Misuse of Mixed-use Development | A Pragmatist's Take | Douglas Moran | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

A Pragmatist's Take

By Douglas Moran

E-mail Douglas Moran

About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

View all posts from Douglas Moran

Misuse of Mixed-use Development

Uploaded: Apr 23, 2016
Mixed-use development is an enticing concept. The notion is that by combining different categories--housing, office, retail--you can make better use of the available land by sharing underutilized resources, such as parking. For example, you could combine housing with professional offices--most of the parking needs of the employees and clients of the offices would 9am-6pm weekdays and which time many of the residents' cars would be in parking lots where they worked. Notice that this doesn't assume no overlap: There can be some parking associated with the offices on nights and weekends, and some of the residents may work out of home offices, and thus have their cars there during business hours. It is common for zoning ordinances to recognize such sharing, for example requiring less parking than would be required for the housing and professional offices if they were separate developments.

Advocates for various mixed-used developments commonly overestimate the amount of sharing possible because they underestimate peak usages. For example, in a development with housing over retail, the expectation is that many of the residents won't be home when the stores are busy. This may well be a legitimate estimate for weekdays, but on weekends, both can have large demand.

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is." The first problem is that "mixed-use" involves such broad categories that the actual sharing isn't predicted by the theory. An egregious example occurred in one of the proposals for redeveloping the Hyatt Rickeys hotel site (at El Camino and Charleston, now named Arbor Real). A rebuilt hotel would have occupied the front of the site (El Camino) and high-density housing in the back. Since this was technically mixed-use, the developer claimed that it was entitled to have greatly reduced parking. Ask yourself "Under what circumstances would the bulk of the hotel's customers and the residents of the housing not have their cars there during the night--a conflicting pattern, instead of sharing?" The proposed site map showed most of the parking oriented around the hotel--the site could easily have been subsequently split into two independent parcels, with most of the parking on the hotel's parcel, and thus unavailable to the housing. Even if the split didn't happen, the hotel--being the site's owner--would likely have restricted parking to ensure enough for its customers and staff. The residents of the housing would have been forced to use on-street parking in the surrounding neighborhoods.(foot#1)

Another constraint on mixed-use is where the various components are located on the site. For example, the Fry's site is zoned to become housing, or possibly housing with a mix of retail and offices (currently deferred; the politics and decisions are off-topic here). In the 2006 deliberations, Staff and consultants claimed that mixed-use would allow enough square-footage for retail that Fry's could stay, albeit as a slightly smaller store (rather than the larger store Fry's wanted). However, their concept drawings showed the retail space split up over multiple buildings--a single large building would have greatly complicated giving adequate windows to the housing on the upper floors. Can you image a retailer like Fry's functioning in such a configuration?(foot#2)
Reminder: The topic is mixed-use, not the specifics of any individual project/proposal except to the extent they illustrate the larger issues.

Parking for housing or offices over retail is often based on the assumption that residents and office workers will leave the most convenient parking available for customers of the stores. This is very difficult to enforce with ticketing and towing. A design that makes the stores' parking inconvenient to the residents and office workers has the very undesirable effect of also making it inconvenient for them to be customers of the stores.

This becomes a bigger problem for the retailers when the other components of the mixed-use development seem to be underparked. For example, this was a major issue for Alma Village (near Meadow Drive; formerly Alma Plaza). It has housing in the back and housing above the small retail space in front. The assumption was that the residents living above the retail would park underneath the building, leaving the surface parking spots available to the customers. There was also an assumption that the housing in the back wouldn't generate conflicts for the retail parking, although many saw that housing as under-parked, both for residents and guests.

Building layout imposes constraints on what categories of retail can occupy ground level. This can be seen in the San Antonio Center where Carmel The Village Apartments replaced Sears. It appears that more than half the ground floor is used to support the apartments above (parking, lobby, other infrastructure), leaving 17 slots for retail. Currently, 7 are empty, 6 are restaurants/takeout, 3 are salons, 1 is a dry cleaner.(foot#3)

While these stores are individually not a problem, they are part of an ongoing shift in the mix of what is available locally. Over the years, I have seen too many proposals for office developments claiming to be mixed-use because they make provision for a coffee shop, small cafe, ... The city doesn't benefit from having yet more of a type of retail of which there is already an excess.

