Town Square

Housing in Palo Alto no villains, just tough choices

Original post made on Sep 19, 2007

Karen White wrote recently that "the state and ABAG housing allocations represent an unfunded mandate on Palo Alto and other cities." (Weekly Guest Opinion, Sept. 5).

Read the complete Guest Opinion by Stephen Levy here: Web Link posted Wednesday, September 19, 2007, 12:00 AM


Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2007 at 9:35 am

The survey of Palo Altans on this topic has been completed, garnering 221 responses. A report on the survey can be found at: Web Link . Revealing essay answers abound in the report. Palo Alto serves as an early test case for affluent suburbia's reaction to "inconvenient" smart growth. The report gives two recommendations:

Recommendation 1

The affluent South Bay cities that are unhappy with their housing allocations {Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Redwood City} should sponsor one or more ABAG forums on the topic. ABAG should be invited to explain regional trends, their objectives, and their formulas. ABAG should also explain how they expect cities to mitigate the impacts of this growth (school funding, traffic, city services, water, etc). Survey responses indicate disagreement over facts, planning theory, and policies, so more dialog will help lead to more informed decision-making. It is clear that Palo Alto's voters must become more "land-use conversant" for important issues that will come up over the next 40 years. Palo Alto, with its leadership position on climate protection, enjoys a strong relationship with California's Climate Action Team. The Climate Team should also be invited to defend their smart growth policy (density, TOD, job/housing balance) and to explain the role that smart grow plays in achieving 2020 carbon reductions. Entities such as the Palo Alto Chamber, League of Women Voters, and SVLG could be co-sponsors for such forums with Council. More questions that should be covered in forums:

* The survey reveals that jobs/housing balance is a concept that is not fully understood. Please explain the concept.
* Why can't we simply meet 2020 carbon reductions with light bulbs and hybrid cars?
* Please explain whether Palo Alto is "built out" or not.
* Is there really a "free market" for housing?
* Please explain what sorts of residents pay the most (and the least) for city services. What is the fiscal impact of various housing types? How many school children are produced for each new unit of various housing types?
* Are all developers more evil than Voldemort, or are they only as evil as Death Eaters? Do the sprawl developers and in-fill developers speak with a unified voice? Who is ABAG? Is ABAG a tool of these development interests?
* How do we make public transit work better? How much can telecommuting contribute?
* What would be the economic consequences of stopping Bay Area population growth? Would a permanent depression ensue?
* If Palo Alto tells ABAG to stuff it, what will the consequences and penalties be? What funding sources will be closed off to Palo Alto (FOCUS?)?
* Is ABAG's housing allocation an unfunded mandate?

Recommendation 2

Council should a) acknowledge the strong Global Warming <==> Land Use link, b) indicate willingness to explore creative solutions (citing past and recent Palo Alto innovations), and c) ask ABAG, HCD, Climate Action Team, and other suburbs to fund a "Creative Housing Allocation Implementation Study / Housing Element Update Study." Such a study should explore three or more implementation scenarios, with economic impact analysis. The survey's Scenario 1 (tell ABAG to stuff if) and Scenario 2 (add 3,505 homes while creatively mitigating negative impacts) might be worth studying.

Posted by Winslow Arbenaugh, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2007 at 10:05 am

It's important that Steve Levy says that there are no villans, and only hard choices.

Palo Alto has an opportunity to take the lead in this challenge. Are we up to it?

Something has to give, or we're going to be experiencing far more of this:
Web Link

Posted by Elaine Meyer, a resident of University South
on Sep 19, 2007 at 4:05 pm

When talking about the future it is useful to understand the present.
For years and years I heard the plea for more housing. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to know how much housing has actually been built, and how much is under construction.
I created a table showing the housing built and/or approved for construction since the adoption of our Comprehensive Plan in 1997. (not personal residences) The list is at Web Link
An explanation of the meaning of the list is at Web Link
As always, I appreciate folks letting me know of any changes or corrections to the data.

Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Sep 19, 2007 at 4:26 pm

Thanks Elaine

Posted by Patrick, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 19, 2007 at 7:56 pm

To the extent that climate change is used as an excuse to increase housing in Palo Alto, please be aware that building more nuclear power plants will have a MUCH more beneficial effect. In fact, the beneficial effects of nuclear power dwarfs all of the other green strategies combined.

Web Link

The ABAG recommendations are based on the false assumption that Stanford jobs belong to Palo Alto. They do not, becasue Stanford needs to be considered in a regional context.

Palo Alto should simply reject the ABAG recommendations and move on. If there is any doubt, put it up to a vote, and let us decide.

Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Sep 20, 2007 at 4:29 pm


I agree that Stanford should be considered in a regional context. But that supports rather than invalidates the ABAG planning process.

Just as Stanford creates regional housing demands, large job centers in our neighboring cities do as well. If you want to allocate housing for Stanford-related jobs to neighboring cities, then we should allocate to Palo Alto housing associated with Google and others in Mountain View, AMD and others in Sunnyvale, Intel and others in Santa Clara and Solectron and others in Milpitas.

And ABAG has recommended housing allocations for these cities--2,897 for Mountain View, 4,426 for Sunnyvale, 5,873 for Santa Clara, and 2,487 for Milpitas.

We are all partners in providing housing for our current and future regional jobs. Even if you redid the math and moved some housing out of PA becasue Stanford is a regional job node, I think you would add nearly as mich (or maybe more) back in because these other communities are also big regional job nodes.

Which is why you are right that this is a regional challenge. The ABAG process is the region's attempt to develop fair criteria for addressing the challenge--criteria developed by a broad group of our peers most or all of whom wished that their city could get a smaller share of the new housing.

Posted by Patrick, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 20, 2007 at 4:48 pm

steve levy,

I am more interested in the benefits of nuclear power, compared to all other green solutions, combined, but I also think that housing "suggestions" should be looked at in a realistic fashion.

Job nodes and housing nodes are not required to be equal, or even close to equal. It depdends on the circumstances (as most urban planning does!). Your model seems to obligate Palo Alto (and other job node cities) to provide housing equal to the jobs available. How realistic is this? We, and other such cities, already have overcrowded schools, because, essentially, we are built-in cities. As job nodes expand outward, in order to save money, we are left to try to compete for higher end jobs. There is no guarantee that we will be able to pull it off. Pushing more low-end housing on PA will not, IMO, provide a solution. Providing energy efficient transportation for commute workers seems like a more obvious solution to me.

Either way, nuclear power will be required for the more intense populations that will demand electricy. BTW, I am completely for solar and hydro and wind, etc., but they will not do the job for the next few decades.

Posted by Winslow Arbenaugh, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2007 at 5:54 pm

We will not see nuclear power as a solution here anytime soon, if ever. This will force compelling innovations in housing, transport, and other processes that create efficiencies sufficient to offset the projected needs for electrical power.

If we simply keep adding on power needs based on current projections, the planet would not be able to sustain those needs, even with nuclear power.

Something else has to be done, and it will.

