Guest Opinion: What 'quality of life' means to me | News | Palo Alto Online |


Guest Opinion: What 'quality of life' means to me

On a changing Palo Alto, and its implications for Nov. 8

As a Palo Alto native, I credit the city's culture of civic engagement, enriching community resources and inclusive schools for childhood experiences that inspired my values and lifelong dedication to public service. Although our schools were a big part of that, they were not the only motivator to raise my family here. No, I wanted them to have the big prize -- a whole community that embraced, comforted and inspired them. And I wanted to spend my adult life serving the community that did that for me.

When we moved "home" to Palo Alto, old friends warned that the city had changed. Yes, it felt busier and more crowded, but the things I loved remained: a diverse and welcoming community, easy and safe to traverse on foot or bicycle; neighbors citywide who cared for each other and the environment; and most importantly, a participatory and collaborative culture -- a sense that we were in it together. For me, that's what quality of life is all about.

Sadly, in recent years I've seen that culture slipping away. It breaks my heart to hear my teenage children describe a Palo Alto that seems intolerant and entitled, where worth is measured by superlatives honoring competition over collaboration. A place where community service is a resume builder rather than a responsibility. To them, our quality of life feels "toxic."

For my part, I have watched our city fall prey to increasingly sophisticated commercial interests and an ambition for "world-class" status that far exceeds the capacity of our municipal budget and our staff's earnest efforts -- a course too often pursued at the expense of fundamental services. People complain that our staffing budget is bloated, yet residents donate countless hours to fill gaps in city capacity. They do so out of desperation to keep our roadways safe, our neighborhoods healthy and our parks and green-space vital in the face of rapid, unsustainable development.

Despite the planning challenges we face, our City Council-appointed Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) has canceled a full third of this year's meetings. I've seen a commissioner publicly disparage residents contesting compliance deficiencies as "unmeaningful minorities." In private conversation, another has said that the details of the Comprehensive Plan just don't really matter that much. Attacking opponents of unfettered growth, a recently departed commissioner has asked, "How long will ... baby boomers ... be allowed to keep strangling the younger working generation?"

Such disregard for noncompliance, disinterest in the details for which they're responsible and divisive rhetoric does not engender confidence in this important commission. Nor does it reflect inclusive, effective or civil service.

I've seen a sitting council member brazenly suggest that Palo Altans concerned about quality of life are simply demagogues like Donald Trump. Alongside his assertion that they use "quality of life" as a calculated code-phrase for excluding others, he posted a picture of Trump with the caption: "Trump says Syrian refugees aren't just a terrorist threat, they'd hurt quality of life." That intentional distortion of our words and values with such false equivalencies is irresponsible and dangerous. It encourages outrage, not cooperation and empowerment.

Worst of all, I've seen an accompanying rise in public distrust in the intentions and ability of officials to hear and serve constituents' interests and to faithfully and transparently enforce city policy. That distrust takes form, not only in the controversial revolt behind the Maybell referendum or the activists who doggedly fight for code compliance, but in the more insidious context of the resident who won't attend a public meeting because "(t)hey're just gonna do what they want anyway." I see it in the neighbor who abandons a repeated enforcement complaint, having seen no redress despite official findings of violation. And in the park-lover who's encouraged to embrace roof-top gardens because all we have room for is more buildings.

It no longer feels as if we're in this together; and I don't like what I see. On Nov. 8, we as voters will choose whether to perpetuate that decline.

Municipal government is where our voices as citizens have the greatest impact on our daily lives. We cannot accept public officials who pick and choose which of our rules, or residents, "really" matter. We cannot succumb to partisanship, letting others define what our words mean and what we're for or against.

Instead, we must vote to elect candidates who will hear all of our voices, appoint responsible advisers, take an even-handed approach to growth, and enforce our rules. We need solutions that address, not compound, the localized impacts of having shouldered a disproportionate share of regional jobs. We need leaders who care about all the city's needs and actively invest in the mundane goal of community well-being.

Most Palo Altans are neither "NIMBYs" nor "Stack and Packers." We all want housing to be more affordable; neighborhoods that are inclusive, diverse and rich with parkland; roadways with fewer cars; and retail we can use. Where we disagree is on what strategy will sustainably achieve that end and who we can trust to get us there.

In this crowded council election, where all candidates seemingly offer warm promises to address our local ills, we must look beyond their campaign rhetoric. We cannot blindly follow endorsements by organizations to whom we're just a cog in a regional wheel. Local needs and challenges must be critical components of growth management in our city. We must confirm that candidates' purported growth strategies are backed by their actions, affiliations, statements and public record. Then we must hold them accountable for our trust, in this and future elections.

Quality of life is the heartbeat of our community. It is uniquely local, and we as voters are responsible for it.

Jennifer Chang Hetterly is a longtime member and former chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission and serves on the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee. She also chaired the facilities subcommittee for the Cubberley Advisory Committee and served several years in PTA and Site Council leadership.


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58 people like this
Posted by tsuntsun
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 28, 2016 at 4:00 pm

tsuntsun is a registered user.

Thank you Ms. Hetterly.

The ambition to be "world-class" not only exceeds the City's municipal budget and staff's earnest efforts, it also exceeds many residents' ability to support such lofty ambitions.

As for this city's Planning and Transportation commission, it is a joke. The previous Council (Liz Kniss, Nancy Shephard, Larry Klein, Gail Price, Greg Scharff) voted in these immature jokers who has done nothing but produced more work for staff and council and set in discourse. At least, finally the City has an Architectural Review Board with mature and wise commissioners. Looking forward for PTC to be the same, but the right Council members must be elected or it continues to be a joke.

The issue is that there is a generational gap, the ones that seem to think they are entitled and owed everything and those that have worked from bottom to top knowing what it takes to get what they have today.

