News

Palo Alto prepares to test new office cap

New restriction sets the stage for 'beauty contest' between two mixed-use developments

When Palo Alto officials agreed last year to institute an annual limit on office development, the goal was to slow down the pace of growth in the city's most congested commercial areas and to ramp up the quality of new developments by subjecting them to "beauty contests."

Now, as the city is preparing to apply the cap for the first time, neither the council's fears about rampant growth nor its vision for a spirited competition are materializing. Instead, the city's stack of applications has gotten smaller since last fall, with Jay Paul Company last month withdrawing its proposal for a two-story research-and-development building at 3045 Park Blvd. And the applications in the pipeline today add up to just over 50,000 square feet -- the amount at which new commercial growth was capped.

According to planning staff, today's list of pending projects includes five developments, three of which have been in the pipeline since the first half of last year and, as a result, have automatic priority over other projects. These three priority projects -- located at 2747 Park Blvd., 3225 El Camino Real, and 411 Lytton Ave. -- collectively total 37,603 square feet. Barring unexpected hiccups in their respective review processes, each will be approved without needing to compete for cap space.

This leaves only two development proposals for the beauty contest. One is a three-story, mixed-use project proposed for 2585 El Camino Real, current site of Olive Garden. The 39,858-square-foot-project would include 9,835 square feet of office space (along with 13 housing units and about 10,000 square feet of retail), which would count against the cap. The other is a 20,288-square-foot development at 901 High St., which would have 5,000 square feet of office space.

Together, these two developments (when added to the three "priority projects") would push the total office space to 52,438 square feet in the three zones where the office cap is in effect: downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Real. This means only one of these two will be potentially approved this year.

The winner of this development duel will be declared by the City Council, after reviews by the planning director and the chairs of the Architectural Review Board and the Planning and Transportation Commission. Like figure skaters and gymnasts, these developments will now be graded based on criteria that would be largely objective (inclusion of housing units and sufficient parking) but with hints of subjectivity (quality of design and excellent compatibility). The criteria will be listed on a scorecard, which the council edited and approved by a unanimous vote Monday night.

In discussing the scorecard for the beauty contest, council members agreed that the project's traffic and parking impacts should be the top priority. While staff had proposed allocating 10 points on the score sheet to the traffic and parking category (out of a total of 100), council members agreed that the subject warrants 20.

The change reflects the recent elevation of excessive traffic, as well as insufficient housing, on the council's priority list. Earlier this month, the council agreed to emphasize "mobility" and housing on its 2016 list of official priorities. Councilman Greg Schmid alluded to a recent National Citizens Survey that showed a growing number of residents expressing frustration on issues relating to traffic.

"It seems to me that in establishing criteria, we ought to reflect that community concern and give that item twice the number of points," Schmid said.

His colleagues agreed and voted to elevate traffic, as well as housing, over the other categories on the list: design, environmental quality and provision of public benefits.

Mayor Pat Burt called traffic and parking "probably our highest concern." He also said the city should consider giving bonuses for projects with "exceptional design" and "exceptional compatibility."

In revising the scorecard, council members generally agreed that the office-cap program is still a work in progress. The council, Burt said, should "anticipate that there are some imperfections in this."

Yet council members generally lauded on Monday the latest proposals for the new office-cap program, which faced heated opposition last year from the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and from companies such as Google, Palantir, HP and VMWare (the opposition largely dissolved after the council agreed to limit the cap to the three commercial areas outside Stanford Research Park).

Councilman Cory Wolbach, who was initially skeptical about the office cap, said he is "increasingly happy" with the city's direction on this.

"I think we're kind of on the right track here," Wolbach said.

Council members also recognized that the once controversial effort now appears to be a relatively low-stakes game. The office cap was instituted for two years (or until the completion of the Comprehensive Plan update) and the current list of projects suggests that it will have a relatively minimal role in the first year.

Councilman Eric Filseth observed that the competition only involves two projects.

"Let's give it a shot and see what happens," Filseth said.

Comments

30 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2016 at 9:20 am

So Coty Council spent all last year fighting over an office cap that was just an overreaction. Stopping office buildings in the future isn't dealing with any of our traffic issues, which we have right now.