Posted by Patrick, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 20, 2007 at 7:05 pm


In other words, you want to starve industrial societies into submission. Why, may I ask, are you using your computer to post your post? It takes electricity, right? How about them plug-in hybrids? How about air conditioning? How about all the electricity required to light the lights? about modern medicine or modern life, in general. Coal-fired, and methane-fired power plants are VERY polluting. Nuclear is CLEAN. Why the hang-up, Winslow? Have you studied the issue? If so, please provide the numbers that make your point. I know, for a fact, that you cannot.

Posted by Winslow Arbenaugh, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2007 at 8:58 pm


How about massively more efficient batteries, and other means of storage, enabled by nanotech? How about LED technology, and other material innovations (like bio-luminescence)? How about self-replicaing nanobots that feed on carbon dioxide for fuel, enter your body and repair whatever is wrong (except for a wrong opinion :))

Back to the point that Mr. Levy makes. I like it.

Posted by Patrick, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 20, 2007 at 9:13 pm

"How about massively more efficient batteries, and other means of storage, enabled by nanotech"

Winslow, I'm all for it! But where do the electrons come from?

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Nuclear power generation of electrcity is the ONLY realistic approach for the next few decades. Perhaps, after that period, there will be new technologies that will cover the gap. I only hope we can last long enough to span the gap.

It is a shame that nuclear power has been restricted for so long. We continue to find ourselves swirled in relatively unimportant pursuits, like housing allocations.

Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Sep 21, 2007 at 6:45 am


I appreciate your interest in starting a discussion about nuclear power. Perhaps you could start a thread of your own.

Many people, including many who strongly disagree with me, do not think the regional housing challenge is "relatively unimportant".

My problem with the people who advocate building rapid transit so people can live far away is practical and financial, not part of the "who is greener" debate.

On the practical side consider the proposed BART from the East Bay to San Jose extension. Without getting into the merits of the proposal two points ARE clear. Even if the project got the go ahead immediately (not going to happen) it would not be open until nearly ten years. And the cost of nearly $5 billion is not fully funded.

It would be very expensive to run rapid transit lines to sparsely populated areas--money that might better be used for our own infrastrcuture upgrades. There is absolutely no evidence that voters are interested in putting up this kind of money to facilitate the lives of people living far away when we are all struggling to find money to repair and expand our infrastructure locally.

Finally the practical experience of recent years re the BART extension and proposed high speed rail plan would seem to make these ideas unrealistic for any near term action and leave us with the task of thinking about the best regional approach to housing for the next few years, which is the exact timing of the ABAG recommendations.

Posted by economics, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2007 at 8:15 am

Call me silly, but I believe in the power of the individual to make the wisest possible decisions for himself and his family.

If enough people cannot afford to live here and choose to live elsewhere, migration being a constant factor in human history for the betterment of lives, then our housing prices will fall and they will become more "affordable". Or, we will have to pay more for the services we want done.

But, to have any kind of subsidy that changes economic dynamics and individual decisions in ways that do not have any guarantee of affecting the very people we want to attract..forget it.

Better to pay more wages and let the market take care of the housing needs.

Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Sep 23, 2007 at 8:17 am

This is a portion of a comment I received. It is representative of many comments on this subject.

"Palo Alto has many units of low income/low cost housing. Saratoga has NONE; Los Altos has almost none; Atherton has NONE. The concern about Palo Alto having more low cost/low income housing brings to mind a concrete jungle (I live in a flood zone which was flooded), and. also, where do these extra children, who will move into Palo Alto, go to school. Stanford will not give more land to PAUSD to build (if PAUSD had the money) more schools."

Part of ABAG's formula for the location of BMR units is an attempt to spread the location of BMR housing beyond traditional centers like Oakland. Here are some numbers and the share of ABAG's total housing recommendation that is BMR units'

Palo Alto 1512 units (43% of total)
Saratoga 158 units (53% of total)
Sunnyvale 1781 40%
Santa Clara 2207 38%
Los Altos 164 52%
Cupertino 570 49%
Mtn View 1063 37%

I still don't see anything obviously unfair about the criteria and results of either the BMR or total housing location recommendations.

As far as the financial implications of BMR units, there is no question that lower-income families usually are a fiscal negative for schools and jurisdictions. I don't see how this becomes an argument for PA to try and move the BMR units to other cities.

Moreover, if we are going to apply fiscal tests to housing it can get pretty strange. Should we ask for an "extra" contribution form families that have low assessed values from Prop 13? should we discourage families from selling their homes to new families with more than one child--to keep school enrollment down?

I think it would be interesting for the school district to report on what part of the increase in enrollment is coming from the existing homes being sold to new families with more children (as was the case for several homes on our former street) as opposed to coming from newly built housing.

But in the end the BMR issues have a strong element of how a community like PA feels about fairness and our desire to be part of participating in regional solutions to a common challenge.

Posted by accuracy, please, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2007 at 8:23 am

From the first post ..."Council should a) acknowledge the strong Global Warming <==> Land Use link"

This is an unproven premise. Substitute " strong pollution - land use link" and you will have more people signing on.

We can agree that pollution is "bad" doubt. We will not agree that "global climate change" ( as is the now acceptable alternative phrase since warming is not happening nearly as expected by some of the more vocal seers,) is something that we have caused or can control. There is still significant questioning in the serious science community of how much humanity has affected climate change.

However, we can stop forcing people into extreme positions and agree that

1)pollution is controllable, and

2) it is possible to come up with viable, sustainable solutions that don't cause more troubles than they cure.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 23, 2007 at 11:01 am

ABAG's figures and predictions have never been accurate. Not surprising; economists seem to count on our short term memory loss. The amazing Alan Greenspan phenomenon.

ABAG didn't, and hasn't, taken into account the speculative housing bubble, or its recent puncture. Their recommendations are useless.

Local City Councils are to blame for the decline in infrastructure. ABAG is just a handy excuse for approving development without planning for adequate support.

It would be unpopular to admit, as Steve Levy does, that development and housing are a losing proposition. Political poison. Not that he isn't right, except for making it a moral imperative to pollute your own air, overcrowd your own schools, and overexpand your own City Staff.

The idea that ABAG is a Big Nanny, telling us what's good for us, just isn't going to sell.

It would be hard to pass Bond Issues, even with a growth moratorium in place. Linking bond issues to development, as Steve Levy has, pretty much guarantees failure. It's true, of course, that's the hidden cost in every project. The municipal Ponzi scheme; more money for staff now, and try to get the residents to pony up for improvements later.

In the meantime, if the bonds passed today, these proposed developments would still force a group of Palo Alto children to breathe dirtier air and graduate from overcrowded schools.

That doesn't strike me a particularly moral choice.

Posted by Stephen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2007 at 5:29 pm

Something that would help me understand some of the numbers flying back in forth would be to know:
(1) Where do current residents of Palo Alto work ? i.e. how many of them commute how far to work?
(2) What is the distribution of distance commuted by people working in Palo Alto (incl. Stanford), i.e. what % that work in PA come from within PA vs. (say) a 5 mile radius, or 10 mile, etc...
Any direction to the answers to these questions would be helpful as it seems that much of the impetus for adding a large number of residential units stems from the plausible linked hypotheses that many people who work here are commuting here from somewhere else and equally that people who live here work here.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 23, 2007 at 7:00 pm

Stephen makes a very good point. I don't have data on the issue, but my own impression is that housing and job location are only loosely related. My wife and I moved here in 1982. I worked in San Francisco then and she worked in Menlo Park. In the interim, we each have changed jobs numerous times, as is common here in Silicon Valley. Between us, we've had jobs in San Francisco, Redwood City, San Jose, Livermore, Emeryville, Hayward and Santa Clara. We've stayed in Palo ALto all this time because we like it here more than we dislike the various commutes involved, and because it's too expensive and too much of a hassle to move.

