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Guest Opinion: Retirement life in Palo Alto's fast lane

 

I've lived long enough in Palo Alto, my favorite city, that my starry-eyed observations of yesteryear have taken on just a hint of cynicism. Everywhere these days in Silicon Valley, especially here in Palo Alto, life moves faster than the proverbial speed of light. Don't hesitate or you'll miss designing that new app. Or risk not getting that venture capital funding.

"These 35- and 25-mph zones are way too slow. Besides, they're not meant for me. I'll just gun it at 40 or 50. If I'm really in a hurry, I can race down the middle-lane divider or the bike lane, on Charleston, passing all those cars stopped for the Alma light. Those two sets of double yellow lines don't bother me."

What's it like to live in Silicon Valley when you're not really involved directly in the technology-driven buzz and vibrancy that surround you? When you're retired (really retired) and can enjoy that latte (or a Zaviva carmel) at Peet's? It's great to relax, but it's hard to get a table when so many people with time on their hands get to the tables first. Are they unemployed? Retired? Exercising their stock options? Or, are the ones sipping lattes while hunched over their computers deep in "design mode"?

There's the real estate market. We have "├╝ber-glitterati" real estate agents who reap huge commissions from cash transactions. Some of them support the local Tesla and McLaren dealerships. That's in addition to a private plane or two that ferry around international clients.

We're considered "modest home dwellers" by Palo Alto's standards, but that's all relative. "Modest" accurately describes the Palo Alto residents of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, largely service workers who are trying to save themselves from eviction.

We've lived for years in our Eichler -- 1,400 square feet on a 9,500-square-foot lot. Small house, big lot. It amuses us that they're now a hot commodity in the local market. Realistically, when our home is eventually sold, many years from now we hope, new owners most likely will want to get the biggest bang for their buck by building a one-story, 3,500-square-foot residence.

"Let us handle your home sale. Don't touch those original mahogany walls or those Formica counter tops." Original is in. We have grass-papered the living room walls and completely remodeled the kitchen; and we regularly update the rest. There's only so much '50s style one can stand.

We are grateful that the City Council is spearheading the "bike- and pedestrian-friendly" design along the Charleston corridor. Students from seven schools daily use the corridor. Seniors bike between the Charleston Shopping Center/Cubberley area and their homes, often crossing the tracks toward El Camino Real.

Those who live on Charleston have our own crosses to bear. Either way, we have to drive to the next intersection and make a U-turn to get back into our driveway. Or, we can back out (carefully!) into the curb lane and wait until a friendly motorist allows us to merge left into the traffic. Is it worth it? Yes.

Our neighbors started and finished their careers, for example, in engineering, theoretical physics, academia, and research. At SRI International, Stanford, Lockheed, Fairchild, Applied Materials and so on. That was well before nearby Google or Facebook appeared on the scene.

We discuss today's Palo Alto. Sometimes, we muse about the City Council and its loose interpretation of the city's zoning ordinances and why accommodations to the real estate developers need to be reined in. We remember when the early developers figured out how to game the zoning laws and the council. Their playbook has served them well.

What about the ways in which Palo Alto is paying a price for that real-estate-driven energy? Some of our favorite stores have disappeared -- restaurants, service establishments, art supplies and framing, and more. It continues. It's usually the small, local businesses that take the brunt of steep lease increases or lost leases. I'm grateful that my favorite Mediterranean Wraps takeout on California Avenue still thrives.

Palo Altans live near Stanford with its vibrancy and famous medical center. Lush green hills. Foothill Park. Sixty minutes from San Francisco's "cable cars to the stars." No, make that 90 minutes now that U.S. Highway 101 regularly resembles a parking lot. I used to make it to San Francisco International Airport in about 19 minutes, midday. Not anymore.

Today, our city is vibrant, whereas in the 1970s (and '80s, and some of the '90s) the streets rolled up at 6 p.m. We enjoy the new restaurants and their buzz, although we're strictly in the minority at the tables. We sip our wine while conversations about Androids, app monetization, etc., surround us. Our spirited conversations usually center on national or international politics, and anything in between.

We admire Palo Alto's millennials who bring excitement to "push the envelope" and take risks. But Gen Xers, young boomers, old boomers, and, before them, the Lost Generation, have produced the material and economic wealth upon which they build their futures. As Vice President Joe Biden said in his recent Yale commencement address, be careful of that self-referential bubble.

We continue to survive and thrive. One of the area papers reported from a recent City Council meeting that council members are, in fact, going to consider interpreting the zoning laws by the books.

Gloria Pyszka is a longtime Palo Alto resident and a retired program director at Stanford Law School.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 18, 2015 at 10:29 am

Hulkamania is a registered user.

Nothing changes but the changes. The Eichler my parents bought on Moffett Circle in 1955 for $15,000 is probably worth $2,000,000 today. Amazing.


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 18, 2015 at 11:43 am

Enjoyed reading your post Gloria.