As certain categories of stores require longer and longer drives, one impact is the carbon footprint of that drive and the time wasted, but another impact is that people decide the inconvenience is too much and (grudgingly) change their lifestyle to not need what those stores offer. For example, the reduction in hardware stores means that families are doing less Do-It-Yourself maintenance and repairs and their children are getting fewer opportunities to develop intuitions about how the mechanical world works.(foot#4)

Returning to housing over retail, there are various types of retail that generate significant noise when most people are sleeping. For example, bars (at night) and bakeries (in the early morning). Smaller retailers can usually take deliveries and do restocking during normal business hours, but higher volume retailers often need to handle deliveries and restock when closed for business. Over the years, the California Avenue business district has had problems with the normal night-time noise for such a district disturbing nearby residents. For example, sidewalk and parking lot cleaning, trash pickup, deliveries. Before you say that this same situation occurs in many urban areas, ask yourself what is the same and what is different about Palo Alto.

In local discussions of housing-retail mixed use, it is almost inevitable that someone will bring up Santana Row, especially in discussions of the California Avenue area. First, they ignore the issue of scale and critical mass--notice on the map how much retail is present in the development itself and nearby (for example, Valley Fair Mall). Compare this to California Ave (map).
Visualization problem: In Google Maps, zooming in/out can produce disproportionate changes in the amount of labeling shown, but inconsistently. For example, at the zooming level that has the 200-foot scale (4 steps up), Santana Row is more thickly labeled than Cal Ave (labels are shown for more of the stores in a similar distance).

But the bigger problem is that Santana Row is designed for different demographics. It is marketed as being for people with lots of disposable income and leisure time, whereas what is being advocated for Palo Alto is affordable housing over restaurants and small shops. One of the big purported advantages of housing over retail is that the residents would have greatly reduced need to drive to retail, and their patronage supports the nearby businesses. But if the housing is occupied by families scrimping to get their children into Palo Alto schools, and the businesses are high-end boutiques and expensive restaurants, neither of those purported advantages actually accrue.

The lack of critical mass of retail can work against sharing with the housing. An acquaintance owns a building on Cal Ave with housing over retail. The residents work at Stanford and take the Marguerite Shuttle to work, but for their shopping and other non-work activities, they need a car. Consequently, their cars are parked in the Cal Ave area most of the time--minimal sharing, trivial benefit from the mixed-use configuration. How representative is this? I don't know. But neither does City Hall and its consultants and the other advocates of mixed-use.


As practiced in Palo Alto, mixed-use dogma is not about having a better city but rather providing a rationalization and incentives for over-development. Be aware that some of the incentives in Palo Alto's zoning ordinance are mandated by the state. In what sane, non-corrupt system would the incentives purportedly intended to decrease the jobs-housing imbalance result in increasing that imbalance? For example, for including a few housing units in an office development, allow additional office space that more than offset that housing.

Alma Village (formerly Plaza) is the poster child for these abuses. The opening move seemed not only legitimate, but laudable: Council approved mixed-use for the site to allow housing-over-retail in the portions of the site where that was reasonable, thereby providing some additional housing and improving the finances for redeveloping the neighborhood retail center. What the developer did was split the parcel with roughly 80% being single family homes, with a small housing-over-retail in the front (map). While acknowledging that this violated the intent of the designation, the feckless and/or faithless Council then gave their approval.

Housing-over-office mixed use has been used to rationalize providing inadequate parking for a development, for example, in the late-2000s, proposals for the development at 195 Page Mill (between Park Blvd and the Caltrain tracks) argued that a non-trivial portion of the office workers would live in the apartments above. They also argued that there would be a greater turn-over in the parking--residents driving to work freeing up spaces for employees arriving--while at the same time arguing the reverse for traffic impacts--that there would be many fewer cars arriving and departing.

