Mayor says he was only speaking for himself when he came out in favor of SB50

Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine

BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine angered some residents when he sent a letter on city letterhead to state Sen. Scott Wiener in support of SB50, a bill that would override local zoning codes to force cities to allow more housing.

Fine’s letter, which he sent on Friday, contrasts sharply with a letter that former Mayor Eric Filseth sent to Wiener in April 2019 opposing SB50.
Fine drew criticism from some residents who said that he was expressing his own opinion on city stationery. In the letter’s second sentence he said that he was “writing to you today to express my strong support for SB50 …”

The council did not discuss or vote on the letter that Fine sent. It was not sent on official city letterhead, which has a tree logo, but does feature a poorly replicated logo that says “City of Palo Alto, Office of the Mayor and City Council” in the top right corner.

Not expressing city’s opinion

Fine told the Post that he was very clear in the letter that he was expressing his own opinion, but he also said he would clarify that on Twitter.
He tweeted yesterday that because people complained, he wanted to be clear that the letter represents his opinion, not the city’s. Fine did not apologize for the letter and said he is still proudly supporting the bill.

Fine wrote in his letter that when regional governments won’t solve a problem of state concern, then the state government should step in.
“I can tell you that local municipalities like Palo Alto are incapable of solving the housing crisis — we simply have too many rules, too much process, too much engagement (and I know it’s impolitical to write that!)…. and too little progress,” wrote Fine.

Filseth said in his April letter that the bill applies a “one size fits all” approach to local land even though local governments understand their communities better than the state.

Filseth’s letter was explicitly sent on behalf of the council.

SB50 would allow multifamily housing projects that are within a quarter mile of a train station, such as a Caltrain or BART station, to bypass city parking requirements or density limits. Such housing projects could be as tall as 55 feet, which is taller than Palo Alto’s 50-foot limit. If the housing project is more than a quarter mile but less than a half mile from the train station, a height limit of 45 feet or less could not be imposed.

The provisions would apply to counties with a population of 600,000 or more, which would include Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Changes to bill

Wiener made some changes to the bill after it failed to get passed last year. The most significant change to SB50 would let cities escape the requirements of the bill for up to two years if they are able to meet the state’s housing goals on their own. Wiener has not clarified which housing goals would count.

Under the 2015 Regional Housing Needs Allocations, which dictate how many homes cities should build, Palo Alto is supposed to give out permits for 1,988 units by 2023. Since 2015, Palo Alto has permitted less than 500 units.

9 Comments

  1. > “too many rules, too much process, too much engagement (and I know it’s impolitical to write that!)”

    Well, yes: Politics in a republic ruled by law involves rules, process, and engagement.

  2. A mayor writing on stationary with a city logo is pretty much expressing a city, not individual opinion. I am for somehow breaking the housing bottleneck, but SB50 does seem blunt especially since it ignores transport. Cities ought to be forced to start building bike and light electric transport corridors which could transport people it’s a lot more densely than individuals in cars. SB50 could be used to computer a total potential housing and then let cities decide exactly where. Palo Alto has a crazy planning process it seems beyond feedback or control.

  3. If the guy says “it’s my opinion” then why would anyone think he was expressing the opinions of others? I don’t get it. Are the anti-growthers so bitter that they want to turn this into a quarrel? He said it was his opinion — what more do you want?

  4. Simon, “the guy” can say what he wants…on his dime, on his time, and in his personal capacity. However when “the guy” does all that using City stationary, in his role as an elected representative, that is a serious problem.

    Put it this way: individuals can express their opinions, however distasteful they are, as it is all protected under the 1st Am. However when someone is a public official those same expressions are illegal, violate the law, and can (MUST, in my opinion) result in holding them accountable.

    >I don’t get it.
    Do you now? Or is it that you don’t want or intend to get it?

    Put i

  5. >So he’s not allowed to give his opinion?

    Looks like you don’t want to or intend to understand what was communicated you.

    Quite a Fine apologist you are! Like the rest of your brethren you whine and moan about this-and-that-and-others in trying to work up a sorry excuse for your champion.

  6. Why didn’t you apply this standard to Filseth? If Fine should be gagged while mayor, why didn’t you demand the same from Filseth last year?

  7. Mayor Fine is correct that when regional governments won’t fix a problem, it’s up to the state to step in. Palo Alto has failed miserably at increasing its housing supply. Good for Mayor Fine for expressing his support for SB50

  8. Writing your personal opinion on personal stationary is one thing, writing your personal opinion on City authorized stationary is totally different. Not apples to apples.
    SB50 is poorly written and terrible policy. An outright over reach by policy makers.

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