Housing Requirements for Palo Alto Being Revised, Given Teeth

Revised housing requirement numbers from ABAG/MTC will be issued Feb. 16 and probably won't be much lower than the current increase of 22% to 52% in housing in Palo Alto.

On February 16, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the MTC plan to release revised goals for added housing required by 2040 for Bay Area cities. 

Palo Alto previously was assigned 6,107 to 13,928 homes, or 22% to 52% more homes in our built out city, depending on the scenario. As a stick to require identifying locations for all these homes MTC may withhold $1.3 million in traffic improvement funds if we don’t comply. For comparison, we normally get $900,000/year for traffic improvement; this year we got $1.6 million.

ABAG/MTC urged identifying areas within ¼ mile of train stations and El Camino as Preferred Development Areas (PDA), requiring significantly greater density and housing allotments for those locations. PDA designations require rezoning, and an indication of the areas of increased density. ABAG Application Guidelines for a PDA zone require:

1. A map designating the land uses for the plan area

2. Identifies densities/development intensities for the plan land uses.

3. Includes implementing actions and an implementing plan.

More detailed information about the area will be required before it is approved by staff and submitted for ABAG approval.

Approved Housing Elements responding to ABAG/MTC housing requirements and compliance with SB395 requires that cities have Comprehensive Plans and Housing Elements that are approved at the State
level as identifying locations for all the new housing.  Currently 72% of the cities in the bay area have approved Housing Elements, but Palo Alto isn’t one of them. The Planning Commission proposed changing requirements and having our Housing Element found acceptable even if not fully compliant.

January 29 a Council subcommittee discussed the ABAG/MTC proposals for adding 6107 to 13,928 homes in Palo Alto and the staff suggestion for identifying California Ave. train station and El Camino as PDAs. High density housing would be allowed 1/4 mile on either side of El Camino, or beyond La Donna and from El Camino to Alma since that is what PDA allows. That would designate for high density housing all of Ventura, Evergreen Park, Southgate, 1/3 of College Terrace and 1/3 of Barron Park, the great majority of which are single family homes. The council subcommittee rejected PDAs for El Camino corridor and downtown train station.

At the Planning Commission meeting Wednesday night staff was not aggressively pushing PDA designation for El Camino. The Commission opposed PDAs for El Camino and Downtown, agreeing with the council subcommittee. Commissioners would consider a very narrow PDA corridor along El Camino, maybe a few lots deep but they didn’t take a position.

At the BPA annual meeting Sunday Mayor Yeh reaffirmed the rejection of PDAs for El Camino and Downtown by the council subcommittee and Planning Commission.

This issue will continue to be a hot topic for at least another year. 
Submittal of the Housing Element for Approval is required in 2013.


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