In the middle of the year, we even found out from the city survey that it's not office workers causing the traffic - it's the service workers who are doing all the driving! But the residentialists on Council didn't care or start to focus on the real problem, they just ignores the data and stuck with their one idea. We need a city council that focuses on the real issue: it's cars that are the problem, not buildings. Focus on giving people better alternatives to driving, not stopping people from having jobs.


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 9, 2016 at 11:18 am

@Observer,

Sounds like you're an "all er nuthin" type person, ala, Oklahoma. "all last year", "all the driving"? Just a little joshing from me.

Yes, stopping office building in the future isn't going to solve today's traffic problems, but it would be preventative, not adding more to the current problem. Please give a link to that city survey you referred to. I drive downtown occasionally and I see people driving, and getting in and out of their cars when parking, and, not wanting to stereotype or profile people, but most of them sure don't look like service workers to me.

More office buildings become the origin of the problem when they get filled up with workers, and many of them will still drive cars. Build more housing for our current downtown workers, near the existing office buildings and transit hub, and that will do a lot to solve the traffic and parking problems.

"stopping people from having jobs"? The jobs will still be there as long as times are good and companies need employees; they might just be in another city. And that's okay.


14 people like this
Posted by Jamie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 9, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Left off the list here of those that opposed our office cap (Chamber of Commerce, Palantir, and other corporate interests) is Palo Alto Forward which submitted a five-page letter to city council opposing the office caps. This from a group that is also lobbying for big dense housing on Palo Alto, ignoring that more offices only exacerbates the need for more and more housing for the workers in those offices.

That Palo Alto Forward wants no regulation slowing the primary engine that drives the call for more housing is irrational and self-defeating. Or is it? Many think it is just the true nature of Palo Alto Forward and the interests it actually serves - big corporations interests who want us to live with negative impacts of development while paying (infrastructure, parks, schools, services, etc) into its corporate housing. We also put up with the entitlement attitude many of these privileged young workers with gold-dipped educations and earning power articulate when they telling us to change our laws and town to accommodate them.

I think the billion dollar corporations should take responsibility beyond subsidizing rent for workers to live here which just makes less housing for everyone else. I think corporations should be required to pay for its housing in an amount commiserate with the true impacts to Palo Alto and her residents.


12 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 9, 2016 at 1:11 pm

@Observer: I've asked you about this before, but I haven't seen a reply. Are you referring to the TMA's mode split survey? (Found here: Web Link) See slide number 14. It says that the percentage of retail workers that drive alone is higher than the percentage of technology workers, but note that there are almost 6 times as many technology workers as retail workers! If you add up the "office" categories (government, technology, and light office) and add up the other categories (retail, restaurant, hospitality) the total numbers of single-occupancy drivers are roughly equal. It's definitely not the "service" workers who are doing all the (solo) driving.

@Gale: I agree with almost all of what I've seen you post, so apologies for picking on you about one thing. :-) Building more housing near the downtown offices won't yield a long-term improvement in traffic or parking. The downtown jobs aren't reserved for residents. Residents have to compete for those jobs, and jobs outside downtown compete for Palo Alto residents. Particularly in the technology field, people change jobs often. Downtown companies (like Survey Monkey this year) move or are acquired. The result is that over the long term the percentage of residents who have jobs downtown approaches the fraction of downtown jobs relative to the total number of jobs in the commute area. Last time I checked there were more than 185K technology jobs on the Peninsula, so the fraction of jobs that's available downtown is quite small. This means that on average, a significant majority of downtown residents will be commuters. Assuming the area continues to grow without limit, the only way to solve that problem is to beef up transit, rather than housing.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2016 at 1:36 pm

>> it's cars that are the problem, not buildings.

Absolutely! Just like, it's bullets that kill people, not guns


5 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2016 at 1:39 pm

@Jamie

I'm wondering why you think only the "billion dollar corporations" should be paying for impacts, shouldn't all employers be? Aren't we supposed to have some sort of equality under the law?


14 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2016 at 2:03 pm

Allen Akin - thanks for the pointer, yes, that's the survey I was referring to.

