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By Steve Levy

Should Palo Alto Welcome Economic Growth?

Uploaded: Jul 24, 2010

Palo Alto starts with a huge plus!! Our city is a welcoming community for people of different religions, different cultures, and different sexual orientations. We are rewarded with a community where talented and energetic people feel welcome and that is a positive for the local economy as well.

We do less well on other aspects of being a welcoming community.

Town Square is currently a site for debating issues such as high speed rail, the proposed Stanford hospital renovation and expansions and the movement of HP (now AOL as well) into the Stanford Research Park. All of these projects speak to how Palo Alto is or is not a welcoming community for economic activity. They also speak to our concepts of fairness, selfishness and our role in the regional economy.

Stanford is the easiest for me. You hear almost nothing in the debate about whether the hospital expansions are technically sound. Most of the debate is about traffic, impacts on the local community and whether Stanford is being asked for too little or too much.

I read the long documents explaining the case for the expansion and they made sense to me. The hospitals are major institutions of their type in the nation and I am persuaded that the expansions make sense in terms of keeping pace with what Stanford needs to do to remain at the top.

I believe that Stanford and the City should negotiate payments to offset some of the negative impacts but I start from the position that Stanford has made a good case for the expansion. Similarly if and when the shopping center proposes renovation and possible expansion, I think the business case should be given substantial weight in any public proceeding. We want hospitals, shopping centers and, by extension, private companies that keep pace with changes in their industry and position.

We want to welcome these efforts to remain competitive and grow. Sending the signal that if you want to expand in Palo Alto, be prepared for a long fight is not the sign of a community that really cares about the local or regional economy and will eventually backfire.

Nearly everybody in Palo Alto chose to live here knowing that Stanford was a major educational institution with an important teaching and medical care hospital, a major regional shopping center and a major regional research park—both of which have attracted large and small private companies all of whom have to keep pace with changes in their industries.

So everybody who took two seconds to think about it could figure out that as these institutions grew and changed that it would bring pressure for more housing and bring more traffic. Traffic sucks in most happening areas. I don't see this as a reason to turn down reasonable expansion proposals or new businesses.

HSR is easy for me, also. If HSR were a good deal, I would argue that Palo Alto should go for the HSR station. It is the logical choice because Stanford and surroundings are the logical mid-peninsula destination, not Redwood City. But HSR has made a lousy technical case, unlike say the Stanford hospital expansion, and all of the "don't put it here, put it in someone else's backyard" complaints are irrelevant because HSR as presently presented is a bad idea on its merits.

I am pleased that HP is moving some operations back to PA, that AOL is taking space in the research park and that Facebook, Skype and others are finding Palo Alto the place to be. Palo Alto is in the center of a region that we hope will explode with new and expanding ventures to provide goods and services that attract customers around the world.

I am happy for the local merchants who will have more customers, for the city that may get additional revenue but mostly I am happy to know that Palo Alto holds great attraction still.

Growth and change often bring temporary inconvenience and if plans are stupid they should be turned down if that is legal but mere inconvenience to some is not reason enough for me to say "you are not welcome in Palo Alto if you add another car to the road or house in our community".

Palo Alto is not a quiet suburb. It is a college town for a major university and hospital and a world-renowned center in technology that is at the heart of the nation's future opportunities for prosperity. I want Palo Alto to continue to be a welcoming and happening community.