Light opposition to Palo Alto foam-container ban

Local restaurants have a year to switch to other forms of take-out food containers

Polystyrene containers, those foamy boxes commonly used to store Chinese take-out or to save a sandwich for the road, will soon be taken out of Palo Alto restaurants.

The City Council voted Monday night to ban expanded-polystyrene containers from local food establishments. The council voted 8-0, with Yiaway Yeh absent, to approve city staff's proposed ban, which would force restaurants to switch to other forms of containers within a year.

The ordinance, which was passed with little discussion and virtually no opposition, is one component of the city's broader effort to reduce waste and pollution.

Last month, the council voted to ban plastic bags from local supermarkets. But while the plastic-bag ordinance faced major opposition from plastic-bag manufacturers and the grocer lobby, the polystyrene ban passed quickly and without a hiccup.

The only minor point of contention came over the implementation date, with several council members suggesting that the ban should take effect earlier. But Public Works Director Glenn Roberts said staff wanted to give restaurant officers adequate time to use up their available stock of containers.

"We're trying to be prudent and to give it enough time to give businesses a chance to respond," Roberts said. "We simply wanted to give businesses time to make that switch."

With the ban, Palo Alto is joining a growing wave of cities that are banning polystyrene. San Francisco, Oakland and Malibu are among the cities that already have similar bans in place, as do Oregon and Seattle.

In proposing the ban, staff argued that the lightweight polystyrene poses a threat because it breaks up easily, creates litter and doesn't biodegrade. Small chunks often end up in rivers and creeks, where they are occasionally mistaken for food by various marine species, staff told the council Monday.

Staff also estimated that the ban would only affect about 30 percent of local restaurants. The rest, according to a city survey, have already switched to using other types of containers, such as recyclable plastic and paper, or don't use any to-go containers at all.

Councilman Pat Burt pointed to the trend as evidence that most restaurants won't wait a whole year before scrapping polystyrene, but would switch to a more environmentally friendly container once it's time to renew supplies.

"I've already seen a change in practices of many restaurants in town," Burt said. "Looks like the momentum is there."

Earlier in the year, the council received letters from several local restaurant owners who argued that the new ban would cut into their profits and would make it harder for them to operate. But on Monday, only one person spoke on behalf of the restaurant industry.

Amalia Chamorro, who represents the California Restaurant Association, said she was grateful to the staff for hearing the concerns of the local restaurateurs and for giving them a little time before they have to scrap polystyrene altogether.

"We, as an association, don't support mandates to ban certain products," Chamorro said. "But we certainly would work with the council to make sure the restaurant members will comply."


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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2009 at 9:57 am

"Are you my conscience?" - Dora the fish, FINDING NEMO

Do we really need a government telling us how to run every detail of our lives? This is the "big government" monster that Ronald Reagan spoke against.

I find it funny that we want the government out of our phones and international policies -- but we invite the government into our pocketbooks and even day-to-day regulations.

I moved to California from Texas last year. This is such a beautiful place. It is only the "big brother" government that makes it difficult to live here. Texas is not perfect, but it was nice having a government that stayed out of our pocket book so often. There is no state income tax, no grocery tax, no mandatory "deposits" on bottles and cans, and far fewer laws regarding our day-to-day living. $150-200K can buy you a beautiful, two story brick home on one acre in most cities (and much better deals outside of the cities). It has wonderful roads, an extremely low cost of living, friendly people and a plethora of jobs!

Why can't California realize that there is something wrong with the government here? The state and local government are making it difficult for middle class citizens to survive here. We are taxed beyond belief (seriously) and the people keep voting for the candidates who want to spend more money! These factless measures simply end up costing us more money. Where is the evidence to support this ban (or the ban on plastic bags)? The American Chemical Society (ACS) has released research that says that this is based upon "common environmental myths."

Middle class citizens buy groceries once or twice a month. They cannot afford to purchase and carry around 20 reusable bags every time they might go shopping.

What is so difficult to understand about having less government?

Didn't Thomas Paine say that "the government is best which governs least?" Why do we need a local government that tries to act like our conscience or moral compass? Is this the role of government?

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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 28, 2009 at 10:06 am

"Staff also estimated that the ban would only affect about 30 percent of local restaurants"

If that is the case why is the council wasting time and effort on this issue (besides to make their CVs look nice when they run for State Assembly)?
Aren't there more important issues facing the council. I think Keene discussed the budget problems with the council yesterday. Does that stir any concern among our "filter everything through a green outlook" council? Or do they plan to make up the shortfall through business taxes and increased utility rates.
I guess it is time for the council to start working on bringing a fourth farmer's market to PA.

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Posted by Larry
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 28, 2009 at 10:47 am

Now that the city of Palo Alto has banned plastic bags and the foam containers in the name of reducing waste and pollution, the city should move on to ban the real causes of waste and pollution, namely, people, cars and businesses. It is a fact that people cause 100% of the pollution. We all know about for cars and gas. Even hybrids cause pollution because they do consume gas. Need we say anything about businesses? Why, the plastic bags and foam containers just prove that they are willing to pollute to make a buck. So, let's close of shops, move every one out and stop all the cars and the city limit.

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Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2009 at 11:10 am

All these pro-pollution people keep whining, but as the article states, the restaurants in Palo Alto do not mind this change as long as they have time to adapt it at a reasonable pace. Low-end restaurants like McDonalds have been using paper take-out boxes for years. If McDonalds can afford it, I doubt the change will have any effect on Palo Alto's high-end restaurants.

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Posted by papichi
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 28, 2009 at 11:12 am

Maybe there wasn't much opposition because the people that need to use those types of containers are too busy working hard for a living to make it to meetings or possibly they aren't aware because of limited ability to speak our native tonque.
Just a thought.

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Hi Sarah,

It isn't that we am "pro-pollution." That is simply a ridiculous aspersion on your part. No one here is "pro-pollution." Regardless of whether or not you want to admit it, we are all polluters. Whether we kill trees to make paper products or extract oil from the ground to form plastic or styrofoam, the fact remains that our products are pollutions.

One could question the extent of research upon which this ordinance (and the previous ban on plastic bags) is based. What is the cost to the environment from styrofoam and plastic versus paper? Can these things be recycyled? What will the cost to the consumer be?

In the last environmental debacle caused by the city (concerning a ban on plastic bags), I wondered why the city just didn't buy 60K reusable bags and give them to the residents of this city. This is a relatively low cost (about $30K or less) and would hasten the adoption of such environmental causes. We have phone books dropped on our doorsteps. Why not reusable bags? I believe that people are more likely to contribute to such a thing if they have the means immediately available.

The bigger question here is whether or not the local government should hold such a right to "nanny" over us. Is this the proper role of government?

It is certainly meaningful for a government to enact legislation to ensure the general welfare of its constituents. However, at what point does the government grow too large? Is it possible to have too many laws that try to define morality, cultural norms or intrinsic beliefs? Is it possible that the opinions of one group can incorrectly be presented as fact and become the governing rules for living by a government that has grown too broad in responsibility?

McDonalds in Palo Alto no longer uses styrofoam. However, this is not the norm. Most restaurants around the world still use styrofoam. Why? They are like "inflated plastic" in which 97% of the product is made of air. Polystyrene is easily compressed and take up far less space in landfills. More importantly, it can be recycled. Unfortunately, some would prefer to create broad, unnecessary laws regarding this product instead of spending money to create more intelligent recycling stations.

I feel no embarrassment when I say that I prefer plastic over paper bags (unless I need better insulation offered by paper). I understand the cost and benefit anaylsis and how easily plastic can be recycled. In addition, I definitely prefer styrofoam cups in order to keep my coffee hot and my soft drinks cold. Yet I know the truth about styrofoam.