I know many people who move here for the schools even though it increases the commute for the parents. I bet any real estate agent will tell you this is very common.

I have a friend who has been commuting from Piedmont (near Oakland) to Palo Alto while his wife commutes to Santa Clara for 20 years. They are attached to the community there and don't want to move.

I would venture that most people reading this thread have similar experiences. There simply isn't much connection between housing location and job choice. And in this fluid economy, anyone who chooses a place to live based on his commute stands a good chance of having to face moving or commuting longer several times in a career.

There's no reason to think that if we build all the ABAG recommended housing they'll be populated any differently. Those workers won't be riding their bikes to jobs in town any more than the rest of us. They'll be driving to the East Bay or to San Jose, or if they're lucky, taking a train to SF.

Carol is right. Get ready to breath a lot more dirty air if we do the ABAG thing, with very little reduction in commuting either to Palo ALto jobs or from Palo Alto residences .

Posted by Winslow Arbenaugh, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2007 at 8:30 pm

Chris, Nevertheless, someone, someplace, has to bite the bullet and beging to re-pattern housing builds, because the commute problem you allude to is only going to get worse.

Again, Don Weden, former senior planner in Snata Clara County, has eloquently pointed this out several times. Google his "Wind's of Change" talk if you want more. btw, many, many transportation planners and others would agree with Weden in his claim that housing patterns are *directly* responsible for much of the pollution, commuting problems, and massive financial inefficiencies wrought by those housing patterns.

Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 23, 2007 at 8:46 pm

With respect, I just don't see how building more houses in Palo Alto per ABAG will "re-pattern" anything in a way that reduced the extent of commuting from those Palo Alto houses to jobs in other areas. Unless you're going to have some heavy-handed government requirement that forces people buying houses in Palo Alto to work locally, you're going to have them doing the same amount of commuting that the rest of us do - if not now, then in a few years when their jobs change.

More houses in PA = More commuting, driving and infrastructure load in palo alto.

Maybe we have to bite the bullet and put up with it - though I don't understand why that is. But please don't try to fool us and tell us that building $3500 housing units in town isn't going to cause us more traffic, noise and pollution - or that it isn't going to change the character of Palo Alto to something a lot of us would think is anything but an improvement. We're not that dumb.

Posted by Winslow Arbenaugh, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2007 at 9:06 pm

Anna, it's not a cop-out to say that "everything changes". We have to accept that fact, even though my daily look in the mirror wants to deny that. :)

That said, 3500 housing units *will somewhat* change the character of Palo Alto, just as NOT building those 3500 units will also change the character of Palo Alto. I, for one, want to see communities in our region building more infill housing, and using that housing as leverage to force inprovments in mass trasportation. Otherwise, we are contributing in a very bad way to fouling our environment.

I know that some don't want to hear this argument, but that's the way it is. What surprises me is that many of thise I know who are dead set against more local housing, are also ardent environmentalists. It doesn't square up, unless one accepts what I consider to be the faulty logic that says "people are going to commute anyway, no matter where their home is built".

there is *some* truth in that, for now. However, down the road, as more infill housing takes hold, we will begin to see embedded retail and enployment structures begin to locate near infill housing. Why? Because it makes economic sense, for amployers, AND for workers.

Thus, infill housing is a future boon to communities, as well as one important way that we are eventually going to be able to help cure ourselves of an unhealthy dependence on the automobile.

We're always going to have commuters, but we need to do what we can to significantly reduce their number, in ways that make sense. (btw, the one-dimensional "solution" of building out BART to Stockton doesn't work, because there is no incentive for people to get out of their cars unless mass transport is VASTLY improved) That won't happen until we become a bit more dense (from normal growth), and driving becomes more uneconomical, from a personla and financial perspective.

I find these arguments about the "changing character" of Palo Alto puzzling, because the kind of community that Palo Alto has become over the last 50-or-so years is FAR from what it was prior to that.

We're now decidedly a very upper-middle-class community, with some pretention to greatness. (some of that pretension can be backed up, in certain sectors); so why are we so concerned about scaled change? Palo Alto is not going to become San Jose, or NY. It's going to become a larger version of itself, hopefully better coordinated with our neighbors, as they grow larger.

We have to start somewhere to change a very inefficient pattern of housing, built over time. Infill is one part of that solution. We can, and will adapt very nicely to those changes.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 23, 2007 at 10:10 pm

Hmm. Isn't biting the bullet what they do in Westerns when there's an operation without anesthesia? A slug of whiskey, and a lead bullet to bite? Now, why would we want to do a stupid thing like that?

There's a distinctly authoritarian taint to all the arguments for authorizing more housing. It seems that all communities that have done so have created additional environmental damage in the . I think it's ironic (and hypocritical) that so many present this as a sacrifice to be made "for the environment."

Governmental decisions should be made at the lowest possible governmental level.

Remember, that's the level at which the piper gets paid.

Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 23, 2007 at 10:44 pm

Stephen, Chris, Accuracy,

Remedying jobs/housing imbalance is a very successful technique to reduce Bay Area regional carbon production. This is a vetted policy developed by experts and endorsed by the state Climate Action Team. So the jobs/housing <==> Global Warming link is acknowledged at the state and at the regional level, but it's not clear that it is understand at the suburban level.

A recent 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 a peer-reviewed article, "Which Reduces Vehicle Travel More: Jobs-Housing Balance or Retail-Housing Mixing?" in the Autumn 2006 Journal of the American Planning Association.

I don't have data on the overall commute distance distribution of Palo Alto workers, but I do have it for A) Stanford Research Park (page mill road, etc) and B) Greater Stanford, encompassing the University, shopping center, hospital, and downtown PA.

44% of SRP workers have a one-way "crow flies" commute distance of 10 miles or less (about 13 miles driving). 78% of SRP workers have a one-way "crow flies" commute distance of 20 miles or less (about 26 miles of one-way driving). Greater Stanford does a better job of matching jobs with housing (see for example Stanford's Stanford West housing preference scheme). 60% of Stanford workers have a one-way crow-files commute distance of 10 miles or less. 85% have a one-way crow-flies commute distance of 20 miles or less.

