News

Palo Alto's year of disruptions

How residents created a turbulent year for City Hall

When Mayor Greg Scharff chaired his first City Council meeting in January, he referred to 2013 as the "year of the future," a year when the city would take giant strides in tackling long-term problems and make big decisions that would shape it for decades to come.

The city was to come up with ways to pay for fixes of its flagging infrastructure, give the city's masses ultra-high-speed access to the Internet, figure out what to do about the lease of Cubberley Community Center in south Palo Alto, and provide relief to downtown residents whose streets have become de facto parking lots for commuters.

It would be the year when the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, the crown jewel of the $76 million bond voters approved in 2008 and the city's largest infrastructure projects in decades, would finally open.

But things didn't go as planned, and by the time December came around, the council's focus was no longer on chasing dreams. Instead, it was on fixing a political system that many in the city have come to see as broken, highlighted by a citizen revolt that in many ways defined 2013 in Palo Alto.

To be sure, the year that Scharff dubbed "Lucky '13" in January brought its fair share of proud achievements, national plaudits and successful initiatives, from the hugely successful National Day of Civic Hacking, which turned downtown Palo Alto into a festival of gizmos, gadgets and TED-style talks, to the council's adoption of a carbon-neutral electricity portfolio, a Holy Grail of energy sustainability that very few cities have been able to reach. (See sidebar.)

Despite these accomplishments, 2013 was largely a year of disruptions. Time and again, Palo Alto citizens rose up to demand change and challenge their leaders' decisions, with varying degrees of success.

This was the year of citizen engagement and enragement, of sweeping proposals, widespread frustrations and clipped ambitions. The uproar over parking shortages downtown spread to other sections of the city. The public tide swelled and turned against massive office developments that exceed the city's zoning code and affect quality of life. Residents, with support from a minority of council members, took a stand against the latest architecture trends. Economic tranquility was overshadowed by political turbulence. And time and time again, things didn't go as city officials expected -- or at least hoped.

The orchard revolution

The year's biggest surprise, and the clearest case of citizen-led disruption, was the battle over a planned development of low-income apartments and market-rate homes on Maybell Avenue.

What began in the spring as a disagreement over road safety along the crowded school route morphed over the summer into a citywide revolt against oversized developments intruding on residential neighborhoods. It culminated in a fall referendum election, known as Measure D, that shook up the city's development process and prompted a winter soul-searching for city officials about the future of local development.

Opponents of the proposed housing project, which was to include 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 15 single-family homes (the council later reduced the number to 12), in the spring asked the City Council to retain the land's existing lower-density zoning. Many criticized the council for loaning $5.8 million to the nonprofit developer, Palo Alto Housing Corporation, in 2012 for the purchase of the 2.4-acre site. Others pointed to the city's inclusion of the 60 proposed apartments in its state-mandated inventory of affordable-housing, which created an impression that the project's approval was predetermined. The council's unanimous vote in June to approve the higher-density zone change did little to dent that impression.

That's when the Green Acres neighborhood skirmish became a citywide issue. Sympathetic residents from Downtown North and land-use watchdogs from College Terrace joined the opposition, as did critics of the city's controversial "planned community" zoning, which allows developers to exceed the city code in exchange for negotiated "public benefits." Residents who worried about new buildings throughout town and the traffic and parking problems they could trigger also opposed the Maybell development.

By July, opponents had secured nearly 4,000 votes for a referendum on the council's approval, far more than was needed to send the issue to a vote. On Nov. 5, an Election Day few had seen coming just four months prior, voters struck down the council's vote by about 2,000 votes, with nearly 8,500 residents opposing the measure and 6,500 supporting it. The Maybell development was halted.

For people like Cheryl Lilienstein and Joe Hirsch, leaders of the "Vote Against D" campaign, the Election Day message was evident: Residents want city leaders to listen to them and respect the zoning code.

"Voters sent a very clear message that Palo Altans don't like what is routinely being approved by City Hall and all of its various bodies," Hirsch told the council on Dec. 2, at a meeting on the "Future of Palo Alto" that Scharff and City Manager James Keene arranged, largely in response to the Measure D vote.

For the City Council, the residents' message was at best mixed. Councilwoman Karen Holman saw the election as a sign that residents are dissatisfied with the quality of new developments. Councilman Larry Klein, who has spent 18 years on the council, wasn't so sure. He listed the various referendums he has lived through, including the ones by which the voters upheld the creation of Oregon Expressway, approved the extension of Sand Hill Road to El Camino Real and shot down a downtown "superblock" consisting of two 10-story office buildings. In some cases, Klein said, the vote supported growth and in others it opposed it.

The goal of the council, he said on Dec. 2, isn't to halt development or try to preserve a small college-town feel that the city hasn't had for decades but to adjust to growth and strike a balance between development and neighborhood preservation.

Though council members talked about reforming the planned-community (PC) zoning process, no one proposed abolishing it. Scharff said that what the city needs is for the community to "buy into the PC process," acknowledging its potential benefits, rather than fear it.

In considering the significance of Measure D, former Mayor Dick Rosenbaum pointed to two enormous development projects whose presence, and the city's handling of them, primed this year's citizen unrest: an office-and-theater complex that billionaire philanthropist John Arrillaga proposed last year for 27 University Ave. and two office buildings that developer Jay Paul proposed for 395 Page Mill Road, a project that also included a new police station for the city.

"It was the presence of these projects in the pipeline that made the Maybell referendum a subject of citywide interest," Rosenbaum said. "The results sent a message to the City Council. You are not going to demonstrate that you have received the message until you direct staff to notify the two applicants that the development climate has changed from what it was when they were encouraged to submit their applications, and they are no longer likely to be approved."

While the council's Dec. 2 discussion was broad-ranging, it ended with little consensus other than that the conversation should continue in 2014.

Developers, for their part, appear to have gotten the message. Arrillaga's 27 University Ave. has been conspicuously absent from the City Hall agenda in 2013. After a public outcry a year ago about city officials' secrecy and apparent promotion of this proposal, the council agreed in June to seek community involvement in the creation of a vision for the site near the downtown Caltrain station. At the Dec. 2 meeting, Scharff described Arrillaga's proposal as "dead." City officials still talk about creating an "arts and innovation district" at 27 University, but no one seems to know exactly what that means.