I do wish that the members of our city government would not take it upon themselves to nanny us. We are just as wise...just as intelligent...just as educated as the various members of the City Council. In a community and state that is becoming increasingly more expensive to live, it would help for the local officials to cut us a break. It is difficult enough living in such difficult economic times. Why add to it through expanded government control via "thought police" legislation?

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Posted by James Hoosac
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 28, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Maybe one day the City will enact a One-Child Policy, so that we won't have crowded schools, less pollution, less garbage, etc., etc.

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Posted by James Hoosac
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 28, 2009 at 12:27 pm

There is a a cycle of inflation in economics.

There is also a cycle of inflation in regulations and big governments. This is the cycle we are in today. Each local government tries to one-up the others in the race to promote oneself as the morale leader, the do-gooder, the champaign of justice and compassion.

Eventually this race of stupidity will implode.

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Posted by Brandon J-H
a resident of University South
on Apr 28, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Kudos to city council for enacting this ban. Better late than never.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Bans, ordinances and anything like this should be Statewide, not city wide. To begin with, cities are too small to make much of a difference and too many people can cross city lines to get what they want elsewhere and then take the stuff back home which defeats the object and secondly and more importantly, cities should be looking after city housekeeping issues rather than trying to solve a huge problem piecemeal.

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Posted by Toto, We're Not In Kansas Anymore!
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2009 at 8:09 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2009 at 11:51 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by they dont know
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 29, 2009 at 1:12 pm

I just started asking the businesses that i go to what they think of the ban. So far none i've asked have even known about the ban. Then they ask if i'm serious, and then they get really angry and tell me how stupid it is.

And they're right, it is stupid. The city needs to back off of our individual rights.

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Posted by Brian Wilson
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Don,t forget to visit the City of Palo Alto subsidized local farmers market (farmers from Yolo County) at city hall this afternoon! Thought it was interesting that they provide plastic bags to carry purchases. As to local media pondering why little opposition to styrofoam ban... maybe people actually have more important things to worry about like food, rent, ... Please ask council members who and what department will provide enforcement of this ordinance and what are the costs of enforcement?

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2009 at 3:14 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

There goes Sarah, throwing virgins in volcanoes again because it signifies concern but accomplishes nothing. God, yes, let's get rid of those nasty chemicals and get back to the nature of organic water, contaminated and spoiled food and swine flu.

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2009 at 9:16 am

Wow -- you really don't have a clue, do you? I don't feel that I am an "outsider" -- and I never said that I was a conservative repub. Nor have I told someone to get out of the area because they didn't like it.

I am amazed by such ridiculous hate-mongering! I simply voiced my disappointment with higher taxes and bigger "nanny government" laws by the local government. Suddenly, a guy or girl named "Toto" jumps at the opportunity to mock me.

Look, I am not even originally from Texas. However, your stereotype-prone accusation of the state is way off! The state is highly educated and very clean even without as much income from ever-raising taxes and "fees." Most importantly, the state restricts tax and "fee" increases to a vote by the citizens (instead of some tax-happy lawmaker).

However, you prefer to make accusations, don't you? So much for your supposed "tolerance." We moved to the area because my husband was performing some post-graduate study and my sister began her freshman year at Stanford. Once we are finished here, we will probably leave your little "nanny state" utopia.

Why will we leave? The cost of living is enormously high (and getting higher). The concept of "tolerance" for many people like you is a myth.

Look, this is about a local government who feels the need to ban items that aren't entirely proven to be as harmful to the environment as paper products! Which scientific evidence did they present?

I guess that I have said enough. I just wish that people like Toto wouldn't be so arrogantly malevolent and obnoxious when interacting with people with whom they disagree. It is extremely unbecoming for a human being to act like this. Perhaps you might want to look up at the stars one night and realize just how small you are in the grand scheme of things. If we all did this, then perhaps we would treat others with dignity.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2009 at 3:12 pm


Look at your posts--you may not have said you're a "conservative Republican"--but you use some of the code words of somebody on the right side of the political spectrum. "Nanny state", "Cuba" over a ban on Styrofoam containers. Then there was the anti-tax comments. FYI, it's expensive in Palo Alto in part because of our low property taxes--the longterm result is that there are only a small number of well-funded school districts and PAUSD is one and people pay a premium for that.

As for Texas, it has some of the most polluted cities in the country--and it's a more recent problem than ours. We've been combatting air pollution for decades--with some success. You say it's beautiful here--has it occurred to you that it's because you're living in an area with enough environmentalists that we avoided becoming Los Angeles and protected our coastline? You're where the Sierra Club originated.

And I do have to wonder about your coming to a place and then complaining about the local customs. As a native, I can't tell you how old that gets. And you wonder why you're not getting a friendlier reception?

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2009 at 7:22 pm


Thank you for your comments. I am certainly a conservative...AND a liberal. It depends upon the issue. I don't believe in selling my soul to a party or an ideology just for the sake of belonging. When it comes to certain issues, I am liberal. When it comes to others, I am conservative. I vote accordingly.

That being said: This doesn't make me inferior or less of a concerned citizen. I am a resident of Palo Alto. However, I don't like a few of the things that I have seen here. Am I free to share my perspective? Must I remain quiet because some people don't like what I might have to say?

I am not alone. From what I have read on the PaloAltoOnline message boards, I share some of the same sentiments of people who have lived here for years.

As for the remarks about Texas: I am not from Texas. In fact, I wasn't even born in the United States. I have lived throughout this nation and spent quite a bit of time studying in Europe and South America. I graduated from two universities in Texas. Texas was not perfect...but it had some very nice attributes (which was why I mentioned it to begin with). Yes, Houston has a reputation for its pollution -- although not nearly as bad as Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno or even Oakland. However, Houston is not reflective of the entire state.

What makes Texas so appealing is not its lack of environmentalists (although there are plenty of environmentalists there). Rather, it is the fact that the state government collects far less taxes but shows so much for what they have! Are you calling this a "local custom?" This is the only thing that I have complained about.

This whole issue deals with the extent of local governments to pass extremely questionable pieces of legislation. Should the local government have the right to impose such restrictions without fully backing up their rationale with evidence? Where is the evidence that plastic bags are worse for the environment than paper bags? If both were assigned a number, what is the difference in environmental impact? What was the purpose of banning styrofoam? Is there scientific evidence to support this? If so, where? How much worse are styrofoam containers than paper reinforced with wax? Such acts might be popular to those who parade themselves as advocates for the environment...but is it true?

I have met many people here who agree with my concerns (some of them are even yellow dog Democrats).

There are many good things about this area. I love the weather, the trees, and the ecletic views of the region. When my husband and I first visited the area last summer, we were horrified by the crime rate and major urban congestion in and near the cities. However, we were happy to "feel" a difference in Palo Alto. We have the proximity to major urban areas with a feel of a smaller town. As a schoolteacher for over five years, I noticed that the schools in Palo Alto are great. Unfortunately, we just don't discuss those qualities in the articles here.

My husband and I are a young couple. We are content no matter where we live. However, our experience here has been an economic "culture shock." We moved from a beautiful area in a college town where $400 could rent you a 3 bedroom house on one acre, no state income tax, no grocery tax and the cost of living was very low. The cost of living is much higher every aspect. We expected that. However, we didn't expect all of the "hidden costs" that are passed to residents. We pay a mandatory "deposit" on cans and bottles. We pay a toll across a bridge that was paid for years ago. The prices of everything is higher -- from groceries to restaurants to bicycles. Why? Costs are handed down to the rest of us.

