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A Deep-Dive Housing Plan For Palo Alto

Plans for making Palo Alto a fair city for everyone

Zoning Changes to Enable Housing:

1. Work towards complete elimination of exclusionary zoning, including unduly large minimum lot sizes, overuse of RH1 zoning, limits on height for housing (not office), and density caps - especially in neighborhoods like Old Palo Alto where ghost houses occupy a growing percentage of homes.

2. Take action to eliminate ghost houses, e.g. through a vacancy tax. All residences should be occupied by residents.

3. End the conversion of residential lots for commercial use: e.g. Hotel President, private school Castilleja’s proposed doubling in size on 55 residentially-zoned lots (including the tearing down of houses and the removal of 140 trees).

4. Work to transition all unused or underutilized lots to be residential unless public interest proves otherwise.

6. Enable expedited approvals of housing development, with minimal design interference, with exceptions re: minimizing environmental destruction, and preserving trees. (As an attorney, along with other interest groups, I have some model expediting ordinances to propose for consideration and discussion)

7. Enable immediate conversion of commercial to residential upon request (and subject to environmental remediation if necessary of course).

8. Place a complete moratorium on office development, except to the extent that the office development can be shown to be in the public interest.

Fiscal Changes to Enable Housing:

1. Invest in under-grounding Caltrain in order to create as much as 50 acres of public land for housing purposes.

2. Revive of Palo Alto’s Office of Inspections and Enforcement, which has been almost eliminated due to budget cuts, despite the fact that it is revenue-producing. Use this office to enforce fines on non-compliant commercial developers, e.g.  near Stanford Research Park (where many large sites have sat abandoned mid-construction for years, even prior to the coronavirus) and to collect code-defined penalties when due. Use office to bring revocation hearings for non-compliant projects that have received sufficient notice.

3. Enact business tax including on commercial developers. Palo Alto is the only city in the state (if not country) with a material business presence that lacks any business tax. This way, federal and state tax incentives for housing development have at least some appeal to developers.

4. Raise developer fees for office development; lower developer fees for residential development in order to encourage residential development by making it more profitable for developers.

5. Work towards full elimination of in-lieu fees.

6. Dive deep into partnerships with nonprofits and similar housing organizations to invest in the short-term transitional housing our city's homeless people desperately need.

7. Require polluters to clean up their toxic waste — e.g. HP Superfund Site, which has been on the EPA list for decades, and industrial businesses located near the creek, e.g. in Ventura.

8. Reclaim private land for public use whenever possible; prioritize housing.

9. To the extent that Palo Alto’s current primary method of housing creation is continued — a method with a proven record of failure — then at very least, housing mandates tied to commercial development must also include the following:
(a) double in size from 15%

(b) must specify that low-income housing must be the majority of housing created (right now the only recent project with this mandate is delivering only below-market rate ‘homes’ and these are approx 400-500 square feet in size)

(c) mandate size minimums for affordable housing.
10. Explore bond measure, ideally with adjustments to avoid regressive impact due to Prop 13 (happy to explain in more detail by request). In other states, bond measures are extremely useful; we need to figure out how to make them equitable here too!

11. Take advantage of state funding that is being offered through the CARES program; there have been hundreds of millions of dollars available for housing, some of which Palo Alto may qualify for. We should explore those options as much as possible.

Our end goal is universal housing for all.