Supervisor Simitian proposes teacher housing in Palo Alto

Project would require 'innovative' partnerships with school districts, including Mountain View's

UPDATE: The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the proposal for teacher housing on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

To help teachers cope with the increasingly high cost of living in the Bay Area, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian is proposing the county partner with local school districts and cities to build a 60- to 120-unit affordable housing complex in Palo Alto.

Photo courtesy of Joe Simitian
The teacher housing would be built on a county-owned, 1.5-acre site at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto, near the California Avenue Business District. The project would require "innovative" funding partnerships with local school districts, including Palo Alto Unified, Mountain View Whisman, Mountain View Los Altos, Los Altos and the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, as well as cities, a press release from Simitian's office states.

Simitian said he has had "very preliminary conversations," with the superintendents of all four school districts and Foothill De-Anza's chancellor, as well as spoken with the city of Palo Alto's planning director and city manager.

"It's better for everyone – folks trying to avoid traffic, kids getting an education, school districts trying to hire and retain the very best teachers for our schools, and of course our teachers themselves – when our teachers can live in the communities where they teach," Simitian said in the release. "It's never easy to develop workforce housing in such an expensive area; but we have the land, and we know there are partners who want to make this work."

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will vote on the proposal on Tuesday.

In an interview, Simitian said that the proposal arose from a longtime desire to repurpose the Grant Avenue site, which offers the potential to tackle two challenges: affordable housing and teacher retention.

According to Simitian, local school districts are facing teacher shortages and teacher retention issues due to the region's high cost of living. In Palo Alto Unified, teachers have spoken out about the economic and housing challenges they face in the area.

In the 2015-16 school year, according to data provided by the school district, the top five cities Palo Alto Unified teachers lived in were Palo Alto (21 percent), San Jose (11 percent), Mountain View (10 percent), Redwood City (8 percent) and Menlo Park (7.5 percent). Smaller percentages were scattered throughout the Bay Area, from East Palo Alto and Los Altos to Morgan Hill and Felton.

Most classified staff also lived in Palo Alto that year (37 percent), followed by San Jose (11 percent), Mountain View (8 percent), Redwood City (6.5 percent) and East Palo Alto (5 percent).

Simitian said he has not yet looked at hard data, but all of the school superintendents' immediate response to his proposal was, "'You have no idea the challenges we're facing in this regard.'"

"They were all anxious to take the conversation to the next level," he said.

Jeff Harding, superintendent of the Mountain View Los Altos High School District, and Judy Miner, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, have penned letters of support for the proposal.

"As is the case with many public entities, our district is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain faculty and staff because of the area's exorbitant housing costs," Miner wrote to the Board of Supervisors. "When workers live elsewhere and have long commutes each way, it affects the culture of the institution and undermines efforts to attract the most highly qualified employees, replace retiring workers, and diversify the workforce to better reflect the communities we serve."

An increasing number of school districts across the Bay Area, including Mountain View Whisman, San Jose Unified and San Francisco Unified, are considering teacher housing proposals, while some already offer housing.

Several years ago, Santa Clara Unified School District had built a 70-unit below-market housing complex on district land specifically to house new teachers and address high teacher turnover. The San Mateo County Community College District also offers workforce housing.

Outside organizations are also working on this issue. Last summer, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative pledged $5 million to create a home down payment support fund through housing startup Landed for educators who work in the Redwood City, Ravenswood City and Sequoia Union High School districts.

While the Grant Avenue site could accommodate more than 100 units, Simitian noted that "all parties will have to be open to change as community members and funding partners weigh in on what is both possible and compatible with the surrounding community."

Simitian said that construction could cost $500,000 to $600,000 per unit for a multifamily complex.

He emphasized that funding the project will require "something other than an off-the-shelf solution."

"If we confine ourselves to the conventional solutions I think that's going to limit us," he said.

Community services currently offered at the site, including a county public defender office, could be relocated nearby or remain there on the ground floor, the release states. Parking on the site could be replaced with a structure across the street on the Palo Alto Courthouse lot. This could potentially create more parking in a heavily impacted part of Palo Alto, Simitian noted.

Palo Alto Mayor Liz Kniss, a former school board member, expressed support for Simitian's proposal in the release.

"This strikes me as an incredible opportunity to provide workforce housing and strengthen our schools," she said. "Done right, it really is a win-win."