Well, thank you for your kind note. Please understand that I don't want to come across as a purely negative person. However, this is just one area in which I disagree with the status quo. Please be patient as I share my thoughts that are born out of personal and professional experience.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 30, 2009 at 7:54 pm

Mireya -

I've lived in Texas, California, and many other parts of the country and I have to say that you couldn't pay me enough $$ to move back to Texas.

Property Tax - lets see, on my 300,000 house (worth less when we moved) the property taxes were 12,000 per year.

Chauvinism - my daughter was expected to start cheerleading school at 4 and my son was expected to start kindergarten late so he would be "bigger for sports".

Weather - do I even have to go there?

Superiority and Separatism:
Texas thinks its a country.
It constitution lets it secede from the US and form 5 (??) states.
The Texas tourism slogan was (is) "Its like a whole other country".
The Suburban was the "national car of Texas"
Students pledge allegiance to the Texas flag in school (not US).
Students get the day off to go to the Rodeo?????
Its home to the Bush family.

Laws - As another little nothing, if someone is repossesing your car (because you didn't pay for it) and they are on your property, you can shoot them.
If someone is banging on your back door and you are afraid, you can shoot them.
If you're the VP of the US with bad aim, you can shoot them (sorry couldn't resist).

I agree the cost of living is low. The people are VERY friendly. There is great, practical retail. But the "hidden" cost of living in Texas was so not worth it.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2009 at 8:09 pm


No one's telling you you can't share your opinion--but don't be surprised by the blowback.

That you've traveled should make you more aware that coming into a place and levying judgments left and right is going to get a reaction. If that's what you want, fine--just don't be surprised.

Are there others who share your views online? Of course. However, Palo Alto's voting record and views presented online don't really match up well. Simple reason really--you're more likely to complain and post if you don't like the status quo and the status quo here veers pretty liberal/university town, though with a certain Silicon Valley pro-technology libertarian edge.

Texas is appealing to you. It's not to a lot of people living here--including some of the Texan natives--or especially the Texan natives. I haven't spent time there, so I only know things secondhand. The only place you hear positive things about is Austin--Bush didn't help.

However, you don't know the history of taxes in this state--Proposition 13 meant that a lot of people pay a very, very low property tax, others pay very high property taxes and that the state and local governments can't change this without a major vote. The end result is that the state and local governments look for other ways to raise money--so higher income taxes and sales taxes. Voter-backed proposition have created a series of laws that are meant to keep the government in line but have had the practical result of making it dysfunctional because it makes our government fairly inflexible.

Because our state government doesn't work well as a whole--and because the state has a large population with a lot of different subgroups--there is a lot of activity on the local level. Palo Alto is full of people with an opinion on *everything* including the fact that people in Palo Alto have an opinion on everything. Styrofoam container bans are pretty mellow and perfectly in keeping with the kind of bans and codes cities come up with around here. (Try figuring out which cities have which fireworks regulations around the Fourth of July). Odd local regulations are, indeed, a local cultural artifact--i.e. the attempt to name SF's sanitation plant after Bush was on San Francisco's last ballot. I think it failed . . .I can't even track of Berkeley's (or the People's Republic of Berkeley as it used to be known on local radio)

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Posted by Toto, We're Not In Kansas Anymore!
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2009 at 9:00 pm


You've come from the most regressive state in the nation to the most progressive - what exactly did you expect? If you don't like the clean blue water here, I'm sure that the red soil oozing oil refinery and chemical plant wastes will welcome you back with open arms. Enjoy your trip home and say hello (and good riddance) to Shrub!

PS - Excellent post above, Palo Alto Mom - I think you covered it all. Glad to hear you made it out of there alive!

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Posted by James Hoosac
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 30, 2009 at 9:41 pm


I kinda understand where your view comes from. I'm originally from Midwest. Palo Alto, and the Silicon Valley in general, is the best place to live. I won't trade Palo Alto for any place in Texas myself, regardless of $$.

But in recent years Palo Alto has becoming more and more obnoxious, from the City Council, to individuals like Mr. Toto. This is sad, sad.

I'd encourage you ignore the negativities. We need more reasonable people like you in this area. It's so unfortunate that so many nice Palo Altans have either died out or moved out, replaced by obnoxious dotcom money swindlers and middle-class mortgage slaves.

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2009 at 10:03 pm


Regressive state? Red soil oozing refinery and chemical plant wastes? Are you talking about CALIFORNIA? It certainly doesn't resemble the state where I went to grad school.


Palo Alto Mom,

Your description of Texas doesn't resemble the state either. My sister's property taxes in Texas are more along the lines of $1500-2000 a year -- on a $180K house (which was a very large house in a gated community resting upon 4 acres).

Where did you live with this supposed chauvinism? Cheerleading and football? I would like to find out if this was just happening in your head -- because no one that I knew was like that. Football is big in Texas...just like it is in California. They love their Cowboys almost as much as people here used to love the 49ers and Raiders. Makes me wonder if you REALLY lived in Texas!

Palo Alto mom, I don't know very many people in Texas who think that their state is a country. However, they do realize that it was the only state in the nation that WAS a country. They were a sovereign nation when they voted to become a state. They traded their sovereignty as a nation to become a state. However, they do tend to hold to the idea that the state is protected by the Constitution. If something isn't expressly written in the Constitution, the STATE government has the authority to govern. As a result, the taxes are low and fees just don't exist.

The weather in Texas ranges from cold in the "panhandle" and Texas hill warm in the the heat of the Gulf Coast. In fact, the state's population increases by 7 million people every winter as "snow birds" return from the north to spend their winters in Texas.

Another lie: Your idea about the "suburban" as the "national car of Texas" is an example of foolishness. People used to joke that a Suburban was the "Texas Cadillac" -- and that wasn't a good thing.

Your statement about the pledge is a LIE. Students say the pledge of allegiance to the US flag...and some schools say a pledge to the state flag as well.

Another lie: Students do NOT get the day off for a rodeo. Students in some rural districts do get one day off for a livestock show (conducted with the FFA). Yet this is true in 32 other states.

Another lie: People cannot "shoot" someone for repossessing their cars. Texas does have a "castle law" in which people can use force if they or their families are in danger of life and limb. That means you can shoot an armed intruder who is threatening you or your family. If you shoot someone for just trying to break in to your house and there was no threat of danger, then you go to jail.

I agree that Texas has some great benefits. However, your assertion regarding "hidden" cost of living is simply untrue. The federal government's own cost of living index lists Texas as one of the most adventageous states in the union. You complain about a high property tax rate (although your $12K figure is highly suspicious). Yet you forget to mention that the average price for a home in Texas is approximately $165K. In some rural communities, $150K can buy you a 4000 sq ft home on two acres!

My parents immigrated to the United States and recently settled in Texas. He is uneducated and does not speak English. He works as a part time janitor at a local store earning the federal minimum wage. Yet he now owns a five bedroom brick home on a seven acre lot...and he doesn't owe a dime for it. He does complain that his property taxes rose last year and he owed a total of $1200 for his property. However, the state has a program that works with low income families who own homes.

Grocery prices are low in Texas. The tax rate is lower in Texas. There is no local sales taxes (just state sales taxes). There is no state income tax. The property value is low. By law, the county must provide a driveway along with water, sewage and electricity lines free of cost. Restaurants charge less for food. The price of gasoline and oil is much less. The roads are amongst the best in the nation. It is against the Texas Constitution to pay a toll on roads that have already been paid for. The price of a public education is very low in the State (my husband paid $1300 last year as a full time graduate student). Any child with a "B" average or higher has automatic admission into the state or public university of their choice. The state gives the "Texas Grant" to every student who earns an 85% average in high school -- regardless of their income level. This grant is enough to cover tuition in most public universities.

