News

New study raises concerns about city's future

Worsening traffic, housing conditions predicted by Draft Environmental Impact Report for Comprehensive Plan

It's hard to predict the future, and downright impossible to analyze the impacts of developments yet unbuilt, technologies yet untested and policies yet undreamed of.

That, however, is the unenviable task facing Palo Alto's planners, elected officials and citizen volunteers. In order to set policies that will result in a future people will actually want to live in, city leaders since 2006 have been updating the city's Comprehensive Plan, the foundational document that purportedly guides all of the city's zoning laws, policies and new development.

Earlier this month, to aid in the protracted and expensive update effort, the city unveiled the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), which analyzes various strategies for city growth. The 837-page state-mandated study specifically considers four different scenarios that the city could pursue between now and 2030 and predicts how the city's appearance, traffic congestion and noise levels would alter under each path.

Filled with maps, tables and charts, the document is the most significant report produced to date over the decade-long history of the Comprehensive Plan update. The idea is that the city will look at each scenario and then either pick the one that looks most acceptable -- or mix-and-match them to arrive at the sweet spot for growth.

The document is at once ambitious and sobering, rich with data but short on solutions for the two problems that continue to fluster officials and residents alike: excessive traffic and insufficient housing. A recent survey commissioned by City Auditor Harriet Richardson showed the percentage of people rating traffic flow on local streets as "good" or "excellent" dropping from 47 to 31 percent between 2010 and 2015, while the proportion of respondents giving good grades to "ease of travel by public transportation" plummeted from 62 percent to 26 percent during the same period.

On housing, survey results continue to be abysmal, with only 20 percent giving the city good grades for "variety of housing" last year (down from 27 percent in 2014). And while 68 percent rated Palo Alto as a "good" or "excellent" place to retire in 2006, only 52 percent gave the city those same marks last year.

To underscore the severity of the problems, residents (a group that includes high-tech professionals and local attorneys; Stanford University students and recent Palo Alto High School graduates; millennials who live with their parents and empty-nesters looking to downsize) have flocked to council meetings in recent months to call for the construction of more housing.

For them, the big new document offers little hope. Under all four growth scenarios, the vast majority of the city, including single-family neighborhoods and open space preserves, would remain mostly untouched by new developments and policies, aside from the construction of a few dozen "granny units."

And even with traffic improvements such as expanded expressways, improved bike boulevards and a below-street-level railroad system, traffic jams will remain the norm during peak commute hours, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Report.

So what are these four paths to the future? One scenario considers what Palo Alto would look like if it continues on its present path, with no substantive policy changes (called the "business as usual" scenario). There's also a plan for reducing commercial growth; another for encouraging more housing; and a fourth for allowing more "sustainable" development.

Each presents a different level of growth, though as the DEIR points out, "All of the scenarios generally aim to facilitate the pace of residential and commercial growth by directing growth to specific areas through zoning incentives."

Despite the city's enormous housing challenges and a gaping jobs-housing imbalance (there are about three jobs in Palo Alto for every employed resident), land-use designations throughout the city would remain unchanged, with the sole exception of the Fry's Electronics area. There would be no new employment districts and, even in the most extreme scenario, no zoning changes to residential neighborhoods.

Yet the four scenarios also have some key differences between them. The first shows the city operating under the existing Comprehensive Plan, with "no innovations in housing," no new approaches to address the high cost of housing and no new growth-management measures. The employment base would grow by about 1 percent by 2030 in this scenario, which translates to 15,480 new jobs by 2030.

The second scenario, known as "Growth Slowed" would try to slow down the rate of job growth by moderating the pace of new office and research-and-development construction. While it wouldn't identify any new housing sites, it would include policies to encourage new housing units for seniors and the Palo Alto workforce, according to the DEIR. It would also concentrate the new housing in downtown, along El Camino Real, at the Fry's site close to the California Avenue Business District, and along San Antonio Road.

Housing is also the main focus on the third scenario, which isn't as concerned about slowing growth as the first two. Known as "Housing Reconsidered" in the DEIR, this scenario would focus housing in downtown and around California Avenue, in "pedestrian and transit-oriented districts" (PTOD) and remove potential housing sites from south Palo Alto, where transit services aren't as readily available. This scenario, much like the second, would also include a new "concept plan" for California Avenue, which would aim to maintain the district's character and discourage chain stores and restaurants from moving in.

The fourth scenario is the most aggressive and experimental. Limits on new building would be removed from downtown and replaced by "net zero" performance standards -- that is, requiring developments to create no additional problems, such as more traffic. Policies and regulations would be enacted to advance what the DEIR calls "sustainability objectives."

This means encouraging the provision of public-transit passes for residents in transit-served areas, the environmental LEED-platinum certification for new developments, local solar-energy production, foregoing new natural-gas hookups and installing drought-tolerant landscaping, according to the DEIR. Like the third scenario, it would also consider relaxing height limits for downtown buildings, to encourage new housing developments.

Unlike the third one, it would also try to add a PTOD designation, which allows greater density, to the Fry's Electronics site, the Stanford Research Park and Stanford Shopping Center, in hopes of encouraging mixed housing/retail/office developments there. And while most developments along El Camino Real would be two or three stories, some would be allowed to exceed the 50-foot height limit if they serve as "models of sustainability."

The four scenarios aren't set in stone. On Feb. 22, the council will consider a staff proposal for a fifth scenario, which the council requested last month. Though it hasn't yet been drafted, the fifth scenario is expected to add another $150,000 to the update process and require the city to perform a supplemental environmental analysis. If things, for once, go as planned with the convoluted process, the Comprehensive Plan will at last be adopted in May 2017.