If you add up the numbers for retail, restaurant, and hospitality workers to get all service workers, you get 35%, statistically the same for that survey as the 39% of tech workers. But whereas only a third of tech workers drive, well over 70% of service workers do. So that argues that roughly twice as many drivers are service workers as tech workers.

It's fine to say that there's some error here and that we need more data before we know for sure how many of each of these drivers there are. That's a very reasonable approach. But if Council thought that, why spend a year targeting only the kinds of workers that we have the least reason to believe are causing the problem? Why not look at the workers we have the most reason to suspect and spend your time trying to help them instead?

The only answer that makes sense is that this was never about the traffic for the neoresidentialists - as some of them said at Council meetings. But for the residents, it was about the traffic, and we've just spent a year doing nothing about it.


2 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 9, 2016 at 3:05 pm

@Observer: Your original post stated "it's not office workers causing the traffic - it's the service workers who are doing all the driving!" So you really need to include the government workers and the light office workers as well as the tech workers in your "office workers" total, or you've moved the goalposts. When I redo the math, I find that out of 94 workers (we're missing data for 6% in this particular chart), 26 are solo drivers from offices, and 26 are solo drivers from the service sector. As far as total traffic goes, it's a wash.

With regard to the percentage of tech workers who are solo drivers, I think there are two important observations to make. One is that adding 1000 tech workers downtown adds 333 solo drivers, which is significant; it would be wrong to say that because tech workers drive less, they're not part of the problem.

The other is that you need to take the survey with a large grain of salt. It represents a moment in time, while school is in session during May of a drought year. When kids have to be driven around, or when it's cold and wet, the percentage of drivers is almost certainly higher. The survey doesn't provide margin of error; since only 1/8 of downtown employees were surveyed (slide #2), the reality may be significantly different from what was published. Finally, as conditions change, the percentage of drivers may increase. Survey Monkey accounted for a large part of the good results for tech workers; when it moves to San Mateo we have no guarantee that the replacement company will do as well. The survey shows that parents and older workers drive more; as young singles marry and have kids, their driving time is likely to go up.

I'm with you on the traffic. We have yet to see any improvement, or even a compelling, well-funded plan for improvement. I measure the traffic outside my house every now and then; it's gone up 22% in the last two years, to 5100 vehicles/day. That's too much for a residential neighborhood, and as downtown building continues, it's going to get worse.


20 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Feb 9, 2016 at 4:34 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ Jamie

I am a member of the Palo Alto Forward steering committee but am writing in response to your post as an individual.

The thrust of our letter was concern that the proposed office cap did not deal with the majority of the traffic and parking issues from existing development and the new developments permitted under the cap including the wide areas exempted.

Our focus was and is on dealing with the broader issues. Members have and are serving on advisory committees dealing with residential parking permits and the Transportation Management Association and support both efforts.

Far from proposing no regulations our letter and the members I know favor developing SOV reduction programs, evaluating trip caps on developments and developing fees that can be used to address all of the impacts, not just from the new developments which will continue under the cap.

Given this the charge that PAF serves large corporate interests is no more credible or with evidence than saying homeowners who oppose new development are acting out of self interest to increase the value of their homes.

I appreciate the hard work and long hours of council members and am glad they identified housing and traffic as priorities for 2016. i am content to see how the current office cap works out and hope the council is not forced to spend too much time deciding which of the two competing office proposals gets approved this year.


29 people like this
Posted by butterfly
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 9, 2016 at 4:55 pm

Palo Alto Forward didn't oppose the office cap because they wanted unfettered development, they opposed it because it was a time-wasting feel-good boondogle that didn't GO FAR ENOUGH in addressing the city's problem because the city was only going after new development and not doing anything about problems caused by existing buildings. In fact they wrote an extensive 5 page proposal on better ways to deal with the issues.

Here's what they wrote:

"We suggest that the city study three approaches that we believe are more likely to
address parking and congestion problems in Palo Alto:
1. Require new construction to meet a target SOV rate.
2. Require development fees to be spent on trip reduction, rather than merely
on building additional parking.
3. Levy a modest fee on commute trips or square footage for existing buildings,
and require tenants to use these fees to fund trip reduction.

