Let’s reconsider our “jobs-housing imbalance” problem | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Palo Alto Online |

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Let’s reconsider our “jobs-housing imbalance” problem

Uploaded: Mar 7, 2019
The headline in The Mercury News on Thursday was indeed alarming: “Palo Alto at nearly 3 times the size?” If Senate Bill 50 were to become law, which is a distinct possibility, the consequences for this city could be dramatic – up to 90,000 additional cars, some 46,000 new multi-story apartment buildings and homes around transit areas, and a city that no longer would be suburban in character. That was the conclusion of a new study by Embarcadero Institute, a nonprofit funded by foundations and private donors.

Critics say that the report is an extreme scenario that is misleading and may never happen. The numbers may be off and/or may not materialize until 20 or 30 years, but, if the bill is passed, Palo Alto will definitely grow – and grow.

Mayor Eric Filseth voiced his deep concerns over the bill sponsored by state Sen. Scott Weiner in his State of the City speech last week. Good for him!

Yes, there is a shortage of housing in the Bay Area, and that includes Palo Alto, but all this is premised on a 40-year-old concept that there is a jobs-housing imbalance problem that we need to solve. By the way, Palo Alto has, been contributing to the imbalance -- the city has, since 2005, approved from 220,000 to 230,000 square feet of downtown commercial space as compared to only 65,000 square feet added in the previous 15 years. “Commercial” results in more jobs.

It’s time to rethink the problem, and maybe get rid of the way officials are trying to solve the “jobs-housing imbalance” problem.

As I recall, that phrase was coined in the mid-1970s, and adopted by some forward-thinking groups and urban planners as a possible solution to our area’s traffic and housing problems. But the proposed solution is what is now causing our problems.

The solution task was given to ABAG, the Association of Bay Area Governments, a state organization since 1961. Its board of directors consists of elected officials, primarily city council members, from a variety of the 101 cities in the nine-county Bay Area. Not all cities are represented; terms rotate. So there is little the public can do to change the direction of ABAG’s activities, since the board members are not independently elected to ABAG.

ABAG officials decided that each city not only is responsible for the imbalance in their communities, but also is mandated to try to achieve a balance between jobs and housing. Sounds fine on paper, but it doesn’t work.

Take Palo Alto, which has to achieve this balance. This city is one of the biggest employers in the state – it has Stanford University and its two hospitals, it has the Stanford Research Park filled with corporate headquarters of major companies like SAP, and is a blossoming home for numerous start-ups, including Facebook, which eventually ran out of space in Palo Alto and relocated to Menlo Park.

ABAG has declared that since so many jobs of the above entities are located in Palo Alto, the city is responsible for providing housing to eliminate the imbalance. That is the fallacy, and the solution is nonsensical.

Neighboring Atherton doesn’t have to provide housing because it has few if any jobs and no imbalance. But Palo Alto’s big employers have thousands of people. These corporations and institutions do not just serve Palo Alto, which ABAG seems to presume; they serve a huge area.

ABAG’s demands have softened over the years because there finally is recognition Palo Alto can never provide enough housing – we simply don’t have the space.

But if SB 50 passes, the housing is bound to increase because the state will override the city’s density rules, parking requirements and height limits. The bill takes away local control over what is built here and instead requires four-story apartments near train stations and bus stops and possibly all over town.

That is why Filseth and others are so concerned about this bill. They – and me -- don’t want the state dictating what kind of town we must have. Our suburban community would fade away; a high-rise city would be the result.

This jobs-housing imbalance is not a national program; its origin is embedded in the Bay Area. But take other cities – New York, for example. Millions of people work there, but they live outside the city – in Queens, Brooklyn and Bronx counties, in nearby New Jersey. New York is the job center; the suburbs are the housing providers.

Ditto for Chicago and many other cities.

So I think it is time to get rid of this jobs-housing imbalance concept, and come up with new ideas. Right now, many local cities simply don’t have the room to provide thousands of new houses that would dramatically affect the character of their communities. Maybe it’s time for local corporations to consider keeping their headquarters in the area but then relocating their work force to other parts of the state or to other states. I’m sure the opportunities for more jobs in, say, Nevada or Idaho or Tennessee would be welcomed. Maybe we should tackle the imbalance as a regional, not a city problem. Perhaps tax laws need to be changed so that not only the job-filled cities make money, but that there are also financial incentives for communities to be housing oriented.

Let’s think outside of this imbalanced box.

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Comments

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 7, 2019 at 5:09 pm

How does Stanford fit into the mix of this? I have no idea how many people work at Stanford (in all definitions meaning work/employed) but I feel sure they do not supply that much housing for their workers/employees. Should Palo Alto have to build more housing each time Stanford decides to increase the number of medical staff at the hospital, stores at the Shopping Center, or teaching facilities for students at the University?

