Three council members want to make it easier to build housing

Daily Post Staff Writer

After even the idea of studying rent control caused an uproar at City Council, three council members are calling for a different approach: change the zoning rules that prevent housing from being built in Palo Alto.

“This is pretty much what I campaigned on,” Councilman Adrian Fine, who authored the memo, told the Post yesterday (Oct. 18).

Fine and co-signers Vice Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilman Cory Wolbach submitted a draft of the memo to the city on Monday.

Fine’s memo hasn’t been released publicly yet, but he said some of the ideas proposed include revisiting zoning regulations for mixed-use districts, allowing for more housing to be built on top of commercial space, and reducing the minimum number of parking spaces required at housing developments.

“Right now, I think it’s not giving us the outcomes we want,” Fine said of the zoning code.

Changing the mix in mixed-use

Currently, too many mixed-use developments end up including one floor of retail, two stories of office space and one or two penthouses on top, Fine said. He wants to see that status quo flipped around with, for example, three stories of housing and one floor of retail.



“Palo Altans are rightfully concerned about parking downtown,” Fine said. But he thinks denser housing in downtown areas, near retail and Caltrain, would reduce residents’ need to own cars. He also said he wanted to explore building more affordable housing by upping the minimum percentage of below-market-rate housing units from 15% to 20% for developers to take advantage of height and density bonuses.

A motion to study rent control lost a council vote 6-3 on Monday night.

Its only supporters were Tom DuBois, Karen Holman and Lydia Kou, who had co-authored a memo suggesting the council study an annual percentage cap on rent increases and measures to protect tenants against eviction without just cause.

“I’m not saying I’m always against rent stabilization and just cause,” said Wolbach, who opposed the rent control motion. “I don’t think Palo Alto is ready to implement those policies.”


Wolbach said he voted against the rent control study Monday because he thought the motion was overly specific, which was not in keeping with the idea of a broad study of how to address the housing crisis and protect renters. He ruffled feathers at the meeting when he made a comment doubting the motion’s sincerity.
Kou, who admitted that as a Realtor, she wouldn’t have supported rent control before being elected to council, suggested Monday that some of the more growth-minded council members were influenced by developers.



“I was personally very offended by (Kou’s comments),” Wolbach said. “It was quite clear she was implying a reference to myself and some of my colleagues in a way that was not fair to our vision.”

Wolbach said he favored a “three-legged stool” approach to housing: offering renter protections, designating below-market-rate housing and units for vulnerable groups like seniors and the disabled, and meeting the supply-and-demand issue by building housing and limiting office development.

‘Middle-of-the-road’ approaches

Fine, who says rent control takes housing off the market, said that DuBois, Holman and Kou were unwilling to consider more “middle-of-the-road” renter protections, like binding arbitration and dispute resolution.

“These are all tested things in the marketplace that work. They just went for the big one,” Fine said.