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By Steve Levy

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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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Housing is for People

Uploaded: May 17, 2015
Sometimes in the public policy discussions about housing, we forget that housing is for people. It is important to talk and think about what they want and need.

These are stories about people and families that live in our building—a 17 unit condo complex in downtown Palo Alto.

Our story (Nancy and me) is that we moved downtown in 2005 to prepare for the still very active but after the kids moved out portion of our lives. Our downtown condo fits our needs very well and will continue to do so for quite a while. I do not drive do living downtown gives me much more independence than when we lived on Edgewood. Most of what we use in terms of shopping, dining and services is within easy walking distance and access to Caltrain and the Stanford shuttle is an added bonus. Another added bonus is that my office is a short walk away.

There are other people in our building who do not drive or have mobility issues,

We lost one of our favorite neighbors recently. The husband died and the wife moved to an assisted living on El Camino in Palo Alto. The ability for her to move to a location in Palo Alto allowed her to remain near her family and allows them to provide love and care.

These two stories point to two important trends. One is that Palo Alto already has one of the highest shares of residents over 65 (17% versus the county average of 11%) and more and more of these seniors will want to find new ways to remain in their community and not have to move away. The second is that proximity matters in housing. For most people proximity means closeness to services, shopping, friends and work. For our neighbor proximity means staying close to family.

It turns out that proximity to services, shopping, dining choices and, for some, CalTrain, meets the needs of younger families as well. We have four families with children. Our building is close to schools, day care, parks and libraries as well as shopping, services and dining. We see these families out walking and biking all the time.

Some of our residents work at home or have frequent travel schedules. Our downtown location works for them. A lot is made that everybody can't live near where they work, especially in today's two earner families. This is true BUT the kind of proximity that our homes downtown offer does provide great convenience and reduce non commute travel and parking, which make up a considerable portion of daily travel.

Our city council is embarking on an update of our Comprehensive Plan and has pledged as part of that effort to look at increasing options for housing near services, shopping, dining and transit. They are also aware of the large increase in population over 65 and over 75 and 85 that is coming to Palo Alto.

I invite readers to share their personal housing stories and what they think people new and old, younger, older and in between will want as housing choices in Palo Alto between now and 2030, the Comp Plan horizon.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Eric Rosenblum, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 17, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Eric Rosenblum is a registered user.

Thanks for kicking this off, Steve. I agree that the importance of housing cannot be overstated-- it has such a strong link to opportunity, health, safety and community.

We moved from one side of Palo Alto (near Ramos Park) to the other side (near Johnson Park). We enjoyed living in both places, but have really appreciated being able to walk almost everywhere. Our yard is smaller, but we now spend a lot more time in the park, and that allows us to meet more people.

When we first moved, I was commuting to San Mateo, so I started taking Caltrain every day. Now I work in downtown Palo Alto, and get to walk to work, which is really special.

I grew up in Steubenville, Ohio, on a house surrounded by a farm. It was a beautiful place, but we had to get in a car to go almost anywhere. We were especially isolated when it snowed, and driving was treacherous. After my dad retired, he moved to a neighborhood in Pittsburgh that is also very walkable... it's been really great as he's gotten older.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton,
on May 18, 2015 at 8:29 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As I have proposed elsewhere we should put Caltrain and HSR underground and use the vacated surface area for higher density housing and pedestrian and bicycle paths that connect the entire Peninsula. Cheap - No. A better long term solution for transportation, housing and reuniting our communities - Yes.

Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on May 18, 2015 at 6:00 pm

This is an interesting topic. I agree that being able to walk (or roll in a wheelchair) to most places from one's home is very important. However -- our population is so large that very few will be able to fit into apartments and condos within walking distance of any downtown. In order to solve this problem, we need to think outside the box, and provide safe, reliable, frequent, and affordable transportation for everyone, no matter where they live. Also -- delivery services for food need to be greatly expanded, and other businesses should be assisted in operating delivery services.

For the elderly, Avenidas provides some services, and this sort of thing needs to be greatly expanded. But it is a start, and a very good one, so that people can stay in their own homes as long as possible as they age. ("Aging in place".)

I myself live far from my downtown, and although there are is a shuttle bus I could use, it does not often go where I need to go, nor does it run long enough hours.

