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'Slow growth' or 'smart growth' survey launched

Original post made on Aug 14, 2007

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.

Read the full story here Web Link

Comments (55)

Posted by Why so biased, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2007 at 6:01 pm

Jay, this is astonishing. You are publicizing a survey that "won't produce a scientifically valid response."
Why not do a survey that does produce a valid response? Is it so difficult to aim for the truth? Is it possible the promoter already knows the outcome he plans to produce? Actually, we all know what the outcome of the faintly disguised PR will be. You can write it today, you don't need to wait for the press release.
And as a newspaper man you know that the opposite of Slow is Fast. So the headline should read "Slow Growth or Fast Growth."

Posted by Gary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 14, 2007 at 6:38 pm

Why so biased,

Exactly. This is an example of how the local press tries to steer public opinion. Jay is guilty.

A correct survey would not try to suggest an answer. At least it should not present such a limited subset of possible questions that it vectors towards a desired answer.

At a minimum, the questions should be:

1. Negative growth

2. No growth

3. Slow growth

4. Fast growth

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2007 at 7:19 pm

How about - whatever growth the owners of the property feel they can find customers for and the city shut up and serve.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2007 at 7:21 pm

How about whatever the property owner thinks will sell?

Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2007 at 8:00 am

Dear Why so biased,

The reason the survey won't produce statistically robust results is that it is an on-line survey, so we can't ensure that we obtain a representative sample of Palo Altans. The set of responders may not accurately reflect Palo Alto voting tastes. There's a chance an organized group can stuff the survey with a particular set of responses. A phone survey might produce a more representative sample, though there are problems with phone surveys as many folks hang up on tele-survey people.

We have absolutely no idea of how the survey will come out. We're hoping that many interesting essay answers are submitted. What we're trying to do is to get people to think about the tradeoffs involved with this issue. As far as the press is concerned, the coverage often only focuses on local objections, without acknowledging the regional considerations. The press tends to dumb-down this complicated issue.

Dear Gary,

I think your negative growth scenario is interesting. John Holtzclaw of the Sierra Club believes that the sustainable human population is 4 billion. (see Web Link ).

One challenge with the negative growth scenario is how to deal with the silicon valley "capitalist imperative." The power players in the valley envision annual economic growth and annual increases in employment of skilled workers. The implication of negative growth is a long term economic depression. How would serious political consideration of the negative growth scenario come about?

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,, 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 Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 15, 2007 at 10:20 am


Negative growth? Gee, I have some really good examples of that. Let's start with the dinosaurs. How about Neanderthals?

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

btw, I'm an ardent environentalist, but when I hear people like Holtzclaw start to talk about "negative population growth" WITHOUT suggesting the amount of control that governments (and other institutions) would have over deciding WHO gets to reproduce, it makes me cringe. If this is the best that Holtzclawe can come up with, the Sierra Club should be looking for new leadership.

There may come a time when population growth begins to regulate itself, as it appears to be doing in the more developed nations - Japan is a good example. If that's what Holtzclaw is talking about, then so be it. But, aiming for negative growth as a POLICY is just plain ignorant.

One thing that IS going to happen here. This city - and the Valley - are going to GROW. It's up to us to make sure that we grow intellingently, in ways that reduce pollution, increase mass transit, increase human well-being, and show respect for the rest of the planet. This is all perfectly possible if the POLITICAL WILL and LEADERSHIP are there.

Posted by Gary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 15, 2007 at 11:54 am

To clarify: I am refering to negative growth of services vs. the tax base that supports such services. I am not refering to population growth. We could become a very highly populated, but relatively poor area. That would be growth in one sense, but I am not talking about that.

I think it is quite conceivable that such negative growth could occur. Palo Alto has squeezed Stanford so hard (e.g. no new net trips; zoning restrictions on major projects, like the new hospital proposal) that it is moving portions of its holdings out of PA. For instance the Medical Center building in MP (next to HWY 101). Varian is moving some its holdings over to Livermore. This trend will continue, as long as PA decides that business and development are the enemy.

It is VERY possible that we go upside down on services vs. our tax base. Raising taxes will only make it worse.

This is why I suggested that "negative growth" should be one of the options on the survey.

Posted by Why so biased, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2007 at 12:13 pm

The survey also asks for your name and address or email address. So they are collecting a mailing list as well.
Reputable survey companies use the telephone and there are simple ways around the problem of people who hang up. But you have to be interested in getting a random sample and alas, Mr. Raney, you don't appear to be.

