Palo Alto struggles to keep up with job growth

City Council requests an exploration of new 'sustainability' policies that would curb the traffic, parking impacts of economic boom

The problems are clear: too many jobs, too much traffic and a housing shortage that is pushing long-time residents out of Palo Alto and allowing only the wealthiest in.

The solutions, however, remained hazy Monday night, despite years of analysis by planning staff and consultants and about four hours of deliberation by the City Council.

The city's recent analysis of four possible growth scenarios (one that would continue all current polices; another that would aim to limit growth; a third that would encourage more housing; and a fourth that would focus on sustainability policies) showed that all of these paths lead to the same place: a city that in 2030 will have three jobs for every employed resident.

Though the city could try to alleviate the congestion by promoting transit and other modes of transportation, improving the city's shuttle network and encouraging more housing for workers, the Draft Environmental Impact Report that the city released earlier this month suggests that significantly lowering the city's jobs-housing imbalance would be a difficult, if not impossible, task.

Faced with this predicament, the City Council on Monday night added a new wrinkle to the ongoing update of the city's land-use bible, the Comprehensive Plan, when it directed staff to consider a fifth scenario. The new scenario would focus on improving the city's "quality of life" by limiting job growth and adopting policies geared toward reducing traffic, parking shortages and greenhouse gas emissions. In the months ahead, it will be up to planning staff to determine what exactly these policies will be and to analyze their potential effects.

The council reached its decision to add another scenario to the Comprehensive Plan after hearing from nearly two dozen residents. Some complained about the city's worsening housing crisis, while others lamented the rapid pace of growth.

Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said the number of jobs in the city jumped from about 78,765 in 2000 to 95,460 in 2014. Current data shows that in the past four years alone, the number of jobs spiked by 10,000 even as housing production has remained fairly flat. Today, the city's ratio of jobs to employed residents is 3.06 to 1, well above the Santa Clara County and Bay Area ratios of roughly 1 to 1.

"We all understand and just feel that job growth in the region since the end of Great Recession has been pretty amazing," Gitelman said. "The booming economy has led to a pace of job growth that none of us has seen in many years and we just feel it as an important issue that must be addressed."

The influx of jobs has stoked local anxieties, with several residents complaining on Monday about the city's deteriorating quality of life and urging the council to put the brakes on office development.

Resident Jeff Levinsky asked the council to adopt stringent requirements for new office developments, including mandates that they reduce traffic, parking congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

Palo Alto, he said, has become a city of "growthaholics" who have been in denial about how growth is ruining the city.

"We're so addicted to growth that we can't see how it's robbing us of what has made Palo Alto great," Levinsky said

For other residents, housing was by far the bigger concern. Jessica Clark, a day care provider who grew up in Palo Alto, said the lack of housing options has "forced (her) family into crisis." Last month, she said, the monthly rent for her three-bedroom apartment went up by 20 percent, or almost $1,000. Though she was able to reach a short-term compromise with her landlord, Clark said that "realistically, there's no place for us to go when time runs out."

Moving elsewhere, she said, would mean leaving a place where she and her husband grew up and where her parents, siblings and 100-year-old grandmother all live. Other local employees, including teachers, health professionals and firefighters, are likewise getting pushed out of the community by the rising housing prices, she said.

"The city is sending us a message that says we do not value what we do for the community," Clark said.

Molly Cornfield, who grew up in Palo Alto and just returned to the city, said she now has no options for having a place of her own in the city. Cornfield, 25, said she and her husband now live with her parents, which she acknowledged "is not very fun."

"I know there are a lot of people like me who are young and want to live in Palo Alto and even work here," Cornfield said.

The council generally agreed that the four scenarios in the existing Draft Environmental Impact Report don't come close to solving the housing and traffic problems. Much of the discussion focused on a fifth scenario, which would go further than the other four in addressing these issues. Exactly how this would be done remains to be determined, though the council signaled that a big part of the solution is limiting job growth.

Specifically, the council asked staff to consider ways to regulate employment so that job growth would be even lower than under the Draft Environmental Impact Report's slowest-growth scenario.

Councilwoman Karen Holman suggested exploring new limits on office development, an idea that her colleagues approved by a 5-4 vote, with Councilmen Marc Berman, Eric Filseth and Cory Wolbach and Vice Mayor Greg Scharff dissenting.

The council was more united on the broader proposal, voting 8-1 (with Councilman Greg Schmid dissenting) to direct staff to come up with new sustainability measures that would further reduce the impacts of growth, including traffic, noise and greenhouse gas emissions. Planning staff was also asked to come up with mitigation measures that would "improve quality of life in Palo Alto."

The broader motion was crafted by Vice Mayor Greg Scharff with assistance from Councilman Tom DuBois, who urged staff to consider ways to lower employee density in existing developments and to come up with a regulatory mechanism that could kick in if mitigations don't prove as effective as hoped. At the same time, if the mitigations work better than anticipated, the city could consider loosening the restrictions on housing construction.

Berman, a proponent of housing development, said Monday that the housing crunch is costing the city its diversity. The problem, he said, "is getting worse and worse."

"What mechanisms do we use to evaluate the value of having some amount of socioeconomic diversity in (our city)?" Berman asked. "I don't know how to quantify it, but I know we're losing it. And we hear it from people time and time again."

The council has already taken some baby steps toward encouraging new housing units, particularly small apartments and studios for employees and seniors. One initiative currently in the works is a revision of the city's rules for accessory-dwelling units (also known as "granny" units), with the goal of encouraging more such units. Other proposals included in the Draft Environmental Impact Report include the relaxation of the 50-foot height limit (to allow 55 or 60 feet) for housing developments in transit-rich areas, and encouraging more mixed-use developments along El Camino Real near Stanford Shopping Center and Stanford Research Park.

