News

Palo Alto eyes business tax to fight traffic congestion

With survey showing moderate support, City Council prepares for more polling, outreach

Despite widespread anxiety about traffic congestion, Palo Alto residents aren't entirely sold on a new business tax that would help pay for shuttles, bike boulevards and other transportation improvements, a new poll shows.

The City Council commissioned the survey as it continues to explore the idea of placing a transportation-tax measure on the November ballot. The poll, which was conducted by the firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, indicated that while about 67 percent of local residents support the concept of a transportation tax, support level dips to about 61 percent after opposing arguments are aired -- just below the two-thirds threshold needed for passage in a special election.

The support level is, however, high enough to make the transportation measure a plausible proposition in the November election. If the issue if framed as a "general tax" (as opposed to one dedicated to a special purpose), the business tax would only need 50 percent support for passage, provided that it appears on the ballot during a general election. If the council pursues this route, it could then pass a separate ordinance or an advisory measure directing the funds to be allocated toward transportation.

This was the same tactic the council used in 2014, when it asked the voters to approve a hotel-tax increase to pay for infrastructure improvements (the measure passed with 76 percent support).

The poll also indicated that local support appears to be strong for a countywide transportation-tax measure that the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) plans to put on the November ballot. The measure would raise the sales tax rate by 1/2 cent over a 30-year period to raise about $6.5 billion for a variety of transportation improvements throughout the county.

If approved, the county measure would pay for an extension of BART to San Jose and Santa Clara, Caltrain upgrades (along with $700 million for separating roadways from the train tracks); and improvements to expressways, highway interchanges and transit services. It would also allocate funds for street repairs and bike improvements.

Of those polled who favor the county tax, 34 percent say they will "definitely vote yes," 37 percent say they would "probably vote yes" and 2 percent say they are "leaning toward yes." By contrast, 9 percent said they would "probably vote no" and 13 percent said they would "definitely vote no."

For the local measure, the margins are far smaller. Though 67 percent said they support the "concept" of a citywide transportation-tax measure -- which is exactly at the needed two-thirds threshold for a special election -- just 30 percent said "definitely yes," while 35 percent said "probably yes." In addition, 13 percent gave "definitely no" as their answer, while another 13 percent said "probably no."

Palo Alto's proposed business tax would focus exclusively on transportation improvements in the city. Though the council has yet to formulate a list of those projects, prior discussions indicate it would include an expansion of the city's shuttle system, improved traffic signals, bike-route improvements and transportation-demand-management programs, which aim to get people out of cars and into other modes of transportation.

Given the area's worsening traffic conditions, the council agreed Monday that it should continue to explore the local measure. By a unanimous vote, council members decided to go out for a second poll that would help them determine whether the measure should be pursued this year.

Despite their willingness to commission an additional survey, some council members, including Marc Berman, Liz Kniss and Cory Wolbach, argued that it would probably make more sense to explore a transportation-tax measure in 2018. This would give the city time to conduct outreach to businesses and residents and further refine its funding plan for the tax proceeds, they said.

Wolbach suggested that a 2018 measure could address not only traffic but also housing needs. According to the new poll, "cost of housing" scored highest on the city's list of most urgent problems, with 76 percent calling it either an "extremely serious problem" or a "very serious problem." This was followed by California's drought conditions (65 percent) and traffic and congestion (53 percent).

"These are major challenges that we're facing for the next 25 years," Wolbach said. "Let's really take time to figure out what our priorities are, put together a package and come back in 2018."

Kniss said postponing a tax measure to 2018 would give the city more time to talk about the proposal with local businesses, which have indicated that they've been out of the loop of discussions.

But Mayor Pat Burt and Councilwoman Karen Holman said that the city shouldn't give up on a 2016 measure just yet. Both pointed out that the city simply doesn't have the resources that it needs to solve the worsening traffic problems. Holman said the proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 looks to draw $4.9 million from the city's reserves to meet rising expenses.

"This is the first sweep, and I think we haven't tapped at the potential support that can be generated," Holman said of the poll.

Burt said that waiting two years would only leave the city with a "worse need and a bigger hole to try to dig ourselves out of." He also argued that funds from the business tax (which would be based on employee head count and which he estimates would generate about $6 million a year) would go a longer way in solving the traffic problem than the housing crisis.

"On housing, this much money wouldn't move the needle; zone changes would," he said. "It's one thing to find something that would appeal to the voters, it's another thing as to what would actually have an impact on the problem."

After discussing the polling results, the council agreed to refer the matter to its Local Transportation Funding Committee, which will work with the pollster to formulate the survey.

In the meantime, the city will also start to conduct outreach to the business community.

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Comments

38 people like this
Posted by Curious
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 4, 2016 at 8:32 am

Did the survey ask if anyone believes the City government can actually reduce traffic or housing prices? The city seems hellbent on adding more offices, which only increase traffic and the demand for local housing. Until that turns around, why give the city more money


24 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2016 at 8:50 am

My biggest problem with this is that although a County Tax would only help pay for San Jose and south county transportation measures, a city tax would do little to help with Palo Alto transportation unless, and a big unless, it goes beyond the borders of our City and into Mountain View and Menlo Park.

I believe that the cities of Sunnyvale to Redwood City need to work out a great transportation system and integrate the system into a workable solution. We should not be islands, we are a local region. The city borders and the county border are not walls that are never crossed but invisible lines that everyone living and working here cross everyday just to live our lives.