One of the side-effects of the misuse of mixed-use is deliberately bad urban design. For example, you want a development to have good connectivity to the surrounding neighborhood to promote walkability and bicycling to various destinations. But if the development is allowed to have inadequate parking, how is that neighborhood to defend itself from being swamped by overflow parking? The easiest, often only, way is to require physical barriers between that development and the neighborhood, severely curtailing connectivity. While City Hall may say that it values walkability and connectivity, its higher priority has historically been to find ways to provide bonus development rights.

Mixed-use development is a useful concept, but it is vague, littered with exceptions and special cases and consequently difficult to formalize with rules. City Hall has a long history of misusing this concept. Sometimes through analysis that is so shallow and problematic that regular residents quickly spot the faults. Other times it is to help developers "game the system".

1. This proposal was not formally submitted for approval. It died because of a confluence of the 9/11 recession, changes in focus for hotel development (shift from El Camino corridor to 101 and 280), and dithering at Hyatt headquarters (in Chicago).

2. Background on Fry's site: One of the continuing objections is the loss of retail (not specifically Fry's), both for revenue for the City and retail services for residents, employees and companies, and trip reduction (for example, the next closest Fry's is Sunnyvale, 10 miles away). In 2006, City Hall created a Pedestrian- and Transit-Oriented District (PTOD) for the Cal-Ventura area (stretching from Cambridge Avenue to Lambert Avenue), with City Council removing the Fry's site from the Staff proposal for the PTOD because there were so many unanswered questions and contradictions.
Aside: My presentation.
Detail: The City's portion of sales tax is 1% of purchase price (11.4% of the current tax).

3. Current occupants of retail slots at Carmel The Village Apartments:
** Front Building #1, Safeway Side:
--Veggie Grill
--Pizza Studio
--18/8 Fine Men's Studio (Salon)
--LaserAway (Hair Removal Salon)
--Lobby for housing units
** Front Building #2, California Avenue Side:
--Paul Martin's American Grill
--Dong Lai Shun Restaurant (pending as of 3/2016)
--Pacific Catch (Restaurant)
** Front of Back Building (in front of garage, next to Safeway):
--Lux Beauty Salon
--Green Street Dry Cleaners
** California Avenue Side of Back Building:
-- Entirely empty. There are 6 listed addresses, but no interior walls.

4. I have heard repeatedly from manufacturing engineers and building contractors about their frustration with designers who stubbornly believe that whatever their computer application allows them to do can be fabricated and assembled. A classic example of this disconnect is the Walkway collapse in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City in 1981 that killed 114 and injured 216.
There is also benefit in the reverse direction: For people developing digital systems, experience with mechanical systems provides a stronger and broader appreciation for the ways things can go wrong, the risks of such happening, and how to structure systems to minimize failures (and to "fail soft").


An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.

----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The Guidelines for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.

If you behave like a Troll, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 23, 2016 at 9:14 am

Mixed Use can also be called shared facilities.

As an example, a few churches in the area are sub letting (either by rent or as a friendly exchange) their facilities to another denomination who will meet Sunday afternoon, rather than Sunday morning. Or they are using their sunday school classrooms as preschool or after school care during the week.

There are many ways this idea could be followed by businesses. As an example, a breakfast/brunch style restaurant run by one co-owner in the morning, could be run by another co-owner as a dinner establishment in the afternoon and evening. A school site could be used for adult education in the evenings, a cinema could be used for streaming classes from Oxford/Cambridge/Princeton/Yale in the mornings. Caltrain and other parking lots could/should be free after 3.00 pm to promote evening use of Caltrain or used for dinner parking.

All these could be efficient usages of space. I know codes, permits, insurance, etc. all come into play but I don't see why more of this type of shared facility can't become the norm in congested areas of Silicon Valley and Palo Alto in particular.

Also some of the parking overlap you mention in your post could be made to work with payment. For example, a large parking lot could have adjustable rate/free parking in the most faraway area. Without discussing the blue spots, we could have a system whereby some could pay one amount to have the larger spots and the compact spots cost more (having it the other way around would only encourage people to squeeze in). The higher floors in garages could cost less than the lower floors. Those at the far end of the lot are cheaper than those near the street.