Sarah Chaffin, a local parent and founder of, which is working to encourage Bay Area school districts to build teacher housing on privately owned land, described Simitian's proposal as a potential "game changer in terms of solving the teacher housing crisis," and one that "could inspire others to follow its example." and Bay Area Forward are hosting a town hall at Gunn High School this Thursday, Jan. 25, for "teachers to share their stories about how the housing crisis has affected them," the release states. A panel moderated by Simitian will discuss possible solutions.

The panel will feature Miner of the Foothill-De Anza college district; Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educators Association; Stephen Levy, director and senior economist of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto; and Karen Parolek, whose Berkeley design firm Opticos develops affordable housing.

The town hall will run from 4-6 p.m. at Gunn's library, 780 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto.

If the Board of Supervisors approve the proposal, they will direct staff to find a partner with which to develop the site, discuss "cost-sharing" for the project and return with a financing plan no later than May, a staff report states.

If approved, the county aims to have a partner selected no later than August.

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21 people like this
Posted by Open your eyes MV
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 22, 2018 at 8:15 am

I would like Mountain View residents to read the comments currently being posted on the Palo Alto Online about this proposal. One building being proposed for teacher housing, that's Palo Alto's contribution to helping to solve the housing crisis, and most of the comments posted by Palo Alto residents are complete against it.

Web Link

Mountain View is having 10,000+ units shoved down it's throat as MV residents continue to be guilt-tripped into doing "our fair share to solve the housing imbalance" and Palo Alto is unwilling to support even one building. How do our City and County leaders let this happen? If housing is that urgently needed, then ALL bay area cities need to contribute. Palo Alto has just as much office space as Mountain View does and offers even fewer houses. They should be building just as much as Mountain View is, but they are not and none of our leaders are holding them accountable (Mr. Simitian, I'm looking at you). They complain over one tiny building. It makes me sick.

No more housing in Mountain View until Palo Alto and other cities are willing to do their fair share as well. Otherwise Mountain View residents are being taken for complete suckers with our quality of life diminishing greatly while residents in Palo Alto etc get to maintain theirs. I am happy to help solve this problem, but I'm not willing to be the only one doing so.

9 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2018 at 10:40 am

Luckily the housing bills passed last year in the California legislature make this a moot issue. Both Mountain View and Palo Alto are under the expected quantity of housing units they're expected to have, so as long as a development is proposed that meets zoning requirements then it can't be blocked.

11 people like this
Posted by Open your eyes MV
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 22, 2018 at 11:07 am

Great! So I should expect to see Joe Simitian and all the regional low-income housing organizations making a greater effort to put more housing in Palo Alto? Mid-Pen housing is ALL OVER Mountain View and looking to expand. I just got a letter in the mail this weekend about more low-income housing going in at the Shorebreeze Apartments on Shoreline. So will those organizations (Mid Pen housing, for example) start proposing more projects in Palo Alto? No reason not to right, if they cannot be blocked. I look forward to see that.

13 people like this
Posted by Nancy Bremeau
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2018 at 10:27 am

This is the type of forward thinking, problem solving initiative we need for our teachers! Thank you Joe Simitian! Let's work together and make this happen.

10 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Hmm, in another article today it said the cost of a teacher is around 100,000 dollars.

And for every one working, there are 2 picking up pension checks of almost equal value and one of them is double dipping, by going back to work and now picking up a salary + pension check.

And you're telling me teachers can't afford a 3000 dollar apartment? And now we need to setup housing for them? What's wrong with this picture?

6 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2018 at 7:58 pm


Are you under the impression that the take-home on a 100k salary makes a 3000 a month apartment affordable?

14 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2018 at 7:31 am

Why not let them live in San Jose where the urban lifestyle is embraced instead of foisting additional high density housing and all of its detritus on those who would like some peace, quiet and privacy? Mass transit and construction are already underway there.
Look to neighboring Sunnyvale to see the negative effects of unbridled construction and poor traffic planning. There is gridlock at several intersections and insufficient parking. The new apartments or condos at Bernardo and Evelyn will only exacerbate the problem. And the old construction along Mathilda at the shopping center will create more traffic nightmares for the community across the street.

7 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2018 at 8:43 am


Mountain View is a jobs hub where multiple forms of mass transit intersect. Housing close to those jobs and at mass transit nodes will reduce traffic. But Mountain View grew beyond a sleepy town over a decade ago and it's not going back there.

4 people like this
Posted by YIMBY 2
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 25, 2018 at 12:09 pm

It might be good for MVWSD and MVLA boards to consider buying in ($$$$$$) but only if the land is retained in public ownership and the districts are "guaranteed" control of the unit percentages that they contributed to.

15% stake - you get to control 15% of the units for your own district employees. Otherwise Palo Alto USD will swap up most of the units.

