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By Steve Levy

Keeping Palo Alto a Desirable Place to Live and Work

Uploaded: Oct 26, 2013

Despite what the majority of Town Square posters say, we know that Palo Alto is a very desirable place to live and work from the perspective of new residents and businesses. Strong demand for living in Palo Alto is pushing home prices and rents to record levels. New market rate housing usually sells quickly. Office and retail rents are rising. Three existing buildings in downtown recently sold for around $1,000 per square foot.

The institutions on Stanford land are renovating and sometimes expanding to keep up with trends, technology and preferences whether that is for the Medical Center, the shopping center, university facilities or the research park. Private companies continually look for new ways to invest and innovate and sometimes these result in new facilities or renovations that increase use such as the startups that occupy space around the city.

Older uses of land get replaced by newer uses, often resulting in more employees or customers and more trips. We see that downtown with Casa Olga being replaced by a hotel and one of the smaller buildings on Waverly between Hamilton and Forest (right outside my back window) being replaced by a new taller office/residential building. I suspect the adjacent building will sooner or later be replaced given the strong demand downtown and the rights of these property owners (like homeowners) to benefit from the increasing value of their investment.

I know how to make traffic go away. It is a joke among economists and the media traffic watch folks. Have a really deep recession. It works every time. Not a great solution in my opinion but very effective.

The same is true for Palo Alto. If you want to stop growth, it will be hard and not a good idea in my mind but here are some ways—

--Keep fighting and blaming other folks
--Don't build any new school capacity
--Don't increase parking capacity (it is too much fun arguing that someone else should pay). Yes new developments should provide parking but that is only a small piece of the problem.
--Let the parks, libraries and public safety facilities fall behind best practices
--In general don't follow the practice of private companies and Stanford—don't keep up with changes in technology and space utilization

You will note that these options fight growth by reducing the desirability of Palo Alto so the only "victims" are the folks that are here.

I think the more realistic approach is to accept that there is strong demand to live and work in Palo Alto and that much if not most growth is completely legal and beyond anyone's means to stop. Then let's get on with it and make the investments that keep Palo Alto a great place to live and work with the coming growth.

Yes, keeping up with change costs money. It is called investing in our future just as it is for Stanford or Google or a small restaurant.

If that is not your taste, if you think the direction of the city makes it less desirable, if you aren't willing to participate in funding the city's investments, now is a great time to move to an area that is cheaper and quieter.