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Survey says: Trouble in paradise

Survey shows growing pessimism in Palo Alto about traffic, retirement

It's a typically bustling lunch hour on California Avenue, with workers, residents and the occasional out-of-towner lining up for falafel wraps, poke bowls and the deli counter at Mollie Stone's.

Three years after Palo Alto's "second downtown" underwent a dramatic renovation that widened sidewalks, added new benches and installed a modernist, sculptural fountain by the Caltrain station, business in the commercial strip appears to be booming a symbol of the city's general economic prosperity.

But in the neighborhoods of Evergreen Park, Ventura and College Terrace, which all surround the business district, the picture looks far less rosy. With traffic congestion getting worse, available parking spots harder to find and new developments nearing completion across El Camino Real, anxieties about the city's growth are rising as fast as tax revenues, a new poll of residents indicates.

According to the 2016 National Citizen Survey, the results of which were released this week, residents' perceptions of their city are gradually changing and not for the better. Though 85 percent of the survey respondents ranked the "overall quality of life" in Palo Alto as "excellent" or "good," the number has dropped precipitously since 2012, when it stood at 94 percent. (In every year for the full decade prior, the rating hovered in the low 90s.)

The percentage who gave the city the top two ratings as a "place to raise children" similarly slipped from 93 percent in 2014, to 87 percent in 2015 to 84 percent in 2016. And when it comes to Palo Alto as a "place to retire," only 50 percent gave the city the highest scores, a slight dip from the 52 percent in 2015 and a significant slide from just five years ago, when 68 percent strongly endorsed the city in this department.

To be sure, the new survey reaffirms that Palo Alto residents by and large like living in Palo Alto and have a special fondness for their particular neighborhoods. Yet the survey also hints at trouble in paradise. Of the 135 questions that the survey asked, only two showed favorable ratings rising by more than 5 percent between 2015 and 2016. By contrast, 22 questions showed a drop of 5 percent or more.

"Usually, in one year you don't see that much change," said City Auditor Harriet Richardson, whose office commissions the survey and analyzes the results.

While the survey suggests that growing disillusionment is a citywide phenomenon, the attitudes seem particularly negative in the area around California Avenue, according to the survey's geographical breakdown. Whether asked about the city's overall "quality of life," the quality of new buildings or more generally about Palo Alto as a place to raise children, work or retire, the respondents in these neighborhoods expressed a slightly darker view of how things are going than their counterparts elsewhere.

Surrounded by a building boom both around California Avenue and at Stanford Research Park, residents here are also far more likely to be disenchanted about the quality of Palo Alto's "built environment" (only 52 percent generally approve of it, compared to about two-thirds of those who live in the rest of north Palo Alto). And despite their proximity to the city's geographic center, the residents of the California Avenue neighborhoods said they struggle getting to their desired destinations, with only 50 percent giving the city good grades on this question, well below the citywide average of 67 percent.

Just this week, dozens of Evergreen Park residents lobbied the City Council for a new residential parking-permit program. Many said the rapid office growth around them has flooded their neighborhood with commuters' vehicles, cut into their sense of community and turned roads into congested arteries.

Karen Machado, an Evergreen Park resident, pointed to the prime reasons for why only 69 percent of the residents in her area ranked their quality of life as good or excellent, compared to 85 percent citywide.

"We feel the parking problems and the traffic problems are some of the things really contributing to this deterioration in the rating," Machado said. "We feel it is a significant issue that needs your attention."

The results in the new report mirror in many ways last year's survey, which showed growing anxieties about retirement, swelling frustrations about traffic and an overwhelming recognition that when it comes to affordable housing, the city is failing badly. Faced with these results, the council placed housing, traffic and parking atop its 2016 priority list and went on to create new limits on office space, move ahead with a new parking-permit program around the California Avenue area and explore a new scenario for planning city growth that would add 6,000 housing units between now and 2030.

The new survey suggests that these efforts have yet to allay anxieties. In fact, from residents' perspective, things have only gotten worse when it comes to these issues. Only 28 percent of the survey respondents gave the city high grades when asked about "ease of travel by public transportation in Palo Alto," down from 60 percent in 2006. And when asked about the quality of new development, only 42 percent gave Palo Alto high ratings which means you're about as likely to find a movie critic raving about "Office Christmas Party" (according to as you are to find a local resident praising new buildings. A decade ago, by contrast, 62 percent of the respondents gave new development high ranks.

