The Alma Plaza decision as a window into Palo Alto politics
Original post made
by Douglas Moran, Barron Park,
on Jun 13, 2007
The City Council is scheduled to finalize their decision on Alma Plaza this Monday (June 18). I wrote an opinion piece using Alma Plaza as an example of some of what is wrong with our decision process, focusing on the City Council.
This piece was accepted and targeted to appear this week the Palo Alto Weekly but it now likely to appear next week. With their agreement, I am posting this as a preview.
"Alma Plaza is a $12 million giveaway by our City Council" (Web Link
The term "giveaway" has proven to be more controversial than I anticipated. Multiple reviewers were uncomfortable with using the term "giveaway" for anything that wasn't direct and minutely traceable, which this is not. I viewed this as excessive and unrealistic in our current world - a financial equivalent of "There is no proof that cigarette smoking causes cancer."
However, since this concern came up repeatedly and I was unable to find an appropriate replacement word or phrase, I quickly drafted an explanation of my view point on this word:
"(A rough introduction to) The Economics of Giveaways" (Web Link
Posted by J.L.
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 15, 2007 at 2:37 pm
Bill, Let me make myself a bit more clear.
If a developer comes in and buys a property, and than development is held up on that property for years, there will be increased construction inflation costs (materials, labor, etc.) to the developer that _exceed_ (by quiite a bit) the current rate ofo inflation. Currently, construction inflation is running 3-4x normal inflation.
A developer will NOT absorb the costs associated with delay. Developers are in business to make a profit, like most other people in business. When ncosts increase,, those costs are eiither passed on to consumers, or cheaper materials are utilized to keep the cost of material goods down.
So, the end consumer of housing at Alma will pay a significantly higher price for a home than would have heretofore been nthe case, and/or will also experience a decrease in the quality of materials or layout of the home. This is just plain fact, and reality at ground level.
The same, byw, goes for retailers who rent space at Alma; they are going to pay a higher rent to make up the increased carrying costs that the developer has had to bear due to delay.
IN addition too those costs, there are costs associated with lost opportunity in other areas of Palo Alto, because these delays use city _staff_ time (your taxpayer dollars, and mine).
Also, other opportunities are lost because there are olny so many things that city officials can focus on.
There are many things that I can imagine having immediate acccess to, near my home. Those things don't exist. It's absolutely unrealistic to be thinking that we can insinuate retail all over the place to encourage "walkability", etc.
I am a HUGE fan of walkability, but also aware of the constrints that developers face, and the fast increasing pressurer borne by retailers in a region where costs of doing business climb faster than ordinary inflation. These are things that the anti-development folk seem not to be aware of.
We are wasting time, money, and political capital on things that end up bringing us FAR less gain than if we had spent time on solutions that would decrease the need to drive an automobile, and increase walkability and general access.
Why aren't we getting tough, and insisting that a FAR stronger intra-and extra-municipal mass transport capability be brought to our citizens? Where are the significant incentives to intra-urban light and mass transport initiatives that go BEYOND the everyday?
Where are the innovative efforts to come up with FAR cheaper housing and other dwelling design intiatives?
How about looking at wether PAU continues to give us our money's worth?
No, instead we squabble over this or that design nelement in a housing group, or battle for years to gain 10,000 sq. ft. of retail space, so that, even if we DO get that space, inflation and increased structural costs have in all eliminated any economic advantage that the additional space might have brought in the long run, not including other opportunity costs mentioned above (with many others not mentioned)
Palo Alto has GOT to unlearn the bad habit of hearing out every small interest group. We are making progress in that direction.
We don't need Op-Eds telling us how incompetent our policy-makers are, with aditional analysis showing that we have all the answers. This is what Mr. Moran is up to, and frankly, as a citizen of this city, close to the city in many ways, I'm tired of it.
Nobody challenges these interest groups; they're well meaning people who have essentially learned behaviors that worked in another time, when opportunity was gushing from every corner. We don't have the luxury of listening to, or heeding, the suspicious wonderings of various leaders who have what essentially amounts to a small, parochial vision of our city's future.
We can do better than that.
The mayor speaks of innovation. Moving beyond the politics of accusation and whining, including a refusal to give in to the latter after everyone has been heard (because that's everyone's right), is one of the easist innovations available to us. Believe it or not, see evidence of this happening, and thus am hopeful for our city's future.