Guest Opinion: Our housing crisis calls for regional cooperation

Challenges of housing affordability, environmental sustainability share common set of answers

The housing crisis in our communities is both an economic challenge and a threat to sustainability. It is defined by the rapid escalation of home prices and rents; it displaces longtime residents; it drives urban sprawl; and it is rooted in the imbalanced growth of jobs without adequate housing for our community.

No single city or company can solve these problems, but together we can establish goals to manage and address an increasingly dire situation. The challenges of housing affordability and environmental sustainability share a common set of answers.

Cory Wolbach

Lenny Siegel

Kirsten Keith
The highly publicized resignation of Kate Downing from the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission, due to the price of housing, is just one more reminder that the rapidly rising cost of living in our region is tearing apart the fabric of our communities and undermining our quality of life. At the same time, the couple who created the popular Halloween attraction, the "No Mercy Cemetery" in Old Mountain View, announced that they too were leaving town because their duplex rent was doubling.

We are losing not only the people who mow our lawns and serve our food, teach our children and bandage our wounds. The housing crisis is forcing out many of the people who lead our PTAs, serve on city commissions, and bring the economic, cultural and ethnic diversity that makes the Bay Area such an exciting place to live.

A community is not sustainable if employees and family members are forced to drive great distances through grueling commutes to remain employed or connected. Excessive automotive commuting wastes time and energy, and it is responsible for a strong majority of greenhouse gas emissions from our area. As new regulations implement changes in the California Environmental Quality Act, it will be easier to consider vehicle miles traveled in major development decisions. Environmental studies will show that the simplest way to reduce vehicle miles traveled is to locate housing near jobs.

Urban sprawl here has gone beyond suburban. Demonstrated by jam-packed highways crossing the mountains that encircle the Bay Area, residential development serving our workforce continues to displace farmland, demands more expensive infrastructure investments, and gobbles up more water and energy than compact development in established communities. Forcing people to commute to our cities from Tracy, Los Banos or Santa Cruz isn't just wearying for them. It's bad for the planet.

Without adequate housing, our communities cannot sustain themselves. That is, the housing shortage makes it difficult for people who grew up in this area to raise families here. While some young families may prefer to move elsewhere to own a quarter-acre, the evidence is that more of them would prefer culturally vibrant, safe, well-designed urban villages near employment, good schools and, in many cases, near their extended families. We have many retired people living here whose quality of life is diminished by the distance they live from their grandchildren.

A common goal

The job-rich communities of Silicon Valley need to come together to establish a simple common goal: We will do what we can to keep the jobs-housing imbalance from getting worse. That is, as employment continues to increase, we should plan for, and ensure, the development of housing in quantities that serve that growing workforce. We don't expect everyone to live and work in the same city, but we want to make it easier for people to live near where they work. We can make it easier for employees and our own younger generations to find housing that works for them, without their being forced far away, and without their displacing others in bidding wars.

New housing should be built near centers of employment, shopping and transit. New apartments, condos and townhouses should be built where office parks now sprawl or surface parking lots blight our downtowns. There is still land available to build medium-density housing without damaging the character of existing single-family neighborhoods. Infill development is called "smart growth" because it reduces the demand for energy, water and transportation to serve the same number of people. This is why environmental groups such as the Sierra Club support infill over urban sprawl.

As Mountain View is planning in its North Bayshore Planning Area, new homes should be accompanied by parks, stores, restaurants, services, schools/daycare and transit. Complexes should be designed to accommodate ride-sharing, delivery and bicycling. Designed right, "car-light" development can actually reduce traffic. With a robust portion of affordable units, we can serve the mix of seniors, families and workers that our communities need.

Many people fear the dust, noise and traffic diversion associated with new construction, but those impacts don't have to be part of the package. Building here is so desirable that our local governments have the authority to demand the highest-quality construction techniques to minimize neighborhood and environmental impacts.

We also have the ability to build more subsidized housing, both by including below-market-rate units in large market-rate developments and by funding dedicated affordable housing. Mountain View has shown that new, properly located projects serving families, veterans, low-income workers, seniors, and even the developmentally disabled can blend well into surrounding neighborhoods. All of our communities have an opportunity to renew our historic dedication to affordable housing options.

People elsewhere wish they had the economic dynamism and technical creativity of Silicon Valley, not realizing that we are falling victim to our own success. The San Francisco Peninsula no longer resembles the Valley of the Heart's Delight. Indeed, our communities are very different than they were a few decades ago. Change is inevitable, but through careful planning we can preserve our quality of life, protect the environment, welcome newcomers and retain those who have been here for years. Our diverse professionals, service workers, families and retirees aren't just the envy of the world; they are the heart of our communities.