These proposals strengthen the existing mechanisms that the city is relying on to
address traffic and parking problems in the downtown area ‐ namely, the TMA and
RPP programs ‐ by encouraging participation for both tenants of both new and
existing buildings and providing funding.

Under these proposals, the city will verifiably limit trips from new construction
while requiring tenants of both new and existing buildings to fund trip reduction
measures. Fees comparable to the costs imposed by an office cap would raise
enough money to make Caltrain rides free for all employees and build an entire fleet
of Google‐quality commuter buses, bootstrapping a transition among all workers
and residents in Palo Alto to less car‐dependent modes of transportation."

You can read more here: Web Link

And of course, here we are. The office cap has done nothing for mitigating traffic and parking in our city but it has wasted countless hours of council and staff time that could have been spent on much more ambitious and large scale programs. New buildings being built aren't required to try innovative approaches like requiring zip cars or parking sharing between buildings (don't you really wish you could park in that empty bank parking lot instead of the garage for a 5 minute stop?). New buildings add traffic and parking issues just like before, except slower. And nothing at all has been done about the old buildings.


8 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2016 at 6:31 pm

Yes, as Levy says - Palo Alto Forward members are positioning themselves on as many committees and commissions as they can to try a city council takeover in this years election. They will indeed further the interests of the Silicon Valley corporations. Levy even got himself on the Comp Plan update committee in spite of his raging conflict of interest because of his leadership position with ABAG, the regional body we have no say in that dictates controversial growth policies to Palo Alto.

As to Butterflys (?) odd justification of PAF's opposition to office caps - I read its letter, I was at the Council meeting and it wasn't said that PAF's opposition was due in any way to it's leaders demanding a stronger office cap. Wow, that is revisionism. The point is not pie in the sky "planning" that may or may not ever be real, workable or effective while allowing unbridled development to continue in actuality. That's just playing the violin of fantasy "innovation" while Palo Alto burns.

Thankfully, rationality prevailed, the Council voted for the cap and we stopped digging the hole deeper that we are in. This Council has been busy putting out the worst of the fires created by cancerous growth. We better make sure we don't lose these gains by voting in people who have an agenda that will start up shoveling that hole deeper.


14 people like this
Posted by butterfly
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 9, 2016 at 9:03 pm

I never said PAF demanded a stronger office cap. I said PAF demanded more effective policies for dealing with traffic and parking issues.

What the Council offered wasn't "rationality" - it was a knee jerk reactionary measure that does what all reactionary measures do - doesn't look at any data or any research conducted here or in other cities with similar problems, ignores trying new approaches that have been tested and validated elsewhere, and keeps pretending like the answer is always "common sense" when in fact lots of answers to profound policy issues come about not through a reactionary's "common sense" and so-called "smell test" but from actual data, study, experimentation, and research. All of which this council has thoroughly ignored in favor of appeasing angry reactionaries with pitchforks with simple, "common sense" solutions that clearly don't work and won't work but which non-critical people swallow wholesale. "Hey it sounds like they're doing something!" There's nothing rational about targeting less than 1% of the city's buildings and doing nothing about the other 99% for close to a year. That's the very definition of pretending like you're doing something when in fact you're torturing a spoon instead of grabbing a shovel.

Calling policies that enhance public transportation and provide workers and residents with alternatives to driving alone "pie in the sky planning" only evinces a lack of familiarity with planning and clear successes that other cities have had with similar measures. Here you go: Web Link.

It wasn't even the office workers who were creating all that traffic and parking in the neighborhoods, it was the people who worked in retail and services! According to the city's own studies - all done AFTER they implemented the cap. If that's not City Council's "we found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq" moment, then I don't know what is.

Is the Council now acting swiftly to deal with the real source of the problem? Are they holding midnight hearings on where they can generate funds to get more shuttles or buy low-income workers Cal Train passes? Are they haranguing CalTrain for more frequency that would work well for shift workers? Are they in talks with VTA to add more bus routes from the southern part of the county to PA - where it turns out most of the drivers are coming from? Are they mandating zip cars in all new buildings so people who don't drive can still run errands? Are they reforming RPP to allow employers to buy passes for employees instead of forcing part-time and seasonal employees to buy them themselves for way more time than they'll use them? Are they up all night trying to find more money for the TMA so that they can assist in bulk train pass purchases for small businesses or setting up carpool programs for them?

