Uploaded: Wed, Aug 15, 2007, 3:00 pm
'Slow growth'/'smart growth' survey launched
Palo Altans asked to balance neighborhood protection against economic and environmental cost of jobs-housing imbalance
A community survey that seeks to explore attitudes about growth, jobs and housing is being launched this week by a Palo Alto-based nonprofit organization that promotes "smart growth" as an alternative to long commutes to and from work.
Cities21, headed by lifelong Palo Altan Steve Raney, is promoting the online survey on the topic, which has been a sub-theme of Palo Alto for decades, relating mainly to the city's high ratio of jobs per households. Even though an online survey won't produce a scientifically valid response, he hopes the "grass roots approach" will open a dialogue on the issue, Raney said.
The survey and background information are at http://www.cities21.org/pa .
Palo Alto has long been cited as having one of the highest jobs/housing ratios anywhere, at well over two jobs per household, which create lengthy commutes for employees.
Raney said he hopes to interest the city in doing a more definitive survey that would help delineate the land-use choices involved and their impacts on the community and region. He said he has worked with Palo Alto-based economist Steve Levy in developing balanced questions, and with others to define broader impacts on the region and beyond.
An immediate issue is a proposed allocation of more than 3,500 housing units that the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has set for Palo Alto and Stanford University, which are calculated as a single unit for this purpose.
Palo Alto and other Bay Area cities have reacted negatively to the ABAG targets set forth in a "Regional Housing Needs Assessment," Levy noted.
ABAG has been assigned the job of encouraging additional housing throughout the Bay Area by the state, under the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). Similar housing goals have been set for other regions statewide, depending on their jobs base and other factors.
Raney said the 10-question survey leads to one underlying issue: "If the homes aren't going to go in Palo Alto, where should they be built?" He said commuting has implications for global warming and carbon emissions. He also acknowledged that increasing densities in some areas have negative consequences.
"There sometimes are just no good answers," he said.
But Levy said his interest goes beyond the global-warming issues, and he feels there may be other reasons that some people might support increased housing densities in areas where there is excellent access to transit, or where commutes could be shortened.
Under the state allotment for the region, "anybody who takes less (housing) means somebody takes more," Levy said.
Levy said he personally feels the ABAG allocations are essentially fair based on the Palo Alto jobs base, which seems to be rebounding after the dot-com bust of 2001.
"If anything, the numbers are low compared to what the (local) economy might produce in the next 20 years," he said.
Levy said there are no set penalties for failing to meet allocations, although there is some discussion in the Legislature about tying future funding for streets and highways infrastructure to cities that meet their housing allocations.
Palo Alto and other cities have until Sept. 25 to submit formal responses to ABAG about the current allocations, and ABAG has until next spring to submit a regional response to the state.
The issue of growth has been a major theme of Palo Alto politics and neighborhood concerns for the past half century. In addition to traffic concerns, residents have in recent years cited impacts on city "infrastructure," a term that encompasses everything from city services, libraries, schools, streets, parks and playfields for baseball, soccer and other sports.
Posted by Karen White
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 15, 2007 at 10:16 am
No, the reason the survey won't produce statistically robust results is that it is biased. Pro-growth "facts" from ABAG, possibly in an attempt to support outsized development projections, are published to introduce the survey. Thus a perceptual bias is introduced even at the outset. Some of the questions themselves pose false dichotomies and/or make assumptions that are open to challenge. (If someone would care to post the entire survey, these issues having to do with survey design will become clear.)
It should be pointed out that Steve Raney's firm, Cities 21, actively promotes building an elevated monorail system whose success, like the success of other transit, would depend on high density to push demand. Here's a link: Web Link Below is an excerpt from the Cites21 website:
"Sound bite: "Recent national studies conclude that there is no 'silver bullet' to reduce housing costs and traffic congestion. Cities21 disagrees. We have designed a real suburban silver bullet: less traffic, more housing, no taxpayer cost. Our design uses personal monorail and advanced cellphone technology to give people alternatives to driving alone and to reclaim parking spaces for better use."
Cities21 is a loose group of professionals conspiring at the nexus of: transit villages, real-estate in-fill, workforce housing, new mobility, natural capitalism, ITS-4-TDM, high-touch, and automated transit (all are defined below). We catalyze quantum efficiency gains at major activity centers, improving twenty-first century cities. The challenges are great, but the synergies between these concepts enable viral, large-scale change.
Transit villages: Transit villages, also known as transit-oriented development (TOD), are dense, vibrant communities within an easy walk of high quality train and bus systems. Benefits include: Reduced air pollution and energy consumption, open space preservation, improved mobility for children/seniors, and decreased infrastructure costs. A Bay Area example is the Calthorpe-designed Crossings 18-acre housing project (397 housing units) adjacent to a Mountain View Caltrain station. Berkeley Professor Robert Cervero's study of rail land value impacts demonstrates more than 100% increase in land value for office parcels (25% for residential) within 1/4 mile (easy walking distance) of Caltrain commuter rail stations in mixed-use (retail, office, and housing combined) districts. Transit is a "means" to a real-estate "ends." See transitvillages.org, calthorpe.com, Web Link.