Some maps:
* SRP "commute shed": Web Link (data provided by employers).
* Stanford "commute shed" Web Link (data from Census Transportation Planning Package)
* Catalog of 17 major Bay Area suburban job centers: Web Link

Posted by Carroll Harrington, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 23, 2007 at 11:06 pm

Here is the link to Don Weden's talk, "The Winds of Change." Web Link

And here is quote to an AP story in the SJM, 9/22/07, and the Daily News today about
What future rising seas could mean for America's favorite places
By The Associated Press
Article Launched: 09/22/2007 09:41:20 AM PDT

Rising waters would submerge some of the best of San Francisco Bay: Fisherman's Wharf, baseball, software companies, even parts of the wine country. The southern bay, Silicon Valley and the fertile San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta would be hardest-hit. Also under water would be San Francisco's famed Embarcadero waterfront, runways at both the San Francisco and Oakland airports, and even the Oakland A's planned new stadium in Fremont. The Redwood Shores campus of business software maker Oracle Inc., which now has an ornamental pond, would be sitting in one.

Standing in Baylands, one of the last remaining wetlands in the area, Stanford University climatologist Stephen Schneider said, "this is a critical ecosystem and it'll be gone." His wife, biologist Terry Root, noted that the endangered bird, the California clapper rail, hiding in the wetlands is "going to be extinct ... because of sea level rise."

Can we in Palo Alto continue to expect the San Joaquin, Salinas and Watsonville Valleys continue to be covered with housing because we don't want more dense housing here?

Carroll Harrington

Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 24, 2007 at 6:39 am

I am always impressed when "experts" tell us something which defies common sense and experience, and then expect us to sacrifice because what they tell us is for some greater good.

This happens at all levels of government. The Bush administration had plenty of experts and think tank papers that told us Iraq was just waiting to be liberated and transformed into a functioning democracy - notwithstanding decades of evidence that Iraqis don't have the cultural underpinnings to be capable of this nor the desire to do so.

Palo Alto's governent is particularly bad at forecasting the outcome of their schemes to improve the operation of our city, and it executing even basic policies. Just recently, we have had the city pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for an unusable website. And we've had, for example the 50+ % overrun in the storm drain bond.

Now we have Carol Harrington, Steven Raney and others tell us that if we don't turn our suburban town into a densely packed urban mini metropolis, we're going to have flooding in the Baylands, but that if we do add all these extra people, cars and houses we're going to magically reduce pollution and (I imagine) a host of other urban ills. Sorry, I don't buy it.

And guess what? San Joaquin, Salinas and Watsonville WANT more housing. They want more economic development. We don't. Why don't you people who are so eager to use your expert studies to force things on Bay Area residents that they don't want instead use your experts to help people in San Joaquin, Salinas and Watsonville get things they DO want.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 24, 2007 at 9:21 am

Steve Raney: those mileage figures represent very serious pollution. Get back to us when you have some commutes within 3 miles. And remember, the Palo Alto City Council just granted Stanford's request to be exempt from housing requirements for the expansion of the Medical Center. So there goes all that "free" land out of the affordable housing equation.

Carroll, your post is a non sequitur. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Of course, there is the bank foreclosure problem. However, that's here as well. I'm looking for a house for our daughter, and the foreclosures have gone into the $700000 to over $1100000 range, even in San Francisco and central Marin.
Relax. Take up painting. Or sailing.

Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Sep 24, 2007 at 2:05 pm

The idea that ABAG is forcing Palo Alto or other cities to accept housing is inaccurate. Cities retain all of their planning, zoning and land use authority.

The idea that ABAG is stopping residents from living in Salinas or Stockton is also inaccurate. People are free to live outside the region and commute in if they wish.

But ABAG, which is a voluntary association of Bay Area cities, also recognized that companies still want to locate within the region. And many people working here have located far away becasue cities have turned down or reduced housing proposals. Companies have shown little inclination to move toward the outskirts of the region and this makes sense as companies want to remain in the middle of this labor market. And companies have plenty of scope to add jobs and facilties based on the existing zoning of Bay Area cities.

The theory of the ABAG recommendations is NOT that every worker will live where they work but that if all cities in the region are more accomodating for housing proposals that the overall level of commuting would drop. AND the real gains in travel reduction comes not entirely from commuting but also from denser hosuing next to amenities (like 800 High) where people can reduce their non commute travel as well.

Since no one is forcing anyone to live in PA, the only practical question is whether PA will block people who want to live here from doing so. The BMR issue is a separate question from the overall housing proposal from ABAG, much of which is market rate housing.

If people should be free to live in Salinas and commute in if they want and jobs are still locating in the heart of Silicon Valley, why should PA and other cities force people to live farther away by blocking housing.

It is true that more people here could make life less comfortable for some. But it might make life more interesting for others and it might make Palo Alto a more vibrant community. And the baisc question of fairness remains. How it is right for us to shove a common challenge off on others without trying to do our part?

The ABAG recommendations ask all of the Bay Area cities to be more open to housing proposals so that innovative companies can expand here and people on an overall basis have options for less travel in cars. I have no idea whether that could end up with 3,505 units in PA over the next 8 years but I do know the difference between trying and blocking. And it seems to me that PA could have been more open to housing on the proposals that have been before the city in recent years.

No one is advocating that cities abandon review of housing or other land use proposals or that all housing proposals should be accepted. However, we are being challenged to take regional considerations into account--consideratiosn that address the economy, envrionment and fairness.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 24, 2007 at 2:54 pm

Steve Levy says, "...the only practical question is whether PA will block people who want to live here from doing so...If people should be free to live in Salinas and commute in if they want and jobs are still locating in the heart of Silicon Valley, why should PA and other cities force people to live farther away by blocking housing...How it is right for us to shove a common challenge off on others without trying to do our part?"

The tendentiousness of Mr. Levy's ideas is breathtaking.

No one is "blocking" anyone from living in Palo Alto. There are hundreds of houses for sale in Palo Alto at any given time. Palo Alto has no laws preventing anyone who can negotiate a price with a willing seller from buying and relocating to Palo Alto. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Similarly, companies have may "want to remain in the middle of this labor market", but that doesn't mean we have to crowd our city with worker housing to accommodate them. Let them build facilities where the workers are - reducing their commutes, our pollution, the congestion on our roads, the load on our infrastructure and (very questionably) our "vibrancy".

The notion that there is some obligation on the residents of Palo Alto to make our lives less comfortable so that companies can have access to workers, or some ethereal concept of "fairness" impels us to crowd more housing into our city is so far from the way most people - other than the pan-municipal bureaucratic types at ABAG, and corporate bigwigs - think about things as to be laughable.

Forty years ago, Palo Alto spent a huge amount of money to buy the land which is now Foothills Park to prevent development of housing there. If anything, the commitment to the values that informed this action are stronger then than now. We should be very wary of acceding to pressure from ABAG that would cause us to compromise our principles.

When Larry Ellison subdivides his various Woodside and Atherton estates into 7000 square foot lots, and Portola Valley alters its zoning laws so that 800 High Street type residences can be built along Alpine Road, maybe Palo Alto can look at its already generous development policies.

Until then, please spare us the overwrought moralizing that characterizes proponents of the ABAG solution.

Posted by Gary, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 24, 2007 at 3:13 pm

"Blocking" of the type Levy describes happens all the time. At this very minute, I'm being blocked from all kinds of things I want (a new Mercedes, an Ocean Cruise, a Hawaiian Vacation bungalow...etc.) all because no government will adopt polices that allow me to afford them.

If I can make a credible argument that I'll be a better corporate drone when these needs are satisfied, will ABAG see to it that my city subsidizes them for me?

