Palo Alto seeks consultant for traffic-reduction programs
Original post made
on Apr 9, 2014
Palo Alto is preparing to solicit proposals this month for a consultant who would help the city form a Transportation Management Association, an organization that would manage downtown's traffic-reduction efforts.
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posted Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:47 AM
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Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 10, 2014 at 4:58 pm
First, thanks to Enough is Enough and Boscoli for their like-minded support on beginning the process to prevent additional commercial space development in Palo Alto. Future development means increased traffic and pressure for dense housing. Moreover, thanks too for Enough is Enough reminding Rupert on the importance to use this forum for a lively but respectful discourse - that's the spirt of Palo Alto I recognize. And though I may respectfully disagree with some, I appreciate their help in sharing multiple lenses on complex challenges facing our city. In fact, opposite view points help me develop public policy proposals that try to assuage fears of change or unintended consequences. Hence, my response to some of those concerns below:
Rupert: preventing "additional" development is not advocating removing existing employers. Will be be just fine, even if we returned to 1990 levels of office space demand. However, given Stanford's Research and Development presence plus the proximity of Venture Capitalist Way on Sandhill and downtown Palo Alto (they love being clustered in terms of building trust based on past mutual successes and putting together funding packages), there will always be demand for our office space inventory. And of course, for those that may forget life in the Midwest, South, and Northeast - we have the absolute best weather in the world (in terms of those regions having horrific heat and humidity in the Spring/Summer or Ice/Snow in the Winter). Formerly resentful, I now totally understand why my native California is the most populous state in the union. Knowing what I now know, if the shoes were reversed, I would move here for the weather first and job second: again, quality of life over quantity of life.
Office workers who spend money in Palo Alto are indeed a benefit. However, part of the benefit only comes from firms in Palo Alto that serve those office workers - not just office space rentals. In contest, owners of commercial real estate generally go where the money is. Thus, this explains the trend we have been reading about to not renew a lease for a bookstore, cafe, art store, exercise store, non-profit store, speciality shop. Instead, they lease their space at two to three times the income to another technology related firm. In short, if the trend continues, there will be fewer and fewer places to spend office worker money. And those that do exist will be expensive and crowded.
Your Stanford Shopping Center concern: I remember when the Stanford shopping center was in its infancy. No, am not advocating removing its presence either. Stanford has done very well leasing that space and creating/leasing industrial parks, too. In fact, I am so glad Stanford is here. Otherwise, we would already have dense housing all the way to 280 and on the other side, too.
The Stanford Stadium/Football draw: as a long term loyal Stanford Indian (and former employee), I certainly embrace Stanford football (since 1960) and encourage their continued success. I really miss the old stadium (lots of family memories) but the new smaller venue provides two pluses: first, great views any where you sit and second, we can not host future Superbowl's, Olympics, or other events requiring larger seating capacity. Thus, less one day or weekend traffic potentials. Thanks to you, I finally now see an "upside" to the downsizing of my former favorite stadium. As a side note, I am especially proud of our recent two back to back Rose Bowl appearances. I still remember meeting Jim Plunkett on the Stanford football field after yet another victory and hearing those names: another completion to Randy Vataha and Gene Washington! What years! And I miss Timm Williams, Aka, Prince Lightfoot. Sorry for the trip down memory land. Thanks for your indulgence.
Can the city council limit office space: Yes, a city council can make a decision to not approve additional office space applications. Just like they have done the opposite by changing zoning areas for more multi-use development or providing height waivers in exchange for some "public benefit." The Golden Goose is just fine. As much as I'd like to return to calmer days of Palo Alto, I reluctantly accept the existing density, want no more, or would be happy to see some firms move to other communities (especially the East Bay and East Palo Alto). If we suffered some loss, I would welcome less traffic, more parking, and frankly less people who sometimes lose their kindness in an environment with too many people per square mile. Just a few years ago (1940s), most Palo Altains took the train to the "City" (SF) for work and we did just fine. Now, I know I can not return to those days (the secret of Palo Alto is out of the bag), but I certainly do not want to continue to lose the quality of our lives to overdevelopment: for those that live here, and those future Palo Altains that will buy here or inherent their parents home.
To my fellow Palo Altain in Old Palo Alto: I agree. A business mix of firms (technology and others) has the same sound management approach as a mixed investment portfolio. Following passage of a proposal to halt further commercial applications, the next phase is to protect and promote retail space for art, exercise, bookstores, non-profits, unique shops and others. We've lost lots of Palo Alto culture to the office space demand placed by technology firms. This of course has complex legal complications relative to free-enterprise but we could explore how other cities - across the nation - have created public policies to protect a diversity of services written in such a way to pass legal challenges. You are so right, It's never good to put all our eggs in one basket.
To my Resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood: I agree, bringing in an outside consulting firm is not sound. Use our existing personnel to research best practices by other cities across the nation (and outside the US). They can make a recommendation(s) following by public input designed to steer the council in a direction that we approve - before they cast votes. For example, just like the public pressure that caused a rethink of widening sidewalks in Palo Alto.
I however must disagree with respect to more homes in the pipeline and regulating how man people work in an office space. Whatever has been approved may not be reversed but the latests collection of articles indicate much greater density planned for the Fry's Electronic location and other areas. We must make sure those are stopped. Second, a city council can regulate the number of people allowed to live in a private home just like they can regulate the number of employees allowed in a working space (either as a part of a maximum capacity in a building structure) or an effort to close a loophole around this (and other efforts) designed to reduce the number of future employees working in Palo Alto. Thank you for your insight on high tech firms continuing to squeeze out every bit of creative juice to the 20 to 30 somethings by a trend to not provide office space or cubicles under the rubric of encouraging collaborative business solutions in product design and marketing. I sit here in my private and quiet office and become even more thankful of the generation I am from. However, conference rooms with lots of white boards are still a good place to network solutions and new product designs.
I agree: this is a regional problem. Some mutual agreements between cities can be achieved but they tend to center on public transportation. I would encourage pushing out the success of Silicon Valley to other parts of the country and the East Bay. We have enough wealth. There should be multiple Silicon Valleys all throughout the nation (and world). Thus, if we lost just 5% of our employers (and possible peninsula residents), I would be thrilled. Even up to 20% would be fantastic. I would however sympathize with those who have to move to Dallas, Chicago, Detroit (oh God), Baltimore, and say New York City for work after having been exposed to our great weather and comparatively less crime.
And to my Longtime Resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood: What can we do? Plenty. City council members are sensitive to this growing resentment on overdevelopment. Power in politics is information, first. As any movement becomes more visible (and more importantly sustainable), the arguments put forward by concerned Palo Altains arm public officials with vote-getting choice options. If the city council will not represent their constituents, we can force a stop on commercial development by a referendum vote (just like the Maybell issue). Of course, council members would then run the risk of not being reelected or leaving office under a legacy of low voter approval. So, a referendum vote is not always required. But we are coming up against powerful commercial development interests. However, their mantra of "let us build and bring more tax revenue to your city" no longer holds our imagination especially with the real prospect of becoming a San Jose or San Francisco. We are lucky we have a highly educated and thus critical thinking group who are less susceptible to simplistic arguments on the benefits of development and progress.