Another idea is that homeowners could be able to rent out their driveway between the hours of 9 - 4. All those empty driveways could be utilized much better. I know of a friendly arrangement near one of our elementary schools where a local resident is allowing one of the teachers to use the driveway as there is not enough offstreet staff parking.

At present, these sharing options are hard to manage, but finding a way around the complicated red tape of such things could help two businesses or similar to overcome some basic problems. Evening and weekend use of facilities which would otherwise stand idle makes sense to me. As I said above, some is happening already. Encouraging shared use seems to be a logical next step.

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 23, 2016 at 10:12 am

mauricio is a registered user.

There is a 3 bedroom house on my street, owned by a foreign buyer/investor, in which about 10 young techies have been residing for the last yeas or so, youth hostel-style. Obviously, a way to live in Palo Alto while beating the astronomical rents and scarcity of housing. I assume this is a violation of a city ordinance or two, and is becoming more and more common, but does it qualify as mixed use?

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 23, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Resident" "...but I don't see why more of this type of shared facility can't become the norm in congested areas of Silicon Valley and Palo Alto in particular."

There are three distinct categories of sharing that need to be separated.

1. Sharing that could be implemented by the property owner without any changes to ordinances. For example, his example of "a cinema could be used for streaming classes from..."

2. Sharing that is impeded by ordinances other than the zoning ordinance. I remember there were some minor examples, but don't remember them.

3. Sharing that involves the zoning ordinance that gives bonus development rights on the assumption that the size of the bonus is justified by the amount of sharing.

The third category is the topic of this blog.

Advocates of mixed-use should recognize that they have been a major impediment to there being more true mixed-use. Advocates are not serious enough about whether a project is legitimate mixed-use or abusive of the term -- they support projects simply on the basis of the self-interested proclamation by the developer and ignore analyses.

As with Planned Community (PC) zoning, a well-intentioned concept that is widely abused is going to immediately trigger skepticism and hostility for any instance based upon the assumption that it is abusive.

As the old bit goes: "Why does everyone take an immediate dislike to person X?" -- "It saves time."

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 23, 2016 at 2:11 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Resident" "Also some of the parking overlap you mention in your post could be made to work with payment."

One needs to remember that payment schemes require enforcement and enforcement is expensive. A common maxim is "Engineering, Education, Enforcement", that is design a system so that people are strongly encourage to do what is intended, handle the exceptional cases with education, and have enforcement only as a last resort, hopefully for a few scofflaws.

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Apr 23, 2016 at 9:08 pm

[[Removed by blogger: content-free derision for the issue.

This commenter subsequently made multiple false reports that other comments here were "Objectionable Content".
This commenter also made subsequent comments that contained multiple related violations of the Terms of Use and Guidelines.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 23, 2016 at 10:36 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Readers, apologies for temporarily closing down comments except by registered users (see below). I will reopen this for comment -- the message at the end of the comment section tells you whether it is open or closed. I will not announce the reopening because that would generate a notification to the trolls, in essence inviting them to resume.

There is a group of trolls (multiple computers and/or mobile devices) engaged in harassment.

As part of this, they have sent a stream of false reports claiming "Objectionable Content" to me and to the site's managers. This is invisible to the readers but indicates malice.

They are also repeatedly posting messages that falsely characterize the blocking of the first message by "Reader" -- for violating civility -- as being censorship of his point of view. That "opinion" was nothing more than a derisive, sarcastic pseudo-question.

This is a common tactic of trolls -- to intentionally violate the rules in order to have their message deleted and then to scream "censorship", and then attack the blogger/forum for being intolerant of other points of view.

"Reader" also utilized another common tactic of trolls, known as "what-about" where the troll attacks the writer for not covering other topics. This tactic often includes making impossible demands for coverage/answers. In this case, he attacked me for not describing what was done in other cities over "centuries, if not millennia".

If you become a registered user, you will be able to post comments.
Note: If you aren't already a registered user, you don't have to register with a real name, but can specify an alias that can be used only by you. This can be an advantage if you don't want the confusion that can occur when multiple people are posting under the same alias, as often happens for unregistered aliases such as "resident". Of course, this is a disadvantage if you want to have separate identities in different discussions (using different aliases in a single discussion is a violation of the site's rules).