Digging into the root cause

See a chart on the Palo Alto jobs/housing imbalance under the various scenarios

People usually discuss Palo Alto's housing and traffic crises in one of two ways. Some, focusing on the symptoms, pointing to congested highways and priced-out teachers, techies and seniors. Others focus on the root cause: the fact that there are about three jobs in Palo Alto for every employed resident.

Barring major policy changes, the trend isn't expected to abate any time soon. Using job projections from the Association of Bay Area Governments, the draft environmental study estimates that the number of jobs in Palo Alto will rise from 95,460 in 2014 to 110,940 in 2030, while the number of employed Palo Alto residents will go from 31,165 in 2014 to 34,697 in 2030.

By the city's projection, the ratio of jobs-to-employed residents in Palo Alto -- generally known as the "jobs-housing balance" or, in Palo Alto, as the "jobs-housing imbalance" -- is expected to go from an already high level of 3.06 to 3.20 under the "business as usual" scenario (this is compared to the current Bay Area ratio of 1.03 and the Santa Clara County ratio of 1.14).

A new report from the city's Department of Planning and Community Environment notes that the city's imbalance between jobs and employed residents "contributes to local and regional traffic, greenhouse gas emissions and other impacts, as some workers travel long distances between their residence and workplace."

"The imbalance is projected to grow if the City does not take affirmative steps to address the issue," the staff report states.

Yet none of the four scenarios in the DEIR really address this problem. In each case, the ratio of jobs to employed residents ends up just above 3.0 in 2030. Even the "sustainability tested" scenario, which in theory could allow the city to build housing at much higher densities, would result in a ratio of 3.04.

Councilman Tom DuBois recognized this intractable problem on Jan. 19, when he requested a fifth scenario that would consider ways to reduce the ratio -- a suggestion that his colleagues endorsed. DuBois specifically requested a scenario with slower growth projections and "a decrease of people commuting to Palo Alto."

"What would a 2.5 jobs-housing scenario would look like?" DuBois asked.

The new report from the planning department suggests that such a scenario would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. The three typical ways to address the topic, the report notes, are increasing housing production, decreasing job growth or a combination of the two.

"Any decision made to increase the rate of housing production or decrease the rate of job growth can be highly contentious because of fears they will affect a community's character, its place in the larger region, and/or other economic and social concerns," the report states.

Three of the scenarios (all except "business as usual") proposed include modest steps toward keeping the ratio from getting worse. Ideas for increasing housing include encouraging smaller units, increased housing density near California Avenue and downtown, the relaxation of the 50-foot height limit in downtown, and new housing sites along the El Camino Real frontage of Stanford Research Park and Stanford Shopping Center.

To slow job growth, the scenarios consider policies that reduce how densely buildings can be constructed in some commercial districts and maintain an annual limit on office and research-and-development projects. By combining pro-housing and anti-jobs policies from the various scenarios, the ratio could the ratio dip to 2.88 by 2030.

By and large, the DEIR takes a cautious approach toward reducing the jobs-housing imbalance. The new report from planning staff notes that the city could potentially pursue other, admittedly more controversial, concepts to lower the ratio further. These could include creating new zoning districts that allow more than 40 housing units per acre (the limit in the city's R-40 zones); expand existing multi-family residential zones; and significantly downzone commercial areas. The DEIR generally avoids what the new staff report calls a "difficult conversation."

Yet some members of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Comprehensive Plan have been urging the council to consider more aggressive policies on housing. Elaine Uang, a member of the committee and co-founder of the grassroots group Palo Alto Forward, was one of several members of the community who urged the council at the Jan. 29 meeting to consider the impacts of restrictive housing policies on seniors, teachers, emergency responders and others who are getting priced out of the city.

"I think we already have a lot of unintended consequences of housing policies for the past 30 years," Uang said. "It's the lack of diversity. It's people being pushed out of the community even though they have lived here for a long time because they can't afford it and they don't have options."

At least one council member agrees that the city should evaluate more aggressive housing policies, if only for comparison purposes. Cory Wolbach said there should be a scenario with more housing than the city is likely to choose. Some cities, Wolbach noted, are considering 30 percent increases in housing.

"Do we want to meet our share of the county's population growth or do more than our share because we've spent 40 years restricting population growth here?" Wolbach asked.

All those cars

See map of predicted traffic hot spots

If the jobs and housing projections in the Draft Environmental Impact Report are somewhat worrying, the traffic projections in the document are downright grim.

In projecting future traffic levels, the report considers a variety of significant infrastructure improvements, including (in Scenario 2) a proposal by Santa Clara County to eventually build over- or underpasses to separate Foothill Expressway at its intersections with Page Mill and Arastradero roads and (in Scenarios 3 and 4) a rail system that would run in a trench below ground level. It then looks at existing and projected traffic levels and evaluates the impact of these projects on traffic flow at 14 major intersections.

In a few cases, the investments are projected to make a significant difference. Reconstructing Foothill Expressway so that it runs either over or under Arastradero would, for example, change the "level of service" at this intersections from "F" (the lowest possible level) to "A" during the peak evening commute hour and from "D" to "A" during the morning peak.

By and large, however, traffic is expected to get worse under all four scenarios, with or without these investments. In the "business as usual" scenario, six of the 14 intersections would see significant and unavoidable impacts (for Scenarios 2, 3 and 4, the number of impacted intersections are three, four and five, respectively).

The intersection of Foothill and Page Mill, which already operates at "F," would see conditions deteriorate further under three of the four scenarios. The average delay for a car trying to during this intersection during peak evening commute hour is expected to grow from 189.7 seconds to more than 300 seconds in three of the four scenarios. Only Scenario 2, which includes grade separation at this intersection, would lift the level of service to the still-dismal "D," according to the DEIR.