On Monday, the council showed little appetite for dramatically enhancing the city's housing supply. Instead, much of the focus was on reducing the impacts of growth. Mirroring the comments of several of the speakers who addressed the council earlier in the evening, Scharff argued that the concern shouldn't be the jobs-housing imbalance per se, but rather the visible effects of the imbalance.

"We're not against jobs here. We're not against people moving here. We're against traffic, congestion and the impacts these things cause," Scharff said. "The fifth scenario in the Draft Environmental Impact Report should create a "positive quality of life in Palo Alto."

The scenarios are all being evaluated as part of an effort by Palo Alto officials to create a new land-use vision that would guide growth until 2030. The council was largely sympathetic with the speakers who lobbied for more housing, though some members also acknowledged that given the rapid pace of job growth, it would be all but impossible for housing construction to keep pace.

"Really, the biggest problem is that we've far outpaced the housing with the job growth," Mayor Pat Burt said. "Trying to have the housing keep up with really fast job growth is really like a dog trying to chase its own tail -- it really doesn't work."

His colleagues generally agreed that slowing the pace of growth, rather than ramping up construction, would be a better strategy.

Filseth said he supports a slow-growth scenario, framing it as a choice between having Palo Alto be a moderately-dense suburb with great schools and a regional job center.

"This is one of the most fundamental and important decisions we've had to make as a council," Filseth said.

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51 people like this
Posted by Council watcher
a resident of University South
on Feb 23, 2016 at 8:13 am

Council to residents: "We hear you want us to allow more housing so you can stay here and maybe your kids can live here when you are old. But we don't care."

We need a new City Council that listens to all the residents, not just PASZ!

83 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2016 at 8:26 am

How is it that residents have been asking Council to prioritize housing month after month, meeting after meeting, and yet Council continues to have blinders on and not truly think about how to add it in a creative way that would ease our jobs/housing ratio? Adding housing gets to the root of not building enough housing over the past couple of decades and can be done in ways that doesn't dramatically impact our school enrollment and minimizes traffic impacts. What we've been doing for 30+ years has created impacts we don't like. Why keep the same trajectory?

For all Council's chanting about the jobs/housing ratio in previous meetings, now they say it isn't the ratio they care about and aren't even willing to look at it in earnest. The lack of concern for helping the community with housing solutions in their motion demonstrates this. They're delusional to think that slowing job growth will reduce the traffic we already have and saying that is a precondition to looking at housing creation is an insult to everyone struggling with housing stability no matter what the income. It basically prioritizes the interests of only one group of homeowners the lucky old or the independently wealthy.

42 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 8:31 am

Seeing the light: Too many jobs bringing too much pollution and traffic.
It's as if we have a major sporting event here every weekday.
Our city is a stadium?

37 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2016 at 8:31 am

Re: Jobs to housing ratio

Do all these supposed experts not understand basic math? If you allow companies to pack 10 people in a 150 sqft conference room (just walk down university and look into the windows) how do you ever think there will be enough housing in Palo Alto?

If you build an office building that accommodates 500 employees (the new survey monkey building) then you better be prepared to match it with a similar size building for housing. Welcome to SRO.

Otherwise this is all talk, chest beating and nothing productive will happen.

You want a jobs to housing ratio of close to 1:1, then you better approve a LOT of high density apartment buildings this year and get them fast tracked. No delays. No residents protesting. And not all in South Palo Alto.

Let's start bulldozing some homes along University and Embarcadero and start putting up some high rise apartments.


35 people like this
Posted by Council watcher
a resident of University South
on Feb 23, 2016 at 8:35 am

Resident - exactly. Cutting job growth to zero won't decrease traffic. It's a strategy of inaction that will leave today's terrible traffic levels in place. And that means that the idea of opening to housing "if the litigations work better than expected" is an ironclad promise not to build housing.

We need a Council that cares about what residents care about.

We need a Council that fights traffic, not one that sits there and brags about "slowing growth". It's not hard - put tough requirements on companies to reduce car use among their employees and you are there. Stanford did it - why can't we?

We need a Council that allows housing. Palo Alto is turning into a terrible place to raise kids. Our elementary school enrollment is declining, and no wonder - young families can't afford to raise kids here! If we can't get back to the level of affordability we had just five years ago, Palo Alto is going to be a city of ghost homes and ghost schools.

City Council - you had a chance to change that fate. You had the chance to bring our city back to what it was just five years ago, before traffic got terrible and housing prices doubled - a thriving, vibrant city that is a great place to raise kids. You blew it.

35 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2016 at 8:35 am

@Resident How would you add a sizable amount of new housing and NOT "...dramatically impact our school enrollment and minimizes traffic impacts..."

What "creative and new" way do you have to add housing that doesn't have impacts?


42 people like this
Posted by No to pasz
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2016 at 8:38 am

I agree with council watcher. We need a council that is not in the pocket of PASZ. All we seem to hear from them are gross over exaggerations and the desire to ignore any sensible call for housing

35 people like this
Posted by Lydia Kou
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 8:40 am

Can City Hall be bold?

- put a moratorium on office space development and enforce the code where offices have been operating illegally. If you simply cannot bring yourself to place a moratorium on office space development, then at least, expand the office space cap to become citywide. Not doing so will move the problems to other parts of Palo Alto that is not within the cap areas.

- encourage for housing development which follows municipal codes and a focus on those who needs it most, such as for those as mentioned by Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning Web Link

Perhaps then, City Hall can actually act on real mitigation or rather, correction and resolve the "quality of life" issues we are faced with as a City.

