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Palo Alto mulls raising the height limit for new buildings

Original post made on Nov 25, 2016

Palo Alto's 50-foot ceiling for new developments may start showing cracks next week, when the City Council considers new strategies for accommodating growth and addressing its impacts on the community.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 25, 2016, 8:32 AM

Comments (46)

Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2016 at 9:58 am

What election are we talking about here, the Trump election? Where the candidates said anything to get elected and now we are supposed to believe they just lied to get in office? (And where they cry foul while committing the fouls themselves?)

We do need some modest apartment growth, there has never been a reasonable apartment availability in Palo Alto. We also need to protect the neighborhoods and character of Palo Alto, and tend to civic business. The new Council appears to be about the same ideologically as the outgoing - there is no tilt, unless you are accusing the candidates of being liars.

Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 25, 2016 at 10:27 am

Let the council decides based on Architecture Review Board recommendation keyed on Traffic flow, Use of building Etc. If too controversial based on citizens vote.

Posted by 6Djockey
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 25, 2016 at 10:30 am

6Djockey is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Midtown
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 25, 2016 at 11:12 am

I'd certainly go along with increasing the height limit with certain clearly defined conditions and no exemptions permitted. The conditions would be like:
1) only in specified areas of the city near to public transport and businees districts (such as California Avenue)
2)Residential parking space equivalent to 1.5 times the number of anticipated uccupants (individuals)
3)A specified number of residential apartments for each square foot of office or retail space.
4) Adequate parking for delivery of goods to retail stores
This is a kind of MINIMUM list to help with both housing and traffic.

Posted by AEN
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 25, 2016 at 11:17 am

The council should not forget that tall buildings also intrude on everyone's view of the sky and surrounding natural scenery. They block sunlight to people and trees and create the feeling of being in an artificial canyon. This is what defines the experience of being in a dense city and so is critical to the future path of Palo Alto. Will it be a big city or remain a town? Even San Francisco has limits on the total sky that can be blocked.

Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 25, 2016 at 11:27 am

WHY? Do we really need taller buildings to dwarf our "small"(?) community? Ridiculous!!

Posted by Nomore
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 25, 2016 at 12:02 pm

Over 50 feet? And so it starts ...

Posted by cm
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 25, 2016 at 2:23 pm

We are at an environmental crossroad in Palo Alto and the Bay area. Do we continue to expand, add more jobs, cover the entire area with concrete, clog the roads, overcrowd schools and playing fields, destroy the environment and drive out middle and low income people or do we set limits and act as responsible stewards of this land mass, protecting the environment and limiting the growth so that all classes of people can afford to remain in the area and a decent quality of life is preserved? Those who push the higher and denser mantra see only profits, because there is a subset that profits from growth. Those who promote restrictions care for all classes of local people and the land. It is a fallacy that more growth will allow middle and poor income people to stay in Palo Alto. It will continue to drive them out. The main driver of increased housing prices is the rampant job growth in the Bay area. Encouraging large businesses to leave the area will take those pricey jobs with them and open up spots for the rest of the population. We don't need to be the epicenter for every new invention or tech toy. Our government representatives, developers and business owners are promoting growth for their own gain. This growth does nothing for residents of Palo Alto except make the city more crowded and less sustainable. Residents need to fight the growth and encourage redistribution of profitable large companies to other areas of the country that can support them with housing, roads and other infrastructure needs where they will not damage the the environment nor the quality of life of the current residents. All you have to do is look at the Bay area to see that more growth is not good. There is nowhere in the world where large mega-cities are good for poor residents or good for most peoples quality of life. You cannot build your way out of too little land and resources but you can make it worse for everyone but the super rich by trying that approach.

Posted by A Double Axel
a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 25, 2016 at 3:31 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 25, 2016 at 4:21 pm

Why do we need to change the 50ft height limit when we are nowhere near building out the available space under the current limit? Unless you're trying to help developers make more money on the same property! This is a total money grab. No!

Posted by Midtown
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 25, 2016 at 4:38 pm

