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Hungry for housing, Palo Alto seeks to lure developers to San Antonio Road

Original post made on Aug 14, 2020

After failing to lure residential developments to its main downtown districts, Palo Alto is shifting its sights to a part of the city that few in the past had envisioned as an ideal housing destination: San Antonio Road.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, August 14, 2020, 3:03 PM

Comments (31)

25 people like this
Posted by Sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2020 at 3:44 pm

Sheri is a registered user.

16 out of 102 units are non-market rate. How does that help our RHNA requirements? The "something is better than nothing" theory is just not getting affordable housing built.


43 people like this
Posted by San Antonio Parking Lot
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Aug 14, 2020 at 4:56 pm

San Antonio Parking Lot is a registered user.

Well...the apartment dwellers will definitely need "alternative transportation" since San Antonio Road is a parking lot for 3 hours every weekday morning and evening. And, good luck trying to get a bike to Google. The 101 crossings at San Antonio and Rengstorff are incredibly dangerous to bike through.

The commuters from the 3 massive apartment complexes at San Antonio and California in Mountain View/Los Altos will likely just give up and check into the new Hyatt hotel. Maybe that was the Hyatt’s business plan all along.


46 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 14, 2020 at 5:16 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

San Antonio Parking Lot, right you are. And the gridlock gives you ample opportunity to contemplate how ugly that area's become and to read the "For Rent: $3,000 and $4,000 a month" signs for Carmel Village there.

So glad that The Milk Pail which was ousted from its long-time location there has a thriving drive-thru business, Too bad that this latest development will make it even tougher to get there via Leghorn and San Antonio.

16 BMR units out of 102 does pathetically little to help solve the rental housing crisis for middle-class workers, esp, since the developer admits the whole development might ultimately go condo.


33 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 14, 2020 at 8:37 pm

Resident is a registered user.

Holy traffic, Batman!! This area of San Antonio is already total gridlock 6 hours a day. With this new proposed project, the new Marriott Hotel, and the gigantic office project right over the border in MV, this area - and the Charleston/101 corridor - will be a nightmare.


32 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 14, 2020 at 9:03 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Speaking of the Charleston/101 corridor, how special they've recently reduced the through traffic lanes to add new bike lanes and those confusing traffic-calming barriers on Charleston west of Middlefield near the Montessori School.

With the University/101 corridor blocked, that leaves Embarcadero as the only direct access road to 101 -- and we know how beautifully traffic flows there.

Fun, fun!


24 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 15, 2020 at 10:03 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

We already have a problem of people parking in the residential areas who are going to Oshman or local work. The plan as presented does not include enough parking for the people who live in the apartments so they will be using other residential streets to park.


17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 15, 2020 at 12:39 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Google News' Top Stories has packaged up the stories about the outages hitting 2,000,000 Californians with comments from the grid operator, the fact that electricity rates hit on all-time high on Friday before the shutoffs, etc.
Web Link

It makes for interesting reading, esp. the ones from Bloomberg/Business Week/ It also makes one wonder why PA is so aggressively pushing the more costly and less reliable electricity vs cheaper natural gas.


5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 15, 2020 at 12:42 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Sorry for the above post in the wrong topic. I tried to delete it but couldn't.


26 people like this
Posted by Suzanne Keehn
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 17, 2020 at 10:42 am

Suzanne Keehn is a registered user.

Incredible, we keep doing the same thing, expecting a different result!! So 16 units that will be BMR out of 104. We do not need market rate housing, we NEED housing for all kinds of workers in the many service industries, for teachers etc. What is with our Planning Commission, their priorities are wrong and 'more of the same.'


26 people like this
Posted by Pam T
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 17, 2020 at 11:04 am

Pam T is a registered user.

I live in the Greenhouse Condo's and the traffic on San Antonio Road is, at present, atrocious. Bumper to bumper in all directions at all times other than late at night. With Greenhouse one and Greenhouse two, the two big, new hotels, Charleston Center housing, the housing getting built at the Old Mill and the Safeway site, Oshman senior housing...whoever is approving this on the board may be happy to finally be getting something approved somewhere, but they CLEARLY do not live here. If they did, they would never encourage any more housing development. South Palo Alto is, and always has been, the "step-child" of Palo Alto. There's plenty of room in Palo Alto to build elsewhere, with decent traffic movement. Shameful.


17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 17, 2020 at 11:27 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"There's plenty of room in Palo Alto to build elsewhere, with decent traffic movement. Shameful."

Where?