That same immature generation has no regard for all the advances and hard fought Civil Rights the many fought hard for and in doing so has lost their lives.

53 people like this
Posted by With much appreciation
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2016 at 6:52 pm

With much appreciation is a registered user.

Thank you Ms Hetterley,

In your most eloquent letter you have challenged us to be our better selves. I am not a native. I'm an immigrant, but I am so appreciative of your message. No-one should be castigated or labeled for their beliefs.

59 people like this
Posted by Best
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 28, 2016 at 9:27 pm

Best thing I've read at Palo Alto Online in months! Bravo

47 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 29, 2016 at 10:34 am

Good article. But the most important part was left out -- need to vote in Keller, Kou and Stone, at least.

41 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 29, 2016 at 11:42 am

It may be a sad fact of life, but how can there be housing affordability in one of the most desirable towns in the world, a town that has pretty much run out of buildable land and a town that was never affordable to most, only to a few even in the distant past?

In order to deal with reality, we can't indulge in wishful thinking and self delusion. Palo Alto will never be affordable to anyone but a few. Even if we give up our entire way of life and livability, only a few would be Palo Alto zip code aspirants will get their wish, while millions will be bitterly disappointed. Just like a new Lamborghini is unaffordable to all but a few, so isPalo Alto and similar desirable towns.

19 people like this
Posted by affordability
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 29, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Dear Ms. Hetterly,
Thank you for offering your perspective. I'd like to understand how exactly you suggest we make Palo Alto more inclusive and affordable? You have publicly opposed Measure D. You have endorsed Mr. Keller who alongside with Ms. Kou have changed the way election campaigns are run in Palo Alto by raising the most money ever from a hand-full of donors, publishing negative ads, etc. There is no civic discourse left in this city because of people like them.

When you talk about "quality of life" - whose quality of life are you concerned with? Our seniors, our young families, or service industry workers? How about teachers? How about public service folks like yourself? Would you be able to live here in Palo Alto today? You should be honest at least with yourself. It would also be really great to hear some actual ideas about how to make Palo Alto inclusive before you make a political call to action like this.

23 people like this
Posted by PASZ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Seems like PASZ are trying every angle to mobilize our population before this election, for those of you who do not know where this is coming from.
I got a mailer from Keller and Kou this week on "Affordability" of all things! Wonderful peace of political fiction just like this article from a known PASZ member. [Portion removed.]

53 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 29, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Ms. Hetterly's guest opinion is a breath of fresh air--sane, wise, and candid. Many thanks to her for knowing so much about so many aspects of our city, for writing both with passion and restraint, and for having a keen ear for the rhetorical indignities we inflict on each other, gradually and casually degrading the public conversation and the city's soul. This editorial refreshes my hopes, and will probably do so for a lot of us. Thank you, Jennifer Chang Hetterly!

36 people like this
Posted by @affordability
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2016 at 2:08 pm

@affordability is a registered user.

It is such a shame that you had to take the comments down a notch.

But since you have, it should be clarified that Keller and Kou did not change the way elections are run in Palo Alto, that happened in the last election when Scharff raised $100k and an IE ran negative ads on behalf of Mr Walbach. The higher ground you're attempting to claim is imagined not real.

18 people like this
Posted by Anita
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 29, 2016 at 2:28 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed piece. I, too, am a lifelong resident of this valley who grew up in Los Gatos, have lived in Los Altos for many years, and have enjoyed shopping and dining in Palo Alto for many years. Sadly, your sentiments apply equally in Los Altos. Despite the megalopolis that now covers the Santa Clara Valley, our cities have distinct histories and character. One thing we need to have in common is civil discourse and respect for the differing views among us, even as we strive to sustain the quality of life that makes our cities so special.

13 people like this
Posted by Betty Jo
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 29, 2016 at 3:08 pm

Hi Marc Vincenti,
re: "for writing both with passion and restraint, and for having a keen ear for the rhetorical indignities we inflict on each other, gradually and casually degrading the public conversation and the city's soul."

what you said.
Betty Jo

25 people like this
Posted by betty Jo
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 29, 2016 at 3:36 pm


Hi affordability.

Well, actually, as I understand it, Ms. Hetterly supports more affordable senior housing as an important shared community value. I myself, remain hopeful that by working together, we might yet find a way to support that important need.

I don’t know much about compaign contributions. But it seems to me that if money has become an issue for our local elections, perhaps public funded campaigns might be a really good option. I’d support that. What do you think? Is that a good idea?

As I read Ms. Hetterly’s piece though, I hear her talking about Quality of Life for all residents of Palo Alto, (40% of whom are renters). I thought she was seeking “a diverse and welcoming community, easy and safe to traverse on foot or bicycle; neighbors citywide who cared for each other and the environment; and most importantly, a participatory and collaborative culture -- a sense that we were in it together. For me, that's what quality of life is all about.”

“A particiatory and collaborative culture - a sense that we are in it together” That’s what quality of life means to me too.

best regards,
Betty Jo

9 people like this
Posted by Betty Jo
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 29, 2016 at 3:39 pm


Hi Mauricio

True enough, not all who may wish to shall be able to live in Palo Alto, nor indeed, in much of today’s Bay Area.

We can, however, make some focused efforts on providing more, more affordable housing - for our seniors, for our city and school employees, for our young people. But those are not the forms of housing going up in every neighborhood. Instead, we continue to permit mega mansions, single family dwellings only the most wealthy can afford, with basements alone larger than most single family dwellings used to be in the past. I was disappointed about Measure D. I hope we may find ways to support more senior housing in perhaps slightly less dense arrangement.

Managed growth is a tricky business. As Ms. Hetterly notes, it requires balancing the effects of Palo Alto having taken on more than it’s share of regional jobs. Transportation, housing, city services, parks, schools and recreational opportunities all suffer from that jobs inbalance.