Jay Paul's proposal for Page Mill Road met a more sudden end. After nearly two years of plan revisions and public meetings, the developer decided on Dec. 16 to pull the plug. Residents had been criticizing the proposal for its density, a new traffic study pointed to "significant and unavoidable" delays at key intersections, and embattled council members are heading into an election year in 2014. Then there was that Maybell vote.

In its letter withdrawing the application, Jay Paul cited the "current political climate" and pledged to evaluate its options for the site "at some future date."

Space wars

Until recently, Paul Machado didn't know what a Comprehensive Plan was or what "concept plans" are supposed to do. This year, the resident of the leafy Evergreen Park neighborhood near California Avenue was one of many Palo Altans to get a crash course in land use and planning issues.

For Machado, much like for Downtown North's Neilson Buchanan, Professorville's Ken Alsman and Ventura's Chris Donlay, the civic engagement was spurred by frustration and anxiety over new developments and their implications for parking and traffic.

Frustration over these issues is nothing new in Palo Alto, but 2013 was the year in which citizens supplemented their complaints with concrete actions.

On Dec. 2, Machado told the council that coming to City Hall and learning about housing mandates and zoning laws made him feel frustrated, "like an air-hockey puck." Yet like many other Palo Altans who became familiar this year with the Comprehensive Plan, the city's land-use bible, he is doing his part to lessen the potential problems that the new developments could bring.

In early fall, he joined the growing citizen movement aimed at measuring the city's parking problem. Buchanan, a retired El Camino Hospital CEO, led the charge when he developed and put to use a method for measuring parking problems near his Bryant Street home. Using the you-can't-manage-what-you-can't-measure logic, he began cruising around the neighborhood at 6 a.m. and counting the parked cars on each side of the block. He would then repeat the process at lunch time, after downtown workers had arrived. In the end, he had a map showing both the intensity of the parking problem on each block and the boundaries of the areas that were affected. Not surprisingly, most of the blocks were dark red (signifying more than 90 percent occupancy), what Buchanan called "the real color of Palo Alto."

He didn't stop there. In July, he and his neighbor Eric Filseth unveiled a computer model that shows the parking problem spreading to other neighborhoods, including Crescent Park and Old Palo Alto, as recently approved developments come online and further exacerbate downtown's parking deficit. Filseth and Buchanan used the city's recent estimate that downtown had a shortage of about 901 spaces and added up all the new spaces that would become necessary once large and parking-deficient developments such as Epiphany Hotel and Lytton Gateway are built. By 2015, they estimated that the daily parking shortage would rise to 2,500 spaces.

Their model, they noted, allows users to adjust methodological assumptions (including the percentage of office workers who would drive and the impacts of local initiatives like the new valet-parking program at the High Street garage) and is applicable to other neighborhoods.

Buchanan's low-tech method for surveying the neighborhood was also eminently exportable. By fall, he had taught the technique to Machado and to Donlay, whose neighborhood just south of California Avenue was inundated by plans for large new developments this year. By the end of the year, Palo Alto's parking watchdogs had maps detailing the day-time parking troubles in all three neighborhoods.

Donlay, who gathered parking data for the Ventura neighborhood, became a regular critic of the plans targeting his neighborhood. In November and December, he attended numerous public hearings on the Jay Paul Company plans for 395 Page Mill Road, and he challenged the developer's parking estimates.

Even though Jay Paul Company withdrew its proposal in mid-December, Donlay's neighborhoood will soon welcome a nearly block-long mixed-use building around Equinox Gym, thanks to the council's approval of the project in November. Two other proposed developments include a four-story "planned community" office building on the corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road and a mixed-use building that would replace four dilapidated homes on the 400 block of Page Mill.

The citizen outcry over parking shortages, both in years past and this year, has spurred action by the City Council, though by the time 2013 ended solutions remained far beyond the horizon.

But the grassroots effort to gather data on parking have lent force to the residents' arguments. At the Dec. 2 meeting about the city's future, Scharff lauded Buchanan's work and acknowledged that parking "is a real problem and it is definitely degrading the quality of life." The city, he said, is moving in the right direction, though "slower than I'd like."

This year, Palo Alto hired a parking manager, closed numerous parking loopholes for new developments, discussed ways to fund new garages and began holding outreach meetings on a newly designed "residential parking permit program," which would extend color zones to downtown neighborhoods and allocate some permits on the residential streets to downtown workers.

Yet the year saw no real breakthrough. Though the council was scheduled to get its first look at the long-awaited residential parking-permit program on Dec. 16, its final meeting of the year, the discussion never happened because most of the meeting was taken up by citizens appealing the designs of recently approved downtown buildings.

It was a fittingly underwhelming conclusion to a year when many felt not enough was done to solve the parking crisis. Buchanan, for one, wasn't too enthused about the proposed parking-permit program, which he and several residents from Professorville and Crescent Park criticized in a white paper as too complex and "destined to fail."

"We thought we were getting a Tesla, but we ended up with an Edsel," Buchanan said as he was heading for the exits during the council's final meeting of the year.

Clash of the beholders

If parking was one area of civic dissent, local architecture was another. After years of grumbling about the look and feel of new developments -- the tightly packed Arbor Real townhouses on El Camino Real; the fortress-like housing development at 801 Alma St.; the supermarket at Alma Village that greets drivers on Alma with its rear end; and the glass, modern four-story office buildings springing up downtown -- critics took their disapproval to the next level this year.

Douglas Smith, a self-avowed traditionalist when it comes to architecture, led the charge. Over the summer, the downtown resident launched a campaign in defense of arches, columns, stucco facades and other flourishes associated with downtown's prominent Spanish Revival style. First, he put together an online survey asking respondents to choose their preference among dozens of pairings, each featuring a modern and a traditional building. The admittedly non-scientific survey, which drew more than 900 responses, showed a clear majority favoring tradition over modernity and agreeing with his assessment that the boxy, glassy new developments are incompatible with the traditional buildings designed by Birge Clarke and others. Then he began filing appeals over new downtown projects that he argued are incompatible with the scale and look of surrounding buildings.

At the Dec. 9 council meeting, Smith emphasized that his appeal of 240 Hamilton Ave. goes beyond the project and pertains to bigger questions over future development.

