Live or work near transit? A tale of Palo Alto, San Mateo, SurveyMonkey, and housing affordability

Are you more likely to use transit if you live near transit or work near transit?  The answer, according to a recent study is “both” – with workplace playing a greater role than home location.   Researchers at the University of Denver studied the commute patterns of 3,400 people who lived or worked near three light rail lines in the Denver area.

Not surprisingly, the highest rate of transit use is found among people who live and work near light rail stations. People who both lived and worked within a 15 minute walk of a light rail station had a 62% likelihood of a non-car commute.

The next most likely to use transit were people who worked close to transit, but did not live close to transit.   People who worked within a 15 minute walk of light rail, but didn’t live near light rail, were 37% likely to have a non-car commute.    People who lived within a 15 minute walk of a station, but didn’t work near a station, has a 26% nondriving commute rate – higher than the 16% regional average, but lower than those who work near the station.  This study’s results very similar to earlier studies focusing on the Bay Area.


Palo Alto limits office near transit

This evening, Palo Alto City Council is about to implement a strict cap limiting new office development to 50,000 square feet per year in the areas closest to the city’s two Caltrain stations, and the El Camino Real corridor with bus service every 10-15 minutes.  Tonight, City Council plans to vote on the cap, which would stay in effect for two years or until the City completes its Comprehensive Plan update in the works.

While one of the goals of the cap was to address parking and traffic challenges, a recent survey found that 45% of the 10,000 employees who work in downtown Palo Alto commute by transit and other non-car modes, even before the implementation of new programs to reduce driving downtown.

Meanwhile, Palo Alto is not imposing an office development cap on the Stanford Research Park.  SRP is farther from transit, and currently has about an 80% car commute rate for its 23,000 employees.  According to the staff report, SRP has seen more office growth than Palo Alto’s other jobs areas over the last 15 years.  Palo Alto Council intends to eventually require SRP to reduce car trips – this is feasible, but more challenging and costly, since it requires an extra shuttle ride to connect to Caltrain.

Survey Monkey moves to San Mateo which encourages offices and homes near transit

In response to the office cap, fast-growing SurveyMonkey announced that they planned to leave Palo Alto, where their current headquarters is across the street from the Caltrain station, and move to Bay Meadows, a development in San Mateo adjacent to the Hillsdale Caltrain station.  The San Mateo location is about four times more spacious than the Palo Alto location.   The Palo Alto cap restricts annual office growth to the size of one current SurveyMonkey building.

Lawrence Santa Clara

A tabletop model of the Bay Meadows housing development in San Mateo. Bay Meadows, built at the location of the former Bay Meadows racetrack (demolished in 2008),is touted by developer Wilson Meany as comprehensively sustainable transportation-centered vi

Landing SurveyMonkey is a coup for the City of San Mateo, which planned the Rail Corridor area, from Hillsdale to Hayward Park, for transit-oriented development with a mix of offices and housing, in the mid-2000s, when Caltrain ridership was about half its current level. Tenants in the Rail Corridor area are required to have a plan to reduce vehicle trips, to share trip reduction investments, and to publish their results to City Council once a year.  It shouldn’t be hard for SurveyMonkey to comply with these conditions – the company has reported that over 60% of their 450 employees in downtown Palo Alto commute without driving alone.

Palo Alto has long been a place where start-up companies (including Google and Facebook) grow to adolescence and then move on – in office cap discussions, City Council members expressed confidence that the city would remain attractive to the next generations of startups, even as other places such as San Mateo and Redwood City increasingly provide office space in pedestrian-friendly, mixed use areas.

In addition to being able to keep their Caltrain commute, SurveyMonkey employees will have additional options to live near where they work.  The Bay Meadows development has apartments and for-sale homes walking distance from the offices.  Additional housing is being added elsewhere nearby in the San Mateo Rail Corridor area, and San Mateo is working on a new Downtown Plan that could increase the amount of housing and jobs available near the downtown Caltrain station and the 15-minute frequency El Camino Real bus line.

