The so-called "jobs-housing imbalance," with its single-minded focus on work-to-home transportation, misses the mark.
Instead, what we must fix today is our daunting "infrastructure-housing imbalance."
Our aging and broken facilities are woefully inadequate to serve today's population, let alone 9,463 new residents who would inhabit the 3,505 new units that the state --> through the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) -- calls our "allocation."
Where are the funds for the services and facilities these new residents would need?
Meeting the needs of our current population and basic maintenance eat up most of our city budget. The tendency has been for the State to take more and more funds from cities, leaving us with the shortfall. Palo Alto will need to ask for new taxes to pay for facility improvements that are needed now. And global demand for concrete and steel means the cost of these improvements will likely continue to surpass all estimates so far.
Building thousands of new housing units would simply break our city budget's back. Continuing to flip retail and other commercial properties to housing would only compound the dire fiscal problems we face. City planners figure that each residential unit brings six to 10 new car trips per day, with only 2 to 4 of these work-related.
Packing people in like sardines will not prevent global warming. Promised increases in public-transit ridership from dense housing -- whether via utopian monorail or simple buses -- have been shown to be overly optimistic and do not justify over-building Palo Alto, bringing intolerable stresses on every other part of our aging infrastructure.
To begin correcting our infrastructure-housing imbalance, we must sharply question high-growth allocations set at the state level and divided among cities by ABAG.
Over-building market-rate housing to yield 15 to 20 percent affordable units does not produce true affordability. "Sensible growth" -- with only the appropriate amount and types of development we need, where it is needed, with an eye on community costs and revenue generation -- is a whole lot smarter.
Stepping back, let's look at some of the influences on policy in Sacramento. The California Building Industry Association (CBIA) -- the "official voice" of 6,500 member companies -- outlines its mission on its Web site: www.cbia.org/index.cfm?pageid=425.
It lists a "top ten" set of reasons to join, one of which is to improve a firm's bottom line. But the number-one reason to join is: "Advocacy. Our lobbyists work year-round in Washington, D.C., Sacramento, and your community to promote the homebuilding industry and protect your livelihood."
Another influential organization, Home Builders of America, Northern California (HBANC) has a political action committee. The committee's purposes, according to HBANC's Web site (http://www.hbanc.org/pac.php), are to "identify local and state elected officials and candidates for office of the State of California who have supported the political and economic interests of the California building industry, or who are or may be in a position to support those interests, and to make financial contributions to their campaign funds, and to participate, where consistent, with the objectives of HBANC, in local, regional, or statewide ballot measures and issues campaigns."
State policies appear to reflect building-industry objectives while ignoring costly infrastructure backlogs that exist right now.
The Division of Housing Policy Development, part of the State Department of Housing and Community Development (http://www.hcd.ca.gov/hpd/), describes its own work as follows:
"HPD also administers state housing element law, including the review of local general plan housing elements; prepares numerous state plans and reports and conducts research to facilitate housing development and improvement, including an annual report on redevelopment agencies housing activities; and provides a wide range of technical assistance to local governments, public and private housing providers, business and industry groups, housing advocates and interested citizens." .)
The top "Strategic Objective" of the state Department of Housing and Community Development is to "Increase housing supply by strengthening the effectiveness of housing law as a tool to reduce local regulatory barriers." Performance measures include introduction, approval and passage of legislation; the number of stakeholder groups who support the legislation; and higher issuance of building permits in compliance with housing element law." (http://www.hcd.ca.gov/hpd/.)
Past trade-group victories include eliminating impacts on schools and water demand from environmental review of local development proposals.
And the state seems to mandate that we "just build more" without supplying adequate funding for the new infrastructure that will be required by the growth in housing and new residents.
This housing allocation threatens Palo Alto's facilities, schools, our quality of life -- and our budget as a whole.
In short, the state and ABAG housing allocations represent an unfunded mandate on Palo Alto and other cities. We cannot afford to build more housing without a substantial infusion of new funds for libraries, parks, schools, streets -- and the list goes on.
City officials should reject ABAG's allocation.