Posted by Gary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 15, 2007 at 1:04 pm

It looks like the original article was pulled, at least I cannot pull it up. Perhaps our comments had an effect?

If it was pulled, I think that is a journalistic mistake. It is best to stand by what one prints, then admit a mistake, if one was made. End of story. But when something gets pulled, it sets up a web of suspicions.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Aug 15, 2007 at 1:25 pm

The article was scheduled to run in Wednesday's paper but will now run in Friday's paper. My understanding is that the online posting will be put up again in another place.

Please continue your discussion of the issues and take a look at the survey even if you choose not to repsond. I will post the survey questions on Friday if they are not up sooner so that everyone can see and judge for themselves.

There are plenty of places on the survey for respondents to write whatever they wish. The point of the survey is to start a discussion not to use the results to back one point of view.

All of the cities in the region including Palo Alto are struggling with this issue.

Posted by Faith, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 15, 2007 at 1:59 pm

The neighbors of Jordan Middle School field are suffering the consequences of the city's growth without infrastructure planning. The school continues to be a good neighbor, but approximately three years ago the city transformed its field, set in the middle of a quiet neighborhood and surrounded by houses and small streets, into a non-stop soccer venue. Depending on the season, neighbors are subjected to relentless and penetrating noise, crowds, traffic and parking problems up to forty hours a week, evenings and weekends. The city keeps citing 'demand', and says the noise ordinances do not apply since it is not "machine noise". The city states it does not have the money to control the situation it has created.
We strongly sympathize with the players of all sports and support the need for fields, but destroying quiet neighborhoods is not the way to get them. If Palo Alto wants healthy kids and adults, the city planners need to support their words with proper facilities and fields.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 15, 2007 at 5:00 pm

Steve was a nice kid so don't pick on him. Developers don't make people, people make people. High density residential has a place in the scope of things, and any such development must integrate with the transit mode. Think of it as horizontal elevators in a skyscraper laid horizontal. I don't want government usurping the owner's right to decide what to do with his property, and I trust the judgement of the people whose money is directly at risk more then that of a functionary.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 15, 2007 at 5:49 pm

Dear everybody, before you accept that PA has a higher jobs-housing ratio that other nearby
towns, please note how ABAG statistics are arrived at. "Palo Alto" means "PA plus Stanford."
This is with respect to the "jobs" portion. So the "PA jobs/housing ratio" is "high" (roughly 90,000 jobs including about 30-40,000 at Stanford in the Education and Medical areas, and 30,000 houses in PA) simply because MP, RWC, MV, SV are not laden down by a single Stanford job in their ratios. Our real PA jobs/housing ratio is fine; it's the misleading calculation that isn't. Lots of bright city planners know this, but why bother correcting misleading info if you start out wanting to push housing in PA?
The ABAG annual booklet is available for you to read on the 5th floor of City Hall.
And, of course, if the Stanford Hospital enlarges, then by this incorrect analysis, the Need for PA to build an immense number of houses will be there. But not so for other towns near Stanford.

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 15, 2007 at 6:36 pm

In disposing of other peoples' property, how would you central planners suggest that individuals vote? Are they suppose to vote to better their individual circumstances or are they to vote altruistically for the community as a whole?

Is this a 5-year plan? The USSR has experience with these.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 15, 2007 at 7:12 pm

Wray, How's your latest reading of Ayn Rand going? It appears that you're still a convert.

Are you aware of the latest research showing how - when it comes to material status, people tend to act against their own interests? I guess Ayn wasn't thinking about stuff like that when she was writing her drivel, right?

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 15, 2007 at 7:20 pm

My re-reading is doing just fine. Thank you.

You're correct, she did think much of suicide.

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 15, 2007 at 7:23 pm

Make that "did not think". My apologises.

Posted by Gern Blanston, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 15, 2007 at 7:28 pm

Walter Wallis wrote:

"...In the mean time apply yourself to my opinion that it is not appropriate for others to dictate what an owner does to her/his property?"

This position is completely indefensible in a (sub)urban community, Walter. Anyone purchasing a home in Palo Alto (or anywhere else in the Bay Area) does so in full knowledge of the multitude of zoning ordinances and general plan restrictions that all but completely conscribe what one can do with that property. Like it or not, you agree to these restrictions the second you take possession of your property. Life for a suburban Libertarian can't be easy, Walter.


