BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
A lot of homes are going to be built in Palo Alto in the next 10 years if a state agency has its way.
In fact, the Department of Housing and Community Development wants Palo Alto to change its zoning to allow for 10,050 additional homes by 2030. Given that the city now has 25,000 homes, that’s a 40% increase in the housing supply.
To keep pace, the city would have to allow for 1,000 new homes to be built every year.
The department determines the total number of new homes the Bay Area needs to build — and how affordable those homes need to be — in order to meet the projected housing needs of people at all income levels.
The Association of Bay Area Governments, known as ABAG, tells its Housing Methodology Committee to give each city, town and county a quota. The local government must then update the Housing Element of its general plan (called the Comprehensive Plan in Palo Alto) to show the locations where housing can be built and the policies and strategies necessary to meet the community’s housing needs.
During the previous eight-year period, from 2015-23, Palo Alto’s quota was 1,998 homes.
The committee had its final meeting on Friday to determine quotas for the 2022-2030 cycle. The committee decided to assign Palo Alto 10,050 new homes.
The new quota came up at Monday night’s city council meeting because the council was discussing how to increase affordable housing in the city.
Several residents said the city has done a bad job incentivizing housing in recent years. People who spoke at the meeting had different visions for how the city should get more housing, but they all agreed that the city isn’t doing enough now.
Mark Mollineaux said he wants to see more rental housing, not just ownership housing, in Palo Alto.
Former councilwoman and school board member Gail Price, who is now board president of Palo Alto Forward, said the city should raise the 50-foot height limit to 65 feet to allow more housing to be built.
“We have a housing shortage. We need to be more aggressive in making it feasible to develop housing,” she said.
Becky Sanders suggested the city buy more land and build its own housing. She said there is no will on the council to say “no” to commercial developers who want to build things that aren’t housing.
Kelsey Banes said she wants the city to try to get more market-rate housing, not just affordable housing.
Councilwoman Liz Kniss said there is a finite amount of money in the city budget, which constrains the city’s ability to build its own housing. She said there are ways to get more housing but that will mean altering current zoning regulations. She said something has to give, like the city’s height requirements or parking requirements.
Council told Planning Director Jonathan Lait to conduct a study on zoning amendments like a higher height limit or lower parking requirements that would make it feasible for developers include 20% below-market-rate units instead of the current 15%. Without those changes, for-sale multi-family housing projects with 20% below-market-rate units wouldn’t be profitable enough to entice developers to build them, according to a consultant hired by the city, Berkeley-based Strategic Economics.
Lait will ultimately come back to the council with proposed code changes.
The council also said they want to offer developers a menu of options to meet a 20% inclusionary rate for developments designated as a Planned Home Zoning project.
Planned Home Zoning allows developers to exceed certain zoning limitations in exchange for providing housing.
The projects must include 20% below-market-rate units and ensure that the number of residents accommodated by the new housing is more than the number of new jobs the project creates.