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By Steve Levy

Why I Became Active in Palo Alto Forward

Uploaded: Dec 13, 2014

When Nancy and I were in Europe this summer, I read about the city council meeting in August when some young residents and workers came to talk about housing. I am interested in having more housing options in Palo Alto and was curious what the speakers at the meeting actually wanted and whether they were being quoted accurately.

Shortly after we got back Eric Rosenblum, who I knew slightly from going to PTC meetings where he is a member, invited me to his house for a get together of people who were talking about the new organization that became Palo Alto Forward. While two or three people were younger tech workers who had spoken at the council meeting, most were older, were not tech workers, did not live downtown but all across the city and were interested in positive approaches to the city's housing, transportation/parking and other challenges.

I wrote for them what I saw and felt at the meeting and offered to help as best I could. The founding members took my words and created what is on our home page. That is what attracted me—the energy, the "can do" spirit, the willingness to discuss solutions that did not require building a moat around Palo Alto or trying to go back to an earlier era.

"We are a group of residents interested in crafting a vision for the future of Palo Alto that expands choice, opportunity and quality of life. We believe in approaching challenges like traffic and parking with a "can-do" attitude and believe there are positive outcomes and opportunities when we plan for future growth holistically and in strategic locations.

We are a coalition of all ages: some who are younger energetic, and optimistic that creative thinking can solve challenges many find impossible; others who are older, experienced, and keen to pass on a legacy of innovation, opportunity, great schools and amenities to future generations. We live in South Palo Alto, North Palo Alto, and the midtown neighborhoods. We own and rent. We have young children and children who have left the nest. We walk and bike and drive but we all wish we had better options.

We have one year to shape Palo Alto's new Comprehensive Plan, which will set housing and transportation policy until 2030. We invite you to join us as we engage with City Council members and city staff to champion better options for housing and transportation. We need your help to make this vision a reality!"

I also knew that some were "walking the talk" and not just "talking". I knew that Eric Rosenblum was on the Planning and Transportation Commission and that Elaine Uang was on the housing advisory committee. Then I learned that Medhi Alhassani was on the Human Relations Commission. Later I saw that Elaine and Medhi had been appointed to the leadership engagement committee and that Elaine was on the RPP committee and the downtown CAP study committee. Recently Kate Downing was appointed to the PTC. This level of engagement (apologies to those serving who I have overlooked) is a level of commitment I want to support. Everybody above lives in Palo Alto with their spouse and Elaine and Eric each have two children. Yet they are finding time to serve their community.

As a fun example that we are not all young or techies, through PAF I have reconnected with Sandra Slater, also mentioned in Gennady's fine article. Our sons graduated in the same class at Paly, are in their early 30s, and both recently married. That's mostly what we talk about when we meet but if not for PAF we would not have reconnected. Note—the sons of course did connect through social media and talked happily share stories and pictures from their weddings.

My work involves helping large public agencies think about and plan for the future. That is what Palo Alto Forward is doing. 2015 is the year of the Comp Plan update and surely a time for innovative and forward looking thinking about our options and strategies for 2030. We live amidst a surging economy, in a time when the Internet is reshaping retail spending habits and there are new options for transportation and parking challenges.

It is exciting to be a part of these discussions.

As far as what Palo Alto Forward stands for or does not have a position on yet, read the platform section of the website. I want to be connected to people who are working on these issues so I joined PAF and have become more active as I get to know the founding members better. You can check out the entire website here PAF website

Manage Impacts:
? Manage parking by supporting the city's current parking management strategy of managing pricing, reducing parking demand, and increasing parking supply
? Mitigate impacts by setting goals and enforcing them for new building projects, setting clear and specific car trip goals (net new trips or vehicle miles traveled), offering incentives to reach those goals, and creating real enforcement measures: stiff penalties for development projects that miss goal targets (i.e. $100,000 per additional parking spot)
? Invest in safe walking/biking infrastructure in all parts of our city. We support the 2012 Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan
? Incent and invest in public transportation such as Caltrain (University Ave is the most popular Caltrain station after 4th & King), buses, and shuttles
? Support transportation innovation such as rental bikes and car sharing
Build for the Future:
? Add more housing clustered near services and transportation options in Downtown, El Camino, and California Avenue. This reduces the length and frequency of car trips, parking demand, and greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing the quality of life and health in the community
? Enable schools to thrive by increasing availability of smaller housing units aimed at singles and active seniors who pay property taxes but do not have school-aged children
? Build mixed-use buildings that combine housing, retail, and commercial uses. This enables a more walkable/bikeable community, convenience, and a greater quality of life
? Preserve parks, foothills, marshland and other native habitats by preventing sprawl
? Design for livability by creating public amenities such as delightful plazas, beautifully landscaped street networks, and active ground floors with businesses that serve the public
? Data-driven decision-making that allows us to pinpoint transportation and parking weak spots for rectification, and make sure our solutions actually worked
? Champion specific plans for areas like Downtown, California Avenue, and along El Camino. Build impact management strategies into growth plans, and actively engage the community

I speak only for myself here. I invite other members—founding to recent joiners—to discuss what attracted them to Palo Alto Forward. And I invite respectful questions. There is another Town Square blog that is more appropriate for readers whose main interest is making negative and personal comments about members or the organization.