An example of grocery cost for perspective: A 12 pack of Diet Coca-Cola (I love Diet Coke) usually costs $3 -- and there is no extra "deposit" on your purchase. You still receive money (about 5 cents per can) for recycling. There is no grocery tax. The state has a "tax holiday" a week before school begins where many purchases are exempt from sales tax. The water supply of Texas is rated as one of the best and most efficient in the nation. The state is extremely diverse. The state is now comprised of nearly 40% Hispanics. The average household income in Texas is comparable with California, but the cost of living is much less. My brother-in-law is the Director of Admissions at a private college. He earns about $120K a year...allowing my sister-in-law to raise her baby at home without necessitating a second income. A recent national study ranked Texas as second in the nation in public school Mathematics. California ranked 29th.

Thus, I wonder: So what is this "hidden cost" of living in Texas that you speak about?

But this isn't about Texas. I didn't mean to compare Texas with California (or Palo Alto). I was using it as a point of reference. Perhaps I shouldn't have brought it up. However, every night I watch a commercial about how the state's budget is a mess. With so many taxes (total and per capita) coming in, one must wonder where all of that money goes!

I remember reading something about economic ideology in grade school. It is rather simplistic, so bear with me:
"A liberal will see how there is a budget deficit and teach that we need to raise revenue via taxes and fees. A conservative will see how there is a budget deficit and teach that we need to stop spending so much."
Even if the concept is not entirely accurate, this makes quite a bit of sense to me. There is a problem if we are spending more than we bring in. In my house, if we have a limited income, we stop spending so much in order to balance the budget. This is true even if we have a great and noble idea of something to purchase. In California, it seems that the state and local governments never seem to run out of ideas for spending. There will always be some great and wondrous program for which we can spend more money.

The same is true with law. There will always be some great and noble purpose for which we can make laws. It takes wisdom in knowing how and when to create such laws. It would be great to ban all oil exploration and products. However, this would bankrupt this nation, state and community. This nation would lose its place atop the world...and allow some other nation to position itself in our place. It would be wonderful to ban nuclear bombs. Unfortunately, the day we do that is the day some rogue nation aggressively pursues the development of more nuclear weapons.

For me, this entire matter involved the manner in which our local government created laws without really consulting its citizens. In fact, I haven't seen any of the science upon which the City Council based their ban for plastic bags and styrofoam. I have seen no evidence that they consulted with local businesses for which they were elected to represent. I suppose that the next election will prove whether the local population (including my family) will consider voting out these politicians for their decisions.



Once again, thank you for your very courteous and gentle answer. We can differ in our opinions about this matter, but I appreciate the civility by which you answer me. I do understand and respect your perspective. Thank you!

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2009 at 11:57 pm


Told you Texas wasn't real popular here. A lot of people who've come to California have done so because they were trying to get away from the more, er, traditional parts of the country.

You need to look at our state flag. Texas wasn't the only independent Republic. Our independence was quite a bit shorter, but nonetheless . . .

Yes, the economies are very different. California's is a larger and more diverse economy. Texas has profited from a president in the White House who pretty much did all he could to help the petroleum industry. Sounds like you were there during a time of record high oil prices--of course things looked good. I'm also old enough, however, to remember to what extent the S&L crisis was centered around Dallas and that earlier collapse of the real-estate market.

Neither state is doing a decent job of minting high-school graduates.

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2009 at 9:05 am


Thanks for the input. To be honest, I expected California schools to be top notch. You would think that the way the media portrays Texans as a state filled with "uneducated rednecks" that California must have some of the top schools in the nation. My little sister graduated near the top of her class from a high school in Texas. She was accepted at many of the more elite colleges and universities in the nation.

My sister accepted Stanford due to the financial package that was offered. However, my sister worried that she might be inferior to some of the other freshmen at Stanford. Her fears soon resided when she realized that she was one of the smarter students in her classes.

After thinking about your words, I do think that there is a major difference in government philosophy. Correct me if you think that I am wrong, but I feel that the voters of California believe that the election process is what keeps the local and state legislators accountable.

In Texas, the legislators are somewhat more restricted in what power they have through more apparent voter accountability. For instance, even a majority of the legislature cannot simply create a state sales tax. They cannot raise taxes at all. Any tax increase must be voted upon by a majority of citizens. It seems to me that California legislators have more liberty to make decisions for the people (rather than polling the people through a vote).

Is this correct? It might explain some of the complaints for the state government that I have heard ever since arriving in California.

OhlonePar, I wonder what you think might be the solution to local government in California. The state's budget seems to continuously in crisis. What is the cause of this? What do you feel to be the solution?

Once again, thank you for your input! My husband holds an Electrical Engineering, Political Science and Public Policy degrees. I wonder if you share his opinion about this matter.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2009 at 2:27 pm


We used to have great schools, but after Proposition 13, they plummeted. We've done some work to keep schools funded, but only a small percentage of district (Palo Alto's one) are well-funded.

Our legislature is actually very hamstrung--propositions are put on the ballots by a signature process. Via propositions, we've tightly restricted how nearly ALL the state budget can be spent. It's basically schools, prisons and one other thing (remind me someone). The remaining few percent are battled over for funding everything else--and there's a lot of something else.

There are extra fees and taxes in Palo Alto because we essentially fund our own schools--we take the minimum amount from the state (basic aid) and, in turn, raise the rest through local bond issues. Since we raise the money we're allowed to spend more than a general revenue district. Very few districts can afford to do this--or get the two-thirds vote needed to do this. If you live here that's what you're paying for.

Not only do citizens vote on property tax increases, there needs to be a supermajority to do so. So to get good schools you need a supermajority committed to this. I think that's why the fights over school district policy here are so intense.

I realize California is considered very liberal, but it's more complex than that. It tends to be populist, but in both directions-- the tax revolt and Ronald Reagan came from here. We voted for Obama, Kerry and Gore, but we also just banned gay marriage.

To fix the state? I think we'd have to undo Proposition 13 and come up with a more equitable property-tax system, but that's not going to happen. Those who benefit from it vote and they benefit from it a lot. (Basically, it's anyone who's owned a house for it to have gone up in value.)

We need to amend the three-strikes law so that nonviolent offenders aren't put away for life--our prisons cost us a ton. But that's also not going to happen. It's maybe slightly more likely to change than Prop. 13.

Redistricting to produce more moderate legislators is another suggestion--Arnie likes it, the political parties less so. Not sure what it will do given the basic structural problem.

So what's needed and what's politically feasible are two very different things. Ironically, our term limits mean we don't have the wheeler-dealers that might actually get things to work. Ideologues of both stripes we have aplenty.

So a lot of things work from the ground up. To some extent, the Bay Area tries out different ideas--and since people don't have to live in SF or Berkeley or Palo Alto, no one minds much. (If you mind, you move to a place where you like the government or happily grouse online.) Sort of another manifestation of the entrepreneurial spirit we have here.

My spouse reminds me that the animus against Texas other than Austin predates Bush. It's just culturally oil and water for some reason. I once had a CEO tell me his wife thought they should receive hardship pay for living in Dallas. It goes past the political split--the CEO was older and not particularly liberal. And Texas has produced some great liberals--R.I.P. Molly Ivins.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2009 at 4:25 pm


Thanks again for this input. I find your insight quite helpful!

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 1, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Mireya -

Chevy had an ad campaign in the 90's that said the Suburban was the national car of Texas.
The state tourism slogan at the time was "like a whole other country"
My daughter's whole elementary school went to the Houston rodeo for the day.
In Harris County, a man shot another man who was repossessing his car and left him to die by the side of the road, this was legal.
In Houston, another man shot a man in his backyard for banging on his back door, this was legal too.
Most of my daughter's friends started cheerleading at 4, one family started their own cheerleading school.

