Land Use and Transportation

On Monday, January 30, 2017 at 6:10 pm, Palo Alto City Council is going to review the Land Use and Transportation Elements of our Comprehensive Plan. Sounds boring – why should YOU care?

Every California city is required to craft a future blueprint for itself. In Palo Alto, the Comprehensive Plan is that vision.  On Monday and in coming months, we have an important opportunity to shape the housing and transportation mix for our city until 2030. How much and what type of housing, where it goes, where mixed use developments can occur, future transportation goals, policies to manage and mitigate traffic are all issues addressed by our Comprehensive Plan.  It’s hard to balance everyone’s views in our diverse city, so the more support City Council hears in favor of a wider range of housing and transportation options, the more likely those policies will be retained in our vision.

The Comp Plan has eight sections (Elements). Behind the scenes, a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) has been meeting monthly to grind through and provide feedback on all eight elements. For Monday they have made recommendations on Land Use and Transportation for City Council to review .  Ultimately, it is city council who gets to decide the finer points and approve it, but council is ultimately held accountable by their constituents: YOU!  And they need to hear from you!

Below is Palo Alto Forward’s Board of Director's letter to City Council.  We need a few speakers to speak in support of the points below (agenda item starts at 6:10p in Council Chambers - 250 Hamilton Ave) or if you cannot attend, feel free to use this letter as a template to send to [email protected] (and please copy [email protected]) 

Dear Mayor Scharff, Vice-Mayor Kniss and Honorable City Council Members,

Palo Alto Forward’s Board of Directors has consistently championed

  • broader housing options for residents of all incomes, ages, and abilities, AND

  • policies to offset development impacts like parking and traffic, while providing all community members with the greatest range of mobility options (driving, biking, walking and transit).

Our belief is that providing shelter and improving mobility enhances the quality of life of all Palo Alto community members. We strongly favor compact development with mixed uses and green infrastructure to create livable places, a vibrant economy. This simultaneously protects our existing open spaces and advances our bold sustainability goals by reducing GHGs emissions and conserving energy/water resources.

After reviewing the full staff report for Monday night, we voice strongest support for:

Land Use Policies:

  • Expand Housing Sites such as:

    • Multifamily housing at Stanford Shopping Center (Policy L-4.7),

    • Multifamily housing at Stanford Research Park’s El Camino frontage (L5.4.1),

    • Increasing housing densities Downtown and near Cal Ave (new)

    • Option for housing at Town & Country (L-4.12)

    • Multifamily housing near Stanford University Medical Center and Stanford Research Park’s western frontage (new),

  • Keep Height Limit Flexible in select areas

    • Preference for Policy L-6.10 for an unspecified building height limit over 50’ to offer a mix of multifamily housing in areas served by transit, services and retail.

    • Secondary support for Policy L-6.9 to increase the 50’ height limit to 65’ in commercial /mixed use areas

  • Development Requirements should be determined and implemented separately from Comp Plan, not part of current Comp Plan process. (ie  traffic and parking metrics, green building and housing cost burden) (pages L-37-43)

  • Retain Child Care as a use in neighborhood commercial centers, like Midtown, Charleston and Edgewood shopping centers. Young families are already struggling with child care (on top of housing).  We should not take away potential child care sites, especially as retail is on the decline and retail space can be used for other important community functions.  (page L-25)

  • Create a Retail/Residential mixed use designation, as noted in Policy L-6.12, but increase allowable square footage for residential space, especially for below-market rate housing. 

  • Encourage mix of housing types and options (like cottage clusters and missing middle housing) to encourage greater affordability and reduce displacement of existing residents  (Policy L2.3 & L3.4, Policy L3.5, Policy L-3.3)

Transportation policies:

  • Parking policies that provide adequate parking supply where needed, but do not incentivize people to drive more than required

  • Implement or go beyond the bike network set forth in the 2012 Bike Pedestrian Transportation Plan. 

  • Emphasize travel time improvements across a transportation network (VMT), rather than a strict focus to preserve intersection travel times (LOS).  Sometimes a few second increase at an intersection can actually help reduce travel times across a whole network

    • Menlo Park’s M2 proposal includes a new grocery store and pharmacy so residents are closer to these services.  This will improve access and overall travel time for such services (5 min instead of 25), even though it may take a couple minutes more to get through the stores’ main intersection.

    • Menlo Park’s existing LOS thresholds required additional EIRs for a couple mixed use + housing projects near the train station and services, preventing construction of much needed housing for several years

Land Use/Transportation Linkages:

  • Locate jobs near transit to reduce peak hour commute trips. Housing is good for reducing overall volume of trips, but has less effect on reducing peak hour commute trips.

  • Coordinated Area Pans are critical to aligning land use with sustainable transportation goals: Strong TDM and and management of parking resources/pricing are important to pair with proposed land uses in area plan. Please update Policy L-4.2 with the following Coordinated Area Plans:

    • Downtown (including North, South and SOFA)

    • California  Ave (not just Fry’s)

    • El Camino Real (North and South)

    • San Antonio Corridor

  • Focus Transportation Demand Management (TDM) + paid parking where the highest volumes of jobs are (Please see Business Element data below which lists top employers and highest commute volumes)

Thank you for reviewing this very important topic,

Palo Alto Forward Board of Directors




  • Charles Buchanan
    commented 2017-01-30 11:34:37 -0800
    I am a member of Palo Alto Forward. Please disclose the names of the Board of Directors and which Directors approved the position paper. Thank you.


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