Cory Wolbach is a member of the Palo Alto City Council; Lenny Siegel is a member of the Mountain View City Council; and Kirsten Keith is Menlo Park's mayor pro tem.

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41 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of University South
on Sep 2, 2016 at 8:48 am

Yes, change is inevitable. Palo Alto has changed every decade from the 1890s to today. The question is whether we ask for the change we want or we try to prevent change and instead get the change we don't want.

We have a choice between keeping the physical appearance of Palo Alto the same as when I came here twenty years ago but losing the character of the community - or we could let the buildings change and keep the inclusive, family-friendly character of the Palo Alto that I moved to.

I know which I want to see.

24 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 9:01 am

Who is the "our" in this headline? I ask that because it is a regional problem issue and has to be discussed regionally.

I know of one person who works in south San Jose in an office job and commutes in from Gilroy. Her rent has just increased and she is wondering how she will manage to deal with the increase. She could easily find another apartment, but the rent would be more. I know of another couple in Santa Clara, both office workers, who rent a nice, modern one bedroom apartment in a complex we might call pack and stack. Their baby is now over 18 months of age. They desperately need a bigger place, but their rent has increased dramatically and getting something bigger is out of the question. I could relate several other instances from amongst my acquaintances all of whom have somewhere to live, but the rent is the problem - not the lack of housing.

I don't think this housing crisis is what it is made to be. It is a regional issue and there is a bandwagon that landlords are jumping on because of the high salaries paid to some with others lagging well behind.

When these high tech companies give their employees highly competitive salaries, it is not just the salaries that count but the fact that they get so many perks their salary actually goes farther than someone working on a similar salary for a smaller company without perks. The free meals, haircuts, dry cleaning, gyms, childcare, etc. etc. are saving their employees so much money that they can afford to pay a lot more on rent than someone on a similar salary who works elsewhere.

I don't know what the answer is, but pretending that this is a Palo Alto issue is once again pretending Palo Alto is an island surrounded by a Berlin Wall. It isn't. The Bay Area is in this together and it has to be a Bay Area discussion, not a piecemeal town by town discussion.

39 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 2, 2016 at 9:06 am

I couldn't agree with @Observer more.

Our demographics and job mix are changing, and our policies have already altered the character of our cities. I believe that we can retain the mix of people that we need to have a vibrant place, or we can keep the status quo on the built environment. We can't do both. Fortunately, there are great models for density around transit that are not only the environmentally and economically sound thing to do, they also allow for a wonderful, interesting, vibrant urban life.

The strawmen constructed by the "Build a Wall" crowd (ie., policies aimed at strictly limited housing and office construction) are extreme: "Palo Alto shouldn't become like Manhattan". This brand of fear mongering is not constructive, but it is relatively common, even among our elected officials.

I'm happy to see a group of elected officials, including Mssrs. Wolbach, Siegal and Ms. Keith, take a pragmatic approach to solutions.

My only beef with this op ed is that infill development is characterized as "the right thing to do". This is technically correct: it is better from environmental sustainability, economic vitality, socio-economic diversity, and social justice points of view. However, beyond being the right thing to do, it also creates liveable, diverse, multi-generational communities that are fun and caring places.

This is what I don't get about the criticism of "entitled people" who think that they "deserve" to live in our communities. I think that we should *want* a variety of people in our community. It's not a question of deserving or undeserving. It's a question of the sort of community that we want to build.

31 people like this
Posted by Regional Issue
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 2, 2016 at 9:38 am


Yes, the housing problem is a regional issue. Mountain View is studying up to 10,000 housing units in North Bayshore, and thousands more in other areas of the city. Redwood City is building housing in the downtown area. Milpitas is building housing.

At the same time, many cities are adding thousands of jobs and not enough housing.

Palo Alto also needs to step up and build housing. If we are serious about resolving the problem, then we all need to build housing.

6 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 9:51 am

[Post removed.]

18 people like this
Posted by Justine
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 2, 2016 at 10:10 am

So proud we have such smart, thoughtful leadership in government looking out for the interests of future generations and our shared environment.

20 people like this
Posted by Justine
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 2, 2016 at 10:14 am

I don't work for Palantir or a developer. Some of us want to see stabilization in housing prices so we can buy a condo in the community where we rent so we can have a half-mile lifestyle (walk to shops, restaurants and services). Providing more housing in the urban core is a smart way to do that.

20 people like this
Posted by yes!
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 2, 2016 at 10:15 am

Thank god- some actual vision, leadership, and regional collaboration! Yes! This is what we need more of around here!

