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Palo Alto looks to revamp review process for housing projects

Original post made on Jul 21, 2021

Palo Alto is preparing to overhaul its process for approving new housing developments by leaning on "objective standards" -- clear rules that, if followed, will allow housing projects to win approval under a streamlined process.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 21, 2021, 8:36 AM

Comments (11)

Posted by Andrew Boone
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2021 at 1:05 pm

Andrew Boone is a registered user.

An effort to move towards more objective building design standards could also include ways to cut motor vehicle traffic such as better bicycle parking and discounted or free public transit passes. Vehicle traffic can be minimized by consistently incorporating better “multi-modal-friendly design” into future Palo Alto buildings. Some of the city’s current design standards, such as car parking minimum requirements, do exactly the opposite - increase vehicle trips while reducing the use of transit, bicycling, and walking.


Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 21, 2021 at 1:21 pm

commonsense is a registered user.

Would these objective standards apply to single family homes?


Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Jul 21, 2021 at 1:26 pm

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.

@Commonsense,

The objective standards will not apply to single-family homes. Only to multi-family projects with three or more units (which does not include ADUs).


Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2021 at 2:08 pm

eileen is a registered user.

Will these standards require the developers to plant trees? The leafy Palo Alto canopy will be lost without some shade trees and permeable paving.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2021 at 6:26 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

“Chris Wuthman, director of Stanford University Real Estate, suggested that this could create an obstacle for affordable housing projects.” Last I knew Stanford Real Estate did not accept S8 Vouchers. They deny low income renters by charging excessive rents and attaching HOA’s. Lot’s of progressive words to snare and delude us into thinking otherwise. All this distractive discussion about the look of a facade? What about interior floor plans that are efficient and livable, an attractive size for a family to live and grow. All Palo Alto cares about is how it looks from the outside. Inside can be cheap materials, tiny squished floor plans, cheap appliances that break after a few months and just plain, ugly. Rich people don’t give a hoot about poor local families as long as it has a pretty facade! Designs @that don’t fit it w the neighborhood” is separate and unequal i.e. No people of mixed incomes of color. BLM!. Good design outside and inside is necessary : form & function . Yet. All this is just more about saying “no” to mixed use housing for all.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Downtown North

on Jul 23, 2021 at 4:03 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Posted by Quinten
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2021 at 12:18 am

Quinten is a registered user.

By shifting from subjective guidelines to objective standards, city hopes to provide clarity and retain rights to judge new buildings. Responding to new state laws, Palo Alto is preparing to overhaul its process for approving new housing developments. Instead of subjective guidelines that require developers to ensure that their projects...
Web Link


Posted by Old PA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 26, 2021 at 2:47 pm

Old PA Resident is a registered user.

I'd love to see setbacks from sidewalks included and planting of [drought resistant] trees required. Palo Alto is what it is because it is so much more beautiful than many surrounding towns. That means that special canopy of trees, and setbacks. That ugly grocery at Alma & East Meadow is an example. I really hope we learned something and don't do that again.


Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 26, 2021 at 7:44 pm

mjh is a registered user.

Previous council's hypocrisy (or at least past majorities) as to how much they value our tree canopy, as oppose to the bidding of their larger campaign contributors who benefit from construction, is demonstrated by how the planning department and council changed the code to allow new construction along El Camino right up to the edge of the sidewalk. Which prevents street trees from growing a symmetrical and balanced canopy, instead growing lop-sided and ultimately unstable.

Despite the council's stated goal of transforming the entire length of El Camino into a "shady Parisian-like boulevard" by investing in planting new street trees along its entire length. A goal intended to contribute to the concepts of "healthy cities" and "walkable neighborhoods" initiatives adopted by council.

As many of the newer El Camino trees are finally reaching a decent size, those planted in front of second and third story construction built out to the sidewalk are prevented from developing symmetrical and balanced canopies. Instead growing increasingly lop-sided with almost the entire weight of their branches pushed out over El Camino. It is obvious that many of these trees, if not all, will eventually become unstable. Just as they are achieving what should be a beautiful and "shady" canopy they will either have to be removed or left deformed with heavy pruning. Long before their life span is completed, and hardly the investment in street trees the city and its residents made.

It is time for Council to change the building code to mandate all new construction must have their second and higher stories stepped back at least 15 feet from the street planting strip. Palo Alto's leafy street trees are a symbol of Palo Alto's charm, as well as a considerable civic investment which should be valued and protected by our city staff and council.


Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 26, 2021 at 9:59 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

The reporter writes:

"I think the objective standards are a NIMBY nightmare," said Alcheck, using the derisive acronym that stands for "Not in my backyard." "And, frankly, the consequences of not adopting objective standards will be a NIMBY nightmare.”

Does anyone out there understand what point the commissioner is making outside of his damned-if-you-damned-if-you-don’t view that no matter how things turn out, those whom he is disparagingly referring to will suffer ill effects?

Of course, attacking those he disagrees with is nothing new from this corner, except that the code of conduct in the new City Boards, Commissions and Committees Handbook, developed in part to address his past behavior states “members shall refrain from abusive conduct, personal charges, hostile body language, disrespectful language or verbal attacks upon the character of others.”

Don’t ask me why, but I did try to figure out what non-gratuitous points he was trying to make and then to respond.

The points, I think, are:

a) If the city moves away from context-based design standards to objective standards for proposed projects that abut certain residential and mixed-use zoning districts, local control of zoning may be diminished, and

b) If objective standards are not set by the city, we may be pre-empted by the state setting objective standards for us.

Both of these are valid points, which is why our City and its relevant bodies (staff, ARB, PTC, and City Council) is in the process of creating objective standards.

The issue at hand is what are the optimal objective standards for Palo Alto to enact. Any digression into attacks on perceived enemies from the dais should be seen as an affront to the citizenry.


Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 27, 2021 at 1:25 pm

eileen is a registered user.

@Native-to-the-bay: Try taking a short internet dive into beautiful, affordable housing design. You will see tons of examples of great architecture and nature-filled city-scapes. All people, rich or poor deserve to live in beautiful surroundings, don't you think?


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