13 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 18, 2015 at 1:37 pm

@Hulk, I've pointed this out earlier, unbelievable as it may be. $15,000 invested in the S&P 500 in 1955 with dividends reinvested would be worth $4,500,000 today. That's near 10% annualized return over 60 years. Except if not tax sheltered, you'd be left with about 7%/year, or less than $1,000,000.


7 people like this
Posted by GenXer
a resident of University South
on Jul 18, 2015 at 1:39 pm

What a charming post! It's always interesting to look at your own city through someone else's eyes.

It would be interesting to see a similar perspective from a millennial who just moved to the city a few years ago. What is their impression of Palo Alto? What do they talk about? Is the coffee shop talk about tall buildings or about high rents? Bad traffic on 101 or the latest Caltrain crash? What would they caution us to remember about our own perspectives?


5 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2015 at 1:59 pm

@GenXer

Seeing as the salaries for "millennials" in the area averages only around 50k, I seriously doubt there have been very many of them moving to Palo Alto in the past few years.


6 people like this
Posted by zoom zoom
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Driving in the bike lane is a form of terrorism, aside for the few yards before a right turn that are allowed by law.


7 people like this
Posted by carey
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jul 18, 2015 at 4:13 pm


the increased traffic due to stanford from 280 is death defying at rush h0ur.


2 people like this
Posted by Commonsense
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 18, 2015 at 4:15 pm

@hulk
You are way off. $15k invested in the s&p since 1955 plus reinvested dividends would result in closer to $800k. Furthermore, of the $15k for the house in 1945, it likely most of that was borrowed.


27 people like this
Posted by Midtown Guy
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2015 at 4:47 pm

I was struck from behind by a speeder/distracted driver last Thursday at 10:30 am on E. Charleston. There were about four cars ahead of me, all of us traveling normally at about 20-25 mph. In my rear view mirrow I saw this car approaching me fast from behind, and even could see the driver, in that split second, looking at something in the direction of the passenger seat, no eyes on me. I tensed, waiting helplessly and terrfified, and was struck from begin, sent forward, and whiplashed. Because I was in motion, the car wasn't badly damaged, but I was snapped! My neck musacles immediately went into spasm and I couldn't move, even though adrenalin was pouring out in my body. The paramedics were great, and the driver later told me she was reading directions off a paper when she hit me! It could have been a lot worse. I have lived here since 1965 and I have never seen so many drivers breaking traffic laws of every kind. I realize everyone in Palo Alto feels they are "exceptional," but guess what, you are self-deluded if you can forever cut corners and disobey traffic laws. There will be a price to pay (but then again, maybe you feel money is not an issue for YOU.) What about human suffering caused by your playing fast and loose with the physics of driving and vehicles?


16 people like this
Posted by slow down everyone
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 18, 2015 at 8:39 pm

@Midtown Guy I totally agree with everything you say. I see people roll through stop signs all the time. Whenever my children call each other stupid, I always say, "no one in our family is stupid and we don't call people stupid, there are only stupid drivers." Palo Alto is full of stupid drivers. If one of them every injures one of my children (which one almost backed up over my son riding his bike the other day good thing I have strong lungs) I can't be held responsible for what I would do to that person. I see at least a dozen people talking/texting on their phones everyday while driving and it makes my blood boil. This place is so congested people need to SLOW DOWN and watch out for others, bikers, drivers AND pedestrians alike. And am all of those.


6 people like this
Posted by leaving Palo Alto
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2015 at 10:02 pm

I lived in Palo Alto for the past few years but just left for another city in the Penninsula. Reading this post has reinforced my ambivalence about Palo Alto. Great for families, many interesting, smart residents, but also impossibly expensive. It must have been great to have moved here before the tech boom starting in the late 90's. Yes, Palo Alto has always been very expensive but I would wager a lot of money that the cost of purchasing now is much higher than it ever was. I wonder how long this will keep going and whether pretty soon non-uber wealthy families can ever afford to live in Palo Alto again.


23 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 19, 2015 at 7:33 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Gloria
When I moved here, Neighbors worked in ALL of the job areas.

One would be an engineer, the next worked on the 'line' at HP. Another started a new Round Table. A Cop lived down the street, right next to a startup CEO. Granny live across the street, next to a grade-school teacher.
Commuters came from as far away as Sunnyvale.

No way that will happen now.


Like this comment
Posted by Gloria Pyszka
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 19, 2015 at 3:06 pm

Additional comment to my first comment.......We purchased our PA house for $49K. The price difference
between Seattle and Palo Alto has substantially decreased. Wish we had kept our Seattle home as
investment.


3 people like this
Posted by sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 19, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Love Palo Alto
A heaven on earth.

No doubt

Respectifilly


4 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Biker
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 19, 2015 at 8:14 pm

I am going to ride my bike down Alma and Middlefield and all those other busy streets to slow down traffic; and because I don't know that there is a safe bike route down the Bryant street bike boulde3vard and /or any other parallel street not named Alma or Middlefield because those streets have cars parked on them and its tough to get by them!


