News

Survey: Palo Altans love their neighborhoods but are miffed by development

Results also suggest Crescent Park is grumpier about local government than College Terrace

Palo Altans generally feel rosy about their hometown, but attitudes tend to sour when the conversation shifts to housing, land use and the quality of new developments.

And things get particularly testy when you mention these subjects to someone in Barron Park or Crescent Park, according to a newly released survey.

The National Citizens Survey, an annual poll conducted by the National Research Center and the International City/County Management Association, asked residents throughout the city a range of questions about Palo Alto, touching on everything from parking and safety to land use and street conditions. Much like its predecessors, the twelfth annual survey showed more than 90 percent of the respondents grading the overall quality of life in Palo Alto as "excellent" or "good" (the two highest rankings). The figure stood at 91 percent, with virtually no variation between the northern and southern parts of the city.

In other bits of good news for the city, 93 percent gave Palo Alto the thumbs up as a "place to raise children" and 86 percent gave it high marks as "a place to work." An overwhelming majority in every section of the city also feels safe at night and has great things to say about the "overall appearance of Palo Alto." People love their neighborhoods (93 percent) and they sort of like their neighbors (64 percent lauded the "neighborliness" of local residents). And in the areas of shopping opportunities, affordable quality health care and availability of preventive health services, the city did well above other benchmark cities and saw an improvement of about 10 percent over its 2013 numbers.

Everything, in short, is peachy, as long as you don't mention development or transportation. Because if you do, things go downhill really fast.

While the survey breaks down responses by neighborhoods, results suggest that land use, planning and zoning remain thorny subjects in just about every part of the city. Only 43 percent of the respondents ranked the city as "excellent" or "good" in this area. The proportion is, however, an improvement over 2013, when the number was 36 percent. Similarly, while only 51 percent of the respondents in 2014 gave the city the top two ratings on "overall quality of new development," this is higher than in 2013, when only 44 percent did so.

Though Barron Park tends to be more critical of the city's land use policies than College Terrace, land-use rage is a citywide issue. In the northern neighborhoods, 46 percent gave the city high marks for land use, while in the southern neighborhoods the figure was 42 percent.

City Auditor Harriet Richardson, whose office coordinates the annual survey, said in a statement the city released more surveys this year than in the past (3,000 compared to 1,200) and received responses from almost 800 people (a 27 percent response rate). Though the survey has been conducted for 12 years, the neighborhood breakdown is a new part of the analysis.

"This year we were able to distribute and tabulate the survey results on a more specific geographic and neighborhood level, providing insights into how different areas of the city view community life," Richardson said in a statement.

In some cases, the differences between how northern and southern Palo Altans view the city are jarring. The former, for instance, tend to think higher of Palo Alto as a place to retire than the latter. In the area that includes Downtown North, University South, Professorville and Old Palo Alto, 75 percent of the respondents gave the city "good" or "excellent" marks for retirement. The figure plummeted to 56 percent in the area around Midtown and St. Claire Gardens and to 44 percent around Ventura, Charleston Meadows and Barron Park. Overall, 68 percent of the respondents in north Palo Alto neighborhoods gave the city the top two marks in this area, compared to 54 percent in the south.

That's not to say that the north doesn't have its own problems. While insufficient parking is a citywide phenomenon, the survey suggests that subject gets sorer in the north, where only 32 percent gave the city high ratings for "ease of public parking," than in the south, where the figure was 42 percent (citywide, the number was 38 percent). Northern responders also were less generous to the city when asked about "ease of travel by car," with only 45 percent giving the city good grades in this category. In the southern neighborhoods, the number was 56 percent.

Transit options also didn't score well, though there was significant variation among different parts of the city. Only 36 percent of the respondents citywide rated "ease of travel by public transportation" in Palo Alto as good or excellent, though the judgment was far harsher in the eastern sections of the city. In the area that includes Crescent Park and Duveneck/St. Francis, only 22 percent gave public transportation high marks. Just south of these neighborhoods, in Midtown, the number was 24 percent. By contrast, 43 percent of the respondents in the area that includes the south Palo Alto neighborhoods of Charleston Gardens, Fairmeadow, Palo Verde and Greenmeadow were satisfied with local public-transportation services, as were 43 percent of the respondents in and around Downtown North, which includes the city's busy transit center. Not surprisingly, when the survey asked about one change that Palo Alto can make that would make residents happy, the top three answers citywide pertained to (in order) transportation, development and housing.