26 people like this
Posted by Give People a Home
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2016 at 10:16 am

Thank you! All these city council members hiding their heads in the sand about the reality of this region has got to stop. [Portion removed.] Once this land was orchards, then it became suburbs, and now it is time to become something new.

We don't have enough homes for seniors to downsize into and stay in our community (freeing up their houses for the young families cramped in apartments and little houses). We don't have enough homes to let younger workers live near their jobs and stop commuting. We don't have enough homes to keep our teachers, government employees, cops, nurses, here when they can move else where for a much better quality of life. We don't have enough homes to stem the tide of displacement of low income workers who are getting priced out of the community. We simply don't have enough homes and this wrong and selfish, and will cause so many problems for us in the long run.

It's time for all of us to put on our big kid pants and work together to solve the problem we made. Thank you for your leadership on this council members and for joining together. This is a regional problem and needs regional thinking.

19 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 2, 2016 at 11:17 am

muttiallen is a registered user.

Other cities in the region ARE addressing this. Have you driven around Mountain View or Redwood City or east Menlo Park recently? There are apartment buildings going up all over. Not much happpening in Palo Alto. 70 units of senior housing in Barron Park -- nope. Just a few monster houses instead. Large development that could include a bunch of low-income units instead of ugly out-dated trailer park? Nope. Nice 1500 square foot ranch houses, perfectly fine for most families with 2 kids are being torn down all over south Palo Alto and being replaced by new huge houses labeled "green" or "eco-friendly." How a 3500 sq ft house for 4 people can ever be called "green" I will never understand.
Let's build a bunch of 5-story high-rise apartment buildings along El Camino with retail on the first floor. We are not a suburb. We are a city and need to act like one!

22 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 2, 2016 at 11:27 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks to Cory, Lenny and Kirsten.

Yes housing is a regional problem and Palo Alto is part of the region and can be part of the solution.

I agree with Eric that housing in Palo Alto is not about entitled people wanting to live here.

For me it is about providing housing that will be affordable to the kind of people who will make this a vibrant and diverse community.

I do not feel providing more housing opportunities is a negative. It is something that will enrich our community.

Where I live downtown is one of the best places for more housing--close to services, shopping and transit options. My location and others like Cal Ave can meet the needs of seniors who want to downsize but remain here, young singles looking to be close to work in an exciting downtown and many families like the five families with school age children who live in my building.

Yes Palo Alto is an expensive single family home market and I do not expect that to change. But our new housing will be mostly rental and smaller condo/townhouse units if we prioritize these choices.

The generation before Nancy and me welcomed us, built schools and parks and libraries and made Palo Alto a great and welcoming community. I want to pass that on to the next generation and do our part in addressing the regional housing challenges outlined by Cory, Lenny and Kirsten.

Bravo to them!!

37 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 2, 2016 at 1:05 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Building more will only further diminish the quality of life. It will not solve the housing crunch, it will make it worse. it will drive up home prices and rents, ensuring that the only people able to afford to move to Palo Alto are foreign buyers and highly paid techies, meaning that the population will be even less diverse and more homogenic. The house keepers, nannies, gardeners, plumbers and electricians who serve this community will certainly not be able to afford even the tiniest housing unit. [Portion removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 2, 2016 at 2:35 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

All in all a good editorial, at least for showing the faces of people in my town and neighboring cities (I hope you got the intended humor of my use of the words 'my town'). It's encouraging to see there is some willingness to cooperate, at a sub-regional level anyway, to address the issues, perceived or real. The first responders, no not EMT's, but the first posts to the article were heavily slanted/loaded. Was that just a coincidence? Or do they just get up earlier than the others that have to rush off to work?

I can only imagine what NoMaPa said to get bleeped. I'll try to be careful. So, here it goes. Let's see how far I get.

'The job-rich communities of Silicon Valley need to come together to establish a simple common goal: We will do what we can to keep the jobs-housing imbalance from getting worse. That is, as employment continues to increase, we should plan for, and ensure, the development of housing in quantities that serve that growing workforce. We don't expect everyone to live and work in the same city, but we want to make it easier for people to live near where they work. We can make it easier for employees and our own younger generations to find housing that works for them, without their being forced far away, and without their displacing others in bidding wars.'

Had a little trouble with the use of 'their' but maybe it is grammatically correct. That's a nit, but this isn't a nit. Nowhere was there mention of trying to deal with the increased employment/jobs side of the equation. The solution offered is only for additional housing? Mayor Burt, in his last few months of serving us, spoke out and told it like it is.

