- Good Government
The housing crisis must be addressed on three levels:
- Supply and demand: Significantly increased housing supply (balanced by slower job growth) to do our part to reduce the regional jobs-housing imbalance. Policies include coordinated area plans to create new neighborhoods; moderate density, car-light housing near transit; and streamlined approval of Accessory Dwelling Units (I led the successful effort to legalize ADUs for most homes in Palo Alto.)
- Subsidized projects and inclusionary units for low-income people and families, public employees, seniors, homeless, and people with disabilities.
- Renter Protections, such as relocation assistance for tenants facing eviction without just cause, substantial rental increases, or a property being converted; and strengthening our 1-year lease rules.
I support increasing affordable housing and I have sought ways to increase supply locally. Last year, a couple colleagues and I researched and identified a whole range of existing zoning rules which made Below Market Rate (“BMR” i.e. subsidized) housing and market-rate (i.e. non-subsidized) housing, less economically viable, which is the opposite of what we want. Essentially, our existing zoning code encourages offices first, then very expensive luxury housing, then moderately priced market-rate housing, and finally BMR housing. We need the last two, not the first two. So my colleagues and I introduced a work plan to change zoning rules to promote more housing near jobs and transit. I have also voted to limit office growth and expand housing generally, to at least slow down the jobs-housing imbalance which is the root cause of the affordability crisis.
ADUs (accessory dwelling units, “granny units,” or second units on a single lot) are a key part of Palo Alto’s strategy for increasing housing supply while preserving the character of our suburban community. I am a strong proponent for ADUs since they provide a way for families to age in place or offer accommodation to the next generation. I supported revisions to the city’s ADU laws to bring them into compliance with state law and will continue to advocate for improvements to our policies to ensure that new ADUs respect homeowners privacy (e.g. limiting windows facing into side yards). Before this policy ordinance, the city averaged four ADUs per year; since we took action, we see four per month.
I am open to feedback on specific adjustments to improve our ADU ordinance as we gain more experience with its application in practice. My goal is to enable residents to build ADUs targeted towards serving seniors, low income renters, persons with disabilities, and public employees like teachers.
I support moderate density housing construction near transit coupled with slower office growth because it is the only practical way to reduce the city’s jobs/housing imbalance. Research shows that residents who live near transit drive less, thus contributing less to traffic and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. It is vital that we continue to invest in transportation infrastructure in addition to housing as only by considering the two togethercan we make progress towards rectifying the city’s jobs/housing imbalance.
I have worked with renter-advocates to explore and introduce a strong renter protection policy focused on just cause and relocation assistance. Essentially, it would use the triggers traditionally associated with rent stabilization and just cause, but with a different remedy. This policy would require relocation assistance either when a tenant is evicted without just cause, or when they must move due to substantial rental increases, or when their building’s use changes. We included this proposed policy in the colleagues memo I co-authored this summer. Second, along with relocation assistance, I also support strengthening our one-year lease requirements, requiring further advanced notice about rental increases, and strengthening the effectiveness of our mediation program. I am open to any additional ideas to support the challenges faced by renters in Palo Alto. I would like to do more to make sure that long-time community members who want to stay in Palo Alto have options to do so.
Implementing a grade separation plan is essential for our future to make cross-town movement safer and more reliable. It is important that we grade separate in a way which enhances neighborhoods, rather than damages them. It’s important to me to help our community be more connected, not more divided. Several neighborhoods could be impacted, positively or negatively, for decades to come. We need to get this right. Funding and engineering restrictions are two of the key questions.
We have some substantial funding from Measure B (2016). Private partnerships or donations might be available as a way to contribute. State or federal grants might be sought. Large regional employers like Stanford should contribute substantially toward addressing major regional transportation projects like grade separation, and doing so would be in their interests as well as Palo Alto’s.
First, we should team up with neighboring cities, the three counties, and Caltrain to explore not just funding sources, but also cost saving measures. For example, can we use steeper gradients for a potential trench or tunnel (which are still among the options we are considering)? Could we plan for an eventual elimination of diesel freight on the Caltrain corridor? As Chair of the Council Rail Committee, I am pushing the City (and potentially neighboring cities) to formally ask Caltrain to study such questions and provide greater clarity. Doing so may substantially reduce costs or even enable grade separation options which otherwise are considered prohibitively expensive or technically infeasible. I have initiated our city discussions with our state lobbyists to start looking into state funding options, and to support the broader discussions about the future of the Caltrain corridor. I have also begun outreach to our legislators to (re)engage them in these discussions. The challenge of separating all grade crossings along the Caltrain corridor is not just one a problem for Palo Alto, but for the entire Peninsula. Given the Peninsula’s significance in the state and national economy, we can make a strong case that we need state and federal funding to keep our region moving.
The two biggest causes of traffic in Palo Alto are commuters and school trips. For commuters, my focus remains on expanding the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (PATMA), which has already demonstrated successes in reducing commuter car trips, even with limited funding and staff. As the City Council Liaison to PATMA, I have been pushing it to expand to California Avenue area, and to include business areas between Downtown and Cal Ave, such as Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Town & Country Village, PAUSD district offices and Paly, and El Camino Real. Beyond expanding PATMA, I also propose we prepare to create a subregional federation of TMAs to work across city borders. Palo Alto has two TMAs (PATMA and SRPGo in the Stanford Research Park), Mountain View has a TMA, and Sunnyvale has two. East Palo Alto and Menlo Park would benefit from collaboration as well. Some people live in one city and work in a neighboring city. By pooling resources, we can hire adequate staff, expand successful programs, etc. Having already met with counterparts on City Councils in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, as well as Mountain View TMA leadership, I am confident there is strong interest in such collaboration. For school trips, we need to continue to support our Safe Routes to School program. We also need to get more buses or shuttles running to carry students, not fewer. When I was a Gunn student (quite a few years ago) I rode the VTA 88 bus. And yet VTA continues to threaten to take it away. One of the best uses of the City’s free shuttle is middle school students. But the status quo is inadequate. I remain committed to revamping our city shuttle with greater collaboration between the City, PAUSD, and PATMA.