Being able to walk to most things is great -- but it is simply not realistic or possible for most people.

Posted by GAP , a resident of Barron Park,
on May 19, 2015 at 4:26 pm

I strongly agree with Steve's points, and many others, and have noted many times that all types of housing are critical ( and especially"affordable" housing) if we are at all serious about providing housing choices for people from a range of incomes and circumstances. Purchasing homes and renting both are very hard for most people within this region.

The only way is to provide more housing is to develop additional compact and dense housing options and/or provide improved mobility options to make it possible for individuals and families to access jobs and services of all kinds.

In an ideal world, we need to increase partnerships with the larger and prosperous corporate firms in the region and underscore the critical need for housing and improved mobility-- and make those options critical community benefits associated with significant development of any type. Some of that is being crafted but certainly not enough.

I also believe that more partnerships among subgroups of cities, non-profits housing groups, and business sector.. to achieve these goals would have benefit rather than each City mostly forging a path on their own.

We all see that unless you inherit wealth, earn wealth, or bought many many years ago that you will not be able to engage in home ownership in this region (and, frankly, may not be able to rent either).
The challenges have been recognized over and over but different and more aggressive solutions and options need more work and action....

Posted by Techie, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 20, 2015 at 8:27 am

I was lucky enough to be an early employee at two $1B+ startups, and I did very well from that. I rented for many years in Palo Alto, and bought a house in Menlo Park a few years ago.

I can't complain - this economy has treated me well. I've worked hard, but I've also been very lucky. I see many other people who have worked just as hard, but not been so lucky. Beyond that, we must also remember the people who are not engineers, doctors, or lawyers. Those people used to be able to afford smaller homes, but the entire Peninsula (even Redwood City and EPA) is now realistically closed to them to own here.

I've heard the joke that Palo Alto is a two-exit town: it takes two exits to be able to live here. From my experience, it's not really a joke.

Yes, this area always been unaffordable, but the housing shortage has truly reached crisis levels.

Posted by Techie, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 20, 2015 at 9:05 am

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday. She is a successful lawyer in her thirties, and her husband is a successful professional as well. I'm sure their combined income is well over 250k, which is usually considered rich at a national level.

They have been renting in Palo Alto for about five years and recently had a child. They are looking to own and have a guaranteed place so they don't have to move around as renters often do.

They quickly determined they couldn't afford the payments on a multi-million dollar starter home in Palo Alto. she's currently looking in was being outbid for homes in Redwood City and considering EPA.

She would be happy to live in a condo, especially in downtown where she could walk to work, groceries, and restaurants. Cal Ave would be fine, too - she could bike to work and still walk to services.

Unfortunately, there are a very small number of condos in Palo Alto, and very few are on the market. So they are reluctantly resigned to leave Palo Alto.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 20, 2015 at 11:00 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks to the people who have shared their stories.

On May 30 the City will hold an event in preparation for updating the Comp Plan. One of the breakout sessions will be on housing.

The starting point is that the council has adopted a housing element to identify sites for at least 2000 more units by 2022. They have also pledged to use the Comp Plan process to consider changing some sites from south Palo Alto to areas closer to services, shopping and transit.

I think this is a good idea, particularly in light of the stories above.

I also think that Palo Alto benefits from being a place where families making between $100,000 and $250,000 a year can find housing options that fit their needs.

Share your ideas here, at the summit and in the following months.

P.S. Doug Moran and I usually do not agree on much but he made a very good point in a recent blog, one that I forgot to mention--the importance of having housing options without stairs.

We chose our condo because it is on one story or in Doug's words--a horizontal unit instead of one with stairs. We did this for thinking 10 to 20 years ahead but now find it has an unintended benefit. Our son and daughter-on-law are expecting their first child. Our home will now work for them when they visit and we get to do grandparenting.

Posted by Housing Advocate, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on May 20, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Here's an option that our built-out city might consider downtown and on California Ave. It would require a PC zoning in order to exceed the 50-ft height limit, but other buildings in town have done that.

Web Link

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton,
on May 20, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Again, put CalTrain/HSR underground and use the then available surface space for HIGH density housing and put Class I bike and pedestrian lanes on the entire corridor.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 20, 2015 at 2:00 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

I know that previously some residents have considered Peter Carpenter's idea with respect to the CalTrain corridor.