19 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 17, 2020 at 6:21 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

I strongly agree with the commenters above that this project is nothing to celebrate. When I heard that a member of the Planning Commission had framed this as approving"102 new family houses!" I was surprised. This project - Web Link - includes 102 condominiums - apparently for rent rather than sale - that many would not call "family" sized. Specifically, the project will include:

Studio: 32
1-bedroom: 66
2-bedroom: 4
Total: 102

How big will be these units? I could not find reference to that in the attachment, nor in any document linked from the project description. As such, that number also is missing from this article. So here is my best guess: the gross square footage designated for residential is 84,800, the net, given the large number of units in such a small space, likely is approximately 72,000 square feet. 102 units in that 72,000 square feet, each unit will be approximately 700 square feet.

700 square feet is typical for a family home in Manhattan or Tokyo... but it is a fraction of the size of a typical single-family home in Palo Alto. And, given that 2/3rd of these units will be one-room studios, I think it is fairly disingenuous to describe this as a "multi-family" development, as does the developer here. This seems particularly the case given the references throughout the documents to "micro-homes" which are exempt from parking requirements - homes of fewer than 450 square feet. Given that exemption, although I could not find any details about this, any developer seeking to maximize profit would try to load up this building with as many under-450 square foot units as they can.

I don't know why the Planning Commission did not ask these common sense questions -- how big will the units be? Whom do you see living there? How many will be under 450 square feet? ...other than to guess that the Planning Commission just doesn't *ask* those questions -the obviously important questions.

That is why, despite the misleading description as "multi-family residences!" it is hard to blame the developer here. The Planning Commission needs to give more clear directives to the Planning Department to create reports that emphasize the factors that the COMMUNITY cares about, rather than the ones that the developer cares about.

And, the Planning Commission REALLY needs to take a closer look at its policies and fee structures. For example, this 15% set-aside for "affordable housing" always has been a failure - and it was a failure even when that percentage was better aligned with other cities facing urgent housing crises (closer to 30%)... for a number of reasons.

First, assuming developers don't manage to get out of their requirements (which is common), they do what this particular developer did in this case: Instead of setting aside 15% of the units it originally proposed --64 -- to affordable housing, it tacked on extra units, making all units on average much smaller and increasing the profits the developer can squeeze out of tenants on a square foot basis. Making the units more numerous and smaller also increases the traffic created by the residential building, while reducing the number of parking spots required (since micro-units don't have to have parking). Of course, the biggest generator of traffic will be the large retail space (three times the size of a residence) on the first floor.

In allowing the tiny-ification of these apartments, the planning commission and department could and should have looked into replacing that retail with housing -- given that retail can generate hundreds of times as much traffic as homes. That also was a missed opportunity. Instead, the PTC approved the developers changes without ANY compromise on behalf of the community and neighbors.

Additionally, the City's requirement of "affordable housing" MUST be changed to require very-low-income-housing AND below-market-rate housing. These 16 below-market-rate units will do absolutely zero to help Palo Alto have a chance of complying with our residential building requirements.

Finally, the PTC and City Council really needs to stop blaming *everyone else* for the failure of residential housing (developers, neighbors, ABAG, the State). What is imminently clear is that the City's intentional tax and fee structures give windfalls to the development of office space that eclipse any "incentives" for residential development.

For example, commercial developer fees in Palo Alto are on average approximately 1/2 of what developers pay in neighboring cities. The City literally is PAYING developers to build office space due to the cost structure of its fees.

And - tax subsidies available to neighbor cities to incentivize residential development carry no weight here given the fact that commercial development is NOT taxed.

The profit structure of developing real estate has been intentionally created by the City of Palo Alto, and is not an immutable force that holds our City Council and its Planning Commission hostage. And even though the City Council continues to demand that ABAG or Sacramento fix the problems that the City's own policies created, the truth is that the solution is so much easier.

City Council has created a fee and taxation system that makes office building the most profitable game in town -- and far more profitable than building in neighboring towns.

If the City really did want to align developer behavior with public good -- which is the building of housing - it needs to change the taxes and fees it charges (or does not charge). But the City Council still refuses to this, and the Planning Commission does not advise them to do so.

TLDR: we need to fix our dysfunctional fee structure and tax developers- and require them to pay the actual city costs of their projects - like our neighbors do, or we can't expect much better than mostly-commercial buildings topped with 100 500-square foot "family" apartments. Want to know how Mountain View is succeeding in housing development? They are not giving away city money to developers of commercial properties.... like we are.

PS If I estimated the apartment size incorrectly, I would be happy to be corrected. As I mentioned, I used the data I could find -- and given that the size of the apartments was not available, I guessed. I hope the units are bigger than that.


9 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 17, 2020 at 9:35 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Thank you all for calling out the planning department - commission. They are allowing money to be spent bringing incomplete data to the community. This is a disadvantage to the developer as we have not clarified the requirements up front. It looks like we need to anchor the base requirements up front so people are not spinning their wheels - wasting theirs and our time on incomplete or non-compliant designs.