California's budget is a mess (I would love to repeal Prop 13, even though it would cost me $$) but I still think it is a terrific, accepting place to live.

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Palo Alto mom...

Thank you for your response. However, let me address some of these statements.

You wrote: "Chevy had an ad campaign in the 90's that said the Suburban was the national car of Texas."

RESPONSE: Okay...but that is simply an advertisement. GM's headquarters are located in MICHIGAN. It's advertising is typically contracted out of New York or Los Angeles. It was a marketing tool. In fact, the Mercedes was also marketed as the "national car of Texas." Should we get angry at the Germans? This advertisement doesn't represent the beliefs of the people of Texas.

You wrote: "The state tourism slogan at the time was 'like a whole other country'"

RESPONSE: Did you ever watch one of those advertisements? It isn't trying to claim sovereignty. Rather, it is simply trying to show that Texas offers many of the attractions that are found in another country. The advertisements featured different climates and topographies of Texas (mountains, hills, deserts, beaches, forests, farm land, etc...). Should there be an apology for that?

You wrote: "My daughter's whole elementary school went to the Houston rodeo for the day."

RESPONSE: Is this a crime? Which "rodeo" did they attend? Was it a rodeo or a livestock show? There is a difference, you know. A "livestock show" is part of the school district's agricultural program (of which, many Stanford agricultural students participated in). Besides, isn't this an educational event -- or do you define educational as anything OUTSIDE of agriculture, livestock or farming? I grew up in a nation where bullfighting was a national sport. I went on several public school field trips to the bullfighting arena. How is this different from a rodeo or livestock show? I truly don't understand what you are complaining about. Hollywood even marketed these films to the entire world less than three decades ago. Besides, your daughter did not HAVE to go. You didn't HAVE to sign the permission slip. Your daughter could have spent the day studying in the library...or you could have taken her to a museum.

You wrote: "In Harris County, a man shot another man who was repossessing his car and left him to die by the side of the road, this was legal."

RESPONSE: I have looked this up, and the only case that I found was in 1994. If this is the case that you are referring to, you are exaggerating just a little bit here. The man shot a man who he thought was stealing his to his house. He called the police following the shooting. The police did not initially arrest this man, because they were investigating the case. Several months later, the man who shot him eventually was arrested and pled guilty to second degree murder. The victim's family sued the man who shot him and was awarded over $2 Million by a Texas jury.

You wrote: "In Houston, another man shot a man in his backyard for banging on his back door, this was legal too."

RESPONSE: Once again, you are exaggerating quite a bit. The case involved a rock musician who broke into the back yard of a family and was kicking and banging on their door and rattling the door knob of that family's home at 4:00 A.M while in a drunken rage. The homeowner awakened to his wife's screams and shouts that someone was trying to break through the back door. The homeowner was frightened but shouted for this person to go away. He continued to bang on the door and try to turn the doorknob. The homeowner was frightened and grabbed his licensed gun. He did not want to (or try to) shoot the man. Rather, he fired off a warning shot through the top of the wooden door (from the inside of the house). The drunken rock musician was very tall (over 6'5"), and the bullet pierced the top of the door and struck the top of this mans head. The homeowner did not want to kill the man -- but protect his wife and children from an intruder. By the way, Texas is one of at least 19 other states that has a "castle law" created for self defense.

You wrote: "Most of my daughter's friends started cheerleading at 4, one family started their own cheerleading school."

RESPONSE: Is there a law against cheerleading? IF you have problems with cheerleaders, your daughter probably should have found different friends. I hear that the "academic" tables in most high school cafeterias always have plenty of available seats! Of course, this may be a problem with the 0.05% of school children in Texas. However, I suspect that there is a "cheerleading problem" in California too. It is a shame when girls become "popular" by their looks or associations...or parents who push their children toward such a belief. However, the Bay Area seems to be plagued by men and women who find value in their looks. I was shocked by the amount of plastic surgeons in this area! Each time I open up the local newspapers or Wave Magazine, I am flooded with advertisements for plastic surgeons who market artificial, outward beauty. Don't get me started on Los Angeles! It is a modern issue where Hollywood and the media place value on popularity and looks over intelligence and determination. It makes me believe that those silly "national car" advertisements aren't so bad after all.

You wrote: "California's budget is a mess (I would love to repeal Prop 13, even though it would cost me $$) but I still think it is a terrific, accepting place to live."

RESPONSE: I agree that the budget is a mess -- which is why I wrote what I did. I once read that many businesses are successful because the creator found something that worked...and did what he could to offer something better. MySpace is a lot like FaceBook which is a lot like Yahoo 360. If you find something that works...make it better.

I am NOT saying that Texas is perfect (God forbid). Rather, I am simply pointing out that Texas at least knows how to balance a budget! California legislators might learn something from other states like Texas that know how to manage a budget without overtaxing the population.

As you have demonstrated, there are a lot of misconceptions about the state that are passed around by people. Texas is a highly educated, clean state. It has a problem with illegal immigration (just like California), but it has somehow figured out a way to end each year with a surplus. It has some of the lowest taxes in the nation, but provides a great amount of services. In fact, the budget is managed so well, the state now offers week-long tax-free holidays each year.

You may not like everything about Texas, but it seems like you are picking about very peculiar cultural things (that may or may not actually exist) rather than issues of the state government. Is it possible that this equates to cultural bigotry? Probably not.

I also like this area. I love the weather, the mountains and the Redwoods. I enjoy the cultural diversity. The only thing that I am disappointed with is the local government creating laws that don't seem to be researched very well and the deep extent of taxes, tolls and fees in this area. With such a large population and with such vast taxes and fees (cumulative and per capita), I just can't understand why the California budget can't be balanced. Perhaps there isn't a problem with income, but with spending too much?

As far as your comment about this place being "accepting:" I attended a rally in November for John McCain on the corner of San Antonio Rd and El Camino Real. I stood with my husband, sister and about 25 other (mostly older) citizens in support of John McCain. We have every right and privilege to do so. However, I cannot count how many middle fingers were held up to us. I can't count how many insults were hurled (along with spit) at this group of kindhearted local citizens. I was saddened when I saw at least two fathers teach their little girls how to hold up their middle fingers at us. People called us "racists," "bigots," "fools," and even "homophobes." In fact, we were only holding up signs that said "McCain." We stood there for over two or three hours in a cold pouring rain as we faced hostile drivers and their political intolerance. It was as if we are not entitled to an opinion UNLESS it configures with the popular sentiment of this area.

There were, however, quite a few people that gave us the "thumbs up" instead of the middle finger. If I am correct, nearly one third of this county voted for John McCain. I simply preferred John McCain over Barack Obama (although I was initially a "Hillary Clinton woman" myself).

Palo Alto Mom, you know this place much better than I do (just as I probably know the state of Texas more than you do). Please do not think that I am nagging about this city. There are many wonderful attributes in this area. I do, however, realize that there is quite a bit of dissent regarding some of the things in this area. Many local businesses opposed the bans on plastic bags. This week, several local restaurants have voiced disappointment over the recent ban on styrofoam. In fact, several said that they learned about this only AFTER the ban was passed. I use the word "nanny state" only after having read it here in the Palo Alto Online message boards over the past six months.

I apologize if you think that this post is judgmental or critical. There is quite a bit of beauty in this area...but that doesn't mean that I don't perceive some flaws too. I hope that I have a right to share my thoughts -- even if they might sometimes "go against the flow." Thanks!


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Posted by Arnie361
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Mireya - you are so articulate - if more folks had your intelligence and level-headedness, we'd be in much better shape.
That said, let's just stop it, folks! Enough already!
I love it here but after what I've read, I think visiting some of the nice parts of Texas are in order!