"Will the city develop its unique Palo Alto identity or will it soon be transformed into an anonymous face, like so many others?" Smith asked.

The council in both cases upheld the Architectural Review Board's earlier approval of the developments. During the long discussion of 240 Hamilton Ave., the council majority agreed with Councilwoman Liz Kniss, who celebrated the variety of architectural styles downtown. The council, Kniss said, has made "concerted decisions" over the years to encourage architectural diversity.

"We have diversity in our population, we have diversity in what we offer in our stores and our restaurants, and I think we offer diversity in our buildings," Kniss said on Dec. 9.

Councilman Larry Klein and Councilwoman Gail Price also spoke in favor of encouraging a wide variety of styles, both traditional and modern.

"We are known for our innovation, our creativity, our pride in the history of Palo Alto," Price said. "But we are also a city of diverse architectural styles, reflecting different periods."

But the effort of Smith and others to disrupt the recent architectural trend toward massive facades and buildings located seemingly at the street's edge have already had an effect. Dozens of residents attended Smith's December appeal hearings to voice their frustrations to the council. Others who had long railed about the in-your-face designs of new buildings united earlier in the year with the Vote Against D campaign to oppose the Maybell development.

In April, responding to years of residents' criticism of development, the council embarked on an effort to change the design guidelines for new buildings on El Camino and Alma streets. In discussing this effort, Councilwoman Karen Holman borrowed Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's famous description of architecture as "frozen music" and declared that Palo Alto's recent developments are "out of tune."

Holman was one of four council members -- with Scharff, Price and Greg Schmid -- who signed a colleague's memo calling for a "course correction." The council members acknowledged that several new developments are inconsistent with design guidelines and that this has "generated consternation in the community" and a "strong negative reaction by members of the public."

Progress in this area has been painfully slow and, just like with parking, plenty of consternation remained as the year came to a close. But thanks to local disrupters, residents have plenty of reasons to hope for a better 2014.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2013 at 10:59 am

My sole issue with the City Council is and will be their stewardship for residential neighborhood quality of life. The comp plan states clearly "to encourage commercial enterprise, but not at the expense of the city's residential neighborhoods.....preserve the character of adjacent neighborhoods."
My Downtown North neighbors and I acknowledge the City Council and Staff effort to turn back the tide of commuter parking/traffic within 8 neighborhoods adjacent to the University and California commercial cores, but the action plans still are vague, without timelines and unfunded.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe Baldwin
a resident of University South
on Dec 27, 2013 at 11:00 am

Perhaps we can elect to Council more professional managers (e.g. Neilson Buchanan) and fewer lawyers and commercial property owners.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Heartily agreed
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2013 at 11:08 am

I agree wholeheartedly with Joe Baldwin. The lawyers on the council are mostly just smooth talkers, as are many lawyers. The commercial property owners and investors have a huge conflict of interest and should recuse themselves ( everywhere else they are required to by law).

Neither are looking out for the residential neighborhoods, which is supposed to be their #1 priority.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2013 at 11:11 am

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Joe Baldwin, but I have no ambition for any elected office. It is time for younger, brighter citizens to step forward and guide the city to a better future than what I see ahead with current planning policies.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Typical of Palo Alto Majority
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 27, 2013 at 11:15 am

Not knowing what constitutes a Concept Plan, or how the plan based on input from residents and other stakeholders fits into the City Comprehensive Plan, 'til the 11th hour (after it has been discussed & reported, ad nauseum & for years) is typical of the majority of Palo Alto residents, that are asleep.


It is only when they are directly affected, like something is happening a block away from where they live, or in a district they frequent, will they open their eyes to the reality that the minority of residents & stakeholders have been interested in, aware of, and participating in, for years.

Is it really the City's fault, when residents choose to close their eyes to their surroundings? How many people even now do not know what constitutes a Concept Plan and how it fits into the City Comprehensive Plan? I'd say 95% of the City, don't know and they don't care, at least not right now.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Nope
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2013 at 11:21 am

@Neilson Buchanan...the younger people want to urbanize, make PA more like SF, so that it will be more exciting.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Marion Odell
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2013 at 11:26 am

I was pleased to see tickets being given to cars yesterday, parked in the red zones around driveways. Our driveway is often obstructed and this is a positive move by the city, especially if it continues.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2013 at 11:31 am

Typical,

"Is it really the City's fault, when residents choose to close their eyes to their surroundings? How many people even now do not know what constitutes a Concept Plan and how it fits into the City Comprehensive Plan? I'd say 95% of the City, don't know and they don't care, at least not right now."

How is a new resident supposed to find these things? We don't get a packet with a copy of the Comprehensive Plan, or an email with links. Yes please, do share what is a Concept Plan in Palo Alto?

PLEASE can someone actually spell out how to get a copy of the Comprehensive Plan and Concept Plan from the city website? or is it only available hard copy, and where would that be?




 +   Like this comment
Posted by nimbys
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 27, 2013 at 11:49 am

NIMBYs don't want no poor people in Palo Alto.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 27, 2013 at 12:03 pm

> PLEASE can someone actually spell out how to get a copy of
> the Comprehensive Plan and Concept Plan from the city website?

PA Comprehensive Plan:
Web Link

Downloadable:
Web Link

As unhelpful as the PA Web-site often tends to be, most of the main/key documents can be located with the "Search" Function.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Typical of Palo Alto Majority
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 27, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Every city has a "Comprehensive Plan" or a "Master Plan", or something by another name, functioning as a Citywide Master Plan. It is not unique to Palo Alto.

Are you expecting residents that have been involved for 10 years or more, on these plans are to wait until all newcombers weigh in (editing) plans that have been in the works, for years? Nothing would ever get done.

News Flash to New Residents: before you buy in any area, go to City Hall and see what interested old-timers have been up to, prior to buying.

If you like what their vision is, great. If not, go somewhere else. Problem solved.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 27, 2013 at 12:51 pm

@Nope ….".the younger people want to urbanize, make PA more like SF, so that it will be more exciting."

come one…. there are many big cities you can enjoy, visit, move to with out making the claim that every place needs to be so urban. If you're bored move to San Francisco; if SF bores you move to Chicago New York Rome or Barcelona…..

