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Guest Opinion: Deciding Palo Alto's future growth

City Council will play crucial role in deciding how city should grow in the next 15 years.

The biggest issue in this year's City Council race is deciding how Palo Alto should grow. This year's council election is particularly important because the newly elected council will vote on adopting Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan Update. This document defines the city's policies toward growth for the next 15 years and will be the basis for the city's zoning.

I am a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) for the Comprehensive Plan Update and its Land Use Subcommittee, although I am not speaking on behalf of them.

I love the fact that Palo Alto is a family-oriented town with great schools, an active community, tree-lined streets and many parks, environmental leadership, innovative startups and great city services.

Because the CAC is an advisory committee, the controversial issues will be decided by the next City Council. Specifically, two of the most controversial issues that will be voted on are whether to continue the annual office cap and whether to remove the 50-foot height limit. How will votes on these issues affect housing, parking and traffic?

One of the reasons so little new housing has been built in Palo Alto in the last decade is because office space is more profitable to build and thus has been the vast majority of new development. New office space increases traffic and parking demand.

Palo Alto, with 66,000 residents, has a 3-to-1 jobs-to-working-resident ratio -- one of the highest in the nation -- with more than 95,000 workers. Most of those workers are from out of town. When we build more office, that increases the number of out-of-town workers commuting into Palo Alto.

To enable more new housing to be built we need to restrict office development through an annual office cap and convert some office zoning to residential. Ironically, the limiting factor for tech growth in the region is actually lack of housing for its employees and not office space availability.

Raising the height limit above 50 feet is not necessary anywhere in the city to meet even the most aggressive growth scenario being considered: 6,000 new housing units over the next 15 years. There is general consensus that new apartment buildings in downtown should include a large percentage of studio and one-bedroom apartments to meet the needs of elderly and young workers. However, even new studio and one-bedroom apartments can rent for $3,000 to $6,000 per month, as demonstrated by the new Carmel Village development in San Antonio Shopping Center, so new small units will still be relatively expensive.

Coincidentally, that's the same monthly price you can rent a modest single-family house for in Palo Alto today. Instead, many of us who are residentialists think that increasing the set-aside requirement for below-market-rate housing from 15 percent to 25 percent when approving multi-unit residential buildings, like San Francisco already has, will improve affordability for those who need it most. One of the arguments against requiring below-market-rate housing is that it will increase the price of housing for the nonsubsidized units. However, demand is setting the market rate of housing far above the cost, including the cost of additional units.

Many of the key traffic intersections are at maximum capacity or approaching maximum capacity during rush hour. Most of the major thoroughfares cannot be widened, so we do not have very much more capacity for more car trips during rush hour.

Given the parking shortage downtown and at California Avenue, how do we absorb this additional parking caused by new development? Parking shortages have resulted in thousands of daytime employees parking in residential neighborhoods. This is the result of new office buildings with inadequate parking and increased employment densities. Solutions such as car-light apartment buildings offer promise but, given the current neighborhood parking shortages, should be approached with extreme caution and a recognition that some occupants will find ways to skirt the rules.

This problem did not exist when I moved here and was created by lenient parking building requirements and enforcement. Without setting and enforcing strict parking requirements, this problem will only get worse. We need City Council members who are truly committed to ensuring that there is sufficient on-site parking for new developments and new single-occupant car trips are minimized and can be absorbed by our roads.

In the last year, a number of developments have come before the City Council on appeal because they were incompatible in size and scale with their surrounding neighborhoods. As a last line of defense the council has either voted down or improved these projects because of a slim residentialist majority now occupying the council.

The new City Council will determine the degree to which new developments will be compatible with their neighbors and within the size and scale that provides reasonable transitions.

The newly elected City Council will vote on adopting the Comprehensive Plan Update and determine which way we should proceed with the controversial land use issues. These issues include whether we continue the office cap, keep the height limit, increase the percentage of below-market-rate housing and how we address our parking and traffic challenges. Thus the council will play a crucial role in deciding Palo Alto's future growth for the next 15 years.

Hamilton Hitchings, a high-tech entrepreneur, has lived in Palo Alto for 25 years, primarily in the Duveneck neighborhood. Besides serving the CAC, he recently completed the Leadership Palo Alto program and is an active member of the city's Emergency Services Volunteer program.

Comments

48 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2016 at 9:12 am

I disagree that planning for future growth is the most important issue in town or the election.

I think that infrastructure, traffic, parking and transportation (or lack of it) is the most important issue we have. We can't have growth of any type without first looking at basic infrastructure and solving problems that exist already.

Traffic is a lot worse during the school year rather than the summer or times school is out. Consequently, getting schoolkids to school should be high on the list of CC and PAUSD.

Next there has to be an understanding that traffic and commuting is not a Palo Alto issue but a regional issue. Until all the local CCs work together on this issue nothing can make a positive difference to solving this crisis. Sitting in traffic on 101 as well as local arterials is not just happening in Palo Alto, but all along the Peninsula. Most people live in one town and work in another and looking at just local traffic won't make a dent in regional problems. A five mile commute is a five mile commute regardless of whether it is within the same town or even the same county! People change jobs more often than they change addresses and in a couple, it is unlikely that both will work in the same town. Improving first and last mile commutes from Caltrain stations and parking lots alongside highway ramps has to be something that is done by all of our neighboring towns. By not doing this we are not going to make any type of realistic change in traffic.

The other aspect has to be improving public transportation. People use whatever method of commuting is easiest and most efficient for them. If a clean bus with wifi gets commuters from San Francisco to Google then why can't they do the same for non Google workers. We have to get all transportation agencies to stop working as individual entities and insist they do a better job of integrating their services as well as serving all parts of the area, not just those in one part of the county while reducing service in other parts. Yes, VTA is to blame when it produces routes that snake around neighborhoods and don't coordinate well with Caltrain schedules and stop at the invisible line of San Mateo county. Bus services are viewed as something for those who can't afford a car and that is the wrong way to view an efficient bus system to provide an efficient method of commuting to those who have a desire to be taken in a comfortable bus, while they check email or world news at the beginning and end of their work day.

Parking has to be addressed. Parking lots with dedicated shuttles at highway ramps is one possibility. Improving signage with spaces and efficient methods of payment will also improve the problem. Occasional all day parkers are never taken into account when the permits are discussed. These irregular day long parkers are coming to town and their needs have to be met also.

Palo Alto CC have to communicate with other cities and with VTA to make this happen. Improving shuttles, encouraging biking and working with schools will help localized traffic. But looking at the big picture is essential.


71 people like this
Posted by Reality
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 23, 2016 at 9:24 am

Here is an example of how unrealistic the rhetoric is from those who demand we "fix" the jobs-housing balance. The gap is now 3 jobs for each home in palo alto. If it were reduced by a paltry one-sixth, there would need to be built thirty, 120-foot tall, or sixty, 60-foot tall apartment or condo highrise buildings in town (example based on 500 housing units per building, using PA current housing total of 27,000 homes/units).

There is no room in town for 30-60 very big buildings no matter how tall, and no way to make significant gains in reducing the jobs to housing gap. And the 50% increase in population as a result of the above would blow out our schools, parks, services, etc. We cannot supply enough, but we can address demand and supply some.

What must not fall for the rhetoric that tells us to turn PA into SF. Instead we must enforce strict limits on office development that generates huge numbers of new workers demanding more and more housing. Market rate housing is unaffordable by definition, even small units.

What we can do is build more housing smartly and carefully. Increase the number of below market units that must be set aside in market rate housing, build more housing above retail, up the fees commercial and for profit housing developers pay into our affordable housing fund, and limit office projects which competes with housing and retail for property are a few examples.

Fact: Pro-development Palo Alto Forward supports no limits on office growth, a huge engine bringing more workers wanting more housing. They presented a 5-page letter to the city council demanding no office limits. Yet PAF also demands the development of dense, tall, primarily market rate housing that will be unaffordable to nearly all by well paid professionals.