There are ways we can work together to manage growth in a fashion that preserves our environment, our neighborhoods, our biking friendly culture.

A good start might be to restore the “we’re all in this together” community attitudes and civil civic discourse that Ms. Hetterly so eloquently articulates.

Best regards,
Betty Jo

21 people like this
Posted by Betty Jo
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 29, 2016 at 3:42 pm


Hi “PASZ” ???

Hmm. As I understand it, Ms Hetterly is not a member of Palo Altan for Sensible Zoning.

Of more import, I was really surprised at this response. I wondered if you even read Ms Hetterly’s letter. For what I read was a heart-felt plea from a long time resident, who begs that we eschew demagauery and divisiveness and instead seek common ground, ways to work together to support and sustain the parks, safe streets, and vital neighborhoods we all want for ourselves and our families.

The challenges our City faces in managing growth while protecting what is desireable about living here are daunting. There are no easy answers. But I submit that Ms. Hetterly’s call to revive the
“we’re all in this together” attitudes and efforts that once made this City the nurturing and supportive home base, the “big prize” we want for our families, is a pretty key element to figuring out those answers.

best regards,
betty jo

33 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2016 at 3:53 pm

Jen Hetterly did not, as someone stated above, "publically oppose Measure D (Maybell)" and is not affiliated with PASZ. I think this is rather part of the point - one doesn't have to be a partisan of a group to have an opinion during this election season.

She makes a welcome point - surely we all want to enjoy our quality of life (good schools and city services, plentiful parks) and have housing more affordable, that continues to serve a diverse population. Seems entirely reasonable. But by simply writing this, Hetterly is pigeon holed, then filtered by partisan ears who hear what they assume rather than hearing what she is actually saying.

This level of suspicion and finger pointing among ourselves needs to stop and replaced by critical intelligent thinking.

33 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 29, 2016 at 4:15 pm

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Thank You, "Anon"....for correcting the record.

A thoughtful leader like Jennifer Hetterly skillfully crafted a call to higher action by appealing to values. She should not be mislabeled such as "Affordability" has done. If "Affordability" can prove her accusations with credibility, then post documentation online.

Lacking documentation, then retraction is in order.

12 people like this
Posted by affordability
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 29, 2016 at 5:44 pm

Please see this article from 2014 where Ms. Hetterly is listed as one of the community leaders opposing measure D along with Karen Holman, Enid Pearson, Thomas Jordan, and Doria Summa
Web Link

48 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 29, 2016 at 6:36 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@affordability - How about if some tech companies like Palantir moved downtown San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose? That would help open up some housing, and reduce demand. And as a bonus, it would free up spaces like the Palantir cafeteria on HIgh St, which is empty 90% of the time, and only benefits company employees. People like to mock Pat Burt, but he was making a real point about too many jobs.

3 people like this
Posted by @affordability
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2016 at 7:01 pm

@affordability is a registered user.

The link you posted is to a blog called Palo Alto Pulse which is written by Victoria Thorpe. There is no evidence that the claim is true. There are no quotes from Ms Hetterley. This does not substantiate that Ms Hetterly opposed Measure D. It just shows that Victoria Thorpe wrote that she did. Is there any real evidence for this claim.

65 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Hetterly
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2016 at 7:13 pm

Jennifer Hetterly is a registered user.


Given your tagline and your claim that I "publicly opposed" Measure D right after your question about housing inclusion and affordability, one might naturally conclude that you referred to the 2013 Measure D referendum on the Maybell senior housing project. And NOT the 2014 Measure D about reducing the size of City Council referenced through a weblink in your later posting.

In order to avoid any further confusion or distortion, I’d like to clarify that I did not “publicly oppose” the Maybell project on the ballot in 2013 (nor am I a member of PASZ as claimed by another post). I DID publicly and actively oppose the 2014 Measure D, because I believe reducing the size of City Council threatens to reduce the representation of diverse voices in our decision-making body.

I am not a candidate, I am a resident voicing personal opinions based on my own experience, under my own name. I am hopeful for a future where such misdirected and misleading attacks no longer have a home in Palo Alto.

34 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2016 at 7:45 pm

And let me add to Hetterly's effort at correcting the record -
Former Mayor Holman who currently serves on City Council was a strong supporter of Measure D - Maybell. None on Council were stronger in support. Before you start calling people out by name you need to get your facts straight. She is also not a member of PASZ. Though there is nothing wrong with that.

Most condsider Holman a residentialist. So that is also something to keep in mind when people bring out a broad brush and start painting people one way or another based on generalities that don't begin to reflect reality.

Lastly - Hetterly made a point I agreed with. In my words - our town is not a cash cow for developers or corporations. They should get to be here because there is a mutual reproprocity with residents rather than manipulation and exploitation.

3 people like this
Posted by brainwashing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2016 at 7:45 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

1 person likes this
Posted by Clayton Nall
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 29, 2016 at 7:55 pm

Clayton Nall is a registered user.

{Post removed.]

23 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 29, 2016 at 9:27 pm

> Attacking opponents of unfettered growth, a recently departed commissioner has asked, "How long will ... baby boomers ... be allowed to keep strangling the younger working generation?"

Though he might have phrased it more tactfully, the commissioner did point to a common concern. If you're old enough to have bought a house here twenty years ago, the housing shortage benefits you by raising real estate prices so much (via supply and demand) that you become a net millionaire by virtue of your house alone. Who wouldn't want to preserve that?

But if you're a younger family entering the housing market today, your options are renting an apartment in Palo Alto or an hour-long commute from the nearest house you can afford to own. And that's if you're a tech worker making six figures! Middle and lower-class workers are pushed out even farther and tighter: teachers driving in from Gilroy and entire working-class families squeezing into illegally converted garages in east Menlo Park.

