Opinion: Don’t punish a city for its good schools

Originally published Feb. 4, 2019

OPINION

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

Should the state punish a community because it has high-quality schools?

State. Sen. Scott Wiener’s new bill to stimulate the construction of housing includes a gun pointed squarely at Palo Alto and Los Altos, with their high-performing school districts.

Last year, Wiener unsuccessfully pushed Senate Bill 827, which would have forced cities to allow housing developments up to eight stories within a half-mile radius of every Caltrain station and a quarter mile from bus stops where buses run every 15 minutes during commute times.

Eliminating local control

Cities across the state fought the measure because it would eliminate local zoning control and allow for taller buildings along transit routes, such as El Camino Real.

Palo Alto generally doesn’t allow buildings taller than 50 feet. Affordable housing advocates argued SB 827 would be a giveaway to developers, who have an easy time replacing rental homes for the poor with luxury condo complexes.

SB 827 died and this year Wiener is back with Senate Bill 50, which attempts to respond to the critics.

The new bill lowers maximum building heights to five stories. And SB 50 has provisions to protect rental housing from redevelopment.

But there’s something new in the bill that caught my eye. The old bill defined the target zone for high-density housing to places around bus stops and train stations. The new bill expands that area to places with a “proximity to jobs, high area median income relative to the relevant region, and high-quality public schools…”

Sounds like Palo Alto and Los Altos to me.

‘High-opportunity zones’

The bill defines places with good schools and jobs as “high-opportunity areas.”

My concern is that if SB 50 passes, Palo Alto and Los Altos will become “high-opportunity areas” where a developer could build a high-density housing project on any parcel zoned residential, and there wouldn’t be much that residents could say about it.

I want to see more housing, but not in neighborhoods full of single-family homes.

Where should new housing go?

That should be a local decision. I don’t want to replace the judgment of our local city council members and planning commissioners with that of Weiner and his buddies in Sacramento.

While Wiener’s previous bill failed, this one has more supporters.

He now has the very vocal housing advocates on his side because he added protections for existing low-income housing.

Big businesses are supporters as well, which figures since this approach will cost them less than if they were required to create housing when they build more offices.

And while Gov. Jerry Brown was lukewarm on SB 827, Gov. Gavin Newsom is more likely to sign SB 50 given his goal of building 3.5 million new homes in seven years.

Palo Alto’s pitch to Wiener

Tonight (Feb. 4), Palo Alto City Council members will meet with their Sacramento lobbyist. I don’t think council should give the lobbyist orders to kill SB 50, because the general intent of the bill — to create housing along transit corridors — is a worthy objective given the magnitude of the housing shortage.

The city needs to take a more nuanced approach.

Our lobbyist should try to convince Wiener to amend the bill so that it doesn’t label all of Palo Alto and Los Altos as a high-density housing zone. Palo Alto can argue that it is taking the challenge of creating more affordable housing seriously without being hammered by the state.

In the past two months, council has approved ordinances allowing for higher housing densities downtown, in the California Avenue district and along El Camino Real.

That’s proof that the city is moving in the direction Wiener intended, and his provision targeting communities with good schools and good jobs would be overkill.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

21 Comments

  1. Wow. The newspapers aren’t revealing that little addition of where high density is allowed (which would be by right after up-zoning). High density would be allowed in areas where there is “proximity to jobs, high area median income relative to the relevant region, and high-quality public schools…” What is the definition of high area median income relative to the relevant region? Palo Alto and Los Altos would certainly meet that requirement. That would make every acre in both cities coming under Wiener’s bill. Lawsuits are waiting against many cities if Wiener’s bill passes. This is social engineering at its worst.

    The state housing law was set up to benefit developers. The law is unfair, unjust, and unequal. In news reports the word affordable is bandied about to gain the approval of voters.
    The noses of the state elected officials are growing longer and longer. If a county is on the special HCD list, little low income housing is required. On the HCD “bad” list – cites are told to up-zone more and more land in the city. HCD, doesn’t see a housing crisis and didn’t see a housing crisis when they divided up the number of housing units (mostly apartments for low income) among the counties or COGs for the 5th cycle housing element (2013-2021). All this news about affordable housing without notice of how many cities are removed from building the low income housing isn’t widely made public.

    Los Angeles County received a housing quota that was 100,000 housing units less than the previous 8year 4th cycle. Orange County also had a lower housing quota. The residents of California have been manipulated by the politicians and the building industry that donate money to the political campaigns.