The contribution of transit villages to a vibrant, sustainable future cannot be understated. For quantum change, dramatically larger transit villages - 70 times larger than typical transit villages - known as extended TOD, are needed. Extended TOD blankets much larger areas with a very high quality feeder/distributor transportation system, connecting with the train and bus systems, further reducing the need to drive."
Further, from the a 7/1/04 Mercury story, "Monorail Pitched to City Planners," an excerpt:
"To become a reality, Raney's brainstorm would require a large dose of cooperation from the city and Stanford University.
The word from Bill Phillips, managing director of real estate at the Stanford Management Company, was not promising. He said the technology is unproven and the ridership projections overly optimistic. Even when the technology matures, he said, the project would be better installed as part of a new business park, not Stanford's existing research park." The article can be read at Web Link
I have a hard time envisioning the kind of Disney-esque landscape Palo Alto would become, with an elevated monorail installed and residents packed like sardines to drive demand for it. And this is even without considering the monumental community impacts that this kind of density would bring Boston just spent mega-dollars to get rid of their unsightly elevated train system, and I can't imagine why we'd want to put one in.
Posted by Karen White
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 17, 2007 at 5:06 pm
With all due respect to Steve Raney and Steve Levy, my chief concern was that perceptual framing, in the form ABAG "facts," was used to introduce the survey before respondents could access even the first question. Here is the introductory page (Because Town Square would not accept an earlier post due to the number of URLs, I've eliminated some of them):
"By September 20, Palo Alto and all the cities in the Bay Area will be giving feedback to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) about the number of homes that each city is expected to build in the next eight years. Palo Alto's allocation has been raised substantially from the last round (1999-2006), because the new allocation criteria stress job levels, job growth and transit access. This is a very controversial subject. This survey is designed to gather data on attitudes and ideas about this issue facing Palo Alto.
Please click here to take the survey: (link eliminated)
For a diversity of perspectives, please see:
"The terrible choice between new Palo Alto homes and Global Warming," March 7 Weekly OpEd and Letter to Council. "Palo Alto has arguably the largest mileage-increasing 'jobs-housing imbalance' in the Bay Area, needing roughly 90,000 additional residents (added to the current 59,000 population) to 'balance' Palo Alto's 87,000 jobs." The state Climate Action Team identified "smart land use" as the second largest 2020 carbon dioxide reducer, with three primary strategies: density, transit oriented development, and jobs/housing balance: Web Link [Editorial by Steve Raney]
"Integrating life with neighborhoods and the broader world," July 18 Weekly OpEd. Feeling lucky to live in Palo Alto. Balancing regional interests versus local Palo Alto interests: Web Link [Editoral by Steve Levy]
"Housing numbers 'abnormally high,' city says. Palo Alto being asked by regional group to accommodate 13 percent more homes in city," July 25 Weekly article: Web Link
A few facts are provided below from the Association of Bay Area Governments' (ABAGs) document: "A Place to Call Home, Housing in the San Francisco Bay Area," Web Link
"The housing shortage takes a toll on individuals, families, and the entire Bay Area. The outward spread of development to provide less expensive housing leads to loss of open space and agricultural land and longer commutes. High housing costs also negatively affect social equality and economic growth."
"The high cost of housing is also an obstacle for businesses, universities, and community organizations trying to fill open positions, and is a barrier to attracting new employers to the area."
"It is time for Bay Area residents to come together to think broadly about how to accommodate future growth in a way that fosters vibrant communities and preserves the characteristics that make the Bay Area special."
In the 1999-2006 ABAG Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), the Bay Area produced fewer homes than ABAG requested - only 73% of the overall allocation. With each seven-year RHNA round, ABAG attempts to obtain new incentives and penalties to motivate cities to comply. During the 1999-2006 RHNA round, cities such as Piedmont, Larkspur, Atherton, and Menlo Park thumbed their nose at ABAG's allocation, producing very few homes.
During the 1999-2006, Palo Alto did very well in comparison to other affluent suburbs (see table below), and fared well compared to the entire Bay Area. Palo Alto was allocated 1,397 homes to build and produced more than that allocation (142%). As part of RHNA, ABAG also gives cities targets for affordable housing. Palo Alto produced 60% of the target for Very Low Income housing, 74% for Low Income housing, and 12% for Moderate Income housing.
[Table included here accessible at the Cities21 website: Allocation Produced Very low Low Moderate]
The 2007-2014 RHNA formula has been changed. Cities with transit stations and jobs/housing imbalance receive a correspondingly higher allocation. For 2007-2014, ABAG uses the following local factors in determining each city's housing allocation: 1) projected household growth (40% of allocation), 2) existing job levels (20%), 3) projected job growth (20%), 4) housing near transit (10%) and 5) jobs near transit (10%).