I support appropriately-designed RPP programs as a way of reducing traffic spillover into neighborhoods. I have consistently supported these programs when they have been proposed in various parts of the city like Downtown, Evergreen Park, Mayfield, Southgate. RPPs are also an effective tool to shape land use. For example, for the recently-approved housing project on the corner of El Camino and Page Mill, which is accessible by several forms of transit, I helped craft the RPP for the adjacent neighborhood to exclude the new housing project, thus encouraging tenants to use transit instead of contributing to parking and congestion in the neighborhood.
Climate change is a critical issue. Though we must continue to push for national and state level solutions, communities like Palo Alto can exercise important leadership at the local level in showing is possible to have an environmentally sustainable and economically vibrant community at the same time. In my time on council, I have pursued a number of policies towards this goal:
- After working with advocates, I made the motion to begin divesting Palo Alto from fossil fuels, and brought my colleagues along to support this effort.
- In Palo Alto, I have led on a balanced approach to land use. My advocacy and votes have been to slow office development while increasing infill housing development to prevent urban sprawl, reduce commutes, and limit our greenhouse gas emissions.
- I am a strong supporter of our Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP).
- I have consistently supported reducing our reliance on natural gas and increasing our use of solar and other renewable energy sources, both imported and locally produced.
- I support Palo Alto’s strong green building codes, requiring high standards for energy efficiency and allowing gray water use and rainwater capture.
- I have consistently fought for more transportation options which reduce reliance on single occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips. For example, I pushed Stanford to create SRPGO, the Stanford Research Park Transportation Management Association, which optimizes transit, cycling, and carpooling. I am an active liaison to the Palo Alto TMA, and am pushing it to expand, and to do more collaborative work.Also, I am pushing against construction of a new garage downtown, because I believe our dollars would be better spent on reducing demand for parking through our TMAs.
We need to take a multi-faceted approach to sea level rise, which is a critical problem that will increasingly threaten our community over the next several decades. We must:
- Plan - We need to work better as a region in order to identify long term risks, what can be protected, what should be abandoned, and what else we can do. Collaboration with our neighboring cities, across counties, with the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (“BCDC”), and with state and federal agencies, will be necessary. Palo Alto needs to take a more of a proactive role.
- Educate - We will need to conduct a public engagement process so that our citizens both understand the scope of the problem and have meaningful opportunity to participate in shaping our response.
- Fund - Beyond measure AA, we will likely need a ballot initiative to fund major investment in protection against sea level rise. I am open to discussing how to use carrots and sticks (potentially litigation) to require responsible corporations to pay their fair share.
- Adapt - We will likely need to invest in massive wetlands to absorb floods and rising sea levels. We may need other flood protection infrastructure, but this should be done with sensitivity to natural habitats.
- Litigate - When necessary, we may need to litigate to force corporations to pay their fair share.
Our parks are a big part of what defines Palo Alto, and are essential to our quality of life. Palo Alto should be an example to other communities of what great urban/suburban parks and open space look like. As Palo Altans, we may debate everything, but we almost all agree on the value of parks and open space for what they provide: a place to gather, recreation, health, wildlife, and the environment. I also support including park space in future planning, such as at the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan (the Fry’s site).
In my opinion, Palo Alto government needs to do a much better job communicating with and involving our residents in our decision making processes. This includes the way we seek input on our large projects, which will shape our community for decades, and the way we inform the public of decisions once they are made. Palo Altans expect and deserve to have a city government that listens to them. People must be adequately informed or given meaningful opportunities to participate in city decisions that they care about. I initiated neighborhood Town Halls, and I pushed city staff to do a better job working with and for the residents as we consider how to adjust to increased train traffic. I will continue to push staff and my colleagues to be open and receptive to community input and I pledge to do the same myself.
Outside pressure from Council and the community makes Palo Alto a particularly tough community to work in. I think it is good that we have high standards. But we all (including I) need to remember that the people who work for the city are human, that they deserve our respect. Our city employees, almost without exception, are dedicated to civil service, and want to do a good job for the community. It is important for the Council to give clear direction, not change it too often, and to understand the real limits of what our staff is able to do with limited resources in a given timeframe.
I am personally committed to working with our new city manager to ensure the City does a better job with basic management within the organization. This is important to improve morale for employees and to ensure the organization can efficiently and effectively deliver quality services for our community.
I am proposing a 4 step plan to address our future budget challenges:
- Continuing our efforts to plan for more realistic (rather than overly optimistic) PERS rates, and the accompanying city obligations.
- Continue to invest in our 115 trust.
- Continue to work with our employee groups to ensure our employee costs are financially sustainable - which benefits employees, the city, and residents.
- Avoid costly and unnecessary projects such as a new publicly funded parking garage in Downtown, which will cost at least $30M.
With so many joint interests between the City and PAUSD, we need to work more closely. First, there is the issue of what we are going to do with Cubberley. Second, the City is heavily involved in some school programs (middle school athletics, for example). We also provide school resource officers at PAUSD schools, and have needs for sharing parks, playing fields, and swimming pools.
The full PAUSD Board and the entire City Council should do join study-sessions at least once per year. Also, the City and PAUSD staff responsible for transportation need to collaborate more closely.