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 23, 2016 at 10:48 pm

You left out a puzzling metamorphosis: "mixed-use" developments that, gosh and golly, somehow end up as 100% offices after they're occupied.

Alma Plaza and 195 PMR followed the same script: the developer repeatedly blows off all PTC and Council mods to the project, until some enchanted evening when the Council, having duly expressed its continuing disappointment at the developer's intransiegence, suddenly receives a crisp motion to approve, followed by an immediate second, followed by a quick affirmative vote, then on to the next agenda item ... .

It is less likely that Councilmembers are feckless or faithless, than that something persuasive happened over a series of private lunches around the area. The Kabuki factor is just too obvious.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 23, 2016 at 11:01 pm

"...but there are a group of trolls (multiple computers and/or mobile devices) engaged in harassment."

Classical trolls, or representatives of one of the noses you've been pinching that are much more accustomed to reverential deference?

Just musin'

[[Blogger: Hard to say. A classical troll with basic skills will try to present himself as someone with involvement and interest in the specific issue. Or an issue-specific miscreant may utilize the methods of the classical troll.]]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 24, 2016 at 9:47 am

Curmudgeon raises a good point.
[[Blogger: Readers, I couldn't find the comment being referenced, but the questions below are ones that have been debated for decades, indicating their importance and the difficulty of getting even a "good enough" answer.]]

What is retail? Is a dentist, a tutoring service, gym (for adults or kids), etc. classed as retail?

My own opinion is that these are not retail but service providers. I have nothing against service providers, but places like Midtown and Charleston Plaza are losing conventional retail which is being replaced with service providers.

Likewise, mini business areas, such as Loma Verde/Middlefield, are not pure retail apart from the liquor store, but not sure if it ever was.

Is neighborhood retail in areas outside Downtown and Cal Ave subject to the same rules and should walkable residential neighborhoods be defined by the type of retail that is in walking distance? What may be walking distance to a healthy 30 something is probably very different to a fairly fit 60 something. How far is "walkable" defined?

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 24, 2016 at 5:56 pm

OK, since I'm referenced I'll put in another couple cents.

To me, retail means a business that sells tangible items, plus certain services based on tangibles, like dry cleaners. Retail promotes lively neighborhood centers because people tend to have much more need for its offerings than for legal, medical, or dental services.

Office uses, especially the software and schlock factories that city hall has allowed to take over our downtown, kill an area. They should be permitted only in designated industrial areas like the Stanford Research Park.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 24, 2016 at 9:20 pm

Correction following re-read: Software and schlock factories belong in industrial areas. Light office, like medical, dental, legal, works in any commercial zone.

Posted by pa_resident1433, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 25, 2016 at 9:15 am

pa_resident1433 is a registered user.

City of Palo Alto Municipal Code, 18.04.125

“Retail service” means a use generally open to the public and predominantly engaged in providing retail sale, rental, service, processing, or repair of items primarily intended for consumer or household use, including but not limited to the following: groceries, meat, vegetables, dairy products, baked goods, candy, and other food products; liquor and bottled goods, household cleaning and maintenance products; drugs, cards, and stationery, notions, books, tobacco products, cosmetics, and specialty items; flowers, plants, hobby materials, toys, household pets and supplies, and handcrafted items; apparel, jewelry, fabrics, and like items; cameras, photography services, household electronic equipment, records, sporting equipment, kitchen utensils, home furnishing and appliances, art supplies and framing, arts and antiques, paint and wallpaper, carpeting and floor covering, interior decorating services, office supplies, musical instruments, hardware and homeware, and garden supplies; bicycles; mopeds and automotive parts and accessories (excluding service and installation); cookie shops, ice cream stores and delicatessens.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 25, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Some points to ponder on the difficulty of defining "retail".

Is a lumber yard what is meant by retail in a downtown district? No. Because it is primary customers treat it as a single destination and arrive and depart by truck, thus adding no business to the rest of the retail district, while adding traffic problems. But a hardware store that carries some lumber is a very positive component of a retail district.
Note: The lumber yard example happens as cities expand into areas where such lumber yards were appropriate.

