By Steve Levy
My letter to council on PHZ zoningUploaded: Apr 11, 2021
Dear Mayor DuBois and council members,
I support maintaining the existing PHZ requirements and application at this time without adding any new restrictions on its use.
As the staff report notes, the PHZ has succeeded in bringing forth new housing proposals and has provided a learning process for the council and community. The staff report also notes the increased housing goals for Palo Alto. Finally the staff report notes “However, for the upcoming RHNA cycle (2023-2031), without significant land use policy adjustments to local zoning, meeting the anticipated market rate housing targets will be challenging. of ABAG’s allocation to the city of the regional goal.”
There are two reasons I oppose adding restrictions to the scope and application of the PHZ at this time. The first is about process. The City is at the very beginning of developing an new Housing Element. Last week you appointed a working group and the consultant contract is on your agenda this week.
As a result, we have no analysis of alternative sites and policies and no way of knowing what is needed to develop a legal Housing Element. To say or imply that council knows today that the full or even expanded use of the PHZ tool is not needed for our new Housing Element is blatantly and transparently false and will be seen as such by HCD, ABAG and others causing potential legal challenges to the City.
The second reason is about policy and vision. Right now, it is very expensive to buy or rent a single-family home in Palo Alto’s residential neighborhoods. I want to make it possible for more middle-income families to live in these neighborhoods and, except possibly for ADUs, the only way to achieve that is to allow housing like duplexes and small apartments that, while not cheap, are affordable to many middle-income families.
I have seen examples of this where my son previously lived in Costa Mesa. He lived on a street with a mix of housing types and a neighborhood school. In the single-family homes stretches on his street, nearly every corner has a duplex, triples or small apartment building. We have many streets like his in Palo Alto.
Not to do this says clearly that R-1 neighborhoods should be reserved for only families that can afford $2-3 million or more for a home. I do not support such a policy. While I do not believe residents or council members wanting to restrict the PHZ application are motivated by racial prejudice or the desire to exclude people on the basis of race or ethnicity, such policies do, even if unintentionally, impose restrict economic diversity that is not in keeping with who we are or want to be.
I definitely want to see applications for small multi-family projects in our R-1 neighborhoods, perhaps starting with corner lots and see what comes forth in terms of projects and affordability.
With regard to concern about a current proposal in College terrace, I am confident that the council can review this application and hear concerns without needing to restrict the PHZ process.