Mountain View is working hard on its system. Palo Alto is attempting to work on ours. But if transportation doesn't cross the San Antonio boundary then it will not be useful for a large number of residents.

The other aspect is that we need to look at transportation as a regular commute solution. These shuttles need to get kids to school, workers with regular hours to work, and Caltrain riders to the stations. They must not snake around neighborhoods to pick up riders who are willing to take a circuitous route for an hour's ride that would take 10 minutes to drive. Instead they should be frequent and fast. I would suggest that a fast frequent shuttle from say Charleston Plaza or Mitchell Library to Cal Ave Caltrain running every 15 minutes during commute time on the most direct route, would attract riders. Fast shuttles to Gunn and Paly from places like Greer Park, Midtown, etc. would attract high school students.

I suggest that shuttle stops would be minimal and that the starting points would be at places where potential riders can walk to or be dropped off easily so I suggest they start at parks or shopping plazas.

I also think that short, direct, frequent routes will be best and that bus routes to Google and Facebook should be part of the plan. I also think we should be looking at shuttles from parking areas near 280 and 101 to bring inward bound commuters from the highways to areas such as downtown, Cal Ave and Stanford (both the university and business parks) would make sense.

I personally would rather pay a transportation tax that would cover the cost of this type of solution rather than for anything that will support BART extension to San Jose and anything that solves South County traffic problems.


28 people like this
Posted by confused
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2016 at 9:02 am

How exactly would a local business tax work? Is it based on profits? Revenues? Square footage? Payroll? Location? This article is very confusing. We are conceptually in favor of taxing businesses to improve the transportation infrastructure that they are straining, but of course residents are going to have a hard time supporting a new tax when the implementation is confusing.


16 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 4, 2016 at 9:19 am

Resident is absolutely right that it's a regional problem. Yesterday traffic delayed Menlo Park firefighters from reaching a burning house near and a smart neighbor went in and saved the family pets. At least the Menlo Park firefighters are vocal in blaming the traffic but where are the Palo Alto spokespeople?

So long as Palo Alto continues to support the proliferation of offices that double and triple our population, the gridlock and risks to our safety and quality of life will continue.

What would this new business tax be spent on? More bike "education"? More sharrows? To pay more people to car pool into and out of Palo Alto?

I'm tired of paying for commuters to degrade our quality of life. [Portion removed.]


30 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 4, 2016 at 10:10 am

This is absurd. The ONLY way traffic will improve is if the 3 to 1 jobs to housing imbalance is corrected. The only way that happens is with more and more dense residential development. This will, over time, also improve affordability. Taxing businesses or building garages or or making a new office a little smaller will do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to alleviate congestion. Until we admit and move on this traffic and congestion will continue to get worse as more and more people move here.


22 people like this
Posted by 3rd gen PA
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2016 at 10:16 am

Beloved businesses that helped weave the fabric of what makes Palo Alto so desirable are closing shop every day. And now the city wants to tax those who have managed to stay in business? The city planning has been so short sighted for so long and now the problems are coming home to roost and their idea is to further tax businesses? I wouldn't mind a tax on office businesses who are actually perpetuating the traffic congestion issue but once these companies get tired of the Palo Alto tax rate, they will move out and take our property values with them...the inmates are truly running the asylum here.


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2016 at 10:16 am

I respectfully disagree with common sense above.

The jobs are not going to go away. The housing/jobs ratio is immaterial in my point of view. People change jobs much more often than they move home. People choose to live in a certain place and then they want to stay there even when they change jobs. If a couple living in Palo Alto it is unlikely that both will work within biking/walking distance of where they work.

People are moving into single family homes in Palo Alto for the schools. Both parents may be working outside Palo Alto. This will not change.

No, I feel that building more residences is not the helping as it just eventually leads to more people needing to drive out of town for work, shopping, recreation, etc. as it does to people from outside town needing to get here for work.

If we really put efforts into getting commuters into public transportation with efficient, clean, reliable public transportation that is easier to use than driving and looking for parking space, we will be making a big dent in traffic and parking problems. Building more residences will not. My opinion, for what it is worth.


16 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2016 at 10:24 am

@commonsense "...3 to 1 jobs to housing imbalance..."

Where did this idea that there needs to be a 1 to 1 balance come from? Do people really think that you are only allowed to work in the same town as you live? Or a town that has a lot of businesses also has to have a lot of housing?

/marc


20 people like this
Posted by taxing
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 4, 2016 at 10:29 am

TAX! TAX! TAX! that is the answer to everything. GET RID OF THE CITY COUNCIL!! that is really the answer to all of this incessant nonsense of expansion and building and building and building--and, then be surprised that there is a parking/ traffic issue in palo alto. TAX that is the answer-- is Palo Alto becoming a bernie sanders state? tax, tax, tax. how does that solve any issue. it has become such a mess downtown, that we no longer even attempt to go downtown for anything. California Avenue is becoming another nightmare-- there no longer is anywhere to go in Palo Alto. and, if trying to find parking isn't bad enough, now, we have to deal with bikers who have no regard for traffic laws--running stop signs, riding 3 or 4 across so that cars can not get around, talking on cell phones, not wearing helmets, ear plugs in. what a mess this City has become!! TAX! TAX! TAX! it even has become impossible to park in the parking garage under the city hall-- all of the spaces are now being used by city official cars--city council, police, utility vehicles, any other city vehicles that they can't find room to park elsewhere. Tickets are being handed out at will-- another form of tax. and another good reason to NEVER go downtown.