Pahleeze don't say you represent "young" people.
maybe some , maybe not many others.

We have a comp plan, zoning laws etc….and expectations that our city staff and elected leaders will respect the law.

If you do not enjoy Palo Alto you need not reside here.
the benefits and amenities of living in a great city are obvious, as are the contrasting benefits of living in a smaller city like Palo Alto. Pick what you like but don't try to make one into the other!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paco
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2013 at 2:54 pm

A City Council out of touch with it's residents (city council recommends blue ribbon committee to study citizens needs and concerns) and an inept city manager who is a rubber stamp yes man for the city council and who offers no ideas of his own for the future of Palo Alto (even though being paid a salary and benefits package exceeding $500,000 a year). What a losing combination! While city council members shamelessly brag to their constituents that they had dinner with well financed developers and are convinced that residents are unaware or uneducated enough to understand the complexities of the developers needs, well, maybe it is a time for a change. Lifetime politicians and bad city management have clearly offered residents no future or forward progress. Mayor Scharff, your "year of the future" has failed miserably. What a pity!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Adrian
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 27, 2013 at 2:59 pm

@anon I totally agree with @nope. I was born and raised in PA, lived there my whole life. I'm a young person. I'm an urban planner. I don't want to move to Chicago, or SF.

Also, to everyone talking about comp plans and concept plans: they are intended as documents full of lofty goals and objectives. They are not meant to be followed to the letter. The word "plan" is totally misleading.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 27, 2013 at 3:34 pm

> I'm an urban planner. I don't want to move to Chicago, or SF.

You may be "young", and you may be an "urban planner" .. but you don't own all of the private property in the City, which is owned by thousands of people who worked their lives to pay off their mortgages, raise their families, and want to pass of that opportunity to their children.

If you really want to make Palo Alto like SF (including the higher taxes, higher crime, and wretched delivery of municipal services), then why not buy up all of the property--so you can do what you will with the place.

Until then--it doesn't belong to you!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 27, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Adrian,
the following is the intro to Palo Alto's Comp plan. Perhaps you should read the final sentence?

Ordinances are enacted to implement the goals stated in the comp plan.

"Comprehensive Plan
The Comprehensive Plan is the primary tool for guiding the future development of the City. On a daily basis the City is faced with tough choices about growth, housing, transportation, neighborhood improvement, and service delivery. A Comprehensive Plan provides a guide for making these choices by describing long-term goals for the City's future as well as policies to guide day-to-day decisions."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 27, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I was born and raised in Palo Alto and lived here my whole life. I'm not a young person. Palo Alto has been exciting enough for me as is, so full of opportunity that an inordinate number of extremely talented and/or wealthy people have moved in from world-over. San Francisco may be a nice place to visit, but too much excitement is bad for your health. Reading about recent protests, they apparently don't want us living up there anyway.

I don't own enough of Palo Alto to carry much weight, but my vote often counts for three or four given our low election turn-outs. A little activism also goes a long way. I don't have plans to leave.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Wayne Martin,

I once used the search on the city website, and not sure what all I hit but had not found the downloadable version - thanks for the link.

Typical,

"News Flash to New Residents: before you buy in any area, go to City Hall and see what interested old-timers have been up to, prior to buying."

I now have a copy of the CP thanks to WM. Now wondering if the interested old-timers are responsible for getting the current City Council elected. It does not take long to figure out that there is a disconnect between the council members and what the activists mentioned in this article are trying to do. If you're just being rude to a new resident for asking where to find a copy of the comprehensive plan, there seems to also be a disconnect between the interested old-timers and possibly new interested residents.


Adrian,

"I was born and raised in PA, lived there my whole life. I'm a young person. I'm an urban planner. I don't want to move to Chicago, or SF.

Also, to everyone talking about comp plans and concept plans: they are intended as documents full of lofty goals and objectives. They are not meant to be followed to the letter. The word "plan" is totally misleading."

As an urban panner, how do you reconcile the word "planner" with your comment that "the word "plan" is totally misleading."?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2013 at 6:36 pm

It seems like the city council as a whole has bought into the developers mantra that every available square inch in Palo Alto should be developed because this is just unavoidable due the enormous and skyrocketing value of Palo Alto land and the that city needs to urbanized and assume a new character and identity, more in tune with Manhattan, Los Angeles, and other urban centers. Some council members have business connections to those developers, which is highly worrisome. They pay lip service to the notion of preserving the city's identity and character in the face of the development blitzkrieg, but it's doubtful any of them is really serious about it. They just don't seem to meet a development project they don't like.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Re the "enormous and skyrocketing value of Palo Alto land,"

Web Link
757 Moreno Ave Sold on 12/3/13: $1,900,000
• Bedrooms: 2 beds
• Bathrooms: 1 bath
• Single Family: 988 sq ft
• Lot: 6,600 sqft
• Year Built: 1947


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Good changes
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 28, 2013 at 4:56 pm

One category missing from this story is the star of the disruptions: Electronic Communications among Palo Altans. Another would be Palo Alto's Intelligent Grassroots. I have never in my life witnessed so many ultracompetent people willing to step up to do what it takes to help their town. (It's such a tragedy that the City pushed PAHC to ignore that and instead oppose rather than work with people in the community.)

@ Neilson,
It's time we changed our City Council to a district representative model and made Council positions full-time, paid positions. Most people, especially young people, cannot afford to leave their jobs to take such a commitment on what is basically a volunteer basis. No wonder the Council is disproportionately representing developer and moneyed interests. We should probably have fewer Councilmembers, but if they work full-time, their first job would be to eliminate and consolidate City Staff positions made redundant when Councilmembers become full-time, so it could be a revenue neutral or even revenue saving proposition.

In order to make it happen, there needs to be a commitment to the nuts and bolts examination of city code and how to change it that Bob Moss is doing with PC zoning, or that the Maybell neighbors did with their referendum. If someone were to come up with something now, a proposal to read in City Hall followed by an initiative (when Council rejects it), it would be on the June ballot, cost relatively little, and signal to qualified prospective Councilmembers NOW -- who could never otherwise afford to consider be Councilmembers -- that they might consider running for a paid position. We desperately need better people.