Posted by Thomas, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 24, 2007 at 4:01 pm

Gary, Chris, your arguments have the same tone. Essentially you are saying that ABAG is for below market housing. Not so. So, I guess that blows a big hole in your argument.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 24, 2007 at 4:40 pm

I'm not "essentially" saying anything other that what I wrote. Building more housing in Palo Alto, below market, above market, or at market as a means of reducing pollution, congestion or load on our infrastructure, a fatuous fantasy. It will have the "less comfortable" effects on our lives here that Levy admits. It's neither fair nor moral. I'm against it.

As for ABAG not being for below market housing, that also mistates their position. The ABAG proposal includes a Below Market component. Read the report...or even a few posts up in this thread. This is irrelevant to the points I have made, if you would read over them more carefully: BMR or not, we don't need or want 3500 housing units built in Palo Alto in the next 8 - or 28 - years.

Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Sep 24, 2007 at 5:04 pm


We must have different ideas of what a "fatuous fantasy" is.

You wrote

"Similarly, companies have may "want to remain in the middle of this labor market", but that doesn't mean we have to crowd our city with worker housing to accommodate them. Let them build facilities where the workers are - reducing their commutes, our pollution, the congestion on our roads, the load on our infrastructure and (very questionably) our "vibrancy".

I am assuming you meant build facilities in places like Stockton but please correct me if I misunderstood.

And thanks for clarifying that you are against additional housing and not caught up in the BMR debate.

The dilemma is that ABAG and the companies want to do exactly what you said--have more housing built where most of the workers live--in the 9 ABAG counties.

Moreover your idea could also be considered a fantasy since 1) the companies don't want to do this, 2) most cities don't want this either because they like the jobs and revenue and 3) no one has the power to make companies locate elsewhere because cities have zoned plenty of land for jobs for decades to come.

So it is ABAG, which is all of our cities working together, which is the practical party here--realizing that the jobs aren't moving and, in fact are growing here and trying collectively to find ways for Bay Area cities to allow more housing.

I expect that we disagree on what fairness means here but we can probably live in disaagreement. But I don't understand the argument that if Portola Valley doesn't allow projects like 800 High along Alpine Road then PA shouldn't plan for more housing in areas like downtown, California Avenue and El Camino.

As far as the BMR units are concerned you and Thomas are both technically right. You are correct that ABAG has a BMR component to the RHNA--Regioanl Housing Needs Allocation and Thomas is right that this is not ABAG's choice but a requirement of state law for RHNAs.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 24, 2007 at 5:13 pm

No one is objecting to building more housing according to existing zoning. The implication has been that the City Council should give away upzoning to people holding parcels with lower zoning, if they agree to put in housing.

That would be a tax on all existing development for the benefit, not of homeowners, but of the lucky few to whom the Council gives something of great value, for which the rest of us will pay, because the infrastructure is already over its capacity.

It's a hidden tax. Undemocratic, uneconomic, corrupting, and in this case, environmentally destructive.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 24, 2007 at 6:23 pm

Perhaps my mistyping failed to covey the gist of my remarks. As I explained in my previous post, I believe it is pure (if not fatuous) fantasy to think that building more housing in Palo Alto will not cause more traffic, more pollution, more congestion, and more load on infrastructure - in addition to the admitted fact that it will be "less comfortable" for those of us already living here.

If it is a choice between current residents in Palo Alto being less comfortable because their town is choked with high density housing, and making companies less comfortable locating jobs here because they can't find local workers for them, I'll choose the later every time.

It's true that companies don't HAVE to build facilities in Stockton, but it's also true that if they can't afford to pay workers what it costs to live here, they'll relocate some jobs to Austin, Oregon and other places with lower housing costs - as many already have. Just because companies want to expand here doesn't mean we have to accomodate them by destroying the character of our communities.

I know that ABAG is "trying collectively to find ways for Bay Area cities to allow more housing." I just disagree with that entire enterprise. So I am trying individually to thwart this unwise, unenvironmental and unwanted intrusion into the quality of life in the Bay Area by this consortium of bureaucratic dreamers, corporate elitists and greedy developers. I hope other individuals and individual towns will feel similarly.

My point about Portola Valley is that they wouldn't think of drastically altering their pastoral environment by allowing radical increases in housing numbers or density. Neither would Atherton. That these places have high concentrations of the leaders of the very corporations that want Palo Alto to accomodate their desire for more workers may or may not be coincidental. (You figure it out.) Just as the corporate officers in Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside like where they live and wouldn't think of allowing drastic change that might make them "less comfortable", so do I like where I live, and will do all I can to see that Palo Alto is not made less comfortable by planners, developers and profit seeking businesses that support ABAG's destructive ideas.

We can have no disagreement on what fairness means here because I don't recognize "fairness" as a relevant concept applied to the issue under discussion. The fact that ABAG planners and dreamers want to collectivize more local decisions does not mean the rest of us have to buy in to their societal or political paradigm. We owe no duties to ABAG, corporations or developers that would occasion an unfairness. That ABAG and its supporters think otherwise does not make it so. That is the disagreement we have to live in.

Posted by Thomas, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 24, 2007 at 7:18 pm

Palo Alto is going to grow; there's no stopping that. The only thing that no-growthers will acomplish is retarding our city's ability to pay for services, as well as a diminishment of its reputation as a green proponent.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 24, 2007 at 7:33 pm

I'd like to dump a number of those "services." Our Department of Transportation for one. What, exactly, has it done for us?

Our sole source contracts, for another. Our frequently losses in court cases where a City Attorney with the brains God gave a goat wouldn't have gotten the City into court in the first place.

If we're to pay for services, then that's a tax. There are better ways to raise taxes than giving involve windfall profits to people who bought property with reasonable zoning and got an expensive handout from the City Council at our expense.

Of course, you have to be spending the taxes in a way that inclines the residents to vote for them.....

Posted by MD, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2007 at 12:00 am

There will always be a minority that oppose change. Some people are destiined to be left behind, forever unsatisfied - and convinced that nostalgia is more real than what's happening right in front of their eyes.

Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 25, 2007 at 6:24 am

Steve Levy spends gallons of electronic ink attempting to convince us that housing is a regional issue, and that the burden must be shared "fairly", and that ABAG's allocation for Palo Alto is "fair".

Then he tells us that he doesn't understand it when Chris of Old Palo Alto proposes that Portola Valley (which has lots of empty space) builds some high density housing before Palo Alto (which has much less open land) crowds more housing into what's already pretty urbanized.

I don't get Levy: Chris's proposal seems eminently "fair" to me. Chris seems correct that a high proportion of the corporate leaders, who Levy says want all this new housing, live in places like Portola Valley. So why shouldn't Levy's "fairness" criterion dictate that places like Woodside and Portola Valley take the lion's share of the new housing - including the Below Market Rate housing that ABAG includes in its proposal?

Let the corporate types be made "less comfortable" as their roads deteriorate under the increased traffic, their quiet neighborhoods become busier and noiser, and their schools fill up with new students to educate. They've got the space, and they're the ones who benefit. It's only "fair."

They'd never stand for it. Neither should we.