In this election, if you don't share PAF's unsustainable, unrealistic plan for Palo Alto, don't vote for city council candidates they endorse.






64 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2016 at 10:20 am

This is an important election as the author states. Further, voters need to be very careful about looking into the past of candidates. Their websites claim moderation, when in fact they favor high density.

If a slow growth approach was mandated by the next city council, (like a permanent cap on office development city-wide), the staff might have the capacity to help deal with the infrastructure issues we all face. But if staff is always occupied with developer proposals, we will be continue to be crushed with traffic.

Many of the candidates promoted by the old guard say there are fixes for this that will come into being sometime in the future. This may be helpful, but I'd rather not hold my breath while being stuck in traffic waiting for this futuristic traffic management.

I'm voting for Arthur Keller and Lydia Kou.
Stewart Carl and Greer Stone would also be good choices.



43 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2016 at 11:30 am

The author is begging the question, how palo alto should grow. Let's debate whether Palo Alto needs to grow at all, and what the costs are instead of jumping straight into development plans.


8 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 24, 2016 at 11:17 am

Glad to meet the flat earth society. When the land prices dictate buildings go up, up. Underground railway are built. Silicon Valley is the new Manhattan. Necessity is the mother of invention. Look to Portland for the best future planning. Water poor San Diego is also trying. George Drysdale a social studies teacher


26 people like this
Posted by SFTransplant
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 24, 2016 at 11:59 am

Look to SF's Eastern Neighborhoods plan as a cautionary note on excessive development:
Web Link
"Neighborhood activist Marc Salomon noted that people who moved into what were supposed to be transit-oriented developments have ignored transit and instead use private cars, Uber and Lyft (which have crowded the streets with many, many more cars) and the tech shuttles.

Pedro Peterson presented the summary report, starting off with the Department’s position that the plan was created to preserve Production, Distribution, and Repair spaces in the neighborhoods and to encourage housing development.

Reality: In the past five years, nearly a million square feet of PDR has been lost, and another 1.3 million will be lost of all of the proposed projects in the pipeline move forward."


12 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Sep 24, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Hitchings makes virtually no mention of transportation. No realistic progress on the jobs/housing imbalance will have a noticeable impact on traffic and parking in the next 10-15 years.

Strictly reducing new office space while rezoning commercial areas to residential make sense, but work aggressively in implementing TMA's and increasing parking prices.

It is not necessary to limit housing to 50 feet. There are a number of residential buildings over 50 feet now and they have not ruined the city. Building another 10-15 near transit, particularly for senior citizens and younger workers, will not destroy the best parts of the city. They will add little to school enrollment, which is already declining. These age groups will be much less car-dependent than the average citizens.


44 people like this
Posted by Facts don't lie
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2016 at 4:08 pm

If we have more full time residents and less office workers then the traffic will actually be worse. Workers clog the roads at predictable times during the week at rush hour. Residents commute during rush hour but also fill the roadways during mid day and weekends. Just look at Page Mill and Hanover at those two different times to see the difference. So the idea that shifting the housing imbalance and adding 6,000 more units will improve our way of life is just pretzel logic.

If we want to grow, we need at least $1B in infrastructure improvements to convert ECR into an expressway, fix the on/off ramps at Hwy 101 and Hwy 280, create park and rides at the perimeter of our city, electrify CalTrans, build 3 grade separations at Charleston, Meadow and Churchill, deploy an intelligent end-to-end traffic light system and add more dedicated bike paths. In addition, we will need more schools, fire/police, medical, water and sewer services.

Any discussion of increasing density without confronting the billion dollar issue is just pandering. NO new development without commitments to infrastructure improvements FIRST.


13 people like this
Posted by Hamilton Hitchings
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2016 at 10:12 am

Hamilton Hitchings is a registered user.

@ george drysdale

Many folks, especially urban planners, like to cite Portland as a planning success and a demonstration of the benefits of densification. However, you only need to glance at a few articles to see many locals consider it a failure. Here are two articles as counterpoints (recognizing that each city has its unique challenges):

Web Link

Web Link


28 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 25, 2016 at 11:29 am

Every city is ignoring that CalTrain has limits as to number of cars and trains it can run. Strict limits that can't be exceeded due to the reality of the load that can be carried. That capacity is coming soon. It can still take more, but given how much cities are rushing to build near RR, it will reach capacity and cities will be stuck without that option with tons of housing near RR that is of little use to address traffic. Planners and officials are shortsighted about this. They think they are smart but they are not as smart as they think. This is crazy.

MV is now approving of huge, massive residential and office projects on the border of palo alto on San Antonio with less than 10% affordable housing included. RWC can't stop saying yes to every huge market rate housing development it sees, with some affordable project thrown in, but then approves of unlimited office including Stanford's blockbuster project last month that cancels out any affordable or market rate housing gains.

If Palo Alto can just manage to elect people who won't get on board (not pro-development Palo Alto Forward candidates Fine, Tanaka and McDougall) this hysteria to become a massive mini-SF will not happen and palo alto will survive with others thinking - wow, what the heck were we thinking of when we turned our little cities into unmanageable crowded messes.


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 25, 2016 at 11:38 am

Excellent post, Jim.

Planning is not only short-sighted, it seems to ignore any sense of reality-based cause-and-effect.

Vote quality of life, not self-serving illogical rhetoric


6 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Look to history. Manhattan was once a cow pasture. Before that it was purchased from Indians. Silicon Valley is too low rise for its (now) scientific attractiveness. The tech giants rule. They want ant hills and they'll get them. High density is the only way to get relative cheapness in housing. George Drysdale an economics teacher


Posted by Mobility
a resident of Downtown North

on Sep 25, 2016 at 8:19 pm


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6 people like this
Posted by Theodore
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2016 at 9:44 pm

“Palo Alto, with 66,000 residents, has a 3-to-1 jobs-to-working-resident ratio -- one of the highest in the nation -- with more than 95,000 workers. … the most aggressive growth scenario being considered: 6,000 new housing units over the next 15 years.”

What is wrong with you people?

Sure, we can’t force everybody who moves to Palo Alto to also work in Palo Alto. It’s explicitly illegal. But I think it is immoral to build a bunch of offices, collecting the city revenues from those, and offloading the housing to the rest of the region.

The ideal solution would be to build enough housing that the market-rate housing is actually affordable housing. To do that, we need to remove unnecessary restrictions. Since when is “market” a bad word? I just looked in Smart and Final, and I found like 25 choices in toilet paper. Why do we not have so many choices in types of housing? Our processes have made building extremely expensive, so housing only gets built when market-rate is stupid ridiculous. We don’t need so many mandated BMR units if we can allow MR to be affordably made. (And BMR just turns into a multi-year lottery, so that’s a bit of a farce.)

So we don’t have enough schools and hospitals and stuff. Build more schools and hospitals and stuff. Teachers can’t afford a place less than 100 miles away? Build up, vertically. These are all market-based solutions that have been forbidden for far too long.

Sure, there are a lot of complicating details. That’s why we pay civil engineers so much. There are solutions, but we can only get solutions if we accept the premises.


20 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2016 at 11:12 pm

@Theodore - Sounds like you are describing a big city. We have three nearby, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. Why not move the jobs there, then wen don't need to the expensive civil engineers to figure out how to move tens, or hundreds of thousands of commuters around the suburbs everyday. Those cities already have public transit infrastructure, they are willing to build taller than 50 feet. Why obsess with building out a small suburban community when most people moved here because they didn't want to be in a big city?


11 people like this
Posted by to Theodore
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2016 at 11:14 pm

>I think it is immoral to build a bunch of offices, collecting the city revenues from those, and offloading the housing to the rest of the region.
I agree. But I think that converting many of the downtown and CalAve area offices to rental units would be a much better solution than simply building more housing.


