News

Palo Alto puts a cap on office development

Divisive law seeks to pace commercial growth downtown, around California Avenue and along El Camino Real

Palo Alto City Council on Monday night took its most aggressive and polarizing step yet toward curbing the rapid pace of growth when it adopted an annual limit on office construction in the city's three prime commercial areas.

In a unanimous vote that belied deep fissures in its ranks, the council adopted an annual cap of 50,000 square feet for office and research-and-development projects in downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Real. The vote came after hours of dispute, months of debate and strident opposition from high-tech companies, the Chamber of Commerce and, for a while, the city's own Planning and Transportation Commission.

The council also had plenty of skeptics within its ranks. Though the council voted 8-0 earlier this year, with Tom DuBois recusing himself, to adopt a general framework for the cap, several members questioned whether the measure should be pursued and squabbled over how it should be implemented.

The proposal that the council ultimately adopted on Monday followed many of the broad outlines from prior discussions. The cap would last for either two years or until the city approves its updated Comprehensive Plan. It would apply only to the three districts. If by next March the projects in the city's pipeline collectively exceed 50,000 square feet, the city would decide which to approve based on a set of criteria that includes such things as traffic impacts, land use and design.

Yet under a last-minute amendment that was championed by Councilman Greg Scharff and that the council adopted by a 5-4 vote, most of these criteria wouldn't be particularly relevant until the second year of the ordinance. Priority in the first year, meanwhile, would go to the current projects. Initially, the council had planned to give the pipeline project preferential treatment in recognition of the time and resources that have already been spent throughout the application process. Scharff argued that mere preference is not enough and that they should be placed in front of the line.

It's unfair, Scharff said, to throw developers who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars "into the mix after they spend all that money without any clear sense that they may never be able to build that project."

Ray Paul, who represented the Jay Paul Co. at Monday's meeting, told the council that the development company has already spent close to $600,000 on the two applications, which included an Environmental Impact Report.

Scharff's proposal to place Jay Paul's projects, as well as the three others in the pipeline, at the "head of the line" won a bare majority, with Councilman Marc Berman, Councilwoman Liz Kniss and Councilman Cory Wolbach joining him. The fifth vote was provided by Councilman Eric Filseth, who typically votes with the slow-growth "residentialists" but who made an exception in this case.

"Commercial real estate is a high risk, high return kind of endeavor," Filseth said. "One of the risks is municipal zoning – there is an exposure to it."

But Filseth also called Scharff's proposal a "reasonable accommodation" and supported his amendment.

"It deals equability with people who invested in the process so far," Filseth said.

Others strongly disagreed, including Councilman Pat Burt, who helped craft the motion that delineated the criteria for choosing developments. Burt argued that Scharff's amendment basically makes the criteria moot and that the amendment "undercuts" the entire effort.

There were other areas of division as well. Kniss and Wolbach initially proposed a "first-come, first-serve" process for selecting projects under the cap, a recommendation that didn't win support from any of their colleagues.

Wolbach said this approach is simpler than the proposed "beauty contest" because it would "kill two birds with one stone." It would reduce the staff time in evaluating projects and make things "simple, clean and straight-forward for a short two-year ordinance."

Burt disagreed and argued that the focus should be quality and that the evaluation process is the most critical component of the ordinance.

"I do agree it would kill two birds with one stone but one would be a golden eagle," Burt said. "The race toward quality is perhaps more important than the control on quantity."

Councilman Tom DuBois also criticized the proposal to eliminate the "beauty contest" between projects. Giving preference to projects based on when they were submitted will do nothing to encourage quality, he said.

"It sounds like a race to the bottom," DuBois said. "We aren't going to get quality. We'll get quick submissions."

Now, at least in the first year, the preference won't go to the projects with the highest quality but to those that have advanced furthest along in the application process. The city has four "pipeline" projects, with the two largest ones both proposed by the Jay Paul Co. and located on Park Boulevard, near the California Avenue Business District. One, at 2747 Park Blvd., would bring 28,200 square feet of new development to the California Avenue area. The other, at 3045 Park Blvd. would add 29,120 square feet of new commercial space to the rapidly growing district, according to planning staff (Ray Paul, representing Jay Paul, disputed this number and said that the net gain would actually be only 11,000 square feet because the existing building already has about 18,000 square feet of office use).