Posted by Chuck, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 6:34 am

Anna makes an interesting point. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder.

It is an interesting thought experiment to think about what would happen if Below Market Housing in Woodside drew homeless people to camp out in front of Larry Ellison's house in the same way that the Opportunity Center (which counts as BMR housing in Palo Alto) seems to have drawn homeless - including the disheveled guy sleeping on the bench at Churchill and Bryant every night - to Palo Alto.

Steve Levy probably honestly believes what he says about ABAG's proposals, but it's disturbingly easy to make him out as a corporate shill.

I think the ABAG proposal needs major retooling....and someone better to sell it.

Posted by NoWhining, a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2007 at 8:27 am

I just would like to point out that the " character of our communities"( posted by chris)" was is completly dependent on such companies ( not to speak of house prices) and it HAS already been destroyed (it's life I do not begrudge those PA late comers) by the loads of people who moved here (specially after the 80's when the birkenstock nice crowd was replaced or overwhelmed) . IT IS due to you that PA is the congested dormitory that we see today. Before the 80's sleepy PA was actually by and large a place of people who cared and made it into a very nice community. Afetr the 80's more and more Mcmansions and skyrocketing prices the "new" people thought they were living ,well, in atherton. They aren't.

It is staggering to me that there are many that do not understand the concept of a larger community and the benefits it accrues for all and of "WE THE PEOPLE". PA is NOT an island, not a gated dormitory and not an independent territory either. Not everything that happens in the world should exist for the exclusive benefit of those PA late comers.

If there are questions and concerns about the shouldering of shared burdens in housing those should be discussed without the help of such unabashed avariciousness. The concerns - and there are many legitimate ones-should have a fair hearing on its own merits.

Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 25, 2007 at 8:49 am

NoWhining says that Palo Alto has changed for the worse since the 80's as more people moved in turning it into a congested dormitory where people care less about one another. I agree.

But I hardly see that as an argument for making the dormitory even more crowded by acceding to ABAG's arbitrary conception of fairness.

In fact, I'd argue that NoWhining's point is support for the opposite conclusion he/she draws: why make an already troubling state of affairs worse by opening the regulatory flood gates to 3500 more housing units?

The idea that there is a "shared burden" when it comes to housing presupposes that there should be a "burden" at all to be imposed on unwilling residents by ABAG overlords. We've had quite enough tyranny of experts asking us to share burdens and accept "less comfortable" lives for the satisfaction of the latest "greater good" they've cooked up in their Utopian think-tanks.

It's time to tell the experts, and those who sent them to buzz off.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2007 at 9:28 am

To add one more point to the BMR debate - those units are really bait and switch. As I learned during the PR battle over 800 High Street, the units are actually worth less. They have fewer square feet of internal space, most face directly into the transformer towers, and there are only BMR one-bedroom units. There are no market-rate bedroom units. Considering the controls on resale, I'd say the buyers are paying less only because the units they buy are worth less.

All of the support for housing deals in generalities, moralizing, and often comes from people with a financial stake in building housing right here, whether or not the infrastructure can take it.

The filthy air is the worst part of it. We have a home also in Berkeley, and the air is cleaner there, with more people.

We also have, if we read the local newspaper, a staff in disarray. Streets torn up repeatedly because the multiple agencies empowered to do so aren't coordinate - no single agency has the final say on when and where - the Assistant City Manager has been put on Administrative Leave for abusive behaviour - the police stop a disproportionate number of black people who are doing nothing wrong - no new parks - a new sports field (courtesy of Stanford) on a busy intersection with particularly dirty air, a housing project proposed with mixed-use that is not retail or office but INDUSTRIAL.

For me, it's a question of more than housing. This place is now run by people in whom I have no confidence. Three mice in a cat suit.

Posted by Viva Palo Alto Nuevo!, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 9:39 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Three cheers, a resident of Monroe Park
on Sep 25, 2007 at 10:00 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 25, 2007 at 10:05 am

Viva says, "What's the job base in Portola Valley? What's the job base in Palo Alto? How many people commute to Palo Alto for work?"

ABAG supporters make extraordinary effort to convince us that this is a "regional" problem requiring "regional" solutions.

And now Viva tells us that since Portola Valley's (local) job base is smaller than Palo Alto's (local) job base, Portola Valley doesn't have to contribute as much to the (regional?) problems.

This does seem like an argument from those "foward-looing" policy makers Viva mentions.

Posted by Dave, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2007 at 10:07 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2007 at 10:16 am

Dave, what would it take to organize a Recall? Is it possible to enlist people ready to mount a recall for the next destructive proposal to change existing zoning?

Posted by Dave, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2007 at 10:38 am


Anything's possible if you have energetic leaders and a popular cause. I would guess that as more people find out about the ABAG impositions, that the cause of fighting it will be very popular. Are you volunteering to be the energetic leader?!

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2007 at 11:50 am

I'm willing to contribute at least $1000 before they perpetrate the next 800 High. It seems too late to organize once they float one of these things.

I'm scheduled for surgery on October 1. Supposed to be fully recovered by early November. I'll check with my email list to see if there's someone younger and healthier than I, but equally fed up with the nomenklatura's arguments that we don't know what our own neighborhoods need. They know best, and it just happens that what's best is lucrative for them.

Posted by YIMBY, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 11:57 am

I think we need to separate the discussions of 1) personal land use preferences, 2) science 3) environmental policy and 4) land use policy.

Personal Preferences
Suburbanists - Like living in neighborhoods with suburban residential densities (1-8 units/acre, or single-family lot sizes of 1 acre-5,000 sf). Like low-density retail and job centers, which limit traffic generation. Prefer to separate land uses by district. Willing to accept (or even like) auto-centric transportation system required for most travel in a suburban environment. Believe that the perceived benefits of suburban living outwiegh the perceived burdens of urban living.

Urbanists - Like living in neighborhoods with urban residential densities (8+ units/acre, or single-family lot sizes of less than 5,000 sf + multi-family buildings (up to 100 units/acre in Palo Alto (Alma Place)), much greater density in other cities). Like high-density retail and job centers, which generate more traffic and provide densities that can support transit, if transit funding is available. Prefer to mix land uses within districts. Prefer to walk or use transit and avoid auto travel. Believe that the percieved benefits of urban living are greater than the perceived burdens of suburban living.

Full Disclosure: I am an urbanist. My strong personal preference is for the benefits and burdens of urban living, as opposed to the benefits and burdens of suburban living.

I strongly believe that we do not have to spend any more time yelling at each other about which preference - urban or suburban - is better. People will prefer whatever they prefer.

What we need to do is consider the science of the climate crisis and other environmental problems and decide how, if at all, we are going to respond.

The climate crisis is casued by large-scale release of carbon atoms into the atmosphere that have been sequestered in solid and liquid fossil fuels for millenia. The only way to address the climate crisis is to reduce atmospheric carbon release.

Most other environmental problems (pollution, habitat loss, water diversion) are caused by conversion of wilderness lands to agriculture, and agriculture lands to residential and commercial use.