46 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2016 at 8:54 am

The real problem I see here is that our infrastructure cannot keep up with growth.

Our roads cannot cope with traffic, we cannot cope with parking, we cannot cope with retail and other service support for the resident and workers, we cannot cope with even as something as vital (but ignored) as recreation.

Of course we cannot cope with school enrollment either, but the City and the school District don't talk to each other let alone help each other out.

Then there is the invisible infrastructure, water, sewage, trash removal, power supply, broadband systems, etc.

We can't keep squeezing more people, residents or workers, into this town and expect the infrastructure to absorb it. Quality of life issues have to be taken into account. It is impossible to live 24/7 in Palo Alto, we all have to get out of town for so much of our lives just to exist. From shopping, movies, etc. they just don't exist in town. We can't look at our parks as being the only thing to do on our days off!

42 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2016 at 9:18 am

Council Watcher @ University South - Stanford put in place a "no net trips" by making parking expensive, and a free bus shuttle system. By making parking expensive, Stanford employees ended up parking in the Palo Alto neighborhoods and walking/biking to Stanford - so Stanford "did it" by moving the problem elsewhere.

As office rents went higher, companies packed more and more employees in the same amount of space, so even though the percentage of employees who use mass transit went up, the traffic still increased.

The US Census bureau estimates that the population of Palo Alto grew from approximately 56,000 to 66,000 in the last 10 years, which is about an 18% increase. I think everyone would agree that the growth in population and jobs has made traffic and quality of life worse. Continuing to grow housing to catch up with jobs is a losing strategy to solve quality of life issues, especially as previous city councils have approved more and more office development.

And when posters comment on diversity, they fail to mention the BMR program, which has over 1000 housing units.

Palo Alto housing prices are high because of the quality of life, schools and location. High density housing development will not solve the high housing prices - it will just lower the quality of life. Redwood City attempted this with their rezoning and approval of building over 2,200 apartment units around their downtown area. What happened is that all the units being built are luxury apartment units with very high prices, and it is gentrifying their downtown area, and raising the prices of the older rental stock. Here are links the Redwood City apartment developments so far:

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

The superficial economists predicted increasing supply would lower prices; instead it raised prices, because the supply that was created weren't the same 60 - 80 year old rental stock; instead they were new luxury apartments. High density housing development is a very financial capital intensive business, and investors want a return on their investment. The cost of building a class "A" luxury apartment complex versus a class "B" or "C" apartment complex is about 10 - 20%, but the return on investment is a world of difference.

46 people like this
Posted by Where can we build New old Pal Alto? I will move
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 9:36 am

@Council Watcher,
You have some good points, except for the out-of-touch idea that decreasing elementary enrollment has anything to do with Palo Alto "becoming" unaffordable. Palo Alto has always been totally unaffordable in all the decades I have lived in the Bay Area. The schools and the community had such a great reputation, that's why people did whatever it took to buy in here. That almost never happened as a result of young families affording it, it's people finding a way: buying elsewhere and moving up over time, living in substandard conditions most people complaining today would never consider, foregoing virtually all niceties in life like travel, etc, or most likely, all of the above.

People wanted to move here because it was nice for families. Palo Alto USED TO be the easiest City to get around on the Peninsula, with a charming feel and lots of great shops, and places for families to go, easily. That is the reason I heard a lot in the past for why people were willing to sacrifice to lipve here, after the schools. It USED TO be nothing to pop downtown for food, shopping, activities like music, community events, dining, library, looking in at the police station or history museum (and other things little kids find fascinating) but the traffic just isn't worth it anymore. If Palo Alto is becoming anything, it is a place that serves office buildings and not existing (much maligned) residents. Who will, by the way, be left holding the bag during the next downturn when the office parks become ghost towns again for the duration.

The much maligning of residents is another problem. The schools have had a long string of students taking their lives. That alone is enough to make parents not want to sacrifice to come here. Then there is the blaming of parents that came from the crisis instead of taking a hard look at how our schools are run and why it's so hard to acknowledge and change unhealthy practices coming from above. Palo Alto was once the place where you could find community with other smart nice parents. IMO you still can, but you would never know that because of all the press blaming parents for everything. Who would want to move into a community like that? I have never personally met that tiger-striped parent monster being portrayed as roaming the streets here ready to destroy all in its path on the way to Stanford admission, but if you read the conversations online, you would expect that everywhere. Once this area is tarred with such a reputation, who would want to make the kinds of sacrifices most parents have traditionally had to make to move here for the schools? Once a reputation like that becomes solidified, there will be a tipping point and a slippery slope. Bye bye to the place where IMO the wonderful loving intelligent parent community was a haven. When you think if moving sonewhere voluntarily, first and foremost most people with kids want to find a goid community. Palo Alto has become a place where piling in office buildings and associated traffic, noise, loss of community feel and spaces, etc, have all changed that.

The spectre if Hong Kong us often brought up, and rightdully so I think, because proponents of more housing keep treating Palo Alto like an island. In a very desirable part of the world, you cannot build your way to affordability. But you can build to exclude families. Look at Hong Kong. The city proper pretty much became a high rise office park, with Kowloon becoming the place to live (but only in very small, very expensive, crowded places, no grass, tree, sky, etc) the US by contrast is a vast place and in many places becoming dilapidated and 3rd world like - it makes no sense to build up and ruin one of the nicest places on the west coast so that a few already rich people can make even more short term profits, but that is what he are allowing.