2 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 20, 2015 at 7:53 am

SteveU is a registered user.

PA Biker

Are you the same guy who rides on ARASTEDERO between the 280 over-crossing and Deer Creek? I will assume that the bike path is in horrible condition (I don't do grades just for fun :D ).


6 people like this
Posted by Rose gooch
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 20, 2015 at 11:17 am

Great piece, Gloria. So good To hear from A boomer.


4 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2015 at 11:18 am

To Gloria:

You said "We purchased our PA house for $49K".

So are you going to help keep Palo Alto "affordable" and sell your home for $250K? Or are you going to get every penny you can get out of a buyer and be one of the reasons that Palo Alto housing is so expensive.

/marc


6 people like this
Posted by mutti allen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 20, 2015 at 12:10 pm

We bought our home in 1975 for $62,500 -- 2 br, 1 ba 1,000 square feet. And it was third house we bid on. The first two were bought by others with higher bids. Still our parents had fits at how much we paid for our new home! So, times have not changed -- only prices. It took two professional-level incomes to qualify for a loan at Palo Alto prices. For the same price we could have had 2500 sq feet, 3 br 2 ba + family room in Fremont--but jobs were in Palo Alto and Cupertino and we didn't want to commute over that 2 lane Dumbarton bridge where they would raise the drawbridge anytime a sailboat wanted to go past. We've added an upstairs so we had room to raise our kids, but they all now live in AZ, UT, TX -- where they can afford to buy a house. Palo Alto is nuts! When we die and the house is sold it will be knocked down and a monster house will be put on our 12,000 square foot lot. I'm glad I won't be here to see it.


2 people like this
Posted by Gloria Pyszka
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 20, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Oh, Rose, how I wish that I were a boomer. Close but not quite close enough. Cheers, Gloria


4 people like this
Posted by Gloria Pyszka
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 20, 2015 at 5:55 pm

About the 49K comment and whether or not we intent to sell our home for 250K. Ask our daughter. We figure to have flowers above us by that time. Remember that 49K might be a very dear amount in our future. Funny money times don't last forever.


4 people like this
Posted by Gloria Pyszka
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 20, 2015 at 6:52 pm

If this becomes a duplicate comment, please forgive. I will explain about the 49K.
In 1972, we moved down here from Seattle where we lived for two years . Our home,
located in a great neighborhood, took a year to sell. It was empty during that time.
We finally sold for $26K, 2K over what we had paid for it two years earlier.
Some of you remember the situation at that time. The popular billboard in the city
was " Will the last person please turn out the lights." That referred to the fact that
Boeing was in the tank at that time. (We were not employed at Boeing) So, fast forward
to Palo Alto (after a year of renting) we purchased our 3/2 house for 49K. The first PA
bank would not put through the loan b/c they said that the house would not appreciate. Honest.

Just an interesting comment about the past. Gloria


Like this comment
Posted by banes
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 21, 2015 at 12:23 pm

[Post removed. Wrong topic.]


Like this comment
Posted by Banter
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 21, 2015 at 12:59 pm

For Marc, regarding housing prices in Palo Alto.

Lower housing prices is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN until the tax laws change. US taxes create an advantage to foreign investment NOT to US citizens hopeful of creating independence from banks. If you haven't figured it out yet, it's called divide and conquer. Nebulously divest the community before they know what's happening. Additionally, The Political Correctness of Palo Alto/Stanford via the Obama movement, won't recognize the results until the next phase is fully implemented.
I am not against Obama, he's just the catalyst being used. Democracy is at stake here, but everyone is concerned about their own nickels or Political Correctness.

The latest capital gains and Obama's most recent 2013, ++ 7% across the board taxes on investment gains forces anyone to take the highest price offered due to these unavoidable tax penalties. Irs.gov, form 409 states capital gains tax rate today is at 28%. Now, Add the recent additional 7%, makes this a considerable expense, so you want to know it's going to pay.

With a 1.1% state property tax on your investment, it is still a better hedge advantage for foreign investors to buy property in Silicon Valley than launder it through the current world banking systems. Rising housing prices will hold and continue to grow outwards until these laws change.

Trying to get a loan without a huge down payment % ? How are you going to acquire that downpayment, when your rent and daily expenses are so high? What's really going on here -- a lot of distractions!

What would a bubble burst do to the US economy? Global economy? Divest a few wealthy wannabe 1% people? Bankrupt a country? Who has time to think about such things when they have more important things to do..... like squeezing in to join the lemmings commute traffic without being detected for driving like entitled hopeful.


Like this comment
Posted by gloria Pyszka
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 21, 2015 at 2:04 pm

I made a mistake when I listed the Lost Generation as preceding the Boomers. I meant the Silent Generation.

In case you're interested, the Greatest Generation includes both the GI Generation ('01-24) and the Silent Generation ('25-45). The Boomers are from '46-64. Interestingly, Gen Xers are listed as the New Silent Generation.


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

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