Is a yoga studio retail? Technically no, but it can be a desirable part of a retail district because it creates a lot of foot traffic that is easy to convert into customers for the surrounding true retail.
Note: Many yoga studios avoid this question by having a non-trivial retail component in the front that sells not just yoga-related products but a range of other products appealing to its customers -- making that retail component benefit from the foot traffic of the yoga practitioners.
But a minor variant of this are the software development companies that are illegally occupying space zoned for retail and try to obscure that fact by having a tiny, narrow retail display in the very front.
I chose yoga for my example rather than a generic gym because my observation is that yoga studios have more customers per square foot than the typical gym and tend to create more customers for surrounding businesses.
Judo and karate studios are an interesting midpoint -- they have a high density of customers when active and because most of their clientele are children, they generate foot traffic from the parents. Do their periods of relative inactivity (during school hours) offset this. My observation is that the advantages out-weigh this.

Posted by N, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Apr 25, 2016 at 4:18 pm

I do not necessarily disagree with many of the specific assertions put forth by the author, however I think the thrust of the argument is mislaid.

The ultimate result of all these relatively minor quibbles with mixed-use developments is that any concerned resident can, given a loud enough megaphone and enough dollars, put the kibosh on projects that, while not perfect, are still good and benefit the city. There is not a single parcel in Palo Alto that could be called "overdeveloped." The surrounding cities likewise are stringent, and nothing gets built anywhere except Tracy and Gilroy, which results in sprawl and pollution.

The Bay Area is in a full blown housing crisis. Most, (not all!), opportunities to add housing are probably worth it, when weighed versus the potential downside of, eg, "too many cafes", or, "the hardware store is in the wrong place." There was a time when Palo Alto could afford to be picky about its development, and that time is not now.

-former Palo Alto resident, banished forever thanks to high housing costs.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 25, 2016 at 5:06 pm


I'm with you. The city ought to enforce the housing portions of mixed use developments to ensure they are used as housing instead of executive office suites.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 25, 2016 at 6:10 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

"N"'s argument is a good example of two aspects of what has caused the current problems.

First: "X is all that matters" where in this case "X" is "housing".
You don't address the problem of making it affordable for people to live here by building "affordable" housing at the cost of driving out affordable retail.
You don't address the problem of carbon footprint of commutes by moving the costs to other trips. The rule-of-thumb I have heard from planners is 5 non-commute trips for every commute trip.

The second problem is his contempt for other people's issues and misrepresentation of those concerns.
For example, with "too many cafes" he misrepresents the concern of about certain types of retail squeezing out other types that are badly needed. Similarly, with "the hardware store is the wrong place" (emphasis added) misrepresenting the concern about loss of hardware stores.

It is this sort of refusal to deal honestly with legitimate concerns by so many mixed-use advocates that makes it difficult to deal with them (as I mentioned above).

Trust and enforcement mechanisms are two prerequisites for compromises and other agreements. The mixed-use advocates have destroyed their credibility, and City Hall has a long history of being unwilling to enforce agreements.

Posted by Roger Overnaut, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Apr 25, 2016 at 6:36 pm

"There was a time when Palo Alto could afford to be picky about its development, and that time is not now."

I most unhumbly beg to differ. If there was ever a time when Palo Alto needed to be picky about its development, that time is emphatically now.

In urban planning, haste lays waste. But a few sharpies in and out of Palo Alto Forward can make a lot of money from the rush. That's what this orchestrated housing hysteria is all about.

Posted by N, a resident of another community,
on Apr 25, 2016 at 7:58 pm

Doug, perhaps you missed my initial statement?

> I do not necessarily disagree with many of the specific assertions put forth by the author

I generally agree with the problems you've laid out. The point that you are missing is that when it comes to municipal planning, they are incredibly minor. What's the average home in PA these days, has it reached 2mil yet? What's the average rent? $4000/2Br? And we're worried about hardware store accessibility, like it's 1958? Seriously?