    Check out the RHNA numbers for the regional SCAG agency. Cities such as Malibu, Newport Beach, Beverly Hills, Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, Hermosa Beach, and Compton are only required to up-zone for 2 low income restricted houses. Huntington Beach was told they had to up-zone for 533 low income houses. The “law” according to HCD is that cities must up-zone property to higher density, that is 30 housing units per acre.The theory is that the increased density would mean apartments buildings and a few apartments in the building could be low income while the rest would be market rate. There’s no consideration of gridlock, overcrowding of schools, etc. in the thinking of the legislature that passes these bills.
    Get rid of the state housing elements and rescind the housing law.

    • “This is social engineering at its worst.” -state ruining quality of life

      No. Social engineering at its worst is the whole history of palo alto.

      Social engineering at its worse was in the 50s when the California Real Estate Association set up an office in East Palo Alto with the purpose of blockbusting the place while black americans were not able to get morgages or be shown homes in palo alto.

      Social engineering at its worse was the palo alto school district creating a new school in the heart of east palo alto after it allowed housing policy to segregate the cities and then drew the school boundary so the schools were no longer racially integrated and one received considerable less funds after housing values collapsed as a direct result of federal policy.

      Social engineering at its worse is when affluent communities downzoned all their land after fair housing laws passed and then did nothing to address housing shortages resulting in anyone who could not afford their expensive housing costs being displaced from the city and better funded schools.

      Rich land owning people like you might cry “social engineering” when they lose the right to price people out of their communities by restricting how land can be used (and as a bonus inflating their own land values while paying nothing more in taxes on the land), but you should have never had that right to begin with – I cant wait for the state to take it away.

      • Granted the social engineering of the past is all what Vexed summarizes it to be. In fact I sign up for all that. However does Vexed propose any hint of a solution beside “can’t wait for the state to take it away”? No. At that point I sign up for the opposite camp.

        All of those social engineering of the past doesn’t matter when approx half of the residents of Palo Alto are immigrants. It is insane to hold them responsible or punish them for the sins of others.

        At any point there will always be neighborhoods and cities sought after and some that can afford to get in and others not. So you want the “State” to step in and correct that all the time? Well, in which case you ought to have lived in those countries that tried something similar–the Soviet Union, China, Albania–or made some effort to become familiar with their results: concrete cinder block housing that made every city look like every other, zero variety, zero quality of life…and far from what Vexed has in mind in clamoring for the State to “take away” what Palo Alto is and has.

        Oh by the way, in those countries some had it better than others. Guess who? those that were high up in the State’s echelons. And if you clamored to “take it away from them” it was off-you-go-to-the-gulag-or-labor-camp!

        Says something about the diatribes of Vexed and his ilk.

      • “I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE STATE TO TAKE IT AWAY.”

        Just read that statement and let it sink in, YIMBY mentality stripped of all it’s flowery language. I don’t want to work for mine, I’ll let the state take it from you.

        Save local control, defeat SB50.

  2. I’m against this bill because I don’t want Palo Alto to be overrun with huge apartment buildings. I think we can find some balance here between the two extremes. I agree that we haven’t built much affordable housing, but there aren’t many places to put it. Deciding where housing should go along with all the other things in a city (businesses, schools, parks, etc.) should be the job of local officials who are elected by local residents.

  3. OK, goes way too far on taking away local control. I’d like to see more innovative housing — dorm type housing that allows no cars near transit. Robot cars etc will be coming. Electric bikes etc make transport dense and easy. But, this bill is just a big developer’s give-away.

  4. There are so many NIMBYs in Palo Alto. As someone who earns almost $100k/year and commutes over 90 minutes each way, I’m very frustrated with Palo Alto residents’ attitudes here. When you’re sitting on multi-million dollar houses with values going up and up and up (while not paying your fair share of property taxes), it’s really easy to use coded language about “social engineering” and “character of the neighborhood” and “local decision-making.” In truth, this is just the same old NIMBYism that’s characterized this area since the beginning. Local homeowners seem interested in only maintaining their ever skyrocketing housing values at the expense of the next generation of people who weren’t fortunate enough to be born earlier and to buy houses when they were more affordable.
    So NIMBYs complain about traffic getting worse while the only ones building housing are East Bay cities so people are commuting, they complain about Caltrain electrification and noise and traffic, they complain about new construction no matter where it goes or what it looks like. You can’t have it all three ways. More people are coming to the Bay Area all the time and they literally cannot be stopped. It’s time to stop with the narcissistic nostalgia and demands that life stay exactly the same as it was when you or your family moved here, and to be fair and decent and build more housing.
    NIMBYs need to wake up and smell reality.