Neighborhoods also offered starkly different opinions about their faith in the Palo Alto government, with the leafy northeastern enclaves near U.S. Highway 101 being a particularly tough crowd. In the area that includes Crescent Park, Community Center, Duveneck/St. Francis, Embarcadero Oaks, Leland Manor and Garland, only 39 percent of the residents said "very" or "somewhat" when asked about the "honesty" of local government. Just 35 percent gave high marks when asked for "overall confidence in Palo Alto government" and 37 percent did so when asked about "overall direction that the city is taking" (though the City Council shouldn't take this too personally; the federal government fared even worse in this part of the city, with only 29 percent of the respondents in this area giving Washington, D.C., positive ratings).

Things look much sunnier in the western neighborhoods of Evergreen Park and College Terrace. In the area that includes these neighborhoods, along with Southgate and Palo Alto Hills, 72 percent gave local government high marks for honesty; 64 percent expressed "overall confidence in city government"; and 61 percent praised the "overall direction the city is taking" (citywide, the percentage is 58 percent, 52 percent and 50 percent, respectively).

When it comes to feeling welcomed by the local government, opinions were also all over the map. Though 54 percent of the respondents citywide gave city government high grades for "welcoming citizen involvement," the proportion who felt that way in the area that includes Barron Park and Green Acres was 38 percent. By contrast, in the section of the city that includes College Terrace and Evergreen Park the share was 71 percent.

In releasing the results, city officials lauded the fact that Palo Alto continued to rank high above other jurisdiction in the broad categories pertaining to neighborhoods and the overall quality of life. City Manager James Keene said in a statement that the Palo Alto community "continues to rate Palo Alto as a top place to live, work and raise a family."

"We experience and enjoy a high quality of life in Palo Alto, and the survey results reinforce this sentiment across the neighborhoods of our community," Keene said.

In addition to the neighborhood breakdown and the usual broad questions about things like schools and parks, the new survey also asked a few "custom" questions pertaining to controversial housing, transportation and parking. Of the various options presented, respondents chose east of Highway 101 near the Baylands as the best option for new multi-family housing, with 69 percent favoring it, followed by San Antonio Avenue (68 percent).

The survey also showed 93 percent supporting more bicycle/pedestrian improvements and 84 percent supporting more shuttle services. Road widening and grade separation along the rail corridor also proved popular, with 75 percent and 74 percent support, respectively.

Comments

6 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2015 at 10:09 am

So there you have it folks. Fix the T and C mess, fix the the grade separation on Caltrain and fix the parking and every one will be peachy happy. The to do list for the CC. (Notice how each of these have something to do with too many cars.


Posted by Fix The T&C Mess
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland

on Jan 29, 2015 at 10:23 am


Remember me?
Forgot Password?
Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 10:27 am

The problem with too many cars is two fold.

There are too many cars causing gridlock and too few spaces to park them.

We need to get the cars to where they want to go efficiently and then they need to be able to park simply.

I live near a new housing development which is in a residential neighborhood, but the new homes must be underparked because the amount of street parking is huge on a street where I remember seeing no cars being parked on the street. They obviously do not have enough parking spots for their own cars, perhaps only tandem parking, and so they decide to park on streets outside the development. This is exactly what annoys so many of us about the new developments, that and the way they are filling our schools and turning them into megaschools.


4 people like this
Posted by Lisa Krieger
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 29, 2015 at 11:12 am

A nicely-written, well-organized and engaging article about a topic that can be dry as a bone: survey results.


9 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2015 at 11:34 am

They have been going overboard trying to make Oregon expressway. We have not had any fatalities and yet they insist on putting a protected left turn lane at Louis, as if drivers have forgotten how to turn left.
Even worse is the protected left turn lane southbound on Cowper. If one or two cars are turning left, the cars turning right get needlessly backed up because they've shrunk the size of the intersection to make a blatantly unnecessary left turn lane.