The other two projects whose applications have been deemed complete by planning staff are far smaller. There is a project at 3225 El Camino Real that includes 3,437 square feet of new office space; and one at 411-437 Lytton Ave, with 6,096 square feet.

Collectively, these projects constitute 66,873 square feet of net new office space, enough to fill the cap in the first year and to fill up a good chunk of the cap in the second.

Another area of disagreement was "concept area plans," detailed vision documents that target a specific section of the city and that are crafted with community input over a process that typically takes several years. In June, the council split 4-4, with Tom DuBois recusing himself, on whether the office cap should apply to these areas.

This time, the council concluded that these areas should not be excluded. Council members also acknowledged that this once controversial issue is effectively a moot point, given that the ordinance will only last two years and that the city has no new concept area plans in the works.

Among the public, the office cap also proved to be a polarizing proposition. Land-use watchdogs, residentialists, neighborhood groups and members of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (which includes plenty of both) have urged the council to adopt the cap to curb the recent period of heavy growth.

High-tech titans such as HP, Palantir and SurveyMonkey have spoke out against the cap, arguing that the city should focus its energies on the negative impacts of development namely, traffic and parking, rather than on development itself.

Planning and Transportation Commission members characterized it as a "blunt tool" and a distraction from the bigger goal: the update of the Comprehensive Plan.

Peter Stone, a member of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, also took issue with the office cap. His group, he said, would like to see the council and staff pay more attention to the ongoing efforts by the city's new Transportation Management Association and the business community to reduce traffic.

"We think the entire discussion of growth limits would be better served in the Comprehensive Plan process rather than through the adoption of an interim ordinance," Stone said.

But Terry Holzemer, a resident of Palo Alto Central, a condominium complex on California Avenue, urged the council to move ahead with the cap and pointed to the recent influx in traffic and parking problems in the area.

"As long as there's no cap of office space, growth there will be unimpeded and will continue to have an effect on our environment and will continue to make our lives worse," Holzemer said.

Comments

104 people like this
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 22, 2015 at 3:31 am

It is a good move. We have had uncontrollable growth. The council did the right thing and majority of people want this.

Respectfully


97 people like this
Posted by GoodNews
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 22, 2015 at 8:37 am

This is great news! Thank you city council. In my opinion, the excessive growth has changed this town into an unpleasant place to live.


64 people like this
Posted by Will
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2015 at 8:44 am

What a shame that Scharff prevailed on this, leading thKe charge that will allow 70,000 square feet of development progress - making a joke of the intent of the cap - to set a limit of 50,000 square feet max a year. But from Scarff it's not surprising - but Filseth let us down.


64 people like this
Posted by Data-driven
a resident of University South
on Sep 22, 2015 at 9:34 am

When the office cap was proposed, council members thought that it was the growth of office workers, particularly tech workers, that were causing downtown's traffic and parking problems. Rather than getting data, they rushed ahead into a proposal to stop office buildings near transit and redirect growth to car-oriented office parks.

In the year that they have been working on this, we've found out from a city survey that only a third of tech workers drive, compared to two-thirds of restaurant workers (reported in this newspaper). We've also found out that downtown office buildings are 50% _less_ dense than the city's assumption of one per 250 sq ft (again, reported in this newspaper), while restaurant workers are 50% more densely packed. So even the SurveyMonkey building with its low parking levels built or paid for way more parking than they are using.

So it's clear that the traffic and parking problems downtown have nothing to do with tech office space, and everything to do with the vibrant downtown and the service sector that supports it. Stopping office space growth downtown isn't going to do anything to help parking or traffic there - it's just going to add more traffic to Page Mill as office growth shifts to the Stanford Research Park.

The city council could have spent the last year approving a garage for service workers to park in, or they could have built up the city shuttle to go to EPA, where they live. They could have subsidized bus permits for service workers the way they subsidize parking permits for service workers.

But, instead of looking at the data and making a decision that would help the residents of downtown deal with the problems we have, the council did none of these things. Instead, they focused on getting rid of office workers downtown because they were an easy group to blame.

Next time, council members, get some data on what's causing the problem before you try to fix anything. Maybe you'll do something that helps for a change.