Tonight: San Mateo grapples with housing price spike driven by jobs influx

Even though San Mateo is adding more housing – market rate and below-market rate – it hasn’t been enough to keep housing prices from rising sharply.  An overall employment boom in the region is leaving San Mateo County with a severe undersupply of housing, like the rest of the region. Over the last 3 years, In the last three years, San Mateo County has added 40,000 new jobs but built only 3,000 new homes.   The housing crunch is resulting in spiking prices – a 49% increase in average rent over the last 4 years.

Also tonight, the City of San Mateo is holding a study session to explore a comprehensive set of options to address the housing crisis, ranging from more housing in transit areas, making it easier to add “in-law” units and smaller apartments, more funding for below market rate housing, and a variety of renter protection measures.

Palo Alto has a chance to update policies – key meeting October 20

Meanwhile, Palo Alto is in the process of updating its Comprehensive Plan, and has the ability to update its strategies relating to offices, housing and transportation.  The next upcoming citizens’ advisory committee reviewing transportation strategies is on October 20, with housing policies coming up at later meetings.

In earlier discussions about land use in Palo Alto, there have been proposals to increase the allowable housing in areas with the best transit access, in the Downtown and California Avenue areas.   The research reports suggest that merely living near transit does not create a huge boost in transit use – but there are many people who also have jobs in San Francisco and other job centers along the Caltrain line. Palo Alto could consider a variety of policies to attract residents who prefer non-car commutes – including the ability to buy or rent less parking (without the ability to park for free on the street!), and transportation benefits that come with the buildings, similar to policies implemented in San Mateo in Rail Corridor developments.

Palo Alto is also distinctive in having the highest ratio of jobs to housing in the region. An important question that wasn’t addressed by the Denver study is how much more likely it is for people to choose to live near work – if that option is available. Mountain View’s environmental study for its General Plan suggested that it helps – that adding housing in the North Bayshore area near Google, LinkedIn, and other employers would result in fewer vehicle trips.  Menlo Park and Sunnyvale are also studying plan options that provide more housing near jobs – there will be more information analysing the likely impact on car trips, given more options to live near work.


Obviously – and as the Denver study shows – not everyone who lives and works near light rail uses transit.  Nearly 40% still drive alone.  And not everyone who lives near a job center will work there.    The question isn’t whether everyone will use these options, but whether having the options available results in more people using the options.

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Santa Clara Lawrence Station development: 3,000 homes, 7000 parking spaces

Santa Clara moves forward with a mixed use development near Lawrence Station with 3,000 homes – rental and for-sale, multi-family and single family attached – roughly 85,000 square feet of retail space, with a 10-plus acre park at the center. More people living walking distance of the underutilized Lawrence Caltrain, more housing to address the housing shortage.

Although the development is at the Caltrain station, the development plans for over 7,000 parking spaces, including more than parking space per bedroom.  This reduces the incentive for residents to be car-light – less than one car per household.  And also increases the cost of housing, at a time that the region faces a housing affordability crisis.

Parking in Santa Clara Lawrence Development

Parking in Santa Clara Lawrence Development

It is not clear how much if any below market rate housing there will be.  Affordable housing was a city general plan goal for the area… “Highly encourage the development of affordable housing and senior housing that is well designed and compatible with adjacent uses in the Lawrence Station Focus Area.”

Lawrence Santa Clara

Lawrence Santa Clara

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A car-light, complete neighborhood in North Bayshore

Last weekend, Mountain View hosted a workshop on how to turn the North Bayshore area – the office park that hosts Google, LinkedIn, and other companies, into a neighborhood with homes and services. First, a set of experts provided perspective on what’s needed to create a neighborhood, and gave participants food for thought on what might be done in North Bayshore.  Then, participants had a series of exercises to share ideas and preferences.   The slides from the professional presentations and the notes and pictures from the workshop  exercises will be posted to the city’s website but aren’t there yet, check back here in about a week.

After the workshop, discussion continued on the mailing list of the Coalition for Balanced Mountain View, a group that discusses housing-related issues in the city.  To join the online conversation, you can sign up here.

How many people are needed to support a grocery store?