I would feel that having such a large University, hospital and Shopping Center, puts extra housing problems on Palo Alto.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by PA Grandma, a resident of Community Center,
on Mar 7, 2019 at 5:44 pm

Clearly ABAG, the Palo Alto City Council, the City Councils of cities up and down the peninsula, including SF seem to have a blind spot where geography is concerned. Just exactly, other than bulldozing neighborhoods, is the housing supposed to go? And which streets will have houses grabbed by eminent domain so four lane streets can be built to accommodate increased traffic?

Chicago, Albany, Detroit, Atlanta, etc. are sited in areas that have unlimited open land around them, not situated on a peninsula with a large bay on one side, an ocean on the other and mountains down the middle between the bay and the ocean. Mountains which are, to a large degree, parks and dedicated open space unavailable for housing. The cities in the hills to the west of Palo Alto - Los Altos Hills, Woodside, Portola Valley etc. have zoning that allows very little multi-family housing. This area is not geographically suited to huge growth.

It would be perfectly fine with me and with a lot of other people if Palo Alto (and surrounding cities)just said "Enough" and stopped allowing more job growth. But apparently Palo Alto and the rest seem to think that we don't have enough development and are going to add more. And not necessarily housing development because developers want to build lucrative commercial buildings, not affordable housing. Read the article on the housing bait and switch Google just pulled on Mountain View.

We're basically victims of our own greed.


 +   15 people like this
Posted by Los Altos Neighbor, a resident of Los Altos,
on Mar 7, 2019 at 6:21 pm

We don't have a housing shortage, we have a "people overage."

The terms "the developers" and others who profit are biased so they can profit by selling our quality of life away for their "solution."

The newer CEOs are very "hands on" and want their minions to work close by with no regard for how they gentrify communities and destroy quality of life. Back when I started working at HP on Page Mill Rd in the 1970s, we'd invent something here then build and service it in other parts of the state and country... If the CEOs were as good as Bill and Dave, then they could learn to delegate.

I'm for a moratorium on ALL new office construction on this side of the Bay AND any empty office space should be converted to housing. We're losing great mom and pop businesses along El Camino for fugly housing that is under parked so they "get their steps" by walking to the neighborhoods.

Notice how the new Facebook, Google and Apple campuses are beautiful and have many amenities for the workers there so they don't have to deal with traffic for mundane things like food shopping, haircuts and meals. There is PLENTY of room for a massive housing project inside the Apple doughnut/spaceship.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Mar 7, 2019 at 6:26 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I think the word "maybe" can be dropped from this sentence: "Maybe it's time for local corporations to consider keeping their headquarters in the area but then relocating their work force to other parts of the state or to other states."

The jobs:housing imbalance is a problem of our own making and I have yet to see a projection that says we can balance the imbalance. But we can ruin this place by trying. Also, affordable housing for people with community-serving jobs in Palo Alto is barely referenced by some of the most ardent housing proponents. Ditto infrastructure. Councilmember Fine and Senator Weiner target "transit rich" areas. Apparently 2 train stations = transit rich. If only!

One reason 101 is a jammed commute route is that we aren't transit rich. Example: a person who works out by the municipal airport and who commutes to Palo Alto by train and shuttles to his or her workplace, must get back to the train before the shuttle service ends in the early evening. And if that person encounters a family emergency during the day, he or she is in a fix if needing to rely on public transportation.

To be transit rich, we need a robust, reliable, multi-faceted system. The system must also have capacity to handle growth, factoring in how Stanford's planned growth will impact transit capacity. We just aren't there. In fact, we are ill-equipped and ill-positioned for the sort of growth that Fine and Weiner propose. And Stanford, without which Palo Alto would be just another nice city on the peninsula, has growth plans that command attention.

So yes, it is time for companies to look outside of mecca.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by DIana Diamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 7, 2019 at 8:13 pm

DIana Diamond is a registered user.

To Resident:

You said, "I would feel that having such a large University, hospital and Shopping Center, puts extra housing problems on Palo Alto."

It does, in part. Parts of Stanford are under Palo Alto's jurisdiction, most notably the shopping center and the two hospitals. Palo Alto also gets tax dollars from these entities, including sales tax monies from the shopping center, a lucrative enterprise. The rest of Stanford is under Santa Clara County's regulations.

So any increase in employees in these city-designated areas at Stanford does add to the city's job-housing imbalance.
And that is why I argue a regional approach to responsibility for required housing is needed, not a city responsibility.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Long Time Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Mar 7, 2019 at 8:45 pm

I have always wondered how the EB-5 visa program fit into this imbalance.
For years, many homes in this area were sold to individuals who came on EB-5 visas.
Where are the companies located that these people started?
I thought that a minimum of 10 American citizens were supposed to get jobs for every EB-5 visa entrant.
There seems to be another kind of imbalance going on which no one ever writes or talks about.
What effect has it had on worsening the imbalance this region?


