December "Council Corner"

Happy New Year!  To ring in the new year, Palo Alto Forward is introducing a new effort to increase visibility into the day-to-day policy decisions that the City Council is making related to core issues of concern to our members.  In October, we published a blog post about how to understand local housing and transportation issues.  This year, we’re going to go further. Each month, we will briefly review important votes that the City Council took in the preceding month regarding housing and transportation.  To kick things off, let's talk about december!

Housing Work Plan

The major news from December occurred on the December 3rd council meeting when the council adopted a number of policies stemming from the “Housing Work Plan” that originated out of a colleague's memo from the spring.  The work plan is an attempt to fix flaws in our city’s zoning code that discourage residential development, especially near transit. Because the changes were far reaching, the staff broke them up into multiple sections.  4 were considered on 12/3. Due to conflicts of interest, a number of council members were rescued from each section. In summary:


  • On a 6-0 vote (Tanaka absent; Filseth and Holman recused), the council adopted changes to Multi-Family zones that adopted minimum density requirements for these zones, enabled non-conforming-due-to-density projects to preserve their density during redevelopment, and changed RM-15 (15-units per acre maximum) to RM-20.
  • On a 6-1 vote (Kou no; Scharff recused; Tanaka absent), the council made a number of changes to downtown zoning to make it easier to build residential projects, including establishing a Housing Incentive Program.  The city deferred the issue of in lieu parking (both for Commercial and Residential projects) to the new year.
  • On a 3-2 vote (Holman, Kou no; Filseth, Kniss, Scharff recused; Tanaka Absent), the council deferred the issue of parking standards near fixed rail (e.g. Caltrain) to the new year.
  • On a 5-2 vote (Holman, Kou no; DuBois & Tanaka absent), the council adopted a number of wide ranging changes to city-wide policy.  They involve reduced parking requirements and eliminating the residential-project-only Site & Design Review process.


California Avenue Parking Garage

The council voted to execute a series of contracts to build the California Avenue parking garage.  This project has long been part of the “infrastructure plan” and has already been voted on as a policy matter in previous meetings.  This vote simply executed a contract in a alignment with previous city policy. Other projects, like the Downtown Garage, were not affected by this vote.



  • The city held a study session on grade separation of the CalTrain corridor, where a diverse set of views from residents were heard and the staff made a presentation about the options still under consideration.  Expect this issue to heat up in 2019.
  • The city declined to enact a temporary ordinance to address issues with “non-conforming developments” downtown.  Instead, the issue was prioritized for a formal ordinance in 2019. This issue (which seems to be an unintentional consequence of a zoning code update from 2016!) has implications for properties such as the President Hotel, but also the Cheesecake Factory and North Face buildings.  The city estimates about 250 properties are affected downtown.


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