7 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 26, 2016 at 10:39 am

If you can't figure out how to have a high quality of life with lots of people, traffic, difficulty parking, etc., it's obviously time for you to move. The number of people in Palo Alto/Silicon Valley will be much greater in ten years and more so in twenty. Figure out how to live with it and enjoy.

By the way, who decided that 50' was the golden rule for height. What's wrong with a 150' building in PA? This is not an orchard anymore!


7 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Sep 26, 2016 at 11:16 am

Caltrain capacity can be doubled, even tripled, with electrification, more equipment, elimination of grade crossings, and faster speeds.

Large employers have shown the ability to move large numbers of employees by bus.

Too many of the commenters here only see what they want to see, not what is possible.


8 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 26, 2016 at 11:46 am

Hitchings writes "Palo Alto is a family-oriented town" and also "general consensus that new apartment buildings in downtown should include a large percentage of studio and one-bedroom apartments to meet the needs of elderly and young workers."
What is his definition of "family". If it means parents with kids, then building studio and one-bedroom apartments will result in a smaller percentage of "families" in PA. If he includes 2 or more people sharing the same home, then the small apartments might be adequate.

I would prefer PA to be a mix of young, middle aged and old, with and without kids, married and unmarried, etc.

My solution to parking and traffic problems is to vastly improve mass transit. Many small vans operating frequently either along fixed routes or controlled by demand could carry many people from the train stations or big parking structures at freeway exits (perhaps built over the freeways) to work or to shopping. The key is high frequency and many people per vehicle.

As for housing, Palo Alto has lots of large houses inhabited by one or two people. Perhaps, as in my case, there were once children using the now excess space. There should be a program to encourage us to move into smaller housing units and utilize the existing space better.

Note that in order to support cultural institutions, such as the almost closed Palo Alto Square theater, the Dragon theater (which moved to Redwood City) and West Bay Opera (which now has 4 performances per opera, instead of 6) we need to have sufficient population density.


6 people like this
Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 26, 2016 at 11:54 am

Judith Wasserman is a registered user.

This is my height limit rant:

People are confusing height with density. Height limits do not control density; it's floor area ratio (FAR), the relationship of square feet of building to square feet of lot area, that controls how much can be built.

Why does it matter that a building has high ceilings? Are you afraid it might be too attractive for the tenants? Make a limit on number of floors, or FAR, or people per square foot, or parking (parking controls more development than anything else around here), but give up this silliness about height limits.

Please.


15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 26, 2016 at 11:59 am

Steve, I beg to differ. 15 and 20 years ago when we had much lower density, there was plenty of live music around -- The Gatehouse on Lytton, JJ's Blues Cafe in Mountain View, Los Altos Bar & Grill (the old one on Main St.)

Now you've got to go elsewhere -- SF, the East Bay, Santa Cruz. etc. -- and hope the wonderful "increased density" doesn't cause you to miss your show as happened to us a few weeks ago on a Thursday night when we were trying to get to Yoshi's in Oakland.

Ask any musician. They're now dependent on small private house concerts due to the closure of so many music venues.

At least Redwood City -- with Club Fox and the Fox Theater -- has managed to prevail.


1 person likes this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Sep 26, 2016 at 4:59 pm

To get large numbers of seniors to move out of their houses, the city may have to offer a partial credit against their capital gains tax. It might be cheaper than having the city build new housing.


19 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2016 at 5:38 pm

Oh wow. Those poor seniors.

Did anyone ask them whether they want to move or are they going to be forced out so that their homes can be updated to suit younger families?

This is going too far. Stop it. Let people decide where they want to spend their twilight years. Many may want to have credits to help them choose to move. Many will not.


36 people like this
Posted by cm
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 26, 2016 at 6:51 pm

It is time to choose Palo Alto. We are already facing the consequences of overgrowth. Crowded streets, schools, playing fields, pools and inability to find parking, join city sponsored classes and enjoy a quiet walk downtown. Also we are overburdening our environment - using too much water, polluting the air, replacing lawns, bushes and trees that provide habitat for birds and insects with rocks and concrete as we infill. Palo Alto should set an example for the Bay Area by refusing to grow beyond the capacity for a good quality of life. Once we decide on this goal we should pass growth and population limits that can't be exceeded. At that point the issues will be how to provide for a varied population by making sure we have middle income housing perhaps sponsored by the city (as Stanford does for its employees) to house city employees who are essential to the city but can't afford to live here without living in city housing. The time has passed in this area where we can just continue to build with no thought to the carrying capacity of the city. We are out of space and environmental resources. To continue to build is to destroy our life here. Face up to the reality and vote for slow growth candidates - Kou, Keller, Carl.


12 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 27, 2016 at 8:51 am

As a senior, former silicon valley worker, I dislike the tremendous increase in traffic. What keeps me in this town are both my relationships and the fact that the best medical facilities are just a few minutes away. This is life extending for every senior resident. There are many less expensive places to live, but none that have our medical facilities.


10 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 27, 2016 at 12:09 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

@Theodore

My understanding is that having offices themselves don't contribute a large percentage of the city budget. Partly because real estate laws can facilitate the transfer of ownership without triggering a new property tax assessment. Large chunks of commercial real estate in Palo Alto were bought (or inherited) many years ago. Think how little property tax they are now paying on their buildings! (Although I believe when there are "improvements" of the property made this triggers a new property assessment, but only for the improvement, not the land under it.)

As for sales tax, yes, some of the employees go to local restaurants for lunch and some maybe stay for dinner. But the evening restaurant scene in Palo Alto brings people from all over and not so dependent on daytime workers who live elsewhere. So I doubt they provide a huge percentage of sales tax. And with so many useful retail stores now closed, or will be closing, employees are likely not providing a huge percentage of Palo Alto's budget

There is a sales tax on items manufactured in Palo Alto (including the Stanford Research Park) but I don't know what percentage of the budget that brings in.


15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 27, 2016 at 1:30 pm

CM's absolutely right. We can't support more growth, more gridlock, more density -- none of which will cause house prices to fall!

We've got road rage in Palo Alto causing lockdowns at Nordstrom's. We've got new ridiculous giant Botts dots at Middlefield intersections between Oregon and Embarcadero preventing drivers from bypassing drivers attempting to turn -- a problem of our city's own creation that obviously impedes traffic flow, especially during the PREDICTABLE afternoon rush hour they ignored!

What's our city's response to the problem they created? To START discussions with the county on changing lights on Oregon! Hello! We've been waiting for 10 YEARS for discussions with the county to sync the El Camino / Embarcadero lights to produce more than rhetoric.

And if -- by some miracle they succeed -- what do they think would happen to the Oregon traffic? Don't they know every feeder road heading to 101 is already jammed.

Re sales tax, I'd love to see an analysis of how much sales tax revenue we've lost over the years because it's easier to shop in Menlo Park than cross El Camino at Embarcadero and/or Oregon. And they have the nerve to suggest we raise sales tax even more!

And the TMA is asking US to pay for more commuters coming into Palo Alto!

We're in a drought. Where's the water going to come from for all the new residents and offices and commuters? And/or Will the city stop it's hypocritical preaching that WE conserve more -- and thus pay more -- to accommodate all this growth?

Enough. Vote for Kuo, Keller and Carl.


6 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 27, 2016 at 2:05 pm

The teeth gnashing by the Boomer residents is hilarious. Just admit that you just selfishly want what you want and damn the consequences. The Me Generation is still making things worse for everyone.


16 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 27, 2016 at 4:12 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

"So we don’t have enough schools and hospitals and stuff. Build more schools and hospitals and stuff. "

Where? This is so typical of the pro unlimited growth crowd. Not one word or thought about available space, let alone the severe drought. Or perhaps they believe the land for their fantasy of turning Palo Alto into Manhattan will materialize from outer-space.