34 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 4, 2016 at 10:39 am

Marc and Resident make excellent points. The idea that a "housing imbalance" in any single city has anything to do with traffic is farcical in the modern Bay Area economy. There is no real relationship between where a person chooses to live and where he/she works. My husband works in Fremont. Before I retired, I worked in Santa Clara and before that in San Jose. My next door neighbor works in Redwood City and the neighbor on the other side works in San Francisco. I do have a friend who works at HP in Palo Alto: she lives in San Carlos.

The upshot is that whenever a city creates more jobs OR more housing, traffic will increase commensurately. If Palo Alto builds more housing, the new houses aren't going to be filled by employees riding their bikes to local businesses: they will disproportionately occupied by people driving their cars to Redwood Shores, Fremont and San Jose - and they'll be adding to - not salving - our traffic problems. (More businesses with more jobs will also result in more traffic by commuters from out of town.)

It's time to be realistic about the effects of new housing: maybe we want to become a hipster hangout by building denser housing because it will enhance our culture or for other reasons. But it's not going to improve the traffic situation and pretending it will is dishonest.


16 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2016 at 10:44 am

Maybe those polled were also skeptical about the City's ability to implement such a tax. The business registry, arguably a much simpler matter, is hardly a shining example of City Hall expertise.


15 people like this
Posted by Abe
a resident of Professorville
on May 4, 2016 at 11:14 am

Traffic and parking are both big problems in Palo Alto, but the only way to solve these problems would be to have fewer businesses and fewer residents. If we were a town of 600 people with no stores, traffic would be great!

Traffic is a side effect of a healthy economy, and until we all have flying scooters or something, traffic is just going to have to be something we'll need to accept. It's the price of success.


23 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 4, 2016 at 11:48 am

Why should Palo Alto citizens pay higher taxes to cover up the bad development decisions of our city decision makers (elected and not)? In 2001, traffic was nothing like it is today. In just 15 years, this town has been transformed into a over-crowded nightmare. Its already unbearable. Stop the development.....no more new housing, no more new commercial buildings, just stop already!


7 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 4, 2016 at 12:12 pm

I disagree with those that disagree with my points. More importantly, the people that study these issues for a living agree that the 3:1 jobs to housing imbalance, the WORST IN THE COUNTRY is a major contributor to our congestion. Building more apartments will not ensure that all those residents will work here not will it solve this very complex problem. But,it would help. Most of the pure complaining on this blog is not helpful in the slightest. The fact is if people at least can live closer to work instead of commuting from Tracy to Palo Alto, there will be fewer car driven miles which will help with congestion. Until we come to grips with that fact it will get worse.


11 people like this
Posted by traffic
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 4, 2016 at 12:12 pm

Let's say we add 100 jobs next year in Palo Alto. If we add 0 housing units, we can bet that close to 76% of those people will be driving into Palo Alto alone (based on data we have from the Stanford Research Park on people who drive). So, 76 new commuters clogging up our streets. Web Link

If during that time we add 37 housing units (assuming 2.6 people per household), maybe 10 of those go to the newly employed people (seems reasonable that 10% of new employees would be looking for housing closer in and would prefer a new unit over an old one), 5 go to people already living in Palo Alto (opening up the 5 residences those people are now leaving), and the other 22 go to people who work outside of Palo Alto. That's 15 households who now have the possibility of walking or biking to work - a possibility they didn't have before. We took 76 new commuters and brought that number down to less than 76. Some portion of those people will not drive (people move into PA precisely because they like the walkability and bike networks, after all) and some portion of those people can be influenced to not drive by various employer-created incentive programs. And on top of that, for the 22 households who don't work in Palo Alto, 67% of them will drive to work (about 15 households) but that's still 15 households that now live in the job-rich peninsula and not 15 people who live in Gilroy or Tracy. Even if they don't work in Palo Alto, those people still now have shorter commutes and create less regional traffic.

We have to think regionally about this problem. The housing shortage is regional. When we say no to new housing, we're joining a chorus of cities on the Peninsula all doing the same. The entire
Bay Area has a housing shortage, not just Palo Alto. And we're all pushing the housing out to Gilroy, Tracy, Walnut Creek, etc. Average commute into Palo Alto is already over an hour and it's only going up. Given where we are right now, any housing added by any Peninsula city is a help and not a hurt because the alternative is that that housing is built more than an hour away. All that traffic on 280 and 101 also hurts us as Palo Altans - we need to be able to move around regionally, too, and instead that highway noose is only getting tighter as people drive from places like Gilroy to Menlo Park, choking up parts of the road we ourselves use to get to nearby cities. That highway traffic also creates back-up on our own streets that lead to the highways. by not building housing, you may be preventing some amount of traffic on our city streets, but you're only dumping it on the highways right next to us, you're not actually getting rid of it. And I'd rather have more local traffic on a Saturday morning on my way to Safeway when the streets are plenty empty anyway than see more commuter traffic during rush hour.

Adding jobs will definitely create more traffic if it's not mitigated with more public transportation and proper demand management programs. However, failure to add housing when you add jobs only makes the rush hour traffic worse.


20 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 4, 2016 at 12:17 pm

How about using the proposed business tax to oppose the ABAG requirement that the Bay Area miraculously absorb another 2,000,000?

Our traffic problem is already the worst in the nation. A recent survey in San Francisco found that about 1/3 were seriously considering leaving the Bay Area now.