The staight-line relatioinship between intensification of land use and increased environmental impacts (wilderness to agriculature to built environment) does a U-turn, however, in the shift from suburban to urban built environment. Urbanization decreases per capita consumption of land and carbon. More people live and work on an acre of urbanized land. Transit-supporting urban densities can allow (if transit is funded) reduced auto use, which causes the release of the greatest amount of atmospheric carbon.

Environmental Policy
The City of Palo Alto has repeatedly stated in policy documents (Comprehensive Plan and others) that we should seek to conserve and restore the natural environment. The City has, more recently, stated that the climate crisis is our most pressing environmental problem.

Land Use Policy
The question is: What should our land use pattern be, going forward? What policy goals should inform our land use decisions?

If our overarching goal is to conserve and restore the environment, and the climate crisis is the most urgent environmental issue, then we need a land use pattern that enables us to do so. Increasing desnity by shifting from a suburban to an urban land use pattern is the most significant step we can take to reduce carbon emissions, to enable reduced auto travel.

I believe that this question should first be answered independent of local, regional, national or global population growth projections. Even if we could magically filp a switch a stop all population growth, the existing land use pattern in Palo Alto would still be one of the most land- and carbon-consumptive patterns on Earth. All our hybrid cars, bike lanes, tree planting, compact flourescent light bulbs and recycling cannot significantly mitigate our large per-capita consumption of land and our extreme per-capita consumption and release of carbon. In other words, even if we did not add a single new resident, trip or job to Palo Alto, we would still be consuming far more land and carbon, per-capita, than a healthy environment can sustain.

Then when we layer on the fact of population growth in the Bay Area, California and across the globe, decisions about reducing per-capita environmental impacts via our land use pattern become even more important. Establishing urban growth boundaries around the region and directing new growth into existing communities becomes more than smart growth: It becomes essential to global environmental health.

So ultimately the debate about the ABAG numbers becomes pretty minor, when placed in the context of the climate crisis. We will have to make greater changes to our land use pattern than just adding 3,505 new housing units in the next 8 years, if we hope to have any meaningful impact on the climate crisis.

Final Full Disclosure: Because I'm an urbanist, I believe that shifting to a more urban land use pattern in Palo Alto will make our City a better place to live and work. So I do not subscribe to a glum, resigned, eat-your-peas-cause-they're-good-for-you view of new development in Palo Alto, that we should embrace it to share the unfortunate burden of addressing the climate crisis and other environmental problems. Instead, I think we have an opportunity to do good and do well: We have the happy opportunity to reduce our impacts on the environment and create a more livable community, at the same time.

Posted by Leave Us Alone, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 12:52 pm


As you point out, decisions about where to live, and what kind of environment one prefers are irreducibly a matter of personal choice. You were honest enough to admit to liking Urban living. Fine: when I was younger I liked it too.

Now that I'm more mature, I - and presumably the vast majority of Palo Altans who moved here because they wanted what the area had to offer - enjoy Suburban Living. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
You present the standard global warming argument. While there is no doubt that human caused global warming is occurring, it's far from proven that the kinds of measures you advocate (denser housing in Palo Alto) will have any meaningful impact on the unknown extent of future global warming. In any case, the idea that a small city's planning department should tackle climate issues is hubris beyond even the strutting and crowing of our current publicity hungry mayor.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Three Cheers, a resident of Monroe Park
on Sep 25, 2007 at 1:24 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Viva Palo Alto Nuevo!, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 1:29 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by YIMBY, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 1:42 pm

Leave Us Alone:

I've lived here for 20 years and will continue to live here for the forseeable future. I'm part of "us." In fact, I've devoted considerable amounts of my time over those 20 years to volunteer community service.

I've consistently favored urban evolution in our land use pattern for that entire time. I bellieve you and I have equal stakes in this community and should each advocate for our vision of its best future.

You are right: It will be a big fight. Social change (civil rights, social safety net, stopping wars) usually involves big fights.

You express a clear private, personal preference for suburban living. I believe you. But you do not address the disconnect between your private preference and public good. I invite you to explain how a suburban land use pattern protects the environment. Not why it's more prefereable from your point of view, but how it advances objective measures of environmental protection.

You sound alarmed by my vision. I'm alarmed by yours. Now what do we do? We each use the democratic political process to elect candidates and promote policies we each believe in and the system will produce a result somewhere in between our visions. If "community comity" requires us to suppress our differences, becuase we may disagree, then, for me, it's not an important goal. Better to have robust debate.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2007 at 2:05 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Leave Us Alone, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 2:20 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2007 at 3:11 pm

Personally, I love city living. However, making Palo Alto a smoggier and more crowded suburb won't turn it into a city.
It will still be a suburb. It won't have even the advantages of Los Angeles, let alone Paris or Curitiba, or Barcelona.

Posted by Chuck, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 3:33 pm

YIMBY's arguments about urban v suburban living largely are a matter of personal preference in the final analysis - just as he says LUAlone's are. Reductions in CO2 generation due to the changes YIMBY advocates would show up in the climate models as temperature variation noise 50 years down the line even if they were universally adopted across the US. They simply don't matter to the climate models.

And they aren't about to be adopted across the US because they're politically impossible. THe environmental argument is largely a straw one.

If environmental issues were really driving the ABAG proposal, it would make much more sense to rezone close-in wealthy suburbs like Atherton for high density housing since the climate load is much higher there than in Palo Alto, which is much more densely settled.

Steven Levy is more honest when he admits that this is primarily an economics driven movement being pushed by those who favor more intense economic development in the Bay Area, and who want the lower labor costs that (they think)will result from more intensive residential development. That's why he talks about fairness, and about the environment only a an after-thought.

Levy is probably right when he says that the economy will be better if we increase the supply of housing, and he's also right when he says we'll be less comfortable therefrom.

Palo Alto is being given high allocations for new housing by ABAG because their planners have come up with the idea that housing and jobs have to balance city-by-city. But they never address the question of why if this is a "regional" problem, we have to address things as if each city were a stand alone jobs/housing environment. More likely, Palo Alto is given a high allocation because ABAG believes it's more susceptible to political pressure - which, given the argumentation here by Levy, YIMBY and Viva, etc., may be so.

Thus Carol, Chris and others who wonder why other cities aren't asked to bear heavier burdens aren't far off base. These cities wouldn't accept it. Palo Alto might.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2007 at 3:37 pm

Leave Us Along. You're right, of course. Most Palo Altans came here to live in a suburb. What's happening is that people are being deprived of their reasonable expectations.

The Staff and Council want to take that away, and they are succeeding. Not to build a city, but to make a bigger, but profitable mess of a suburb.

I've noticed that ideologues of the New Urbanism have shown no interest in the infrastructure it takes to make a suburb, let alone a city. I doubt that they know or care about either.

Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 25, 2007 at 3:50 pm

We haven't even approached the limit of what we can do for the environment in Palo Alto through housing density increases. According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, some places have very high population densities. Macao's is 71,466 people per square mile. According to the city's website we have 23.7 square miles. Thus if we really cared about the environment - at least as much as the environmentally conscious residents of Macao, we could accommodate almost 1.7 million workers! Just think how happy the guys at HP and Google will be with all that new manpower....and think of all the farmland we can save in Tracy!

