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By Steve Levy

An Open Letter to the New City Council

Uploaded: Nov 8, 2012

The Silicon Valley economy is growing again—from San Francisco to San Jose. In some months this year Santa Clara and San Francisco counties have been job growth leaders in the nation.

Companies are bidding up rents and building new office space in an attempt to keep pace with current and planned job growth. We see this also in downtown Palo Alto with rising rents, low vacancies and new buildings. Moreover, when Nancy and I walk and shop on University Avenue downtown, which we do often, the street is alive and jumping.

People want to be here, live here and work here. At the same time Stanford is building to meet new growth opportunities and keep pace with being competitive—on the campus, at the hospital and shopping center—all regional treasures that happen to be our neighbors.

One challenge you will face is deciding on the array of office, housing and transportation proposals that will come your way.

Based on the work I do, I offer some general themes for moving forward.

1) If I had to do the ABAG regional projections again this year, they would be higher. Stop trying to argue that ABAG regional projections are too high. Recent job growth is triple the average levels ABAG projected to 2040.

2) Business groups like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Bay Area Council identify access to a skilled workforce, housing availability and transportation mobility for people and goods as the region's highest competitive priorities. Palo Alto has a role to play in meeting the region's housing and transportation challenges.

3) The composition of population growth and housing demand is changing within the region and nation. Most growth will be in older age groups (primarily active older residents) and young adults under 35. Moreover industry trends are exploring smaller units driven by the high cost of land in the region and supported by consumer demand.

The challenges of planning for housing and transportation are the challenges of competing for a prosperous region. The challenge for elected officials is that what some residents may not desire is exactly a critical part of maintaining the economic attractiveness of this world center of innovation.

As a resident and someone who lives and works downtown and also as someone who works with regional planning agencies here and throughout the state, my perspectives are

1) Growth can and should be centered in existing activity centers like downtown and transportation corridors

2) From a regional perspective Palo Alto does not have a compelling case to opt out of our fair share of meeting housing and transportation challenges.

3) The city's infrastructure investment is critical both to prepare for growth, to incorporate the latest technology and to give residents the best possible city we can in a period of growth pressures and constant change.

As to particular projects you will have to work out the difficult issues of obtaining appropriate public benefits when changes to zoning or floor space regulations are being considered. As you know better than I initial development proposals ask for more than applicants expect and opposing groups predict gloom and doom from changes that incorporate growth.

Amidst this, hard work can usually find a good compromise. But these proposals do come as a sign that the city you govern is a place people want to be, a sign that you and we are doing many things right.