So when those younger adults hear the Residentialists talk of preserving Palo Alto as a sleepy suburb -- Palo Alto, with a job concentration like NYC and roommate situations to match -- we cannot see what you're talking about. Literally. We can't afford it.

As an aside, most adults under the age of 40 think Prop 13 was a bad idea. It screwed up market incentives so badly that it pretty much froze the housing supply in 1978. We believe that if not for that, Palo Alto and similarly prosperous municipalities would have far more apartment buildings than those farces of "single family" homes that rent out by the bedroom or even bed.

And as another aside, how much control do we have over growth? It seems to happen whether we zone for it or not. And if companies do decide to leave Silicon Valley for places where the real estate is cheaper, what would that look like? I don't think it would be a slow trickle, but a hemorrhage. In many American cities after the advent of the federal highway system, people moved to the suburbs for cheaper housing. Then businesses followed. What did the city look like after that? Not a sleepy community, but total urban decay. Tech leaving Silicon Valley would be like car factories leaving Motown. Do you want to risk another Detroit?

25 people like this
Posted by Kou speaking here
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2016 at 9:51 pm

What is the wife of Lydia Kou's treasurer Christopher Hatterly doing writing an op ed piece here? Is anyone going to call this out?
This is really gloves off campaign tactics here.

48 people like this
Posted by millionaires
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2016 at 10:49 pm

I have owned a small condo in Palo Alto for 5 years, and yes, on paper, it has increased in value over this time. However, I disagree that rising home values have a discernible impact on most PA residents. Most PA homeowners I know simply want to stay put and are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to continue to pay their mortgages. As long as you don't sell your home, its increased value has little impact. And rising home prices mean that, if you want to move to a larger home, you will need to pay much more. The major advantage of owning a home is that you don't need to worry about rent increases. OTOH, the major disadvantage is that you have far less available cash since so much of your reserves went into the down-payment on your home. This means that you have less cash available for vacations, electronic gadgets, top-of-the-line bikes and cars, etc. Wannabee homeowners would be wise to consider whether home ownership is really worth the sacrifices.

23 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 30, 2016 at 12:07 am

Elizabeth @ Downtown,

Redwood City has approved over 2,500 apartments in high density, buildings, ranging from five to 10 stories. All are "luxury" apartments, with one bedrooms apartments renting out between $3,000 to $3,800 per month, and a 3 bedroom apartment renting out for $5,600 to $6,200 per month. This has the effect of raising the rents of the older rental stock in the area.

Rezoning for higher density can create a lot more housing, but it will be expensive housing - even more expensive than what's happening in Redwood City. Private investment will build housing that gives the highest return for their money, and it won't be affordable for the middle class. The only scenario where this wouldn't happen is if the government owns the housing, and the need to have a return on investment is removed - but then it's the government choosing who gets to live in Palo Alto.

Prop 13 didn't prevent the redevelopment in Redwood City, nor is it preventing the redevelopment in other cities. Prop 13 has benefited every homeowner, not just the ones who purchased 20 or more years ago. Five years ago a 3 bedroom/2 bath house were being bought in Palo Alto for $1,000,000. I know of owners who stretched to buy 5 years ago, and without prop 13 those buyers in 2011 would be taxed out of their homes.

Instead of trying to force current homeowners out of their homes, or redesign the city which would fail in it's attempt to create more affordable housing, corporations and companies who are in Palo Alto should pay their employees a salary sufficient for them to buy housing in Palo Alto. Or perhaps the City of Palo Alto put in place a business tax which would be used to build government owned housing.

23 people like this
Posted by nonpartisan
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 30, 2016 at 1:14 am

"We cannot succumb to partisanship" I agree wholeheartedly but I have tried to work with the "residentialists” including the sitting council members, and found that they only think about their side, and above that they treat immigrants and new comers in PaloAlto like second-class citizens.

If they don't want to be likened to Trump they should stop behaving like him

44 people like this
Posted by Let's Save Palo Alto
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2016 at 6:29 am

"Nonpartisan" above compares residentialists to Trump supporters, which is both absurd and more proof of the desperation evident on the pro-developer side. We've heard the same from certain members of the Planning Commission associated with the pro-development side. Resorting to name-calling isn't going to convince Palo Alto that our problems with traffic, parking, overcrowding, affordability, and loss of retail are going to magically disappear if we keep doing what got us into this mess, namely build, build, and build.

The pro-developer side never proposes serious solutions, perhaps because the problems haven't gone away in nearby cities that have enabled massive growth. Instead, they engage in name-calling, perhaps hoping to inflame less aware voters. In fact, their ads even make them sound like residentialists. The good news is that Palo Altans across the spectrum are realizing that ours is a great community worth preserving, and that we can if we elect the right leaders.

Thank you Jennifer for a beautiful column, expressing what so many Palo Altans feel.

4 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 30, 2016 at 9:22 am

Common sense @ Midtown

Developers charge $3500 for new apartments in Redwood City because that's what the market price is. And if those people couldn't pay it for new apartments, they'd bid up the older housing supply even worse. When homeowners in Redwood City can rent out just their garage for $2000, I think we can agree that the group of people who need to put a roof over their heads in the Bay Area is really underserved.

Also, since building explicitly affordable housing is something that seems to get far more lip service than funding around here, building luxury units is the second best way to make housing more affordable. Because today's luxury units (new is "A grade" in real estate terms) are often tomorrow's middle-class ("B grade") or even working-class homes. Even in Palo Alto, people who can't afford a one-bedroom apartment in a newer building might still swing a two-bedroom in some clapboard cash grab from the Sixties (which were the luxury units of their day).

16 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of University South
on Oct 30, 2016 at 9:37 am

Why doesn't this article mention that Jennifer Hetterly is the new treasurer for the Lydia Kou campaign? Isn't that something that should at least be disclosed?