15 people like this
Posted by taffic
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 4, 2016 at 12:26 pm

ABAG isn't *requiring* that the Bay Area absorb 2,000,000 more people. They're telling us that those people are coming. They're coming whether we like it or not. They're fleeing rural areas, the rustbelt, and other dead economic regions in pursuit of jobs. The entire country is seeing people leave both rural and suburban areas in pursuit of better economic conditions and a better quality of life - it's not just the Bay Area. ABAG isn't telling us we have to grow by 2M, they're warning us that this flood is coming and that we would do well to be prepared.


17 people like this
Posted by Work From Home
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 4, 2016 at 1:07 pm

We had traffic in the .com boom but companies were given tax breaks for supporting flex office hours and working from home programs.
Employees loved it and there was a softer commute for all.
Companies are now demanding everyone come in by certain hours and stay until certain hours. That forces everyone onto the roads all at once


5 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2016 at 1:24 pm

How about a tax break for not owning (or leasing) a car? The devil would be in the details on that but why not add it to the list of considerations? Carrots generally work better than sticks.


18 people like this
Posted by Hurtful
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2016 at 1:39 pm

I agree that another business tax would be very hurtful to retail and restaurant businesses.

The reason there are so few car dealerships here is because they all left the last time the business taxes increased too much. Now I have to go waaaaay out of town to find a decent dealership for warranty work on my car-- like most of the folks who have fairly new cars!

Why chase away the businesses we want and need??

Is it possible to tax only the offices and big companies-- leave small businesses out of it??


6 people like this
Posted by taxes
a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2016 at 1:58 pm

If the tax is supposed to actually be commensurate with the amount of traffic any business actually creates, then a per head tax as Pat Burt has suggested doesn't make any sense. Nor does exempting small businesses as suggested in this thread. Data submitted to the city council by RelateIQ, A9, and Palantir indicates that only 40% of their employees drive to work alone. That data is separately backed up by a study commissioned by the city which found that only 33% of tech workers drive alone. That same city study indicates that part time workers (75%) are much more likely to drive alone than full time workers (53%). It also found that 78% of retail workers drive, 73% in hospitality, 72% in restaurants. If the goal is to reduce parking and traffic concerns, I'm not sure why you're not going after the people who are actually responsible for the traffic. A tax is supposed to be a disincentive - a way to prevent people from doing something negatively. But a per head tax doesn't actually disincentivize poor behavior. It's just a punishment (on those that don't deserve it), not actually an attempt to fix anything.


21 people like this
Posted by Vote NO on VTA tax
a resident of Mountain View
on May 4, 2016 at 2:04 pm

The VTA bureaucracy plans a measure for the November ballot that would increase the countywide sales tax and enable the VTA to borrow billions against that expected revenue stream. The VTA is bad at everything it attempts. Money flushed down a toilet would do more good than money funneled to the VTA. The toilet could get cleaner - but the VTA would only get dirtier the more money it receives. And if the VTA measure does pass, do not plan on driving upon or across El Camino Real as the VTA will move ahead with its VTA express bus-only lanes - local wishes be damned. If you think El Camino is crowded now, you ain't seen nothing yet. And construction alone will wipe out most of the retail businesses on and near El Camino. The rest will die off thereafter.


22 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 4, 2016 at 2:09 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Palo Alto is the only city/town I know of where some make the absolutely outlandish claim that people must live in the city they work in. Anywhere else in the world this argument would be met with rolling eyes and great ridicule. This argument is always absurd, silly and wrong, even more so in this highly dynamic high tech hub where people change jobs, and job location, several times during their career. Any increase in population density will increase traffic, any additional office construction will increase traffic. A business tax will do nothing to mitigate the traffic problem.

Palo Alto, and the Bay area, have serious traffic problems because of overpopulation. The only thing that will mitigate the traffic conundrum is a reduction in population. Any increase in population will increase traffic. The only way to decrease our population, and reduce the demand for housing, and housing price, is for new companies to move elsewhere, where jobs are actually needed, and for existing companies to move some of their operations to similar areas, where jobs and economic stimulation are needed. There are no other ways.


3 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 4, 2016 at 2:50 pm

@taxes: According to the TMA mode-split survey, downtown office workers drive solo in lower percentages than workers in other groups, but there are so many more office workers that overall they still account for half the solo driver traffic. So, if you take the survey results at face value, office workers are the single largest part of the downtown traffic problem.

BTW, there are good reasons to be skeptical about the survey results, so it would be wise not to put too much faith in them. I've heard there are plans for a follow-up, which would be a big help if it's done correctly.


2 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 4, 2016 at 3:18 pm

@traffic:

So, let's summarize:

1. Adding jobs and housing far away from one another results in an increase in traffic.

2. Adding jobs and housing close together results in a very-slightly-smaller increase in traffic.

Is it any wonder that more and more people are saying "none of the above"?

Other choices that might make more sense:

1. Provide incentives for companies not to add jobs in Palo Alto, but instead to add them closer to places where more housing already exists (or could be built less expensively than in Palo Alto). Office construction caps and business taxes could be examples of these incentives.

2. Build public transit systems that would reduce total traffic no matter where jobs and housing are added.

3. Recognize that growth must eventually have some limits, and form a consensus about what those limits should be.

I'd add that we shouldn't accept growth that irreparably damages the environment and quality-of-life for people already in the Bay Area while blindly hoping that we'll find a solution for the problems in the future. That's the very opposite of intelligent planning.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Someone I know works for a company that only expects Mon Wed Fri presence at work. All meetings, presentations, etc. have to be done on those three days. The other two days, or 16 hours (approx.) can be done at home at any time during the week. This could be done as an extra 3 or 4 hours at work on the days presence is required.

