Menlo Park, EPA and Palo Alto councils meet tonight (May 6) to talk about housing

By the Daily Post staff

For the first time in recent memory, the city councils of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park will get together to hold a joint meeting. The joint session will start at 5:30 tonight (May 6) in the Palo Alto City Council chambers at 250 Hamilton Ave.

The main topic will be housing and specifically Senate Bill 50, legislation by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, that would preempt local zoning laws to allow for high density apartment buildings and condo complexes near bus and train stations.

Palo Alto and Menlo Park have come out against SB50 while East Palo Alto council members have spoken in favor of the bill, though the EPA council’s official position is to watch the bill and suggest amendments. EPA leaders contend that their city has had to bear the burden of the housing crisis while neighboring cities haven’t done their share.

“I’m supportive (of SB50) in saying that regionally places like East Palo Alto can’t continue to carry the brunt of continuing to house the people who don’t have a lot of means,” said East Palo Alto Councilman Ruben Abrica at an April 16 meeting.

Abrica said that many cities have engaged in red-lining, a practice of pushing minorities to certain neighborhoods and barring them from buying homes in other neighborhoods. While red-lining is illegal today, some cities are still keeping minorities out, he said.

“There are some cities, and I’m not saying they’re doing it consciously, but there are plenty of cities around here that are very wealthy and they don’t want anyone else to come around,” Abrica said.

East Palo Alto Interim City Manager Sean Charpentier, in a letter to state legislators, said East Palo Alto is a housing provider for the area, with 0.2 jobs per employed resident, a stark contrast to the regional 2+ jobs per employed resident in other cities.

SB50 would upzone all parcels within a quarter-mile radius of a Caltrain station to allow building heights of 55 feet, and upzone all parcels within a quarter-mile radius of the SamTrans El Camino route to allow 45 foot building heights. The bill would also exempt these developments from density limits, and allow less parking than what is currently required by the city.

Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth, in his State of the City address on March 5, was sharply critical of SB50, saying it reduces local control of development.

Filseth said that when the state is in charge, the result is projects like the one that is turning 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 Wiener. 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.

He said 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).

Also opposed to SB50 is Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller. He said SB50 would make cities, school districts and other agencies fund the infrastructure needed to support the new housing, yet the state isn’t offering to fund this mandate.

“SB50 is a misguided precedent-setting centralization of power in the state that weakens the foundation of local representative government and devalues the voices of its electorate,” Mueller wrote in a guest opinion piece in the Post last month.


1 Comment

  1. It will not matter what local politicians think about SB 50 unless they get ready to launch and pass a statewide referendum suspending and then invalidating the law AND a separate initiative constitutional amendment to secure some local control over land use which the state government cannot ignore. If state politicians see such a local movement, they might back off. But for now, the special interests behind SB 50 see no reason to stop or compromise – except to temporarily exempt counties they can overrun later in a follow-on bill.

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