Palo Alto mayor blasts Senate Bill 50, which would allow high-density housing

Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth gave the State of the City address last night (March 5) at the Mitchell Park Community Center. Post photo by Emily Mibach.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth, in his State of the City address last night (March 5), came out with guns blazing against Senate Bill 50, which would give the state the right to pre-empt city zoning to allow developers to build high-density housing projects near transit or in areas with high performing school districts.

Filseth said the bill by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would take control from local governments.

When the state is in charge, he said, you get projects like the redevelopment of the Cupertino Vallco Mall into a housing and office project. Cupertino had to allow that project to go through under SB 35, an earlier bill authored by Weiner. He said it would add some 9,000 jobs in 2.4 million square feet of office space, but it will only have 2,400 homes.

That exacerbates the housing-jobs imbalance, which is responsible for driving up rents.

He pointed to Mountain View as an example of how local control can benefit residents.

He said Mountain View’s North Bayshore plan calls for up to 3.5 million square feet of office space and up to 9,850 homes. (Google has since said it will only build 5,760 homes).

Filseth also said the county’s civil grand jury found that it would take $30 billion to fix the county’s housing crunch.

Business tax

He also mentioned that Mountain View, San Francisco and East Palo Alto’s recently passed business taxes, and said that Palo Alto is considering a business tax for 2020. Filseth did not state his opinion on whether the city ought to go forward with the tax.

He then commented that he doesn’t want to ask Apple for a chunk of change — which prompted a brief response from the audience, with one woman agreeing with Filseth saying “nope!” Another said “But I do.”

SB 50, introduced by Wiener in December, has raised the hackles of the Palo Alto faction called the “Residentialists” or slow-growthers, who typically come out against large multi-unit projects.

Filseth is part of the Residentialist group, being one of the two candidates elected in 2014 after the Maybell development — slated to have 60 low-income senior apartments — was killed by a citizens initiative to stop the project.


Filseth in his speech also pointed out the accomplishments that the council has made in the past year — including the approval of the Wilton Court project — the first affordable housing project the city has approved in eight years. He also talked about the completion of the golf course and the city having a budget plan where the year’s unfunded pension liability would be covered.

All of the city council was there except for Greg Tanaka. Also present in the El Palo Alto room at Mitchell Park was Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, Palo Alto School Board member Shounak Dharap and former mayors Karen Holman, Greg Scharff, Peter Drekmeier and Pat Burt.

The event was catered by donations from local businesses — Oren’s Hummus Shop, The Annex, Pizz’a Chicago, Gott’s Roadside, Curry Up Now, Coupa Cafe, Terun, Spice Kit, PF Chang’s, the Prolific Oven, Tacolicious, Teaquation and Tonic and Fleming’s.


  1. BRAVO, Mayor Filseth! Too many residents don’t have a clue about Sacramento overriding local control and destroying our neighborhoods. Time to wake up!

  2. This is so embarrassing for my hometown. Palo Alto — you are one of the main reasons that congestion and housing prices have gotten so bad in the Bay Area. I’m glad the state is stepping in to correct this out-of-control anti-housing zoning. I’m tired of the friends I grew up with moving out of the area, and I’m tired of “residentialists” controlling the city for the last 40 years. When my parents moved here and I was born, Palo Alto accepted newcomers and built new housing. My friends parents were carpenters, and journalists, and librarians. Now, after 40 years of stopping most new construction, you’ve had your property taxes skyrocket and your servant class gets to drive in from Stockon to clean your offices and serve your coffees. All the while, climate change is turning into a catastrophe — but whatever, you have your mortgage already! Those others can go live in the East Bay. Who cares, right? Gah. This place. I sure hope this thing passes.

  3. Time to also wake up to the fact that all coral reefs will be dead in our lifetime! I for one support doing something to curb driving bu putting more housing next to jobs and retail/services and make a dent in our county’s ridiculous GHG emissions.

    We all need to attack the larger issue of GLOBAL WARMING with smart, dense, compact development where people live in smaller units, support local retail, and don’t have to drive. Everyone goes to dense cities in Europe, walks and bikes around then talks about what a great trip they had. Density can be amazing (and healthy) for all!

  4. Suburban sprawl which Palo Alto exemplifies has created a severe housing shortage. Time for wealthy Palo Altoans to stop thinking only of themselves.

  5. > Time for wealthy Palo Altoans to stop thinking only of themselves.
    Seems to me wealthy and not-wealthy Palo Altoans, Los Alto-ans, Menlo Park-oans and so on think of others too…and it only makes sense to demand any job growth be accompanied with commensurate housing growth…and if companies can’t do that, they should shift the jobs to where housing is more available and possible.

    There’s plenty of room a few miles Eastward…and it makes no sense, in fact poor sense, to lump all the jobs here and demand those who live here compromise their quality of life.

  6. Rather than remaining focused on housing additions, city and state government should be focused on stopping the commercial development they’ve become addicted to like it’s an opiate. Stop adding commercial office space! Stop adding more employment! We need neither one. City halls up and down the Peninsula have become a feeding machine. Feed the beast and fund our pensions!

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