At the same time as changing the City Council, maybe it's time we set up a Citizens Enforcement Committee that serves as an official watchdog over the administration of the rules and regulations, and the consistency with the Comprehensive Plan. The rest of us would love if you might consider serving on such a thing.

If you believe we need better people, please pass around this idea that maybe it's time CC positions were paid, full-time positions, and that we could let go some of the staff positions if so. City Council would spend more time working at their jobs and would necessarily need to be more directly answerable to the public.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2013 at 6:54 pm

@Good changes
A Citizen's Enforcement Committee is exactly what we need. All projects,
public and private, need to be signed off by such a committee for compliance
with basic design, aesthetic standards, functionality. This overview function would apply as well to everything the City does in the area of lane reductions, street signage.

Review of "functionality" would pertain to parking issues,lot coverage affecting neighboring properties, building height, as well as design and aesthetics. Only good projects get approved. Period. We have a broken government right now which is resulting in the destruction of the City. Just the existence of such a committee with overview power would result in better projects being submitted in the first place.

The pendulum has swung so far in one direction in Palo Alto that we need to pull it back the other way and this is how you do it. It doesn't require a great deal of analysis to realize that these projects and actions by the City are wrong, destructive of the character and qualtity of life in the City.

The financial benefits of investing in Palo Alto are too great for the private sector to run away from. The City should be in the "driver's seat", in control of its destiny, not the other way around as presently. If you want to do a project in Palo Alto it has to be acceptable on its face, in its basic parameters by a citizen committee, not approved in some contorted
way by the staff for supposed compliance with the Comp Plan, with findings
of no impacts, then rubber stamped by the ARB and Council.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2013 at 8:20 pm

> "It's time we changed our City Council to a district representative model and made Council positions full-time, paid positions. Most people, especially young people, cannot afford to leave their jobs to take such a commitment on what is basically a volunteer basis."

How much do you think "ultracompetent" people – young or old – are earning today?

How much do you think we would have to pay to lure them away from their current jobs to become full-time council members?

If you were an "ultracompetent" person working for one of the hot companies in this area, why would you give up an interesting job with lots of potential, a good salary, top benefits, probably stock options, free lunches, etc. to run for an office with term limits?

IMHO it's not money that keeps people from running for council. Most people lead busy interesting lives and don't want to put up with the grief (residents, legal issues, etc.). Unless one is truly interested in serving the public and/or intends to make a career of politics, what are the benefits?

Ask the people who have been visibly involved with recent hot issues in town if they would run for a council seat in November. Most will say no.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2013 at 8:36 pm

"A Citizen's Enforcement Committee is exactly what we need. All projects,
public and private, need to be signed off by such a committee for compliance
with basic design, aesthetic standards, functionality. This overview function would apply as well to everything the City does in the area of lane reductions, street signage."

Theoretically, we already have such committees, e.g., the ARB and the Planning Commission. Unfortunately, they don't give a rap for the city's laws, e.g, the ARB was all in favor of the oversized signs for Grocery Outlet and Tesla. The ARB approved The Cheesecake Factory and 801 Alma.

We also have an Art Commission, whose members select art that some people hate and some people love.

Who would be on this "enforcement" committee? Who would nominate/elect/assign committee members?

Who would set the aesthetic standards? Some like Birge Clark. Some like modern.

Some say the young people want to urbanize the city. Is that true or is it a generalization? I know lots of young people with families who want single-family homes with back yards.

This is a slippery slope.


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Posted by Sangfroid
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 28, 2013 at 9:21 pm

By "young people" who wish to urbanize Palo Alto, I think that most of us are referring to single, wealthy young techies who want to live near where they work, NOT young marrieds with children.


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Posted by Adrian
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 28, 2013 at 9:37 pm

@Anon - Comp plans guide decisions and ordinances, but they are *not* binding. I still expect city staff, the public, and consultants to use their brains when considering ordinances or issues. Every decision needs to be evaluated in context, with the comprehensive plan in mind as guidance only. Unfortunately, this inherently messy process plays out differently every time... but so is making sausage.

@Wayne - I never said that I wanted make Palo Alto like SF. But I do believe that Palo Alto needs to densify, increase transit, and provide efficient public services. When property (re)development becomes too difficult to undertake (as I think it has in Palo Alto), developers take their projects and money elsewhere. Jobs follow. Your point that I don't own all the property in Palo Alto is not useful.

@please - I don't feel a need to reconcile my role as a planner with the fact that I think many plans are just guides. I make plans, they guide things, or they don't. They get built to spec, or they sit on a shelf and gather dust. This is my experience. The word "plan" makes it sound like "this is what's going to get built" - when it's really just a set of analyses, maps, and policies to guide some process. That sausage making process.

@all - I agree that some parts of the "Palo Alto Process" are broken and need to be fixed. But I don't believe the way to fix these issues is with more citizen engagement, more committees, and more plans. At some point, elected officials need to make decisions, and they will be voted in or out based on their decisions. I don't want Palo Alto to decline because we get so caught up in public arguments over development.. that development goes elsewhere. Cities need to change and adapt.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2013 at 9:50 pm

@Pat
A Citizen's Enforcement Committee would not impose subjective criteria
but simply establish boundaries for what can be done. Thus an unfettered Cheesecake Factory found in malls would not be allowed on University
Avenue. That decision would take about 2 seconds. Projects which are
4 stories underparked by more than 50 spaces near neighborhoods already
suffering parking overflow and outside the downtown parking assessment
district would be rejected as dysfunctional. That decision would take 3 seconds. Overbuilt, incompatible projects which are out of scale with
their surroundings would be rejected. Here we would be giving this power to
the residents since the ARB has not followed its own mandate. Outrageous projects which have become the norm in Palo Alto would just not happen and those which fail to live up to community standards would not be approved. After a learning curve, these same developers would not waste their time and embarrass themselves in the new reality and would stop submitting these proposals.

Committee members could be nominated by the various resident associations
around town, is one possibility.




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Posted by Good changes
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 28, 2013 at 10:16 pm

@pat,
"How much do you think "ultracompetent" people – young or old – are earning today?
How much do you think we would have to pay to lure them away from their current jobs to become full-time council members?"

I don't know the answer to that, but I can guarantee it's more than the $600/month honorarium we pay now. We should pay them based on what we think the job is worth, and to some extent, what we can afford to pay based on staff positions we can cut when we have full-time Councilmembers.

