? Why make these transit zones dense housing, unless you want people that work all over the Bay Area to live here. I'm not understanding why the need for housing near Caltrain.

1 person likes this
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2019 at 11:12 pm

I just want to mention that SummerHill is building a huge project with nearly 1,0000 residential units off Central Expressway (Alma) in Sunnyvale.
My main concern is water supply during our next drought cycle.
When resources (water/air), and quality of life are considered, there are no boundaries between cities.
We must always keep in mind that we will be impacted by housing projects in surrounding cities.
Even more shocking is that San Jose is planning more than 22,000 residential units!
Below is the link to the SummerHill project.
Information on the San Jose project can be found on the same Biz Journal site.

Web Link

11 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 18, 2019 at 8:55 am

Annette is a registered user.

Here's another jolt: the Daily Post reported yesterday that per the EIR on the development that will replace Malibu Grand Prix in Redwood City, the project will add 4,579 employees and worsen the jobs:housing imbalance by 2,043 homes.

The only responsible answer to this project at this time is NO. Because we cannot keep doing this to people. Every time we knowingly worsen the imbalance we increase: housing insecurity, infrastructure insufficiency, the transit and circulation morass, homelessness, and anger. If I was in my 20s or 30s and just starting out, I'd sure be looking for a less dysfunctional place to put down roots and call home.

And what about regionalism? Should this project be approved I will be convinced that "regionalism" is nothing more than an ABAG buzzword invoked to impose housing requirements any and everywhere, regardless of ability to absorb and support that housing, so that commercial development can continue unabated.

Commercial development is choking us and today's untenable reality will look pretty good in retrospect once the development outlined in Stanford's GUP comes to fruition. It's time to apply the brakes. Hard.

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