This policy has to be great for local traffic. Hopefully some other company has a Tues Thurs presence requirement to make a big difference to traffic in that area to make a true difference to local traffic.

Innovation is what Silicon Valley is all about. Innovation can be used to solve the traffic problem too.


9 people like this
Posted by taxes
a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2016 at 3:25 pm

My point is that people are falling all over themselves to claim that tech is the problem. Even at 50%, they're hardly "the problem." If you really want this problem fixed, you can't keep coddling the small business and ignoring their impacts. On the other hand, we do want small business here and we want them to thrive.

All of which, in my opinion, leads to the conclusion that the sort of tax they're discussing right now doesn't really make sense. We have a parking program where we're charging commuters for permits to park downtown. Those fees can probably stand to go up and instead of going into a black coffer, they should be used towards funding CalTrain passes, Uber rides, ride pools, bike shares, etc (and service workers can continue to pay at a discount). But this works because the people paying are also the people creating the problem. It's very fair. Companies who want to save their workers the fees can invest in things like shuttles and offer other benefits to employees to get them to work in other ways (or allow more positions to be remote, etc).

Charging companies per head, even when that head doesn't own a car, isn't right and it's not good for business. Takes away any incentive to actually get people to stop driving to work and provide other means of transportation if you're stuck paying the tax either way.


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Green Acres
on May 4, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Somebody better bring councilmen Wolbach up to speed.

"The poll tested a local tax on business related to funding City transportation improvements through an employee head count based structure. "

Councilmen Wolbach wanted further studies to see if a parcel tax could be implemented to fund city transportation improvements.

This new tax would raise somewhere around $6,000,000 according to Pat Burt.

I do not think that the residents want a parcel tax, or any tax for that matter.








13 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2016 at 3:32 pm

"Palo Alto is the only city/town I know of where some make the absolutely outlandish claim that people must live in the city they work in."

It's a stalking horse used by our local development interests to allow building office skyscrapers. Their chain of logic goes like this:

1. We need to build dense housing downtown and by Cal Ave.

2. Taller buildings mean denser housing.

3. Palo Alto's 50-foot building height limit prevents building dense housing.

4. Abolish the 50-foot limit.

5. Gee, now we can build much taller more profitable office buildings.

6. Housing? What housing?


12 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 4, 2016 at 3:34 pm

[Portion removed.] We need a very large garage, not these other useless ideas. also need a referendum on new businesses. Garages should be paid for by businesses, not residents. [Portion removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Downtown Worker
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 4, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Two questions:

1) Traffic is much worse when school is in session. Perhaps there could be some super cool ideas for getting parents to stop driving their youngins to school or at least to car pool? It is a smart community. I bet folks can come up with something that would help and might build community. Thoughts?

2) I work for a Palo Alto-headquartered business. Our local office is a great mix of people who walk, bike, commute by train, work from home, and, yes, drive. We have our own off-street parking at the office. About 1/3 of those who drive here, commute off-peak. The majority of our revenues are attributable to employees that do not work in Palo Alto at all. (We have five other offices plus those work-from-home folks.) Seems like we are the kind of business Palo Alto would want. How would this work for us?


8 people like this
Posted by traffic
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 4, 2016 at 3:46 pm

@Allen

the problem is that "none of the above" isn't a choice.

Re #1: where in the Bay Area do we have a superflous amount of housing? That doesn't exist. The entire area has a huge shortage. As for building housing where it's less expensive- it's only expensive in Palo Alto because we've only zoned 3% of our land for multifamily housing. That's an artificial constraint. Housing could be a lot cheaper here if there were more places where you could build multifamily housing and if you didn't limit it to three floors or less in most parts of the city.

Re #2 I like public transit. All aboard. But I don't support adding a bunch of jobs here and then creating housing-only communities far away that then don't have the corporate tax revenues necessary to maintain themselves properly. That's not fair. We get to keep all the money, they have all the headache. I also don't see that kind of transit extension as likely and it's certainly not going to happen in the next 30 years. So housing in places where we already have jobs has to be part of the answer at least for the foreseeable future. Plus, we already have a train to Gilroy. That doesn't really help much.

Re #3 The problem with growth limits is that the only way they work is if you limit office construction. That's the only way people don't come here. But if you do that, you're also killing off your own economy and you're limiting your own kids' futures. Working people want to be where they have lots of job options. Most people don't want to live in a town with only a handful of options - they moved here to get away from that in the first place. Because Silicon Valley is one of just a small handful of economic engines in this country, I don't think you or I have the right to kill it and create unemployment and hardship for others for our convenience. Companies do not and will not start in the middle of nowhere. They like being around other companies and around a large pool of workers. If you make it so bad to be here that they're forced to go elsewhere, it doesn't just meant that they give up and move, it also means that some shut down altogether and others never form to begin with. The fewer other tech companies around you and the shallower the talent pool, the smaller is the rate of new company formation. People don't want to join startups in the middle of nowhere where if the company folds, there's nowhere for them to go and companies don't want to open where the talent pool is slim pickings. So if you only make space for 100 companies but we could have had 250, it's not like the other 150 magically bloom in Wisconsin. Many of them just never get off the ground at all. That means a lower overall GDP and higher overall unemployment rate because you created policies that meant a lower rate of new business formation. And of course that in turn means everyone in the country loses because now we're paying out more welfare, more unemployment benefits, more food stamps and have even less money to invest in things like infrastructure and education.