This site takes about 20-30 minutes for an El Camino or Central Ave. car commute during morning rush hours to MVWSD schools. Both old Cooper school site and Cuesta Annex (land-swap) site would be better for MVWSD public school employees.


12 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2018 at 10:13 am

Let us preserve what we have. Higher density creates conflict over limited resources. We are experiencing that conflict now. Bringing more people in will only exacerbate the problems.

8 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2018 at 12:30 pm


Everyone else, those of us who are renters and those trying to eek out some form of property ownership in the area, shouldn't have to bear the rising housing costs that come with you wanting to preserve a suburbia for yourself that's not even there anymore.

Mountain View is a transit hub and right in the center of one of the hottest job markets in the entire world. You're trying to treat it like it's a sleepy town in the middle of the rust belt. What you're trying to achieve is never going to happen, and at most you'll just slow the growth and externalize the cost of that onto others.

8 people like this
Posted by Realist
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Anyone who thinks more people are *not* going to move here is delusional. Google has an estimated market cap of $800 billion - that's larger than many individual countries. They will find a way to bring their talent to the area.

15 people like this
Posted by The forest through the trees
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2018 at 4:23 pm

So glad we purchased property out of state a few years ago, just in case. Count me - a lifelong bay area resident - among the soon to be "out migration" people. We are fortunate, we can afford to stay here, but we have chosen to leave because we don't care for the degraded quality of life that we are experiencing - and will continue to experience here - as the large tech companies are allowed to massively expand their footprints, with very little regard to the numerous negative externalities they are causing within the area. The supposed "mitigations" which get offered up to offset these substantial negative impacts have been laughable to date. Seriously.

Take a good look around and ask yourself if you like what you see, and if the transformation this city (and others around here) are undergoing is one that is going to ultimately make your life better, and a healthier place to live. That's what we did, and when the rose colored glasses were removed the answer was, "Nope."

14 people like this
Posted by mvresident2003
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 26, 2018 at 5:53 pm

mvresident2003 is a registered user.

Interesting analogy about this going on in another thread, hopefully I can cut and paste it here. It's full of FACTS, not "we-should-do-this-because-it-sounds-good-and-makes-us-feel-good-about-ourselves",
PA teachers, on average, make more than Bay Area tech workers, on average.

Anyone trying to argue otherwise hasn't looked at the data. Normalizing the data to make financial comparisons apples-to-apples makes this clear. Observe:

number of days worked/year:
For teachers that's public data on For tech workers we have to calculate it by subtracting out weekends(52*2), holidays(10) and vacation time(15, which is generous for this math):

* PA teacher days worked (service days): 186 days Web Link
* average tech worker days worked: 365-52-52-10-15=236 days

* PA teacher average salary: $101,408 (2015-16 school year) Web Link
* tech worker average salary: $124,000 Web Link

So, average pay-per-workday is:
* PA teacher: $101,408/186 = $545.20/day
* tech worker: $124,000/236 = $525.42/day

Let's see what the PA teacher salary would look like if teachers had the same # of workdays as a tech worker: (101,408/186)*236 = $128,668.22/year in adjusted salary.

apples-apples normalized result:
PA teacher average salary: $128,668.22/year
tech worker average salary: $124,000.00/year

And keep in mind that this does not factor in the teacher's very generous (taxpayer backed) pension plan.

Perhaps Mr. Simitian SHOULD investigate dedicated housing for a particular class of workers: TECH WORKERS. We're getting outpriced by the income of teachers like those in Palo Alto Unified.

3 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2018 at 7:06 pm


You acknowledged the actual number of days teachers worked, made up a what-if scenario where they work more days and make more money, and then went on to make a conclusion using your what-if scenario as if it were the reality. What was the point of that?

3 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2018 at 12:31 pm

mvresident provides is a good starting point for discussion given that teachers work approximately nine months each year not the usual 12 months that most of us do.
Take your income and apply 25% to housing costs. That is what you can afford. That is a rule of thumb that is useful.
The large influx of workers has changed the landscape. If fully built out, as some suggest, Mountain View will not be recognizable to future generations. It will be a western version of Mumbai, Amsterdam, Accra, Mexico City, Beijing, etc.

8 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2018 at 7:04 pm


"If fully built out, as some suggest, Mountain View will not be recognizable to future generations. It will be a western version of Mumbai, Amsterdam, Accra, Mexico City, Beijing, etc."

I'd rather grow the city so future generations will actually be able to live here instead of freezing the city in time so future generations can only gaze in.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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