The basic service a neighborhood needs is a grocery store, so one of the key questions about creating a complete neighborhood is the level of population needed to support a grocery store.   Karen Alschuler, of Perkins and Will, explained that 7,000 housing units (not people) are needed to support a grocery store.  Doug Farr, of Farr Associates, gave examples of neighborhoods that could support grocery stores with a smaller number of people.  Harbor Town, a quarter-century-old neighborhood built on a sandbar in the Mississippi river north of downtown Memphis, supports a small grocery store with only 3000 housing units.  Since it is inconvenient to leave the island, the smaller store can thrive.  Farr also noted that a corner store can be supported by 1000 units of housing.

In the email discussion after the workshop, planning commissioner Robert Cox was skeptical of the “island” hypothesis.  He noted that there are other grocery stores within a mile or two, and a store on North Bayshore would need to compete on price and quality with other stores in the area.  Mountain View resident Janet Lafleur suggested that the workday population would also help support a store, sharing her experiences picking up groceries at Trader Joe’s in San Jose, during her bicycle/transit commute home to Mountain View.

Turning corporate amenities “inside out”

Today, in North Bayshore, Google and other employers provide food and other amenities for employees within their corporate campus buildings.  The onsite services have made it more difficult for retail businesses to survive and thrive.  Douglass Farr suggested turning the amenity areas in North Bayshore “inside out”, opening the private cafes, food service, dry cleaners, gyms to the public.  Serge Bonte mentioned on the mailing list that many college campuses work this way, allowing non-students to pay for facilities, while students and employees get no-extra-cost or discounted services.

This “Inside out” transformation is currently being planned for the next phases of development in Menlo Park near Facebook.  Today, Facebook has internal services (food, bike repair, dry cleaning, etc) that are not open to the public. In Menlo Park’s planning update for the area, with Facebook’s support, the goal is to make the services open to the public, also serving workers in other companies in the area, and residents in new housing that is proposed to be added.

Google already taken a first step down this path in North Bayshore.  In an application for office space, Google proposed to make some retail services open to the public, on a corridor between two office buildings.  Providing services that are near other companies and near a residential population would help make this into a viable retail district, rather than Google-focused services that happen to be open for people without security badges.

One challenge in today’s market is that brick and mortar retail businesses need to co-exist in a world with Amazon Prime, Google Express, and other e-commerce services offering online ordering and convenient delivery.  At the table attended by this blogger, participants talked about retailers that overcome the barrier by creating an experience, giving the example of Bumble in Los Altos, a cafe with an onsite play space with child care.

A walkable shopping area

Attendees at the workshop wanted to see the retail area in North Bayshore to be a place that residents can walk to, without needing a car. Multiple groups recommended mixed use buildings, with residential and office uses above ground floor retail on a shopping street.

Most recommended concentrating retail on a pedestrian-friendly corridor, inspired by Castro street in downtown Mountain View. As for which street should become the shopping corridor, different people and groups at the workshop expressed different opinions. Some made the case for Shoreline Boulevard so the retail can prosper by attracting customers who may be passing by.  Others, concerned about the level of vehicle traffic on shoreline, recommended housing along Shorebird, a quieter side street off of Shoreline.

Car-optional living

Walking to shop was one piece of an overall goal that many residents shared at the event and afterward – wanting to create a neighborhood that was less dependent on car use.  Bruce Liedstrand, former City Manager commented on the list that “we need to design the future North Bayshore so it is car-optional – so no one needs to own or drive a car.  This means designing the neighborhood that way and providing car-free mobility within NBS and a [transit] connector to the Castro Street Caltrain station.  This will connect future NBS residents to the regional transit network without needing a car.

On the mailing list, Mountain View resident Charles Bransi proposed partnering with Google to make the neighborhood closest to Google’s HQ the first place to adopt autonomous vehicle technology.   Self-driving cars, foresees Bransi, will be provided with Car-as-Service business models.  “Instead of owning your car (and using it so little on a day to commute), and having to park it, a self driving could be parked in a different location, and used by many people (so fewer cars are needed).  You want to do a grocery run, you call a self-driving car.  Using GPS, the nearest car will come pick you up.”

Google self-driving car

What kind of housing and where?

There was a workshop exercise where participants discussed the types of housing they wanted to see, and put markers on a map of NBS to show where housing should go.