Posted by cynic, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2007 at 3:51 pm

I'm still waiting to see a developer propose a project that does not include parking. When that happens (I suspect it will be never) I may believe the sanctimonious argument/smokescreen that their primary goal is to help the environment.

Some good arguments have been made (and made again) by people like Carole, Chuck, Chris, LUA, and others, and I can only applaud their brilliance. However, I would like to point out--because I don't think anyone has--that right now money is too cheap, enticing a few greedy people to try to exploit real estate opportunities and increase their wealth before there's a big correction. Once that correction occurs, so will the opportunity for windfall profits, and the self-righteous "Palo Alto must fulfill its urban destiny" soothsayers will vanish back into their holes (or, more likely, their Woodside estates).

Posted by Viva Palo Alto Nuevo!, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 5:21 pm

From the last few posts, it's clear that the no growthers are getting very hot under the collar. There is a lot of name calling and innuendo going on.

I look forward to the nest several year debate in this community, with slow, scaled development of new housing, all the way up to the ABAG suggetsions. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
btw, this isn't about cheap money, or mean, greddy developers (some are, some aren't); it's about our environment, and long-term future,

Expect a fight, because most people see only a few years down the road. Thank goodness that's not the kind of person who started the commercial base that made this Valley (and Palo Alto) what it is today,

We didn't get here with people whoshowed up to say "no". We got here with people who hshowed up and said "we're going to make this happen".

Posted by been there, done that, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 25, 2007 at 6:01 pm

Viva, don't know if you're old enough to remember high rise public housing. It was touted as the cure all for urban problems: just take the poor folks and have them cozy up together in a big tall building. All naysayers were accused of being people who lacked vision and were trying to impede progress. Sound familiar?

I don't suppose I have to tell you what happened to that housing.

Not all big, bold efforts at social engineering are good. In fact, most of them aren't. There's a reason the status quo is the status quo, and that's because it's what most people want. I predict that imposing urban density on Palo Alto is going to prove to be about as effective as bringing democracy to Iraq has been. Social change has to come from within--even the most passionate zealot can't make it happen.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2007 at 6:20 pm

If I lived here all week long, I probably wouldn't notice how much smoggier it has become.

The housing market is imploding.

Unfortunately, that probably increases the pressure to get something up and sold, and capitalize on the competitive advantages of Palo Alto.

Money is a little cheaper than it's been, but that's the Fed's effort to stave off the crash as ARM's with teaser rates reach their third year.

Lending is tight for buyers without big down payments and high incomes.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2007 at 6:30 pm

It's not as if I went off into the woods. I go to Berkeley. It's quieter and the air is cleaner. Isn't that amazing?

It used to be the other way around. Ah, the delights of New Urbanism as opposed to the old Urban centers.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 26, 2007 at 6:33 pm

Well, that's it for Professorville and North Palo Alto. And South Menlo Park.

The scope of the Stanford projects means there will be nothing worth saving for those who live there.

It really doesn't matter if more housing is built. These projects alone will bring an incomprehensible amount of traffic through Palo Alto.

Posted by bikes2work, a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Sep 27, 2007 at 8:43 pm


Are you a Penn State Alumni? I saw something recently that indicated you might be. I am.

Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2007 at 7:53 am


If you were asking about me, it would have been fun to go to an undergrad program with a great football team, but I didn't.

Carol, good luck on your surgery.

I think the discussion about the Stanford medical center expansion is an interesting addition to our discussion here becasue it demonstrates that growth pressures will continue (one of ABAG's points) and that many people favor these projects when the specifics are discussed.

It is also interesting that any discussion of the expansion within the broader region would tilt the voices to overwhelming in favor of having the medical center expansion (or Google or a new solar company) within our local subregion. Usually the only voices against are nearby residents.

My own view is that it is appropriate for the local city to negotiate for public benefits with regard to any large new project, whether it is Stanford or a private company.

So it is perfectly reasonable for Palo Alto and Stanford to discuss the specifics of mitigation. I have no idea of what the "right" amount or type of public benefits should be but it IS standard practice that the public jurisdiction has rights in these development proposals. We have certainly had a lively discussion about public benefits (sometimes BMR units) in housing projects that are quite small in relation to the proposed Stanford expansion.

I don't agree with Diana Diamond that PA only "picks on" Stanford or that it is wrong to discuss public benefits with the university/hospital.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2007 at 10:06 am

Steve, given the geography of the Stanford campus, the expanse of Medical Center, the Stanford Research Park, and now the geographically expansive nature of the new Medical Center, and the new Shopping Center footage, what possible mitigation could there be?

The flat part of Palo Alto is unfortunate in terms of locally produced smog, because it is too far from the San Francisco Bay and too close to the foothills. It's unfortunate in terms of traffic control and safety for schoolchildren and pedestrians, because traffic to the most intense job engines comes through residential areas.

There is no rapid transit on the right side of El Camino Real, which is heavily trafficked and difficult to cross.

An accurate scale model would make the physical obstacles clear to all of us.

The financial drain on Palo Alto services to Stanford could be relieved, but the smog and traffic? It would be wonderful if you could devise a solution, because the situation is already very bad.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2007 at 10:09 am

The shopping center (which Stanford sold) is planning to add restaurants, so some of the additional sales tax will come at the expense of downtown. It remains to be seen whether or not there will be a net gain sufficient to cover the additional fire and police and utilities services.

Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2007 at 4:22 pm


I think it is accurate to expect that the traffic will get worse with growth in the region. I don't see any short-term solution. I think it is fair to say that we have different answers to whether the added traffic is a reason to oppose specific projects but I don't know anyone who argues that growth-related traffic can be eliminated.

My understanding of the data is that air pollution has been reduced over the past decades and that policies are in place to make the air cleaner even with growth. I am very susceptible to smog but it has raely bothered me in the 40 years I have lived here. I am sure that the impact can differ from person to person.

Many of the decisions about growth involve a balancing of positive and negative effects and people view the effects differently, which is why the Town Square can be so interesting at times. it is also why the public sector has a legitimate interest in these decisions.

Thanks for being one of the lonely few who choose to write under their own name.

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2007 at 6:25 pm

You're welcome. On that, we agree.

The data on air pollution is that it is getting worse, and that it's impact on growing children is only beginning to be appreciated. (Look at the National Institutes of Health and the CDC websites.

However, it's not being measured regularly in the areas Palo Alto has sacrificed to traffic. Nationally, air pollution is often measured at airports. A lot depends upon the winds, and where at the airports it is measured.

There do not appear to be any long term solutions proposed for this area. "That's engineering's problem" is the attitude.

Many of the people being sacrificed can't vote because of their youth. That makes me consider that the balancing is being done by irresponsible adults.

Also, it makes for an angry and cynical electorate. Why should anyone vote for a bond issue which will cause them and their children harm?

Posted by Carol Mullen, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2007 at 6:44 pm

What is being proposed now is to create a serious problem; one with no apparent solution, and shrug it off as something for the next generation to solve.

Good for some people is being balanced against harm to a different group of people. That's not balance; it's exploitatin.

I don't think this country will ever recover completely from eight years of that approach at a national level.