People in the Bay Area have a quality of life whose definition doesn't begin and end with how fast it is to find a parking spot or how much traffic there is at rush hour. Part of their quality of life is about having the opportunity to have an exciting career where they have a lot of career mobility. Part of it is the excitement of being surrounded by so many highly educated, innovative people who brighten their lives and make this an interesting place to live. Part of their quality of life is knowing that they're in a job-rich place where they're minimizing their risk of long term unemployment. And for many of us, quality of life is about the ability to leave the house and walk down the street to get dinner on our own two feet. Not everyone sees quality of life the way that you do.


13 people like this
Posted by Techie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 4, 2016 at 3:53 pm

Techie is a registered user.

For most of my life I was told that telecommuting would be the wave of future employment-- so far, no good!

Most of our contemporaries are required to show up at work 5-6 days a week, 9-12+ hours a day. This is in spite of the fact that most of us could get by with telecommuting 2-4 days per week.

Is there any way companies can be forced to allow more telecommuting? Or would that just move more jobs to China and India, where appearance in person is mandatory every day?


2 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 4, 2016 at 4:02 pm

@taxes: When people claim "tech is the problem" I think they're really saying "the GROWTH in tech has caused the problem". As far as traffic goes, that's probably correct; has any other sector grown nearly as much as tech in the past 20 years?

The tax proposal might reflect a bunch of value trade-offs that the Council isn't talking about openly. A per-head tax affects large companies more than small ones, regardless of type. A per-driver tax would affect retail and service business proportionately more than office businesses, so a per-head tax might have been a conscious choice to favor those types of business.

Or it could just be that they're targeting the easiest sources of revenue. Given the business registry fiasco, that wouldn't surprise me.


20 people like this
Posted by Techie
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Whycan'tchildren under high school age have school buses to take them to school if they live too farfrom school to safely walk there?

A school bus holds enough kids to take a large number of cars off the road.

High school kids can walk, bike ride, skateboard or whatever, unless they live more than two miles from school. Then they should have a bus for the lot of them-- not mom or dad for each individual!


5 people like this
Posted by taxes
a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2016 at 4:37 pm

I'm not sure about the numbers. Certainly tech has grown but so has Stanford, so have medical offices, so have hotels (we added a bunch!) and so has the prolification of restaurants and just different uses in general. Where once there was a rug store with one employee we now have an Apple store with well over 100 employees. We have far more full service restaurants now than we used to and when you count up all their shifts, it's a really high number of staff per restaurant, too. Which makes sense - the more workers you have in the downtown, the more successful restaurants there are going to be.

Honestly, I really don't care what's causing the growth. It was tech, now it's looking to be more medical/biomedical research. It doesn't really matter. The point is that if the tax is supposed to curb a behavior, then it needs to be formulated right and I can get behind it (but I'm not going to support a traffic tax on people that don't drive). If it's a tax just for the sake of punishing business as you seem to allude, then I can't get behind that.


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2016 at 4:44 pm

I was on the road yesterday afternoon around 2:30 or so and it was downright scary. Kids on bikes all over the place, clogging intersections. Most of them are being careful, looking around and obeying traffic rules.
But their sheer number was unnerving to a careful driver.

Over population and over development have turned this town into an unpleasant place.
Want to make it worse? Build more housing and allow more office construction so that designers of violent games have a nice place to work. Yes, that's what a lot of them are working on (of course not all). To my surprise a new, very shiny building on Hamilton Ave houses a game company. Junk.


5 people like this
Posted by taxes
a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2016 at 4:44 pm

There's also something deeply troubling about trying to tax out businesses with good paying jobs and good benefits for their employees and instead encouraging the growth of businesses that recently fought the $15 minimum wage and certainly don't offer healthcare.

I get that a lot of people like kitschy retail and mom and pop shops, but I also like having more jobs around that keep people out of the welfare system and off of our streets at night. Even a secretary at a tech company makes far more than the retail jobs on Univ ave and actually has paid leave.

there should be a balance there.


3 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 4, 2016 at 5:58 pm

@traffic: "the problem is that 'none of the above' isn't a choice."

Of course it is. Atherton is an example at one end of the spectrum. I offered some other choices in the middle.

"where in the Bay Area do we have a superfluous amount of housing?"

Why do you think the options are restricted to the Bay Area? For that matter, what do you consider the limits of the Bay Area? For a lot of people, Stockton and Gilroy and Santa Cruz are in commute range, so those areas might well be fair game.

"it's only expensive in Palo Alto because we've only zoned 3% of our land for multifamily housing"

Well, it was created as a small university town, grew mostly in the form of single-family residences, and people who preferred that environment chose to move here. So that's the reality. You can try to change it, of course, but not everyone will want to go along. Furthermore, buying and rezoning enough property to move the needle on jobs/housing ratio or affordability is going to take a LOT of money.

"if you do that [limit office construction], you're also killing off your own economy"

I think I have to call you on this one. Please cite three cases where limiting office construction was the cause of a local economic collapse.

As for the rest of your comments in this section, I know of enough counterexamples and counterarguments to be skeptical. If you can make your case with real data, please do; it would be extremely helpful.