Sometimes what the Weekly prints and what it doesn't just stumps me.

12 people like this
Posted by @Elizabeth
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 30, 2016 at 9:50 am

@Elizabeth is a registered user.

There is this erroneous notion circulating, supported in your comment, that somehow residents are living high on the hog because of prop 13. It should be clarified that residents don't benefit from prop 13 until they move out of the area far way or die. There's hardly an upside to either of those scenarios if one has spent 50 years in a community with the attendant friendships and support mechanisms.

This younger generation seems quite happy to vilify older residents despite this. Prop 13 is bad for everyone. Can we be done with targeting the baby boomers? Some of those baby boomers were the innovators that made Silicon Valley what it is today.

Lastly, East Palo Alto, for the moment, is still affordable, and a lot closer than an hour away.

35 people like this
Posted by Hamilton Hitchings
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 30, 2016 at 11:28 am


Thank you for this wonderful editorial. I've worked closely with Jennifer and she always puts the community first.


3 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 30, 2016 at 12:05 pm

Elizabeth @ College Terrace:

If Prop 13 doesn't benefit the old nor the young, why not repeal it? Units would move, housing prices would fall back in line, and everyone would be happier.

Even East Palo Alto is pricing out low-wage workers these days. I recently read of a Stanford janitor who now has to commute three hours each way via public transit from Stockton! Also, having lived in EPA myself and heard the constant gunfire there, I understand why families choose to drive in from Tracey instead, even if that does decrease the time working parents get to spend with their children. Or, you know, leave the Bay Area entirely and leave us with a labor shortage.

10 people like this
Posted by Theodore
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2016 at 9:50 pm

The Bay Area should have been up-zoning gradually over the last 50 years, allowing supply to keep up with the demand for housing. Experiment and find out what sort of high density works the best here. Instead, we’ve been strangling the supply, until now the situation is so bad that every option is an unfortunate option that hurts somebody.

What “quality of life” means to me is, first of all, being alive. Fulfilling the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy: Food and shelter. When my ancestors immigrated from Europe, they said the old country is beautiful, but you can’t eat beauty. And telling people to move away doesn’t work. Cities work by being highly connected. The jobs are here, so the homes need to be here. If you want to deny access to housing, then I’m sorry, but you are making yourself an obstacle to human life.

The mutual comparisons to Trump are hilarious. Nobody else is Trump. Trump is unique. Stand up for humanity on your own merits.

As a practical concern, I’m concerned about the treadmill of debt. The cities and suburbs were not designed in a sustainable manner. By being paid for with bonds, with interest payments costing twice as much as the original price, they were building for growth. Somebody needs to pay for maintenance. We need growth to replace corroded sewer pipes. We need growth to fill in pot holes. If you oppose growth, then you are promoting decay. Rome was not destroyed in a day, so you need to take the long-term view to see what’s wrong.

Web Link

16 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 30, 2016 at 10:36 pm

@Theodore -- "The jobs are here, so the homes need to be here." Looks equivalent to "the homes are elsewhere, so the jobs need to be elsewhere."

And for some perspective, I plead guilty to being a huge "obstacle to human life", as I could sell out and transfer my wealth to central Africa to feed 25,000 starving children for a year. How selfish of me.

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2016 at 3:50 am

Prop 13 is fair for homeowners but possibly not for business owners, in my opinion.

Every year my property tax goes up. Even with Prop 13, people who have lived in homes for 10+, 20+ years have to cough up more money each year to pay their property tax. Fortunately for most home owners the raise is relatively modest, but if there was no Prop 13, this could make owning a family home a liability rather than an asset. Any family could have a breadwinner out of work for a couple of months, or a major family emergency that costs a lot of the annual budget in any one year. If on top of these expenses, the raise in property tax was astronomical if home values increased, many families would no longer have the security to remain in their homes the way they can now. Would that be fair? And if it was your own parents or family members forced out of their homes for this reason would you be sympathetic?

On top of that, what and who would value the home each year? It would cost a lot of somebody's money to assess the value. At present the value is the last time the house was sold/bought. What system could be fair to value the assessed value?

No, Prop 13 may not be the best system, but it is fair in how it works at present.

16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2016 at 3:54 am


The Bay Area has been building up for the last 50 years.

San Jose was a sleepy little town (as the song says, Do you know the way to San Jose), Morgan Hill was a farming community, Sunnyvale was still orchards and so on and so forth.

To say that the Bay Area has not been building up when it has been building out is not the same that we should be building Pack and Stack because it hasn't been doing so for the past 50 years is laughably inaccurate.

11 people like this
Posted by Sad
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2016 at 8:58 am

It's really disappointing to see so many comments in this newspaper repeatedly attacking young people, like tsuntsun's above. Is the contention that a whole generation - our children - has suddenly gone wrong because they also want to have homes they can afford?

It's a very strange trend to see older homeowners claiming that Millennials who rent are trying to force them out of their homes and get something without working for it. This is so ridiculous it's strange even to repeat. We are the ones who own the homes; they are the ones who rent. We are in no danger of being "forced out"; they are in every danger of losing their homes if their rent increases too quickly.

We should be looking out for our children's generation, rather than castigating them as "entitled". I'm glad our parents looked out for our generation. I want to return the favor. With smart planning, there's room enough for a new generation to join us here, just as we joined the older generations before ours.

16 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 31, 2016 at 9:55 am

"just as we joined the older generations before ours"

95 percent of my Palo Alto classmates moved out of town. Our high prices are not driven by our own children but by the rest of the world wanting to move in.

30 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2016 at 10:25 am

Hetterly is not the treasurer for any candidate campaign. She is on the Parks and Receation Commission where she is as sensible there as she is in this op-ed.

20 people like this
Posted by PlayNice
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 31, 2016 at 10:55 am

Someone on this thread asked: “Do we want to risk another Detroit?”