What's that? They're not? Is it because pitch fork people would rather ignore the real problem than admit that they were wrong in all the nasty things they said to office workers and particularly to "techies" who turns out to drive least of all?? Would addressing the problem head on force the Council to admit that the residentialist narrative about big bad tech workers was a lie and they've been paddling in the wrong direction since the last election?


3 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 9, 2016 at 9:41 pm

The Council's urgency cap measure was necessitated by the adverse consequences of the PAF-ish program of overdeveloping and underparking which its predecessors heedlessly practiced for the past quarter century.

No urgency measure is perfect, but this one is an infinite improvement over what was going on. It gives us a breather to create a rational, sustainable plan for our future. I hope the Council proceeds with all deliberate speed, taking whatever time it needs to get it right this time.


5 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 9, 2016 at 10:29 pm

@Butterfly: "It wasn't even the office workers who were creating all that traffic and parking in the neighborhoods, it was the people who worked in retail and services!"

I don't know why this meme keeps cropping up, but based on what little data we have, it's not true. Office workers may drive solo less often than retail/service workers, but there are more office workers than retail/service workers downtown, so as a class they contribute just as much to the problem. Increasing the number of office workers will increase traffic and parking issues; avoiding this is one of the reasons for a cap. Please see the earlier comments in this same discussion for details (such as they are at this point).


10 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2016 at 6:52 am

Allen - thanks for engaging with the data. We could use more residents in Palo Alto like you who pay attention to it.

I agree that the office cap will have some directional effect on traffic. But the issue is that it's going to be so small as to be negligible.

Look at the story - the cap is going to knock out at most 10000 sq ft of office space in the first round, which probably just means delaying it by a year. That's somewhere between 15 and 30 drivers - 15 if they are tech workers who have the same density as SurveyMonkey/RelateIQ/Palantir, 30 if they are lawyers or bankers.

But you have 5100 drivers going by your house! The Council spent all of last year to affect maybe a half percent change. Butterfly above gives a long list of what they could have done. So many of those ideas would have had an actual impact.

We know that a huge part of the reason that tech workers drive at half the rate of other workers is that every midsize and large tech company gives out free transit passes. If the city council had spent a year trying to reduce traffic by discounting transit passes, they definitely could have had more than a half a percent effect! Some of the Palo Alto Forward proposals Steve Levy mentions sound like they could have been impactful, too.

It's not that the office cap will have literally zero effect on traffic. It's just that they spent a year doing literally the least useful thing possible to improve traffic - even though they had data saying it wouldn't make much difference!

That's why we need Council to drop its laser-like focus on getting rid of buildings and adopt a laser-like focus on helping workers to get out of their cars. It's apparently not that hard, and it will actually matter.


4 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 10, 2016 at 8:36 am

Today's problems are a result of decades of overdevelopment. PAF may be a fairly new group, but their vision has been implemented for about 25 years , achieving predictable results. Office cap is just one measure to correct some of the damage incurred in the last quarter century.


Like this comment
Posted by Survey
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 10, 2016 at 8:36 am

Some companies reward those who indicate they use mass transit for their commute by giving them free access to mass transit. And the company looks green if the employees indicate a carless commute.

But what woul employees indicate on their surveys if only those who drive were awarded a company supplied parking spot?

I think the results would be quite different.


2 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 10, 2016 at 8:50 am

" Levy even got himself on the Comp Plan update committee in spite of his raging conflict of interest because of his leadership position with ABAG, the regional body we have no say in that dictates controversial growth policies to Palo Alto. "

Tom, not only does Levy get himself on Comp Plan update committee [portion removed] but he is also allowed a blog right here, where he relentlessly pushes for the PAF vision (while the opposite side doesn't have a blog)and relentlessly deletes posts that don't conform to his views.