I have no idea about the economics but it seems like an interesting idea to pursue since it could mitigate some of the challenges of electrifying CalTrain and increasing capacity on this corridor that links so many downtown areas.

I don't envision 20 or 50 story condo complexes in Palo Alto but the idea of exploring height limit increases in selective areas has two benefits.

One, it can address our substantial peninsula housing shortage, probably with fewer sites than without a selective height limit change and 2) more density can take pressure off the rapid increases in rents and sales prices and with a mix of different sized units, offer more housing choices.

Posted by Housing Advocate, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on May 20, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Exploring height limit increases in selective areas only nibbles delicately at the edges of the housing shortage. We need definite action of the sort I indicated if we want to address the issue substantively. What are your specific objections?

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton,
on May 20, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Imagine CalTrain and HSR being put underground and then putting high density, including tall buildings, low and moderate income housing being built on the right of way immediately adjacent to every station.

Any community that did not want the housing would not get a station.

This would greatly increase the train ridership and decrease current automobile commuting from distant less expensive communities. And time and time again it has been shown that economic activity is drawn to such transportation and housing hubs.

Posted by Eric Rosenblum, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 20, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Eric Rosenblum is a registered user.

I find the vision outlined by Mr. Carpenter super attractive. I know that some analysis was done by Tony Corrasco (sp?) among others. I believe that at the time, the economic case for the land value covering the cost of tunneling was marginal. Given changes in the past few years, I do wonder what the economic model would look like for transforming our downtown while supporting mass transit.

Posted by Mila Z, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on May 20, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Steve, thanks for inviting us all to share our stories.

My deal? I'm super lucky. My parents purchased a dumpy little Eichler (don't get me wrong: I love Eichlers with all their imperfections) in 1978 in south Palo Alto. 

Both teachers, they were solidly middle class and after being kicked out of their apartment in Mountain View for becoming pregnant with me in 1976 (just shy of when fair housing laws went into effect), they scraped together funds from family to make the downpayment. Many a year we wondered if we could afford to stay as my late father's retirement loomed near.

The 90's kicked in just in time and with appreciating land values, the numbers finally made sense for my parents to stay. Both my brother and I graduated from Gunn and Paly respectively, earning scholarships to attend the top design school and music conservatory in the country.

I went on to live in multi-family housing - in San Francisco, Providence, Cambridge, Madrid, Belgrade and Oakland. I loved living in apartments - I found that as long as there was a park and services and transportation I could walk to, I could enjoy everything I wanted to including gardening, an active dog, and two joyful toddlers.

Ultimately we left Oakland for Palo Alto because of two reasons: extended family and schools. With 3 grandparents in close proximity (my spouse is also a Gunn graduate), the reality of successful co-parenting for us has been the generosity that our parents have given us with their time and commitment to childcare, which in turn has enabled us to launch businesses, work for nonprofits, and take needed time off for life's changes. With a network of family friends, when we found a sweetheart deal to rent what we could afford, put our kids in the same schools we attended as children, and have the cost of childcare cut in half, it was a no-brainer: we were coming home.

Sweetheart deals come and go though. There are fewer and fewer of them. 

In the winter of 2012 my mom fell and hurt herself. Don't worry, she healed up - but through that experience she decided that she wanted to age in place and in doing so, didn't want to live alone. She wanted to set the Eichler up so that a family could live with her, maintain some independence, and still enjoy the home she had fought so hard to hold onto over the years. So that is what we did. 

The rent I pay my mom, a piano teacher on a limited income, pays for the equity line we used to fix the house for multi-generational living. The house is in good shape, we have family, and our kids are receiving an excellent education, one which I think surpasses the one I received. Sure, there are plenty of days where both my mom and I wish we could have built an in-law unit or laneway house or even a duplex that looked like a single family house instead of the exact arrangement we have but in reality, it works pretty well especially given our alternatives.

That gets me back to my initial answer: good luck. I have far too many friends and extended family who at this rate will never be able to return to Palo Alto to raise their kids with mine, who have moved out of the Peninsula or the Bay Area altogether, and from my work with local nonprofits, have met hundreds of the thousands of people who are falling deeper and deeper into poverty around us. I've come across friends I recognize in homeless shelters and recognize homeless clients working in the stores I shop at around town.