Over the same span, the percentage of residents who thought highly of Palo Alto as "a place to retire" dropped from 68 percent to 50 percent. And the portion who think the city is doing a good job on "affordable, quality housing" shrank even further last year, with only 6 percent giving Palo Alto high marks down from 11 percent in 2006. Among 271 U.S. jurisdictions surveyed, the city finished 270th in this category.

"For it to be in single digits, you're pretty much at rock bottom," said Richardson, who plans to present the survey findings at Saturday's council retreat.

She noted that the city ranks "much lower" on housing than benchmark jurisdictions, which means it's at least 10 percent below average. Similarly, when it comes to "variety of housing options," Palo Alto ranked at 240 out of 245 jurisdictions. And in cost of living, Palo Alto finished at 172 out of 174 jurisdictions.

The new survey marks the first time ever that the average rating for all the "quality of life" questions dipped below 80 percent (it was 79 percent). This is primarily because the answers from Evergreen Park, College Terrace and Southgate dropped from 84 percent in 2015 to 69 percent in 2016, the survey notes.

There are other declines. When asked how likely they would be to recommend Palo Alto as a place to live, 72 percent of the respondents citywide said "likely" or "very likely" down from 92 percent in 2012 and from 80 percent in 2015 (in the California Avenue area only 58 percent of the respondents said they would do so).

And when asked how likely they would be to remain in Palo Alto for the next five years, 75 percent said "very likely" or "somewhat likely" down from 87 percent in 2013 and from 80 percent in 2015. The audit notes that this is the first year that the average fell below 80 percent. (Ironically, the only area where there wasn't a decline was around California Avenue, where 82 percent declared that they'll likely stay put.)

The survey results suggest that the council's priorities for 2016 will largely remain front and center in 2017. The council is set to formally adopt its annual priorities at its Jan. 28 retreat.

On Monday night, several council members pointed to the new survey as evidence that the city needs to do more to combat traffic jams and protect the community from the consequences of building new office space.

Before the council voted to reduce the number of traffic lanes along a northern segment of Middlefield Road, Councilman Tom DuBois pointed to the survey in arguing that the council needs to "start thinking about congestion in a big way."

"Ease of travel by car has gone from 66 percent in 2010 to 44 percent a 22 percent drop," DuBois said. "That's a key performance metric that's not moving in right direction. And we really have to figure out how to stop that problem."

To be sure, not everything is going in the wrong direction. Ninety-one percent gave high rankings to their neighborhood "as a place to live." The city's newly renovated library system continues to get glowing reviews, with 82 percent raving about the "variety of library materials" and 89 percent giving high marks to their local library branch (up from 59 and 73 percent, respectively, in 2006). The survey also suggests the city's recent efforts to repair streets has been noticed, with 57 percent giving the city high rankings, up from 47 percent in in 2006.

Then there is the local economy, which continues to hum along. In the category of "a place to work," Palo Alto finished 15 out of 319 jurisdictions, with 82 percent of respondents giving it high marks. And when asked about "employment opportunities," Palo Alto did even better. Out of 280 comparison communities, the city finished first.

Read the survey here.


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43 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2017 at 9:54 am

The problem as I see it around Cal Ave, is that as local residents we are in fact unable to do business in an area where we can't park to run an errand (drop off tax documents with a tax preparer) while we are on our way to another meeting and then another simple errand on the way back.

With all the talk about residents having permits and employees parking for free all day, there is the fact that even 2 hour parking is unavailable for a large portion of the business day.

We have great difficulties driving around town with gridlock everywhere and yet the only alternatives given are to walk, ride a bike or use non-existent public transport. It sounds idyllic or simple logic, but for most of us that isn't the way our lives work. I personally do not have a regular 9 - 5 job with a regular commute that would make it easy for me to get a fixed monthly permit which I would use 5 days a week, or to catch the same bus/shuttle each day, get involved in a regular carpool or any of these alternatives. What I do is to try to do most of my driving outside of popular commute drives, run errands on my way to meeting destinations and stay out of my car altogether on some days. In fact a typical day for me may have several different times to park and get out of my car or other days when I walk. I have even had cause to drive a family member or be driven by a family member to a destination with the need for a second trip for pickup because of the known problems involved in finding somewhere to park. That only involves more traffic on the road.

