A community survey that seeks to explore attitudes about growth, jobs and housing is being launched this week by a Palo Alto-based nonprofit organization that promotes "smart growth" as an alternative to long commutes to and from work.
Cities21, headed by lifelong Palo Altan Steve Raney, is promoting the online survey on the topic, which has been a sub-theme of Palo Alto for decades, relating mainly to the city's high ratio of jobs per households. Even though an online survey won't produce a scientifically valid response, he hopes the "grass roots approach" will open a dialogue on the issue, Raney said.
The survey and background information are at http://www.cities21.org/pa .
Palo Alto has long been cited as having one of the highest jobs/housing ratios anywhere, at well over two jobs per household, which create lengthy commutes for employees.
Raney said he hopes to interest the city in doing a more definitive survey that would help delineate the land-use choices involved and their impacts on the community and region. He said he has worked with Palo Alto-based economist Steve Levy in developing balanced questions, and with others to define broader impacts on the region and beyond.
An immediate issue is a proposed allocation of more than 3,500 housing units that the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has set for Palo Alto and Stanford University, which are calculated as a single unit for this purpose.
Palo Alto and other Bay Area cities have reacted negatively to the ABAG targets set forth in a "Regional Housing Needs Assessment," Levy noted.
ABAG has been assigned the job of encouraging additional housing throughout the Bay Area by the state, under the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). Similar housing goals have been set for other regions statewide, depending on their jobs base and other factors.
Raney said the 10-question survey leads to one underlying issue: "If the homes aren't going to go in Palo Alto, where should they be built?" He said commuting has implications for global warming and carbon emissions. He also acknowledged that increasing densities in some areas have negative consequences.
"There sometimes are just no good answers," he said.
But Levy said his interest goes beyond the global-warming issues, and he feels there may be other reasons that some people might support increased housing densities in areas where there is excellent access to transit, or where commutes could be shortened.
Under the state allotment for the region, "anybody who takes less (housing) means somebody takes more," Levy said.
Levy said he personally feels the ABAG allocations are essentially fair based on the Palo Alto jobs base, which seems to be rebounding after the dot-com bust of 2001.
"If anything, the numbers are low compared to what the (local) economy might produce in the next 20 years," he said.
Levy said there are no set penalties for failing to meet allocations, although there is some discussion in the Legislature about tying future funding for streets and highways infrastructure to cities that meet their housing allocations.
Palo Alto and other cities have until Sept. 25 to submit formal responses to ABAG about the current allocations, and ABAG has until next spring to submit a regional response to the state.
The issue of growth has been a major theme of Palo Alto politics and neighborhood concerns for the past half century. In addition to traffic concerns, residents have in recent years cited impacts on city "infrastructure," a term that encompasses everything from city services, libraries, schools, streets, parks and playfields for baseball, soccer and other sports.