We're the best — no, the worst

Palo Alto gets kudos for livability, dings for commute time

Palo Altans tend to identify strongly with the inhabitants of Garrison Keillor's fictitious Lake Wobegon, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average."

And, certainly, evaluations of the city from standpoints as divergent as education and weather continue to reinforce that notion.

Livability, an online resource used for researching communities, named Palo Alto to the No. 1 spot on its "Top 100 Best Places to Live" list, citing "mild weather, thriving economy, great cultural and natural amenities, two downtowns and one of the highest-ranked universities in the world."

It also placed Palo Alto among the top 10 cities in the nation for kids, noting the quality of schools, percentage of households with school-age children, cost of living and restaurants with kids' menus.

But Livability was not alone in lauding Palo Alto.

Gunn High School snagged No. 5 in the nation for science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM), according to the U.S. News' annual Best High Schools list, as well as No. 17 in the state as a school in general, and No. 104 nationally. The latter ranking was based on state proficiency tests, college readiness and disadvantaged students' performance.

NerdWallet, a financial website, called Palo Alto the best city for job seekers — with its 3.6 percent unemployment rate, high education rate and high median income. LinkedIn noted that the three most in-demand startups — Theranos, Coursera and Wealthfront — are all located in Palo Alto.

The city also continued to win heavy praise, and prestigious national awards, for its efforts with technology and environmental sustainability. The Center for Digital Government named Palo Alto a "leading digital city" for the second year in a row in its population category, an award that recognizes the city's panoply of new online services and digital tools featuring real-time data. Palo Alto also picked up a Beacon Award this year from the Institute for Local Government and the Statewide Energy Efficiency Collaborative for its laundry list of green accomplishments, including a carbon-neutral electricity portfolio and a significant reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions.

When it comes to cutting-edge transportation, Palo Alto was named the 2014 Most Electric Vehicle Ready Community at Silicon Valley Leadership Group's Charged & Connected Symposium. The group noted the city's recent requirement for new single-family homes to have vehicle-charging infrastructure in place.

On the food front, California Avenue's Baumé earned two Michelin stars ("excellent cuisine, worth a detour") on its list of best restaurants.

Nearby Stanford University topped four of 11 categories in U.S. News' Best Graduate Schools report, including tying (with Harvard University) for No. 1 business school and making No. 2 in engineering and No. 3 in both law and education. The university also got a nod from Princeton Review as the "most LGBT-friendly campus."

But Palo Alto's detractors had a lot to say as well.

Drawing on census data, the Silicon Valley Business Journal found Palo Alto had the worst inbound commute in Silicon Valley, with close to 25 percent of inbound commutes lasting longer than 45 minutes. The average commuter into the city spends 32.3 minutes behind the wheel and 22 minutes heading out. The Business Journal also found that Palo Alto has a lousy carpooling record (5.5 percent), with 71.8 percent of residents commuting by car — and 90 percent of those riding solo.

San Francisquito Creek, which flows along Palo Alto's northern border, was No. 5 on American Rivers' list of the nation's most endangered rivers — with fish, wildlife habitat and public safety all threatened — due to what it called the dangers of Stanford's outdated Searsville Dam.

Palo Alto only made a B- on a tobacco report card, which was issued by the Tobacco Free Coalition of Santa Clara County, Community Advocate Teens of Today and the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. The anti-tobacco folks are mostly concerned about teens' access to tobacco, store ads, community outreach and tobacco policies. Perhaps the city will glean a few more points next year, after passing the ban on smoking in shopping centers last week.

Finally, Palo Alto, at No. 24, can honestly disclaim the title of most expensive ZIP code (that right belongs to Atherton, according to Forbes Magazine). The real estate website Movoto did cite the city's high median home price, high number of private schools and wide selection of art galleries as sufficient for earning Palo Alto recognition as the "snobbiest" small city in America.

— Carol Blitzer and Gennady Sheyner

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7 people like this
Posted by Sam
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Dec 26, 2014 at 11:16 am

Well said. And true that Searsville Dam continues to damage the reputation of Stanford U. and the health of our San Francisquito Creek watershed. It is time for Stanford to catch up with the 21st century and remove their 19th century, harmful, and unnecessary dam.