Some intersections are projected to experience significant and unavoidable impacts in all four scenarios. This includes the intersection of El Camino Real and San Antonio Road, where the existing level of service "D" is projected to become "F" during the evening peak hour no matter which path the city chooses. The intersection of Alma Street and Charleston Road is also expected to deteriorate from "D" to "F," with average delay for motorists during the evening commute growing from 48.6 seconds to 88.9 seconds in Scenario 1 and to 81.4 seconds in Scenario 2. Only in Scenarios 3 and 4, which include grade separation at the railroad crossing, does this intersection retain its "D" level of service.

Local highway segments don't look much better. Following Yogi Berra's paradoxical philosophy of "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded," the DEIR predicts that there would actually be a decrease in the number of Palo Alto-related trips under all four scenarios because the highway segments will be so congested. The traffic model used in the DEIR projects a 25 to 30 percent increase in regional freeway volumes in 2030.

"Because the freeways would become so much more congested by 2030, the model's trip-assignment process assumes that many people will seek alternate routes in order to avoid the freeways," the DEIR states.

Some drivers would presumably switch to other modes, like Caltrain. Others would probably simply take different routes, whether Foothill Expressway, El Camino Real or Alma Street.

Yet the analysis also indicates that some highway segments will see significant slowdowns, with impacts deemed significant and unavoidable. On U.S. Highway 101, the list of impacted segments includes the stretch between Rengstorff Avenue and San Antonio Road (both northbound and southbound); between San Antonio and Oregon Expressway (also in both directions); and between Embarcadero Road and University Avenue (northbound). On Interstate 280, the two impacted segments will be the northbound and southbound stretches between Woodside Road and Sand Hill Road.

At a time when traffic congestion is the public's top complaint and the council's top priority, the numbers in the DEIR offer no cause for celebration. Yet as several members of the Citizen Advisory Committee pointed out during the committee's recent discussion of the Transportation Element, "level of service" measures don't tell the full story.

Whitney McNair, director of land use planning at Stanford University and a non-voting member of the citizens group, noted at the committee's Jan. 26 meeting that the level of service metric is somewhat outdated. Increasingly, planners are shifting to the "motor vehicles miles traveled" (VMT) model, which does not concern itself with wait times at intersections. Rather, it measures success by the reduction of vehicle trips and miles traveled.

Uang, a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee's transportation subcommittee, said the metric shouldn't be "just about the flow of cars." Ultimately, it should be about the "flow of people."

For instance, if a place goes from a system in which 800 people get around by cars, 100 by bikes and 100 by walking to one in which 500 use cars, 300 use bikes and 200 walk, that's "kind of a win," Uang said, even if the traffic conditions for the drivers worsen somewhat.

"The level of service will probably go down for the car, it might go up for bikes and up for pedestrians, but overall I think it's a system positive," she said.

But perhaps the best hope for Palo Alto of 2030 may lie with the free market, which fueled the city's economic prosperity and, in doing so, exacerbated its growing pains. Already, companies and agencies around Palo Alto are making adjustments to the worsening conditions on local roads. Stanford University is moving along with a plan to add 2,000 beds for graduate students at Escondido Village, reducing those residents' commute distance. And high-tech companies are revising work schedules, adding commuter shuttles and instituting telecommuting policies to make life easier for their commuting employees.

Some of downtown's leading companies are participating in the city's nascent Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit devoted to encouraging employees to shift from driving solo in cars to using other modes of transportation.

A similar effort is now under way at Stanford Research Park, which includes about 150 major employers. McNair noted at the Jan. 26 meeting that the biggest employers at Stanford Research Park have recently formed a transportation-demand-management working group in order to craft strategies and implement "what are anticipated to be the most effective transportation-demand-management programs on a Research Park-wide basis." The group plans to conduct a survey in the spring to get a better sense of the how the park's employees get to and from work, McNair said.

"Employers are inherently motivated to offer alternative means to get to their businesses because it's taking its toll on everybody -- employees and employers alike," McNair said.

Then there are the broader cultural shifts at play in the Valley: millennials who eschew cars in favor of Uber and Lyft; jobs that once required a science lab but now can be performed at home on a laptop; and the distant but potentially revolutionary prospect of self-driving cars.

Uncertainty over new technology is already causing divisions among members of the Citizens Advisory Committee, with some calling for abolition of minimum parking requirements for new developments on the grounds that people now drive less and others arguing that these requirements remain necessary because parking congestion remains the sad reality.

Bonnie Packer, a member of the citizens group, said on Jan. 26 that her vision for Palo Alto includes enhanced transit services that eventually make parking garages unnecessary.

"If we ever get this transit thing going and the parking demand -- at least in downtown -- has been reduced significantly, then we can tear (the parking garages) down and build affordable housing, which doesn't need so much parking," Packer said.

Emerging commuter trends and technologies could potentially dislodge the DEIR's bleak projections and present Palo Alto officials with new policy options for reducing traffic -- whether it's relying on Lyft to ferry local employees to a Caltrain station or unleashing a fleet of city shuttles with flexible routes around town based on demand.

Some of these policies will be further explored in the city's new Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, which is being undertaken in conjunction with the Comprehensive Plan update and is also set for adoption in 2017.

In discussing the sustainability plan at a January meeting, Mayor Pat Burt observed that one challenge that the city faces when it comes to long-term planning is the difficulty of predicting dramatic technological shifts.

"Looking in the rear view mirror is not necessarily the best way to predict the future," Burt said.

The same can be said for the council's ongoing effort to update its Comprehensive Plan and to lay a new foundation for local policies until the plan's expiration in 2030.