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Posted by MITgrad1983
a resident of Stanford
on May 2, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Dear Mireya,

Thank you for having the audacity to offer some good advice that might be immediately rejected by certain segments of our population. It warms my heart to know that some logical people are finally moving back into this area.

You raise a good point. There is something wrong with the government in California. We can point our fingers at Sacremento, but the problem is also local. It is a mentality that refuses to consider any alternative that sits outside of our own political persuasions.

I also love living in Palo Alto but I would like to see a sense of cautious logic return to this community. I fear that we are too often afraid to stray outside of very limited ideological lines. If we pride ourselves in being free thinkers, don't you think that it is time to consider alternatives outside of the Bay Area?

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Posted by Toto, We're Not In Kansas Anymore!
a resident of Midtown
on May 2, 2009 at 4:23 pm


Ah, let us not forget about your wonderful Texas friends at Enron who said the following:

In one transcript a trader asks about “all the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers of California.”

To which the Enron trader responds, “Yeah, Grandma Millie, man. But she's the one who couldn't figure out how to (expletive) vote on the butterfly ballot.”

As far as I'm (and most Californians) are concerned, Texas can (and should) do like your redneck governor wants and secede from the nation. Goodbye and good riddance, I say!

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on May 2, 2009 at 5:08 pm


Uh, the people at Enron were NOT my friends. However, from what I understand, the corruption was limited to people at the top of that company. However, I don't think that corruption is limited to a few greedy CEOs in Texas. As a matter of fact, there seems to be quite a bit of corruption in California too.

I suppose that you might believe that your hateful rants are "witty." However, you might want to consider just how ignorantly hypocritical you are proving yourself to be. You preach "tolerance" but then "rant" about a "redneck governor" with whom you have never met nor carried a conversation with. Is this a "politically correct" form of stereotyping? Is it okay to only "tolerate" those who agree with your own opinion -- one that seems to be based mostly upon "talking point" memos issued by and the Huffington Post?

If you would have actually read what Rick Perry stated a few weeks ago, you would have realized that he was referring to the FEDERAL government's own limitations as recorded by the US Constitution. Whatever power and authority is not expressly given to the Federal Government is given to the State Government. While I disagree with his wording, I do agree with the autonomy of states in government.

I do suggest, however, that you would refrain from your rants if they are simply going to ridicule those who disagree with you.

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Posted by Toto, We're Not In Kansas Anymore!
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2009 at 8:08 pm


You're so far off base you're off in the parking lot on this one. You just ASSUMED I was a flaming liberal who hypocritically preaches tolerance and quotes

Sorry, but I'm actually a centrist who actually was going to vote for McCain until he picked that ultimate white trash, know-nothing Christian-nutjob woman (who you probably love) for VP. As such, I am perfectly free to ridicule whoever I see fit, without guilt, remorse or hypocrisy involved.

And after having to deal with 8 God-awful long years of Bush, along with the royal screwing of California by Enron (and other Texas-based comapnies as well like El Paso), I have absolutely ZERO tolerance for Texas or Texans (and you can add Alaska in there now as well). As far as I'm concerned, I'd sell Texas to Mexico for a few cheap Tijuana souvenirs - and then build a secure border fence at the Texas border to keep the Texans out!

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2009 at 1:23 am


I'm sorry to hear about your mental predicament. I'm afraid that there is nothing that anyone can do for you. Perhaps if you read your own might detect the hate and bigotry within your words.

Otherwise, I wish you the best in your future! Your "centrist" rant was just a bit too extreme to indicate that anything can be done short of a telling you everything that your itching ears want to hear.

However, I am confident that there are people around who will do just that! Just be careful: Sometimes a good ear scratching can damage one's ability to hear and distinguish the truth.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 4, 2009 at 2:04 pm


Again, I pointed you in the right direction on why the budget is a mess--look at what the longterm results of Proposition 13 are. It basically skews our tax base. The other taxes are basically there to compensate for an unstable tax base. It's not equitable.

While you may enjoy much about Texas, I think you're unfairly invalidating Palo Ato mom's experience. Cheerleading doesn't have to be illegal for it to be something she doesn't like. I told you, it's oil and water. That you saw a bunch of ads for cosmetic procedures in a giveaway doesn't mean everyone has plastic surgery, by the way. It means that there's disposable income around. It differs from SoCal, where as a friend of mine puts it, "some people do have thair original features, but no one has their original hair color." Here there's even some natural hair color. Some.

And while you may not know folks at Enron, I think the business atmosphere in Texas *did* help create the skulduggery that was Enron in the same the lax attitude toward business regulation in Texas helped create the S&L mess. (Speaking of John McCain . . . ).

By the way, Enron's maneuvering cost Palo Alto tens of millions. So we really don't appreciate that corporations manipulations--California got it in the neck.

As a blue state that contributes more to the federal government than it takes, Bush really took and took without giving anything back. For a guy who was "pro-business" he didn't do much for high-tech. While Austen's got a high-tech niche, the GOP has, increasingly, become out of touch with high tech needs. Wasn't always this way--the Valley used to be pretty Republican--but of the stay-out-of-my-business--personal-and-corporate. I suspect some of the resentment is actually from non-lefties who resent the Bible-Belt takeover of the old Republican party. And Texas is part of that.

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Hi OhlonePar...

I'm not trying to invalidate PaloAltoMom's claims of personal experience. However, I do think that it is fair to correct her claims regarding the shootings...etc... She was attempting to paint the stereotype that Texas is filled with gun-toting rednecks who try to force their children into cheerleading and love the smell of burning oil and a dirty environment. This stereotype is far from anything that I experienced while living and studying there. In fact, I have repeated PaloAltoMom's comments to many people that I know who are still living in Texas, and they just sighed at this sort of representation. Ironically, two of them (who don't know one another) said the same thing, "She must not have lived here for long or have gotten out very often."

Enron was certainly controlled by a group of crooked CEOs and accountants. However, this is not just a Texas problem. California has had its share of crooked CEOs and congressmen. This is true of every state. In fact, the accountants who ran the books of Enron (Arthur Anderson) were based in Chicago. Should we stereotype all of Chicago by the actions of a few crooked individuals? To state that the problems with Enron were a result of the "business atmosphere of Texas" is strange...because Texas successfully prosecuted Enron executives. They were the exception...and not the rule. Those CEOs received some of the stiffest sentences in history. To say that Enron represents the attitudes of Texas is like saying that the porno industry of West LA represents the attitudes of the rest of California.

Of course, I don't know what went on in Palo Alto during the past eight years of the Bush Administration. I suppose that you are saying it was pretty bleak? Times were pretty good the central technology corridor in Texas (from San Antonio to Austin to Dallas). Of course, I don't know how much Bush had to do with that. In fact, this isn't about Bush. He no more represented all of Texas than Arnold or Pelosi represent all of California.

Of course, PaloAltoMom and Toto (and everyone for that matter) have the right to make assumptions about such things. It would be nice, though, if these assumptions could be based upon truth. To claim that some guy in Texas was shot (and not prosecuted) for banging on the door is an exaggeration. To claim that some guy in Texas was shot (and not prosecuted) for trying to repossess a car is an exaggeration. To claim that people in Texas want a dirty environment or even that Texas has a dirty environment is also an exaggeration (or, regarding the latter, an uncommon opinion).

Of course, I think that this has probably run its course. I suppose that I am one of those "stay-out-of-my-business...personal-and-corporate" idealists -- but not of the extreme type. I just think that if a government is going to make laws, they need to do so as fellow representatives of its constituents (and not as people who try to set a precedent without really thinking it through).