Its as if the people planning this have no actual experience commuting on these roads. I see it everywhere in Palo Alto: irrational "safety" improvements which don't take traffic flow, efficiency, and common sense into consideration. Springing these changes on us might actually make it LESS safe. And please, stop worshipping bicycles!!! Driving a car is not a sin!

If Palo Alto had frequent accidents I would understand. But Palo Alto drivers are some of the safest, most courteous that I've ever seen. The city is fine the way it is! Let's work to preserve that.


10 people like this
Posted by Looking at the numbers
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 29, 2015 at 11:38 am

The staff has had these survey results for months, and has spent the time breaking down the results into so much irrelevance, it now fills 112 pages, a guarantee that not too many people will look at it.

By breaking down results into so many categories, and comparing us to other cities, and every other obfuscation they could think of, like prior years and other cities, the negative percentages are disguised and buried. That could account for these:

On page 9: Percentage Rating Good or Excellent

Overall confidence in Palo Alto government 52%
Generally acting in the best interest of the community 54%
Quality of Palo Alto government being honest 58%

On page 29:
Overall quality of new development in Palo Alto 51%


14 people like this
Posted by Squeezed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 11:40 am

Palo Alto has no more room for more cars, more businesses, more housing, or more roads. Not even room for wider roads.

We are hemmed in by mountains on one side, the Bay on another side, and the city limits of other municipalities on the other two sides.

No more room= no more development. Period.


6 people like this
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 11:52 am

Resident, once they live here, "our schools" become their schools. Why shouldn't they park in the street? Single family homes with driveways and garages and room for more than 1 car also fill the streets with cars.

People, Silicon Valley overlords - many who live here - are growing their companies, and more housing is needed. Where do you suggest the housing go?


6 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 29, 2015 at 11:58 am

There was an option to complete the survey via a web-site. It would be interesting to know how many people responded to the survey on-line, and how many completed it on paper.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Memories, I agree they do become their schools as much and as such are still our schools, but do we, all of us, want mega schools?

As for street parking, I agree anyone can park in the streets. But the developers are not providing enough off street parking. If all homeowners started parking their 2+ cars in their streets instead of their driveways, we would have even bigger parking problems.

Do we want to encourage more residential developments without enough off street parking? All the talk is about office space not providing enough parking. I think we should also be looking at residential developments that do not have enough off street parking per residence.


16 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2015 at 12:04 pm

"But Palo Alto drivers are some of the safest, most courteous that I've ever seen."

Really? We must not live in the same world. I see car drivers running red lights, driving and being on the phone at the same time, speeding, and generally flaunting driving rules, every single time I am out there.

As to Oregon Expressway, even if there were no fatalities, I have seen many horrific accidents on that road. I like the improvements that were made on Oregon. I really think they have improved the flow of traffic. BTW it was a county project, not a city project. If only other roads could be improved, particularly the mess that Embarcadero is between the tracks and El Camino.


9 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Fix the T&C Mess,

The answer you got from Tom Dubois is an example of why I am encouraged by the new political setting in the city. Thank you for sharing it. It's sad that only those of us who are registered users can see it. I hope you can remedy that. Let us know if you get the follow-up you expect. With luck you'll train your eye on another significant problem, bring it to a counsel member's attention if you need help to determine what the hang-up is, and let us know what you find out.

Congratulations on testing the proposition that it's a new day in Palo Alto for public discourse. Thanks again to former P&T Commissioner Arthur Keller for taking part online in such a helpful fashion.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland

on Jan 29, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Online Name is a registered user.


Remember me?
Forgot Password?
Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.


4 people like this
Posted by km
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Since this survey was done there has been a big turnover in the council, four new members. The question I would like answered is how much faith do you have in the council? How much faith in the civil servants in city hall?


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Condensed version: Our neighborhoods are great, but God forbid anyone wants to move into them...


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland

on Jan 29, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Online Name is a registered user.