The Palo Alto City Council will be considering adding a fifth scenario for the Draft Environmental Impact Report on Feb. 22. The meeting will be held at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave., starting at 7 p.m.

To view the DEIR, go to paloaltocompplan.org

Comments

62 people like this
Posted by Sherlie
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2016 at 10:02 am

I would like to hear future thoughts on preserving the quality of life for our neighborhoods. The downtown area is so impacted that cars and people are spilling over into our neighborhoods creating an expansion of downtown's growing pains. Workers are hanging out in front of my home talking on cell phones, smoking because they can't smoke downtown, littering in our garden bed as they walk to and from downtown, circling around our neighborhood looking for parking, and the worst part is that it starts early in the morning and continues until after 10pm. The noise and disruption doesn't allow us to freely open our windows and doors anymore. Please help protect our neighborhoods.


13 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 19, 2016 at 10:47 am

The first issue is whether this is a legal program EIR under CEQA. The project definition, even in a Program EIR has to be defined specific which then is evaluated for alternatives. Several environmental and land use consultants have expressed doubt that the format complies with CEQA. A portion of the document is welcome--it starts to acknowledge the existing condition of traffic congestion and parking intrusion into residential neighborhoods.


71 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 19, 2016 at 11:02 am

Five immediate thoughts on a very complicated problem:

1) Start opposing the ABAG (Association of Bay Area Government) goal that the Bay Area absorb another 2,000,000 people in the next few years. We have neither the infrastructure nor the water to support them.

2) Start implementing some no-brainer short-term traffic solutions like fixing the traffic light timing. Right now you often have traffic stopped in all 4 directions waiting for the lights to change, creating unnecessary gridlock and backing up traffic for blocks and/or miles.

3) Start facing reality that adding more housing will not bring the prices down while you still have a never-ending flood of rich immigrants using our housing stock as safe savings accounts.

4) Look at cities like San Francisco where they've added below-market-rate housing for just enough time to get approval for big developments. As soon as those time limits expire after a very few years, the landlords immediately push start evicting tenants so they can push the rents up to make up for lost time.

What's the end result? San Francisco rents are among the highest in the US.
Research Ellis Act Evictions and San Francisco before pontificating that more housing will reduce rents.

5) Reconsider adding school buses to cut congestion that jams our residential streets twice a day. If buses were originally canceled "to save money" then start analysing the tradeoffs of bring back the school buses. It's absurd to do traffic "planning" in a vacuum without considering how the school traffic impacts morning rush hour traffic and increases mid-day congestion.


70 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 19, 2016 at 11:05 am

The future of Palo Alto was put into question decades ago, when developer friendly local politicians decided that 1. They should cave to all Stanford's ambitious expansion plans. 2. That Palo Alto must become a major job center. 3. That Palo Alto must become a "vibrant" dense metropolis..


48 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2016 at 11:05 am

A fifth and more sensible alternative would take a shift in perspective: one that places jobs where people already live. Not one that continues the strategy of concentrating wealth at the expense of people and the environment.

The official traffic report for Draft Environmental Impact Report states that all scenarios will result in SIGNIFICANT AND UNMITIGATABLE POLLUTION AND TRAFFIC.

People will still be commuting in cars for long distances to get here even with ALL proposed transit ideas in place.

And, the report reveals something the pro-density advocates won't like: NO AMOUNT OF NEW HOUSING WILL IMPROVE GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS.

Sad for us all, if we don't change course.



42 people like this
Posted by Optimist
a resident of University South
on Feb 19, 2016 at 11:15 am

The DEIR is pretty grim. But that's because it just reflects minor tweaks to the policies the city has been pursuing (along with most of California) for decades: subsidizing cars and discouraging housing.

If we want to reduce traffic, we could do it pretty easily: increase parking prices in downtown and Cal Ave to match the cost of providing garages. $2/hour would be fine. And even if you want to subsidize consumers, it doesn't make sense to subsidize parking spots for downtown workers, who currently pay $2/day instead of $15/day their spots actually cost. That would make taking transit cheaper than parking, and a lot of people who commute from San Jose or the East Bay would switch to Caltrain or the Dumbarton Express.

Take the money that raises and plow it into improving public transportation. Let the new money raised from employee permits pay for reduced-price fares on Caltrain and VTA buses, just like Stanford does. Let the new money raised from consumers pay for an improved shuttle program for residents that comes every five minutes instead of every hour.

For that matter, housing is an issue because of traffic and the schools. But the city makes it easy to build single-family homes and hard to build apartments for single people. Why not switch them? Encourage developers to build lots of studio apartments downtown, on Cal Ave, and in the Research Park for working couples without kids (which will also reduce traffic), and make it hard to build new single-family homes and huge condos for rich families.

Our city could do a lot better if we stop making the issues worse and think big about how to make them better.


40 people like this
Posted by Just Say No
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 19, 2016 at 11:17 am

Development has to stop at some point. Palo Alto cannot possibly house everyone who wants to live here. Are politicians on the take?

As far as whining about teachers, etc. needing affordable housing, I'd like to see how they determine who gets that housing - that's sure to be discriminatory and cause uproar.


50 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2016 at 11:42 am

Palo Alto is becoming a less desirable city to live in as each year passes. It's too crowded! There is no vacant land for more roads and infrastructure. We can't support continued growth. At some point people will wake up and realize that PA is overrated. Foreign investors are buying much of the housing which is driving up housing prices and will lead to eventual white flight. There are more ghost/vacant houses around town than most people realize. Poor planning by our city leaders has caused this problem.