13 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2016 at 4:49 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Me - I wasn't sure if you were a parody of a millennial, or just not aware of how you sound. The only people demanding anything in Palo Alto are the corporate housing shills, who don't seem to care a whit about the consequences (traffic, pollution, open space).


Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 28, 2016 at 8:28 am

Hamilton has a very important position on CAC. He has some good points about the causes of the current problems and some suggestions how to correct them, but I don't agree with all of those, or at least don't agree that they're all capable of being implemented.

"Raising the height limit above 50 feet is not necessary anywhere in the city to meet even the most aggressive growth scenario being considered: 6,000 new housing units over the next 15 years. There is general consensus that new apartment buildings in downtown should include a large percentage of studio and one-bedroom apartments to meet the needs of elderly and young workers. However, even new studio and one-bedroom apartments can rent for $3,000 to $6,000 per month, as demonstrated by the new Carmel Village development in San Antonio Shopping Center, so new small units will still be relatively expensive."

He's right. Any new small units will be very expensive under current economic conditions. And I don't think they would be attractive to the elderly. That's just a marketing ploy/tool to get us voters to go along with the idea of high density housing. It's not meant for elderly or low income people...pure and simple. The targeted groups are the young tech workers, mostly single, and those earning high incomes.

Hamilton, please give us details on why you think we wouldn't need to raise the height limit to get 6,000 additional units built. I go downtown once a week to my Life Stories class at Avenidas. I don't see any open space areas except for parking lots. What do you know that we don't? And the idea of converting office zoning to residential? Ain't gonna happen. The companies currently leasing office space, caused by too much development supported by past CC's and with many sympathetic current CC members, won't be given up without a huge fight. And they even want more. They want the cap to end. Other than those thoughts/comments, I thought what you said makes sense.

Parking:

"Solutions such as car-light apartment buildings offer promise but, given the current neighborhood parking shortages, should be approached with extreme caution and a recognition that some occupants will find ways to skirt the rules".

I couldn't have stated it better. I support one of those under-parked proposals to be approved so it can serve as a test case. That previous VTA site on the corner of Page Mill Rd and El Camino provides the perfect lab experiment location. So, light those Bunsen burners and let's get on with the experiment.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2016 at 8:37 am

Lower income people often have families so one bedroom or studio won't suit them.

Teachers, fire and police often have families and need more than one bedroom units.

We have a lot of moderate income people in town who are just as necessary, dental office staff comes to mind.


4 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2016 at 10:14 am

"The only people demanding anything in Palo Alto are the corporate housing shills, who don't seem to care a whit about the consequences (traffic, pollution, open space). "

Wrong. You're demanding to ossify Palo Alto. And to ossify a neighborhood, town or city is to kill it. Pollution? Boomers are creating MORE of it by forcing people to commute long distances to work because of lack of housing. In fact, what we have today is anti-environmental - requires lots of water to keep our grass and trees green.

Again, Boomers only care about themselves and what they like.

For Gale: "He's right. Any new small units will be very expensive under current economic conditions. And I don't think they would be attractive to the elderly. "

Yes - "economic" conditions? More like Residentialists conditions. You guys have made it so hard to build (anyone who thinks we live in a pro development environment needs to get out of your house more often) that the only way to have a decent margin is to target people who can pay that much.

And by the way, what's wrong with targeting tech people anyway? That will put LESS PRESSURE ON EXISTING HOUSING STOCK by people with money.

And when that happens, rents go DOWN for existing housing.

Basic economics. This is what I mean when I say having an educated population does not automatically make Palo Alto a bastion of intelligence. What we get is a bunch of people who think they're smarter than they think they are.

You guys are a piece of work.


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 28, 2016 at 11:20 am

"What we get is a bunch of people who think they're smarter than they think they are." Oh no, has Yogi risen from the dead??


3 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2016 at 11:23 am

Marie is a registered user.

@me Please give me an example of any new housing in RWC/PA/MV where one bedroom apartments rent for less than $3k. When land is so expensive, so is new housing to cover the cost of that land.

I don't think we need any more housing at $3K a month or more. There is availability at that price point. We need subsidized low-moderate income housing for middle class people. Palo Alto City Council needs to work harder to find land for subsidized housing.

The lot at El Camino and Page Mill was sold by the VTA. Didn't Palo Alto have first right to purchase this lot? I thought public entities had to offer land to other public entities first. The best use of that property, IMHO, would have been to build another Single Room Only (SRO) for low income residents, similar to the building next door. Alternately, would be to have built a building that was specifically for public safety officers and teachers. But first the city council would have to come up with a public-private partnership that could legally restrict the housing to Palo Alto residents. I don't know how that could be done.

It is wrong to think long-term residents like myself are against housing. The same people who were against the ill-conceived Maybell project were the ones who facilitated the nearby moderate income subsidized building that came out of controversy over reopening Terman. It is longtime residents who worked with the city and developers on the SOFA project, one of the best new developments I have seen, when PA Med moved out. We are very much in favor of additional low-moderate income housing. I am against any zoning giveaways (aka upzoning) for housing for the 2%. Any zoning modifications should be for low-moderate income housing only. The 2% have plenty of options.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 28, 2016 at 11:30 am

"Boomers only care about themselves" -- The "boomers" and the rest of the old folk were on the forefront of pushing for social change even when it didn't directly benefit them: civil rights, women's rights, good education, peace, justice, anti-war, the environment, tolerance, etc.

Remember seeing pictures/news clips of the huge anti-war and civil rights
demonstrations? Remember the pictures of Bernie Sanders? Woodstock? Remember the photos of people on the 9/11 Palo Alto Peace walk and ages of people represented?

The San Francisco Chronicle is running regular features on the horrendous worsening traffic throughout the entire bay area.

Please cite some real examples of how increasing density has actually brought down rents or housing prices. New York? Nope, San Francisco? Nope.

Peace!


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2016 at 12:11 pm

@Online Name

Let me know if you want any more examples, though I'm plenty sure that no amount of evidence will be "enough" to change your mind...

Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 28, 2016 at 1:26 pm

@Me

You have been attacking Boomers. I guess you forgot about us Great Depression/WWII kids, so I must not be included in "You guys". Are we next on your list?

Drop that environmental argument tied in with long distance car commutes. It makes a good talking point but that's all it is until action is taken to change it. Those long commutes aren't going away soon and there will never be enough housing built in PA or neighboring communities to change it very much. High rents here will make the option of living here impossible for most of those commuters. It will take lots of time and money to get the regional transportation problems solved. More rail service up and down the Peninsula, electrification and under grounding, BART extensions, and even more services from across the Bay. More buses serving not only workers of specific companies but open and available for all workers. There could be whole fleets of buses from the East Bay and beyond that could help tremendously.

"You guys have made it so hard to build (anyone who thinks we live in a pro development environment needs to get out of your house more often) that the only way to have a decent margin is to target people who can pay that much."

And by the way, what's wrong with targeting tech people anyway? That will put LESS PRESSURE ON EXISTING HOUSING STOCK by people with money.

And when that happens, rents go DOWN for existing housing."

Nice in theory, but since you try to sound like such an authority on the subject and so sure how it will work out, I'll counter that by saying it won't happen that way, 'lower rents for existing housing'. There won't be enough housing built for the young tech workers in new developments, so the overflow will keep the prices up in the existing housing units. And families will still be competing for space in the existing units and that will keep the rents high. I know you won't agree on any of what I just said and that's okay, but I'll bet I'm right.

At least you're being honest about supporting housing for those who can afford it, and it will turn out to be only for high income workers, mostly tech. What bugs me is the idea presented by many proponents, that the new housing would benefit low income and seniors. Such a bunch of malarkey and fallacious marketing ploys.