Posted by wantt clarification, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 15, 2007 at 8:27 pm

Yes, Walter, do you mean owners should be free to do what they want with their property within the context of zones as part of a long term plan, or do you mean they should be free to do absolutely whatever they want and change the zoning to do it, with only civil law suits to limit their actions?

Posted by anymouse, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 15, 2007 at 9:49 pm

Well, you guys have raised some good questions.
You called his bluff.
Does he not realize that laws/regulations are part of the deal.
Of course he does.
He also knows that there has to be some regulation on property owners, and that
just because you buy the land doesn't mean you can do whatever you want with it.
Welcome to suburbia old sport, in case you forgot. It ain't rural Nevada. We got
neighbors, concerned folks on every front.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by No No Not THAT, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 15, 2007 at 10:10 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Gary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 15, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Zoning rules apply to everyone within a zone (height limits, daylight plane, setbacks, etc.). Preventing me from remodleing my home, because it might have originally been built before an arbitrary date (historic preservation) is discimination. Preventing me from cutting down a tree on my property, because it suddenly becomes protected by edict, is discrimination.

On the issue of protected trees, what property owner would plant such trees? After the edict went into effect, I noticed a number of redwood trees get cut down during the grace period. This thing is nuts. Get rid of it. Then people will plant those trees again, and we will eventually get back to where we were (lovely trees, protected by the desire of property owners to have lovely trees).

Posted by Need Walter-free zone, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 15, 2007 at 10:39 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 16, 2007 at 2:42 pm

Back to growth.

Please, someone name ONE municipal region that has managed to stop population growth and excel commercially.

Posted by Growth, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 16, 2007 at 2:49 pm

No one is talking about stopping growth.

Posted by Karen White, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 16, 2007 at 3:38 pm

Correct. Sensible housing growth is growth that does not exceed the capacity of our schools, libraries, parks, public safety facilities and other infrastructure. We csnnot pay for the repairs and renovations our community facilities need to serve our current population, let alone kind excessive growth the Cities21 group advocates to make their elevated monorail viable.

Highlighting one excerpt from the Cities 21 website noted in my earlier post (and these are their words, not mine): "Transit is a "means" to a real-estate "ends."

Precisely. So-called "smart-growth" advocates focus on transit as the rationale for pushing development interests and aggressive (some would say "reckless") growth, while ignoring infrastructure cost, other community impacts and the legitimate need for moderation.

Sensible growth is a whole lot smarter.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 16, 2007 at 3:59 pm

The problem here is that "sensible" housing growth has led to a paucity of affordable housing, and not enough housing to meet job demand.

In Plao Alto, "sensible growth" is an analogue for delay and obfuscation in dealing with developers, or anyone else that wants to improve our city.

What's concerning is when I hear people speaking about "community impacts" - and then underlining those "impacts" with the current need for backed up infrastructure cost.

It's as if new residents don't bring any benefit to a place, and are perceived only as a burden for those already here. That's not the way to take a city forward. If anything, it's a way to create a stagnant, monotonous demographic - whcih is exactly where we've been headed for the last 10 or so years, ever since the no growth contingent dug their heels in.

Thankfully, we now have a Council that is beginning to challenge the no growth leaders, and look to solutions that will take us forward toward more population growth, managed by innovative planning solutions.

So far, what's missing, is STRONG intra-regional leadership. We need Council members who are willing to step up and LEAD on regional committees, instead of being passive, reporting members of what happens in those committees. This is the next important step toward making our region whole. To date, no one city on the Peninisula has stepped up to this challenge. It's an opportunity for Palo Alto.

Also, where have our policy-makers been relative to LEADING intra-regional efforts to demand better mass transportation solutions? I don't see it.

The irony is that until this happens, we will continue to see pressure put on individual municipalities to build out, in order to conform to regional mandates that don't include comprehensive mass transport.

Here, we have VTA cutting mass transport servive. Why isn't some City Council member making BIG waves about this?

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2007 at 4:07 pm

We Rand-y libertarians acknowledge the need for certain restrictions on land use based on public health and safety. We see less need for and success of retrictions that substitute committee determinations for investor determinations of highest and best use.

Posted by want clarification, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2007 at 4:41 pm

I probably agree with you, Walter, if you would include something like residential use only zoning as a public health and safety issue.