30 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 19, 2016 at 12:06 pm

One other suggestion:

Stop the plan to dedicate 2 lanes of El Camino to buses. It's not only hugely expensive but it will push additional car traffic onto Alma and Middlefield and any and all residential streets drivers can use as cut-throughs.

Whenever I see a bus, a Palo Alto Shuttle or a Marguerite shuttle, I always try to look through their blacked out windows. What do I see at between 4PM and 5PM?

Lots empty buses during rush hour. Lots of empty buses stopped taking up a lane of traffic in Midtown waiting for non-existent passengers. Lots of buses with their "Not in Service" lights on.


20 people like this
Posted by team up
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 19, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Maybe Palo Alto should team up with surrounding communities to spread the growth, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Redwood City, Sunnyvale...encourage developers to build office buildings there and spread the wealth and traffic. I drove to San Jose yesterday morning for an 8am appt. It took me 15 mins to get there. Getting home (leaving San Jose at 9am)...took me 50 mins. Absurd. And most of the traffic is flowing into Palo Alto.


10 people like this
Posted by Crowded2
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 19, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Team up - have you been to Mountain View recently?


33 people like this
Posted by Eli
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2016 at 1:16 pm

The problem in Palo Alto is simple: over regulation. Adding additional restrictions will only exasperate the issues.

My solution: build vertically downtown and around other walkable areas, like California Ave. Midrise and highrise mixed uae buildings have the advantage of being able to accommodate parking, retail, residential, and commercial simultaneously. Palo Alto needs all of the above.

The advantages are numerous, including creation of jobs, retail, and increasing the housing supply. People who currently commute would have the option to live closer to work, which would reduce; not increase traffic congestion. Tenants could have parking in their buildings with additional parking available for pay.

Fighting progress is a losing battle. Palo Alto will never again be what it was in the past. The smart thing to do is to build a modern city with the most sustainable developments that utilize vertical space. Who wouldn't want a spanning view of the Santa Cruz mountains, Stanford, the bay, peninsula and sf, or silicon valley to look at everyday out of their apartment windows?


12 people like this
Posted by From some place else
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2016 at 1:20 pm

Team up has a valid point. Palo Alto in it's own bubble. Remember the fight over stopping a train that would have saved on commute times for many? That train was argued out of the city and now Palo Alto is struggling to find ways of sorting out the crowded streets again all by them selves. Seriously, your going to try fixing this all by your self?


23 people like this
Posted by SafeRoutesAdvocate
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2016 at 1:25 pm

I have little faith in the current Planning and Transportation Department after recent staff changes. This study points to tremendous challenges.

The current administration has just pushed out a talented team of transportation planners. Administration is alienating the public and does not seem to promote any solution beyond car-centric solutions. The current staff objectives seem to be in alignment with Pro-Growth interests and could care less about how to engineer our streets to be safe for all modes.

When was the last time that City Planning and Transportation Staff Management actually rode a bike around town? Do they actually live in our town? Do they even care about the kids who ride their bikes to school? What agenda is being played out?

This report highlights challenges that need a deep understanding of the region and multi-modal commute options. The current Planning and Transportation Staff have created a significant skill and vision gap that Mr. Keene should address.


4 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 19, 2016 at 2:19 pm

The Mayor recently stated that the public in working for a Comprehensive Plan should actually "plan" and not "dream". This "planning" also has to comply with the law which for housing means meeting its commitment for affordable (stress affordable) something it has not been doing and has been sued to accomplish both within developments and/or with a payment to generate that affordable housing. The City is also required to affect water conservation something it argues it has done yet it keeps approving new development without requiring the use of recycled water. A reality check is needed more than anything or there will be more litigation.


40 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 19, 2016 at 3:15 pm

The pro density advocates want Palo Alto to rival San Francisco as a job, culture and business center. Foreign buyers are very aware of it by now and that's why they will outbid everybody for every available housing unit, existing, or those that might be developed in the future. The pro density crowd pretends that if a person wants to live in Palo Alto, they should, with existing residents giving up their quality of life and chosen life style. A suburban small town, which they consider irrelevant, or in the words of a PAF member now on the TPC, "Anachronistic" is an anathema to them, and as far as they are concerned, Palo Alto has infinite space to absorb all who want to live here.

Our streets and roads are narrow and largely impossible to widen, because they are the infrastructure of a small town, which Palo Alto actually is, but this doesn't bother the pro density crowd either.


14 people like this
Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2016 at 4:28 pm

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

Everyone step back and look at the big picture.

Ultimately, these scenarios are about what we want Palo Alto to become in 2030 and beyond. Over the decades, Palo Alto has historically resisted becoming a large job center, supporting smaller companies who ultimately moved to the large office parks further south in Santa Clara county.

The scenarios in the DEIR assume a massive change - that Palo Alto wants to remain and become even more of a commuter town, driven to focus on supporting a large daytime population of workers and easing transportation to/from the city. Throw in a lot more housing and there are school impacts and local services to address as well.

As part of this process, the Council should at least evaluate an alternative scenario that aims for more of a community and less of a commuting town. Why not evaluate something more radical in the other direction? That means NOT focusing on the daytime population but improving things for the night time population - the residents.

Our employment growth has been overheated. Look at San Jose - they'd love to have more jobs. And they have tons of housing. Let's spread the wealth a bit, and slow the pace of employment growth in Palo Alto. No one that I've heard from is saying "no growth". But the ability to absorb growth is important, so what is the right pace? If we had a scenario that continued the current office cap for the length of the comp plan, city wide and had modest goals for housing, we'd start to shift in an entirely different direction.