It's obvious you really don't know that much about me and my positions. I won't spoon feed them to you here but they're available on many previous website articles. I'm hard to 'tag' and I like it that way. I'm a man in the middle, a hybrid. I don't like or take extremist positions that are unbending, and I see too many of them. You're either 'fer' or your 'agin'! I try to stay open minded and 'yes' I can be moved on my positions when good convincing arguments are made.

What happens in our little time slot here in PA's history will be history in a few years. The whole scene will have changed. And I see articles that pose the question "What do you want PA to become in the future?", like there's an end game and a goal, that once reached, will be the end. Foolish thinking! There is no end game, and I wouldn't be around to see it if there is. I wasted so many years as an engineer when I could have been a great philosopher. lol!


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Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Rents going down in NYC

Web Link

Gale: "Drop that environmental argument tied in with long distance car commutes. It makes a good talking point but that's all it is until action is taken to change it. "

I'm not dropping it unless residentialists also drop the constant greenwashing of being anti-development. Suburbs and sprawl by definition are anti-environmental, and Palo Alto residentialists want to continue these policies.

"I'll counter that by saying it won't happen that way, 'lower rents for existing housing'. There won't be enough housing built for the young tech workers in new developments, so the overflow will keep the prices up in the existing housing units. And families will still be competing for space in the existing units and that will keep the rents high. I know you won't agree on any of what I just said and that's okay, but I'll bet I'm right."

Supply and demand still work here (see linked article that yes, it even works in New York City). What you're advocating is "there will never ever be enough supply so don't do anything?" That's like saying there's a gushing wound, but the patient is going to die anyway so don't bother with the tourniquet?

I guess we're seeing the end of Palo Alto and Silicon Valley. Sad.

"What happens in our little time slot here in PA's history will be history in a few years. The whole scene will have changed. "

I'm glad to hear that there is acknowledgement that Palo Alto will continue to change. You indeed seem to be more reasonable than others. My beef is with those who are constantly hoping for Palo Alto to be 1985 forever.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 28, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Me

PA isn't NYC, so don't try to compare them, but rents are also coming down in some of our local areas, and for good reasons, none because new housing caused it. Simple economics caused it. lol!

I wish all the faux proponents of low income and BMR units would take action to get it done. It will take bold policy like public housing bonds, etc. You will never hear our current list of CC candidates ever espousing that. Suicide can be very ugly.


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2016 at 3:42 pm

What kind of insanity leads people to believe that density is a good thing?

If it happens naturally, fine. But growing government and raising taxes and spending on bicycle/shuttle services in order to deliberately DENSIFY is a result of too many committees and government positions and bureaucracy. Having no tangible purpose, they sit there collecting taxes, dreaming of transforming Palo Alto into Denmark while worshipping at the holy altar of The Bicycle.

Seriously what is up with this Bicycle Fetish???

When did an archaic two-wheeled rickety contraption become the most important thing in the world


5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 28, 2016 at 3:51 pm

@Me - Still waiting for your response to my points about generational values.

"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." inspired older generations.

We've gone from the Peace Corps, the War on Poverty, the "customer's always right" service mentality, the belief in quality products etc. etc. to the unremitting systematic greed and gleeful self-dealing of Enron, Wells Fargo, Trump and all sorts of businesses /industries that think it's "smart" to screw over their workers, contractors, customers, shareholders and communities.

"Make love, not war."




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Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2016 at 4:33 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 28, 2016 at 4:58 pm

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Growing Up
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2016 at 6:13 pm

Do you believe in global warming? Density is well known to be the most effective way to fight it.

Do you believe in a healthy lifestyle? Walkable neighborhoods are a major contributor to good health outcomes. That means density.

Do you want your city to be more prosperous? Guess what, density is the best way forward.

Care if your working class can have a reasonable commute? Care to make transit financially viable? Yep, density.

No one would ever suggest huge buildings all across the city, but many areas would do great with density. In particular California Ave, my home for six years, could and should be a thriving city hub.


3 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2016 at 8:56 pm

Gale:

Low income housing and BMRs + Residentialist mindset = hollowing out of the middle class. That's exactly what happened in SF. The rich could always afford to spend $$ for property and the low-income get subsidized housing.

The middle class? Screwed. Can't afford housing from rising prices (thanks to no building) and make just a bit too much to qualify for BMRs.

As for Online Name:

"We've gone from the Peace Corps, the War on Poverty, the "customer's always right" service mentality, the belief in quality products etc. etc. to the unremitting systematic greed and gleeful self-dealing of Enron, Wells Fargo, Trump and all sorts of businesses /industries that think it's "smart" to screw over their workers, contractors, customers, shareholders and communities."

That's hilarious. Jeff Skilling of Enron were Boomers (Ken Lay was born right before the Boomers). CEO of Wells Fargo? Boomer.

1960's self-absorbed hippies? Boomer.

1980's era of Greed is Good? Boomer!

Waiting for your response to my link that Manhattan rents have dropped.


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Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2016 at 8:58 pm

Oh, and the worst Boomer atrocity?

Disco.


3 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 28, 2016 at 9:04 pm

Keep in mind it was the boomers who decided to use their own children as piggy banks, it shouldn't be surprising most of them still have that mindset.


11 people like this
Posted by Mvresident2003
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 28, 2016 at 9:56 pm

Mvresident2003 is a registered user.

Those of you arguing for more housing using the "pro-environment" argument are seriously mistaken and trying to ride the 'green' train for your own benefit.

If you truly are interested in being green and pro-environment then your efforts would be much better spent pushing for companies/jobs to move out of California, into areas not so taxed for natural resources. And there are many, MANY, many other places. Interesting that this doesn't come into the discussion. I'd be particularly interested to see what "me" has to say about it.

But I'll guess that you're going to keep pushing for more housing here. Because really, it's not about the environment, it's all about where you prefer to live.


24 people like this
Posted by PAF -- Think Bigger
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 28, 2016 at 10:25 pm

PAF -- Think Bigger is a registered user.

It's surprising to me that Palo Alto "Forward" isn't thinking bigger. The members are pretty high-tech, and they are big fans of urbanization and new green technologies/ideas, as well as security, data analytics, and more. I can't imagine why they are starting with a relic like Palo Alto and trying to modify it -- clearly an uphill battle -- rather than develop something more from scratch that would give them much longer/faster runway. There are so many places that would welcome this kind of development, as it provides nearly endless opportunities for tech innovation, jobs, and of course housing. All with the promise of minimal resource usage. Why not start with a clean slate, where this kind of approach to urban living is not only welcome but sought after?

Trying to foist this kind of vision on Palo Alto is not only proving unwelcome, it promises to be slow, and it forces PAF to be much more incremental with these ideas than surely they want to be. Why would PAF want to move at the pace of the change-averse Palo Altans who are content with where they live? Look at Musk and his Mars plans. Surely PAF can make it as far as Nevada?


5 people like this
Posted by Hamilton Hitchings
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 29, 2016 at 12:06 am

Hamilton Hitchings is a registered user.

@ Gale Johnson, just wanted to thank you for your comments and start by answering one of your thoughtful questions followed by answers to some of the other questions raised in the comments:

Can we build 6,000 new units in 15 years without raising the height limit beyond 50 feet?

Yes. 6,000 is currently the maximum rate of housing growth being considered for the next 15 years. From 2000 to 2014 we added about 3,300 housing units. To add 6,000 over the next 15 years would be almost double that rate of housing growth. Palo Alto is built out with essentially no vacant lots so new housing units will need to come from redevelopment with increased density. Many one story buildings can add 2 or 3 stories of housing above retail or just be all housing and still remain under 50 feet tall. These would be primarily in downtown, Cal Ave and along parts of El Camino. Density can be further increased by building smaller units such as studio and one bedroom. In addition, some zoning that would only allow office can be converted or expanded to allow housing instead. There is a new proposal to build a 50 foot high 60 unit apartment on the corner of Page Mill and El Camino on a relatively small lot. To generate 6,000 new units over the next 15 years you would need 100 such building projects. This is a lot of new development that would dramatically change the character of the city and many Palo Altans I’ve talked to would not feel comfortable with this rate of growth. However, it is technically possible. Especially when we consider Fry’s is targeted to become a major site for housing, once they move out in a few years. Palo Alto Square and Stanford Shopping center could also add housing although Stanford has not yet made any statements about their desire to move in that direction (note both are within Palo Alto City’s jurisdiction).