The schools were regarded as second to none - and what the smart techies in my parent groups were looking for was fostering smart kds, creativity, play, freedom and independence, collaborations, forward thinking, not test scores, as is often blamed. But when they are second to none in suicide and stress, plus administrator salaries and cost burden, who is going to want to commit to sacrificing for that? Again, the tipping point could come suddenly, especially if the town and district continue doing all the same stuff but expecting a different outcome, and there are more suicides and high levels of depression. People seem to have forgotten how much was done after the first cluster. And how frenzied the blame of factors that (at least from the perspective of an observant parent with parenting groups in those surrounding areas) were as prevalent or more prevalent in surrounding communities without such suicide levels. Who would want to take the chance to come here? The ultrarich overseas buyer leaving a ghost house is not going to contribute to the community like a family sacrificing to put dien roots here because of the great community and schools.

15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2016 at 9:36 am

@Marc If we prioritize making it easier to build naturally smaller units like studios, ADUs, micro units, these appeal to people who are single and choose not to drive. There is definitely a market for this and recent car lite projects in the bay area show this. I don't have statistics on millennials who don't want to own a car at my fingertips but the number of drivers licenses nationally is at a record low - declining in all age groups in fact.

I will point to Seattle where they are implementing progressive ideas about parking minimums and in general are seeing tangible success in lowering the host of housing from the result of adding to their supply. Same with D.C.
Web Link

And specifically on the school piece here in Palo Alto, there is a great informative blog piece here that Eric Rosenblum wrote about the connection between housing strategy & school enrollment which debunks a lot of the usual myths. Web Link

His conclusion: "If we care about our schools, we should be clamoring for more apartments of the right size in transit corridors. They help our schools’ budget while adding fewer kids into the system (with the side benefit of creating relatively fewer traffic and parking problems)."

40 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2016 at 10:20 am

It appears to me that only a small vocal group with time to go and attend council meetings is persistently asking the council to allow an explosion of housing building relative to historical norms. These are folks who want to live in a different type of town than the one that many residents moved here for. This is a cultural clash and we can't let them fool residents/council members into believing that you can shoe-horn a lot more people in without increasing cost of living (higher taxes to support required infrastructure upgrades) and lower quality of life with everything getting more crowded. The last council election, where residents' voting clearly slanted more towards slow growth candidates would seem to be a better indicator of what "residents" want. I agree with the pro-growth crowd in the long game you can't win, everything will degrade over time, but doesn't mean that we should just capitulate. Like a frog in a boiling pot, the temperature needs to go up slowly.

7 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2016 at 10:22 am

@Resident. Referring to Seattle is the same mistake everyone else makes. Taking something out of context.

Big cities are big cities. High density, lots of public transit. Lots on mix of business/commercial/residential. Saying something works on Seattle/Chicago/Portland and whining that it should work here, ignores the fact that Palo Alto is NOT Seattle.

Since we moved here in 1990 the city has made a big effort to make sure to kill off any commercial use within the city. They have tried to make it a totally residential community with a few pockets of business. Just take a look at midtown over the last 30 years. And I am not just talking about the Middlefield/Colorado area.

Now suddenly saying that we want walkable communities won't work when every time someone wants to build a commercial business all the neighbors say NIMBY

Palo Alto is NOT ever going to be a walkable community.


19 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 23, 2016 at 10:25 am

The problem is not "too many jobs". The problem is that most of these companies prefer to hire outsiders instead of local residents. If the jobs went to local residents, then there would be no housing and traffic crush to support the outside workers.

Why are these new companies not hiring locals first? I know there are a lot of Palo Alto residents who would be interested in working at these tech companies. Many attended quality colleges like Stanford. Maybe they are a little older and more experienced than the typical startup worker, but should that disqualify them?

Are these companies hiring outsiders because their wages tend to be cheaper, then expect city taxpayers to subsidize the infrastructure (streets, parking, schools, etc) to support these outside workers? Hiring locals first is a more sustainable solution for the long term.

42 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2016 at 10:46 am

Building smaller units for twenty-somthings is not a solution, because twenty-somthings don't remain single for long. In just a few years they are going to need room 2-4 people.

There is a very basic problem with office space that is impossible to over come. A typical office-space worker that uses 50 sqft of office space, needs about 500 sqft of living space (1:10 ratio). If/when they have an S.O., spouse and/or children, they need even more living space (1:30 ratio?).

You cannot build your way of of this problem. The concept is anathema to Palo Altos powerful real-estate development lobby, but we need to figure out what it means, and how to, un-build.

20 people like this
Posted by Council in the pocket of PASZ
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2016 at 10:47 am

It's very clear that the Council is in the pocket of PASZ when it has spent a year studying four options that do nothing to change the jobs-housing imbalance and then outright refuses to even CONSIDER an option that would actually help correct that ratio. None of the 4 scenarios added more housing than jobs - not even the so-called "housing" option cited above (which doesn't rezone anything or change height limits). Why are they doing that? What would be the harm in just studying what that would look like?

Because for PASZ none of this has ever really been about impacts. They don't want a DEIR that says what everyone has been telling them all along: the only way for people to create less traffic is for them to live here and be able to walk and bike to where they need to go, instead of driving. Even if an option that righted the jobs-housing imbalance improved both affordability AND mobility for city residents by adding high-density housing near traffic and we made serious investments in public transportation (like streetcars or buses that come every 10 minutes throughout the whole city) PASZ would still be uninterested. It's never been about affordability or traffic or parking for them. What it's about is preserving a way of life back from the 60s that involves the "freedom" of getting in your car and driving everywhere you want. It's also the freedom from having to look at things they associate with poor people - like apartment buildings and buses. And they will fight for that life even if what that really means is "we get to keep our cars and drive everywhere and to do that, we'll gut this city of jobs and housing for everyone else. We will preserve our largesse at the expense of our children" - like Mr. Buchanan who's apparently just fine with the fact that 3 of his kids live nowhere near him.