Not everyone is living on Easy Street in this town. A teacher's aide job pays about $15 or $20 an hour. I can think of a few aides and SAHM's with advanced degrees and relevant job experience who have given a lot to our community who would make great Councilmembers.

Manypublic service jobs don't pay as well as the private sector, but people still choose them because it isn't just about the salary. However, most people can't afford to work for free (or close to), and making our Council positions expensive to get (campaign costs) and hard to keep unless you are independently wealthy, sets us up for the kind of developer-centric makeup we have now. We should make them full-time positions where they work for the citizens of this City. Again, their first duty is to figure out how to pay for themselves by cutting positions that become redundant when they become full-time. (Maybe give them a bonus for cutting more! Performance pay...)


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Posted by please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Adrian,

You agree but disagree, this is so, but not really. It is, but not. You do manage to pepper in a supposed youthful vision for more density and transit in Palo Alto.

Density and more transit from youthful visions is code for a one bedroom you think you will be able to afford. You really want to live in a high rise in Palo Alto someday?

I hate to break it to you, but the one bedrooms that will be built will be expensive as all heck. Ask Ken de Leon what his clients will do with them. They are not going to be homes, they will be investments.


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Posted by Good changes
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 28, 2013 at 10:26 pm

@Adrian,
"I don't want Palo Alto to decline because we get so caught up in public arguments over development.. that development goes elsewhere."

I don't want Palo Alto to decline because our City Council prostitutes us to developers for their short-term profits and we end up losing our quality of life and open space to gridlock and urban blight. At some point, spillover development and even jobs to other communities that are reborn is a good thing. We do not have to continue to densify Palo Alto until it is unlivable.

We have some of the highest property values in the state because of some of the best schools in the state, which are in turn supported by the highest taxes by young families who move here for those schools. If Palo Alto becomes a permanently unpleasant place to live, that could all be lost and Palo Alto will become nothing but an ugly, urban wannabe that can't easily recover because of blighted development.

We do not need more development, densification, or even jobs. We do need to repair our infrastructure, pay attention to our transportation for the future, protect the environment, tend to protection and safety, and - if the comprehensive plan is any guide - support our neighborhoods. Overdevelopment works at cross purposes to that.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2013 at 8:12 am

Paying council members a bigger salary would not provide better candidates, although there may be more candidates. Running for office requires campaign donations, roughly $30,000+, and the established political networks are special interests: developers, affordable housing, Sierra club, etc. There is NO established political group for residents. Even if council members are paid, they would still be beholden to special interest groups because of the campaign money (congress, presidents, governors, state legislators are all paid salaries, and it hasn't helped elect better people).

The process in which candidates are vetted is flawed: candidate forums where softball questions get asked with no follow up, endorsements by the local newspapers (this has improved somewhat with 3 newspapers), and "coffees" held by the influential.

I hope the Weekly looks at their endorsement process, and do a post-mortem - were the reasons why they endorsed various candidates pan out? That would be a good story.


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Posted by Good changes
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 29, 2013 at 9:54 am

@common sense,
You make very good points. I think if we split up the Council to district representation, then people running would be from the neighborhood, from a small area, and it would be possible for it to be someone known in the community. It would be easier to represent the district and be accountable to the neighborhood, especially if the person was working full-time for the public and available to the public. The current crop don't bother to even answer most of the time.

Also, half of us live south of Oregon, but only two of the Councilmembers do. It's no accident that only the wealthiest can run and "serve" on the Council. Even if such a change only resulted in a few Councilmembers coming from different backgrounds, it would be worth it, because there would be other voices.

The Council have the same special interests trying to influence them now, it would be better if they themselves had to work full-time for our City, be accountable to a district in which they live, and didn't have to count on being hired by some architectural or law firm when they leave office in order to make it worthwhile for them to take the time. Many people can't afford to do something like that. Having Council positions be full-time and salaried means a much bigger pool of potential candidates as ordinary people could consider participating.

I am 100% in agreement with your points about how poor the process of the vetting the candidates has proved to be. But how do you know someone until the rubber hits the road, so to speak?


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2013 at 10:03 am

@ resident: "A Citizen's Enforcement Committee would not impose subjective criteria but simply establish boundaries for what can be done."

What's the difference between "subjective criteria" and "established boundaries"? We already have boundaries in laws and regulations. All too often, they are swept aside.

"Here we would be giving this power to the residents …"

Most of the current commissions/committees in town are already made up of residents, though I think ARB members don't have to live here.

I think what you are proposing would just swap one set of residents for another. And, no matter who they are, there will people who disagree with their decisions.

@ please: " … the one bedrooms that will be built will be expensive as all heck."

Absolutely true. A 537 square foot apartment at San Antonio and El Camino rents for $2885/month. Web Link

@ Adrian: "…development goes elsewhere."

Let it. People don't pay $1.9 million for a scraper because of dense development and horrific traffic jams.

I agree with common sense about the cost of campaigning and the election process. I know a candidate who ran many years ago at a cost of $40,000 – and lost. It's tough for newcomers because of the political machinery: unions, Sacramento politicians, developers, etc. All a matter of who you know. The League of Women Voters forums are pretty useless. There's no real debate and no opportunity to dig into key issues.

@ good changes: I agree that overdevelopment is at cross purposes to our neighborhoods, environment, etc.

"We should pay [council members] based on what we think the job is worth, and … based on staff positions we can cut when we have full-time Councilmembers."

The council is like a board of directors, not a group of 40-hour/week employees. Hopefully a good council would ensure that the city isn't overstaffed, but you can't replace a staffer with a council member.

"I can think of a few aides and SAHM's with advanced degrees and relevant job experience who have given a lot to our community who would make great Councilmembers."

I don't know what an SAHM is, but I don't see how a teacher's aide has relevant job experience to be a council member.

We need people with experience running a business, setting priorities, managing a budget, holding people accountable, negotiating with unions, understanding legal issues, … People like this typically already have well-paying jobs.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Dec 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Disruption is needed. When the majority of people who grew up or work in Palo Alto, and even those already living here, cannot or could not afford to live here, it means whatever you have been doing isn't working.