The table attended by this blogger wanted to see housing for a community that was diverse in age, household type, and income level.   The group didn’t think it would be desirable to house only young, single, North Bayshore tech workers.  Even people who are currently young and single are likely to partner and have families.  The housing should include 2-3 bedroom housing for families, as well as smaller units and micro-units, and should include below market rate subsidized housing, perhaps favoring teachers and others providing needed local services.  Other tables reported similar preferences for diverse housing types for diverse residents.   The groups wanted to see amenities for families, including potentially a school, tot lots for little kids, and would love to see Google open its playing fields to the public.  Preferences for building height varied, with some preferring Parisian-style mid-rise, and others comfortable with some high-rise towers to accommodate more housing.

In her introductory presentation, Alschuler talked about the level of density that helps create vibrancy.  She gave examples of vibrant urban places have about 20K people/square mile; some she listed were the Pearl District of Portland, at 18,350 people/square mile; Uptown in Oakland, at 22,200; and Adams Morgan in D.C., at 28,275. The area being considered in North Bayshore is 138 acres, so to get 7000 housing units to support a grocery store, the average density would be 50 dwelling units per acre.

Not everyone at the workshop was comfortable with housing in North Bayshore. Some continue to prefer to keep the area as office park, and to add housing in other parts of the city. One attendee, for example, expressed a belief that suburban place design is essential to the character of Silicon Valley, and wants to maintain the view back from Shoreline Park to Mountain View.  Some remain skeptical that the office park can be successfully evolved into a neighborhood, and dubious that it is possible to add residents and retail without worsening traffic problems.

Neighborhood public spaces

In his introductory presentation, Fred Kent, of Project for Public Spaces, talked about how to make the a neighborhood lively.   He explained that a place where people want to be is a place where people can see other people out doing things.  He talked about making public spaces comfortable, like by adding benches; and he talked about making sure there were 5-10 destinations to make a space worth going to.

Participants talked in the workshop sessions about whether the social space for residents should be open to the public. The table attended by this blogger, and other groups, wanted to see spaces open to the public, rather than internally facing and gated.

Next steps

The workshop was only one step in a process for Mountain View to decide about how to create a neighborhood in North Bayshore.  The material from this workshop, including slides from the professional presentations, along with notes and annotated maps from the table discussions, will be posted online here. The next public meetings will be held in the fall


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Millbrae station area plan next steps – city meeting 7/16, community meeting 7/21

This evening, Millbrae is hosting an information session on the Millbrae Station Area Plan, including the developments proposed for the area.
The event is tonight,  Thursday, July 16 from 6-9 pm  Checuti Room, 450 Poplar Avenue, Millbrae
Next week, Friends of Future Millbrae will be presenting on different components of the Draft Plan, including bike and pedestrian access, transit access, parking, housing, public space, and other topics.    Come learn and discuss what you want for the future of Millbrae and the station area.
Tuesday, July 21 from 6:30 – 8 pm
Millbrae Recreation Center Senior Center (rooms D-F), 477 Lincoln Circle, Millbrae

And here is the upcoming schedule for the Millbrae Station Area Plan:

Aug. 6 hearing – tentative, to be held only if needed

August 10 at 5 pm – comments due for DEIR and MSASP

Planning Commission hearing on Environmental Impact Report and Station Area Plan September 21st

Possible additional Planning Commission Hearing – September 28

City Council hearing on Environmental Impact Report and Station Area Plan – October 13

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New Palo Alto Downtown Commute survey shows 55 percent drivealone rate

The first employer survey for the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association shows a 55 percent drivealone commute rate, with 45% of commuters travelling to work in some other way.   17% of downtown commuters used Caltrain, and 15% of commuters walked or biked to work.

The TMA plans to use the survey data help plan investments to further reduce driving into Palo Alto downtown, where car parking is experienced as scarce, and traffic makes driving inconvenient.

Commute mode choices for Palo Alto downtown workers

Palo Alto TMA Mode Share

By US standards, downtown Palo Alto sees a high rate of walking and bicycling. Out of workers who live within 3 miles of work, 26% report walking to work, and 18% report bicycling.  Within 10 miles, 30% report walking or bicycling to work.

The survey suggested opportunities for even more commuters who live nearby to walk or bicycle. 40% said they would walk or bicycle if there were better paths, trails or sidewalks, and 32% said they would bicycle more if there were better bicycle parking options.