6 people like this
Posted by Respecting the Cap
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 22, 2015 at 10:13 am

@Will Scharff's motion respected the Cap. It limited development to 50,000 square feet per year, but allowed the 4 projects totaling 66,000 feet whose applications were complete before June 15th to compete only with each other for the first $50,000 square feet of allocation under the Cap in year 1. This was an excellent compromise in that it respected the Cap, no more than 50,000 square feet per year of offices. It didn't exclude these pipeline projects from the Cap, they are still subject to it. It simply gave them preference over other projects that were submitted after Council took up the idea of the Cap. In so doing it respected the process, limited office development to be within the Cap and treated the pipeline projects fairly. All in all a fair and equitable approach. Kudos to the Council for supporting this approach


125 people like this
Posted by oh really
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2015 at 10:35 am

"Polarizing" ?!?!?

This situation is basically the citizenry of Palo Alto vs. a very small group of real estate developers many of whom don't even live here. I'm OK with the "polarization". This used to be a nice place to live.


100 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 22, 2015 at 10:41 am

Well, Its about time.

The City (and Area) is so overbuilt that the quality of life is on the downhill slope.

Just get out and try to drive anywhere at noon or after 4pm.


52 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 22, 2015 at 10:47 am

Agree, let's just keep adding more and more office space so traffic is just like LA! I think this has already happened anyway. Just try to drive down Oregon/Page Mill, Middlefield or Embarcadero almost any time of the day.


17 people like this
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 22, 2015 at 11:25 am

Mark Dinan is a registered user.

Lots of space available in East Palo Alto for development. With violent crime down 85% in East Palo Alto, perhaps developers will look at building in EPA.


16 people like this
Posted by Sad grandma
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 22, 2015 at 11:31 am

Good first step. Now let's correct the parking problem. All development should have a parking space mandated for EACH employee. When not used those spaces should be available to others. No more development with inadequate parking!


18 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 22, 2015 at 11:33 am

Data-driven,
Great points that will be overshadowed by Palo Alto politics/poor decision making. As long as Palo Alto is too expensive for most to live here, we will import many employees every day. A vibrant downtown needs employees no matter what. I agree there should be a garage built exclusively for downtown non-office employees to park in during peak business hours. The cap is not the correct solution to excessive traffic and parking that is not going away because of a weasely little political victory for this council.


103 people like this
Posted by Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 22, 2015 at 11:41 am

"In the year that they have been working on this, we've found out from a city survey that only a third of tech workers drive, compared to two-thirds of restaurant workers (reported in this newspaper). We've also found out that downtown office buildings are 50% _less_ dense than the city's assumption of one per 250 sq ft (again, reported in this newspaper), while restaurant workers are 50% more densely packed."

Yet more data death by fractions and percentages. What matters here is the absolute numbers, not the fraction or percentage of some unspecified total. Like, 1/3 of 3000 techies is 1000, which is a larger number than 2/3 of 600 (400) restauranties.

Don't like the 3000 and 600? Show us the actual numbers. But can the /s and %s.

The plain empirical fact, obvious to the most casual observer, is that too many commuters have to find parking places.


60 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 22, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Not so fast Data-driven:

You cite surveys that were done. Can anyone refresh my memory; specifically (names) who did them, how they were done, and how many employees in the two categories were sampled. Is there a statistician in the house?

Also, more office space creates more office employees. And more office employees demands more service employees (restaurants, janitorial service, etc.), so there is a correlation. And this just adds to the traffic and parking problems.

Also, 1/3 of what number (office/tech employees)? What is the number of drivers/cars for that group? Then, 2/3 of what number (service/restaurant workers)? What is that number of drivers/cars for that group. If the goal is to be data driven then let's get all the data. %'s work fine in some cases but in this case we need real numbers.


4 people like this
Posted by Samia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 22, 2015 at 12:52 pm

Awesome news. I wish MP city council would follow.


20 people like this
Posted by i grew up here
a resident of another community
on Sep 22, 2015 at 1:02 pm

It is remarkable that the City of Palo Alto wastes so much money on greenwashing and then turns around and caps development in transit corridors, forcing commuters to drive to remote office parks. What a short-sighted decision.


19 people like this
Posted by NIMBYWORLD
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 22, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Well congrats to the Head in the Sand group. As Data Driven pointed out , our esteemed Council has once again found a solution to a problem we dont have . Techies arent the enemy. Who supports all the retail in town anyway, Govt workers eating at their desks ? When the next recession comes, just remember, you had a new police station given to you ( $48+M ) and you said no... so much 'public benefit' will go unfilled , but hey, you stood up the capitalists . Good for you. By the way, where will your children, if they survive Gunn, go to work ?


