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Tue, Feb 13,1: The City Council approved on Feb.
Photo by Veronica Weber. Palo Alto's effort to triple its housing production got off to a promising start Monday night, when the City Council unanimously approved a work plan that includes more than a dozen policies aimed at spurring residential construction.
The Housing Work Planwhich the council adopted Monday after three public hearings, identifies a list of initiatives that city planners will be undertaking over the next two years to address one of the council's most urgent priorities. Its programs include changing the zoning code to provide more incentives for residential development; requiring housing projects to provide more below-market-rate units; and relaxing density requirements for housing projects in downtown, around California Avenue and along El Camino Real.
The goal of the plan is to produce about units per year, thereby meeting the housing targets identified in the city's new Comprehensive Plan. The document, which the council finished updating last Novembercalls for between 3, and 4, units between and But even as council members united in supporting the plan's broad goals, they squabbled over the details.
Over the course of a wide-ranging and at times tense discussion, council members sparred over the best way to revise the city's "inclusionary zoning" laws; the merits of building housing on city-owned parking lots; and the need to find designated spaces for RVs to park in.
Council members made clear over the discussion that their support for new housing is by no means unconditional. One of the policies that the council removed upon urging from Vice Mayor Eric Filseth called for exploring opportunities for developing housing over parking on city-owned parking lots.
Filseth noted the breadth of the work plan, which he called "aspirational," and suggested that it take a more targeted approach toward housing, with a special focus on housing for low-income residents or those with special needs. Some policies, including the one targeting parking lots, go too far, he said.
Councilman Greg Scharff agreed and called public parking lots a valuable amenity that the city can ill afford to give up.
He pointed to the city's decadeslong quest to find land for a new public-safety building -- a project that only became viable when the city agreed to use a public lot for the new facility.
We can't afford it," Scharff said. Councilman Cory Wolbach noted that the policy only calls for exploring new policies, not actually adopting them, and that housing will likely remain an important priority for decades to come. Councilman Adrian Fine, who wrote the memo that spurred the creation of the Housing Work Plan, also argued in favor of keeping the policy.
Leaving the parking lots as they are, Fine said, will both ensure that people continue to drive to the sites and preclude any opportunities to provide housing for needy populations.
Another topic of contention was inclusionary zoning. The city currently requires market-rate developments to provide 15 percent of their units at below-market-rate levels. The work plan calls for increasing the percentage to 20 percent and to apply this rule to rental units this is known as the "Palmer fix.
Councilwomen Karen Holman and Lydia Kou both lobbied for 25 percent -- a proposal that ultimately passed by a vote, with Fine, Filseth and Scharf dissenting. Those who opposed it argued that raising the requirement for subsidized housing may discourage development altogether.
Kou also argued that the Housing Work Plan should be complemented by a plan for measuring and enforcing "transportation-demand management" TDM plans that all major developments must now include. The plans typically include transit passes, bike service and other incentives for getting people out of cars.
She made a motion directing staff to identify clear guidelines and enforcement mechanisms for TDM plans. Another narrow vote came over Councilman Tom DuBois' proposal to better define "affordable housing" and to set a quantifiable goal for below-market-rate units.Palo Alto Software is the author of Business Plan Pro -- Access Code ( avg rating, 0 ratings, 0 reviews, published ).
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