Existing single-family neighborhoods could be significantly altered by SB-50’s development incentives that relate to height, density, parking and setbacks. With reduced or no parking requirements, the streets could fill up with more parked cars on both sides leaving a narrow passage lane for cars, bikes and pedestrians. Overall, approximately 7,000 parcels in Palo Alto lie in either the Transit Rich or High-Quality Bus Corridor. This represents about 40% of the approximately 18,000 parcels in the city, and does not even include those parcels in Jobs-Rich areas. SB-50 could result in a complete shift from today’s detached single-family housing development pattern to a townhouse and apartment development pattern.
SB-50 has no school funding formula. The economics of basic aid school districts like Palo Alto’s are directly impacted by new housing development. They are dependent on local property taxes as a major source of revenue. And while new development brings in additional property tax, it generally brings in additional students. The student generation rate for housing can greatly affect the break-even economics for schools in basic aid districts. To date, Palo Alto has been fortunate to operate public schools with higher-than-state-average per-pupil expenditures, but depending on the type and number of housing units built, that per-pupil spending could fall.
Given the combination of more housing density with zero parking requirement for Transit-Rich developments and reduced parking requirement for developments throughout the rest of the city, it is reasonable to assume the surfeit of additional cars will be parked on the streets. According to Hedges & Company, car registrations per capita in Palo Alto has climbed 12 percent over the last five years. This reflects car ownership trends across the Bay Area and in other parts of California.5,6
More curb-parked cars reduces visibility, contributing to pedestrian, bicycle and car collisions. In Santa Clara County, Palo Alto already has the dubious distinction of the highest per capita vehicle-bicycle and vehicle-pedestrian collisions.7
It would be great if everyone who lived and worked close to transit used it. However, a recent study out of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies found that the “defining attribute of regular transit riders is their relative lack of private vehicle access” not proximity to transit.6 Perhaps it is not surprising then that while the Bay Area has experienced sustained growth in vehicle ownership, the Valley Transit Authority has reported a decline in bus ridership, and Palo Alto’s share of Caltrain ridership has plateaued.5,8 9
More importantly only a small percentage of commuters arrive and leave Palo Alto each day by train. During the weekday AM Peak approximately 5,300 of the city’s 100,000 strong workforce arrive on Caltrain (1,368 of those 5,300 work at Stanford).10,11,12 Conversely, an even smaller number of Palo Alto residents who work outside the city use Caltrain in the AM Peak – 1,200 out of a possible 22,000 workers.10,13 Outbound and inbound that represents around 5% of commuters.
A contributing factor may be that more than a quarter of the trains are at or above 95% capacity.14 Caltrain estimates that its current electrification project will increase capacity by 21% by 2040,15 however more than half of that additional capacity is spoken for by Stanford’s planned expansion.12