Let’s Get This Comp Plan Party Started!

A crisp chill has settled in the air, the leaves have fallen, pumpkins and goblins are out on porches, waiting for the the trick-or-treaters.  And then November will be here, bringing the next important step for Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan process.  In an earlier blog post, we briefly outlined why the Comp Plan is so important and the connection to this election cycle.  The next big milestone for the Comp Plan is a Monday Nov 3 City Council meeting to review four revised alternatives.  In advance of that, we’re also getting together Tuesday Oct 21 to brainstorm ideas for Comp Plan Alternatives to improve housing and transportation options in Palo Alto.

Recap: What is a comp plan & what goes in it?

A Comprehensive (or General) Plan provides a long-term vision to guide development for a city.  It sets general land use designations & policies, transportation and housing policies.  Palo Alto's Comp Plan has seven sections: Land Use, Transportation, Housing, Natural Element, Community Services, Business, Governance.  The reference below provides a great overview of what can be included in a Comp Plan:
Palo Alto Comp Plan Orientation
General Plan Toolkit

What's the history of Palo Alto Comp Plans?

The first Comprehensive Plan in Palo Alto was created in the 1950s, and with a major update in the mid 1970s. The mid 1990s was a planning renaissance in Palo Alto.  There was a Comprehensive Plan Advisory Commission, great lectures from urban thought leaders around the country, and strong effort to create a visionary, forward-thinking set of Comprehensive Plan policies for 1998-2010.  Many people involved with that effort are still active in civic affairs today and PAF supporters, including Liz Kniss, Yoriko Kishimoto, Bonnie Packer, Tony Carrasco, Owen Byrd and others.  That plan is pretty good and set the framework for neighborhood commercial centers, guidelines for neighborhood preservation and a number of transportation ideas clustered mixed uses, transit oriented development, and safer bike/pedestrian facilities to reduce automobile reliance.  

In 2007, recognizing the horizon for the Comp Plan was about to expire, the Planning and Transportation Commission embarked on a process to update it and carry it through the 2014 time horizon.  The scope expanded over the years, and the update was drafted but never formally adopted.
1998-2010 Comp Plan
2007-2014 PTC Comp Plan Update

Why are we doing one now?

Simply put, Palo Alto just needs an updated plan. The current official Comprehensive Plan is more than 4 years out of date, and the proposed update, had it been approved, would have expired this year.  Add to that spiking housing prices, demographic changes and a real estate market that increasingly favors walkable, transit friendly, mixed-use neighborhoods, and we need a new Comp Plan proactively shapes our future. Planning Staff launched a process called Our Palo Alto to start a community discussion, and gather input on the current state of the city and understand people's visions for Palo Alto.   The results of the Our Palo Alto initiative will be a new Comprehensive Plan for 2015-2030.
Our Palo Alto website
Sign up for the Our Palo Alto Newsletter

What's the process for doing a Comp Plan and where are we?

The rough, basic outline for the Our Palo Alto and the Comp Plan process:

  • Visioning: Community meetings/forums > Comp Plan Alternatives (we are here!)

  • Drafting: Alternative Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) > Public Evaluation of EIRs

  • Final Draft: Final Plan & Final EIR > Adoption of Comp Plan

We are currently still in the visioning phase, developing Comprehensive Plan Alternatives. In April-June 2014, the Planning staff set up several community meetings on topics such as Who We Are, Housing Ideas, Growth Management, and Alternate Futures. They also solicited input through several online forums.  

The culmination of the community meetings was the presentation of 4 Comprehensive Plan Alternatives to Council on August 4 & 6. Three of those options pulled back the pace of commercial development. the third had new ideas to accommodate future housing growth. The fourth alternative aspired to accommodate any proposed development that met unspecified “Net Zero” concepts.  During the council meetings, a number of people spoke about the lack of housing and some touched on various transportation challenges.  These views were previously not strongly represented or considered under the alternatives.  Ultimately, Council paused the process, asked for more information and consideration of potential zoning changes that could be made independently. At the end of August, staff released a massive set of existing conditions data in Palo Alto, and in September, Council had a study session on possible zoning changes to be enacted before the Comprehensive Plan.

On November 3, Staff will be going back to City Council for guidance on 4 revised alternate scenarios.  Each alternate scenario will then be subject to an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which will examine impacts such as land use, population housing, employment, transportation/traffic, utilities & infrastructure, and greenhouse gas emissions.  While it sounds dry, the EIR will help  determine what type of development blueprint we’ll have through 2030.  Here’s where we will have renewed opportunities to highlight the need for better housing & transportation options.

Aug 4 - 4 Comprehensive Plan Alternatives
Existing Conditions Data

Can you help us?

This is where the fun starts and where we need your help!  At our next meeting on Tues Oct 21, we'd like to have the first of many conversations/brainstorming sessions on the Comp Plan.  The goal for this meeting is to

  1. Share our visions/ideas

  2. Generate a couple of basic alternative scenarios to present to Hillary Gitelman, Planning Director, and her staff.

The previous 4 alternatives clearly had shortcomings, so in order to improve housing and transportation options in our city, we need to ask Staff to develop a wider range of alternatives to choose from.  They may or may not choose to use all of our ideas, but it is important for staff to hear from a broad spectrum of Palo Altans.  

Whether you've lived here for 4 months or 40 years, we want to know what you want for Palo Alto.  If you worry about a lack of available housing and have specific options/types/locations of housing in mind for our city, we want you to vocalize that.  If you have ideas for how our community could be made more livable, please let us know!   If you are concerned about traffic and have thoughts on how to manage that in future, we want you to surface that. If you desire more bikeable/walkable neighborhoods, we want to hear those thoughts.

If you can't make it to the meeting on October 21, no worries.  We’ll post some basic background information on population, demographics, and job forecasts for you to consider.  Feel free to let us know your thoughts or write to Hillary Gitelman (Planning and Transportation Director -- [email protected]) before the Nov 3 meeting with your vision and your ideas.  We can shape our future, and the good news is, at the local level, a few reasonable voices can make a big difference.


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