If we build lots of market rate housing will it lower the price?

Many factors go into housing prices but the most important one is the number of jobs relative to the supply of housing. As long as jobs outpace housing, then the price of housing will continue to expensive. Author Kotkin, The Human City (2016) argues that in knowledge/service driven economies, increased densities do not make the cities less expensive (e.g. Manhattan, San Francisco, London & Singapore). Focusing more locally, Facebook just got their new campus approved, which will be adding over 6,000 new jobs in Menlo Park and they pay their employees a $10,000 bonus to live within 10 miles of their campus and in Mountain View job growth also looks to remain on a tear partially driven by Google. Mountain View plans to add 15,000 housing units and Redwood City is adding thousands of market rate apartments and condos. Stanford just got their permit to build 2,400 beds for graduate students approved for Escondido Village, which will mean a higher percentage of graduate students will live on campus. Observing the impact of these added units on local housing prices will be informative. Unfortunately, Palo Alto makes up less than four percent of Santa Clara County’s population and we just don’t have the space to meaningfully impact region’s overall housing (or office) capacity.

What else can be done to provide more affordable housing?

The current state density bonus law provides increased density, reduced parking and in addition up to three concessions. You get 1 concession for 10%, another for 20% and a third concession for 30% below market housing and these concessions can include further increasing density. This is a high-level summary and the laws are actually a bit more detailed. We could also increase our required below market housing from 15% to 25%. However, as long as a developer can build more profitable office space, they will likely continue to forgo new housing.

Should we build housing near CalTrain so new residents can take CalTrain to work?

San Jose and San Francisco are chartered to be high density urban centers that have far superior transportation infrastructure to what Palo Alto is capable of having. Ideally folks who work in either of those cities should live in or near them, especially if they are renting. Our challenge is the majority of our daytime population is employee commuters coming into the city to work. While Cal Ave and University Ave are good locations to concentrate new housing, it should ideally be focused to the extent possible on folks who work locally or are not working (e.g. retired).

Does high density reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Only slightly. The original foundation for this argument was based on studies with small sample sizes but a more recent and comprehensive paper published in 2015, which studied the effect of population density on GHG emissions for the entire US came to the following conclusion: “Generally, we find no evidence for net GHG benefits of population density in urban cores or suburbs when considering effects on entire metropolitan areas.” And the link to this study is: Web Link



4 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 29, 2016 at 12:38 am

It's crazy how people so obsessed with "preservation" can be completely ignorant about local history


5 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 29, 2016 at 1:41 am

@ hamilton

Thanks for this op-ed.

I'm a bit confused by one of your statements above:

[from your post above]

"Does high density reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Only slightly. The original foundation for this argument was based on studies with small sample sizes but a more recent and comprehensive paper published in 2015, which studied the effect of population density on GHG emissions for the entire US came to the following conclusion: “Generally, we find no evidence for net GHG benefits of population density in urban cores or suburbs when considering effects on entire metropolitan areas.” And the link to this study is: Web Link "

[end quote from above]

I read this paper (Web Link), and the key conclusion is the opposite of what the sentence you quote seems to suggest:
1) core urban areas WERE found to have consistently lower carbon footprints per capita: "We find consistently lower HCF in urban core cities (∼40 tCO2e) and higher carbon footprints in outlying suburbs (∼50 tCO2e)..."
2) the reason that the ENTIRE metro areas were found to be neutral is because the suburban areas offset the gains from urban cores: "While population density contributes to relatively low HCF in the central cities of large metropolitan areas, the more
18 extensive suburbanization in these regions contributes to an overall net increase in HCF compared to smaller metropolitan areas"


16 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 29, 2016 at 6:07 am

mauricio is a registered user.

@PAF -- Think Bigger-It's because PAF members are interested only in a Palo Alto zip code. It's that simple.


9 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 29, 2016 at 6:09 am

mauricio is a registered user.

@ PAF -- Think Bigger-It's because PAF members and sympathizers are interested only in a Palo Alto zip code. It's that simple.


4 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 29, 2016 at 9:17 am

@Growing Up:

"Do you believe in global warming? Density is well known to be the most effective way to fight it."

Fighting global warming involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. There are many ways to accomplish both of those. I'm not aware of any research that concludes increasing population density is the most effective option for either. Can you cite references?

"Do you believe in a healthy lifestyle? Walkable neighborhoods are a major contributor to good health outcomes. That means density."

Walkability results from having a mix of housing, jobs, and goods/services businesses within a reasonable distance. You can have this with or without high density. According to Web Link , many low-to-moderate-density neighborhoods in Palo Alto have good walkability. On the other hand, increasing housing density significantly in low-walkability neighborhoods won't improve their walkability.

"Do you want your city to be more prosperous? Guess what, density is the best way forward."

Silicon Valley is one of the most prosperous regions around, but it was created as part of a conscious effort to disperse both population and industry. See "Cities of Knowledge" by Margaret Push O'Mara for some useful history and perspective on where we might go from here.

"Care if your working class can have a reasonable commute? Care to make transit financially viable? Yep, density."

There's some truth in this; certain kinds of transit require minimum densities to be financially viable. On the flip side, certain densities require transit to be viable. Failing to plan and build transit before increasing density to a new level results in the sort of transportation snafus we're seeing now, which is one reason many of us have argued for no increase in density without commitment to sufficient transit up-front.

"No one would ever suggest huge buildings all across the city, but many areas would do great with density."

The Legislative Analyst's Office study (Web Link) suggests roughly doubling the amount of housing that already exists. That would be about 33K new 2-person units. Kate Downing (quoted in Web Link) said "I think it’s a misconception that you can never build up to demand. We have a pretty good idea what demand is: Every day, the effective population of the city [66,000] doubles from the number of people who come in just for work. That tells us something about how much housing we need. It’s not infinite." So that also implies 33K new 2-person units.

I took a quick unscientific look on Zillow, and 2BR condos near downtown seem to need an average of about 1500 sq ft total space (living space, hallways, stairways, etc. included), so let's just take that as a first approximation. That implies we'd need to build about 49.5M sq ft. City blocks in the neighborhoods near the Transit Center are about 450x550 ft, or 248K sq ft. You didn't specify what "huge" buildings means, so for the sake of discussion let's just double the current height limit and go for 10 stories. That works out to 49.5M/(10*248K), or 20 blocks of curb-to-curb 10-story buildings.

So it seems that some people are suggesting a lot of big buildings.


2 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 29, 2016 at 9:22 am

Oops, typo. That should be "Margaret Pugh O'Mara".


52 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2016 at 10:45 am

Allen Arkin does a great job of piercing the specious "density is good and moral" arguments put up by the PAF supporters. But I doubt he'll convince many of them for the density arguments are really just stalking horse justifications for what mauricio accurately intuits: the PAF people want to live in a Palo Alto zip code.

What accounts for the preening self-righteousness of these interlopers who want to come into a city and change it to suit their self-interested desires? Most people who live in Palo Alto bought here - often with extreme sacrifice - because they valued Palo Alto as the suburb it is. If they'd wanted a denser place with all that goes with it (traffic, crowding - along with trendy coffee within walking distance), they could have bought in San Francisco for example. But they didn't. They came here to Palo Alto with its 60 - 65,000 people in a relatively small area.

Now here come these sanctimonious intruders telling them they're greedy selfish and unthinking throwbacks from the 80's [portion removed.] They're bombarded with arguments about density reducing traffic,etc. that make no rational sense and are contrary to all evidence and told they must accept them because they're moral.