The bedroom communities around us have been largely silent - because they aren't employment centers they aren't being asked to change. But this is a regional issue. With Stanford, we will remain attractive to business for a long time. But lets be more picky and rein in the rampant employment growth


15 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2016 at 4:55 pm

It strikes me that the main difference between the "residentialists" and the "pro-growth" factions of Palo Alto is whether you believe it is possible or reasonable to strive for a Palo Alto where you can live and / or work without a car.

As a someone who is pro-growth, I believe that the world is changing, and that the idyllic suburban, car-driven world that used to be seems increasingly untenable. It's inefficient, drives pollution, and is increasingly not the way people want to live. (esp. the younger generations: Web Link) I personally try to bike to work as much as possible, and purposely live in Downtown North because it allows me to do that, and walk to do many of my errands.

For me, changing at least parts of Palo Alto to be denser, and less car driven seems possible and very desirable. It doesn't have to be San Francisco or Manhattan. But not needing a car would be just lovely. There was an interesting article recently in Politico about the success Evanston has had transforming itself in just that way. It's an interesting read. Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 19, 2016 at 5:04 pm

There are so many good comments that I don't know where to begin. First of all, I'll acknowledge that PA today is not the PA of 1961, the year we moved here. And I see so many things happening that are degrading the quality of life we knew back then. But I also know that changes happen, even in the false name of progress. So, I'll stick it out while the current debate and ideas on solutions to our current problems swirl around me.

I offer and support others on ways to increase housing. I've said it on numerous occasions. Raise the height limit and increase density in the most viable areas that make sense to accomodate downtown and Cal Ave workers who are now commuting long distances. Stop office and tech startup growth in downtown PA until the housing catches up. Let further development in the Stanford Research Park happen, but in a rational and regulated way. I'm happy living in SPA, far away from the turmoil and fuss going on about most of the problems in the other part of town. Not bucolic maybe, but definitely suburban, just like it was years ago. After all, I live on land that was cow pastures just 50 years ago. Moo!


18 people like this
Posted by Option 2
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 19, 2016 at 5:12 pm

This one sounds OK IMO: "The second scenario, known as "Growth Slowed" would try to slow down the rate of job growth by moderating the pace of new office and research-and-development construction. While it wouldn't identify any new housing sites, it would include policies to encourage new housing units for seniors and the Palo Alto workforce, according to the DEIR. It would also concentrate the new housing in downtown, along El Camino Real, at the Fry's site close to the California Avenue Business District, and along San Antonio Road."


23 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2016 at 5:53 pm

"For me, changing at least parts of Palo Alto to be denser, and less car driven seems possible and very desirable."

Denser and less car driven are mutually exclusive. This area requires driving to obtain the basic necessities like groceries, canards about transit notwithstanding. With density we get the perfect storm of urban population densities with suburban driving necessities. There is no more reliable recipe for permanent gridlock and huge increases in carbon emissions.


56 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 19, 2016 at 6:41 pm

When the young generation start having children, they will have cars, even if some of them supposedly don't have them now. Good luck on taking your kids to soccer, baseball, basketball practice, ballet, dentist, doctor appointments without a car. Good luck on buying groceries without a car. Good luck on visiting friends up and down the peninsula without a car, going to the beach without one, or going to ski without one. i can't think of a more dishonest claim than: let's just build dense near public transportation and we will to need cars. Watch the dense housing near public transportation in Palo Alto right now, and you will notice that very few residents, if any, are actually using it. The just get in their cars and go, just liike the rest of us.

The worse of all is that the pro growth/density crowd claims that suburbia and small towns are dead and we all must live in a dense urban environment, because, well, they said so.


10 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2016 at 7:10 pm

It's clear, @mauricio and @carmudgeon, that you don't think it's possible that density can mean less car usage. And if you truly believe that, then it's a good reason to think development is bad. That said, you might not be right.

@carmudgeon, you say that "denser and less car driven are mutually exclusive" - but I think that's an opinion, not a fact. I think the article about Evanston I posted shows at least one possible example of how it can work.

@mauricio, yes, I agree that here in the Bay Area, it's unlikely you'd be able to entirely get rid of your car, but you don't have to get rid of your car to reduce the problem. It's all about total trips right? I do drive to work and the grocery, but I often walk to Whole Foods or Willows Market, and bike to work. It does happen, given the right conditions. And that's what we are trying to argue for.


30 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2016 at 7:58 pm

One thing the report does is put the lie to the odd narrative that increasing density will reduce traffic. The study shows the obvious: no matter where you put it, adding jobs and housing increases traffic. Adding more jobs and housing increases traffic more.

You may still feel like we have a moral obligation to densify. You may simply prefer that urban lifestyle but don’t want to move to the City. But maybe this idea that adding density will reduce traffic in Palo Alto can finally go to the recycle bin where it belongs.


31 people like this
Posted by cm
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2016 at 8:44 pm

What is missing from all of the scenarios is the "no growth" scenario. Population growth and the associated pollution, traffic, stress on water needs, overcrowding of schools and decay of infrastructure are a choice. We can chose to "Just say No" and work on a replacement population level, work to be a truly sustainable, ecologically balanced society and set a good example for others. Stop letting massive development ruin this city and the area and the state. Share our no-growth way of life with other areas and work to reverse the unsustainable growth of the past. Fewer people mean fewer cars, less pollution, schools with fewer students who will then be noticed and better educated, and a more welcoming less stressful environment. Life really was better before all the giant building, the massive traffic back ups and the crowds of people.


7 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2016 at 8:54 pm

@cm

Really? Giant buildings and massive development driving population growth? I though we all learned in sex ed what causes it...


15 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2016 at 9:17 pm

"@carmudgeon, you say that "denser and less car driven are mutually exclusive" - but I think that's an opinion, not a fact."

Look around you, right here. More people = more cars.