I don't believe I had a right to return to housing in Palo Alto just because I'm from here. But if each and every town on the Peninsula continues to turn a blind eye to our significant role in larger economic forces which are at work here, what is our collective responsibility for future generations? We thrive in the now because of the businesses and institutions that we have grown here, and yet we are reluctant to make arrangements to thrive as a community long term.

Why? Part of the answer may be because we might think that we need to be experts in land use planning to understand or work on this. I have not found this to be the case and hope more people get involved.

We need to take a sobering look at the systems we are a part of - we need to help build the transportation infrastructure our modern metropolis needs and not simply write off housing either because some of us got lucky and we want to preserve our good fortune or because balancing self preservation while addressing the issues appears to be futile. We can't do this if only a small portion of the populace participates in the conversation.

Why? Part of the answer may be self interest. You know what though? We could use some of that for positive change because some day my good luck may run out and what will I have to show for it? That I got mine while the going was good? Or that we worked to create ours, for all.

Posted by Chris, a resident of another community,
on May 20, 2015 at 8:23 pm

If someone cannot afford to live in in the Bay Area, including Palo Alto, then move to where you can afford to live. My family did this our entire lives. My grandfather actually lived in Palo Alto in the 1920s, and did fairly well as a builder, but the Great Depression wiped him out, and he moved to another town. He took a job as a laborer and my grandmother took in other children for a small fee or for barter. This entire notion that people, somehow, deserve to live in their place of choice is absurd.

I don't live in Palo Alto, although I am currently visiting my grandson here, but I would expect that Palo Alto, next to Stanford University, is a place for the elite brains that make most of it work in a tech society (like Steve Jobs). I am now an older person, but I don't demand to live in Palo Alto. Why should anybody else?

There are many chances for good lives in this country, outside of Palo Alto. Why does Palo Alto think that everyone who wants in should get in? Is this some kind of guilt trip?

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 20, 2015 at 10:51 pm

Carpenter's vision of housing (portion deleted) over buried RR tracks is neither new nor fiscally tractable. Housing Advocate's supertowers work as superluxury condos for superwealthy Manhattanites, but are hardly feasible (or welcome) here.

Does anyone know of any present housing on University, besides the President? Some apartments were advertised to be included in 499 University, built a couple decades ago, but somehow they wound up as offices. 429 University is supposed to have a floor of housing, but nobody should be surprised if offices materialize instead.

Living downtown is nice, even if it is a food desert for families of modest means, but economics apparently do not favor new housing here. And the supermajority of Palo Altans evidently prefer the tranquility of our leafy suburbs anyway.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on May 21, 2015 at 1:47 am

"On May 30 the City will hold an event in preparation for updating the Comp Plan."

About 370 sign-ups on Eventbrite's list so far. Should be an interesting crowd.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton,
on May 21, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Carpenter's vision of housing (portion deleted) over buried RR tracks is neither new nor fiscally tractable."

I make no claim to having a unique idea.

Note that San Francisco is considering doing exactly the same thing in order to capitalize on the surface rights currently used by trains adjacent to 4th and Townsend.

The only obstacle to doing something bold is small minds who only look at the individual pieces of a problem rather than taking a broader perspective. Continuing down the path of increased traffic congestion and economic ghettos is not a wise path to the future for the Peninsula.

Posted by Slow Down, a resident of Community Center,
on May 22, 2015 at 11:06 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

Palo Alto already has too much housing, and too much density, which is what's leading to too much traffic. From 1960-2000 Palo Alto had a steady ungrowing population of about 55,000 people. That's about all that can fit comfortably. The increase in housing and population in the last 15 years has made Palo Alto a worse place, not a better place.

If you want an urban walkable high density lifestyle, go live it and advocate for it in San Jose or Oakland or San Francisco. I live here specifically to avoid that lifestyle.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on May 22, 2015 at 11:29 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Slow Down - who do you propose will provide your "my lifeboat is full" community with fire protection, police services, schools and places to shop?
And do you expect all of those people to walk to work from Gilroy and Stockton?

Posted by Neilson Buchanan, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 22, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Thanks, Peter and Steve....let's get down to three specifics.. we are suffering from too many generalities. We need a bias for action, not talk. Here are my nominations for action.