"Not everyone sees quality of life the way that you do"

I can interpret this two ways, and I'm not sure which one you meant: That there are a variety of opinions about quality of life that have to be reconciled to choose a path forward, or that I personally must be an old reactionary who doesn't appreciate career opportunities, smart people, or walking to dinner. If you intended the former, I agree. If you intended the latter, you clearly don't know me very well. :-)


3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Last time around the business license tax was hugely controversial. It was scrapped and the City later launched the Business Registry, a program that has proven problematic and that so far has not met designated goals. Now a business tax is again being looked at as a source of money to fund transportation related programs. Per this article, some on CC propose waiting until 2018 to pursue this. The stated reasons may be valid. Or political ambition may be in play. What do you think?


1 person likes this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 4, 2016 at 6:14 pm

@taxes: "If it's a tax just for the sake of punishing business as you seem to allude, then I can't get behind that."

Taxes have two purposes: raising revenue, and providing incentive for some behavior. In this case we don't know clearly what Council has in mind, but I'm sure it's not "just for the sake of punishing business".


13 people like this
Posted by Done deal
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 4, 2016 at 7:15 pm

If you people think you have any input or influence in what's going on you're crazy. There is a master plan already in the works and good luck stopping it. Grand Boulevard Initiative. Google it. All the transit organizations, developers and City officials are in on it and of course, they know better than you or I. And will love your tax money to support it.

What is most scary to me is how well it's funded and yet how quietly this is being done. Anybody read about this in the paper? How often does the PAOnline talk about it? Never. Great example is the "State 82 Relinquishment Study". Anyone want to guess what State 82 is? Yes, that's right, it's El Camino Real. They don't even call it that likely for fear of too much attention on what they're doing.

Read their site. It's frightening. Here's an interesting quote for ya:
A new path for funding in Plan Bay Area 2040: value capture. Value Capture is the term used to describe a system whereby a government agency taking steps that increase the value of local property can share in that increase. Property owners agree to pay an assessment to fund projects such as roads, street lighting, parking or like improvements, and see property value increases that allow them to recover more than the cost of the assessment.

Nice huh? Welcome to the new and beautiful "Peninsula of the Future"


4 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2016 at 9:08 pm

Let's have a panel of residentialists who get to dictate what people and what businesses get to stay or go in Palo Alto, what people can do with their houses, where they can park and so on, let's not mince words here, that's the end goal, right?


4 people like this
Posted by Traffic
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 4, 2016 at 11:47 pm

@ Allen

I think that the fundamental disagreement we're having stems from the fact that you think it's as easy to start a tech company in Santa Cruz as it is in Palo Alto. But there's a reason that tech companies are concentrated in SF and the Peninsula and don't exist in Santa Cruz. Haven't you ever wondered why none are out there? Pretty beaches, cheaper housing, what's not to love?

But there are real reasons and they have to do with proximity to other companies, to the talent pool, to VCs, and to universities. If you accept that people view this proximity as valuable then you should also understand that there's cost in moving further away and giving up this value.

And if you accept that there's a cost to losing proximity, then you must also see that forcing companies out of the areas where they enjoy this proximity means some companies don't come to exist at all because the cost is more than they can bear and some companies bear the cost, but in turn can't afford to higher more people.

Fewer companies formed and fewer jobs created is a real economic loss even if people aren't necessarily conscious of it. That's foregone jobs (read, more unemployed people), foregone GDP, and foregone tax revenues. That's money that could have been spent on better healthcare, education and infrastructure for everybody. It's a hardship for all of us, not just those companies. There are things more important in this world than being able to find a parking spot directly in front of the store you're visiting.

Is limiting job growth in one of this country's few economic engines going to "collapse the local economy"? No, not for a while. Maybe not ever. But limiting job growth while your population continues to grow both because people have kids and because people come here from places that don't have jobs is a recipe for economic loss. And I think that loss compounds itself because once companies do start to move elsewhere, this becomes a less attractive place for the companies that remain because the other companies and the talent pool have migrated elsewhere. No one wants to be the last person at the party.

Saying "well Atherton is doing just fine" is silly - they exist solely because of the job growth around them. Atherton isn't a magical job-free zone where you still get to own a mansion - it can only exist because it's near other job centers. Palo Alto is one of those jobs centers. If everyone becomes Atherton, where are the jobs? How do you afford to buy the mansion? There's no fairy-tale world where everyone gets to be Atherton and everything works out just fine. Jobs have to go somewhere. And jobs go where other similar jobs already exist. You should read Triumph of the City which does a good job of explaining how and why cities tend to become industry hubs (LA for entertainment, Chicago for insurance, NYC for banking) and why stifling a hub means real losses to our national economy (in other words, jobs won't just move if you try to stifle them). But the long and short of it is that companies and employees benefit from being near similar companies - real financial benefits. This is obvious when you compare the number of tech IPOs in the last 10 years to the size of the relevant talent pool of each city (along with other metrics- like the ones listed above). The higher the talent pool, the more IPOs that city sees.

Also, there are economists that have studied the effects of housing restriction on our economy and found that we're foregoing more than 1.6 trillion dollars a year by making it difficult for people to go where the jobs are. Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2016 at 11:55 pm

@Done Deal - thank you. A couple of years ago I heard about the Grand Blvd concept - perhaps at a talk by Russ Hancock? - but was not aware that things had progressed as you say. The idea has merit, but the implementation will be tremendously complex (and terribly expensive) given how much will have to be un-done and/or redone to achieve the concept.


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2016 at 8:28 am

@Traffic – you make an interesting point. We know that companies are started elsewhere, but companies believe they’ll be quicker to market or win more market share with better features by locating in 94301. We also know that venture-backed companies are causing traffic, housing and community impacts by locating in 94301.

