News

Palo Altans love their town, dislike developments

New survey shows only about half of local residents like 'overall quality of new development'

Palo Alto residents generally love their city, but their enthusiasm plummets when it comes to new developments, a new survey indicates.

The recently completed Service Efforts and Accomplishments Report, which the City Council discussed Tuesday night, gave council members plenty of reasons to cheer.

The survey showed 94 percent of respondents rating the city's "overall quality of life" as either "good" or "excellent" and 93 percent giving it highest grades as a "place to raise children."

But the survey -- conducted by the National Research Center and analyzed by Palo Alto's Office of the City Auditor -- also indicated that only 53 percent of the responders gave high marks to the "overall quality of new development" in Palo Alto, down 2 percent from 2009. Several council members found this surprising, given the city's notoriously complex development-review process and its famously thorough land-use and design-review commissions.

"We have such high expectations in this community, and for good reason," Councilwoman Karen Holman said, citing the city's educated populace and its Architectural Review Board, which reviews development proposals. "I think we need to take a look at why those numbers are where they are."

Councilman Greg Scharff agreed. He said he was struck by "how generally happy the residents are." But he also urged the council to consider ways to address the residents' concerns about new developments.

"How can we improve this rating and make people feel like we have a higher quality of new developments in Palo Alto?" Scharff asked.

Residents' skepticism toward new developments didn't extend to their feelings about the appearance of the city as a whole. The survey showed 83 percent rating "overall appearance" of Palo Alto as either "good" or "excellent" -- the same as last year.

The city also scored in the 95th percentile or higher in such categories as "a place to work," "educational opportunities," "ease of walking" and "overall image or reputation." Residents also praised the city's fire services (93 percent rated them "good" or "excellent"), police services (87 percent) and recycling collection (90 percent).

Yet as in years past Palo Alto received low marks when it came to availability of affordable housing (15 percent gave it "good" or "excellent" ratings), affordable, quality child health care (25 percent) and bus or transit services (45 percent).

The comprehensive SEA report also detailed the accomplishments of each city department and compared each department with its counterparts in other cities. The report created performance targets for each department and listed the latest budget trends.

The most dramatic increase was in the Fire Department, which saw its spending grow 37 percent, from $20.2 million to $27.7 million, over the past five years.

Scharff called the increase "dramatic," given that budgets at other departments had either dropped or stayed roughly the same in recent years. He attributed the rise to the "binding arbitration" provision in the City Charter. The provision, adopted 1978, gives a three-member arbitration panel the power to resolve labor disputes between the city and the firefighters' union.

Earlier this year, the council considered asking the voters to repeal the provision, but ultimately declined to do so by a 5-4 vote. Scharff suggested Tuesday that the council revisit the issue in the coming month.

"One of the biggest impediments is that we have binding arbitration in our charter and we need to look at that in the next year," Scharff said.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2011 at 8:32 am

Not sure who was surveyed for this.

Raising kids. The schools are getting more and more crowded. The commutes, particularly to the high schools, are crazy. There are very few, kid orientated family style restaurants. The kid movies are always shown in out of town theaters (Shoreline). We have a great childrens library, a bowling alley and an ice rink. Many of the Enjoy camps are hard to get in because they are oversubscribed and there is very little that the City does for teens during the summer. We have great Little League, AYSO, etc., but field space, gym space, etc. is crowded. There are few opportunities for kids to play pickup ball games in our parks because of space being taken over by organized teams.

Shopping is pathetic. Roads are in a poor state. Library opening times are erratic. Traffic is treated ridiculously. Public transport is minimal. Progress is almost non-existent.

And still more housing is being built.


Like this comment
Posted by Another Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 19, 2011 at 10:37 am

Holy smoke, I can't understand why they didn't survey you, Resident! It must be tough to live in your Palo Alto. Shopping is pathetic. Wow. Ever shopped in the sort of ghetto market Michelle Obama inveighs against? Having to deal with libraries that aren't open right when you want to go there? The suffering, the suffering! Also, too bad that we don't have a nice movie complex like Shoreline over across Embarcadero Road, to add to our traffic and congestion on these terrible roads you complain about.

I still enjoy walking around this blighted city, Resident, even seeing the horrendous problems you complain about so vociferously.


Like this comment
Posted by follow the money
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 19, 2011 at 10:38 am

"Several council members found this surprising, given the city's notoriously complex development-review process and its famously thorough land-use and design-review commissions."

Really? Just look at 800 High!


Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 10:44 am

Palo Alto is a great place, BUT too much new development propelled by ABAG is having an impact on our infrastructure and our schools. New students can no longer count on going to their neighborhood school -- there are simply too many new children to place. And the increased density of all this new building makes for congestion -- not quality of life.

Finally, residential development does not pay its own way; we depend on tax revenue from businesses and retail to support our city.