Oh dear, should I be fearful and worried about that?

I shudder already in that bitter-cold Great Lakes wind I can feel driving in from the river. It carries with it cinder and soot filled small snow-ice, colored of both grey and black. These are large enough to hurt; to scratch and burn on contact. Like ill-mannered discourse. But the snow ice is too small, after all, to call weapons, even when transported by ill winds of partisanship. That wind groans and growls as it roars down the empty, trash strewn canyon that once was called University Avenue. Palo Alto.

Broken shutters hang askew, unbalanced. They bang against chipped paint walls, their complaint magnified by that discontented wind. Balanced, managed growth is a curse, howls the wind. Broken glass shards, kicked into untidy corners of unswept streets, barely glint in the mere moonlight, for no street lights shine, any longer, in Palo Alto. We have become, in the eyes of a fear monger, Detroit.

And all because some foolhardy citizen, throwing caution to the wind, dared speak softly about what Quality of Life” means to her. She spoke up. She said, ( paraphrasing), “Hey. Here is what quality of life means to me. How do you want your hometown to be? Please think about that. Vote. Don’t run with scissors. Play nice.”

How could we have known. The unforeseen consequences of a plea for civility and cooperative community. Turned us into Detroit. Just like that. Ah me, the power of words.

30 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 31, 2016 at 11:25 am

Palo Alto has not been a young person's or young family's first home purchase destination for more than 40 years. PA has been more expensive than most of the surrounding communities (except for Atherton, etc.) as far back as I can remember. The concept that PA should be affordable to first-time buyers has not been realistic for several generations now. To blame current homeowners is a bit daffy.

There's nothing wrong with buying a condo in another town (e.g., Foster City) and building equity, then buy a home with a yard in a less-expensive city (e.g., Mountain View)...building equity again...and then finding your way to buying a home in PA... Oh wait...that's exactly how we did it.

Buying your very first home in PA is not a birthright. Yet it seems that some people demand it to be so.

4 people like this
Posted by PlayNice
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 31, 2016 at 11:46 am

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Candidate Len
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2016 at 12:16 pm


Thank you for your thoughts. Mine exactly and that is why I am running. I am not offering "warm promises". I will do what is right for Palo Alto's future not its past. There are ways to find and build "affordable housing" in Palo Alto. If anyone is interested in discussing this in person I would be happy to oblige.

11 people like this
Posted by Sheri Furman
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2016 at 12:53 pm

Sheri Furman is a registered user.

Excellent, Jen! Thank you.

Like this comment
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2016 at 2:34 pm

Quality of Life. Palo Alto is a lovely place with high quality of life. A few good reasons are

1. Next to technology centers that promote innovation
2. Walkable areas for stroll bikable areas for school children
3. Respectful to each other where you are color blind skin blind look blind
4. Make it merit based and earn your place based on merit
5. Compassionate society that are charity interested
6. Great number of large trees
7. Beautiful when sun sets on trees
8. Beautiful when it rains
And many more


12 people like this
Posted by lucky you
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 31, 2016 at 3:11 pm

I have two problems with this post: first of all this is clearly a Lydia Kou campaign ad. Not only Jennifer's husband is her treasurer as already pointed out, not only PAN/PASZ is jumping on this thread with positive comments and support but also Lydia herself shared this piece in the FB page and ads.
Secondly, for all the folks who are talking about PA not being affordable and certainly not for starter homes - I'm totally good with that. I don't disagree. I'm happy to work hard, work my way up to a home in Palo Alto. Except of course it doesn't work like that anymore which is why all the new homes are huge, broken down old homes still sell for millions and buses roll in full of foreign investors to scope out and buy up properties for cash. But let's pretend for a minute that by working hard you could actually afford to buy here at some distant future - of the existing homeowners - how many of you guys could do the same today? How may of you could re-afford your home? How many of you retired at 60 or earlier? How many count on your home as an investment? Don't blame the young or the middle aged people trying to push you out. I suspect most of you are happy with your property values as they are and don't really want to see that change, because you think you are entitled and that somehow you did something to earn this quality of life and home ownership. And in reality... you just got lucky and now you don't want to share.

8 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 31, 2016 at 3:33 pm

"I suspect most of you are happy with your property values..."

Actually I don't know what would happen to my R-1 property value if it were rezoned RM-60 or PC with unrestricted height limit. Any guesses?

20 people like this
Posted by ritavrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 31, 2016 at 10:50 pm

A beautifully written Guest Opinion by J.Hetterly, who used her own name, suddenly is seen by commenters, who choose to remain anonymous, as a Kou campaign speech! What next?

Grow Up! Ms. Hetterly has written a thoughtful article which we would do well to read and reflect upon. You don't have to agree. She is entitled to her opinion. Not everything is a campaign ploy.

It must have taken her hours to get every word perfect, because perfect it is. Whether you agree or not at least recognize the craft and time spent in composing this Guest Opinion.

I have followed PA's campaigns and feel M. Berman's Assembly campaign ruined PA politics. Over 1.3 million dollars (and still counting) of outside, unidentified donor money hiding behind "Independent Expenditure Accounts".

Who are these donors who funded his earlier blizzard of campaign ads?
And what do they expect for their money?

Let's at least be civil and complement Ms. Hetterly on expressing her beliefs. And using her own name. Thank you.

32 people like this
Posted by Jason
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 1, 2016 at 5:31 am

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by boring PA
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 1, 2016 at 9:26 am

The vision that this article espouses is one of a long parade of all residents agreeing to the article's description of "quality of life" in the abstract. The term is a measure that cannot be defined by the acclaim of residentialists or anyone else really. What is for some quality of life may mean for others boring , unprogressive and lacking diversity at best and singularly against the idea that as we evolve so do the parameters are a measure life's quality presently.