The total number of homes for the Bay Area for 2007-2014 has been finalized. By about September 20, cities can object to their allocations (170 pages of complaints have already been logged by ABAG), hoping that ABAG will assign some of that city's homes to other cities. Or, Palo Alto may "give" 500 homes to Menlo Park, if Menlo Park will voluntarily take that allocation. After September 20, ABAG will produce a near-final allocation. From there, cities can appeal the allocation, but any city's allocation reduction must be transferred to another Bay Area city.
More details on ABAG RHNA can be found at: [ABAG Planning Housing Needs link] For a short commute, home prices are high. For a long commute, home prices are low. The price of a home drops by $5,000 for every mile you move outside the Bay Area's core (see map at right).
In 1999, 27% of Bay Area citizens could afford a median priced home. By 2005, that number had dropped to 12%.
A wage of almost $30 per hour is needed to afford a two bedroom apartment in Palo Alto. On average, per hour, firefighters make $28, kindergarten teachers make $13, licensed nurses make $25, and janitors make $12."
Note that the entire discussion revolves around transit between jobs and housing, as though work-related commutes represented the preponderance of traffic. Instead, City planners figure that each residential unit brings 6-10 car trips. Even if 2-4 are eliminated through perfect job-to-home public transit, our community is left with impacts from 2-8 additional trips.
As for affordability, a review of cost per square foot of housing and prices generally will demonstrate that 1) new construction costs more than homes constructed in earlier years and 2) the cost per square foot has risen, even as new homes have been built. More housing units mean units that are most costly.
Finally, housing is not fungible. Many families would not trade their half-acre and home a few miles away for a small two-bedroom apartment next to our CalTrain station.
Remember the quote from the Cities21 website, "transit is a 'means' to a real estate 'ends'"? ABAG numbers and transit-talk merely reflect the work of organizations such as California Building Industry Association and Home Builders Association in Sacramento, influencing policy. Cities need not accept the builders' wish list, i.e., "allocations." Again, sensible growth in Palo Alto will be much smarter.
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 17, 2007 at 8:44 pm
Let's look at some of your assumptions:
Why should we assume that residential unit car trips cannot be brought down further than your projections (btw, what's your source for those projections?)?
INnill and other near-transit development - INCLUDING near-transit development would most likely take residentioal trips further down than you project - not to mention already-housed residents who would benefit from nearby commercial/residential infill development, further reducing THEIR intra-urban car trips. Where's the number for that variable?
It's one thing to quote numbers, but entirely another to limit the multiplier benefits of infill housing. There are other beneficial variables, as well. How much is it worth to the quality of education of our children to have their teachers living nearby? How about the police, fire personnel, retail workers, etc.?
There is a LOT of innovation happning in materials construction. Why should we assume - even with rising land costs - that further innovation won't bring down the rising cost of new housing? What's to keep a developer from considering the construction of more-homes-per-acre scenarios if they can build the homes cheaper, passing *some* savings on to prospective buyers. This is a potential win-win. Why not encourage it? Why not talk it up to the banks, and other housing financiers?
What about housing assistance plans for intra-urban professionals, like teachers, police and fire personnel, etc.? What about a long-term housing benefit program in lieu of other, more immediately costly benefits? there are many ways that programs like that could be structured.
What makes you assume that housing is not fungible, as a stable conclusion? Sure, most new residents coming to Palo Alto want room to roam, but how would space, materials construction, and financing innovations change all that?
90% of Europeans don't own a home, but they seem to be doing fine.
Also, many families WITHOUT a home - or whoh have many hour daily commutes - would happily trade their rental unit (or long commute) for an opportunity to live in smaller Palo Alto homes. The urban (and near suberban) future does not favor the large single family home. Exurbia is where that scenario will continue to play out, long-term.
Last, it's somewhat disingenuous to quote from the "Cities21" website, regarding their statements about transit, and then place your own conclusions about how ABAG, Cities21, etc. are manipulated by home building associations. Why? Because Cities21 and ABAG are also influenced by those who want slower growth, or no growth. I refer to the 200+ pages of complaints you mention earlier.
In fact, in your last paragraph, you commit the same sin that you have accused Mr. Raney of, which is really no sin at all. Having an opinion, and clearly stating your bias, is not a sin, unless those who don't agree are afraid of having a wide-open discussion.
You have clearly stated your bias - that being toward "sensible" growth. (which, btw, is a lot more fuzzy than Mr. Raney's far more specific bias, as shown in the survey.
We all have agendas - me, you, Mr. Raney, etc.
The latter has been far more forthcoming in stating the details of his bias than anyone else on this thread calling for "no growth", or o"measured growth", or "sensible growth"
I would love to see more surveys put up, with stated biases. Then we might for the first time get a glimpse of what the anti-growth, or "sensible" growth contingents want, in specifics. That would be interesting, because until now - in spite of reams written and spoken - I have never been able to figure out just exactly what limited or sensible growth people want, as they seem to oppose most prosepective developments, or want to delay them until they self destruct under the weight of litigation or sheer resistance.