43 people like this
Posted by Agree w/Engineer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Yup, the real problem is the sheer NUMBERS of people crowding the roads, streets, even the sidewalks.

Techies VASTLY outnumber restaurant and retail workers.


36 people like this
Posted by sick of construction
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 22, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Has anyone clued into the major traffic problems being because THERE IS CONSTRUCTION EVERYWHERE! And El Camino is mostly slowed down BY LARGE SEMI's and CONSTRUCTION vehicles commuting to these sites.

There is plenty of office space in Redwood City and Mountain View or even Sunnyvale for these tech companies. My husband used to work in both R and M (and it was faster for him to bike to work than drive.) Spread the wealth Palo Alto. Palo Alto needs to go on a diet....big time.


58 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 22, 2015 at 1:38 pm

The office building cap should be applied citywide and that includes Stanford Research Park. Better yet, place a moratorium on office building for the 2 years and finish up all the construction that is going about town. It seems around every corner, there is a blockage or orange barricades...what a mess! Just on Hamilton Avenue, there are 2 construction sites, all within one block.

Managing growth means being bold and polarizing with NO exceptions. Projects, whether in pipeline or otherwise, if not approved then it is not considered as complete. Buildings remain for 50 years, therefore, quality is important.

During the 2 years, new programs such as TMAs, RPPPs and all other traffic and parking negative impact mitigation can/must be measured and evaluated. Stanford U's TMA is not a good measure for the City of Palo Alto...comparing apples and oranges.

While the proposal for the office space cap was a good idea at the beginning, it has been manipulated so much and now, it is basically worthless.

Still a pro-development council.





164 people like this
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 22, 2015 at 1:39 pm