Wishing for and dog whistling for a Brady bunch vision of quality doesn't make reality less real. We are in different times and must evolve with them. After all we were the vehicle for today's reality, so it's fundamentally inconsistent to
pretend we didn't come to where we are by our own collective endeavors What the article advocates is vision of the past whose repetition would even not be possible. It speaks as if there is only one valid universal opinion on the matter and whose representation has only one albeit somewhat collective voice and all others are to be distorted, vilified and given no credit. That is not acceptable.

10 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2016 at 10:59 am

Completely understand the tortured posting by "boring PA" above, especially in the light of the current national election cycle...

"there is only one valid universal opinion on the matter and whose representation has only one albeit somewhat collective voice and all others are to be distorted, vilified and given no credit"

Regarding local growth/development issues, that is EXACTLY the position that aggressive growth promoters, money interests , and developers usually take. If you don't want their unfettered vision, you must be some backwards, selfish, NIMBY , moron desiring to live in a glorious past that never actually existed, etc. etc, etc. "boring PA" spent a lot of effort crafting words to simply state that he/she doesn't agree with the Guest Opinion and thus it isn't a valid opinion. When you can't convince someone of your opinion, its easy but ultimately ineffective to resort to vilifying them as a "basket of deplorables" or a sub-human alien. We'll see what the resident voters have to say about it in about a week.

3 people like this
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Nov 1, 2016 at 11:11 am

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

I'd like to address the issue of disclosure:

Tim Gray was Lydia Kou's campaign treasurer through last Wednesday, Oct. 26, according to campaign-finance forms. Chris Hetterley is recorded as the treasurer starting last Thursday, Oct. 27, which is also the day this column was sent to the press for the Weekly's print edition. It had been prepared weeks in advance, however.

Had we known that the author's husband had just taken on the position with Kou's campaign, we would have added the disclosure. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

32 people like this
Posted by sue zhou
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2016 at 12:29 pm

I dont understand how anybody can be upset about life in our great city here. The downtown is great. The area is very desirable. All of our houses have gone up in value so much. The air is clean. The companies in the area give us lots of opportunities. We make more money from rentals each year. The taxes always stay reasonable. Everybody is happy. My relatives always ask me how they can move here and I always try to help. The only people I have heard say they dont like it here are young people who think they deserve a life here but they are just young and dont know much yet.
[Portion removed.]

13 people like this
Posted by Great Place to Live...for now
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 1, 2016 at 2:40 pm

Great Place to Live...for now is a registered user.

Palo Alto's quality of life is partially validated by why so many folks want to live here, in part because of its great schools, family oriented community, beautiful tree lined streets, friendly environment for retirees and until recently innovative startups. Developers and big business are working hard in this election to convince local residents that sustainable growth is not in their best interests, partly through misinformation and also by backing a slate of candidates like Adrian Fine, Greg Tanaka and Liz Kniss.

4 people like this
Posted by Great City?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 1, 2016 at 4:51 pm

Great City? is a registered user.

@sue asks: "I dont understand how anybody can be upset about life in our great city here. The downtown is great. The area is very desirable. All of our houses have gone up in value so much. The air is clean. The companies in the area give us lots of opportunities. We make more money from rentals each year. The taxes always stay reasonable. Everybody is happy. My relatives always ask me how they can move here and I always try to help."

What struck me is this: What I value in a community are not the things you mention. I don't put things like "house value" or "taxes" at a premium. I take for granted that air and water are clean, as that's true in most of the US. And given that kids are tragically committing suicide and parents are stressed, I wouldn't categorize this as a place where "everybody is happy". (But I am from the US. I can see how people from elsewhere may think this is nirvana.)

There are many other places in the US where the cost of living is lower, where people have more time, where kids aren't as scheduled, where flora and fauna flourish, where neighbors are neighborly, and commutes and traffic are much more manageable. The weather may not be as perfect, but the drought isn't as impactful either.

IMO, Palo Alto has become a victim of its own success.

2 people like this
Posted by Theodore
a resident of another community
on Nov 1, 2016 at 10:50 pm


To quote myself, “And telling people to move away doesn’t work. Cities work by being highly connected.”

It goes back to Adam Smith and the Wealth of Nations. In his fable, it was the manufacture of nails. No single person is able to absorb all knowledge and work efficiently in every technology. I’ve seen individuals try, and fail, miserably. We need specialization. The more advanced the technology, the more the specialists. And the specialists need to be able to connect to each other.

You can’t have computational genetic researchers trying to find cures to deadly diseases without dozens of support staff in the vicinity, and hundreds of people in the community taking care of plumbing and gas and stuff, in a town of at least thousands. And each of those people have their own needs, to be met by others in society. It’s hard to do research if you personally have to do everything from plowing the ground to picking the weeds to grinding your grains to baking your own bread. Not to mention the thousands of staff involved in creating the sequencing equipment and its software and the computers and their software and everything else. This is just one facet of one job.

Our society needs to be highly connected to continue to function. To be highly connected, we need densely populated cities.

What worries me about the unsustainability is the feeling that we have only one shot at this. Web Link Pretty much all of society is running on promises and debts. Fossil fuels and loans. For me, packing densely is not a matter of cramming people where they don’t fit, but trying to provide a future for my children in the face of serious threats to survival.

4 people like this
Posted by Theodore
a resident of another community
on Nov 1, 2016 at 11:29 pm

@Resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,

Yes, in terms of housing prices, the sprawl has been effective at keeping San Jose more affordable than San Francisco. But even there, it hasn’t kept up with demand. And building out instead of up produces several problems, of which these are a few:

Sprawl itself. Eventually, it becomes socially unacceptable to trample wilderness for housing. Or we run out of wilderness.

Traffic. Housing in one place and jobs in another place, without robust transit, has created the obvious. I refuse to move to San Jose because I refuse to spend hours in traffic each way, every day.

