Project Description


The City of Palo Alto updated its zoning code in late 2018 and early 2019 to encourage additional development of affordable multifamily housing.  The changes increase allowable density in the RM-15 residential multifamily zone (now RM-20), and the City’s commercial/mixed use zones (CN, CC, CC(2), CS and CD-C). The changes also streamline the development review process for affordable housing projects and ensure the City’s zoning code is compatible with the Statewide Density Bonus Law. The changes will take effect in May 2019.

Unlike the blanket approach to incentivize housing development proposed under California Senate Bill 50, the City’s approach is to craft very specific density standards for specified zones and along specific high density and transit-friendly corridors. This incremental approach is more targeted and seeks to keep higher density developments closer to El Camino Real and areas that already support multifamily housing.

The following slides (and PDF report) show the total number of units that could be added under SB-50 and under the new housing ordinance, as well as where these changes could occur.


The calculations are based on conservative unit sizes between 850 square feet to 1,250 square feet. Based on existing and proposed Floor Area Ratios (FARs), height limits, and lot coverage requirements, the maximum building square footage was calculated per acre for each zone. (Approximately 20% of the total building square footage was set aside for non-residential uses, including building circulation and utilities.) If there were no existing density limits, the number of residential units per acre (DU per acre) were then calculated based on a unit mix of 25% studio units, 50% 1-bedroom units, and 25% 2-bedroom units. The average DU per acre for each zone were then multiplied by the total number of acres in each zone, producing a theoretical maximum number of units that could be developed across the City. The total number of units therefore represent a maximum if everything in the City is developed at the maximum allowed densities. For SB-50, parking was not considered as part of the development, as the Bill does not require parking in major transit areas.