With so many people objecting to growth you'd believe that Palo Alto is a separate small town that just has a huge daytime growth. In reality, Palo Alto is part of a "strip city" that runs from SF to SJ ... or even a perimeter around the Bay. We really don't have a different way of life that's not affected by Mountain View or Menlo Park development. Just look at the shopping center development at San Antonio and ECR! Or look at the long line of condos and apartments along ECR in Mountain View. The preservation of a so-called Palo Alto way of life is a myth.We are not a "gated community." so we'd better accommodate ourselves to reality. Let's design our city to manage residences as well as business, to deal with parking and traffic problems that won't magically go away if we try to transfer the problem to our neighbors. Look at what has happened to parking restrictions in downtown! They've simply move the problem to other neighborhoods. If most of our daytime population drives here, we are fools to concentrate on bikes.
Let's add a touch of reality rather than emotion.
As much as anyone I'd love to preserve the way it was when I moved here over 40 years ago and the way it was when my kids biked to Cubberly. It ain't going to happen.
Let's figure out how we can live with reality rather than try to impose workers' artificial parking solutions and impossible biking answers that our neighbors won't observe.
Face it! We'll NEVER have enough people riding bikes from Fremont and Livermore or even Mountain View and Menlo Park to ease our parking problem.
Yeah, sometimes have to wait 70 seconds to pull out of my driveway and it seems like ten minutes, but that's reality in California and the Bay area.
If we want to keep our way of life as well as our economic conditions, we have to deal with reality ... not emotions!
With limited land, containment of traffic and parking impossible to control of economic pressures.
There's no dimension to go but up. Biking solutions won't solve the commuter problem or parking issues. Restricting growth means restricting tax bases.
And on and on.
The only way to handle it is growth in the UPward build dimension,growth in the parking dimension, fastrr passage through town (280 to 101) and simlar solutions.
Biking is a grdet dream but not an answer.

Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 26, 2016 at 11:49 am

Raising the height cap is a terrible idea. We don't need it because densification is already occurring, because when existing properties turn over (either residential or commercial) buildings are replaced with a structure that maximizes the lot in all three dimensions including height. I used to really enjoy coming out of the California Street pedestrian tunnel to see the fabulous view of the mountains. Now there is a commercial building on the north side that ruins the view. New City Council, please don't raise the height cap!!!

Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 26, 2016 at 11:52 am

Midtown, I see that you don't propose any traffic or parking solutions to deal with the problems we face. I want traffic and parking solution in place BEFORE we add more density.

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 26, 2016 at 1:54 pm

@Anne Sure, and then when the infrastructure improvements come up for a vote people will complain about how it will change the character of the location and that they don't want riff raff coming over on mass transit, or more roads will bring more traffic, and more parking will take up green space (or require a parking garage that will ruin someone's precious view). It's always something. Chicken and egg problem, and at this point the obstructionists have delayed such improvements during a major housing crunch for so long that we can't wait anymore.

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 26, 2016 at 2:00 pm

@Barbara Why did those nice orchards that used to be Palo Alto have to get paved over so you could have a place to live? Apparently it was OK to change the character of Palo Alto for your benefit, but oh no, we can't build anything for anyone else now, because it will change what you're used to and help someone other than yourself.

Posted by Not an inch
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 26, 2016 at 3:22 pm

No, not OK.

How is that proposal different from other high density development tricks? Taller buildings = more people.
It is mind blowing how some here admit that parking and traffic are impossible to control and then state "no way to go but up". There is a way to go: stop cramming more people into the existing insufficient infrastructure would be a start.
Unless the Council is planning to build two-level roads, too.

That is going to be a test for the new and improved Council.
If they fail, you who are all for "forward and up" and regrettably the rest of us will have plenty of time contemplating the consequences of the elections - when sitting in the traffic for a long ... LONG time.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2016 at 4:12 pm

“Riff raff” rhetoric aside, Yimby raises an important issue: what right does any of us have to something that somebody else does not have?

For example, Yimby may live in half of a studio apartment, because every square foot he (or she) consumes denies that Bay Area housing space to somebody other than himself. He may not work, so as not to take a job away from somebody other than himself.

Jobs and housing aren’t the only commodities that affect other people. Yimby doesn’t have cable TV, because the money for it could support somebody who has less than he has. It isn’t just housing that many here in the Bay Area lack.

He doesn’t have a smartphone plan, for the same reason. Plus, he knows a consumptive lifestyle impacts everybody. That smartphone would end up in a landfill, which would hurt people other than himself, even if he didn’t upgrade it every few years. The PC he used to make his posts above is the same one he’s had for decades. iPads and Blu-Ray, don’t even start.
Yimby only flushes his toilet once a week, because he knows Mountain View pumps groundwater, and that water could benefit someone else. Yimby also doesn’t eat meat, because the greenhouse emissions from livestock farming hurt people other than himself.

It goes without saying that he never, ever drives a car for anything recreational.

It’s safest to be absolute about peoples’ community and lifestyle choices. To open the door to subjectivity, and who defines “reasonable,” is the road to hypocrisy.

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 26, 2016 at 4:52 pm

@Resident I don't actively obstruct change in order to enrich my own current standing, and don't deny others the same opportunities that I was afforded. That's the difference between you and me.