Don't believe me?

Here's what PASZ called for in their newsletter:

"PASZ calls on the city council to develop a fifth scenario that IMPROVES the traffic and pollution problems as a precondition for providing slow housing growth for specific categories of people. Mitigation of traffic and pollution must be quantified and meet a set goal PRIOR to proceeding with a slow housing development that prioritizes housing for those whose presence would provide diversity for an economy that serves all residents."

And shockingly, that's EXACTLY what the Council voted for even though masses of people have time and time again called for more housing and see housing as a solution to our traffic problems, not something that can be addressed in a vacuum apart from traffic. The traffic is all those people who don't live near here, driving in!!

41 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 23, 2016 at 10:53 am

I have always used the analogy of eating lobster when thinking about job growth. Lobster intially tastes good, although it's so loaded with cholesterol that even eating one begins to clog up the arteries and put pressure on the heart. Eating a few in one sitting or eating lobster regularly will definitely create serious cardiac risks. The reality is that Palo Alto is now totally clogged up by excessive job growth, in what is essentially a small town. There is no room for more people, more companies, more traffic. Our arteries simply can't contain them. More growth will just implode this town at some point, just like blood vessels that rupture during a stroke. What PAF and other development lobbies demand is deadly to Palo Alto and should be rejected out of hand.

21 people like this
Posted by morality
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2016 at 11:44 am

We should seriously question the morality of mostly wealthy, retired, homeowners urging the Council to kill the jobs of the young merely for their convenience. Are people really saying with a straight face that the jobs, livelihoods, and families of working people are less important, and in fact, expendable, as compared to the convenience of having no traffic at rush hour?

39 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2016 at 11:48 am

The vast majority of employees do not live near where they work, and a majority of employees will end up changing employers many times in their career. Many places of employment are not near mass transit. Adding housing to achieve a housing: jobs balance will translate into more traffic, as people who move into the new housing will be commuting out of the city.

41 people like this
Posted by Richard Hall
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Very interested to learn from Palo Alto as we watch from here in Marin. What we are seeing is an insatiable pressure to grow, and to grow fast - as this is seen as the only solution by developers (how convenient), builders, affordable housing advocates and companies seeking more access to labor that is not prohibitively expensive.

The issue we're seeing is that residents are left behind by special interests advocating growth. These special interests have the ear of some elected officials (thanks to campaign contributions and disproportionate access) and also the highly influential ABAG and MTC have laid out the red carpet at great extent in a major summit held in Oakland on Saturday that I report on here (warning - will make residents' hair stand on end):

Web Link

Residents simply want to preserve a quality of life - without traffic congestion, parking issues, droughts/water fines - so that they can enjoy the properties that they have strived hard to afford and maintain.

There has to come a point where residents are able to say "stop". Where Gecko said "greed is good" in the 1980s today the mantra is "growth is good". If we stopped growing Palo Alto or Marin... would it really be the end of the world?

Conversely will building affordable housing really be the solution? I learned on Saturday from ABAG's Deputy Director that any affordable housing must be publicized to applicants across the entire region. No preference can be given to existing Palo Alto workers or residents - so likely the new residents will EXTEND their commutes and add to congestion.

14 people like this
Posted by Hard core development
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 23, 2016 at 12:28 pm

> Councilwoman Karen Holman suggested exploring new limits on office development, an idea that her colleagues approved by a 5-4 vote, with Councilmen Marc Berman, Eric Filseth and Cory Wolbach and Vice Mayor Greg Scharff dissenting. <
The hard core development vote, Berman, Wolbach, Sharff.
What is Filseth doing in such bad company?

26 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2016 at 12:52 pm

If Palo Alto won't stop job growth then it will have to deal with population growth, either via pressure to build housing, or inbound commuting. There is literally no way around that.

14 people like this
Posted by OpenRoad
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2016 at 12:59 pm

There are no easy answers to the challenges that face Palo Alto and other Peninsula communities. The city CANNOT be everything to everybody. It simply will not work. Given the varying values and opinions noted by community residents, the development of a plan with a definitive direction and goal will not be easy. Sticking to it will be even harder.

The evolution of Palo Alto continues on. I think the City needs to be honest with residents. While all things are possible, only certain options are realistic given the current status of the City. Time for leadership to belly up to the bar and say so.

54 people like this
Posted by Morality redivivus
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2016 at 1:14 pm

We should seriously question the morality of both property developers and new arrivals who display a novel sense of entitlement to live wherever they want to and to change the town to suit their convenience, urging Council to kill the existing Palo Alto in which residents have invested many years of their lives. Are people truly saying with a straight face that Palo Alto, as it has long been known, must be destroyed to accommodate everyone who now wishes to live there, or to profit from its further real-estate development? Seriously??

29 people like this
Posted by Where can we build New old Palo Alto? I will move
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 1:39 pm

[Portion removed.] Using rhetoric to try to get people to vote against their own interests is a an old tactic, but I've heard all of it and it comes down to a different vision for Palo Alto. You want other people to give you something that you want, and you aren't going to stop the [portion removed] drumbeat of build baby build. I used to think mixed use was good but now you all have convinced me that it's like wanting to be a little bit pregnant. People compromise, and then thise they compromised for want to take everything the rest value and sacrificed for. This is a great nation with lots of cities that would welcome the development dollars. If you are just dying to change something to meet your expectations, there are many communities to choose from that would benefit.

As fir your rhetoric, are you familiar with what it means to be "in the pocket" of someone? It means someone depends on money from someone so they do what they say. As in, for example, the city councilmembers are in the pocket of big developers they used to work for, or, the people who keep showing up at meetings because they get perks from an employer or paid to are in the pocket of whomever paid. . PASZ has almost no money and is a neighborhood organization. No one is "in their pocket".