  5. Local control doesn’t work because every city courts jobs and refuses to permit the necessary housing to accommodate new workers. Palo Alto is the worst of the bunch with a 3-1 jobs to housing ratio. I’m glad the state is finally stepping in. That said, the impact of this bill is being wildly over stated. Allowing midrise apartments near trains and removing density limits (without raising heights) in other parts of town isn’t that drastic.

    • bunch with a 3-1 jobs to housing ratio”? I see that type of ratio bandied about, but when I try to confirm that data myself, what I see is:

      “…. For the entire Bay Area in 2016, there were 3.6 million employed people and 2.6 million units of housing. That means we had just a little more than 1.0 million more jobs than housing units, or a ratio of 0.71 jobs to units of housing.

      …. Turns out that Palo Alto, at a ratio of 0.82 housing units per jobs, is a little more balanced than the Bay Area as a whole. (The pricey city’s unemployment rate of 2.9% is also very low.)

      …. Cities with the greatest jobs-to-housing imbalance
      What we had assumed would be a story about the Peninsula and South Bay turns out to be quite different. The top ten cities that have the fewest houses for their jobs have a total of 570,776 more jobs than housing units. That’s 54% of the Bay Area’s gap between jobs and housing. Of these cities, five are in the South Bay, three in the East Bay, one in the North Bay, and one—San Francisco—in the West Bay.

      In other words, the jobs-housing imbalance problem is being driven by the region’s largest cities, especially San Jose and San Francisco.

      By far, the most egregiously imbalanced cities in the Bay Area are San Jose, which has 203,576 more jobs than housing units, and San Francisco, which has 154,595 more jobs than housing units. By comparison, the imbalance for the entire rest of the Bay Area is 692,864 more jobs than housing units. So, those two cities alone account for 34% of the Bay Area’s jobs to housing imbalance.

      By far, the most egregiously imbalanced cities in the Bay Area are San Jose, which has 203,576 more jobs than housing units, and San Francisco, which has 154,595 more jobs than housing units.

      Compared to them, Palo Alto’s imbalance—i.e., 6,381 more jobs than housing units—doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. ……”

      https://sf.curbed.com/2016/10/12/12945854/bay-area-cities-jobs-housing-san-jose-palo-alto-sf

      Now, doesn’t that new bill look more and more like a Trojan Horse for developers?

      “The new bill expands that area to places with a “proximity to jobs, high area median income relative to the relevant region, and high-quality public schools…”

  6. >Palo Alto is the worst of the bunch with a 3-1 jobs to housing ratio.
    >I’m glad the state is finally stepping in.

    Pete got the first part right and then, reached the wrong conclusion.
    The right way to fix the jobs-housing imbalance is to not destroy the quality of life that brought the jobs (and housing) here in the first place. The solution lies in requiring corporations to move jobs (and housing would follow) to adjacent counties and aid in their development and local economies.

    As for “glad the State is stepping in”: be careful of that for no reason other than that you are signing away your quality of life to those that don’t live in your community but exercise control over it, those that you won’t and can’t know in the way you can your local City Council members, etc. That way lies disaster and totalitarian regimes that result in the concrete housing blocks circa the Soviet Union of the 1950s onward. Every city the same, every neighborhood the same. Gone the diversity and variety, and the local character of each city, that is as American as apple pie.
    Are you sure you want that?

  7. Google left Palo Alto because it needed a big campus. Facebook left because of the city’s crazy commuting and parking rules. Palantir will go someday soon. Palo Alto has more jobs than homes but it’s only going to be temporary. When Palantir goes, downtown will be a ghost town.

  8. If we privatized the public schools, none of this would be a problem – at least not in terms of education. But once government occupies an area that should be left to private firms, suddenly other issues, like growth and housing, come into play and also become politicized…just like with marriage (the debate over gay marriage disappears with voluntary contracts), health care (contraceptive coverage vs free exercise of religion, as one example), and social security (redistribution from younger workers to older retirees and the “need” for more immigrants), to name a few. All these issues become politicized because of government ownership, control, or over-regulation.

