Council Adopts Extensive Objectives, Building Upon Selection of 2023 Priorities

City of Palo Alto
Published in
9 min readFeb 17


Council Priority Setting 2023

The Palo Alto City Council spent a Saturday in a late January workshop hearing from residents, evaluating progress of high priority initiatives and updating and selecting Council annual priorities. Council meets annually to establish specific priority areas, which historically have received unusual and significant attention, action and budget support during each year. With three new City Council members, a new Mayor and Vice Mayor, this discussion presented opportunities to share visions and align around common goals. After hearing community member input, they selected four distinct 2023 Priorities. To modernize their priority setting process and provide more clarity on policy expectations, Council also approved extensive and detailed objectives aligned with key staff deliverables in 2023.

Council Member Visions & A Look Ahead

As an introductory workshop discussion, the City Council shared their personal “headlines” that clarify aspirational visions for the year ahead.

Individual members shared their vision for the year ahead, captured as yearend newspaper headlines:

“Wave of Paly and Gunn Alums Move Back to Palo Alto.”

“Improvement in the high utility bills, flood control, and retail.”

“Through Cooperation and Congeniality, Council Gets the Job Done.” Regarding policy, she hoped “Cubberley Will Be the Hub of South Side”

“Council Announces Initial $250M Secured of $1B Affordable Housing Fund,” with the subheading “Three Developers Agree to Start Projects in 2024.”

“Council Makes Major Progress on Its Goals.”

“Palo Alto Leads the Way in Advancing Climate Initiatives and Building Affordable Housing.”

“Reducing the cost of living to make living possible not only in Palo Alto but all around.”

Community Feedback Shared Broad Themes

The workshop was well attended by community members who shared their visions for the year ahead. This information was supplemented by the City’s Community Survey, an online survey specific to 2023 Council’s priorities and emails directly to the Council, which further helped them in their planning for the year.

Resident and survey themes shared individually and collectively by residents included: flooding concerns, design standards and interventions that consider climate adaptation (birds/lighting/external noise), natural environment, quality of life areas such as leaf blowers and airplane noise, housing, climate change, safety, community health and wellness.

For the full listing of community input and themes, go here.

2023 Council Priorities Selected

The City Council unanimously approved their 2023 Council Priorities, which are:

Economic Recovery and Transition

Climate Change and the Natural Environment: Protection and Adaptation

Housing for Social and Economic Balance

Community Health and Safety

Learn more about these priorities at

Extensive Actionable Objectives Adopted

To better understand the proposed activities underway that impact each of the four Council priorities, Council asked staff to propose actionable objectives as a workplan to operationalize the 2023 priorities. On February 13, Council reviewed and adopted a work program that guides resource allocation and staff activities for the coming year.

These specific focus areas are both time-bound and measurable. With this adoption, a key set of objectives are in motion, tie directly to City Council’s 2023 Priorities and serve as an accountability tool. Some of these items do not have existing funding allocated and further actions will be needed.


Support economic recovery and business transition

  • Adopt a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy
  • Implement or upgrade electronic plan review software without interruption to the permitting process
  • Implement recommendations in Building and Permit Review Report conducted by the City Auditor
  • Begin stakeholder engagement and implementation of new business tax

Focus on commercial corridors, Downtown and California Avenue

  • Begin implementation of next phase of parklet regulations to the community
  • Evaluate opportunities for New Parking Facilities in the University Ave Downtown and direct next steps
  • Align Business Improvement District (BID) priorities and investments to the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy
  • Advance development of a permanent car-free streets ordinance (selection of consultant support)
  • Approve concept plan for University Ave streetscape and provide direction on capital project funding
  • Extend temporary closure for car free streets
  • Provide direction on citywide retail zoning code changes (specifically retail preservation and neighborhood commercial district specific regulations)


Climate Change Protection

  • Implement Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) through purchase of meters/equipment in February 2023 for installation
  • Approve consultant to update Bike and Pedestrian Transportation Plan (Additional Bike/Ped Grade Crossings will be included in network discussions, schedule pending consultant selection)
  • Approve municipal code amendments for advancing S/Cap goals (specifically facilitate photovoltaic, energy storage system, electric vehicle charging station, and heat pump (water/furnace) installations)
  • Approve S/CAP Update and 3-year workplan
  • Begin first phase construction for grid modernization in summer 2023 (if needed) and consultant resources to plan for gas transition
  • Install first 1,000 heat pump water heaters through the advanced pilot program and approve expanded full-scale program
  • Approve advanced pilot program for whole residential home electrification by the end of 2023
  • Approve commercial rooftop HVAC electrification advanced pilot program
  • Accept Electric Vehicle Strategic Plan
  • Accept Reliability and Resiliency Strategic Plan
  • Review preliminary draft S/CAP study discussing workplan resource needs and project funding opportunities

Climate Change Adaptation: flood protection

  • Advance the San Francisquito Creek Flood Protection capital project (Reach 2) as close to approval as possible by the end of 2023, through Council’s JPA representation and any Council approvals involved. (Focus on securing funding, finalizing CEQA review, approval of project entitlements, and obtaining required construction easements)
  • Secure funding and approve construction for the Newell Bridge replacement project; advocacy with State legislators educating on project funding needs

Natural Environment

  • Approve agreements with Valley Water purified water facility at LATP Area B (operations and maintenance)
  • Adopt appropriate changes to the revised Tree Protection Ordinance (to follow a review of impacts of the revised ordinance by PTC and PRC)


