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City Staff Rips Regional Growth Proposal

Palo Alto Planning Commission develops alternative scenarios in response to the Initial Vision Scenario.

Controversy over the future of Palo Alto's housing and jobs growth grew fiercer Monday night at City Hall.

City staff presented an analysis of proposed growth projections made in March by the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission

The proposal, "Initial Vision Scenario for a Sustainable Communities Strategy," seeks to build an additional 903,000 housing units and create 1.2 million jobs by 2035 that would accommodate the city’s population growth.

The initial goal of the two agencies was to establish development patterns and a transportation system that would reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent by 2020 and 15 percent by 2035.

However, the proposed housing assumptions and employment development efforts were seen as unrealistic and lacking consideration, according to city staff members.

The city’s planning commission delved deeper into the Initial Vision Scenario report, analyzing three alternative scenarios: focused growth, core concentration and outer Bay Area growth.

City staff members said they had not had sufficient time to discuss the materials in the report but presented the three conceptual scenarios, providing details of each scenario’s effect on greenhouse gas emissions and costs of transportation improvements.

“Our intent originally had been to come to you with that letter specifically and talk about changes that might be made or additions particularly that might be made to the letter,” Planning and Community Environment Director Curtis Williams said. “However, in the interim as of last week, the agencies have been listening to the input of all the various cities and counties in the area and have created a concept for developing three alternative scenarios to the initial vision scenario.”

Each scenario focuses on certain areas of the Bay Area in which population growth could be transferred. Focused growth would target planned development areas and growth opportunity areas near counties, including San Mateo and Santa Clara; core concentration would move growth to regional and city centers with more dense development, such as San Francisco and San Jose; and outer bay growth would direct growth to “outer Bay Area” locations to increase employment and transportation services.

“The intent of the agencies," Williams said, "is that over the next couple of months, they will be developing the implications of each of these scenarios in terms of housing and employment with a goal of housing approximately 70 percent of the new units in our planned development areas (PDAs) and growth opportunity areas (GOAs) that were previously defined throughout the Bay Area and also about 55 percent of the new employment in those areas.”  

Based off the IVS, the areas where new housing units are located will determine the increase of housing in Palo Alto, according to Councilman Greg Scharff, RHNA Housing Methodology Committee representative.  

“There’s a 70/30 split, which they’ve pretty much decided upon, where 70 percent of the units go into the PDAs and GOAs, and that would be California Avenue, El Camino and downtown,” Scharff said. “Then they take 30 percent and they give it to areas outside of that. Now, the counter-intuitive part of that is that the more that’s put outside of those areas, the more housing Palo Alto gets."

Councilman Larry Klein posed a question in response to Scharff’s remarks regarding the location of housing units.

“Is there any analysis of where these units should be in Palo Alto,” Klein said.

Williams offered a general overview of housing growth but little in the way of specifics.

As the debate deviated from the subject of housing, Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd shed light on refocusing the plan to its initial aim.

“It seems that if the goal is to reduce greenhouse gases, they certainly are off topic,” Shepherd said. “If there’s a way we can get them back on topic, I think that that’s critical. We are in a changing paradigm right now.”

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