Not only would I not want my residential neighbor to begin manufacturing semiconductors, I believe they should be prevented by law from doing so.

And in fact, I would be happy if the city made these zones for health and safety and then refused to change them on request, even if someone convinced them that it was possible to get the best return for an investor and for their election campaign funding by doing so, if the health and safety considerations hadn't changed.

Posted by Gary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 16, 2007 at 5:26 pm

"Please, someone name ONE municipal region that has managed to stop population growth and excel commercially."

That is a strange question. Let me rephrase and extend it:

What type of economic growth will support a growing population? What type of economic policy will cause poverty for a growing population? Does restricting Stanford growth and expansion help or hurt a growing population? What economic growth policy should Palo Alto pursue in order to insure prosperity for hard workers?

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 16, 2007 at 6:18 pm

Your neighbor should be able to make semiconductors in his garage as long as it does not objectively affect your enjoyment of your property. If you can prove harm, you would file a civil action against him.
One issue might be who was there first. You can't move in next to a glue factory and then demand that they shut down because you don't like the smell. Similarly, you can't move next to an urban hospital and legitimately demand that they can't use their property because you want a country atmosphere.

Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 16, 2007 at 7:10 pm

Dear Karen White,

This survey was authored by four people - only one belongs to Cities21. This is not a Cities21 survey. I'm sorry that the hosting of the survey on a Cities21 web page confused you about this. Two of the co-authors have never seen a presentation by Cities21. The survey doesn't have a Cities21 agenda.

Posted by Survey expert, a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2007 at 7:40 pm

You have taken a well honed instrument, a survey of community opinion, and turned it into sleaze. You do not have a sample, you are not offering anonymity, and you have allied yourself with a newspaper so that your publicity is assured. And your timing just happens to parallel the discussion of Stanford expansion.
Perhaps your next project could be to do research for a pharmaceutical company. Test their new drug on people who don't have the applicable disease. Then you can honestly report that following taking the drug, everyone who took it was free of the disease.

Posted by Gern Blanston, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 16, 2007 at 8:05 pm

Walter Wallis wrote:

"We Rand-y libertarians acknowledge the need for certain restrictions on land use based on public health and safety. We see less need for and success of retrictions that substitute committee determinations for investor determinations of highest and best use."

So, hypothetically, were I your Midtown neighbor, Walter, and I proposed to build a five-story condo complex on my 10,000 s.f. lot, replete with underground parking and roof-mounted solar panels, one as brilliant in its design as anything Howard Roark ever conceived, you would support the project wholeheartedly, assuming the added traffic didn't pose too great a health or safety risk? No need for meddling, wasteful, low-minded commissions to approve such a project, right? So long as the property owner's engineer signs off on it Walter will support it. You may even build your own Wallis Towers on your lot someday. And if every homeowner in the Bay Area were to do the same we'd have ... Smart Growth Utopia.

I don't adore bureaucracies either, Walter, but the restrictions we now labor under as property owners are surely preferable to, what, seven million Howard Roarks exercising free reign over their little slices of the Bay Area. That may be your dream, but it's not mine.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 16, 2007 at 10:31 pm

Survey expert,

Steve admits that the survey is not a perfect instrument, and that it has been devised as a tactic to stimulate community discussion.

Why not get this discussion opened to a larger community of residents than the small anti-development foks that have been atempting to stall growth for years?

btw, I just took the survey; it's well done and informative - all at the same time.

Steve, Jay, you have my gratitude.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2007 at 8:43 am

See, I told you Steve was a nice boy.

Gern, I would ask that you ensure that the fire department had the equipment to fight a high rise fire, the street sewer capacity and fire water capability, that the noise of the mandatory underground garage exhaust fan be properly muted and that the electrical supply to the neighborhood be reinforced so that the surge of operating the elevator motors, 25 HP in a five story building, not cause voltage dip to my home power. Then, if the tower sold I might likely enjoy the multi-million dollar increase in my property value. Or I might suggest, when you propose your project, that you buy me out and double you project size. Make an offer. Incidentally, a four story condo I am involved with is curently going up in a local city. It complements the neighborhood spiffily.