> You don't address the problem of making it affordable for people to live here by building "affordable" housing at the cost of driving out affordable retail.

I'm not sure what this statement is supposed to mean. You build housing by building housing, if there is demand for it. Retail follows. Moreover, retail has been drastically changing in the US for over two decades, moving from individual mom-and-pop shops to big box and the web; from downtowns to suburban malls, and now back again (into mixed-use developments). Storefronts will be occupied by whatever business model makes sense in a given space; you can't force shops to occupy a space just because it seems like there isn't the right "mix" of stores. Retail doesn't "squeeze out" other stores that are "badly needed"...that is a deeply subjective statement and ignores everything about retail space markets. Brick-and-mortar retail is _nothing_ like it was 20-30 years ago and is constantly adapting to new pressures. I get _why_ you're concerned about the things you're concerned about, but frankly, it's like being concerned that the waiter forgot to bring your burger when the restaurant is on fire around you.

I disagree with your assertion that it is I who is unwilling to deal with legitimate concerns. There is a singular major concern in the Bay Area right now, and that is the housing crisis, followed by transit. It is this level of fastidiousness and subjectivity in finding the "right" type of development that got us into this mess, not the inverse.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 25, 2016 at 11:42 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Above comment by "N"

Normally I delete comments that significantly misrepresent reality -- especially those that misrepresent the positions of other -- and that are contemptuous of those who have other perspectives and priorities. The intent is to:
1. keep discussions from going off-track as subsequent commenters try to correct the record.
2. discourage commenters from trying to "win" by being dishonest.

I am leaving this comment because it is illustrative of a perspective and tactics of a non-trivial group of activists on this issue.

I leave it to other commenters to elaborate on the problems in "N"'s comments, should they feel the need to do so.

Posted by N, a resident of another community,
on Apr 26, 2016 at 10:18 am

> contemptuous of those who have other perspectives and priorities.

Physician, heal thyself.

[[Blogger: The title and guidelines of this blog exclude "perspectives" that conflict with reality as invalid for this forum.
As to "N" not recognizing his contempt for other perspectives, see "...1958", "...burger...".
For example, he misrepresents concern about providing the different types of *spaces* needed for different types of retail as controlling the choices of which stores go where. The reality is that the zoning ordinance only specifies very broad categories -- see comment by "pa_resident1433" above.

Posted by Moran is the troll, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 26, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Well, it looks like Palo Alto’s version of Rush Limbaugh, Doug Moran, i back with another of his ridiculous postings. As usual there is an attack on the city administration.
[[ Remainder deleted by blogger: more of the same violation of guidelines.]]

Posted by Arthur Keller, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Apr 26, 2016 at 2:19 pm

One problem with mixed use reductions of parking requirements is that the parking often is not easily shareable. For example, parking in garages under townhouses cannot be shared. Therefore, the requirements for mixed use reductions in parking should include: no parking spaces are dedicated to specific units, the spaces counted towards the reduction should be convenient to all or most of the units, and short-term parking spaces (e.g., 30-minute or two-hour spaces for retail uses) be excluded from the reduction calculation. What we don't want is the development to cause spillover parking into the neighborhood.

Posted by David D., a resident of Stanford,
on Apr 26, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Doug, wouldn't you say that labeling those who have difficulty renting/buying in this incredibly tight market as a "group of activists" is rather contemptuous of their perspective? And how do you decide which perspectives conflict with reality and which don't, if in fact many people disagree with you about the situation on the ground?

I mean, you do what you want, but don't be surprised when your contempt for "millennial entitlement" is returned in kind.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 26, 2016 at 3:52 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: David D.

> "...when your contempt for "millennial entitlement" is returned in kind."

The only reference of mine to anything like "millennial entitlement" was an attempt to keep such phrases out of the discussion by warning commenters against triggering others to use that phrase. It occurred in my 2015 Oct 20 blog "Housing Policy: It's community, not generational":
"Based on the comments on that (Palo Alto Online news) article and on a related blog, comments about 'entitled Millennials' will be unavoidable, but let me try to blunt that. If you are a Millennial and you make a statement that others can reasonably interpret as a demand that others sacrifice for your benefit, that is entitlement."