Water. The whole state of California is in a drought, but it would be better for the planet to let people live here in a way that reduces per capita water usage than to promote suburbs somewhere else, draining another aquifer.

Growth Ponzi Scheme. Do read Charles Marohn’s articles. Web Link

Besides, even without Pack and Stack construction, we are getting Pack and Stack living. A market-based response to an arbitrary fiat restriction. It’s just happening without official recognition and support, so it’s making the area more stressful for everybody to live.

3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 2, 2016 at 4:55 pm

Courtesy reply to @Theodore, I see your viewpoint and have similar concerns for the fate of civilization. Every new generation seems unhappy with the mess their elders have left them. We've worried about the End-Times for thousands of years, that Aeon essay another unsettling scenario. In my youth it was just H-bombs.

But life is what happens while you are making plans, and how we vote could have some bearing on the quality of our relatively near-term future. Somewhat wistfully, Thomas Wolfe's phrase "you can't go home again" also comes to mind.

Next week these boards will be filled with election post-mortems, many no doubt of the TL;DR variety (too long; didn't read).

2 people like this
Posted by Betty Jo
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 3, 2016 at 10:42 am

Since Ms. Hetterly asked, here’s what Quality of Life in Palo Alto means to me.

I’d like to see balanced growth. Fewer offices and more low density duplex homes and apartments, and fewer mega-mansions. More below market housing for seniors and young families, teachers and public safety personnel. I’d like to see a diverse Palo Alto, where kids grow up knowing seniors, and economical, not extravagant lifestyles and attitudes are a community value. I’d like to see more small grocery stores in neighborhoods, and more small parks in neighborhoods so people can walk not drive to buy a quart of milk, or sit on a park bench enjoying our beautiful weather. I find continued basement construction de-watering waste of groundwater in areas with high watertables an abomanation in this time of drought and climate change. I want that to stop. I’d like noise pollution taken seriously, whether from airplane overflights or leaf blowers and construction. I want a city staffed enough to enforce zoning regulations, care for the tree canopy, invests in city infrastructure, and support parks, recreation, and other community services. I want civil civil discourse, and an end to demonizing honest disagreement.

I already mailed in my ballot. I’m hoping I made the right choices.

6 people like this
Posted by Thank You for writing this
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 6, 2016 at 11:12 am

First, what a well-written, intelligent, deeply thought-out piece.

Secondly, all one has to do to understand the solution is try to get anywhere during rush hour. In the morning, all roads lead to Palo Alto. 101 is a parking lot in our direction from San Jose and pretty normal the other way. In the evening, the reverse. The easiest solution is to move the jobs to San Jose where the workers are. Palo Alto allowed way too mich office overdevelopment. That must be corrected.

San Jose is already a large city with more affordable housing. It is a major metro area with different neighbirhoods that are like their own little cities, with their own names. San Jose wants to beef up its downtown to be more vibrant. It could benefit from development that creates the feeling of different hubs in their neighborhoods that are already hubs. It wants the young yuppies and the nightlife. It wants the development dollars. The answer is staring us all in the face. Work with San Jose and move large companies out of Palo Alto downtown which was never supposed to be an office park to begin with. Put in steps tp preserve retail and restore community focused services and businesses.

To the poster above with the apocryphal warnings about Palo Alto becoming Detroit when all the companies move out in an avalanche, you are confusing several issues.

Palo Alto will continue to be a place where people want to startup and innovate because of Stanford. Lots of people will continue to come here, especially if the larger companies leave and let them - I am of course speaking of companies that have recently tried to takeover downtown as their own private company campuses and pushed into Palo Alto politics, hard, through their employees. Palo Alto was a place of innovation precisely because it was low-key and near Stanford. The big companies taking over downtown are freezing out the vibrant startups.

But the other issue is that the area has a long hostory if boom and bust cycles. The next bust will come, it's not if but when. High quality og life factors in the past, like good schools and nice neighborhoods, have helped keep Palo Alto far more stable than surrounding areas. Tons of vacant office space, however, becomes a burden for residents. Overbuilding for the myopic desires of special interests will leave residents holding the bag. It has happened before.

Someone above asked what you would do if you had to buy your house here again. I can answer that because we ended up having to do that because of hardship and losing the first one. The answer is: we would do the same thing we did the first time, make huge sacrifices and do whatever it took, go through long periods of financial pain and move up over time. This area has been an outrageously expensive place for more than the last 40 years. If anything, salaries and benefits of tech workers are proportionately higher and the interests rates stable and low in an unprecedented way now. New renters just cannot fathom what a bad choice it is to be at the mercy of a rental market in an area of such perpetual demand. Living through that is why most people, ourselves included, are able to put ourselves through the gauntlet of protracted sacrifices that are home ownership for the many house poor here, It's about stability. The quality of life helps compensate for the other sacrifices, like never being able to travel even to see family or having any nice things. So we feel the loss of quality of life factors acutely.

9 people like this
Posted by Rpthank you for writing this
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 6, 2016 at 11:24 am

One only has to look at Stanford to see how one controls housing costs and preserves quality of life: utter control by Stanford. People are willing to because they get much better quality of life than they could outside of Stanford. This is a relevant example because Stanford gets something out if it, too: local, very grateful highly skilled workers who further its mission.

Palo Alto might want to think about starting a fund, in part with a business tax, to buy up properties in retail areas during the next bust. The properties would be set aside for retail and other services deemed, through a process, to benefit Palo Alto. This could insulate Palo Alto retail and services from the painful booms and busts, the way Stanford neighborhoods are. And it would forever protect Palo Alto from, basically, a hostile takeover like Palantir seems engaged in.
i think the only way to address those issues in a substantive way is to get residentialists onto city council - Kou Keller Carl and Stone.

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