An inquiry about the reasonableness of ABAG's goals for Palo Alto is putting the cart before the horse. California, which has authority over all local governments, requires that worker housing be near workers' jobs for two reasons among many: to avoid wasteful expenditure on worker transportation and to insure that the money-making entities pay for their workers' children's schools.
For years Palo Alto was deemed to be in default by several hundred homes a year due to the jobs created in the industrial park; outsourcing, the recession and foreclosure exacerbated the deficit because workers' income declined so much, yet the workers remained in place, homeless. Where could they go?
The last straw is the new Stanford Hospital. Hospitals use three to four workers for every patient bed, and two-thirds of them are on evening and night shifts, so they can't come from Coyote and Stanislaus County by public transportation, even if homes could be built for them there. Do the math: A 700-bed hospital requires 2,100 not-rich workers, and the City Council seems oblivious.
Meanwhile, Palo Alto keeps destroying worker housing space, replacing cottages with offices and starter castles. As we speak, 125 modest but livable mobile homes are on the block, to be replaced by luxury homes and ... that's right, more offices, i.e., more jobs. This ostensibly built-out city keeps turning up more space for money-making development in unlikely places — the flood plain for San Francisquito Creek, the World War I Julia Morgan hospitality house, Red Cross and Little League field. Who knew?
Underground solves problems
With or without high-speed rail, place the Southern Pacific railroad tracks underground. This will resolve many of our traffic problems at San Antonio and Charleston Road crossings.
Reserve 27 University Ave. land as a home for TheatreWorks and other cultural activities. Cultural activities will generate traffic mostly during evenings and weekends. They will not complicate the cramped traffic grid and lack of parking we now have in downtown Palo Alto. With the underground railroad tracks and possibly underground bus and train stations, land above will be available for downtown parking. Then, 27 University Ave. will be an excellent site for dense, high-rise development because it is adjacent to a major rail corridor. More downtown workers will commute by Caltrain. At the same time, Alma Street can be widened by six feet to accommodate a planter to separate north and southbound traffic.
A special community demands tough-minded decisions. Further cutting of city services is required. If we go after every amenity that is "nice" to have, we forgo the parks, promenades and commercial land that a buried railroad will generate. I remember a figure of 75 acres made available above buried rail tracks when this idea was suggested many years ago. And land values all over our more livable city will rise.
I ask you to be miserly with our pennies and squirrel away the dollars saved. Planning and undergrounding the railroad tracks will cost plenty. But traffic problems that have plagued us for so many decades will be lessened and we will enjoy a vibrant, improved Palo Alto.
Shelters need help
There is a lack of shelter beds in the Palo Alto area. There have not been enough beds for those in need for a long time. There are even fewer total shelter beds in the area now that Clara Mateo closed.
As Google and other local employers offer landlords higher and higher rents to house their recent hires from out of the area, there are fewer low-cost rentals for locals.
The armory in Sunnyvale that shelters a couple of hundred people in the winter is scheduled to close sometime soon.
In fact, one of the only groups actually adding shelter beds around here are some Stanford students who put together a shelter for 15 women last winter that was open for 90 days. They did it with a lot of their own time and donated resources from individuals, local churches and InnVision. That was their pilot project. It was called the Hotel de Zink: Women's Shelter (HdZW).
Now they're in the process of incorporating as a California public benefit charity — The Heart and Home Collaborative — whose first project will be a women's shelter. It is being organized with input from shelter guests and community members who are building on the work and experiences of the HdZW.
They need help. They need locations to house the shelter for at least a few weeks. They need donations.
El Camino Real