Time to anchor the base requirements for any new effort. Publish those requirements so developers will be able to provide a design effort that is compliant with city standards.


5 people like this
Posted by anon1234
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 18, 2020 at 9:39 am

anon1234 is a registered user.

To Rebecca above.
Actually all the questions you claim PTC did not think to ask last Wednesday were discussed; such as unit size who the likely tenants would’ve etc...
Despite the lengthy and thorough discussion the PTC majority approved recommendation of not just the project you find lacks merit, but potentially 8 1/2 acres more of identical or at least similar projects.
It seems to me that focusing on the deficiencies of the PTC discussion rather than the outcome undermines your opinion of the actual action recommended , in this
case a multi family Project, multiple changes to the municipal code, a variance and a change to the comprehensive plan that effect not only this project but an additional 7 1/2 acres


1 person likes this
Posted by anon1234
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 18, 2020 at 9:43 am

anon1234 is a registered user.

Sorry typos
At the end should say again 8 1/2 acres


12 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 18, 2020 at 10:25 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I think the area referred to above is the block of land where the Ace Hardware sits. That has recently changed hands. I have concerns here that the city is either the dog or the tail of the dog. Who is wagging who?

Who thinks up taking down Cubberly and turning it into housing? Who thinks up a Target at the Fry's site? I get the feeling that developers think up an idea, come in and sell it. They get their insiders to agree. Then the city has to convince the residents what a great idea it is - like they thought it up first. But the residents are not a comprehensive legal group so lack centralized power to say enough is enough.

We have people from the Oshman center parking daily in the residential area. They are told to do that because they are employees and they want the space for the non-resident visitors. The question came up during the development stage and the residents who raised that concern were told there was sufficient parking on the property for the whole business efforts of that location. We have people who have assigned spaces for themselves in front of people's homes. Worse - I was over there for an events and a portion of the garage was being used to store equipment and was blocked off.

So now we read about a huge amount of projects that the PTC is looking at. It would be nice if they provided those "ideas" to the general public so we can time when we want to move out of here. We have the Real Estate industry busy selling high price homes with no reference to what else is happening in the city that mitigates the value of that home.

Side Note - family members moved to Maryland to a nice suburban location that backed up to a pasture with horses on a grand estate. Once they moved in they discovered that the "pasture" was going to be developed into two story hones. So now their backyard has two story homes on the other side of the
picturesque" fence. They moved from a Portland Oregon high end suburb for the same reason.


14 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 18, 2020 at 11:38 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Another side note for the new Marriott hotel going up on this street. I stayed at a Marriott in SOCAL on Ventura Blvd at the 405 interchange. The parking garage was very limited so I went to the residential area that was right outside. The streets were wall to wall autos. The workers for the hotel were parked on the residential street to leave room in the garage for the hotel visitors. So we have a pattern established for how property is planned out and what resources are available "on the streets" for the people who work in the area. So side note to the people who live in the residential areas near the new hotels - possibly require parking tags for residents. Make parking a topic for discussion in the planning stages. Where are the workers going to Park?


18 people like this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 22, 2020 at 1:14 pm

StarSpring is a registered user.

Who are theses people who are "Hungry for Housing"? Tell the developers they can turn existing office buildings into 100% BMR housing, or they can go to some other city that craves congestion and traffic problems.


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 22, 2020 at 1:31 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@StarSpring, I was wondering the same thing!


4 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 22, 2020 at 5:32 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Palantir is leaving so that will change the algorithm for the housing to business ratio. It is not that people are looking for more traffic or density - it is that the city is being threatened by state agencies and it is better that we have some input rather than having outside agencies dictating where housing will be. We have R-1 neighborhoods that they are targeting. If we can get the housing into a location that
satisfies the need for teacher housing and local city staff then we have met some requirement without destroying our city neighborhoods.


14 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 22, 2020 at 6:29 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

The council just voted by one vote NOT to challenge those targets -- while knowing that the number of workers has dropped and will stay down since many of the biggest employers and institutions aren't bringing them back for at least another year.


13 people like this
Posted by Multi-family zoning
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2020 at 4:21 pm

Multi-family zoning is a registered user.

The zoning for this property is multiple family with the existing commercial uses sunsetted with the expiration of the Fry's lease. The current owner bought the property knowing this. However, when the Fry's lease ran out the owner of the property had sufficient influence at city hall to allow him to extend the Fry's lease to 2019.

So now that date has come and gone and Fry's has gone, why does the city allow continued commercial luse on this property? use?