4 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2016 at 9:07 am

I think this butterfly person and others are confused.
Apparently the city is to assume superpowers it does not have (get more vta buses on el camino, more zip cars, stay up 24/7 on to make it happen, etc.). It does not control regional or state decisions and budgets for buses, where they run, for more trains and the money that it needs and track space for them, to buy zip cars, get more corporate buses, etc.
And why the heck should the city (residents) be responsible for corporate mega-buses, zip cars and doing all the stuff that is caused by these businesses that demand a ride for their entitled employees? Any corporation can, right now, provide train passes, etc. They can decide to not create more car trips. Google didn't wait for the city of mountain view to require or buy bikes for google workers - google just bought them. Palantir, the largest employer in our downtown should stop sending its young employees to council as its proxie to demand entitlements from our city. What happened to its Libertarian values it's founders flaunt?
That this butterfly person repeatedly disrespects all 9 elected members on the city council by smearing them as "reactionaries" is pretty funny when you actually know them, have followed their political actions (some for many years), know their outlooks, conflicts and track records. Kniss is the same as Filseth = reactionary? Berman and Burt? Holman and Scharff? Silly.
This council was confronted with a wildfire as someone else here pointed out - they took urgent action with office caps, the parking permit program, the moratorium on planned community zoning, discouraging more parking garages downtown. Yes, there is more to do and they will continue to do so. Council now seems poised to discuss increasing developer impact fees which can provide money to further address parking and traffic, and maybe expand the Stanford style no new net car trip requirement for new developments? But they don't waste time on stuff that won't work or is outside their control, butterfly - duh.



4 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2016 at 9:19 am

The business registry should help us ground policy in reality. We have never known how many workers we have coming here daily. Unfortunately it is assumed that owners won't always report accurately because they don't want it known how many they are actually stuffing many more into work spaces made for fewer people. But still, we get some more information. The survey was not a rigorous scientific one, so it is limited in its reliability.

As to Levy - yes, it undermines the comp plan update process to have him there given his blog and work with ABAG. He is conflicted beyond credibility.



Like this comment
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 10, 2016 at 9:23 am

@Observer: These problems have political and financial dimensions, as well as the comparatively simpler "engineering" dimension. Council works on the political dimension.

My take is that they felt there wasn't enough support to implement complex and intrusive policy changes, whereas there was (barely) enough support for a cap. They may have felt that a cap would provide leverage to force the interested parties to negotiate better long-term solutions. In the meantime, a cap would prevent traffic and parking issues from getting significantly worse. Ideal solution? No. Feasible? Yes.

You wrote: "...adopt a laser-like focus on helping workers to get out of their cars. It's apparently not that hard..." Changing the behavior of people who bought into a system when it was much less restrictive is incredibly hard, both politically and financially. (See: housing.) That's why it's a big win to minimize a problem as soon as you can anticipate it. Here's what I wrote to Council and Planning in January 2014:

"On the whole I think development downtown has served the community well. However, I'm forced to conclude that for the transportation systems we have now, downtown was overbuilt as of a few years ago. I think it's critically important to avoid digging us into a deeper hole. Development projects that increase density even further should be postponed, explicitly."

Had we done that two years ago, we'd have a much smaller and less-expensive problem to solve today, and we'd have fewer people resisting the necessary changes. I'd have 4200 cars/day to deal with instead of 5100. :-)

Your points about changes that could be made to reduce traffic below current levels are well-taken, and I support essentially all of them. I believe it'll be difficult or even impossible (politically or financially) to implement some of them. Perhaps one virtue of the cap and "beauty contest" model, compared to a total moratorium on building, is that it could provide incentive to developers and tenants to enlist everyone else to make the changes. But in any case, I think the days of easy increases in density are over.


Posted by oicuruam
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive

on Feb 10, 2016 at 10:25 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.


7 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2016 at 10:46 am

Allen, I don't think that's the right reading of history. I remember watching the first two City Council meetings on the subject. Marc Berman proposed a motion to implement limits on the number of drivers allowed to come from new buildings, along with a fee on drivers in existing buildings that would go toward transit. This is exactly the kind of program that would make a difference by tackling the problem of drivers in our very large existing office stock, not just in the tiny slice that would be new construction.

The motion was supported by the so-called "business-friendly" Council members and bitterly opposed by the residentialists. When it failed, we got the current office cap from the residentialist wing - which, as the article above demonstrates, is going to do practically nothing useful.

