Palo Alto is at an important juncture. We are about to embark on a process to write a new Comprehensive Plan through the year 2030. This will be the blueprint for land use, transportation, housing decisions for the next 15+ years. If we want to support ideas to continue making Palo Alto a welcoming community for choice, opportunity and quality of life, we need to have our voices heard now.
From April to June 2014, Palo Alto city staff hosted a series of Our Palo Alto events to solicit residents’ input on their visions for the city and generated four alternative growth scenarios. On August 4 & 6, 2014, City Council reviewed the four alternatives and heard from a number of residents seeking more housing options and inclusion. Staff was hoping to move forward with Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) for the four alternatives, typically the next step in a Comprehensive Plan process. But ultimately, Council asked staff to review their workload and consider potential land use (zoning) changes could be made before moving forward with the EIR of the four alternatives
The next official step in the Comprehensive Plan process will likely be in October, but this Monday evening the Council will review the Planning Department’s workload (the impressively long list of 30+ projects are here) and may ask staff to develop changes to commercial zoning designations. A few things from the staff report worth highlighting:
Parking Management Initiatives
The City is moving forward in a multi-part strategy, a) Driving & parking demand reduction ; b) Efficiency initiatives to get more out of the existing parking spaces, and c) Parking supply initiatives. Numerous steps are in progress already:
- ZipCars are going into downtown parking garages, and valet parking is in place for permit holders in Lot R, which can accommodate up to 50 additional cars in the garage.
- The pricing structure is being reevaluated with the goal of making more efficient use of space
- Technology solutions are being evaluated to make open spaces easier to find
- Shuttle routes are being planned
- A consultant to create a Transportation Management Association has been hired, with an 18-month startup time frame.
- A residential parking permit program is being created, to set a price on parking on residential streets to keep neighborhoods from being used as free parking lots for downtown visitors.
Hopefully these initiatives will make progress soon enough to mitigate need for new parking garages; a single new space in a Palo Alto parking structure costs nearly $70,000 to build.
Comprehensive land use planning
- The Comprehensive Plan alternatives will likely come back to City Council review in October.
- A 2010 idea for adding housing near the Stanford Mall is being folded into the Comp Plan; which may include an alternative to increase mixed uses at single use commercial areas. This could help reduce vehicle trips and meet increasing market demand for housing near walkable places.
- A Downtown Cap study, with the goal of providing traffic, parking, and zoning policies for a pre-defined growth cap, has been folded into the Comprehensive Plan process.
- The Fry’s Precise Plan, has funding to move forward. The Fry’s site has a new owner that specializes in housing, although the computer superstore’s lease has several more years to run - having a plan would help define the city’s goal for the area before the developer brings a proposal.
Why is the study session important?
Making intermittent edits to the zoning code at specific locations or to accommodate specific scenarios is not a good way to plan our city, especially since we already have a Comprehensive Plan process in progress. The Comprehensive Plan is the best opportunity for us to lay out a more holistic set of land use decisions for the future of our community. That’s why a few us will be speaking, to support
- Current parking and transportation impact management measures currently in progress
- A comprehensive plan process with emphasis on holistic planning and encourages commercial density along transit corridors and residential close to services
We hope that council won’t ask for specific zoning changes BEFORE the Comp Plan is completed and direct staff to move forward on the Comp Plan by setting a range of growth options and starting the EIR.
If you’d like to come to the study session to see local gov’t in action, please do. If you can't make it, you can also write in your support to email@example.com. If you'd like to participate later, we’ll also be putting out a call for speakers when the next Comprehensive Plan milestone comes to City Council. Otherwise, we hope to see you at the Inaugural Event @ 7p @ Scotty’s or at a future event!