Posted by Survey expert, a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2007 at 9:00 am

The survey is not "imperfect." It is deceptive. It pretends to be something it isn't.
For potential respondents, you may want to know this when you sign it:

D. We may contact you to ask if we can attach your name to your survey comments in a newspaper article on this survey. Otherwise, we may use your survey comments in a newspaper article, but will keep you anonymous.
E. We may make all the survey responses public (via an on-line spreadsheet), less name, e-mail, and phone. We may submit these survey responses to Palo Alto City Council and to the Association of Bay Area Governments.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 17, 2007 at 10:16 am

Survey expert, what's wrong with that?

What I find curious is that you would want to muzzle opinion about this matter. Mr. Raney has fully disclosed his purpose for this opinion poll. I don't see the problem, unless those who ant to keep Palo Alto in the 20th century are afraid of positive, measured change.

Posted by was curious, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2007 at 11:25 am

It is a propaganda piece in disguise, searching for more ammunition to use as further propaganda. Questions prefaced by views presented as fact, pre-framed questions, "when did you stop beating your wife?" questions.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 17, 2007 at 1:33 pm

curious, I suppose that's one way to put it, but then again, "reality is in the eye of the beholder".

Propaganda? I don't see it that way. Instead i see a number of scenarios proposed that are realistic, and very likely to happen, if we don't act to grow our Peninsula and city in ways that make it more liveable.

It's NOT a scientific survey; what's your beef?

Why don't you put up your own non-scientific survey, if you're so concerned. Let's hear your "propaganda".

In fact, we've been hearing - ad nauseum - from extreme no-growth proponents for YEARS in Palo Alto. The result has been a slow unraveling of our tax base, a place that is unfriendly to commercial interests, and an insensitivity to our nearest neighbor (Stanford) that is nothing short of embarrassing.

IN fact, YOU have an opportunity to feed back on Mr. Raney's opinion survey. What's your beef?

Posted by merlot, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 17, 2007 at 4:14 pm

Wallis, I'll exchange properties with you. I'll take yours, as is, and give you in return 100 acres in the Anbar province, as long as you promise to stay there and never set foot in the US. You can join any militia you like, actually, I insist.

Posted by cosmos, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 17, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Ayn Rand was the greatest buffoon of the 20th century, which automatically means that Wallis is a great fan.

Posted by Dave, a resident of Southgate
on Aug 17, 2007 at 5:05 pm


"Ayn Rand was the greatest buffoon of the 20th century, which automatically means that Wallis is a great fan."

Alisa Rosenbaum was a buffoon. She is bested (in the negative sense) by some during the 20th century, especially Noam Chomsky.

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 cosmos, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 17, 2007 at 7:02 pm

Dave, Noam Chomsky should indeed be considered a buffoon by our current standing as the world's most rogue nation. just imagine, he expects us to live by the moral standards we once set for ourselves and the rest of the world...the nerve.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2007 at 7:34 pm

merlot, My house would cost you more than a million with no strings attached if I would sell to you which is unlikely, and I did my time in Cannon Company, 184th infantry 60 years go. I had a chance to buy a bit of foreign soil but passed it up. Your insistence of anything seems brave for an anonymous coward.
Cosmos, while I admire Rand I am more of a Kipling and Hoffer and Heinlein fan, with a bit of Niven on the side. My opinions are all my own, just as my name is.

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.

Posted by JFK, a resident of Community Center
on Aug 18, 2007 at 5:26 am

Why are we pandering to ABAG.

Thanks Karen White for keeping a watchful eye.

Posted by cosmos, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2007 at 8:25 am

Wallis, oh yeah, Kipling, I should have known. That romantic glorifier of colonialism, how could you not admire him?

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 18, 2007 at 8:28 am

If some folk would put as much thought into resolving problems as they do in attempting some new insult to me, we might make some progress. Of course, if their solutions were as low grade as their insults ...

Posted by cosmos, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2007 at 9:14 am

Wallis, there's no need for any one to insult you-you do a great job of it all by yourself.

Posted by cosmos, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2007 at 9:21 am

Wallis, I guess we know your idea on how to resolve our problems:turn everything over to ExxonMobil. On a erlated matter-I'm surprised you don't demand that we return to British rule, you adorable colonial groupie you.

Posted by Notallowed to look, a resident of Escondido School
on Aug 25, 2007 at 11:36 pm

I wanted to take a look at the survey before I answer it, but it won't let me unless I first give them my name and email address and neighborhood.

Posted by New Headline, a resident of Stanford
on Aug 26, 2007 at 2:11 pm

Maybe the headline should read 'Smart Growth' 'Dumb Survey'

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