So the opposition to effective legislation that would reduce traffic came from the residentialist side, while the opposition to the office cap that we got instead was led by the Chamber. If the residentialists had compromised and tried to limit cars instead of buildings, we'd have less traffic already - not just a tiny bit less traffic five years from now.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 10, 2016 at 11:22 am

So to combat congestion and parking issues we've decided to hamstring economic development in areas served by public transportation? Brilliant.


2 people like this
Posted by Gayle
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2016 at 11:28 am

I am laughing now. The Chamber did not oppose office caps because they thought it should include office driver limits and fees. And it was Real Estate attorney Greg Scharff who fought and fought and fought that night to weaken the caps - hardly a residentialist though he tried to sell that during his campaign. Your view of who is doing what does not square with the facts - watch the meeting.


Like this comment
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 10, 2016 at 12:27 pm

@Observer: I'm behind on work, but if I can make the time I'll review the hearing. In the meantime, if you have the time, could you summarize the arguments that were made against Marc's motion?

The effects of buildings last for generations. The effects of rules on the building's tenants last until the rules are changed, or the tenants find a way to work around them. So I'm not convinced that "limit cars instead of buildings" is an accurate way to characterize the choices we face.


6 people like this
Posted by Gayle
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Peter - You are worried about thwarting economic development? Oh my. That's not a priority. That's like saying - everyone have more kids. That may have been understandable for a farm family in 1850 but it sure isn't in 2016. And wanting more and more economic development in Palo Alto when not only is that growth not sustainable but it is killing us now. We don't need more jobs - we have been a jobs center since the early 1960's - people come here to work then go home. This is not new at all. But we are near capacity and now are focusing on better management of what we have, not piling more on.

And - have you not noticed that the most congested areas of town are where the most growth is. Trans and public buses are not a panacea though they help. As someone said above - stop digging the hole we are in.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 10, 2016 at 3:50 pm

Gayle, I don't think we should take our strong local economy for granted. As someone mentioned in another thread, the people of Detroit probably did not anticipate what happened to the auto industry there.

With that said, my frustration here is really with our inability to break away from our automobile-centric transportation system and our sprawling land use policies. If you said that this cap may buy us a little time to figure out how to enact smart growth policies that will get people out of their cars, then you might be on to something. But simply declaring that Palo Alto is full because it's difficult to find free parking downtown is something I can't get behind.

Being a jobs center in the 21st century means dense, walk-able neighborhoods that are accessible by public transit.


4 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 10, 2016 at 4:59 pm

I would like to see one study that finds that Palo Alto residents who live near public transportation use their cars less than those who live further. I haven't conducted a study, but my eyes tell me that residents living near public transportation here get in their cars in the morning and return in the evening just like everybody else. I see very few, if any, walk to the train and bus depots. Using the 'build next to public transportation' mantra is a method of neutralizing the slow/no more growth camp. This mantra is an anchor ploy, designed to open the flood gates of development. There are already loud voices coming from PAF members and their allies that we should relax the height limits. Their main goal is the Manhattanization of Palo Alto


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2016 at 5:23 pm

"I don't think we should take our strong local economy for granted. As someone mentioned in another thread, the people of Detroit probably did not anticipate what happened to the auto industry there."

Even if Detroiters had seen their bust coming, it is highly unlikely they have prevented it by building more auto factories. The causes of Detroit's bust were largely external, as will be the causes of the coming Palo Alto crash.

The local bubble is based on software and hype--two commodities that are far, far more portable than building real cars ever could be. Being a code factory or code monkey in Palo Alto is highly fashionable at the moment, but fashion is notoriously fickle.

There is absolutely no rational reason that Java code or Ruby code or ... code must be written only in Palo Alto. It is even less rational for Palo Alto to take actions with long term consequences based on a naive notion that this latest tech boom is permanent.


4 people like this
Posted by near Casti
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2016 at 9:08 pm

Dear Palo Altans, please support our plight. We have been deceived and harmed for many decades by Castilleja Prep School. They are out of enrollment compliance by 25 student currently, yet they want to add 125 additional students. This increase, if approved, would effect everyone in Palo Alto.


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2016 at 9:28 pm

"I would like to see one study that finds that Palo Alto residents who live near public transportation use their cars less than those who live further."