The word 'homes' was used in several places in the article and in posts. What does that mean? Homes like mine (a SFH) in R-1 zoning? or condos and townhouses?

And I know the 'a' word leaked into the article, but what does that mean? You could get at least half a dozen different answers to that question, but it was clear what some of the contributors to the article were thinking of... minimum wage earners being able to live here: our gardeners, caregivers, cleaning service providers, fast food restaurant employees, and back room workers (cooks in good restaurants), et al. Really? Let's hear how you will pull that off!

I always enjoy reading Stephen Levy's posts and blogs. "Where I live downtown is one of the best places for more housing--close to services, shopping and transit options. My location and others like Cal Ave can meet the needs of seniors who want to downsize but remain here, young singles looking to be close to work in an exciting downtown and many families like the five families with school age children who live in my building."

He's right! That would be the ideal location and scenario, but can it happen? Are those five families renters or buyers? If they are renters what is their rent rate? How many families can afford that rent, whatever it is?

Most of those people who commute long distances are ones (married with kids) who really want a SFH with a nice backyard and patio to entertain friends over for BBQ's, etc, just like we did 50 years ago here in PA. They know they can't afford a similar place in PA. They want to 'own' and that's their only opportunity/option to own. And they put up with the long commutes...probably grudgingly...but at least they 'own' and are building up equity in their investment.

So, in summary, the contributors should be thanked, but the article pretty much just repeated what they perceive as the problem without giving any specifics, real and achievable, on how to solve it.

These are hard times and anyone who serves as a volunteer on a committee/commission, or runs for office at the local level, whatever political position they take, have to be commended for the many hours they put in, at low pay, and taking abuse from those of us that disagree with them. PAO enables that, and that's probably a good thing.

And, there are several hundred rental units available here in PA, but is it that their rates are too high? From all indications...low vacancy appears many people are still able to afford to rent here. Buying is a whole different story.

62 people like this
Posted by We have heard this one before
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 2:53 pm

We have heard this one before is a registered user.

The historical data is overwhelming that adding more density with virtually unlimited demand won't reduce the cost of housing. All it will do is marginally improve the quality of the housing stock for the wealthy and government selected special interest groups who get subsidies paid for by the working class.

If we want to add more housing we need at least $1 billion in new infrastructure investments. All the densifiers that shout for higher buildings and smaller micro apartments never talk about what would be required to support them or where the resources would come from. Roads, power, electric, water, schools, fire and police services will all need to be expanded proportionally. If we can't fund them now with interest rates at historic lows, a vibrant economy and a supposed imbalance of employment tax revenue to housing when can we?

Are we going to add more traffic lanes to Central Expressway or ECR? Nope. Are we going to dig underpasses at Churchill, Charleston and Meadow? Nope. What about fixing the on/off ramps for HWY 101 and 280 while adding park and ride lots to shuttle commuters to work centers? Nope. Well at least tell me we will electrify CalTrans so we can add more trains, put in an end to end intelligent traffic management light system and create more dedicated bike paths. Nope, nope and nope.

Instead, we just have the same old tired tropes for progressive urban utopia and social fairness. It is a well known formula for politicians to pander as do-gooders-at-others-expense, developers to yet again do a dash and grab for big profits, self absorbed millennial give-me's to steal their piece of the pie and most unfortunately a prescription for lowering the quality of life in Palo Alto.

51 people like this
Posted by We have heard this one before
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 3:16 pm

We have heard this one before is a registered user.

By the way, have you ever been to a city that plans effectively and is serious about growth?

They actually start the infrastructure BEFORE they begin building the new housing. So until we see shovels breaking ground on the necessary infrastructure improvements FIRST then we know we are being snookered yet again.

9 people like this
Posted by VERG Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2016 at 7:13 pm

VERG Menlo Park is a registered user.

Watch video at Web Link

This is what happens - to our quiet residential streets - when our cities approve office development - without requiring adequate housing and transit.

How can our cities do better?

All new office developments:
One new job: One new home

Voters for Equitable and Responsible Growth
For updates, write to:

36 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 3, 2016 at 6:31 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Densifying will create an urban nightmare in Palo Alto. The necessary infrastructure upgrade price tag would be in the billions. It would require road expansion, sewage, water and electricl upgrading, new schools(where is the land going to materialize from?), more police and firefighters, which cost lots of money. The densifiers never talk about it, for obvious reasons.

The tragedy is that even a massive building wave would not satisfy the vast majority of those demanding to live in Palo Alto, it will only increase the pressure to turn it into a large urban center. Int will increase, not decrease home and rent cost, and the only people who will be able to afford buying and renting will be the same people who can afford them now. The town will be even less diverse, as the same type of people would be moving in. In the process, Palo Alto as know it will vanish forever, replaced by an urban disaster.