Bicycling and walking to work in Downtown Palo Alto









Barriers that keep people driving

About half of respondents said that they would rather not drive, but alternatives don’t work for them.   This information suggests ways the TMA might be able to reduce the barriers that keep people driving.

Nearly 50% said that they would use transit if it were less expensive – a common TMA program is to provide transit pass discounts.  The good news is that VTA has agreed to enable the Palo Alto TMA to “pool” groups of employees who work downtown in companies that are smaller than can typically qualify for VTA’s bulk discount programs. Caltrain does not yet allow downtowns and other dense areas to create pools of smaller companies for bulk discounts, however this sort of program that would likely benefit transportation management associations in a growing number of cities; not only Palo Alto, but potentially Mountain View, Sunnyvale, San Jose, Redwood City, San Mateo, and others.

Part of the cost equation is parking – currently, the monthly price of a parking permit in downtown Palo Alto is $44, which is about a quarter of the price of a monthly Caltrain pass.  The current cost of a parking pass, $528 per year, is a tiny fraction of the amount it would cost the city to build a new parking spot in a garage, which is more like $3500. If the cost of parking was increased closer to its replacement cost, transit and other alternatives would look more attractive in terms of out of pocket expense compared to driving and parking.

Sixty percent of people who’d prefer not to drive said they would use transit if it were easier to get to a stop – this suggests opportunities to provide better information about bus connections, improve shuttles,or potentially to support Uber/Lyft type services for first mile connection.

In addition to the barriers on the slide below, 44% survey respondents said that they drive to work because they use use a car for meetings, deliveries, or other work-related tasks. Some of these commuters may be able to use Palo Alto’s ZipCar service which is available in the downtown today (but workers may not yet know about).

Barriers that keep people driving

Barriers that keep people driving

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 4.43.06 PM


Potential programs to reduce driving

Based on the data so far, changes that might make sense include:

* transit pass discounts

* ZipCar and Guaranteed Ride Home services for people who drive because they have mid-day errands or may have unexpected mid-day travel needs (e.g childcare emergencies)

* first-mile transportation (depending on deeper geographic analysis)

* bicycle parking improvements

* personalized coaching to help employees understand their options

* adjusting parking pricing to provide a fairer comparison to the cost of transit

The next meeting of the Transportation Management Association steering committee will be July 9.  At that meeting, staff and consultants will present more information, including more detailed “clustering” of employee residences and needs by location, and analysis of the cost/benefit of various options.  The discussion in that meeting should result in recommendations for ways that Palo Alto can reduce driving to the downtown.









Posted in Palo Alto, Transportation Demand Management | 2 Comments

Millbrae Station Area Plan – 70% driving rate; El Camino sharrows under a truck

Millbrae city council is reviewing a station area plan, environmental report, and two good-sized developments for the area near the Millbrae BART/Caltrain station.  At a study session last night, residents crowded the Chetcuti room in Millbrae city hall, many with concerns about parking and car traffic.

The proposed developments would bring 400,000 square feet of office space, about 79,000 square feet of retail  and more than 800 residential units on land currently occupied by a parking lot and some underutilized commercial buildings near El Camino Real.   The mix of uses near a major and growing transit hub – with service from BART, Caltrain trains, SamTrans buses, and eventually High Speed Rail trains – might logically attract workers, residents, and visitors who prefer to come and go without driving.

However, in the plan and environmental report being reviewed, the offices and homes are expected to generate a 69% driving rate at peak commute hours, with 28% taking transit, and only 3% walking or bicycling.  The plan has provisions for sensible parking policies, including the potential for unbundled parking, where tenants can pay for only the parking they need, paid parking, parking shared among uses that need the space at different hours. And the plan calls for “transportation demand management” with programs including discount transit passes, onsite car-sharing, vanpool and carpool services.  With these services and such a transit-rich location, could the area generate less driving (and fewer traffic and parking worries?).

The rate of bicycling isn’t helped by the proposals for El Camino Real and Millbrae Avenue.  The treatment for El Camino includes wide, 14 foot vehicle lanes, and “sharrow” marking enabling intrepid people with bicycles to to share the lanes with trucks (as can be seen in the diagram below.)