We are not Manhattan here. We are not even San Francisco. You will need to purchase a critical mass of real estate--like all of Palo Alto--clearcut it, then rebuild as a real city and pray it works. Good luck.

"I think the article about Evanston I posted shows at least one possible example of how it can work."

Social engineering has left an unbroken string of failures behind it. People are worse than cats at doing what they want to do instead of hewing to the decrees of salon utopianists. Ask Karl Marx.


4 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 20, 2016 at 12:26 am

@carmudgeon, your assertion that "more people = more cars" is often true, but not always. To assert, as you do, that behavior does not respond to policy, and that any attempt to try is social engineering is also not true.

If you are right, we might as well give up and surrender to global warming, water shortage, and every other problem we need to deal with, because it's just hopeless.


29 people like this
Posted by It Never Ends
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2016 at 12:56 am

It Never Ends is a registered user.

Business is business!
And business must grow
regardless of any consequences, you know.

I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.

I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads

I went right on biggering...selling more office towers.
And I biggered my money, and bought political powers.

I yelled at the NIMBYs, Now listen here, Dad!
All you do is yap-yap and say, Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!

Well, I have my rights, sir, and I'm telling you
I intend to go on doing just what I do!

And, for your information, you obstructionists, I'm figgering

on biggering
and BIGGERING
and BIGGERING
and BIGGERING,

turning MORE open space into office spires
which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE desires!

Courtesty of Dr. Suess but modified for our latest generation of Once-lers....


21 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 20, 2016 at 6:50 am

The Bay area is massively overpopulated and polluted. Its unique geography and fragile eco system practically guarantee that with pending global warming consequences we will suffer catastrophic consequences if we don't put a stop to overpopulating this area. I find talk of adding more housing to Palo Alto analogous to speaking about the next cocktail party on the Titanic deck while the glaciers are looming across the bows. Palo Alto cannot sustain any more population growth. Nor can or should the Bay area. The talk should be about spreading the wealth to other areas that desperately need it and by doing so decrease the population.


4 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2016 at 9:54 am

mauricio, as a member of that growing population I'm terribly sorry that my existence and subsequent need to live somewhere is so detrimental. Unfortunately neither myself, nor most other people, had much of a say when it came to being born. Just as a side note though, believe it or not, those "other places" have plenty of people just as angry about growth as yourself so the idea that they accept newcomers with open arms (and particularly Bay Area transplants) is quite a bit off the mark.


26 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 20, 2016 at 10:42 am

Robert, I know that as a millennial, you can't except that not everything is about you. I was talking mostly about the appetite of the pro growth lobby to keep adding people to Palo Alto, and the Bay area, as if space was unlimited and there were no environmental and societal consequences.

In my case, I had replace a family that was moving out of the area. The house wasn't going to be razed and turned into an orchard or strawberry field, so I just turned it into an environmentally sound home. The house already existed. No new development was needed for me to move in and I didn't demand more density or more height. Adding new housing is just a monumental mistake and will have catastrophic consequences vis-a-vis this area's environment, air quality, traffic and quality of life. The solution is to have existing companies move some of their operations to areas that need an economic shot in the arm, there are plenty of such areas around the state and country, some of them in near depression, and for new companies to move into those areas instead of trying to squeeze into one of the most dense and expensive real estate markets in the nation. Those areas will welcome such economic development. Those areas also have much more available and less expensive housing, a win-win for everybody. The knowledge industry is based on lines of code, it can be located just about anywhere, it's not the auto or coal industries. I have yet to hear one member of the pro growth&density crowd admit that Palo Alto/Bay area space is finite and endlessly squeezing in more people can have major consequences.

I don't remember if it was you or another young person posting on TS, and they admitted that the reason they insisted on living only in Palo Alto was because it was cool and had lots of beautiful women. These are just not good enough reasons to allow the ruining of this town.


12 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2016 at 11:06 am

"For instance, if a place goes from a system in which 800 people get around by cars, 100 by bikes and 100 by walking to one in which 500 use cars, 300 use bikes and 200 walk, that's "kind of a win," Uang said, even if the traffic conditions for the drivers worsen somewhat.

"The level of service will probably go down for the car, it might go up for bikes and up for pedestrians, but overall I think it's a system positive," she said." <<<<< I vehemently disagree. This kind of thinking by people with money & power is the source of the problem.

How can you ignore that the majority of motorists have to commute to work, and can't ride their bicycles down the freeway??

I conclude that the Transportation Management Association and PA Forward folks are basically spoiled. They don't understand that time is a resource and that people need to get to work with urgency, moreso than a retired cyclist going on a leisure ride.

Cyclists and bus riders fit into one category, solo drivers into another. You can't convert the latter into the former. Why do they spend millions of dollars while ignoring this glaring logical error.

The solution IMO is to get all these committees out of the way and let innovation in an unfettered free market solve the problem. We need to make use of vertical space. Money should be spent on flying car research instead of "encouraging" a Palo Altan to ride the crummy shuttle instead of his Tesla. Not gonna happen.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2016 at 5:17 pm

mauricio I understand you're not refering to me specifically, but you can't just wave your hands and say "others" are causing population to grow, as if there's some nebulous group of non-people. I know you think you have some kind of authority to chastise others because you yourself never had children, but I'm sure you know people who do, and you can't fault them for wanting to live somewhere (and not always upon graduating moving to one of those places that needs "an economic shot in the arm" hoping that some company from the re-locates there to give them a job)


8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 20, 2016 at 7:23 pm

"Cyclists and bus riders fit into one category, solo drivers into another. You can't convert the latter into the former. Why do they spend millions of dollars while ignoring this glaring logical error."

Because ignoring the logic enables imagining the desired scenario: that more development will not bring more car traffic.