It is time to push back on ABAG and just say NO to any more residential development. And no more increases in staffing or salaries for the over rated fire department!


Like this comment
Posted by Midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 10:48 am

Not only 800 High. Look at the City-approved abominations at the corner of El Camino and Charleston, and at the east end of Loma Verde Avenue. Low cost housing isn't an ecxcuse for bad taste. Besides, try getting into any low cost housing for less than half a mil.
The Loma Verde complex has made the street into a crowded highway that ends in $600,000 to $1 mil townhouses beside the freeway.
There's no benefit to Palo Alto's vaunted life-style with such "progress."


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 19, 2011 at 11:17 am

"Several council members found this surprising, given the city's notoriously complex development-review process and its famously thorough land-use and design-review commissions."

The council has consistently confused process with outcome, and/or used The Process as a CYA for their own actions. In practice, The Process essentially makes developers do a complex and meaningless minuet whose outcome is never in doubt - developers get what they want, and commissioners' and councilmembers' egos are satisfied.


Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 11:28 am

Curmudgeon, While I'm an optimist, I definitely agree with your observations. I feel like developers own our City Council and the rest is just the high drama of political performance (and I mean that in the theatrical sense).

I'm surprised the quality of life numbers haven't dropped lower at the pace high density housing is added, but then it's all at the south end of town so 94301, and vicinity are less impacted and therefore happier.

And won't it be all fun and games when high-speed rail races through!


Like this comment
Posted by nimbys
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 19, 2011 at 11:33 am

There are a lot of NIMBYs in town. They want more jobs in town, but they don't want the infrastructure that supports those jobs, like housing and transit.


Like this comment
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 19, 2011 at 11:53 am

Resident,
Why do you pay so much to live in this hell hole? Go complain somewhere else.


Like this comment
Posted by mom of gunn grad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 19, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Resident:

My kid grew up in Palo Alto...in middle school he volunteered with YCS in the summer. He worked as a Camp Galileo CIT (volunteer)..now they pay.
You have to look around and see that there is lots for teens to do. So I do not agree with you on that. You think classes are crowded? Go check out Menlo Atherton high school. Gunn was awesome.

I will say I shop at Trader Joes and midtown Safeway...and that's good enough for us. Piazza's and Mollie Stones are too expensive.

If you think there aren't enough bball pickup game space, wanna buy our bball hoop? Its in our driveway.
With all due respect, you do sound like you are whining. If you don't like Palo Alto, then move!


Like this comment
Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Palo Alto has a charm of its own.. agreed, I personally get frustrated with the lack of "box" stores like Walmart or Target .. but to think about it again, I don't really want a store like this in Midtown. The midtown safeway is smaller as compared to the bigger Mountain View / San Antonio store .. however, this Safeway has enough stuff to keep my family going. Trader Joe is a good alternative (Pizza and Whole Foods .. way too expensive ! )

PA should develop El Camino if possible. Adding a few more box stores to that area will help the residents shop local and also the city can earn some money on the sales ..

Stop residential development till you figure out the schools !!


Like this comment
Posted by South Midtown Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 1:40 pm

The quality of new community design development is low in Palo Alto. New development often asks for great exceptions that take away from the City's Comprehensive Plan. Development exceptions draw the city process out and reduce the integrity of our quality of life in the design outcome. The impacts of poor design are felt in the North Palo Alto and the South. If Developments sketch within the lines of the City's Comprehensive Plan we all can benefit with better development design for our community.

I prefer to stop the use of NIMBY. I feel It is a term used to disparage groups from giving opinion.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Well everyone, I just reread my post and it does sound whiney but wasn't meant to. There are some positive things I said so don't judge me too harshly.

The point is, I moved here with a toddler and we really liked the small town feel. Since then we have had our kids go through the schools and are shocked at the size of the once small sized schools and how difficult it can be to get them into the activities they want. We spend a great deal of time in Mountain View and other places because there are more options for kids. No big problem, just that Palo Alto doesn't have the stuff that other places have. I would rather be spending my sale tax dollars benefiting the city in which I live rather than somewhere else. If Palo Alto doesn't want my tax then it is their loss and ultimately mine too.

Whining doesn't get you anywhere, I know that. But I am surprised that a survey which is supposed to ask for people's opinions doesn't seem to reflect my own or those of parents of other kids we know.

Neighoboring cities have moved ahead and kept up with the times. Palo Alto still feels the same as when we moved here, but just more crowded.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm

"New development often asks for great exceptions that take away from the City's Comprehensive Plan."

This is not a problem for City Hall. It routinely amends the Comprehensive Plan to conform to nonconforming developments as The Process approves them.