1. Master planning in two or more local Peninsula cities to find sites for 2 more "Channing Houses" to be built in the next 10 years.
2. Concept plans for housing, retail, etc above underground rail. Without concept plans this idea will be frozen by fear from people who do not understand creative solutions that would evolve after strenuous debate. This is a 25+ year effort at best.
3. Palo Alto's escalating job/housing imbalance. Start with frank discussion of social, demographic and political consequences. What is a job dominated society with "frozen" housing inventory? What is a job frozen society when economic opportunities are not frozen?

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 22, 2015 at 12:39 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Neilson for joining the discussion and for your ideas.

I like your suggestions.

I will write more later.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton,
on May 22, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"2. Concept plans for housing, retail, etc above underground rail. Without concept plans this idea will be frozen by fear from people who do not understand creative solutions that would evolve after strenuous debate. This is a 25+ year effort at best."

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:36 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If this is done one crossing at a time it will be very expensive, take a long time and result in a dis-integrated design.

Please at least think about a more comprehensive and integrated approach.

Why not see this as an opportunity rather than a problem?

One thought is the put the trains underground, use the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and use the surface above the stations for transit connections and parking. The surface area of the current right of way is very valuable land - particularly in Atherton - and could generate a lot of the needed capital.

Why not take this as an opportunity to design a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose system that uses the existing right-of-way that includes CalTrain, HSR, utility conduits for telephone and internet cables, surface housing with high density housing around each station. And add pedestrian path and a separate bicycle path on the surface along the entire right of way. And include 3 or 4 12" conduits for the technology of the future.

We should think of this right of way as an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula.

A piecemeal approach will be very expensive.

Do it once and do it right.

Let's take the big view and come up with a win-win solution.

Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 22, 2015 at 2:35 pm

I an very glad to hear from people with attitude different from" I got mine, all else is crowded".

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 22, 2015 at 3:19 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Living in Palo Alto is not an automatic right people should have. I can live here because I had saved and sacrificed for many years. My sacrifice included years of renting tiny, crummy studio apartments in bad areas, driving ancient jalopies until they literally disintegrated, not going out to movies and restaurants for years, not even dating for years(dating can be expensive), not taking any vacations for more years that I care to remember). I never thought i had a right to live here, and I wanted to live in Palo Alto precisely because it was NOT Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hong Kong or San Jose.

Palo Alto is out of space, period. Tinkering with a few ideas, even innovative ideas that might create few housing units here and there will not solve the problem. Unless this town is turned into a Manhattan-like place, we will not be able to satisfy the desire of millions of people who want to live here.

The only solution is to have companies, especially start ups, move to parts of the state and country that have the space and need economic development and an economic boom. Many areas have depressed economies, but lots of available housing as well as space for new housing. This would be the proper and patriotic thing to do. Just like not everybody can live in Woodside, Pacific Heights, Beverly Hills or Bel Air, not everybody can live in Palo Alto, and we should stop pretending that we can somehow squeeze in every young family, young couple or elderly who wants to live here.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on May 22, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

OK Maurico - who do you propose will provide your "my lifeboat is full" community with fire protection, police services, schools and places to shop?
And do you expect all of those people to walk to work from Gilroy and Stockton?

The current CalTrans right of way could easily support 10,000 housing units between Sunnyvale and Redwood City and they all could use the train to commute.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 22, 2015 at 10:00 pm

The only obstacle to doing something bold is small finances. Utopian liberal dreams are one thing (I share them too), but reality rules. The USA is not into investing in infrastructure.

And we both know that no amount of money will let this proposition fly in Atherton anyway.

Posted by Tom G. , a resident of another community,
on May 23, 2015 at 2:42 am

Dear Mr. Carpenter,

That is a great idea, with mid rises over the the new grade level areas over the right aways, You've accomplished many things including saving lives by under grounding at the stations and nearby crossings. We are also saving money not having to buy additional right of way land, and high density housing where it can be used most, close to shopping, transportation and employment.

Thank you, How do you take this to the next level of powers to be.

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 23, 2015 at 6:41 am

mauricio is a registered user.

@Peter Carpenter- Atherton has also priced itself out of reach for all but few very wealthy people, yet still has police, fire services, etc. Have you ever stopped to think of where do the people who provide you these services actually live?