To reply to another poster, speaking as a progressive, there is nothing progressive about densifying, unless you consider giving developers access to massive profits is progress. Densifying is regressive and reactionary.

42 people like this
Posted by Regional housing should also be in Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley and Los Altos Hill!
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 3, 2016 at 9:03 am

Regional housing should also be in Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley and Los Altos Hill! is a registered user.

It is time for the surrounding "bedroom" communities to do their part in addressing the housing shortage. If we view this as a truly regional problem, which it is, then the WHOLE region should contribute. Saying the jobs aren't in their town doesn't cut it, if your residents work in the area, you should be part of a regional solution.

And anecdotally, almost none of my Palo Alto friends and neighbors actually live and work in Palo Alto, and that's been true for the 20 years I've been a resident.

60 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 3, 2016 at 10:30 am

mauricio is a registered user.

I will bet that most PAF members don't work in Palo Alto, and even those who do now, taking into account the remarkable dynamics of the Valley, will change job location several times during their career. On the other hand, there are many workers who actually work in Palo Alto nearly every day:child care providers, house keepers, gardeners, garbage collectors, handymen, firefighters, etc. None of them will be able to afford to rent, let alone buy a home in Palo Alto, yet they are not in the conversation. In essence, It's all about making it easier for highly educated, highly compensated, mostly techies, and foreign buyers and investors to buy homes in Palo Alto, or rent at prices that most who actually work in Palo Alto will never be able to afford. The same holds true for the very exclusive neighboring towns like LAH, Woodside, PV and Atherton, which do absolutely nothing to contribute to a solution to the housing crunch, and expect Palo Alto to shoulder all the burden. The hypocracy involved is mind boggling, and the "solution, to densify Palo Alto is the absolutely worst possible.

25 people like this
Posted by PhotoOp
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 3, 2016 at 12:21 pm

PhotoOp is a registered user.

Every week the same arguments are presented in yet another twist of the same story, I don't believe anyone is changing their minds...... big money is bombarding the media presenting sympathetic stories with no real solutions.... until someone starts talking about how to scale Palo Alto to size I am not even listening..... and once the real solutions are proposed that would provide scale and quality of life, no one will be willing to foot the bill.... enlarging streets, building mass transit, enlarging the schools.... looking forward for when the election cycle is over and the residents have spoken.

32 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 3, 2016 at 1:08 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

The 8800 additional housing units the council is irresponsibly and foolishly discussing would mean an increase of at least 25 percent in the population of Palo Alto. This would be so absurdly implausible and disastrous if it actually happened, the infrastructure upgrade necessary would be so prohibitably expensive, that it would undoubtedly be subjected to a ballot measure that would be overwhelmingly defeated, once residents find out the price tag involved. It's all a big fantasy the densifiers keep repeating in the hope that it would become reality just by virtue of making residents think it's inevitable if the Steve Levy and his allies keep presenting it as a Fait accompli. It will never happen.

9 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 3, 2016 at 6:33 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Deja vu...all over again. This is going to be long so pay attention. I’m not going to repeat it. There are a lot of similarities between housing today and when we first moved here in 1961, although I don't remember it being called a 'crisis' back then. Of course everything is scaled up from that period. Rents and home prices were much higher in PA than neighboring cities, and those across the bay…Newark, Union City, Fremont, and Milpitas. My first job, and the reason we moved here in the first place, was at Philco WDL on Fabian Way. We, and many of my co-workers rented here and two of my co-workers actually rented just a couple doors (tri or quad plexes) away, down the street from us on Alma. Our address was 3151 Alma, a 2 bdrm 1 bath unit with a nice big kitchen, a covered carport, and lots of storage space, for $125/mo. My annual income was probably $8,500 and my wife, Garnet, didn’t work. We became involved in community activities and connected to a church very quickly.

Then we got a little more established when we found a family doctor, a dentist, and car insurance agent, and we met and became good friends with many young couples thru our church. Many were graduate students at Stanford and many others were drawn to the area by jobs, a lot by Lockheed. And we were starting to take notice of the political scene in town. Ed Arnold was our mayor. So, the seed had been planted and a root was taking hold to keep us grounded in PA. But it was the desire of all us renters to become home owners. We initially looked at homes in PA, but then started taking weekend trips to Sunnyvale, Cupertino, and as far away as Prospect Rd in San Jose, to look at model homes at new tract home developments. They were selling for $4,000-$5,000 less than equivalent homes in PA. And that meant a difference (big by comparison) of $16,000-$17,000 dollars there versus $21,000-$22,000 here. We talked it over and agreed to just rent for a couple more years and save up enough for a down payment so that we could buy in PA. We had fallen in love with our town. We bought our house in 1963, moved in in June.

