San Antonio Road housing proposal suggests need for balance between Palo Alto’s plan for affordable housing and residents’ concerns for community wellness
BY MIA XIAO
Residents near 800 San Antonio Road, where a new housing project has been proposed to the Palo Alto city council on Monday, August 15th, express opposition and concerns over the area becoming prone to traffic congestions with overly dense urban planning.
The proposal on San Antonio Road by Saratoga developer Yorke Lee suggested the construction of a five-story, 75-unit condominium, 15 of which will be affordable housing. Despite the project exceeding the standard scale and housing density allowed by Palo Alto’s city code, the council gave preliminary support for the proposal.
“The San Antonio Rd corridor is one of several areas in the city that have been identified by the [Palo Alto] Council and our new draft Housing Element as strong opportunity areas for dense housing. Compared to some other areas, the parcels on San Antonio are generally large enough to make housing projects more cost-effective than many other locations in Palo Alto,” wrote Mayor Pat Burt in an email to The News.
The San Antonio Road corridor, which runs as a border between Palo Alto and Mountain View, has emerged as one of the primary growth areas for both cities and has seen a number of construction plans approved in the past year. On Palo Alto’s side, the addition of the adjacent AC and Citrine hotels and recent approval of housing projects—including the 88-bed Project Homekey homeless shelter awaiting state grant—reflect the city’s determination to include residential density in the area. Similarly, Mountain View had particularly dedicated a precise plan to delineating comprehensive construction plans of hundreds of offices, housing and business units for the area.
Located far from the more expensive neighborhoods of Crescent Park or Old Palo Alto, the historically commercial and industrial-heavy San Antonio Road offers a less expensive strip of land for development. And in addition to the economic benefits offered by San Antonio Road Corridor, the decision to increase residential density by Palo Alto and Mountain View also reflect the cities’ response to state demands with regards to the housing crisis plaguing the San Francisco Bay Area more broadly.
“Over the last several years, we have significantly increased the zoning density allowed for housing, with the highest density and most streamlined process for affordable housing. The result has been a significant increase in new housing and affordable housing projects in our pipeline,” Burt said.
Current residents living on San Antonio Road, however, are concerned with the massive housing development the area has seen in recent years and the problems they have already caused.
“It’s best that they won’t proceed with any building plans,” said Qing Feng, who lives across from 800 San Antonio Road in the Greenhouse, a 140-unit condominium. “With 75 new units, there is going to be a lot more people, and much more crowded here…[Leghorn] Street intersecting [San Antonio Road] is already very congested.”
Allison Lopez, a 20-year resident of The Greenhouse, has noticed more theft in the neighborhood.
“There’s also been more theft,” Lopez said. “I don’t know the reason, but I think with more people moving here, it’s definitely growing whereas previously we were more close-knit. With the two new hotels built right across the street, there’s already been more problems [with] parking, transportation. And I definitely think there’s going to be more traffic when school reopens. With kids going back to school, there are going to be more parents on the road.”
In response to such concerns, Burt acknowledged “the need for a more comprehensive approach to re-development on [the San Antonio Road] corridor so that it will provide better transit, micromobility/biking infrastructure, walkable retail, and some parkland for the thousands of new residents that are likely to reside there in the next few years.”
Some have generalized the residents’ opposition to new housing proposals as one case of the NIMBY trend popular among rich Silicon Valley cities like Palo Alto.
“Think about it, a typical home in Palo Alto costs about four million dollars. Of course the residents are going to oppose high-density projects and affordable housing, which will bring in more low-income residents,” said Ping Bertelsen, a resident of the Silicon Valley area for 22 years.
NIMBYism, which stands for “not in my backyard,” describes the phenomenon where residents object to high-density housing developments in their local area, which has become common among California towns, especially those with wealthy residents. Neighboring Palo Alto, Atherton is one of these towns.
Also known as the richest town in America, Atherton is populated with many Silicon Valley executives, who have been fighting this summer to prevent 58 new housing units from being built, citing concerns such as traffic, tree removal, light and noise pollution, robberies, and larceny.
“I think it’s different,” Lopez said about the NIMBYism trend, “because to live in ‘Atherton,’ you have to have a different mindset…the ‘Not in my backyard’ [mindset]. But here, it’s different. Here it’s just community, kids and families.”
According to Lopez, if long-time residents are thinking about moving, they might not be able to move back in. Residents are noticing the rise in cost of living in the area, Lopez said.
In fact, Palo Alto’s cost of living is 59% higher than the national average.
“And the other problem we have to think about is, say if I were to move out of here, I don’t think I could afford to move back in, buy another place in Palo Alto,” Lopez said. “ It’s much more expensive to live here than 20 years ago. It might be a sign of the times.”
Mayor Burt also expressed disagreement with the categorization of NIMBYism in housing discussions at large.
“I think that it does not serve the interests of addressing housing issues to characterize anyone who raises concerns about impacts of development as being “NIMBYs.” There are a wide range of views on different aspects of the issue, including “YIMBYs” who embrace unrestrained office growth that worsens our housing challenges, and who object to efforts to fund the services needed to support new residents.”