On a 4-3 vote on March 14th, the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Committee (PTC) voted not to advance a proposed Affordable Housing Combining District (also known as an overlay zone).  The proposed Overlay would create a process by which an 100% affordable housing development could be considered for commercially-zoned sites near transit along El Camino Real, as well as more flexible zoning requirements related to height, density, parking, and retail.  With its limited supply of land and challenging development requirements that often make affordable housing projects infeasible, the Overlay would serve as a critical tool for Palo Alto in meeting its Housing Work Plan goal of permitting 300 housing units annually.

In support of the many residents who shared their deeply personal stories of struggling to make ends meet or being forced to move out of Palo Alto, SV@Home testified at the meeting alongside our local partners, including the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto, Palo Alto Housing, and Palo Alto Forward  to urge the PTC to approve the Ordinance.

While the Commissioners repeatedly emphasized their support for affordable housing, the decision ultimately denied an key opportunity to create affordable housing in Palo Alto.  As stated by former Planning Commissioner and Palo Alto Forward President Eric Rosenblum, “It’s not enough to want or support affordable housing, we need to zone for it.”   

As part of the vote, the Commission recommended that the City Council consider a potential Palo Alto Housing development at Wilton Court (which would have been eligible for consideration under the Overlay) through a separate development agreement and “Planned Community” process – one which is fraught with challenges, as demonstrated by the ultimate denial of the 567 Maybell Avenue proposal, which would have created 60 homes for low-income seniors.  The Commission also recommended an alternative approach developed by its ad hoc committee on this issue, which would involve further study of other alternatives to the proposed ordinance.

We are disappointed by the outcome of the meeting, but we are also hopeful that when the PTC recommendation goes to the City Council for discussion on April 9th, the Council will take a different direction and instead refocus the City’s efforts on adopting an Affordable Housing Combining District.  Join us at this meeting to advocate for #HousingForAll in Palo Alto!

For more coverage on the March 14th PTC meeting, check out Gennady Sheyner’s article on Palo Alto Online:
Affordable-housing zone sputters: Planning and Transportation fails to reach consensus on new ‘affordable housing combining district’

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