Re: Unfair to Developers.
What about unfair to residents? You cannot trust data “verified” by the City, even less data by companies with a stake in the data. There are no reliable parking data except collected by residents. Same is true for number of trips data from a building.
Here we go again: Jay Paul Co. has spent already $600,000 on plans. We know we cannot trust the City Planning Department to defend the residents interests (for a little proof see below), but here is a problem with the Savvy of the City Council. There are always one or two, mostly say Burt, or Filseth, or Holman who fall for the old trick: we poor applicants have already spend so much money, or we have worked on it such a long time that “fairness” requires blah, blah, blah. The 3 seem to take turns on being naïve.
But I conclude: The applicants have wasted so much time, and spent so much money, because they are trying to violate the City Zoning ordinances as much as they can get away with. If they would just stay within zoning, they already could start building.
The pattern is evident. In applications for building permits, in particular if an EIR is required, the applicant will hire a Consultant for traffic who will produce a report (the Traffic Impact Analysis – TIA) which will show that there is really no impact. A good example recently was for 2555 Park Blvd. Web Link
Now the councilors may have a background in Real Estate Law, and otherwise be savvy in politics, but they may not be experts in traffic. But fear not, we spend good money to have as defense the City Planning Department where first the Senior Planner will look at application, and then secondly the Director. They will find out! And then there are many technically literate residents who are able and willing to help, and the planners will listen to them. Or will they?
For example if you have 44 past projects without an EIR, as has been pointed out recently in letters to local Editors, where each raises the traffic impact by just 2%, then
1.0244=240
That means the impact has gone up 240%, or instead of 100 cars we have now 240 in an intersection. Residents have figured this out. Has the Planning Department?
To make the process really safe and above board, the City Council has further defenses: Planning and Traffic Committee and the Architectural Review Board. Right! Right?
So the Planning Department is the first line of defense against the applicant’s shenanigans. Now let’s see how this worked in the 2555 Park Blvd case.
In the above quoted Report there was one number (in Table 1, if you want to look) which immediately made many residents point out to the City Planners, in writing and verbally, that is was unlikely, if not impossible, that 28 parked cars (in the existing 8500sqft building) in the 1-hour PM peak time produced 88 trips. This also was pointed out several times in writing and verbally to the City Council.
Logically the applicant’s Consultant will try to make (on paper) the existing trips as high as possible, and the “new” (additional) trips as low as possible, to carry on with the hand-waving arguments that there is really not much of an impact. It is the task of the Planning Department to deny these tricks in the impact analysis.
I may have the wrong friends, mostly scientists, but everybody I know thinks the Planning Department is in the pockets of the developers and that eventually some 3 letter agency will swoop in and pounce. But in the meantime hard prove is difficult to come by.
Really? Look here:
In a genial switcheroo, dancing between cars and sqft, with an equation which related sqft to trips, disregarding the physically existing cars, the Senior Planner, the Planning Director, and in the end the City Manager steadfastly gave the same answer:
In the PM peak hour, the project is expected to generate a total of 106 trips [24,5000sqft], with “88 of those trips being attributed to the existing building [8,500sqft]”. Web Link, p26
Hurrah, there are only 18 new trips. Duck soup! Approve!
Now, the equation used was [ see Web Link pp16-19 ]
Trip=1.12 (sqft/1000) + 78.45
To wit, do you see: 78 of those 88 trips which are being attributed to the existing building are attributed to a building with zero square footage?
That means this equation is nonsense for a small building, let’s say smaller than 1 Million square feet. In science, this this called lying!
We have to assume that the Senior Planner and the Planning Director do not lie, so they do not master the simplest form of arithmetic. That means they are technically illiterate, which is bad for the job and the City.
They really may not be able to interpret this equation, but after requested 3 times in writing to be told the engineering provenance behind it (hope is eternal), the City eventually posted in an Appendix to an Attachment the Data Graph and Regression Curves. Maybe the City Planners are not able to interpret those either, but the graph had printed very clearly: average size 200,000 sqft and data points to 1.3 Million sqft which should have set off all kind of alarm bells.
And so it went through the whole process of vetting the application. No material fact the local residents, and there were many in the Palo Alto Central Condominium Complex, brought forward, mattered. For example the little 27feet x 120feet little Grant Ave stub, entrance and exit to the 94 car underground garage for the Condo Complex:
1. Presently (in 2015) waiting times to get in or out of the stub to 2555 Park Blvd., through or into the Grant/Park multi-modal intersection Web Link , takes several minutes for cars, bikes, and pedestrians. According to the Highway Capacity Manual (HCM), 5th Edition, National Academy of Science, you have to treat the 3 LOS for the separate Modes separate. We are having BLOS and PLOS of “F” here. Which you would think gets the Planning Department hopping to get a 4-way stop or a light installed. No, the straight through CLOS (the separate LOS for cars) is the only Planning Department considers. The City grand stands a lot about the future multi-modal traffic, bike boulevards and all, but they have never analyzed and classified an intersection under multi-modal points of view: the policies are car centric.
2. The increase and re-arrangement of Parking in 2555 Park B. doubles the number of cars, making an already chaotic situation worse, with safety implications for emergency vehicle access. Doesn’t matter. Applicant’s profit first.
Let’s say: and so on.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2015 at 2:59 pm

“Stopping office space growth downtown isn't going to do anything to help parking or traffic”


Yes, the usual wisdom from the Urban Dreams crowd:

If it creates new 100 jobs, but only 50 new cars instead of 100, it actually makes traffic and parking better not worse.

If it’s only one piece of the traffic and parking solution and not the whole solution by itself, then of course there’s no point in doing it at all.

Unless we have unlimited future office space growth, Palo Alto will turn into Detroit.

If those offices don’t go downtown they will obviously go to the Research Park and not someplace with space and transportation, like maybe Bay Meadows or somewhere. Because, you know, it’s Palo Alto. And usually there’s something in there about how special we are, and our responsibility to the Silicon Valley, the national economy, and the American Dream.


73 people like this
Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 22, 2015 at 3:18 pm

The livability of Palo Alto is in decline. Palo Alto has become an office park with too much traffic, no parking, rude drivers, ugly oversized commercial buildings, a downtown with little retail, foreign investors buying up the residential real estate and leaving the houses vacant, and office workers who want rent control and don't give a damn about our town.


16 people like this
Posted by Whew!
a resident of another community
on Sep 22, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Has anyone seen the number of streets east of Middlefield (Hamilton for one) where there isn't a parking space available. The cars arrive in the morning and leave by 6 PM. This occurred as soon as the parking restriction signs in the downtown residential areas were unveiled. These cars now parking east of Middlefield are not restaurant workers, These are expensive cars, one after another. Restaurant workers are often on their bikes riding west on University Ave from E,P.A.