Several years ago, a resident of a large housing project near the CalAve train station surveyed the residents and reported to city council that only 5% of the residents used transit to commute.

Our obviously pro-development planning department (proof: the 27 University fiasco) has adamantly declined to do its own survey, alleging the sample size would be too small to be statistically ironclad. So, here in the Intellectual Capital of Silicon Valley, the city government prefers to make decisions based on no data at all instead of doing an objective census and computing its objective margin of error.

Or, as an early mentor advised me, don't ask the question if you don't want the answer.


Like this comment
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 13, 2016 at 7:59 pm

@Observer: I owe you an update on our discussion. Sorry it's taken so long; work's been challenging and I needed time to review the documentation.

Earlier I said that my take was that Council didn't feel there was enough support for intrusive policy changes, but they may have felt a cap could prevent traffic and parking issues from getting worse while better solutions could be devised and implemented. I was definitely wrong about the first part; Council actually seems quite receptive to intrusive policies. Regarding the second part, eventually a majority felt that a carefully-designed short term cap would be useful in those ways, though you're correct that this was far from unanimous.

You mentioned a motion by Marc Berman. I presume you mean the one he made at the March 2, 2015, meeting. That meeting is illuminating with respect to the Council members' thinking at the time, so the rest of this note refers to it. For sources I used the meeting minutes (Here: Web Link) and the summary in the Weekly (Here: Web Link).

On one side we have Berman, Wolbach, and Scharff, opposing the cap. Their general argument was that a cap would not offer enough (if any) improvement on traffic, parking, and other issues over the next few years; and that resources would be better spent on RPP and demand-management programs. Wolbach and Scharff also felt we no longer need rapid growth in office space.

Berman moved to direct Staff to study methods for requiring new construction (as you noted, not existing developments) to meet target single-occupancy vehicle rates. Staff would also study revenue-generating options for both new and existing buildings to be spent on trip reduction.

On the other side we have DuBois, Filseth, and Schmid. Their general argument was that the overdevelopment of office space was the root cause of traffic, parking, and other issues. The effects of new office development could be mitigated partially, but never entirely, and therefore a cap was necessary in addition to the mitigation programs. A cap would improve the predictability of growth and allow better management of other programs, as well as allowing some time for housing to "catch up" on the jobs/housing imbalance.

Schmid offered a substitute motion which would have directed Staff to analyze the impacts of a cap for the draft Environmental Impact Report associated with the new Comp Plan. DuBois proposed amendments to change assumptions about employee density for parking requirements, protect retail, and end zoning exceptions. Neither Berman's nor Schmid's motions passed, but eventually the protection for ground-floor retail was adopted.

Somewhere in the middle we have Burt and Holman. Burt felt that the issues deserved considerably more thought (he offered an extensive memo on the subject) and that various proposals were premature. He supported a carefully crafted cap. Holman expressed concerns over the possible detrimental effects of a cap, but was willing to support it if retail space was protected from potential rent increases. She noted that it will take a while for new initiatives to produce usable data, and in the meantime without a cap there might be consequences that can't be reversed.

In sum, I don't see as dramatic a split between the "residentialist" and "business" camps as you did. There's near unanimity in the idea that we don't need significantly more office development. There's near unanimity in support for demand management programs. There's disagreement largely about whether a cap is an essential move in addition to demand management. Maybe this hinges on how long you believe it will be before demand management measures have some effect!

I also don't see that we missed a major opportunity to reduce traffic. Berman's motion would have initiated a study, nothing more. While that might be a good thing (my enthusiasm is tempered because I don't understand how this study is intended to align with what the TMA is doing), it was not an ordinance that would have had any effect on today's traffic. It's not related to the cap, though, so Berman could have proposed it again any time during the past year. I don't know if he did.


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

El Camino: Another scheme to increase congestion?
By Douglas Moran | 12 comments | 2,242 views

Post-election reflections -- and sponges
By Diana Diamond | 13 comments | 1,694 views

Couples: Philosophy of Love
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,443 views

Trials of My Grandmother
By Aldis Petriceks | 1 comment | 978 views

Lakes and Larders (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 476 views