Like this comment
Posted by Follow the money
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 2:22 pm

There are several problems
*the lack of talent and imagination of local developers
*the development forces (read, money) behind the city council and the ARB
*the ARB approves and makes exceptions for almost anything - architects earn a living working for developers, they won't criticize anything major
*the developers win in the end by crying Oh we have been working so hard! so the council says ok. This is a predictable scenario.
*Anyone who tries to improve a design is told they are micromanaging.
*there is big money to be made no matter what it looks like


Like this comment
Posted by mom of gunn grad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 19, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Resident:

That was a nice response. I understand how you feel and do agree it's more crowded than ever. However there are activities for your teens; they just have to be proactive:Ymca and Jcc have summer camps that they can attend or work at as CITs, same with Camp Galileo.
My child took some fun summer school classes while attending JLS..

We live in midtown south and think there is too much new housing. I will say Im glad we are done with K-12..but would feel that wherever we lived.


Like this comment
Posted by Susan
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 3:45 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Another Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 19, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Resident, you're unusual in these threads for looking more closely at what you wrote. Good for you! It is easy to get caught up in everyday frustrations and lose track of the overall picture.

I wonder if parents with concerns like yours would benefit by networking, forming small groups (Years ago we belonged to a baby-sitting coop that was invaluable on these issues) and maybe having each person call around to a different place or organization to find good resources, activities, etc.


Like this comment
Posted by a reader
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Resident- The crowding you don't like is a result of the higher density housing now permitted. More dwellings per acre = more people & cars per acre = more kids in schools. Get your like-minded friends to get active in city gov't and vote for change. Remember that PA does like the fees it collects from developers, thereby encouraging growth. High density pays off big time in revenue, which is what Palo Alto really likes. There's a reason for high density growth. It's spelled m-o-n-e-y.

No movies for kids? Maybe if you asked nicely, the Stanford or Aquarius or PA Square theaters would have a kids Sat. am matinee once or twice a month. You'd have to get all your friends to gop, because they wouldn't be able to pay staff unless they could at least break even. Maybe see if the library will sponsor an occasional movie day/night.





Like this comment
Posted by jared Bernstein
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 19, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Up above, folks noted the look of the recent developments at 800 High, and at the corner of El Camino and Charleston, and at the east end of Loma Verde Avenue.

800 High is nice enough to look at and it (1) blocks noise from the trains for the neighbors and (2) helps keep commercial downtown alive.

I happened to drive past the dev. at Charleston x El Camino; it looks fine, and I was meeting a friend at the one at the end of Loma Verde, and it's pretty nice too.

I would like more developments like 800 High St, with public parking and access to the train and buses.


Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 19, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I'm a resident of South Palo Alto and I agree with the comment on having too many new developments since a majority of new housing developments are occuring south of Oregon Expressway. Examples: 1) new housing where Rickey's Hyatt once occupied; 2) green housing on Loma Verde/Fabian; and 3) new housing where Albertson's once occupied although development has been suspended by the developer.

Palo Alto is known for its great school system and its fantastic parks. The issue I'm more concerned about is the the lack of new public developments by the city to offset the increase in Palo Alto residents (part of new hosing developments). Other than the new Mitchell Park library, I'm not seeing a clear vision by city planning on how it plans to maintain the quality of life (specific to new developments) for its residents.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident 0.1
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2011 at 11:14 am

Another reason Palo Alto has to stop approving large developments is that Palo Alto doesn't have the infrastructure to support these developments. This is one reason people want to take away park land to build infrastructure on it. We will also be asked to build multi-story schools although Palo Alto residents do not support multi-story schools. Our elected officials know that the price of water will continue to increase as we continue adding more people to the Bay Area.

The City Council can have more money to spend if it follows the recommendations of our former City Auditor. We can continue to make changes (upgrades to the hospital, buying existing housing to turn into low-cost housing) but we can't continue making money for the top 2% by approving large development.

We should elect council members by district and recall them when they continue to back these large developments.


Like this comment
Posted by Palo Verde mom
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm

I think Resident also raised a simple, valid question.
WHO was surveyed? and HOW?


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 20, 2011 at 5:21 pm

"we can't continue making money for the top 2% by approving large development"

Palo Altans aren't making the money from these things. The developers live in Woodside, Portola Valley, and other sky-high expensive communities, nicely out of view of their creations, which are constructed by workers living in Redwood City, East Palo Alto, and the East Bay.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident 1
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I agree with and appreciate the honesty of Resident's input. Raising a family here is not easy. We do it because it is worth the investment.

The condition of many roads is unacceptable, at least in South Palo Alto.

We moved here knowing that we would have to do our shopping, etc. in Mt. View, as Palo Alto's stores are not for our income level.

There is not a central place for teenagers to hang out without being criticized for disrupting the area. This has been an issue since I grew up here.

The fields are overcrowded. It is a fight for AYSO to get space every year, and then the spaces are crowded with several teams practicing on half fields.

The fact that so much development in South Palo Alto has been allowed over the last few years has led to increased traffic congestion.

One has to question where the taxes are being spent; besides going to the fire department. I have to question the City's priorities.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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