PAF supporters are quite clear about what they want. You can see an example of it at the corner of El Camino and San Antonio in Mt. View. Imagine, if you can, the 33,000 units like this that some PAF people fantasize about. Imagine Palo Alto with not 65,000 people, but with 130,000 people. Now decide whom you're voting for in the City Council elections.


20 people like this
Posted by anon evergreen park
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 29, 2016 at 11:03 am

anon evergreen park is a registered user.

I would like tor remind voters to vote for Lydia Kou, Arthur Keller, Stewart Carl and Greer Stone.

They stand for moderate growth and want to protect residents from the rapacious greed of developers and others that support the vision of PAF!


7 people like this
Posted by Growing Up
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 29, 2016 at 4:40 pm

@Allen Akin

The research I cite for the environmental benefits of density are drawn from Janet Sadik-Khan, Jeff Speck, and a few other secondary sources (Web Link, Web Link) Here is another article that popped up today out of Sidewalk Labs: Web Link

"it was created as part of a conscious effort to disperse both population and industry" Yes, as a relic of the necessity to isolate hazardous materials from residential dwellings, as is the case for most zoning laws which are becoming increasingly outdated. We are still dealing with the repercussions of that development, but modern day employment has no such requirement.

"Walkability results from having a mix of housing, jobs, and goods/services businesses within a reasonable distance. You can have this with or without high density." It is much harder to support restaurants, grocery stores, and other services with low densities, particularly when you consider those services need to be staffed and managed. As our long-term small business owners age out, those stores will disappear and not come back, since rising land costs for both the store and owner's place of living will make their low patronage unsustainable. Farewell, Peninsula Hardware.

Not everyone who works in Palo Alto can and should live here. But we can and should accommodate some amount of urban living to keep the city strong, focused in places that can handle and thrive under the growth (eg California Ave, sections of El Camino)


17 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2016 at 5:38 pm

Growing Up links to an article at Sidewalk Labs which purports to discuss the relationship between Urban living and density and how that might change as technology changes over time.

The author, Rohit Aggarwala, says he's an urbanist and that he likes big city living - he hardly hides his bias. While he thinks that density if more resource efficient right now, he openly admits that technology may change that so that suburban areas are more efficient in the future.

Finally, he's honest enough to admit that urban living is a preference and so is suburban living. That to me is the key here.

So why are the PAF people so insistent on forcing their preferences for high density urban living on those of us who chose - and sacrificed greatly to obtain - a suburban town? They've got a choice: they can move to San Francisco or some other dense urban center or they can stay here and enjoy the alternative of suburban living. What they shouldn't be able to do is to use brute politics and specious arguments to force the rest of us to live like they want to.

Living in a suburban environment is a preference that we've revealed by our choice of where to live. Protecting this environment - now under attack by urbanist ideologues and would be urban hipsters - is something we can do by voting the right way in the coming City Council Election.


5 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 29, 2016 at 5:53 pm

@Growing Up:

If I understand them correctly, none of the references you cited supports the statement that "Density is well known to be the most effective way to fight it [global warming]." I found the Sidewalk Labs article thoughtful and appropriately cautionary, though, discussing some density costs as well as some benefits and explaining that the tradeoffs will change as technology changes. Thanks for that link.

Regarding the role of population and industry dispersal in the formation of Silicon Valley, you stated "Yes, as a relic of the necessity to isolate hazardous materials from residential dwellings..." That wasn't the motivation, and it also wasn't achieved ("Cities of Knowledge" includes an amusing anecdote about regular testing of homes downwind of Stanford Research Park for radioactive contamination). I recommend the book if you'd like a more complete picture.

"It is much harder to support restaurants, grocery stores, and other services with low densities..." We have an existence proof that restaurants, grocery stores, and other services were supported at lower density levels than we have today. They're disappearing in large measure because unlimited commercial development is driving up their costs of doing business and reducing the space they need to conduct it. Increasing housing density won't solve those problems, unfortunately.

"But we can and should accommodate some amount of urban living to keep the city strong, focused in places that can handle and thrive under the growth..." I think that's a reasonable position, provided it's backed up with a description of how much growth is proposed, how much support will be required from city systems, how that will be funded, and how detrimental effects on other areas can be prevented.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 29, 2016 at 8:31 pm

I thank so many great contributors to this article. I won't try to name all of you, because there were so many who stood out, in my mind, but I think you know who you are and the ones I'm talking about. You are the ones who expressed yourselves with clear logical thinking. I gave you a + hit for that today, and thoughts, a real sense of understanding the problems and the complexities involved in solving them...and then clearly stating things that can be done, practically, by advancing them forward, and rejecting those that don't make any sense and can't be done. I'll have a post response for 'Me' but it will have to wait until tomorrow. I was out on the ocean all day, you know, the one west of us called the Pacific, trying to catch a 30 lb salmon. That didn't work out so well, but I'm tired from trying so will "retire early tonight". That is such a Brit sounding term, right?

Will continue tomorrow.


10 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 29, 2016 at 8:55 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Growing Up - If, in your heart, you believe that density will help fight global warming, then you should move yourself to a big high density city ASAP. Because the worst thing for urban density/global warming/cycling/pedestrians is a bunch of haphazard medium sized developments in suburbs like Palo Alto and Menlo Park and Mountain View and Sunnyvale. It makes no sense to try to add 5k or 10k or 50k more people to Palo Alto which is 30 miles from real urban density in SF, and 20 miles from some real potential density in San Jose. Instead of advocating more building in the suburbs like Palo Alto you should be advocating an evacuation. Move Google and Facebook and LinkedIn downtown SF and/or SJ, and let people live nearby and walk to work. Putting more offices or housing in Palo Alto is just spreading out more medium-low density sprawl.


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Posted by Theodore
a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2016 at 11:34 pm

@Me

It’s unfair and unreasonable to blame the Boomers. Sure, they have made mistakes, but we all make mistakes. More importantly, young people are perfectly capable of making the same mistakes.

Just this year, a nearby neighborhood association voted as their president a “Millennial” (actually, I consider him to be Generation X, not Millennial; born 1978), a former Marine and a fireman. Big and strong, but baby-faced and unassuming. And he’s a staunch proponent of urban sprawl. And other totally impractical public projects. (Underground electric wires for all of San Francisco right now? Really?)

But more importantly, a lot of this stupid stuff was started by the Greatest Generation, or even earlier, in the forms of restrictive zoning (gotta keep property values high, i.e., exclude minorities), and ever-increasing rules about height restrictions and setbacks and parking space minimums and lot sizes and architectural details and endless committee input opportunities.

This housing crisis has been a long time developing, longer than anybody who is currently alive, and it will not be easy to fix. Finger-pointing is not going to help anybody.


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Posted by Theodore
a resident of another community
on Oct 2, 2016 at 12:35 am

@Allen Akin, @Growing Up

Well, actually, the greatest way to end global warming would be to nuke all the major population centers, everywhere. Industrial Revolution humans have been the worst thing to happen to the global carbon cycle, ever.

Since genocide is socially unacceptable, we need to look at ways to eliminate our need for fossil fuels without eliminating the humans. Therefore, I start from the premise that we need to effectively ban gasoline, we need to use renewable energy for our industries (even our food is partly fossil fuels; that’s what I find most intriguing about Rosa Lab’s vision for Soylent Web Link), and we need to be willing to use less per capita. It would also be nice if we could find more sustainable ways to maintain our roads.

It’s hard to argue for the end of credit during this time of unprecedented low interest rates, but I strongly expect that the middle-class suburban lifestyle is physically unable to survive to the end of this century. Web Link The grocery stores that used to be there were unsustainable from the beginning.