I don’t know the detailed history of apartment building in PA, but I’m sure a big part of it happened in the early 50’s when the Stanford Industrial Park was first developed with the anchor company being HP on top of the hill on Page Mill Rd. I think most of the units on Alma that stretched from East Meadow to California Avenue and beyond were built in that time frame. There were also many in the Ventura area at that time. And of course Mt. View had it’s California Avenue avenue of apartments.

I changed jobs when I went to work for Kaiser Electronics in the Stanford Industrial Park in January of 1964. We were located on the corner of Porter Drive and Page Mill Rd, next door to HP. I was employee number 298 and there was a growth spurt in the company that brought that number up to 400-500 over the next few years. I’m slowly getting to the topic so bear with me.

I was one of just a few employees who lived in PA. Most lived in cheaper, newer, nicer, and bigger homes elsewhere. We loved our little 1100 sq ft bungalow, but when friends would invite us to their homes in other cities, they proudly gave us house tours to show off their spacious two story homes with big kitchens, wall to ceiling fireplaces, bedrooms with walk-in closets and bathrooms with jacuzzis, and….oh...those popcorn ceilings. lol Of course we were envious, but then we’d come back home to our bungalow and remember why we made the decision to stay here. We’d look at each other, smile, and agree we made the right decision. After two additions, the house is now an 1876 sq ft one story house, very easy to maintain and clean, and we made nice upgrades to bathrooms along the way. No regrets! And a nice backyard brick patio to have BBQ parties on.

An additional point, and now I’m finally getting back to my opening statement. The commutes were hard for my co-workers, not as bad as today tho, but they did it so they could live in a place where they could afford nice homes to raise families. That's the similarity.

Sure, we can take care of providing rental units for singles, maybe couples...with micro, studio, and 1 bdrm apartments, but I don't see anything proposed for families, and that's what PA has always been about, a community of families with kids in our schools.

46 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 3, 2016 at 7:49 pm

Be Positive is a registered user.

Very few people both live and work in Palo Alto. The nature of the tech business is such that people change jobs frequently (both for $$ and boredom at doing the same thing for too long) adding to the not living and working in the same place.

I would like to thank Pat Burt for being realistic and vocal about the lack of infrastructure to support growth. Our schools are full, are streets are a mess, our storm drains need work. And there's that pesky drought and water shortage...

The other big issue in housing turnover and prices is taxes. Just on my block, there is one empty house because the owner is in a care facility and it would be foolish to sell before she passes away because of taxes (estate vs. capital gains means hundreds of thousands of dollars). As an almost empty nestor, I would love to downsize, but selling my house would mean a huge tax hit on the increase in value and I would probably end up paying more real estate tax than I do here unless I moved somewhere the honors the tax exchange.

I would also like to see our local neighbors who benefit from our jobs to provide housing. For people that want single family houses, changing the zoning in PV, Atherton, Woodside and LAH to say, 6000-10000 square foot lots, would allow a ton of additional non-pack and stack housing.

1 person likes this
Posted by Jane Huang
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 3, 2016 at 10:23 pm

Jane Huang is a registered user.

Thank you Mr. Wolbach, Mr. Siegel, and Ms. Keith, for recognizing that the housing crisis will not go away, and for approaching the problem with measured optimism, rather than a knee-jerk fear that quality of life must deteriorate. Housing is a social problem, and we have a great deal of choice over what happens. Thank you also for recognizing that however expensive increasing density must be, the environmental price we pay for not densifying will ultimately be much higher.

26 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 4, 2016 at 6:31 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Most of the people demanding to live in Palo Alto work outside of Palo Alto. Those who do work in Palo Alto will change job location several times during their career, due to the unique job fluidity of this area. There is no land available for any substantial housing development, even if it was not a terrible idea. The price of additional density to current home owners would be in the billions in infrastructure upgrades. There is zero chance they would be willing to absorb it, on top of the radical deterioration in livability and the decimation of Palo Alto's character as a residential suburb. The densification PAF is clamoring for is just not going to happen, it's a fantasy.

There is no housing crisis, there is an aggressive demand by people who want to live in Palo Alto, and nowhere else, for a myriad of reasons, and demand that housing tailored to their budget and income be provided to them. It's a monumental difference.

16 people like this
Posted by Resident8
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2016 at 10:23 am

Resident8 is a registered user.