Remember me?
Forgot Password?
Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.


1 person likes this
Posted by jerrry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2015 at 12:48 pm

I would like Barron Park a hundred times better if the City Council would stop dumping the Below Market Rate apartments and condos into Barron Park. There are several within a mile of the trailer park as it is.

And stop holding up the closure of Buena Vista trailer park, which [portion removed] is falling apart. It would cost many millions of dollars to replace the sewers, electricity, water, etc. that have reached their end of life and it would only be allowed to have half the number of trailers under new existing trailer park regulations. Close the eyesore now.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2015 at 2:21 pm

"east of 101 in the Baylands for multi-family housing"???
Isn't this all a flood zone and earthquake hazard zone? Isn't it "nature" (to the extent possible)...with a portion the Baylands parkland. it would also be a grim location.
It sounds like a poor idea to try to insert housing into that isolated sector on the other side of the highway.
Plus let's try to retain what little "nature" that remains, NO flashing automobile dealership billboards and showrooms and lots in the Palo Alto Baylands, much less multi-family housing.
I suggest more mid-height multi-family housing along El Camino Real, NOT jammed right up against the roadway but with a slight setback.


6 people like this
Posted by counts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 2:23 pm

"Its as if the people planning this have no actual experience commuting on these roads."

They don't. Someone should sue Liz Kniss, Larry Klein, and Gail Price and the other developmenmongers who gave us all the overdevelopment on the other side of town from where they live, and get some kind of poetic justice the way renters get against slumlords: For 6 months, they should be disallowed from using a car and must bike and walk everywhere in Palo Alto, most especially in the south. Imagine getting to wave and squeeze by one of them on Alma in the dark, just past those ugly things at Alma Plaza or that hideous hotel going up at El Camino and Arastradero....


Like this comment
Posted by Stuart Berman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Stuart Berman is a registered user.

I'd like to reply to Johnny:

Johnny,

I agree with your comments about the unnecessary (and detrimental) left turn lanes on Cowper. Where traffic used to flow smoothly through this intersection, cars waiting to turn left now block cars wanting to go straight or turn right. Worse, there used to be plenty of room for bicycles to have their own space at this intersection. Now bikes get squeezed in with the cars.

As a car driver who bikes whenever possible, I disagree with your characterization of the treatment given to bicycles in this town. I hope that you will try riding a bike in the traffic. If you do so you will quickly realize that the cars are a lethal menace to bike riders and everything possible should be done to protect bike riders. In my opinion the city has paid far to little attention to the needs of bicyclists versus the needs of cars.


3 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 29, 2015 at 2:49 pm

>Condensed version: Our neighborhoods are great, but God forbid anyone wants to move into them...

Robert, of course anybody can move into any of the PA neighborhoods. Look at the real estate listings, figure out what home is desired, then pay for it at market rates. Dah!


6 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2015 at 3:02 pm

I love those left turn lanes on Louis (and presumably Cowper) at Oregon. In the past, people going straight were stuck behind people turning left, or had to do risky, unsafe maneuvers around those waiting to turn left in order to be able to proceed before the light turned red.

I think those left turn only lanes are a very good idea that add greatly to the safety of the intersection and actually help the flow of traffic.


6 people like this
Posted by Work your way up
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2015 at 4:12 pm

To Memories
You ask where new people to the area should live??
It isn't a God given right that everyone/anyone can live in PA. East Palo Alto is less than two miles from downtown PA. Housing is much more inexpensive there. You can buy a 3 bedroom house for $400, 000. [Portion removed.] Not everyone can live in one of the most expensive towns in the USA. Especially when they are just starting out. [Portion removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 29, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Not every person who works in the Valley must live in Palo Alto. Palo Alto is absolutely jammed and packed full. Even sardine cans are not filled up infinitely. Due to our unique geography, having natural boundaries to the east and west and lots of unbuildable land, as well as neighboring towns to our north and south, we have run out of space to accommodate more development, more business, more traffic and more people.

If the new elected city council is intellectually honest, it should communicate clearly and in no uncertain terms to the residents and developers, as well as anyone wishing to move to Palo Alto through new development projects, that this is impossible and not going to happen.