I do value your insight. My husband and I have begun looking into the history of Proposition 13. Who endorsed it? What we can't understand is how it was passed in the first place? If it was such a terrible idea, how did it pass? What would be a better alternative? Why hasn't anyone tried to create such an alternative?

If you could let me know your thoughts on this -- I would greatly appreciate it!

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Posted by T, from Duveneck/St Francis
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 4, 2009 at 8:40 pm

T, from Duveneck/St Francis is a registered user.

OhlonePar, your comment about SoCal is stereotypical and unfair. No more, please.

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Posted by PointOfView
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2009 at 10:49 am

Mireya -

Prop 13 was and is a good thing. We're paying more per person for education, even accounting for inflation, than we were before Prop 13 passed.

It has been one of the only levers to limit unbridled energy of California legislators to spend money.

It should be clear to you by now that our state government cannot control its spending. It can only promise to do so in the future; and that only if we pay higher taxes for the next four years. As an example of the trade off between statesmanship and appearances, we are converting a long term lottery income stream to a one-time payment so that we appear this year to be managing finances better at the expense of our future.

The promise to control spending in the future has been made many times and never kept; it is apparent to everyone involved that postponing this control will make it even harder to balance our budget in the future.

This is our problem and is independent from Prop 13. Prop 13 may not be perfect, but it's good.

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Hi PointOfView...

Interesting. My husband and I are still researching Proposition 13. I certainly understand the desire to limit the amount of tax burden upon a state where property values went through the roof over a period of two or three decades.

One thing that I thought might be interesting would be a property tax rate that is accessed according to income. This way, the poor, elderly and retired wouldn't be forced to bear the brunt of tax revenue. A person with an income of $1M per year might be able to pay more taxes than someone who lives in a similarly sized house but earns only $30K per year. A person would be less likely to lose their house simply because they couldn't afford the property taxes. It would be an interesting thought if the State could help individuals keep their houses by relieving the tax burden on those families with lower incomes.

When we first moved to the area, my husband met a retired couple who were living in an apartment. They explained that they could no longer afford the property taxes -- because the value of their home increased significantly since he retired. They sold their home many years ago, and he said that the home that he grew up in is now valued at over $1.5M. Even at the lowest rate, a retired or low income couple cannot afford such taxes.

Of course, this might be an over-simplification of property tax system of California. I am new to the state, so we are still trying to figure out the complicated taxation system of the State. I did, however, find some information about California's tax system.

I include this information below...and compare it with Texas (simply as a point of reference).

Sales Taxes
State Sales Tax: 8.25% (food and prescription drugs exempt. Tax varies according to locality. Can be as high as 10.25%)
Gasoline Tax: * 48.7 cents/gallon
Diesel Fuel Tax: * 52.0 cents/gallon
Cigarette Tax: 37 cents/pack of 20 plus an additional surcharge of 50 cents per pack, bringing the total to 87 cents.

Personal Income Taxes
Tax Rate Range: Low - 1.0%; High - 10.3%
Income Brackets: ** Lowest - $7,168; Highest - $1,000,000
Number of Brackets: 6
Tax Credits: Single - $99; Married - $198; Dependents - $309; 65 years of age or older - $99
Standard Deduction: Single - $3,692; Married filing jointly - $7,384
Medical/Dental Deduction: Same as Federal taxes
Federal Income Tax Deduction: None
Retirement Income Taxes: Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits are exempt. There is a 2.5% tax on early distributions and qualified pensions. All private, local, state and federal pensions are fully taxed.
Retired Military Pay: Follows federal tax rules.
Military Disability Retired Pay: Retirees who entered the military before Sept. 24, 1975, and members receiving disability retirements based on combat injuries or who could receive disability payments from the VA are covered by laws giving disability broad exemption from federal income tax. Most military retired pay based on service-related disabilities also is free from federal income tax, but there is no guarantee of total protection.
VA Disability Dependency and Indemnity Compensation: VA benefits are not taxable because they generally are for disabilities and are not subject to federal or state taxes.
Military SBP/SSBP/RCSBP/RSFPP: Generally subject to state taxes for those states with income tax. Check with state department of revenue office.

Property Taxes
Property is assessed at 100% of full cash value. The maximum amount of tax on real estate is limited to 1% of the full cash value. After taxes have been paid, homeowners 62 and older who earn $35,051 or less may file a claim for assistance on 96 percent of property taxes, up to $34,000 of the assessed value of their homes. Call 800-852-5711 or visit for details. Homestead exemptions are handled at the county level. Under the homestead program, the first $7,000 of the full value of a homeowner's dwelling is exempt. The state has a property tax postponement program that allows eligible homeowners (seniors, blind and disabled residents) to postpone payments of property taxes on their principal place of residence. Interest is charged on the postponed taxes. For more information, click here or call 800-952-5661.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes
There is no inheritance tax. However, there is a limited California estate tax related to federal estate tax collection.

For further information, visit the California Franchise Tax Board or the California State Board of Equalization.
* Does not include 1 cent local option.
** For joint returns, the taxes are twice the tax imposed on half the income.

Sales Taxes
State Sales Tax: 6.25% (food, prescription and non-prescription drugs exempt); local option taxes can raise the rate to 8.25%.
Gasoline Tax: 20 cents/gallon
Diesel Fuel Tax: 20 cents/gallon
Cigarette Tax: $1.41 cents/pack of 20

Personal Income Taxes
No state personal income tax
Retirement Income: Not taxed.

Property Taxes
Property tax is imposed by local taxing units. Click here for details. For homeowners 65 and older, $10,000 (in addition to the regular $15,000 homestead exemption) of the property's assessed value is exempt from school taxes and $3,000 is exempt from other local taxes. Once an over-65 homeowner qualifies for an over-65 homestead exemption for school taxes, that owner gets a tax ceiling for that home on school taxes. If the homeowner improves the home (other than normal repairs or maintenance), the tax ceiling is adjusted for the new additions. School district taxes are frozen for seniors (65 and older) and disabled persons at the level imposed on the residence the first year that the taxpayer qualified for the residence exemption. Counties, cities, towns, and junior college districts are permitted to establish a tax freeze on homesteads of those age 65 and older or disabled. For more information on exemptions, click here.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes
There is no inheritance and the estate tax is limited and related to federal estate tax collection.

For further information, visit the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts site or call the appropriate office using telephone numbers found on the site.

Link: Web Link

Interestingly, when considering the PER CAPITA tax burden of all states, California has the 9th highest in the nation in 2004 ($2,391.65 per person). Hawaii has the highest per capita burden ($3,050.03 per person) while Texas has the lowest ($1,368.45).

Web Link

In terms of PER CAPITA INCOME in 2006, Californians earn an average $39626 per person. Hawaii earns an average of $37023 and Texas earns an average of $35166 per person.

Web Link

When comparing the COST OF LIVING, California has the 2nd highest cost of living (behind only Hawaii).

Web Link

Anyway, I've got to get back to work. These are interesting statistics...and I will be continuing to grow more familiar with tax system of the State and area (including Proposition 13).

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 5, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Great to hear about the Styrofoam food container ban. Our family does not use styrofoam or buy food products (like meat and fish) which are sold in foam trays. We ask for meats to be wrapped in paper.

Hopefully other cities will follow us.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2009 at 8:31 pm


I know SoCal quite well and was quoting a friend of mine in Los Angeles. It's not news that there's a body-conscious culture in southern California. No point in getting sniffy about it--or in assuming I'm not intimately acquainted with it. (I am.)


Texas may have prosecuted Enron, but Enron also thrived there in the first place--as does the energy industry in general.

And, no, I'm not saying it was bleak here under Bush I'm saying that Enron's shenanigans cost the city tens of millions in jacked-up energy costs. Palo Alto has its own utility. Nothing vague--quite specific. California's a huge economy--Enron manipulated the market's here like crazy and it was really annoying.

