Durable Growth, Government

Palo Alto turns down nonprofit senior housing

Palo Alto: for rich seniors only. By Andrew Mager, on Flickr.

Palo Alto: for rich seniors only. By Andrew Mager, on Flickr.

The rejection of 8 Washington in San Francisco has the region’s urbanists feeling pretty down. Rather than help ease the housing shortage, the story of 8 Washington will simply add to the risk faced by developers who might want to add housing to the city. But it wasn’t the only development in the Bay Area on the ballot. Palo Alto faced its own high-profile defeat, described by Stephen Smith of Next City:

On Tuesday, the town’s voters overturned the Palo Alto City Council’s unanimous approval for a 72-unit project at 567 Maybell Avenue [by a victory for the “No on Prop. D” campaign]. And unlike 8 Washington, which was predominantly a luxury housing complex bankrolled by a for-profit developer with some subsidized units, the project Palo Alto rejected was to be built by a nonprofit developer and would have had 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 12 market-rate townhouses to help support the subsidized units financially. (Traffic, among other things, was cited by opponents as a reason to not build the senior housing complex, which was to be a short walk from El Camino Real, Silicon Valley’s main drag.)

The Silicon Valley town’s senior-on-senior fight (those opposing the project were, unsurprisingly, also quite old) highlights the peninsula’s die-hard anti-development attitudes, where city-sized demand combined with a suburb-sized zoning code makes for some of the highest real estate prices in the country, stalling growth in one of the most productive regions on earth.


The problem is widespread throughout the West Bay. In Marin, Corte Madera reelected the architect of its departure from ABAG, the regional planning agency, by a resounding margin. In San Francisco, outrage over for-profit developments is what spawned the 8 Washington backlash. Smith adds his own examples:

[T]he senior housing complex isn’t the only development that Silicon Valley’s in-demand towns have rejected. San Carlos told a developer this week to scale back their plans for a mixed-use, mixed-income development a short walk from the town’s Caltrain commuter rail station. Palo Alto also clawed back its parking minimum reform, instituting new rules that require developers to build more parking with their downtown projects.

Palo Alto’s anti-development campaigners drew upon the imagery of the Residentialists, an unofficial political party active in city affairs in the 1960s. In similar irony to this week’s senior-on-senior fight, the original Residentialists were opposed to the kind of explosive growth that originally drew them to the city.

While Palo Alto’s residentialists and their ideological comrades elsewhere fought a good fight against sprawl, freeways, and the general auto-oriented development that gripped so much of the state, that fight is largely over. Their new fight against infill development is the cause of sky-high housing prices, especially in San Francisco, and the corresponding displacement of the poor. Far from helping slow or stop sprawl, this sort of thing is encouraging it. And, far from helping mitigate traffic congestion, this will only make it worse.

Written by David Edmondson

David Edmondson

David is a native Marinite working in Washington, DC. He writes about how to apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of his home.

Comments are closed.