Housing is also an element of this problem. There needs to be more and priced so office workers and restaurant workers can live in the community where they work. Work force housing is the joint responsibility of the developer, the businesses that hire employees and the City of Palo Alto. The lack of housing and the development growth add up to a failed community plan. Part of every office development should be rental housing. Facebook has taken this approach and did so without being required to do so.

To have a cap but allow the developments in the pipeline win approvals means there is no cap. End of story.


18 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 22, 2015 at 4:53 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Previous politicians have decided in their infinite wisdom that Palo Alto must become the vibrant commercial and industrial center of the S.F. Peninsula, although it never had and will have the infrastructure and space for such an ambitious fantasy. It is really an office park now. Palo Alto has far too many residents as it is, and far too many people who come in daily, with no adequate infrastructure and parking to accommodate them. This is a good first step, but it should be followed by numerous additional steps that would improve the livability of this town.


57 people like this
Posted by Local resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 22, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Anyone here think "Data Driven" is actually a developer trying to put down some thick FUD to obscure the issue and keep the revenue flowing on building projects, traffic be damned? How clueless do these guys think the residents are in Palo Alto?


15 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 22, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Wait, so you can still build out in the tech park, away from Caltrain and transit? How does this make any sense unless you apply it city wide?


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 22, 2015 at 7:28 pm

@Engoneer:

Dang, I thought I got my post in first to reveal and expose the Data-driven myth. You beat me to it but at least we are on the same page. Numbers, not those percentages of some unknown numbers, is what we need. Hope to get a response from Data-driven. It's been very silent so far.


9 people like this
Posted by Finally
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2015 at 7:29 pm

Hooray!!!! Thank you, City Council.


Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 22, 2015 at 7:45 pm

Hi,

Sorry for the misspelling. Engineer, not Engoneer. And sorry Rainer, I sorta dozed off reading your post. When I wake up in the morning I'll try again. I'm sure there is good stuff in there. And NIMBYWORLD, just go take a long nap. You need it!


9 people like this
Posted by Data-driven
a resident of University South
on Sep 22, 2015 at 10:18 pm

It's unfortunate but typical that anyone who brings data to a discussion about development is attacked as a developer lining her own pockets. (I am not, but facts would still be facts if I were.)

The city does not publish absolute numbers, but you can back them out of the square footages for each use in the Downtown Cap study (Web Link) and the density numbers from the business registry (Weekly article: Web Link). If you do that, you get about 3600 office workers, 2100 retail workers, and 2200 restaurant workers.

Even if you assume all the office workers are tech workers, you only get about 1200 tech workers driving. (Driving rates reported here: Web Link). If office workers are half tech, you get about 1800 drivers. By contrast, you get 1600 retail workers driving and 1600 restaurant workers driving. So any way you cut the numbers, the absolute number of service workers driving swamps the number of office workers driving.

As a corresponding data point, the Cap Study shows that office space has increased only 27% from 1986 to 2012, while restaurant space has increased by 83% over the same period.

In other words, the Council has spent a year attacking the wrong problem, instead of doing something to help residents with our actual problems. They could have spent that time finding a place for service workers to park or helping them afford transit passes instead of demonizing office workers.

BTW, it's usually the proponents of a policy who need to find data to prove it works, rather than expecting the opponents to prove a negative. It's just another sign that the residentialists on this council profess to care about data, but actually don't even bother to check the facts they could find by reading the newspaper.


7 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 22, 2015 at 11:19 pm

@datadriven


"...and the density numbers from the business registry"

Data driven? The last I read the business registry is very far from being complete and the city staff are having trouble getting business to comply. In which case the numbers you quote are far from accurate.


7 people like this
Posted by The Fact Is
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2015 at 9:03 am

The fact is there is insufficient data to arrive at any of Data-driven's conclusions. Even if you want to use the city's business registry as a source, there is nothing close to hard numbers there, even if all the business registered, and did so truthfully. The numbers of employees are given in ranges that are far too broad to allow any statistically significant conclusions. For example, the categories are 0-25 people, 26-100, 101-500, 500-1000, etc. (Web Link) I have no idea how "An analysis by staff showed that the businesses registered thus far have a total of 69,136 employees" based on the categories available in the registry. (Quote taken from weekly article cited by Data-driven in above post: Web Link )

In addition, we have no idea how many of the remaining 30% of businesses that have not registered are small, medium, or large (which is about as much "data" as you can get from the registry). We also don't know why those 30% are refusing to registry - something to hide or too busy trying to find a place to park?