Quality of life means being able to live your life in a comfortable fashion. This comfort actually means getting out and about in Palo Alto as well as neighboring areas. I don't live my life within a square mile of my home and I wouldn't want to anyway. I have reasons for needing to get to say Mountain View or Redwood City that need to be respected as part of my way of life. Getting there and back in a timely manner without the travel time being problematic to the rest of my day is important to my quality of life. A class in one place followed by the need to drop off a document somewhere else followed by an appointment somewhere else and the need to stop off for groceries before returning home is not something that can easily be done by bike, by foot or by bus. I rarely leave home by car with a single destination and return straight home afterwards which is the way so many seem to think is the norm.

I applaud public transportation and have used it in the past when I had a job that involved regular hours. People who work like this or go to school can and do find it efficient and should be encouraged not hindered. But those of us with more flexible lifestyles should also be encouraged to think and act on how best to do several things each time leaving the house rather than making each outing a single event.

Unfortunately, transportation/traffic/parking planners think otherwise.

23 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2017 at 10:20 am

The city needs to expand its shuttle bus system to help city residents get to the local shopping and restaurant districts without using private cars. Run the shuttle through more neighborhoods and with less waiting time between shuttles (no more than 15 minutes wait if you want to attract people to shopping and restaurants).

We used to walk from Midtown to California Ave, but since VTA closed some of the crosswalks across Oregon Expressway and doubled the pedestrian waiting time at other crossings, walking has become too time consuming.

Bicycling to California Ave is also unattractive because the only real route is that crowded narrow tunnel with crash bars that are always snagging the child seat on our bicycle (even when we are walking as slowly as we can). I know there was a proposal to build a bike path over the Caltrain tracks at Matadero Creek, but that idea was apparently killed by NIMBYs.

So much easier to just drive to a family friendly shopping center. I suppose that is what the residents around California Ave want anyway.

17 people like this
Posted by notgoing toprovide
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2017 at 10:37 am

What shocks me the most is the speed of cars
driving Oregon Expressway to San Antonio Road
on Middlefield. Average speed has to be 35+ which
is Oregon Expressway speed. Despite the flashing light
to slow down THEY DO NOT CARE 90% of the time when I
am watching this event.
Thank God my drive time is 6am in morning and 4pm at
night, missing most of this Palo Alto traffic lunacy.
Weekends I just close the window drapes to avoid seeing
cars travel our 25mph street over the speed bumps 30mph
or more with their children sitting in back seats of
their family cars ignoring safety of our neighborhood children.

32 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 27, 2017 at 10:59 am

Waiting for the City's annual boastful press release saying "85% of Palo Alto residents love it here" while ignoring the decline and the complexity.

That's what they've done every year.

35 people like this
Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 27, 2017 at 11:33 am

Many years ago, there was a warning that California Avenue would turn into a "Food Court", like the Menu Tree that was at San Antonio Center in Mountain View 30+ years ago.

I refused to believe real stores would leave, abandoning Palo Alto's second downtown. But for a variety of reasons, longtime merchants left or were forced out. High end restaurants replaced them.

Unless the exercise business that replaced Village Stationers has a night-time crowd, there is never anyone inside that place during the day, that I can see.

Hair and Nail Salons, Restaurants & Offices = California Avenue. Lots of traffic and fewer places to park; no places to park, during some hours.

The California Avenue redesign does not even look finished, with side streets remaining unchanged.

There are large cracks in the glass sidewalks now, making it look as if it was installed in the 1970's, and not only three years ago.

24 people like this
Posted by no more nail salons
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Please NO MORE NAIL SALONS. How about keeping retail that residents actually need. I find myself driving all the time to Mountain View and Los Altos.

53 people like this
Posted by SJW
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 27, 2017 at 12:17 pm

If you want to look forward, take a look at the Stanford GUP plan. All the infrastctuure for the new 3000 residents and god know how much office space rests with Palo Alto, NOT Stanford. So finding a parking place is only going to get worse, lines and parking to go to the grocery store worse. When will the council get it that Stanford is creating an unlivable problem for the city. Let's put a Safeway on the Stanford campus. Along with dentist offices, accountants, ballet teachers, and all the other stuff they go to Palo Alto for currently. Palo Alto cannot support more people. Stanford has all the land in the world, let's put a road to 280 through their land, Page Mill and Sand Hill are at capacity. Stanford needs to take responsibility for their population, the burden can't be Palo Alto, we're at capacity.