[Portion removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 1:40 pm

Rent control to stop astronomical increases in rent, more housing of varied types built along existing bus and Caltrain routes, and more local buses and routes between housing areas and business areas. Plans worked out between businesses and the city, to work together on routes and housing needs. The city and businesses have responsibility to give back to the area in which they function.

Remove need for cars, make transportation available, and construct and protect housing.

The current situation makes for dangerous financial, and mental health problems. The human cost is great.

25 people like this
Posted by Where can we build New old Palo Alto? I will move
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 1:54 pm

We are not young because we spent several decades, including in communities of actual working poor, working up. The circumstances now really aren't different than in any of the last booms. They didn't suddenly get unaffordable, in fact, with mortgage rates almost to nothing, in many ways, things are easier now than when we got in. Yet we still aren't wealthy, our home is a small shack compared to what everyone we know in other parts of the country lives in, including blue collar, and we have nothing left over. We have no expectation of staying here in retirement. I'm not complaining, just telling you to consider reality and doing what the rest of us have done. I do not appreciate the sacrifices being portrayed as some kind of cake walk that you want in on after you get back from your exciting vacation that I could never consider (nope, not even a cheap one). You make your choices. All these young people complaining are mostly making more than our single income household. Our kids' teachers live better here than we do. Again, not complaning, just saying, we make our choices. You want your cake and mine (that took decades to get) too. No. All the PAF rhetoric will not make me say yes.

51 people like this
Posted by Mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 23, 2016 at 2:02 pm

The comment of the poster who claimed that the council listens only to pASZ is so factually wrong [portion removed] that I'm amazed it wasn't deleted. The poster had the chutzpah to make this comment when it is PAF, and a certain downtown company who coordinates frequent appearances before the council, aggressively demanding housing, density and relaxation of height limits. PAF members have a disproportionate representation in the TPC, where they push their agenda relentlessly. At the same time, PASZ is a neighborhood organization with no fund that is meek and inactive compared to the aggression of the development/density lobby. It is stunning to me that someone can twist the truth in such a bold way and get away with it.

44 people like this
Posted by Anciana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 23, 2016 at 2:07 pm

I am one of the "lucky old people" mentioned in this string a few days ago. My husband and I borrowed 5K from my dad in 1961 to buy an old cottage in Old Palo Alto. We subsequently remodeled it a couple of times, using inherited money. The land all by itself is now worth millions -- the house will be a scraper.

I used to be really really annoyed at NIMBYs, but I guess I have to confess now that I am one. I see the character of our community changing, and not for the better. I used to be a regionalist with respect to jobs and housing, but now I want out of ABAG. Where do they get off telling us how much housing we have to build? I want our quiet,leafy town -- with its good schools -- back. Now.

26 people like this
Posted by No to pasz
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2016 at 2:11 pm

And , mauricio. Speaking about fact free comments. ...

11 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2016 at 2:31 pm

Are you kidding me, Marc? Palo Alto has incredible potential for dense walkable neighborhoods. We have two downtown areas already serviced by Caltrain plus San Antonio Caltrain is right across the border. California Ave is especially underdeveloped with its one and two-story buildings.

To say we can't build a more inclusive city here when there are so many examples of dense walkable cities with a high quality of life all over the world is ridiculous. The people of Palo Alto have chosen to be exclusive because they like seeing their property values go through the roof and because apparently the thought of not driving everywhere is horrifying.

19 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 2:51 pm

NOTHING will make Palo Alto affordable. Period. There are far too many people with far too much money who want to buy houses here and there is very little space to build. In my opinion, the ONLY solution is to stop turning Palo Alto into an office park. We don't need more jobs or more offices, we need less.

Enforcing zoning would free up a small amount of housing (houses used as offices). Expand the "retail required on the first floor" zone to all of what we logically view as Downtown and Cal Avenue and enforce it. Allow small granny units and relax the FAR for them.

41 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 23, 2016 at 2:57 pm

That's the problem with people like Pete. They compare Palo Alto to big cities around the world and want it to be like them, but Palo Alto is not a big city, is incapable of being one, and shouldn't be one. Most residents live here because it is not a city but a leafy suburb. If we wanted to live in a city we would have. And no, we don't want to see home prices go through the roof, it happened for a myriad of reasons, out of our control, not the least because foreign buyers have been outbidding others for years, using Palo Alto real estate as bank accounts. Turning it into a job market was also a major reason, and long time residents had no control over that either. Myself and all my friends here drive as little as possible, we bike and walk to parks, the library, restaurants, stores, and when possible, to work. The comment "apparently the though of not driving everywhere is horrifying" is not only patently untrue, it's also highly demagogic.

19 people like this
Posted by Moved here in '93
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 3:38 pm

To the person who said that PA was always expensive; true, but when we moved here in '93 it wasn't nearly as out of reach for 1st time home-buyers as it is now(Atherton, Hillsborough and Los Altos Hills were more elite/expensive) . It was worth it to us to pay a premium for PA's low-key lifestyle and intellectual climate. Musing on this thread I have to say that my husband I wouldn't choose to start out and raise our family here now, even if we could afford it, given all the reasons stated above. In '93, PA was a laid back place, with many cafes and bookstores in which to spend a leisurely evening. The tranquility (yes, tranquility) in a suburb so close to SF (I commuted by train for many years) have long since disappeared. Our kids (at Gunn but not math/science wizards) do not expect to be able to afford a home here and are looking forward to forging a new path of their own, away from the Bay Area. We are near retirement, after which we will relocate (using our lottery winnings from the housing market) out of the bay area to escape the hectic, stress-filled make/spend money cycle that has become the norm here and leave this to the next generation to resolve, or accept.