7 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 26, 2014 at 11:48 am

Good to see that some of our highly paid officials are hard at work: writing press releases and applying for awards.

5 people like this
Posted by Continuous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Theres a saying, Don't rest on your laurels.

Pride goeth before a fall, too, which is all about people feeling full of themselves at the expense of doing what's right.

The success of the tech industry is all about not resting on laurels. Continuous improvement and disruptive innovation. Not caring what others think.

None of that comes from resting on your laurels. Do you want to imagine and do what's possible, or hunker down with the comparisons and take potshots at innovators?

And when is the last time an accolade came with a full audit? It is possible to both deserve the accolades and have a lot of development in the pipeline that will destroy it. It's possible to be rich even while someone is stealing the silverware and should be stopped.

15 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 27, 2014 at 3:09 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

The thing is, keeping Palo Alto as one of the most livable, wonderful places in the entire world would take no effort at all-the most incompetent fool could achieve it in his sleep. Yet, we managed to diminish the quality of life and livability of this once wonderful town by falling prey to the false gods of "vibrancy" and "urbanization", as if trying to compete with San Jose and San Francisco at being a hip urban metropolis, trying to please and appease the new Yuppies was something Palo Alto needed to be relevant. Now we have scandalously overpriced boutique stores and restaurants, a downtown teeming, mostly at night, with aggressive panhandlers and criminals, drug deals at many corners, drunks from many other parts of the Bay area, crime, noise, congested traffic, pollution, just so we can lose our soul and become just like the others. It takes special talent to achieve all of that.

13 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 27, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

The tech industry also knows that lousy products/services ultimately fail no matter how many Barney/Barney press releases they fill with phony accolades.

I think we're trying to compete with LA, not SF or San Jose. We're going for all glitz, no substance. New and improved press releases can't hide ever-increasing gridlock and over-development with with the worst inbound commute in all of Silicon Valley.

Who designs a ridiculously expensive glitzy shiny library to be NOISY?

Who wastes $4+ million dollars on a city hall library that will be seen by very few people and then adds insult to injury with a $200,000 "digital art" directory when we have an unresponsive city government?

Who spends a fortune on "statement" energy projects -- composters, etc. -- when the city's forgotten it's supposed to provide COST-EFFECTIVE SERVICES, not contests, mailings, etc. etc. How about some working storm drains and fewer mailings?

But hey, we've got a Chief Sustainability Officer to run Zero-Waste contests and tell us to spend tens of thousands of dollars to switch appliances, furnaces, etc. to this year's fad. that will get officials a few junkets to conferences when they're doing nothing about the big wide world around us?

Who spends a fortune on a new Cal Ave streetscape and then proceeds to replace convenient diagonal parking with parallel parking the backs up onto El Camino while ignoring the REALITY that fewer lanes and inconvenient parking HAS to cause backups?

Where's the common sense??

But hey, we've got the glitz and the spending and the highest City Hall Comp packages. Rah rah. Roll out the red carpet.

9 people like this
Posted by Senseless
a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 27, 2014 at 9:50 pm

@Online Name:

Don't forget the lovely broken-glass sidewalks that cause injuries on Cal Ave. Brilliant design. Thanks to our planning department for using their typical "sense" when they approve stupid proposals.

I hope the new city council will clean house at 250 Hamilton!

6 people like this
Posted by shredded
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2014 at 10:35 pm

@Mauricio. Well said but add in the sheer ugliness spreading over the
City. The character and ambiance of this City are being shredded,destroyed.
I travel and I have never seen anything on a par with what is taking
place here. We are moving in the opposite direction.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 1, 2015 at 11:19 am

I was in Lake Oswego, Oregon - suburb of Portland - for Thanksgiving. Same issue up there - the downtown is being replaced with 3 story business / apartments. They have instituted a city mandate on any new development meeting certain requirements for density. This area has a high degree of technology related businesses.

There are repetitive themes in the major high-end smaller urban cities that are near major cities. And yes - the long-time residents are up in arms and there is a lot of city unrest regarding these changes.

Palo Alto is not alone here - we are all in some stew pot derived from type business and general upper end wage level.

A lot of big money is out there playing monopoly.

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

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