Is it because the owner has sufficient clout in city hall that when the city counsel worded the legal document permitting extending the Fry's lease to 2019 it was done in a way that undermined the commercial sunset clause and weakened the multifamily only zoning?


16 people like this
Posted by Justin Case
a resident of another community
on Aug 23, 2020 at 8:05 pm

Justin Case is a registered user.

At this point...San Antonio Road has become so uglyfied, it won't make that much difference whether the area gets plastered with even more housing units. The only noteworthy concern is added traffic gridlock.

Let's face it ...San Antonio Road can never be beautified as it has become just another cluttered thoroughfare.

The best we can do now is avoid going in that direction...I do.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 24, 2020 at 10:40 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

08.24 - SJM - "Single Family Housing linked to segregation". Sen Scott Weiner.
What an amazing set of deductions by people who have no idea how a city grid is set up. I have a relative that set up the city grid for the City of Stockton. If you look at how old Stockton is you need to appreciate that in the gold mining days following state hood segregation was not upper most on people's minds in the state.

When a city grid is planned out you have streets, sanitary plumbing that is directed to a common source for treatment, water distribution based on what is available at that location - needs to be treated first. Available energy and how distributed. A commercial center for the city hall, library, jail, police, markets, commercial uses - clothing and hardware, ETC. The streets have to intersect and run in a uniform fashion. If single family homes then all of the underground support is laid out for a single home.

When you fly over CA you can see how little of the state is actually devoted to cities and housing. That is because the grid work required to support a city has limitations. You build out to the limitations that you have at any point in time.

When all is said and done you have to process the outcome of city use within the limitations that you have at the time. Back in the day that was the city dump - we had a city dump in PA. Big tractors pushing stuff around trying to bury it.
The group of people who think this type of stuff up - racial profiling of city planning - have no engineering background or knowledge of how a population can be sustained in any one area. They are legislators - note the skill set attributed to them.
PA was set up piece by piece based on what was available. South PA was built on farmland. Water, energy, underground utilities, trash - all elements in the planning.


14 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 24, 2020 at 11:10 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Like to note here that Mr. Weiner - the proponent of SB50 and it's corollary legislation on housing lives in an old apartment in the Castro while in town. Note that the city of SF in it's older sections has drainage problems, flooding on streets, backed up sanitary systems, and broken sewer systems. My son lived in an apartment on Jones street on a steep hill and that place was a fire trap beyond all belief. One problem after another with the systems that you expect to work in a newer home. The underground of SF is a total mess. Overloaded with humanity and no planning. We are not going there.


10 people like this
Posted by city infrastructure
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 24, 2020 at 11:39 am

city infrastructure is a registered user.

Thank you Resident1-Adobe Meadows for the informative post explaining why there are limitations to how much development existing city infrastructure can absorb.

Too often accusations are made by those who are either completely ignorant or want their accusations to be true because how else can they continue to feel morally superior and outraged.


13 people like this
Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 24, 2020 at 12:29 pm

Steve Dabrowski is a registered user.

Elections matter, we have one coming up so consider carefully who you vote for. That is the only way to stop this disaster. Just take a trip to Mountain View along El Camino and see what these groups have planned for us.


21 people like this
Posted by city infrastructure
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 24, 2020 at 1:34 pm

city infrastructure is a registered user.

The problem is in the past in Palo Alto very well funded PR election campaigns
have misrepresented candidates which the Weekly and Post sometimes overlook. It seems that there are so many residents who aren't informed and believe the glossy brochure statements and editorials recommending certain candidate who do not have the interests of residents as their primary objective if it conflicts with commercial development. Who is funding these candidates is very informative.


6 people like this
Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 24, 2020 at 5:22 pm

Steve Dabrowski is a registered user.

When evaluating election brochures a strong indicator that the candidate is pro growth are prominent endorsements from Anna Eshoo, Joe Simitian, and/or local Democratic party or officials. A majority of the pro growth candidates elected in the last few elections have claimed those endorsements and have a clear regional vs community bias.


17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 24, 2020 at 6:20 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Steve, actually I see endorsements by Liz Kniss, Ms Kleinberg the head of the Chamber of Commerce, other CC and PTC pro-growthers, Elaine Ulang(sp?) from Palo Alto Forward), representatives of the YUMBVY party, etc etc. as key indicators,


13 people like this
Posted by Here SInce 1979
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 27, 2020 at 4:54 pm

Here SInce 1979 is a registered user.

I understand the need for housing, need for bmr housing, traffic control, growth, etc.

The big question is where are we going to get the water needed for the extra people? Sure we can involve ourselves in water contracts or buying from other states. You can scale projects up or down, limit or encourage monetary growth, but we are at the mercy of nature for what is essential to our very lives.. In the last 4 major droughts CA had to purchase water.


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