 +   10 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Mar 8, 2019 at 6:17 am

Because of the Peninsula's unique geography, housing the ever expending tech worker population is impossible and destructive. This should be the area where ideas are generated, mostly due to Stanford, but further developed elsewhere, in areas with space to accommodate the work force required for it, areas that also need economic development. There are many such areas around the country. Palo Alto politicians never had the courage and integrity to tell local companies they can't expend here and must move operations elsewhere. The symbiotic relationship between many local politicians and and lad developers is also a subject that's not brought up nearly often enough.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by seemis, a resident of JLS Middle School,
on Mar 8, 2019 at 7:18 am

{comment removed)


 +   3 people like this
Posted by You don't matter, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Mar 8, 2019 at 8:23 am

Maurucio-- Palo alto is a small insignificant little community (despite their delusions of grandeur). Palo Alto and it's politicians are in no position to tell companies what they need to do. Look at Facebook--started in Palo Alto and then moved to Menlo Park, for example. Do you think companies take Palo alto seriously--companies realized that palo alto is populated by spoiled, self indulgent NIMBYs. There are plenty of places in the area that will gladly take the companies and businesses that palo alto does not want. what you and the PASZ crowd on the council say does not matter at all to them


 +   5 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Mar 8, 2019 at 11:00 am

And yet all those companies want to be located in Palo Alto and pick another town only if they can't find enough space in Palo Alto. Their corporate officers mostly want to live, and do live in Palo Alto, and when they expand outside of Palo Alto, they put pressure on Palo Alto to provide housing for the workers they bring in. The techies who whine the most about not being able to live in palo Alto work for companies located outside of Palo Alto. To me it looks like Palo Alto matters to them a great deal.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by margaret heath, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Mar 8, 2019 at 12:23 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

"Parts of Stanford are under Palo Alto's jurisdiction, most notably the shopping center and the two hospitals."

The Stanford Research Park is within the city of Palo Alto.

Tens of thousands of employees commute to jobsthere, and the number of companies continues to expand.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 9, 2019 at 5:07 pm

Posted by You don't matter, a resident of Charleston Gardens,

>> There are plenty of places in the area that will gladly take the companies and businesses that palo alto does not want. what you and the PASZ crowd on the council say does not matter at all to them

You are contradicting yourself but-- to answer part of your statement-- to those massive companies and businesses-- Go! We don't want or need you! Bye! See ya!

The reality is that what HP did back in the day actually worked very well. The problem we are facing is an awful byproduct of today's narcissistic CEOs and real estate developers falling over each other to cater to those CEOs. What we need desperately are serious big investors who want to manage these CEO-driven companies better, like HP was managed back in the day before it was taken over by MBAs.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Don't Be EVIL Companies, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 10, 2019 at 3:52 pm

What we need are lawmakers willing to see the problem as you described it, Diana, and start putting money into funds that beef up the civic infrastructure (including a good sense of safety given CA natural risks) of towns up and down California that are hurting for population and amenities and WANT growth.

Hold a competition ala Amazon's hdqtrs, and dole out grants to six towns around CA a rebuilt downtown, a performing arts center, redesigned transportation grid where possible, schools, legal/court infrastructure, community centers, housing. Along with those, negotiated commitments from companies to move together to those locations. Instead of forcing unrealistic and damaging unfunded mandates on cities with greedy developers only too glad to take advantage, the government should be truly helping to solve the problem while enabling future healthy growth and opportunity.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Don't Be EVIL Companies, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 10, 2019 at 3:53 pm

The above will not happen unless citizens use the power of the initiative process.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by DIana Diamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 10, 2019 at 4:09 pm

DIana Diamond is a registered user.

TO DON'T BE EVIL COMPANIES

What an interesting and creative idea! Thank you for submitting it. It could help solve our area-wide lack of housing problem.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 11, 2019 at 4:43 pm

De-annex Stanford. Problem solved.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by She’s karen, a resident of College Terrace,
on Mar 11, 2019 at 7:05 pm

Curmudgeon- I thought that now that you off the council and are busy building your $50 million palace at mid peninsula, you would not have time for Palo Alto. Plus what about your getting yourself designated as “historic"?


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 11, 2019 at 11:05 pm

Posted by margaret heath, a resident of Evergreen Park,

>> Tens of thousands of employees commute to jobsthere, and the number of companies continues to expand.

And the number of employees packed into the same space continues to expand. I've seen some work areas where I have to wonder why they don't all have head lice. We need standards for minimum work area size per employee. Not only an office space cap, but, an employee per given work space area cap.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 12, 2019 at 5:56 pm

"Curmudgeon- I thought that now that you off the council and are busy building your $50 million palace at mid peninsula, you would not have time for Palo Alto. Plus what about your getting yourself designated as “historic"?"

I've been off council for more decades now than I've been on-planet. And I'd be happy to sell you my humble "palace" for $50 million, firm, as is, any time in the next seven days. All-cash offers only. As for getting historic, that's up to the Big Guy.


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