14 people like this
Posted by Leland Alto
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 27, 2017 at 12:45 pm

SJW - Stanford has already taken over Palo Alto for all practical purposes,
why not just find a way to merge the two cities.

39 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto the office park
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 27, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Palo Alto the office park is a registered user.

Downtown and Cal Ave are offices and restaurants. We do NOT need any more offices in either place! We DO need shuttles that run more than a couple hours a day!

20 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2017 at 1:06 pm

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Palo Alto City Council gives lip service to supporting an informed and involved public. Objective citizen opinion is suppressed well after each Council election. Six month old citizen opinions should not be tolerated in a region known for real time information science.

How much longer will nine councilpersons openly promote CYA and suppress resident(aka voter) opinion? Unlike all other surveys thrown at City Council, this survey is professionally driven and is limited to residents only.

The past response from Council has been that survey company must process the data from late summer to January in order to draw valid comparison to other cities. This is BS. Intercity data is secondary. Palo Alto yearly trend information is critically important for citizens to elect most qualified candidates. Intercity comparisons, in fact, are not very relevant.

It is Palo Alto City Council's option to schedule the survey for late spring and publish results in early October each year. It is time for Council to push for timely information and for a more informed and involved citizens.

4 people like this
Posted by long view
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2017 at 1:28 pm

long view is a registered user.

Thinking about: "The new survey marks the first time ever that the average rating for all the "quality of life" questions dipped below 80 percent (it was 79 percent). This is primarily because the answers from Evergreen Park, College Terrace and Southgate dropped from 84 percent in 2015 to 69 percent in 2016, the survey notes."

I imagine that Evergreen Park and Southgate will benefit from adding permit parking. But College Terrace has been protected by permit parking for years. I wonder what is driving their decline in perceived quality of life?

59 people like this
Posted by Leaving soon?
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2017 at 1:44 pm

I have lived here over 20 years and made great friends and bonds but at every party and get together the number one topic is "where are you going to move when the kids graduate". Literally everyone wants to leave. Actually we don't WANT to leave but we feel foolish if we stay. We can sell our house for a ridiculous amount, move somewhere and buy two homes and retire. Traffic is unbearable and quality of life is declining - so besides the friends and weather no one wants to stay. But the friends and weather do make it hard to leave. Wake up Palo Alto, it won't be the same in 20 years.

31 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 27, 2017 at 2:06 pm

@Leaving Soon? is absolutely right and that question cuts across all demographic groups.

Maybe the city wants us all to leave so they can collect their share of the document transfer fee, get higher taxes from the new owners and fund their ever-growing salary and benefits package.

Note that ALL the top city employees got big merit raises for this decline.

62 people like this
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Disappointed is a registered user.

When we moved here 15 years ago, I thought I was moving to a small, residential college town with a great community and good schools.

Now, none of that exists any longer---I never DREAMED I would live in an office park populated with arrogant people and served by oppressive schools.

The good restaurants and shops are gone, replaced by mediocre but overpriced restaurants and stores.

As soon as Trump repeals the capital gains tax on housing, there will be a for sale sign on our house.

16 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 27, 2017 at 2:10 pm

And when Trump and the GOP repeal the mortgage interest deduction Palo Alto Forward's finest dreams will be realized. Housing prices will tank unless foreign buyers and all-cash buyers dominate the real estate market.

33 people like this
Posted by We made the switch
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 27, 2017 at 3:10 pm

PA has become extremely unlivable over the years. When we lived there, entire sections of town were off limits to go to during certain times of the day due to the insufferable traffic, both quantity and "Quality" of drivers.

When you can't even leave your house certain times of the day without entering into a quagmire of rude drivers in gridlocked traffic you have to ask yourself, "Is it worth it?"
We decided it was not and moved just down the road. It's not perfect, nothing is in this area, but it's so more enjoyable in general. We put a few pennies in the bank too.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 27, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Where is this survey?

24 people like this
Posted by Jen
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 27, 2017 at 4:27 pm

I am very frustrated at how difficult it is to renovate our home here at Palo Alto. The application and approval process is longer than reasonable. There is no clear instructions and people reviewed our application changed in the middle of our review and they were not consistent!! We had to paid the architect to revise and it was expensive. I don't understand how the city staff get paid by us and are not helping to make our lives better or readier.