Cory, thank you for publishing your thoughts online. I'm glad as a community we are not discussing whether we need housing but rather how much. The cost of housing is being driven by the increase in highly paid jobs. The reason so little new housing has been built in Palo Alto and so much office space in the last 5 years is because office space is more profitable to build. The more pro growth folks are against reigning in office growth and also trying to reduce below market housing in new developments that would benefit non-techie workers and keep our community diverse. Furthermore, as a community we want the impacts of new development almost fully mitigated so we can preserve our great schools, low crime and beautiful streets without excess commuters parking in residential neighborhoods and streets becoming impassible during rush hour. Yet the pro growth folks have not done a good job at mitigation because their hearts are not in it. Cory, I feel you have not been taking the above sufficiently into account in your recent votes and I also feel Liz Kniss and Adrian Fine are in the pro-growth camp whereas Arthur Keller and Lydia Kou understand the above and therefore have an approach much more inline with Palo Alto Residents desires towards adding affordable housing at a pace the community can absorb.

3 people like this
Posted by Pete
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 4, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Pete is a registered user.

My wife and I would much rather live with our daughter in a downtown (or Cal Ave) condo than a single family home. Being within walking distance of everything we need, and not having to drive, is much more important to us than having a yard.

As others have said, change is inevitable. Those arguing against infill development may think they're fighting to maintain the character of Palo Alto, but what they're really fighting for is displacement of less wealthy residents, longer commutes, and environmental degradation.

4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 5, 2016 at 2:06 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.


I agree with you that we could and should build more housing, (even high density) on El Camino and in the downtown transit hub area where most of the office buildings are located, (where the techies work side by side at long tables, coding all day) and I even go along with the idea of 5 stories, or even higher if we raise the height limit in those areas, so an additional floor level could be built...for housing only. We would need to relax ordinance restrictions and change zoning in those areas in order for it to happen, however. That's the only way we can entice developers to propose projects to build apartments. Their favorite projects are offices for obvious reasons, they're more profitable.

There are lots of 'pet' ideas being floated about, but due to our current business boom period, none of the units would be affordable for low income people or families. The size units (micro, studio, 1 bdrm) described and proposed by the proponents will only serve today's young, and mostly single, tech workers who are earning 6 figure incomes. There will be nothing offered for middle income and middle age workers with families, and if it was offered, they would be priced out anyway. The proponents tout it as a way for seniors to downsize, move out of their homes and into a small apartment, so they can stay in PA. Whoopee...not! I don't know any of my senior friends who would go for that idea. We, who have lived here a long time and own our homes in R-1 zoned areas, want to stay in our homes as long as we can, and then go into facilities like Channing House, Webster House, Palo Alto Commons, Via, etc., that have all the amenities that living alone in a small apartment wouldn't offer. Being alone in a big complex full of young people 50-60 years younger than you? And just having a small space to live in and sleep in sounds so depressing to me. I will avoid that at all costs, and I think my senior friends will also. I think it's just a marketing tool. Or another choice is to move to other areas where we have family and where rent rates and home prices are 1/10th to 1/5th of what they are here. Yes, we'd have to find new doctors, dentists, insurance agents, etc., but most of us still have the energy and mental faculties to do that. It would be an adjustment, big or small, but at least we would be unburdened from this craziness going on in the Bay Area...Silicon Valley, and in my town. Kate Downing found a way out. Others can, and will too.

19 people like this
Posted by Transit Agencies Are A Key Problem To managing the Impacts of Growth
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 5, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Transit Agencies Are A Key Problem To managing the Impacts of Growth is a registered user.

Infill will only work if we have transportation solutions that work--and our regional transit agencies are hopelessly dysfunctional Byzantine bureaucracies that prefer to fight over funding and turf rather than collaborate to serve the region's citizens better.

Did you know that VTA's recent Next Network proposal concepts include major cuts to north county bus transit service--especially in Palo Alto? (Concepts include elimination of the the 35 and 88 bus lines.)

Did you know that HSRA has made NO commitment to grade separate rail for their high speed trains at Palo Alto's sensitive Churchill, East Meadow, and Charleston crossings? How, exactly will that work? These are school routes used by hundreds of children every day. They carry tens of thousands of car and bus trips every day. At-grade crossings will be enormously disruptive and dangerous to east/west auto, bicycle, pedestrian, and bus traffic. They have offered no real solutions.

VTA's BRT proposal competes with Caltrain rather than providing local bus runs that would get people to Caltrain. A collaborative solution that delivers local residents to the train would be helpful and might draw greater ridership.

I could go on and on.