If you can fool enough of the people all of the time, or fool enough of the people enough of the time, or just find enough people eager to be fooled, you can slide practically anything through the process.


1 person likes this
Posted by To @Paul
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2016 at 9:31 pm

Thanks, @Paul, for the great article about Evanston, home of Northwestern University. It's a great place, as is the nearby great city of Chicago. Love the transit and walking there!


13 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 21, 2016 at 6:26 am

Robert, I do have children who were born at Stanford hospital and graduated from the PAUSD, and I had lived in very crummy places for many years while saving up to buy a home in a town like Palo Alto, because I wanted to live in a quite suburban place with very high livability, away from dense urban life, excessive traffic, noise and pollution. At no point, while I was saving every penny for many years, did I ask the residents and politicians of Palo Alto to change the character of their town, densify, relax height regulation or to subsidize me in order to make it easier and more affordable for me to buy a home here.


16 people like this
Posted by Eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 21, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Robert, I agree with Mauricio. My husband and I bought our first house in East Palo Alto when we had two small
children and It was not the safe place it is today! We could not afford Palo Alto prices even in late 1980. We scrimped and saved for five years and finally bought a house in College Terrace. We were in our mid thirties when we bought our first home. There are many residents living here who have similar stories and did not have a pile of cash in order to by their house. You can blame some of the inflated housing prices on investors who buy up homes as bank accounts. That will not change even if you build more housing. The new housing is NEVER affordable for the average worker. Those new units will be at market rates and will encourage even more outside investors! Don't expect affordable housing in Palo Alto. The developers do not want it!


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Posted by Eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 21, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Robert, I agree with Mauricio. My husband and I bought our first house in East Palo Alto when we had two small
children and It was not the safe place it is today! We could not afford Palo Alto prices even in late 1980. We scrimped and saved for five years and finally bought a house in College Terrace. We were in our mid thirties when we bought our first home. There are many residents living here who have similar stories and did not have a pile of cash in order to by their house. You can blame some of the inflated housing prices on investors who buy up homes as bank accounts. That will not change even if you build more housing. The new housing is NEVER affordable for the average worker. Those new units will be at market rates and will encourage even more outside investors! Don't expect affordable housing in Palo Alto. The developers do not want it!


5 people like this
Posted by Aleks
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 21, 2016 at 8:57 pm

Are these 4 plans for how things are going to get worse for Palo Alto really the best Bay Area can do? We pride ourselves on changing the world for the better. But too much traffic and too little housing in our backyard is an intractable problem? No one can even imagine a future that is better, not worse? Whomever commissioned the 5th option, thank you...

What I'd love to see is for someone to come up with a coherent strategy of how would Bay Area in 2030 be better: less traffic, and more affordable housing for the residents. If it can't happen in 2030, then 2040. Think outside of the box, break things that need to be broken, come up with something that we could fight for. Could self-driving cars help? Major rezoning? Anything?

I feel that Bay Area 2040 traffic will look like Bangkok if we go on like this. I've lived here for 22 years, and feel like frog in a 140F water. (I know, drought's making me cranky).


2 people like this
Posted by UFixIt4Me
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2016 at 10:26 pm

"What I'd love to see is for someone to come up with a coherent strategy ..."

Everybody wants someone else to solve the problem, so nothing ever gets done, so the problem evolves on its own course, thus it just gets worse.

If not you, who? If not now, when?


4 people like this
Posted by Aleks
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 21, 2016 at 10:54 pm

Re: @UFixIt4Me

> If not you, who?

Not me for sure, someone who is better than me at urban planning. I have very limited grasp of larger Bay Area issues, and I read a lot about it. But there are people more knowledgeable than I. For example, our council is talking about this right now, and paying for feasibility studies.

> If not now, when?"

I agree with you that now is the time.

My ideas that are probably not feasible:
- bind jobs and hosing, until balance is achieved. Every new job created should create another housing unit within 4? miles of the office. Let the market work out how this happens, credits market, etc.
- would love to see serious commitment to non-car transportation. Love what Boulder has been doing, they feel decades ahead of where we are.


12 people like this
Posted by A_Sucker_Born_Every_Day
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2016 at 1:09 pm

More bad news about the micro apartment experiment.

The rent prices per square foot at the first new-built micro apartments in Manhattan are now almost double the rates of full apartments even in the the nicest neighborhoods (the West Village).

"In New York City’s Kips Bay, a development called Carmel Place opened in November offering 55 studio units renting between $2,540 and $2,750 per month. In a neighborhood where studios can go for as high as $4,000 per month, that can seem like a bargain.

Except the units at Carmel Place are smaller than 400 square feet, the minimum size allowed by New York City regulations since 1987. Some apartments there are just 265 square feet.

The developers of Carmel Place received a waiver allowing these apartments, which were prefabricated in Brooklyn and trucked to Manhattan, to be built."

The developers love these things because they get special building waivers and the ROI is double a regular project. All they need to do is find renters willing to pay twice the price per square foot for an apartment half as big. Then they can pass on the external costs to the community as they laugh all the way to the bank.

Don't fall for the argument that increasing building height or adding density will make housing more affordable. Real data is confirming that strategy won't work.

Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 22, 2016 at 2:55 pm

ASBED puts it succinctly:

"Don't fall for the argument that increasing building height or adding density will make housing more affordable."

Because:

"The developers love these things because they get special building waivers and the ROI is double a regular project. All they need to do is find renters willing to pay twice the price per square foot for an apartment half as big. Then they can pass on the external costs to the community as they laugh all the way to the bank."

That's why our Palo Alto Forward gang is pushing us to raise the building height limit. But would they build housing? Or yet more offices?


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

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