So why not capture some of the added value for the companies with a tax to mitigate impacts? Retail businesses, like Whole Foods and Apple store, mitigate some of their impacts by paying sales tax, but tech businesses have largely figured out how to not pay sales tax where they base their workers. Seems pretty unfair. How much local sales tax did Palantir pay on their consensus $1.5B 2015 revenue?


2 people like this
Posted by Observation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2016 at 8:51 am

@3rd gen,
Any proposal should exempt resident-friendly retail!! You are so right.


4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 5, 2016 at 11:19 am

Exempting resident-friendly retail is a good idea but too many non-retail companies are claiming to be retail.

The one across from Peninsula Creamery is a prime example of how the city let its "retail protection" stance get gamed. Try going in and asking for a gallon of research or a pound of multi-client study.


8 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 5, 2016 at 11:21 am

mauricio is a registered user.

The argument that companies need to move to or stay in Palo Alto or the Bay area because they want to be near other companies is completely wrong and false There is no such need, especially in this age of codification and digitation. There are high tech companies in different parts of the world, and there are very successful high tech companies which never existed in the Bay area. There is no suggestion of limiting job growth, only of creating tech hubs in other areas of the state and country, areas that need economic growth and can offer cheaper housing to the employees of those companies, a win/win situation. The meme that companies will refuse to be "in the middle of nowhere" is just an excuse to keep flooding this area with people, when there is no housing for them, and when the sarea is already grossly overpopulated. For many New Yorkers, for example, even now, California is the "middle of nowhere". Using this rational, no serious company should have ever had a location in California. The Bay area is not the only option for tech companies, nor should it be, and we shouldn't allow them to turn the Bay area into a huge sardine can, using the false notion that they all absolutely must be here, because everybody else is already here.


3 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 5, 2016 at 12:08 pm

@Traffic: "I think that the fundamental disagreement we're having stems from the fact that you think it's as easy to start a tech company in Santa Cruz as it is in Palo Alto."

No, that's incorrect, and misrepresents what I wrote.

I'd say our fundamental disagreements are about the costs of growth, whether communities have the right to manage their own growth, and how they go about it.

In your post, you often confused startups with growth. Palo Alto does have some compelling advantages for startups and research organizations. In general it doesn't have comparable advantages for larger companies or for a great many other business activities (like manufacturing). It has always been a stretch for growing tech companies to move beyond Palo Alto, yet they've been doing it for decades: To other cities on the Peninsula, to the East Bay, to other states, to other countries. Growing up and leaving Palo Alto is a well-understood path that's been walked hundreds of times before. So far it hasn't sunk the national economy, and there is no reason to believe it will in the future.

"Saying 'well Atherton is doing just fine' is silly..."

If you truly think so, then you misunderstood the discussion. You stated that limiting job growth is not an option; I simply pointed out that of course it is, and Atherton is an (extreme) example.

"...we're foregoing more than 1.6 trillion dollars a year by making it difficult for people to go where the jobs are."

The obvious conclusion is that we should all be living in Guangdong-style dormitories where we work.

Or is it possible that, as you wrote, "There are things more important in this world"? Perhaps there are some boundaries, some limits, that would protect those things?

What I'm arguing for is (1) a principled, inclusive approach to decide how much growth is appropriate in Palo Alto; (2) protection of quality of life.

Unlimited growth, especially when there is no attempt to mitigate the resulting damage (traffic, water, noise, loss of open space, school crowding, and on, and on) is just irresponsible, isn't it?


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2016 at 12:18 pm

The thing about startups (at least the ones I am familiar with) is that they don't start up in a wonderful office in downtown Palo Alto, but more than likely in a garage, bedroom, or family room of someone who decides to have a go with an idea in their spare time and continues working until such time as needs to make a decision as to when to quit the salaried job and spend full time doing the start up until such time as funding is found to give the startup enough finances to get a small officespace somewhere. Those starting up tend to be working on a shoestring budget and need their buddies to help in their spare time while still earning a salary elsewhere.

Anyone who thinks that a successful high tech startup with suddenly appear in small towns in the middle of nowhere has very little idea of how a start up tends to start up.


8 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 5, 2016 at 3:03 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

"Anyone who thinks that a successful high tech startup with suddenly appear in small towns in the middle of nowhere has very little idea of how a start up tends to start up."

California used to be the middle of nowhere as far as the East coast was concerned, and I have met enough New Yorkers who still feel that way, yet companies moved out her, new ones deer established, and California has the 7th largest economy in the world. How about established technology companies moving to the middle of nowhere, so their employees who can't afford housing here can have it easier? Is unlimited growth the only option?

The relocation of tech companies is a good thing. The main reason it doesn't happen enough is that "the middle of nowhere" is not glamorous enough, while the the Bay area is glamorous and desirable. The corporate honchos would much rather live in Old Palo Alto, Atherton, Woodside and Los Altos Hills, and regular employees want to live in hip downtown Palo Alto or San Francisco, regardless of what a disaster unlimited growth would cause to this area.


17 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2016 at 3:57 pm

Any poll can be designed to produce any desired outcome. It's all in how you word the question(s).


Like this comment
Posted by SEA_SEELAM REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on May 6, 2016 at 4:19 am

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.

All we do not need is tax increases to businesses or families.

I disagree and oppose any additional taxes. Let's manage our existing revenues and expenditiure allocations better.

Respectfully


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

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