Advance Renter Protection Policies

  • Approve access to rental units by establishing security deposit limits
  • Provide protections to renters by considering expansion of the just cause eviction ordinance
  • Implement a rental registry to inform future renter protection policies
  • Create new affordable housing opportunities through funding such as a housing land trust
  • Explore opportunities to regulate short term-rentals with Council committee

Implement Housing Production Policies

  • Codify permanent standards related to the City local SB9 implementation ordinance
  • Approve adjusted Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) regulations to facilitate production and meet HCD requirements
  • Respond to various Grand Jury recommendations related to Housing
  • Refine implementation of City’s SB9 objective development and urban lot split standards
  • Adopt an ordinance amending the development standards for Stanford-owned housing opportunity sites
  • Rezone carryover housing opportunity sites for by-right development when developed with 20% lower income affordable housing units
  • Adopt an ordinance to implement revised development standards for certain properties located in the GM/ROLM to allow for densities up to 90 units/acre

Support Unhoused Service Initiatives

  • Begin construction in partnership with LifeMoves for Palo Alto Homekey project to provide transitional housing and services for unhoused residents
  • Develop a citywide strategy to connect unhoused residents to housing and services


Mental & physical health and belonging

  • Complete reopening libraries to budgeted level (remains below pre-pandemic levels)
  • Approval of multi-year agreement for provisions of animal shelter services
  • Expand and enhance community special events with focus on inclusion
  • Approve agreement with PAUSD on long term use of the Cubberley property
  • Recreation Wellness Center Feasibility: Agreement on location, general design and features of a recreation wellness center and finalize an agreement with a new nonprofit responsible for raising funds for design and construction.

Invest in reliable safety infrastructure and systems

  • Support visible police presence by ensuring stable staffing (recruiting and retention) through hiring ahead program
  • Support a diverse community through extension of the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) program services to the community through affirmation of continued City financial support
  • Update without interruption 911 dispatch system (CAD provider) once selected through procurement process
  • Begin construction of the Gas Main Replacement Project 24B
  • Approve updated Local Hazard Mitigation Plan and Community Wildfire Protection Plan to ensure safety of the community
  • Implement Foothills Fire Management Plan
  • Approve actions needed to advance final construction phase of Public Safety Building and begin preparations for move-in (estimated move Q4 2023)
  • Approve next steps for the rebuild of Fire Station №4 project (specifically design and entitlements)
  • Approve resources and consultant to study and develop seismic and resiliency ordinance

Reduction of noise and air quality pollution

  • Update gas-powered leaf blower ordinance and enforcement plan
  • Implement a strategy for the provision and promotion of unleaded fuel at Palo Alto Airport
  • Approval of quiet zone implementation (rail/train crossings)
  • Engage with the SFO Roundtable on SFO’s Ground Based Augmentation System (GBAS) project and other potential opportunities to decrease SFO noise impacts on Palo Alto

Advance Housing Plans

  • Expand housing opportunities through the initiation of a Downtown Housing Plan: includes approval of project funding and a consultant contract
  • Advance local and state housing interests through a HCD-compliant Housing Element
  • Advance vision for North Ventura Coordinated Area by adopting a coordinated area plan

Areas of further Council discussion

Objectives for further discussion by the Council, as noted in the staff report here, include the following list:

  • Commercial dewatering requirements
  • A location for La Comida in North Palo Alto
  • Advance planning for the sea level rise and adaptation plan
  • Preliminary plans for Area Plan at San Antonio and housing zoning upgrades for Cal Ave, Downtown and El Camino Real
  • Adopting a safe system policy
  • Increase youth mental health support and funding
  • Evaluate funding and plan to return library services to pre-pandemic levels
  • Remove parentheses under bullet one for Housing for social and economic balance

A recent progress report shares 2022 priorities and status updates on existing projects, some of which will continue in 2023 through the Council’s selection of new priorities.

Council Workshop Reflections; Positive Steps Forward

In closing at their retreat, the Council Members were asked to reflect on a takeaway from their first Workshop that would further their stated goal of productive deliberations and positive governance:

  • Vice Mayor Stone praised the day’s outcome that furthered coalition building, which he indicated was a sign of a productive Council likely to work well together.
  • Mayor Kou indicated her appreciation to staff for their efforts to support the Council priority setting.
  • Council Member Lauing observed that members were largely aligned on the high level priorities, and was thankful for the public for their input.
  • Council Member Veenker cited the demonstration of “teamwork” including residents, Staff, and Council. She stated, “The sense of team was enhanced today by people listening to each other and trying to get to a common goal in service of the City”.
  • Council Member Tanaka was “pleasantly surprised” to see the large number of community attendees and was thankful for the people of the City being so engaged and involved.
  • Council Member Burt appreciated the “ healthy discourse, back-and-forth, and open mindedness” of elected and resident input.
  • Council Member Lythcott-Haims commended Council Member Burt on his historical knowledge regarding City policies and shared her observations that this was helpful to new members.

Members indicated that it may be time to update and modernize the Priority Setting process to allow Council Members the time to focus on the priorities workplan and be clear about tradeoffs and right sizing of initiatives necessary to deliver on resident expectations with resources available. The Council’s Policy and Services Committee will review the workshop format as they prepare for the 2024 priority setting retreat.

To learn about the City Council, go here.

Learn More

February 6 Staff Report

Watch the Annual Council Retreat

2022 City Council Priorities Major Project Quarterly Update

Stay informed

Track the City Council’s Meetings and Agendas



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