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 26, 2016 at 6:01 pm

@Notaninch You know how you reduce traffic? Build high density mixed use buildings so people can live near where they work. You can then service these high density buildings with mass transit to help reduce car traffic. Palo Alto is a tech hub, and if you don't build housing for the employees so they can live near their work, then they'll commute in.

Posted by Not an inch
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 26, 2016 at 7:07 pm


That is how you reduce the traffic? Now I get it.
Here is the thing, or two:

First, so many businesses have no business being here. Why does PA have to be a hub? Is that in the city code? Because it is cool?
Because the city needs to collect more and more taxes? Software companies are not bound by any supply chains.

Second, in PA the ratio of office/company personnel to citizens is 3:1. To house them you would need to expand the city by a factor of three, just for those who work here. There might be others who'd like to move because schools, etc. Please consider some factual information; that helps.

Third, those who work here drive in and then out at the end of the day. Those who live here are ALWAYS HERE. Think not just traffic but schools, stores, utilities, ... By the way, is there a mass transit proposal attached to the height limit? If not, then it is another irresponsible attempt of the developers to enrich themselves at my and your expense.

But please keep posting.

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 26, 2016 at 7:24 pm

Your city is a tech hub because of Stanford and your location within Silicon Valley near Mountain View. You're home to multiple tech HQs, including Facebook. It's a bit too late to start balking at the idea of being a tech hub.

Then let's start building to get that ratio imbalance down, including the supporting infrastructure.

Mass transit, like everything else, gets voted down. By all means, let's build the mass transit expansions.

Posted by Not an inch
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 26, 2016 at 8:07 pm

"because of Stanford and your location within Silicon Valley near Mountain View".
I am sorry, how does the proximity to Mountain View makes PA a hub?

Next, how many of the tech giants in the area have Stanford graduates as their founders/CEOs/owners? Not your example, for sure.

Next, it is never too late.

I am noticing that Ms/Mr. YIMBY is from MV. That makes her/his screen name even more ironic. Treating PA as their back yard.

This is becoming boring. Some people will never admit.
"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." - H. L. Mencken.

Bye now.

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 26, 2016 at 8:19 pm

No no, I get it. Not in your back yard. Why can't it be built somewhere else? Who gave anyone the right to change anything in your personal sphere?

Mountain View needs to build up, just as Palo Alto, SF, and every other little Bay Area hamlet where existing homeowners are trying to keep their home values skyrocketing, pulling the ladder up with them at the expense of everyone else who might also want to live here affordably. Your regressive policies and obstructionism serve to only enrich yourself at the expense of everyone else.

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 26, 2016 at 8:27 pm

Anyone driving through Palo Alto can see that it's a tech hub due to all of the tech HQs within it, including Facebook. You can shake your fist at the label of tech hub being bestown upon your private hamlet, but that doesn't disappear all of those tech HQs.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 26, 2016 at 9:27 pm

Facebook moved out half a decade ago.

Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 26, 2016 at 9:42 pm

Others have said it before, but a promising idea would be to offer incentives for technology companies to locate in other parts of the country.

This would reduce pressure on the local environment while bringing economic development to areas that desperately need it.

It is magical thinking to believe Palo Alto -- at any height -- can sustain all of the companies that want to operate here and all of the people who want to live here.

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 26, 2016 at 10:12 pm

Palo Alto alone doesn't need to build up. The entire Bay Area does. Why is Palo Alto a special snowflake that gets to ignore the massive housing crisis in the bay area and not build new housing to satiate demand?

Posted by Mass transit BEFORE housing
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 26, 2016 at 10:12 pm

Mass transit BEFORE housing is a registered user.

Imagine there was a train from the East bay to the Penisula. From where there is slightly more affordable housing, lots more land and space to build. Like many other metro areas around the country, regional, coordinated mass transit would help our housing crisis much faster than trying to build dense housing in a suburb aka Palo Alto.

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 26, 2016 at 10:28 pm

Again, an Not In My Back Yard argument. Why not build Palo Alto and other Silicon Valley cities up along with building more mass transit? The problem is that everyone says to build something different somewhere else and then nothing gets built.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 27, 2016 at 12:25 am

Recent stories about Palo Alto transferring a chunk of our Hetch Hetchy water allocation to East Palo Alto so they can accelerate their development -- Any guesses whether EPA properties will become more affordable or commute times reduced? Or is that even a valid question?

Posted by SoSad
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 27, 2016 at 8:40 am

As a prominent developer told me a few months back: "the reason I make a lot of money is I can get projects past the review board and get them permitted."

Our councils are not much of a match for smart motivated guys who stand to make a lot of money when they can get big commercial or residential projects built. And of course once they're built they stay.