In the meanwhile, I am supportive of efforts to decrease per-capita resource usage. Dense developments destroy less wilderness for the same amount of economic activity as sparse developments. Parks and playgrounds are far prettier and more useful than parking lot fields of asphalt. Almonds may be unconscionable in a drought, and we really should reform water rights throughout California, but lawns are pure waste that we can live without. Humans gain value from being close together, because of increased opportunities to network with decreased distance traveled. As a facile example, the urban areas of Japan are becoming incredibly dense while rural areas are reverting to accidental carbon sequestration projects. Web Link

Also, a bunch of the efforts to mitigate our upcoming problems work best with higher population densities to support them. Public transit and walkable neighborhoods. Sewage treatment plants and desalination plants. The end of gas tax road maintenance revenues. The pattern of life in the coming centuries must be dramatically different than the pattern of life in the previous century: starting now.


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Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 2, 2016 at 12:11 pm

@Theodore: As long as we're thinking outside the box...

2017: President Trump bombs Iran.

2020: A terrorist reprisal attack renders much of San Francisco uninhabitable. Refugees flood the rest of the Bay Area. Trump re-elected.

2020-2050: Federal money flows into Silicon Valley to build super-high-density sustainable housing. Water shortages slow construction.

2051: People who live in micro-unit sustainable housing don't spend as much as people in other forms of housing. Personal Consumption Expenditures, which used to represent 70% of the GDP, drop drastically. Great Recession II.

2054: The Big One hits, destroying large portions of the Bay Area and the US economy (which had been increasingly concentrated there). Great Depression II begins.

2060-2090: Reconstruction.

2092: The Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses, causing drastic rise in sea levels worldwide. Highway 101 corridor and infrastructure around the Bay flooded. Great Depression III begins.

2100: Urban planners discover strategy to disperse assets to lower-risk areas.

Moral: Maximizing economic activity and minimizing environmental impact are not the *only* things to be taken into account during planning. Even if you decide they're the highest priority, you still don't have an argument for *where* or *how* to build. Palo Alto may not be the best choice. :-)


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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 2, 2016 at 1:48 pm

@Me

"The middle class? Screwed. Can't afford housing from rising prices (thanks to no building) and make just a bit too much to qualify for BMRs."

Please define, in your mind, the middle class. Who are they? What are their occupations? Ages? Singles? Families? And what is their income range? Are firemen, policemen, teachers, middle class? I call them professionals and above middle class, and yet they can't afford to live here.

I have never been anything but middle class, and yet I was able to buy a home in PA in a different period, early 50's to early 70's, when many middle class people (middle incomes also) could do so. What has changed that? You like to blame it on us NIMBY's who were lucky enough to buy here many years ago. Consider the other factors other than just zoning restrictions. How about the successes of tech companies that created hundreds, maybe thousands, of instant millionaires when they went public, and the wealthy foreigners, coming here and buying up property for investments, with cash offers.

I agree it's been hollowed out, but how do we change that? All the housing development proposals I've seen recently are predominantly market rate with the teaser of one or two BMR units thrown in. Now, do you think those middle class (middle income) folks, with their incomes, can afford market rate units, at $3,500/mo for a 1 bdrm 1 bath apartment? I've explained before why rents won't go down due to building more housing. I think the idea of adding 6,000 more units by 2030...that's just 14 years away...is just a pipe dream. We would have to give away money to the developers to make that happen. I know, there are some of our city planners, staff, and CC members, that are prepared to do that. Not good for my town!

Reflection: We came here in a good time period. We settled for a nice bungalow on a 7,000 sq ft lot, always envious and hoping someday we could buy in Woodside, Portola Valley, Atherton, Palo Alto Hills or Los Altos Hills, and have acreage surrounding us with beautiful views of the Bay Area.

Unfortunately, we didn't win the big lottery so that didn't happen and we just stayed here and I'm thankful for that. We started liking and loving our little village in SPA a lot more. We could walk for all of our daily needs, groceries, haircuts, car maintenance/repair, Peets Coffee, Best Buy, OSH, and the new Mitchell Park Library. Also close to Bed Bath and Beyond, Costco, a garden center, and Mountain Mike's pizza. It doesn't get much better than that.

The idea that PA needs to provide a place to sleep for every (now) commuting worker is ridiculous. Let's get our heads on straight and deal with the more important issue...regional...not ours alone to solve...transportation and transit problems.



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Posted by Other options
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2016 at 7:33 pm

It seems Vancouver and Seattle are vying to be the next Silicon Valley. PAF members might want to relocate asap while they can still afford these hip alternatives to Palo Alto.
Web Link


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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 2, 2016 at 9:04 pm

"The tech giants rule. They want ant hills and they'll get them. High density is the only way to get relative cheapness in housing."

True at the moment. But all we need to do is outlive them.

In the last century economists all _knew_ Detroit would keep growing ad infinitum because of its solid bedrock auto manufacturing base. Likewise Long Beach and its neighbors with their dynamic aircraft and aerospace industries. Before that it was steel in Pittsburg, before that the ubiquitous railroads, before that cotton and whaling.

Sure worked out like they said, huh?

Meantime, our touted tech-fueled boom is hanging on the verge, hoping the Next Big Thing comes along to reboot it out of its maturity doldrums. They can only create so many new apps, and the app market is showing saturation. People just ain't downloading 'em like they used to. Madison Avenue can only underwrite so much spyware (think Google).

So let's sit tight and hold tight to what quality of life we managed to preserve through the now-fading boom.


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Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 3, 2016 at 11:07 am

Theodore says: "It’s unfair and unreasonable to blame the Boomers. Sure, they have made mistakes, but we all make mistakes. More importantly, young people are perfectly capable of making the same mistakes."

As much as it is unfair for the boomers to blame "millennials" (of which I am not a part) for "not working hard enough to buy a place in Palo Alto." You dish it out, you have to take it. As long as Boomers blame Millennials, Boomers are open season for getting blamed themselves for problems that they've caused. Especially for Disco.

But I find it funny - Boomers begat the Millennials, so maybe some parenting guilt is involved here?

As for Gale - lets put it this way. The life you (and more Residentalist than you types) seek was destroyed by the lack of building in Palo Alto. This is the unintended consequence of the rapid appreciation due to lack of development. All those little stationary shops and art supply stores? The bowling alley? People with lots of money don't give a crap about those things. Consequently those cherished businesses serving middle-class *FAMILIES* are dying and going away and being replaced by businesses that serve affluent folks. Michelin starred restaurants. Expensive clothing boutiques.

Money changes everything, and there is a downside to the appreciation of your property. Your lifestyle is dying. Long time residents have killed the middle-class population of Palo Alto and replaced them with people who would typically go to Hillsborough, Atherton, Portola Valley or Woodside.

But I guess because your time is limited and you just want to live the rest of your life that way, who gives a crap about everyone else, right?

Or maybe that's what you want.


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Posted by Resident55439
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 3, 2016 at 3:25 pm

I'd like to see someone run for City Council that can say no to big business on new developments. I don't think there is a single resident of Palo Alto that believes we need more office space. STOP irresponsible new development and focus on what we have now, at least for the next couple of years. THANK YOU


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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 4, 2016 at 4:46 pm

@ Resident

Your top of the list post said it all. You got the priorities straight, and the transit, transportation, parking, infrastructure problems can only be solved by tackling it as a regional issue. Every city up and down the Peninsula plus East Bay cities need to get together to solve it, with State and Federal help as well. It will take time and a lot of money, but the current situation is pure hell and madness for commuters. I'm not one of them anymore, thank goodness, but I see it and empathize with them.

There are many misguided leaders...and wannabee economists, who think massive new housing developments will solve the problem. The old tried and true (except for this unusual and contrary situation), supply and demand theory just doesn't work in this case.

Good articles in the Mercury News about the Bay Area traffic and the income levels of people living in the Bay Area. Middle income (middle class) workers with no where to go but move out. Look at those whopping median incomes.


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