The weekly writes articles that are more human interest than empirical data (no offense to the weekly intended), so I would look for more reliable sources before declaring any numbers and facts to be "data-driven."


3 people like this
Posted by The Fact Is
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2015 at 9:16 am

One more thing about the information in the city's business registry is that it lacks relative information regarding parking spaces and permits. The registry only counts how many RPP permits have been purchased, when in fact some businesses contracted with private lots or with the city through other channels to provide parking permits for their employees long ago. The RPP web page can make some businesses look horrible by indicating they have provided zero parking places and have purchased zero or very few permits, when in fact 100% of the employees may have parking permits that were negotiated outside the RPP program. I know because my spouse's company is in that category.

Thought I would mention that before people start screaming about the numbers on that page...


6 people like this
Posted by Data-driven
a resident of University South
on Sep 23, 2015 at 12:07 pm

@The Fact Is - actually, the Weekly's numbers come from the staff report from the Council meeting they attended. (Since you asked, I checked.) The city is only publicly releasing some amounts of the business registry data to protect privacy. On the employment density, it has exact numbers but is only releasing averages to protect businesses' privacy.

And, yes, these numbers certainly include some error. But since the rough analysis I did above indicates that there are about twice as many restaurant and retail workers who drive as office workers who drive, the numbers would have to change dramatically in order to change the conclusion. You can eyeball the data (it seems like you did) - all the big employers on both the office and service worker side have already responded. It's just not realistic that the remaining 30% could skew the numbers enough to invalidate the conclusion.


4 people like this
Posted by Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2015 at 12:24 pm

"The city is only publicly releasing some amounts of the business registry data to protect privacy. On the employment density, it has exact numbers but is only releasing averages to protect businesses' privacy."

Any valid data-driven (as in adjective, not web name) analysis needs the actual employee counts, and a concurrent survey of how many drive to work, use the train, walk, bike, or bus. Our city government has historically been allergic to collecting hard data for use in its decisionmaking, so no surprise if the necessary census doesn't exist. But without it you are only blowing smoke.

The missing 30% of the data could indeed skew the numbers enough to invalidate the conclusion made without them. In fact, since, as you say, they represent a different population of employees, no valid conclusion is possible without them.

Hope this helps.


4 people like this
Posted by The Fact Is
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Yes, the numbers materialized from city staff, those under the direction of a city manager that consistently advocates on behalf of developers, and only they have access to the actual "data."

Another issue with the "data" is that it is all self-report, which is often unreliable. Reliable sources of data would be analysis of payroll records or employee databases. Direct researcher observation would also be more reliable, but obviously cost-prohibitive. ;)

Additionally, how many of the stated number of employees come to work every day, Monday through Friday, versus those who work part time, evening, or weekend shifts? A restaurant, for instance, may employ 20 people overall, of which only 5-6 of them are there at any one time, let alone between peak parking hours. On the other side, an office-type business most likely has almost all of their employees there Monday through Friday 9:00ish to 5:00ish.

For retail, how many of the retail employees work at Stanford shopping center and thus have no impact on downtown parking?

Hopefully you see that trying to extrapolate any real meaning out of these high-level guesses truly produces meaningless data when assessing the actual parking impacts.


3 people like this
Posted by Data-driven-is-Not
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2015 at 3:57 pm


>From Data Driven "So it's clear that the traffic and parking problems downtown >have nothing to do with tech office space, and everything to do with the vibrant >downtown and the service sector that supports it."


The comments from Data_Driven, are troubling and ideology at its worst. The annual growth limit (it's not a cap) is about the pace of growth, the underlying cause of a host of issues for residents, among them Parking and Traffic. This is NOT just about Parking and Traffic however. It's about density - more office, leads to more supporting businesses (as Data Driven pointed out) worsening our demand for housing, the number of kids in our schools, air pollution, noise, etc. So while tech workers from SF are likely to take Caltrain, office development leads to urban intensification overall, driving commuting from all areas of the bay for all the supporting businesses and jobs needed, as well as office workers commuting from places other than SF.