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2016 at 9:46 am

"Others have said it before, but a promising idea would be to offer incentives for technology companies to locate in other parts of the country."

This has been repeated and I'm not entirely sure what kind of "incentive" could be used, as being one of the most expensive office markets in the country isn't dissuasion enough...

Posted by We told you so
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 27, 2016 at 11:34 am

So many people tried to warn voters about deceitful politicians who would say something to get elected and then flipflop once they are in office. They do it all the time because our system doesn't really penalize them for lying to get votes. Now let's see if Fine and Tanaka keep their latest positions on growth or revert back to their pro-development roots.

Still cannot understand how naive voters in town can be.

Posted by @YIMBY
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 27, 2016 at 9:06 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 27, 2016 at 9:54 pm

"Our councils are not much of a match for smart motivated guys who stand to make a lot of money... ."

In my experience our city council has been very eager to be overwhelmed by smart motivated guys. It's the small-town conceit: big buildings will make the small town we govern a big town.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 28, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Annette is a registered user.

This has evolved into an ugly debate. Abitarian makes a good point; some basic realities are being conveniently overlooked by those who understandably want more housing built in Palo Alto. Specifically, many - if not all - components of the existing infrastructure are insufficient NOW; additional growth will only exacerbate our vexing problems. Putting the cart before the horse by building up may satisfy one problem but I think it is a fundamentally flawed approach if the roads, schools, hospitals, and public safety services cannot handle the increase. First things first makes sense to me. Otherwise, Palo Alto will become unapproachable and unappealing for those already here AND those who think they want to be here.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 28, 2016 at 1:07 pm

@Annette, Palo Alto does not need to be attractive if everywhere else is repulsive. There must be some social scientist who has already worked out the community analogs to osmotic pressure, semi-permeable membranes, and resulting rate of diffusion. Probably shouldn't get into a discussion of partial differential equations here.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 28, 2016 at 2:42 pm

"Probably shouldn't get into a discussion of partial differential equations here."

If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull####. - W. C. Fields

Of course, every techie knows that first tall tower will cut real estate valuations to where they can afford to buy with the pittances their employer pays them. But who wants to buy into a falling real estate market in a town that's getting uglier block by block anyway?

Posted by Why?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Why try to make a small town look like a big city?

Tall buildings are ugly, block the sun and sky, and give an overbearing canyon effect to a small area like Palo Alto.

Don't do it!

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 28, 2016 at 3:30 pm

Should we expect to see you at the microphone, jh or Why? Emails and written communications are just as effective, unless one has exceptional speaking (and acting) skills.

The council meeting starts at 5:00, earlier than usual this evening. Agenda -- Web Link -- says they'll get to the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (80 percent reduction in Greenhouse Gasses) at 5:35 and Land Use Element (Sky's the Limit!) at 7:45. I anticipate a long meeting.

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 28, 2016 at 5:13 pm

I'm glad that we're not mincing words here and instead flat out admitting that it comes down to not wanting property values to go down. This is exactly why Prop 13 needs to be abolished.

Posted by George
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 28, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Let's see how many people we can put in Palo Alto before we wreck it.

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2016 at 6:14 pm


It's going to become so crowded that no one will want to live there!

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 28, 2016 at 8:47 pm


Poe's Law in action.

Posted by sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2016 at 8:26 am

There have never been enough places for those who work in Palo Alto to live here. I moved to PA in 1964. There were not enough apartments then, and things have not changed since. Even during economic downturns (yes, they do occur with surprising frequency). housing supply did not come close to providing what was needed.
I lived in Mt View, Los Altos, Menlo Park and each time I moved the search was challenging. Yes, you could live in PA if you wanted to live in a "guest house" on a larger property. Of course, these did not have a kitchen (by law).
When I was married both my husband and I saved, and saved, and saved. Finally (during a downtown) we were able to buy a small home where I have lived ever since.
Now, there are 2 new houses behind mine, each two story to replace one single story place. Between the new homes and their landscaping, they have cut out my view of the sunset, much of the sun on my vegetable garden, and the early morning view of the moon. Do I like that? NO! Unfortunately there was no legal way to protest this intrusion.

The one place where there is space to build more housing and apartments is east of Middlefield, especially along 101. Or we could start to infill along Waverley south of Forest. There are several large vacant lots in that area, each of which could easily hold a multifamily building--no commercial places, just housing.

Posted by CH
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 29, 2016 at 1:24 pm

will this mean more greedy owners with obnoxious, pricey penthouses
units in their downtown buildings?.....without care for what it does to the community just what care about how much goes into their pocket?

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