The deadline for comments on the Environmental Impact Report is August 10. There will be community meetings beforehand, on July 16 and 30th.   For transit users and community members interested in commenting on the project, including opportunities to improve bike safety and sustainable transportation, Sierra Club will be hosting a workshop on Tuesday, July 21 – stay tuned for time and place.

Sharrows under a truck on El Camino Real in Millbrae

Sharrows under a truck on El Camino Real in Millbrae

Posted in Adopt-a-Station, Millbrae, San Mateo County | 6 Comments

Tonight: June 22 – Palo Alto City Council considers $90 million in expressway expansions

At 6pm on Monday evening, Palo Alto City Council will be holding a study session on the Page Mill Road portion of the County Expressway plan.   These proposals for nearly $90 million in road capacity expansion could be submitted in August for funding in the upcoming $3.5-$7Billion Santa Clara County transportation ballot measure in 2016.

Folks who are interested in sustainable development, walking/bicycling, and climate change have a lot to be concerned out in this major road expansion proposal.

  • over the last 50 years, we have seen that expanding roadway capacity does not achieve the congestion relief that proponents hope for. Instead, temporary improvements rapidly attract more drivers (“induced demand”) and congestion returns almost immediately

  • the expressway proposal acknowledges that the congestion improvements from capacity expansion will be short-lived – the intersection will F to C when the changes are made, but quickly decline again F by 2025

  • Stanford Research Park, the major employment center along Page Mill, has tens of thousands of employees and a very high drivealone rate.  Palo Alto has opportunities to deal with the traffic jam with programs for SRP to reduce driving, rather than adding lanes encouraging even more driving

  • Currently, SRP employees lack access to the the long-distance commute shuttles that help employees of Google and Facebook drive less.  VTA could learn from the success of commute shuttles and offer this service to SRP. Instead, VTA is proposing paying for massive expressway expansion.

  • Palo Alto’s  comprehensive plan actually has a policy against major roadway capacity expansion already (see below for the reference).

  • The proposals include facilities for cyclists and pedestrians – but the amount of money proposed could go much further with bicycle and pedestrian improvements.  Transit investments such as shuttles could reduce traffic instead of increasing it.

Come if you can on Monday night and share your thoughts with City Council. If you can’t come in person, send a note to

The staff report is here:

Elements of the proposed program include:

  • $50 million to grade separate the 4-lane intersection of Page Mill Road & Foothill Expressway so that Page Mill goes either over or under Foothill.
  • $17 million to widen Page Mill Road from 4 to 6 lanes from Highway 280 to Foothill Expressway.
  • $5 million for intersection “improvements” along Page Mill Road to add turn lanes and through lanes.
  • $20 million to reconstruct the Page Mill / Highway 280 interchange. This includes several design options with a variety of hazards for people walking and bicycling, including merging zones that force bicyclists to cross the path of car drivers speeding up to access free-flowing on-ramps. The “preferred” (by Santa Clara County staff) alternative includes a roundabout.   (The interchange is unsafe and needs improvements, but the proposed design is hazardous)
  • $6 million for a multi-use path along Page Mill Road from Deer Creek Road to Highway 280. (Is this project worth $6 million?)

Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan policy on road capacity expansion

Policy T-27: Avoid major increases in street capacity unless necessary to remedy severe traffic congestion or critical neighborhood traffic problems. Where capacity is increased, balance the needs of motor vehicles with those of pedestrians and bicyclists.

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Palo Alto considers office cap in hopes of reducing parking, traffic problems

On Monday night March 2, Palo Alto City Council is going to consider capping office development in the city to an annual limit of 35,000 to 50,000 of new office space per year.  A major underlying concern motivating a proposed cap is parking demand and traffic generated from new buildings.

However, since 1995, new buildings have added only about .3% of the existing space in the city per year. So reducing new office building would take a very long time to affect traffic and parking.  Meanwhile, there are no restrictions preventing companies from adding even more people to existing buildings, resulting in even more driving.

To address traffic and parking, the most powerful strategies take these issues head on, with:

  • a funding mechanism for business to contribute to “transportation demand management” programs to help employees drive less – since the existing employee base is so much larger than employees added in new office buildings
  • for new development, strict monitored trip caps, plus fees to reduce trips around the city and fund other costs increased by new development, such as housing and community services
  • in the upcoming Comprehensive plan, consider a goal to cap or reduce solo vehicle trips.