My point is not whether this is fair to Texas--it's that we don't have positive associations with Texas for a number of reasons--and Enron's one of them.

And, no, I'd actually disagree that we have a climate of corporate corruption here. Among other things, the state is not dominated by one industry--high tech, entertainment and agriculture all have their interests as well as tourism.

Pointofview's post is an example of why Prop. 13 isn't going anywhere. However, the main thing about Prop. 13 is that if you've owned a house for years, you are not taxed at a rate anywhere near its market value. You can have identical houses next door and one owner will literally pay ten times in property taxes what the other is paying. Your husband misunderstood something regarding the retired couple--they wouldn't have been taxed at market value and that value wouldn't have been the assessed value on their house.

The irony is that much of the real-estate boom came after Prop. 13s passage. Because moving means paying more in property tax because the base goes up, fewer people moved (credits were brought in to make this less of an issue) and the market tightened. Meanwhile, Prop. 13 decimated school funding. As time went on a few districts switched to Basic Aid--i.e. PAUSD takes a minimum from the government, but is then able to raise whatever funds it wants locally. Housing prices in the rare well-funded district skyrocketed.

If you bought in Palo Alto 10 years ago you're in a very good position--your tax rate is based on its purchase price (before demand sent prices up 20 percent a year for a spell), but the demand for the school system means you're not seeing some of the drops in other areas.

The end result is if you have kids, you pay a lot more for housing than you would if Prop. 13 hadn't passed and helped create a situation where good public schools become a scarce commodity. Prop. 13 basically benefits older homeowners and they vote.

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Hi OhlonePar,

The energy industry thrived in Texas...because that is where much of the oil and energy industry is located. There are oil/energy companies here in CA too (like Chevron). Ironically, Texas also produces the most alternative forms of energy in the nation (especially in solar and wind energy). Boone Pickens led an initiative last year to create an alternative energy infrastructure...that would create energy transfer power stations that will harness and transfer energy derived from wind power...give it to the people...and possibly lower energy costs by 50% over six years. More importantly, the goal is to reduce the State's use of fossil fuels.

I understand that there is a hatred for the corruption that occured with Enron in California...and rightfully so. However, you must understand that there was just as much hate (or even more) in Texas! Good workers lost jobs because of a handful of corrupt individuals.

Corruption is a "greed" issue. A cop can be corrupt...but it doesn't mean that police departments are petree dishes filled with vile workers. To judge Texas by Enron (whose books were cooked with help from Chicago accountants), one would have to permit California to be judged by Hollywood, pornography or even Jelly Belly. These industries are merely a fraction of the state...and represent only one segment.

Your insight into Prop 13 is compelling. I am trying to find figures related to the per capita spending per student in California (compared to the rest of the nation). Also, how much school income is raised through property taxes?

What do you suppose a feasible alternative would be for Prob 13? The per capita tax burden is already so I wonder how the Prob could be fixed without trying to turn it into a huge tax increase that would affect the poor and middle class more than anyone else.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 11, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Still off topic, but back to Texas and the fact that people there think its ok to shoot trespassers, a 7 year old was shot in the head on Saturday for "trespassing" in Houston.

Web Link

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Posted by PointOfView
a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Some people consider facts and numbers in their synthesis of the world around them. Everyday Math might help.

"In fact, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Education,
per-student spending in California grew 25.8 percent in constant, inflation-adjusted dollars in the 20 years following Prop. 13."

This was five years ago, but prop 13 had shown its impact by then.

Web Link

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2009 at 3:26 pm

palo alto mom...

Why do you keep ranting about how terrible Texas is? You are trying to make up some ridiculous stereotype that Texans like to shoot people. That is simply untrue. There is a "castle law" in Texas (and in at least 28 other states) in which a person can use deadly force in order to defend a life that is at risk. If someone broke into your house and was attempting to rape and murder your daughter, would you do whatever it took to stop them?

Besides, if you are going to cite supposed instances of killing trespassers, why don't you provide a link? That way, we can determine if you are exaggerating yet again.

Please stop your pointless stereotyping of the state. We understand that you might believe these fairy tale stereotypes. However, you might want to look around and see if any of those same stereotypes fit this area too.


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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Palo Alto Mom...

I just found your link...and read the article.

Did YOU read the article?

Those people are being PROSECUTED by the State of Texas for the shooting. Is that any different than what happens in California? Each and every morning, I hear about some form of violence in this region on the local news. How is this isolated case any different than the local news? Besides, the law is pretty tough in Texas. I have a good feeling that this couple will be behind bars for a very, very long time.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 18, 2009 at 7:34 pm

I hope this couple will go away for a long time, but a couple key points - there was a sign in front of the suspects' home which read "Trespassers will be shot. Survivers will be reshot!! Smile I will." The couple thought the shooting was ok enough to call 911 and tell the dispatcher: "They're out here tearing up the levee, so I shot them." Not exactly a case of someone protecting a family member from bodily harm.

I don't think this comes up in our local news. Gang fights, acts of violence, yes, shooting a kid because you think he's on your property, no.

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2009 at 11:04 am

Palo Alto Mom, I don't know if you realize this, but you are judging an entire state with 35 Million people by stereotypes of a certain very, very small segment of the population.

Do you realize that you are so easily given to stereotypes? Wow!

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Posted by Texas = Toxic Disaster
a resident of Midtown
on May 22, 2009 at 11:02 pm


What a wonderful place to live - can't imagine why you wanted to leave?

Wear a respirator: Report raises more questions about Texas pollution
Editorial, Waco Tribune
It's not unusual for Texas to get an "F" on its air quality report card from the federal government.Texas, a land known in song for its prairie skies wide and high, has a more modern reputation for having some of the most polluted air in the nation.
Web Link

Under George W. Bush's leadership, Texas ranked number one in many categories of pollution and environmental degradation. For example, Texas is:
#1 in the Emission of Ozone Causing Air Pollution Chemicals
#1 in Toxic Chemical releases into the Air
#1 in use of Deep Well Injectors as method of Waste Disposal
#1 in counties listed in top 20 of Emitting Cancer Causing Chemicals
#1 in Total Number of Hazardous Waste Incinerators
#1 in Environmental Justice Title 6 complaints
#1 in production of Cancer causing Benzene & Vinyl Chloride
#1 Largest Sludge Dump in Country
Web Link

Texas Toxic Tour web site
Web Link

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Posted by Texas = Toxic Disaster
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2009 at 10:43 am

Hello my misleading friend...

Your web link is not credible. It is a partisan shot that is based upon political opinion rather than credible science. Thus, there is no ring of credibility to it...whatsoever.

And what shall we say about California? For all of its environmental liberalism, four of its cities consistently rank in the bottom regarding air quality standards.

Should we stereotype the entire state based upon outside control indicators?

Wow -- I am shocked that Palo Alto Mom has turned this into a BASH Texas thread. For all of your bashing, the bottom line is that Texas enjoys a lower cost of living due to a lack of intrusion by the government. Similar demographics...but with lower taxes...and yet it can still balance its budget.

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Posted by Mireya
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2009 at 10:44 am

Oops, that last post was mine. I accidentally pasted the name to whom this was directed in the "name" box.

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Posted by Texas = Toxic Diaster
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2009 at 6:36 pm


So if you want to base it all on low cost of living, why are you here instead of "racing to the bottom" in a state like Mississippi?

Oh, and by the way, the rankings cited above are all based solely on raw, factual data submitted by the states themselves - no political spinning involved.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Step up to the plate, PA
a resident of Barron Park
on May 23, 2009 at 9:28 pm

And yet the city has discontinued recycling styrofoam....

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