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Posted by RogueTrader
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm

It seems that much of the vitriol about overdeveloped, underparked, sprawling buildings is directed at the City council, but perhaps some energy should also be focused on the Planning commission and ARB. Can someone, perhaps Gennady, describe how these entities are run and overseen?

Here is an excerpt from a PA Daily article awhile ago that discussed the mistakes the city had acknowledged with "New Urbanism"

"City planners define new urbanism ... that translates into retail stores that abut sidewalks. No parking in front of stores, please, only in back.

Soon, the city's planning department adopted some of the principles and began telling developers this is the way we do it now.

Alma Plaza developer John McNellis told me his retail stores will be right next to the sidewalk because the city insisted on it.

Curtis Williams, the city's planning director, admitted the new urbanism principles "were not implemented well at Alma Plaza."

And Judith Wasserman, a member of the city's Architectural Review Board, acknowledged the design elements for the JCC, Alma Plaza and Arbor Real "didn't all work out well." (end quotes from PA Daily article Aug 2012)


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Posted by What is "working"
a resident of another community
on Dec 29, 2013 at 12:56 pm

If you are able to prevent new development, not add any housing or offices, while real estate multiplies in price, isn't that "working" for homeowners? The place will look the same. It will get even more affluent, but if you are a current resident, isn't that just as well?


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Posted by please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Rogue Trader,

If you look at the conversations on this thread, for every suggestion to fix the system, there is a but....Notice the posts which specifically address ARB and citizen enforcement.

After someone proposes solutions, there is always someone to shoot it down, or distract with some new problem or issue. People get worn out talking, and nobody fixes anything, at least not yet. Divide and conquer in Palo Alto governance just means distract and destroy (the town), or confuse and conquer - distract and confuse everyone long enough to maintain the status quo.

Who wins with the status quo - from what I'm observing so far, not the residents.

We need a lot more disruptions to make this not boring and stupid. I would agree with you that focus wouldn't hurt, and an investigative story of the way the ARB and Planning commission are structured would probably raise the hair in anyone's back.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2013 at 1:09 pm

raise the hair on anyone's back


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Russ Reich, senior planner, was quoted in the Palo Alto Weekly at Web Link
"City guidelines encourage buildings that create that urban edge, with more mixed-use in this area, so it was kind of a good opportunity."

In an email to me in July, Reich wrote: "City Guidelines encourage two and three story development on El Camino Real and the municipal code requires 50 % of the a new building to be built up to the setback line creating an "urban edge" rather that a sea of parking in front of the building. When I say "urban" I do not refer to extreme densities beyond our local City ordinances like San Francisco or New York. I simply speak of a development pattern that is more typically akin to urban development patterns and less sub-urban in nature. The typical suburban commercial development model is to have buildings placed far back from the street with a sea of parking in from of them. For many years Palo Alto has been trying to eliminate this pattern along El Camino Real in favor of a more pedestrian friendly urban design and less auto-dominated suburban design. Please see the Palo Alto Municipal code Section 18.16.090 Context-Based Design Criteria. believe this was adopted in 2006. Please also see the South El Camino Real design Guidelines from 2002."

Plan Bay Area is a big culprit, giving ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) the authority to dictate how many new homes each city must build. To his credit, Mayor Scharff voted against Plan Bay Area in July Web Link

Plan Bay Area was orchestrated and controlled by unelected regional bureaucrats to supplant the authority of local government. It forces residents dense stack-and-pack housing along mass transit corridors. Web Link

Unfortunately, state and regional organizations like ABAG, the League of California Cities and the Cities Association of Santa Clara County have more control over local issues than we realize.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Marlen
a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 29, 2013 at 3:47 pm

@pat

Not to burst your paranoid bubble, but if you have a better way to accomidate growth I'd be shocked if those in city hall weren't at least willing to listen.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2013 at 5:12 pm

@RogueTrader
How about adding the developers themselves to the list of those responsible
for the overdeveloped underparked buildings. Makes sense to me. In fact I
would put them at the top of the list.


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Posted by please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Resident

"@RogueTrader
How about adding the developers themselves to the list of those responsible
for the overdeveloped underparked buildings. Makes sense to me. In fact I
would put them at the top of the list. "

Residents can't fix o change developers. Developers have the least incentive or obligation to do anything to control anything. They are like children, they work the rules, and will try to break them as often as they can.

Unless they are socially motivated to protect trees, a view, the needy, homeless, or something other than money, they will build, build, build. What else does a developer do? And even when socially motivated, a developer will ask for a "deal."

IMHO If you change the rules on developers, they will survive (like children, they find something else to break). NO need to feel sorry for them, they are being handed a boat load of extra money from the desirability of Palo Alto, which was gained on the backs of residents.

Anyway, I cannot read through the entire Comprehensive plan - does anyone have a CP for dummies? Or quick tips for focusing on the important parts? A bit of history form some of the old timers wouldn't hurt.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2013 at 8:56 pm

@Please
Developers are getting a free ride due to our broken regulatory system.
But let's not give them a free pass at the same time by saying this to be expected, this is what developers do. It is not expected and it is
not acceptable and they should stop eating us alive.


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Posted by Good changes
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 29, 2013 at 10:45 pm

@Marlen,
"I'd be shocked if those in city hall weren't at least willing to listen."

Go spend some time yourself trying to talk to the hand at City Hall. Remember to tie yourself to ground.


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Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2013 at 10:33 am

Some good points about the city's process. There are some new innovations that could be adopted:

"Design sprints" (week-long intensive problem-solving and brainstorming) and high-tech participatory democracy (a la California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome's book Citizenville) can shrink 48-month public processes down to one week, with more innovative outcomes, higher impact mitigation, richer quantitative analyses, and increased public participation, all at much lower cost. More modern processes can increase the empathetic understanding of both sides of an issue.

As far as Palo Alto being a developer-run town, I don't agree. Palo Alto can be considered a "suburban edge city" with a region-leading jobs/housing imbalance (too many jobs, too few homes). Similar US edge cities (Tysons Corner, Denver Tech Center, Perimeter Center - there are about 200 of these places in the US) feature 30 story condos. It is interesting to observe PA voter objections to modest planning proposals within the context of other US edge cities. The other 199 US edge cities are all more developer-friendly.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm

> jobs/housing imbalance

Ah .. the reemergence of the mythical jobs/housing imbalance bugaboo ..