22 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2016 at 4:25 pm

I take umbrage that old people who moved here decades ago want to keep it like it always was with no changes.

That just isn't true for my family. We moved here because it was a short commute to Sun in those days. Since then we have had commutes to Sunnyvale, Mountain View and now back to Sunnyvale. We have, like most people, not wanted to move just because of a job move. We have, like many people, arrived with preschoolers and have gone through PAUSD. We walk, we bike, and yes we drive too. It isn't that we want no changes, but we have seen more negatives in the quality of life than we had originally.

The small schools have gone. The traffic has got worse. We used to be able to find parking in downtown Palo Alto at weekends, that has become more difficult. We used to be able to go to downtown for a meal in the evenings without making a reservation or have a long wait, that is now much more difficult. We used to be able to go bowling, that has gone. We used to be able to have a birthday party at a park without making a reservation, that is now difficult.

On top of that, our neighborhoods are full of cars taking short cuts instead of having to use major arteries because of congestion. I would say that we also get speeding UPS, and FedEx trucks, racing around the streets in ways we never used to. We also used to know all our neighbors, but now many are practically invisible, due to long hours, and gardeners rather than home owners doing yard work. We used to have more gas stations, better and affordable shopping options, and more family orientated restaurants.

I have no objection to development in the right places. They can build near Caltrain and highways. What I do object to is the assumption that neighborhoods are full of NIMBYs who want to remain in the last century. That isn't what is wanted.

I want better, not crowded. I want improvements to infrastructure, improvements to transit, improvements to shopping, improvements to services. I want realistic recreational businesses that serve everyone, not just those with big bucks to spend for dining or recreation. A family movie and simple restaurant meal costs a lot more in real times than used to be the case. Yes, we now have Costco and some large Safeways on our borders, but big box stores are not allowed in Palo Alto and isn't that just adding to traffic?

The reality is that Palo Alto is less family orientated and that is not fair. Yes the schools are here, but school is only part of the picture. Yes, we do have many seniors and empty nesters in town and they want to remain. And why should they not remain in the home they have lived in and raised their kids in living in a neighborhood where they have enjoyed living for a couple of decades. People are retiring later as well as seniors are a lot more active than they used to be and are able to have a social life as well as have a full or part time job.

Infrastructure is important to quality of life. It is irrelevant if we have an equal jobs/housing ratio, if the quality of life is on a downward spiral.

Let's get the infrastructure dealt with first. Then see how and in which direction we should grow.

3 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2016 at 4:30 pm

Mauricio, I never said big cities. I'm not trying to turn Palo Alto into Hong Kong. However, there are plenty of places in between that and what we have now that manage to provide a high quality of life with greater density.

Marc, I apologize for calling you out specifically. I got a little fired up there :)

10 people like this
Posted by Dave99
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Hey Peter. Your density plan means more apartments. More apartments mean renters and our schools are already overcrowded.

21 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 23, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Peter, but you will turn it into Hing Kong even if you don't think your plan would. Even if you somehow managed to build 20,000 additional housing units, there will be dozens(perhaps more) of people per housing unit left out who will scream that they deserve to live here too and why are we preventing them from buying/renting here. The same arguments will then come up-why are we so NiMBY, why do we exclude them. And the pressure will build up and up and up, unless we decide that this is a small town/city, a leafy suburb and not a dense urban metropolis, which Palo Alto Forward and their allies are trying to create.

Palo Alto is not a sardine can. Not everybody who wants to live her can. We probably have about 20,000 residents more than our infrastructure can sustain. This has already severely damaged our livability and preferred life style. Beverley Hills is not affordable to all but a few, just like Palo Alto isn't. The same applies for Woodside, Park Avenue in Manhattan, Portola Valley and many other places. it's amazing that quality of life is never mentioned by the pro density crowd when it is by far the most important element in choosing where one lives.

11 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2016 at 5:35 pm

"Palo Alto is not a big city, is incapable of being one, and shouldn't be one."

It can be if we commit to it. This is Silicon Valley, you know. Anything is possible when properly capitalized.

First, we clearcut the town so we have adequate space for a genuine urban setting. Every structure goes down. Flat ground all around.

Then, block by block, we put up skyscrapers with all essential retail and services on the ground floors, offices at the top (to charge premium rents), and apartments in between.

Finally, we kiss VTA goodbye and institute real transit service throughout.

But bustle your bippies. If this ain't completed before the tech bubble bursts, in a year or two, it's all gonna be just another gawdawful concrete desert, and the VCs lose big.

22 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2016 at 5:38 pm

"it's amazing that quality of life is never mentioned by the pro density crowd when it is by far the most important element in choosing where one lives."

The quality of life for the out of town investors pushing for more density in Palo Alto is just fine, thank you very much.

6 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 6:17 pm

Interesting comparison to Beverly Hills. Is that the directions see for Palo Alto? Is it what folks want?

Palo Alto is not an island. Just as Stanford parking/housing shortages impact Palo Alto, Palo Alto's actions also impact surrounding neighborhoods.

I hope those who express concern about "quality of life" really are thinking about the greater good rather than simply using nicer words to say "time to pull up the drawbridge." I hope everyone is able to become involved in shaping the community, not just complaining about it. Good luck!

3 people like this
Posted by Cory
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2016 at 7:38 pm

Interesting ideas goin the Bev Hills/Park Ave route, for their apparently great "quality of life" PA would like to emulate according to people around here. So let's do it:
Park Ave:
432 Park Avenue is the second-tallest building in New York City and is the tallest residential building in the western hemisphere.