6 people like this
Posted by Not a fan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 29, 2015 at 6:31 pm

Much of our parking and overcrowding woes can be attributed to our recently removed, incredibly incompetent, Mayor Sheppard, and the outgoing city council members. Hopefully our new mayor and recently elected new city council members will be more thoughtful and not bow to developers. We still need to get rid of councilman Berman, who doesn't do his homework and is ill prepared for city council meetings. Hopefully this new council and Mayor Holman will fire City Manager Keene, and Planning Director, Gittelman. The council took one good step last week, when Transportation Chief Jaime Rodriguez was either encouraged to quit, or was fired.


6 people like this
Posted by Work your way up
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2015 at 6:43 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Like this comment
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Not a fan- well if you are going to blame the past council, then do not forget holman. She is so me of the longest serving members, so if there is blame to cast, you must surely include her.
I am certain that by the end of the year with holman as mayor, shepherd will be considered to be a great mayor. In fact, I predict people will be talking recall for holman, filseth and dubois.
Though I do agree with you that Rodriguez had to go.


6 people like this
Posted by WhatSurvey
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 29, 2015 at 6:49 pm

Sure wish every resident received the survey or even knew about it. I sure didn't.


2 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2015 at 9:03 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@jerry99

"I would like Barron Park a hundred times better if the City Council would stop dumping the Below Market Rate apartments and condos into Barron Park."

And I have always liked Barron Park in large part because of its eclectic mix of housing types and household composition. I plan to stay because this neighborhood offers so much that is unavailable anywhere else in Palo Alto--close to the hills for hiking and long-distance bicycling, relatively light traffic at most hours of the day that invites walkers and bicyclers out onto the sidewalk-free streets, Bol Park and Briones Park, good schools, a strong neighborhood sense of place and much more. I would have welcomed the Maybell affordable housing for seniors and would enthusiastically welcome the Buena Vista community's continued presence here should it become a reality.




Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:00 am

pat is a registered user.

I agree with Johnny and Stuart about the left turn lanes on Louis at Oregon Expressway.

Before left turn lane, we could go right on red when the coast was clear. Now, we’re stuck behind cars going straight across.

Of course this is a trivial problem compared to the lack of a right turn lane on El Camino north at Oregon.

If you’re interested, the full SEA report is at:
Web Link

3,000 were mailed, 104 undeliverable, 796 responded.



6 people like this
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Work - are you living on the same planet? Of course they can live in Palo Alto. There are apts, condos, single family homes, duplexes. Whatever fits their budget determines their move - if places are available.

East Palo Alto isn't responsible for providing affordable housing for the area, and tgey already provide more than their fair share for their county. Our county doesn't. The tech overlords are creating jobs and apparently, politicians realize the entire increased workforce can't all fit into Brentwood, Hollister and Livermore, hence the need in the region for more housing - dense housing.

Also, please stop pretending that this is all about our special Palo Alto. It's not. It's the whole region.


Like this comment
Posted by give give and give some more
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:47 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:01 pm

"I predict people will be talking recall for holman, filseth and dubois."

Yes, people like Shepherd, Kniss, Baer, Keenan, MacNellis, ...


Like this comment
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 30, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Bicycling is getting more dangerous but I think the problem is not caused by cars and traffic alone. Of course there are some rotten drivers here but that's true anywhere. I think the poor condition of many streets plus various construction-related factors (high number of large dirt-haulers, detours, temporary fencing that blocks vision, steel plates, cones, temporary lane reductions, closed off parts of campus) and dense parking all conspire to make a trip across town on a bike a risky venture. It's daunting to be on two wheels, surrounded by big dirt haulers. Hopefully things will mellow out at some point but until then, watch out!


Like this comment
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Curmudgeon-- and don't those people that you mentioned have the right to seek a recall? [Portion removed.]


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

Salt & Straw Palo Alto to open Nov. 23
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 4,073 views

Lakes and Larders (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,401 views

Can we ever improve our schools?
By Diana Diamond | 7 comments | 1,046 views