(portion deleted)

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 23, 2015 at 11:57 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

I started this blog to focus on the people who will live in new housing up and down the peninsula and to give voice to their needs and aspirations.

My own special concern for Palo Alto is that our present course will make it difficult if not impossible for new families to live here if they make under $250,000 a year.

I think the city will change for the worse if we do not find ways to accommodate these families in market rate housing affordable to them. We will continue to become a city populated by older residents who bought their home years ago (like Nancy and me) or fairly wealthy younger families. I do not like the vision of a city where a couple each making $100,000 a year cannot buy a home or find a good rental.

If the median price for a smaller home now in Palo Alto is near or over $2 million, you cannot simply tell people to buy an existing home if they want to live here unless you are willing to have only new families that can spend more than $10,000 a month on housing.

We are allowing PA to be unaffordable to any but fairly wealthy new families.

Is this the city you want?

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 23, 2015 at 12:03 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Some comments have argued that PA has "no space" for housing.

This is demonstrably false unless you mean only single family housing with yards.

There is plenty of "space" to build up and plenty of demand for housing in taller buildings as witness the surge in prices in our condo or 800 High or the other taller housing places in Palo Alto.

There is also space in Stanford Research Park, over the CalTrain line as Peter Carpenter has urged us to consider, over parking lots and garages everywhere, at Stanford Shopping Center and along El Camino.

People may not want more housing in Palo Alto and allow it to be accessible to only wealthy families but there IS space for more and more affordable market rate housing if we wish to preserve diversity of families earning $100,000 to $250,000.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 23, 2015 at 12:14 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

To Neilson Buchanan

Thanks for your suggestions.

Neilson highlights one of the demographic trends important for our regional housing discussion--the aging of our population.

Most of the growth in regional population to 2030 will be in residents over 65, where Palo Alto already has a higher share of population (17%) compared to the regional average (11%). He suggests correctly that there will be demand for independent and assisted living in places that have amenities and proximity. Even if many older residents prefer to stay in their empty nest, a large enough number will want other choices that allow them to stay near work, family and friends.

I would love to have Neilson's "frank discussion" of the relationship of jobs and housing.

But I also have a "let's do it" focus on housing. Let's try a micro unit project and see how it goes. Let's get serious about housing above a CalTrain tunnel and see whether the visionaries or skeptics are right. Let's think of combining parking areas and housing and making it easier to build second units on existing land.

I invite folks to identify other ways we can honor the needs of people in the region by making market rate housing more affordable through bold thinking and action.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 23, 2015 at 12:34 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

There actually are people who are "entitled" to live in Palo Alto. Under state law all cities are required to provide space for subsidized housing units. State and regional policy requires us to provide housing for some diversity by income group in our community.

This policy does not designate specific people but rather groups of people by income class and there are long waiting lists for whatever subsidized housing can be built.

Some people do not like this policy but this is true for most laws and policies in the country.

The Palo Alto Housing Element confirms our commitment to this policy.

BUT my focus here is on providing housing for people not out of entitlement but because I do not want Palo Alto to be a place where high earning but not super wealthy families can find new market rate housing so we do not become a place of only older or very wealthy families.

Posted by Chuck Thornberry, a resident of Monroe Park,
on May 24, 2015 at 7:28 pm

"The only obstacle to doing something bold is small minds who only look at the individual pieces of a problem rather than taking a broader perspective."

Well said. Silicon Valley is the world capital of innovation. It is our duty to lead.

Underground railroads with housing on the surface above is at least two centuries old. That's hardly innovative. Let's think to bring the future to us now!

The future of rail travel is maglev -- magnetic levitation -- which supports and propels the train with electromagnets instead of wheels. It is super quiet and an extremely smooth ride. Why hasn't anybody proposed it for Caltrain? China already has a maglev train. We are falling behind.

While we are installing the magnets, why not also use them to support housing above the tracks? Then we could easily move the housing to follow the jobs and eliminate all jobs-housing imbalances wherever they pop up.

Small minds may demur, but the broader perspective always wins.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on May 25, 2015 at 9:00 am

Tunneling the rail line will cost Billions of dollars. Great idea but not realistic. How can you build affordable housing when it involves billions to make the land usable in the first place? Of course someone will say that the state and the rail companies should pay for the tunnels...it still ends up coming from our collective back pockets through fees, taxes, bonds, assessments and any other government taxing scheme. It's money that the collective "we" do not have or will ever have.