Also, the data on square footage is hogwash. The city made it quite clear when it released some early data from the business registry that the data is incorrect and uncleaned - it is based on partial registration, contains duplicate data for some businesses and and includes categories that would need to be filtered out to consider office space used per office worker. The business registry includes senior housing, private schools, R&D, medical, and hosts of other businesses, not just business use. Please don't spread the idea that high tech office workers are getting large, luxurious offices.

Moderating periods of intense growth enable the city to plan and absorb that growth. What council passed is very modest and most likely did not go far enough to have any material effect. I hope a similar process will be adopted as part of the comprehensive plan


3 people like this
Posted by Data-driven-is-Not
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Everyone should also note that the annual growth limit is for El Camino and Cal Ave as well as downtown, while all the incorrect data cited by others is just for downtown.

This quote "As a corresponding data point, the Cap Study shows that office space has increased only 27% from 1986 to 2012, while restaurant space has increased by 83% over the same period." strongly implies that office density has gone way up - we've increased the number of office workers without increasing their space very much, while retail locations have converted to restaurants, adding 83% more space for them.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 24, 2015 at 11:46 am

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Thanks Engineer, The Fact Is, and Data-driven-is-Not:

You've done some clear thinking on this and exposed the fallacy of the claims and conclusions that Data-driven presented.

It isn't so much a matter of if or who is in the pockets of developers, but posts that use bad/incomplete data to support their case
surely makes it appear that they might be.


2 people like this
Posted by Impartial
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 24, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Don't forget that every old office building that gets sold after paying almost nothing in property taxes gets reassessed for tax purposes, and that's what pays for better city services.

As for the discussion regarding data driven, there's an easy solution for the office workers. Every office developer should provide for free to the office employees a certain number of Caltrain monthly passes, and the number should be higher than the number of office workers in that building to reduce traffic from adjacent buildings as well. That would subsidize the cost of the employee commute and help ensure that employees weren't driving and REDUCE traffic. I'm an office worker downtown and I use Caltrain and a Bike.

Finally, as to the discussion regarding restaurant workers, why not find out where they are living and then make the developers pay for shuttles.

It sounds like people are objecting to the traffic from the developments, and if you solve THAT, then you get the higher property taxes with none of the problems. Instead of a cap, find ways to take the tax money but reduce the traffic. If you just focus on a cap, you lose the *reduction* possible from managing it properly.


2 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 24, 2015 at 1:15 pm

My understanding that when commercial buildings are sold there is a legal way to keep the property tax at it's previous level by forming LLC's, which is what real estate lawyers specialize in. Would be interested to hear from lawyers if that is the case, or some other way of not having the property tax assessed at the sale price.


6 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 24, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Hi,

So many good contributions to this discussion from many savvy and smart people...watchdogs in our community...please keep the watch going...we need you. I went back to Data-driven's post about the report he referred us to, the Downtown Cap study from 1986. Now, if you want to get a really bad headache try reading that 240 page report with lots of numbers from surveys in it. 501 interviews with the largest group being downtown visitors. Boy, that is sure helpful information that our current CC can wrap their arms around in trying to solve our problems and making decisions today, right? My bet is that nobody on the current council has read it because it is ancient history and irrelevant now. Well, maybe Liz and former councilman and mayor, Joe, have.

There have been several good ideas offered on how to ease the traffic and parking situations. Even Data-driven had some good ones. Let's do it.

Now to the housing issue. The report said this, "Residential development was purposely excluded from the development to encourage future residents to live in close proximity to jobs". Again, nice words, but, what do we all know. Very little has been built to allow them to live close to their jobs. Developers aren't interested in building stand alone housing units. They are chasing the office space dollars. And if housing is built, would a studio apartment rent be $2500/$3000 per mo? I know a lot of people don't like me posing hard questions but I'm not going to stop doing it.

I'm 78 and don't have the energy to go to long meetings anymore. My bedtime is around 10. Woke up last Monday at 12:30 to go to the bathroom but then went in and turned on the TV. Council had just adjourned and people were stuffing things in briefcases and leaving. Thank you Council for your hard work. And thanks for voting unanimously on this.


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

Mountain View's Hangen Szechuan to close after 25 years
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 1,900 views

Populism: A response to the failure of the elites: Palo Alto edition
By Douglas Moran | 12 comments | 1,846 views

Let's Talk Internships
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,452 views

Couples: Sex and Connection (Chicken or Egg?)
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,254 views

Zucchini Takeover
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 991 views