    As for the issue of whether this should be a state or local issue, I have a third and better alternative: individual or private control. If I own a piece of land and I want to build up, without causing a nuisance or trespass, then that’s my business and nobody else (state, city, or neighbors) has a right to stop me.

  9. I agree that too much NIMBYism in Palo Alto, Sartoga, Cupertino, etc. How can medium income workers can afford to travel for two hours one way from faraway places like Tracy, Lathrop etc. need laws to enable developers to produce more rental or affordable housing. This bill should allow to convert sfr to duplex or triplex or fourplex or a 10 apt etc building with out city bureaucrats. People come to these places because of the jobs. We can’t be holding zoning laws created 50 years to work for 21st century of Bay Area. Coming to traffic, this has high potential to get down. Allows shorter commutes to the jobs rather than traveling from far away places and clogging all the major routes.

  10. Pete – I am curious, where do you (and others) source the “Palo Alto is the worst of the bunch with a 3-1 jobs to housing ratio”? I see that type of ratio bandied about, but when I try to confirm that data myself, what I see is:

    “…. For the entire Bay Area in 2016, there were 3.6 million employed people and 2.6 million units of housing. That means we had just a little more than 1.0 million more jobs than housing units, or a ratio of 0.71 jobs to units of housing.

    …. Turns out that Palo Alto, at a ratio of 0.82 housing units per jobs, is a little more balanced than the Bay Area as a whole. (The pricey city’s unemployment rate of 2.9% is also very low.)

    …. Cities with the greatest jobs-to-housing imbalance
    What we had assumed would be a story about the Peninsula and South Bay turns out to be quite different. The top ten cities that have the fewest houses for their jobs have a total of 570,776 more jobs than housing units. That’s 54% of the Bay Area’s gap between jobs and housing. Of these cities, five are in the South Bay, three in the East Bay, one in the North Bay, and one—San Francisco—in the West Bay.

    In other words, the jobs-housing imbalance problem is being driven by the region’s largest cities, especially San Jose and San Francisco.

    By far, the most egregiously imbalanced cities in the Bay Area are San Jose, which has 203,576 more jobs than housing units, and San Francisco, which has 154,595 more jobs than housing units. By comparison, the imbalance for the entire rest of the Bay Area is 692,864 more jobs than housing units. So, those two cities alone account for 34% of the Bay Area’s jobs to housing imbalance.

    By far, the most egregiously imbalanced cities in the Bay Area are San Jose, which has 203,576 more jobs than housing units, and San Francisco, which has 154,595 more jobs than housing units.

    Compared to them, Palo Alto’s imbalance—i.e., 6,381 more jobs than housing units—doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. ……”

    https://sf.curbed.com/2016/10/12/12945854/bay-area-cities-jobs-housing-san-jose-palo-alto-sf

    Now, doesn’t that new bill look more and more like a Trojan Horse for developers?

    “The new bill expands that area to places with a “proximity to jobs, high area median income relative to the relevant region, and high-quality public schools…”

  11. When cities are permitted to open businesses for more jobs, your city council and Mayor forgot to add housing to the job growth. Probably they can discuss to close down the some businesses to escape from SB50, so that your area do not become SB50 high job area. You can’t push the problem to Tracy, Stockton etc to become take your problem. There is another way is to pass rules for companies to create more housing or go away from here…or accept SB50. Either you solve the issue or let other solve for you.

  12. >There is another way…pass rules for companies to create more housing
    >or go away from here…or accept SB50. Either you solve the issue or
    >let other solve for you.

    Wait a minute! there are more ways than the ones you enumerated.
    We can wait for the next bust (cf: 1993, 1998, 2008). Due any time now.
    We can wait until the boomers retire and move out. Due the next 3-5 years onward.

    Either or both of those options would solve the problem pronto.
    And we don’t have to do a thing to “solve the issue” or have “others solve for us”. Unless you prefer others, living and working in Sacramento, to make decisions for cities that they don’t live in. In which case I have a bridge, many, to sell you!

  13. “I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE STATE TO TAKE IT AWAY.”

    Just read that statement and let it sink in, YIMBY mentality stripped of all it’s flowery language. I don’t want to work for mine, I’ll let the state take it from you.

    Save local control, defeat SB50.

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