I normally appreciate Mr. Carpenter's comments on the many subjects available on this forum. But his proposed no fund = no station would be the convenient excuse for Atherton to continue to not to contribute to the "regional" issue debated on this thread. I would suggest that the entire rail corridor would be utilized, including Atherton.

But I would just as quickly point out that it will never get funded. So all is moot.

Posted by Techie, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 25, 2015 at 3:43 pm

Putting housing over the Caltrain is one big, bold idea. But there are many others. Think about places where we could have big action to put hundreds or thousands of units in one place without needing skyscrapers:
* The Frye's site/El Camino Shopping Center
* 27 University
* Stanford Mall
* Stanford Research Park

Building new housing in these areas would not require massive up-front funding. If the city permits mid-rise housing in all these areas, we could would create five to ten thousand units total. We could create hundreds or thousands of units simply by permitting housing in some.

The Research Park alone is 700 acres! Many companies now prefer areas with mixed-use instead of the old suburban office park-style development, and SRP would be trivial to add frequent shuttles to the Cal Ave train station. Menlo Park is letting FB build thousands of units of housing; Mountain View is looking for Google to build thousands of units of housing. There's plenty of space in Palo Alto if we let other areas be built up like downtown is built up (four stories).

Big ideas are important. Some require no funding from the city - just allowing the market to work and provide supply in areas where it is currently forbidden.

Posted by Quantie, a resident of Portola Valley,
on May 25, 2015 at 6:12 pm

"Think about places where we could have big action to put hundreds or thousands of units in one place without needing skyscrapers"

800 High Street in Palo Alto provides a practical density benchmark: 60 units in 4 floors, on 1/2 city block. That's 15 units per story on a demonstrated workable footprint. "Hundreds of units" is 14 stories per 200. "Thousands of units" is 133 stories per 2000. That looks like skyscrapers by any Peninsula standards.

And I think Stanford is quite happy enough with its recent housing construction binge to spare its moneymaking enterprises at the shopping center and research park. That leaves Fry's and Palo Alto's curious allergy to the Frys' sales tax revenue.

We should be seriously be eyeing the seriously underutilized land in Atherton and Woodside.

As our blogomeister claims, "Under state law all cities are required to provide space for subsidized housing units. State and regional policy requires us to provide housing for some diversity by income group in our community." Even if his reading of the law weren't greviously flawed, good luck enforcing it in those highly eligible and untouchable communities.

Posted by Techie, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 25, 2015 at 6:31 pm

Quantie, I\'m just using Palo Alto\'s zoning code. The current highest-density zoning is 40 units per acre. Put that into 700 acres and you get tens of thousands of units. (Assume may 10% of that, or a few thousand, could realistically be built.) Put that into the one El Camino Shopping Center plot and you get hundreds of units.

So this is pretty achievable without skyscrapers. The skyscrapers would be if we only had a block to work with.

Posted by Techie, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 25, 2015 at 6:36 pm

Also, my understanding is that Stanford wanted to build much more, but it was knocked down to a couple hundred units after the city or perhaps neighbors complained.

In any case, we can permit more housing without requiring it. If it doesn't make sense for the companies that are leasing the property, they don't have to build it. Companies like FB and Google have shown a strong desire to build housing even though their current office parks were not initially zoned for it.

Posted by Quantie, a resident of Portola Valley,
on May 25, 2015 at 10:20 pm

700 acres?!! OMG!! That's practically all of the available open land at 27 University! Surely you don't think... .

You badly misunderstand the Stanford thing.

Posted by Techie, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 26, 2015 at 10:51 am

Quantie - I'd be happy to learn more and change my views, but I'm not getting enough detail to figure out what you are talking about. Can you elaborate?

The 700 acres figure is for the whole of the Stanford Research Park, not 27 University. (That's much smaller - maybe just a few acres?) Obviously, the whole of that 700 acres would not be redeveloped as mixed-use, but permitting four-story housing in even a small part of it could lead to thousands of units.

I'd love to hear what you mean about the Stanford housing changes. I'm just repeating what I've been told by insiders at Stanford, but I'm open to the possibility that they were misled by the actual decision makers at Stanford or that they were deliberately misleading me.

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