What do you think? Let Palo Alto City Council now at, or come on Monday night, 8pm.

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Mountain View City Council advances North Bayshore housing

Mountain View City Council agreed to move forward with plans for housing in North Bayshore where Google is, overturning the policy of the previous Council.  The change in policy followed a November election where the jobs/housing balance was a major issue, and the newly elected candidates all supported housing in North Bayshore.

It was a study session, so no official decisions were made, but City Council gave direction to move forward with allowing 1100 units of housing that were allowed under the General Plan (but not allowed under the last version of the Precise Plan), as well as a process to study a greater amount of housing, and the services, transportation, and other amenities needed to turn North Bayshore into a “complete neighborhood.”    After working on North Bayshore, Council agreed that the Whisman area, which is in the queue for planning, will also be considered for more housing.

Most of the public comments supported the concept of housing in North Bayshore, and the idea of creating a neighborhood, not only projects.  Commenters including people who live and work in Mountain View, want places to stay, and have been affected by the rise in housing prices triggered by a huge influx of new workers. In the last year, Mountain View has brought in 13,000 or more jobs, and added only about 1100 housing units, according to q&a between newly elected Council member Lenny Siegel and Mountain View staff.

One current resident said that he had left Russia, looking for career opportunity and freedom from persecution of gay and transgender people.  He attends graduate school at Carnegie Mellon, and needed to stay in his advisor’s RV because no housing was available on his grad student salary. He is moving to Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh Campus in order to find housing, but hopes to come back to Mountain View.

Council members did not impose a moratorium on new office buildings while the planning for housing moves forward, raising a risk in theory that the land for housing would be used up by office developments before housing can be planned and built. However, Google, the largest employer and landowner in the area, reiterated that they are interested in seeing housing in the area, reducing the risk. Also, developers of office projects about to enter the queue are expected to request zoning bonuses which require Council approval, so council has the ability to reject or delay projects if they seem to conflict with housing plans in the works.

Housing plans are moving forward for North Bayshore. Now the challenge for community members, staff, and developers will be to create plans and projects that can turn an office park into a neighborhood.   Beyond that, the challenge for Mountain View and the region will be taking further steps, not only to allow some housing, but to help the region’s jobs/housing imbalance get better rather than worse.   According to housing advocate Pilar LorenzanaCampo, the Bay Area added 114,000 jobs last year and added only around 8,000 new homes, on top of decades of a growing housing deficit.  Can the region’s residents and decision-makers take action to reverse the trend, agree to the added population, and change transportation practices – there is room for more people, but not at the current rates of driving.

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Mountain View reconsiders housing in North Bayshore

After electing a pro-housing majority, the Mountain View City Council is reconvening to consider adding housing in the North Bayshore area where Google is.

Starting at 6:30pm tonight, Tuesday Feb 3, City Council will decide on questions including whether to consider housing in North Bayshore; whether to consider enough housing and services to create a neighborhood; and whether to also consider adding housing in other areas of Mountain View to address the worsening supply and demand imbalance.

The  staff report lists “key questions” for council to answer, focused on how much housing to add and where to consider housing.   A neighborhood isn’t just created by housing – if Mountain View decides to consider housing in North Bayshore, there are other important considerations about what it will take to create a functional neighborhood, with access to services including groceries and schools, sustainable transportation, and public space.

Housing in North Bayshore – Questions for Mountain View City Council

Key Question No. 1: Does Council support one or more  options for increasing the amount of City-wide housing?

1)   Study New Residential Uses in North Bayshore

2)  Study New Residential Uses in East Whisman

3)  Study New Residential Uses City-Wide

Key Question No. 2: Does Council support studying residential uses as a permitted use in an amended North Bayshore Precise Plan?

Key Question No. 3: Should the City study more than 1,100 residential units?

Key Question No. 4: Does Council support allowing new residential uses only in the North Shoreline Boulevard Core Area or some other geographic boundary?

Key Question No. 5: If residential uses are supported in an amended North Bayshore Precise Plan, should there be “residential only” areas?

Question No. 6: If Council supports the concept of residential uses within the Precise Plan, should a development moratorium be considered?

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