Nexus studies show that far more people work in a town than choose to live in that town. So, why would we want to put a planning structure in place that could well force people to live where they don't want to.

Suppose an office job requires 150-200 sq. feet for each employee. To house this worker, and possibly as many as 8-10 dependents, housing on the order of 2000 to 6000 sq feet would be required. And then there is all the support infrastructure needed to support this family (roads, schools, shopping, government services, etc). It doesn't take long to see that jobs have a huge cost on a community—and there may well be few compensations (at the community level) to offset the costs.

If we are going to use this silly concept, best to use the whole region as a basis for any calculation. Once the radius is large enough, the jobs/housing imbalance will usually converge on 1.0.

> "Design sprints" (week-long intensive problem-solving and brainstorming)

And just who has a week off to attend these "sprints"? Developers maybe, government planners maybe .. but what about concerned, working citizens. Probably NOT!

> Gavin Newsome

Good lord! Are you going to trot out this drug-using, adulterer as a model for our city planning now?

Thanks, but no thanks!!


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Posted by please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Steve Raney,

"As far as Palo Alto being a developer-run town, I don't agree."

Palo Alto is a developer-run City, if nothing else for all the time and space they demand.

By the way, any region that leads in jobs is prime ground for exploitation by developers and will be in a state of "inbalance" because it's never enough. More offices, more housing, more offices, more housing, building, building, building. Meantime, everyone is priced out, moved out - anything to get the turnover. Why would developers want to build in regions which have no jobs?

The politics and cheer that support all these theories for "fixing" housing imbalances are astonishing.


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Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Joe,

1. Reducing jobs-housing imbalance is an important part of CA SB375 (climate) Sustainable Communities Strategy policy as well as the state's Regional Housing Needs Allocation policy. There was a high bar for the state to cross to make an empirical "finding of fact" that reducing the imbalance benefits society. One key study:

A 2006 study by Robert Cervero and Michael Duncan of the University of California, Berkeley, concludes that locating housing next to jobs is the most effective strategy in reducing vehicle mileage (and generation of carbon dioxide). Their conclusions are detailed in an article, "Which Reduces Vehicle Travel More: Jobs-Housing Balance or Retail-Housing Mixing?" in the Autumn 2006 Journal of the American Planning Association.

2. There are many ways to increase public participation via a Design Sprint and do it in a way where many Palo Altans can participate from the comfort of their home while watching a short web stream and then ranking different options. I agree that the version of a Design Sprint that you envision would not be popular or productive.

3. In Citizenville, Gavin Newsome draws on his frustrations from his term as San Francisco's Mayor. Within public processes, loud citizen voices drown out others. Feedback is monopolized by a small, passionate group of people with hours of free weeknight time to spend sitting through plodding public meetings. At these meetings, staff/electeds spend four times longer than normal to say half as much, in order to not to offend anyone. The views of the too-busy-to-attend silent majority are ignored in favor of more extreme views. Old-fashioned processes enable defensive, obstacle-seeking strategies, dampening problem-solving creativity.

According to Newsome, "new digital tools can dissolve political gridlock and transform democracy." These tools address complex, messy, seemingly-intractable issues and augment citizen capacity to find ways through messy situations. Rapid-fire processes break down creative barriers.


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Posted by please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Steve Raney,

Oldest trick in the book, to blame a vocal minority (disruptions) for the problems. If the silent majority really disagreed with the vocal minority, there would be something to show for it.

Wouldn't it be easier if Newsome could please the money he needs for politics.

Forgot, there is only one other factor that exploits job producing regions, politicians.




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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2013 at 2:40 pm

> Reducing jobs-housing imbalance is an important part of CA SB375
> (climate) Sustainable Communities Strategy policy

Be that as it may, climate change is not going to be markedly affected by anything that the heavily Democratic/Union-centric, California legislature may edict, one way or another. Resolutions by poorly-educated legislators, unschooled in any basic science, much less that of the multiple disciples that comprise the nascent "climate" sciences are meaningless.

And don't forget, CA SB375 can be rescinded as quickly as it was passed into law.

> A 2006 study by Robert Cervero and Michael Duncan of the University
> of California, Berkeley, concludes that locating housing next to jobs
> is the most effective strategy
> in reducing vehicle mileage (and generation of carbon dioxide)

That's nice. But did they actually apply their "findings" against a real city of any significant size? For instance—New York City is a jobs magnet. People commute into the city by train, car, boat and plane. Most people would suggest that NYC is pretty built out. Did Messrs. Cervero and Duncan provide some maps of the "new" New York City (ie--all the new housing required to reduce commuting to ideally zero)?

People who live up the Hudson from NYC love their rural homes, and lifestyle. How do you, and these two academics, propose telling these commuters that they have to sell their homes, and move into the "new" New York City housing that they will be required to inhabit? (Same exercise for London would be interesting.)

> According to Newsome, "new digital tools can dissolve political gridlock
> and transform democracy."

That's nice. Is Newsome a software designer? Has he actually developed, debugged, and sold any of these tools? If not, what makes you believe he knows what he is talking about?

> These tools address complex, messy, seemingly-intractable issues and
> augment citizen capacity to find ways through messy situations.

What tools? Can you actually name these tools, their developers, and a list of clients who can attest to these claims?

> Rapid-fire processes break down creative barriers.

As well as making a lot of errors which will not be seen until later in the development process. Design takes time—no one who claims otherwise has any idea what they are talking about.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2013 at 7:08 pm

@Steve Raney
A "suburban-edge city" like Denver Tech Center, Perimeter Center?
That view is exactly what we are trying to refute in Palo Alto.
That is the developer mantra for the transformation of Palo Alto into
a bland office park. Palo Alto has no relationship to those places.
It is an historic City,of character, a community with a balance of residential, commercial,corporate, academic components in an environment
with defined infrastructure limits. Lytton Gateway is as overbuilt for its
site as the 30-story condos you mention. You are out in left field with your comments.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Good changes
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 4, 2014 at 1:54 am

People come here for the jobs and live here for the schools. Especially in two-parent working households, the idea that building a lot of housing in Palo Alto will put people near their jobs is just ludicrous. It just increases emissions because of gridlock.


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