740 Park Ave, The 17-story building was designed in an Art Deco architectural style. Also one of the tallest buildings.

Bev Hills

Building now: A 19-story residential project by local developer Rick Caruso adjacent to the Beverly Center at the gateway to Beverly Hills;

Also, Two luxury condo projects in Beverly Hills by Wanda Group, valued at $1.2 billion and $1.7 billion.

Apparently, park ave and bev hills provide a good example. Thanks Mauricio!

6 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 9:41 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Richard Hall

"I learned on Saturday from ABAG's Deputy Director that any affordable housing must be publicized to applicants across the entire region. No preference can be given to existing Palo Alto workers or residents . . ."

We need a fact check on this important point, which was used to telling effect against PAHC's low-income affordable housing project for seniors at Maybell, the target of the Measure D referendum.

Opponents complained that since federal support for affordable housing projects requires application to be open to any qualified Santa Clara County residents there could be no preference for Palo Alto residents and we would just be providing housing for outsiders. PAHC explained that while it is true that a jurisdiction cannot restrict application to residents only, giving people who lived and/or worked in Palo Alto priority *was* legal and since there was in fact a long waiting list of qualified Palo Alto residents/workers, the likelihood of filling units with applicants from elsewhere in the county approached zero.

Thanks, by the way, for the excellent write-up on the meeting.

5 people like this
Posted by Art
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 10:00 pm

Would be interesting to know where all the jobs are in Palo Alto. What fraction of the jobs are in a) the Research Park (which was excluded from the office space cap); b) Stanford Medical Center (granted a large development increase by City Council after payment of $$ to the City); and Stanford University itself (though, not part of Palo Alto per-se, those working there have to travel through our clogged streets); and the downtown area and along El Camino (which alone has been identified and squeezed on office space development).

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 24, 2016 at 1:48 am

@Art, yes the job distribution data should be available somewhere, at least ballpark numbers. I'm curious how many jobs are construction related, with so many projects underway. If we add a billion on grade separation, that's 6-figure wages for 10,000 workers for a year (or 1000 workers for 10 years, heaven forbid the project takes a decade).

I'm also curious about the numbers behind the 3:1 jobs ratio. I assume that means full-time jobs, or maybe includes multiple part-time jobs that equal full-time. Does 96,000 jobs mean 32,000 employed Palo Alto residents? Out of 67,000? I thought we had a large number of retirees. And 12,000 PAUSD students implies 18,000 of us are age 18 or younger. I suppose it would all add up if the balance was 12,000 retirees and 5,000 residents who are "between jobs" or stay at home parents or college students.

How many of these employed Palo Altans work in Palo Alto or Stanford? Half?

18 people like this
Posted by High Crime Rate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2016 at 8:03 pm

Every insurer knows that high density living/working = high rate of crime. That's why it is so expensive to buy insurance where there is density of living/working. Not just renter's insurance, but homeowner's, auto, even life and health insurance. Risks of all kinds are higher, insurers have to pay out more frequently due to more claims due to more vandalism, robberies, burglaries, car accidents, murders, etc.

Is it really worth it? Does anyone find a high density location good for raising a family? Good for anyone's health? Well-being?

4 people like this
Posted by Morality
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 5, 2016 at 6:19 am

We should seriously question the morality of both the property owners and longtime home owners who display an aging sense of entitlement to keep everything the same, thereby making it unaffordable to everything except the ultra-wealthy, urging Council to strangle the existing Palo Alto into an elitist island that bears no resemblance to its history as the technological and cultural birthplace of Silicon Valley, where teams of tinkerers could start small companies out of garages. Are people truly saying with a straight face that Palo Alto, as it has long been known, must be preserved in amber to exclude everyone, from the middle-class onward, or to profit from their escalating multi-million dollar home values? Seriously??

25 people like this
Posted by Morality redivivus
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2016 at 12:59 pm

We should indeed question the morality of those new arrivals (not to forget real-estate developers who find them useful) insisting, as a unique new assumption, that it's somehow their right to live wherever they wish, changing the town to suit their convenience -- never, ever, recognizing that demand for its housing, such as they express, is the chief reason the housing is now "unaffordable to everything except the ultra-wealthy" -- i.e. that they are part of the problem they complain about. Do they really maintain, with a straight face, that the Palo Alto into which residents invested many years of their lives and contributed to the community -- a diverse community that celebrates its own history -- is now to be wrecked on the altar of accommodating everyone who now desires to live there, or to profit cynically from its further real-estate development? Seriously???

9 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 5, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Be Positive is a registered user.

Palo Alto can never build enough housing to bring prices down - there simply isn't the space. And Palo Alto is far too desirable of a location, the demand will always exceed the supply.

3 people like this
Posted by Affordable housing
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 5, 2016 at 1:47 pm

With increased density, the value of land goes up.

In that circumstance, housing is affordable to the extent that it is low quality.

Those who work to increase the density of housing in Palo Alto are raising the price of comparable quality housing and lowering the overall quality of housing and life here.

There is simply no way around this, whether the discussion is about young, vibrant single workers, or those who want to preserve the environment by living close to mass transit, or retired folk whose children have moved out, or people from other states or countries, or those who have lived here all their lives.

The land will cost more, but those who live here will be in a lower quality environment.

Landowners benefit financially from density but residents experience a lower quality of life than those who previously lived here.

Like this comment
Posted by Yes You Can!
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2016 at 3:46 pm

"Palo Alto can never build enough housing to bring prices down - there simply isn't the space."

Yes you can, and there is. Just build Cabrini-Green housing projects (Google that) on strategically-selected city blocks. Presto, the housing supply rises exponentially and the curb appeal plummets, while housing prices go into the dumpster.

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

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