December 6, 2018

Palo Alto: City Council Passes Landmark Changes to Incentivize Housing Development


At a December 3rd meeting that went late into the night, the Palo Alto City Council passed a number of major revisions to their zoning code as part of a comprehensive housing ordinance designed to incentivize the development of housing and affordable housing in the city.

City staff prepared the draft ordinance to respond to the City’s Housing Workplan, which was adopted in February 2018 and set a goal of building 300 new homes a year through 2030, in order to meet the City’s Comprehensive Plan projections. The Workplan built off a housing-focused colleague’s memo, submitted in November 2017 by Councilmembers Fine, Kniss, and Wolbach, who have championed Palo Alto playing its part to address the regional housing crisis.

Due to a number of recusals, the Council took up the ordinance in five parts, three of which passed this week with some revisions. While some elements were watered down, including regarding parking requirements, overall the changes are an important step towards improved opportunities for housing and affordable housing development in Palo Alto.

The Council’s wide-ranging actions will allow residential developments, especially 100% affordable developments, to take advantage of increased densities, reduced parking requirements, streamlined project reviews, and exemptions from certain strict open space and retail requirements. A few highlights include:

  • In multi-family zones, the Council increased the density of the RM-15 district to a RM-20 district; this accompanied the creation of minimum required densities for multi-family zones (except in the case of single family home redevelopment).
  • The Council adopted a Housing Incentive Program, which allows for increased densities for residential developments in the downtown, University Avenue area. The Council will still consider whether to apply a similar program along California Avenue and El Camino Real.
  • The Council eliminated “site and design” review for housing projects with 10 or more units, removing burdensome process from the development timeline.
  • The Council eliminated the commercial preservation requirement for 100% affordable developments on El Camino Real.

The Council is scheduled to continue their discussions of changes in the California Avenue and El Camino Real areas of the city in the future, potentially next year. Stay tuned for further updates and more information about how you can continue to support housing and affordable housing development in Palo Alto.