PASZ Initiative to Control Office Growth 14

Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (PASZ) have begun a petition campaign to place a measure on the November ballot to reduce the cap on non-residential construction to the long-term historical level of 58,000 sq. ft per year citywide. The new Comprehensive Plan adopted by the City Council set the cap at 1.7 million sq. ft. over the 15 year life of the plan.

The goal of our initiative is to cut in half the citywide growth in office/R&D square footage allowed in our 2030 Comp Plan so that it will be in line with our long-term historical average growth . We propose a simple change: amend Policy L-1.10 in the 2030 Comp Plan to lower the citywide cap of 1.7 million new square feet of office/R&D development allowed under the life of the  Plan through  December 312030 to 850,000 square feet. The Initiative also adds a corresponding provision to Palo Altos Municipal Code Zoning section.


  1. Not allow office growth to exceed its historical growth rate. Between 1989 and 2014, the average annual growth rate in non-residential square footage averaged 58,000 square feet per year; the 2030 Comp Plan allows up to an average of 113,000 square feet per year citywide. The Initiative would lower that.
  1. The current rate of growth has produced huge problems of congestion: more traffic, limited parking and lack of affordable housing. The National Citizens Survey for Palo Alto shows that more than two thirds of Palo Alto residents rate traffic, parking and affordable housing as a major problem and that share has jumped by a substantial amount over the last five years.
  1. Rapid business expansion is the main cause of rising land prices and the cost of housing.
  1. Palo Alto already has more than three jobs for every employed resident.  This is the highest of any California city and one of the highest ratios in the  country. The  higher rate of growth allowed by the 2030 Comp Plan would exacerbate that ratio.
  1. No feasible  traffic mitigations. Recent traffic studies for projects in Palo Alto and for the Stanford General Use Permit clearly state that the impacts of any additional  growth on  key intersections around the city “would remain significant and unavoidable”.
  1. Caltrain is pointed to as a solution. But Caltrain is currently at capacity. Increased  capacity will mean more cars per train and platform extensions plus major infrastructure changes that involve trenching or grade crossings. The infrastructure  changes are likely to lead to home removals and crossing/undergrounding work that could cost Palo Alto residents up to a billion dollars in sales and parcel taxes.
  1. Palo Alto’s contribution to Silicon Valley ‘s success with innovation has relied on mobility.  Palo Alto’s contribution to Silicon Valley has been characterized by new start-up firms, workers moving from company to  company;  and  the  rapid  movement of  ideas across company boundaries .The emergence of very large companies and increased long-distance commuting would diminish this special role.
  2. Residents , not businesses, pay for local government. Despite their rapid expansion, businesses pay only 25% of local property taxes and that share has been declining in recent years.

Click this link for a copy of the ballot initiative.

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14 thoughts on “PASZ Initiative to Control Office Growth

    • webmaster Post author

      Non-residential (office and R&D) growth is the major cause of the congestion, traffic and parking problems we are all suffering in Palo Alto. It also affects the availability of affordable housing and increases the taxes on the residents (businesses only pay 25% property taxes.) The Comprehensive Plan adopted by the City Council last year would DOUBLE the allowable growth rate compared to the historical average of 58,000 sq. ft per year. And it only applies to the three major development areas of the city. Our initiative would provide several remedies.
      1. It would reduce the overall cap on non-residential building to the previous level of 850,000 sq.ft. for the life of the Comp Plan.
      2..It would extend the cap to the entire city including Stanford Research Park and other new development areas.
      3. It could only be changed by a vote of the public, not on a whim of the City Council.
      And since you ask, we are a grassroots organization funded by donations of the residents, not by developers and big business.

  • Barry Klein

    i am unable to find the petition I can download. I only find initiative language.
    How many signatures does PASZ need, and what is your deadline?

    • webmaster Post author

      Much as we would appreciate your support, you have to be a Palo Alto resident and you must sign in person.

  • Gary F

    It’s ironic that on the same day that an Arthur Keller email pushes this 20th century initiative, the Chronicle features a front page that reveals how all the other cities nearby are positioning to take advantage of the business climate. This initiative is so out of touch and will result in PA simply being left behind.

    • joe

      The Initiative does not propose a moratorium, as office/R&G growth can continue, if our Initiative is approved, at a rate comparable to Palo Alto’s annual rate of growth that we have had during the past 25 years. We already have enough traffic congestion, parking intrusion from office employees into adjacent neighborhoods, and lack of housing for people employed in the buildings that have been built in recent times. Menlo Park is finding that the explosive growth of Facebook, and Mountain View is finding that the explosive growth of Google, are creating similar problems, which may be even worse that what we are experiencing here in Palo Alto.

      We do not believe that we are “out of touch”, as we are simply trying to maintain a better quality of life, which we believe the vast majority of residents in Palo Alto desire. The vote on our Initiative will tell us which view of the future is correct.

    • Arthur Keller

      Gary F, are you perhaps Gary Fine, father of Councilmember Adrian Fine?

      I’m looking at the front page of the SF Chronicle right now. The lead article is titled, “For a singer silenced, the gift of a voice,” another one titled, “Unstable people’s guns can be seized,” and “Women detail alleged assaults by ballet teacher.” Maybe you mean this one, “Big hurdles to eradicating swamp rodent”?

      With about three jobs for every employed resident, we need to have only moderate growth in job creation in Palo Alto so housing can catch up and compete for the land.

      The Palo Alto Weekly, in an editorial said, “There is no constituency other than commercial development interests supporting new office development in Palo Alto, and every square foot of new office development approved in the city makes our housing shortage and road congestion worse.”

      See explaining that fewer Palo Altans think Palo Alto is going in the right direction and more think Palo Alto is moving in the wrong direction than two years ago.

      • Gary F

        Yes Arthur it is Gary.

        Sorry – the reference was to biz section:
        Really there was no need to be facetious about “swamp rodents”

        And to be clear – i do understand the conversation about traffic and people etc. I think however that the narrative being sung that business/offices causes these problems is highly overstated. If you visit the train station in the am, there are indeed many workers who arrive in town, but they dont all live here AND they use a lot of public transportation (no cars), and they support our businesses downtown. It is simply way too simplistic to blame office space for transportation and housing problems. I just believe that more housing development and better public transit will go much further than any blunt instrument like “growth cap”.

    • Rita Vrhel

      Hi Gary.. The initiative will start the open conversation about how much office space and R&D the voters in Palo Alto want.

      I am collecting signatures as I hear every day that voters are fed up with constant traffic, no parking and soaring housing costs as well as a severe housing shortage. Folks in Mountain View, Menlo Park and Redwood City are feeling the same.

      The 2016 election resulted in a very pro-growth City Council; essentially doubling the historical rate of office and R& D development. many of these buildings are under parked with a Transportation Management Program, or Cal Train Go Pass serving to remedy the under parking.

      I appreciate your right to comment and hope you will do the same for mine. A healthy discussion and vote on issues of concern is always positive. I will read the Chronicle article to see if it is factual. We all know there are so many ways to spin a story when so much money is involved.