So is "David D." dishonesty an act of commission -- knowing what he was saying was false -- or omission -- making a claim without bothering to determine whether it was true or false?


> "wouldn't you say that labeling those who have difficulty renting/buying in this incredibly tight market as a "group of activists" is rather contemptuous of their perspective?

Notice that my reference was to people advancing a particular argument, not "those having difficulty renting/buying ...
This misrepresentation is a significant act of intellectual incompetence or dishonesty.


> "how do you decide which perspectives conflict with reality"

There are easy cases such as when "N" makes claims that are contrary to both law and history.
Or when someone misrepresents positions and perspectives taken in that particular discussion thread or in other very public forums.
Or when someone makes claims contrary to substantial experience without any pragmatic indication of why the future would be different. For example, "N" claims that "Retail follows." housing development, which is contrary to experience (Arbor Real, Alma Village, Loma Verde (near 101),...)

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 26, 2016 at 4:17 pm

"... wouldn't you say that labeling those who have difficulty renting/buying in this incredibly tight market as a "group of activists" is rather contemptuous of their perspective?"

It could be a deep compliment if they actually activated and did something constructive. For example, expand the housing stock by ferreting out the "housing" in existing mixed-use developments and putting extreme pressure on city code enforcement if it is being used as office. Try 499 University and the two penthouse "apartments" at 260 Homer for starters.

Extra credit: design and pencil out a realistically feasible housing development within your price range on an available piece of land. Find a developer, go through the permits process, and get it up and open. No bumper sticker stuff; real numbers only. No whining at any stage.

Extrassimo credit: find an affordable living arrangement in a pleasant community and start your own company there.

Posted by Courtney, a resident of Stanford,
on Apr 26, 2016 at 7:32 pm

What a stupid NIMBY screed. Can't wait for the state of California to take over Palo Alto and force you to develop housing like everywhere else.

Posted by Thoughtful, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 26, 2016 at 9:38 pm

Thoughtful is a registered user.

A Pattern Language is a book by Architect Christopher Alexander. He designs communities according to a set pattern of requirements that meet the emotional, social and psychological needs of people.

How to create a shift away from building to honor the profit motive rather than the deeper needs of human being for connection and sacred space?

A correlation exists between the rise of suicides and the rise of over development or "mixed use" building and drastic home price increases in Palo Alto. Of course correlation never implies causation - but nonetheless - I frequently wonder.

Posted by Iconoclast, a resident of University South,
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:03 am

"A correlation exists between the rise of suicides and the rise of over development or "mixed use" building and drastic home price increases in Palo Alto. Of course correlation never implies causation..."

I concur. Suicides do not necessarily lead to over-building or higher real estate prices. Glad we settled that.

But more and more I wonder why this town gets too full of itself too often. In certain minds, that phenomenon can lead to illusions of grandeur, which then lead to promoting concrete (and glass) monuments to imagined grandeur, which leads to allowing foxy outside interests build their own monuments at a high cost to the town. The Farce can have a strong influence on ... .

So give it up, @Courtney, and check out the rest of the world. There's less here than you think you covet.

Posted by Rashad, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 27, 2016 at 6:55 pm

[[Deleted by blogger: indistinct piece of "ASCII drawing" -- using extended keyboard characters to make a picture.
Subsequent re-posting indicated that he was a juvenile (mentally, if not in age).

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Analysis/paralysis: The infamous ‘Palo Alto Process’ must go
By Diana Diamond | 6 comments | 2,106 views

Common Ground
By Sherry Listgarten | 3 comments | 1,649 views

The Time and Cost Savings of Avoiding a Long Commute
By Steve Levy | 5 comments | 1,520 views

Planting a Fall Garden?
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 957 views


Sign-up now for 5K Run/Walk, 10k Run, Half Marathon

The 39th annual Moonlight Run and Walk is Friday evening, September 29. Join us under the light of the full Harvest Moon on a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon. Complete your race in person or virtually. Proceeds from the race go to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, benefiting local nonprofits that serve families and children in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.