As we consider VTA's ballot measure, remember that they included language that will enable VTA's San Jose controlled board to redirect dollars to south county after the money is approved as they have done in the past. How has VTA's San Jose controlled Board treated us in the past?

Our regional transit agencies are a hot mess. How do we deal with the transportation problems that growth creates as they continue to cut our services?

4 people like this
Posted by RDR
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2016 at 11:52 pm

RDR is a registered user.

So many people think they have the answers but the situation is complicated. I think Palo Alto has done a great job at holding down the job growth, unlike Mountain View with its 10 Million added square feet of office space. This is 60,000 potential new workers employed in Mountain View when this first part of the next waves of growth gets built!

You can get info on what fraction of employed residents work within their home city. Palo Alto's number is one of the highest around, but that's only 35% of resident workers. In Mountain View, even more of the workers who live there work in different cities.

I blame the high rental rates on low interest rates which fuel speculative development of all sorts using the free money as development capital. The rise in rents will continue even if 25% more housing is built, and the added units will just fuel ever increasing land values. It's a vicious spiral. The only way to lower rents is to reverse the high land values.

To assess any cities participation in the imbalance as a function of CHANGE, you need to look at added jobs less added housing units, more or less. The worst city around the north county is Mountain View. Even so, land values in Palo Alto are higher than in Mountain View. Mountain View is the place where the housing units need to be added to have the biggest impact on lowering average rents, but not by much. Ironically, one might look at East Palo Alto as a source of lower cost land. However, by and large, many many people don't really want to live in Los Altos, Palo Alto or Mountain View even if they do work here. The cost of living is higher here for many reasons. The grocery stores and gas stations charge higher prices owing to the more expensive rents, and it's getting worse.

I believe the solution is a little bit of everything. Build a few more housing units in Palo Alto, curb runaway job growth like Palantir is doing in downtown (without construction of offices but by stuffing in more workers in existing in retail space, etc.). Add the residential units in North Bayshore. Continue the planned added residential units along El Camino Real (which will be very expensive places to live). Someone persuade Google and LinkedIn to do some of their hiring in other locations. Rent control of existing apartment units would be a big help in this transition. Favor added units over spruced up apartments to raise rents. And so on.

2 people like this
Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 6, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

Well said, well written opinion by our civic leaders. A strong communal voice addressing many of our every day, every hour human concerns. Living here is living under the thumb of the self proclaimed tech Gods - a Valley of the Kings where a push of a button sets an automated algorithm in motion. For us humans who live and work outside of the tech industry, it's no longer a paycheck to paycheck worry. It's a rent check or mortgage payment away from being stranded and homeless. People Matter not machines, plain and simple.

Now is the time to stop focusing on the machine and start honoring those who are here and those who came before us. Those working so very, very hard to provide for themselves and their families.

It's no longer a 1950's post WII America boom at hand. We are dealing with a new set of factors, domestic and International which affect all of us. With carful consideration MV, PA, and SM can be stewards on how to do it right. Let's get started as soon as possible. Housing First because People Matter!

6 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 6, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Native to the Bay

Thank you!

I hope we all take notice and take your message seriously. And you're right, the workers outside of the tech industries are at a big disadvantage and the ones that suffer the most by the housing situation. With incomes, maybe half as much or less than what the skilled tech employees make, it's impossible to compete for affordable housing. And even though the article talked about the problem, and many of us have known about it for a long time, there were no specifics on how to fix it. My good friend and co-author of the article, Cory Wolbach, told me that it was not their intent to give specifics, but to simply keep the discussion going. Believe me, the subject won't just be forgotten and fade away. And opinions are okay, I even have one once in a while, and mine are better than most others, but they don't do much as far as getting action to be taken. I've posted many times about the problem and my thoughts on the causes, but have very little to offer on the solution side. I leave that up to the folks at City Hall. They are closer to the problems, the regional situation, and have their fingers on the pulse of us residents and what we think is best for our town. I put my trust in them.

I have supported many of the ways to get high density housing built in the right areas. But, to get cooperation from developers it will take ordinance and zoning changes to entice them to build housing and get weaned off the 'office only' or 'mostly office' developments they proposed in the past that got approved by lenient ARB's, P&TC commissioners, and CC's. It can work with the help of the RPP, TMA, et al, but it will take a coordinated effort and it will take time. If you've lived here for any period of time, you know things move very slowly as far as finally getting CC approvals. They're brilliant people but move like sloths or snails at times.

I'll have many more comments to make (probably a lot of repeat posts) on the housing issue and in particular the ADU idea. I'm just tired right that will have to wait for another day.

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

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