48 people like this
Posted by Office Park
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Lots of people are thinking of moving away from Palo Alto. My friends whisper about it. Foreign investors are taking over the town. i always thought that my friends that left would regret the move. But, no one is missing Palo Alto. It's shocking to me that friends feel relieved to be away from all the traffic, congestion, and unfriendly people. Palo Alto has become an office park with ugly, cheap, modern buildings.

3 people like this
Posted by Citizen on the go
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2017 at 4:50 pm

The survey is buried way back in this document:

Web Link

Not sure I buy all this gloom and doom. Looks a little fishy to me. Take a look - Page 101 (Table 34) seems to say 91% had household members who were victims of crime. Is this East Palo Alto? LOL! Oh, and 86% reported a crime to the police? Really? This makes me not trust this whole report.

24 people like this
Posted by andy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2017 at 4:55 pm

I moved here 8 years ago, and frequently looked for those things in Palo Alto that justify the cost to live here. There are a couple: 1) Fallen tree removal is johnny-on-the-spot, and 2) my house is my 401k. There are many more that are reasons to leave.

I also agree with "Leaving Soon?"; many (most?) of my friends talk about where they're moving after the kids are out of school. I'm also in that state of mind.

16 people like this
Posted by Harry Merkin
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 27, 2017 at 6:04 pm

"I am very frustrated at how difficult it is to renovate our home here at Palo Alto."

That's too bad, but learn from the experience. You would have gotten much more expeditious service had you applied to construct an office building [portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 28, 2017 at 1:20 am

@Citizen-on-the-go, the notation under Table 34 says: Some questions were reworded in the Historical Results table to reflect the positive rating of “yes.”

Confusing, but done sometimes to consistently have high percent be "good" and low percent be "poor", so that graphing a table of such numbers can scan more intuitively.

This can be verified by looking at Table 35, the exact same question wording, but where the negative-attribute scores are the inverse of Table 34, e.g. 9% victims of crime, 14% reported a crime.

16 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 28, 2017 at 7:02 am

Annette is a registered user.

Harry Merkin nailed it! Now that survey results are reflecting the sobering message that so many residents have been sending City Hall and City Council for a long time maybe our senior city managers and elected officials will shift gears and begin to set a corrective course.

8 people like this
Posted by SFO and San Mateo dumping ground
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2017 at 7:53 am

This is what happens when you allow toxic waste to be deposited in your lungs and give your right to sleep away.

When the AIR clears, paradise will return for me or as most will also leave.

16 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow Dad
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 28, 2017 at 8:49 am

Moved here in early 2011 and the thing that concerns me the most is that the road infrastructure has seemingly done nothing to deal with the number of people working here now.

There are literally no good options to get North-South or East-West. Alma Street seems to be under major construction at least 8/12 months of the year, El Camino between San Antonio and Menlo Park is gridlocked during commute hours, trying to get across the tracks can take 25 minutes to go 50 feet...there is a reason why traffic on all the major streets goes so fast (and dangerous) - it's because everyone, whether they live in PA or just work here (or even need to commute through here to get somewhere) are constantly backed up in traffic with no options. If you're always late, then yes making the next light becomes attractive. The infrastructure needs to adapt or the pace of growth needs to stop. People who get jammed up at the E. Meadow and Charleston intersections on Alma are always racing through Fairmeadow's sleeping little neighborhood (full of kids) in order to cheat the broken system at those intersections.

4 people like this
Posted by Patrick Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 28, 2017 at 2:02 pm

There is no single, simple solution to our traffic, transportation and parking problems. However, there is a set of measures that will have an impact that and now need significant new funding and implementation.
Regionally, we just approved the county Measure B sales tax for transportation which includes $1 Billion for Caltrain, $700 Million of that for the seven grade separations between Palo Alto and Sunnyvale, four of those being in Palo Alto. This is on top of the over $2 Billion for the electrification of Caltrain which will double its capacity and improve service.
Locally, last year the City Council received a plan from our downtown Transportation Management Association (TMA) which would reduce the single occupancy vehicle trips to downtown by 30%, largely solving the traffic and parking problems for downtown. It would cost around $1.5 Million per year to implement. The program would provide transit passes for workers, ride share apps and other measures. Stanford Research Park funded and launched a similar program last year and we are starting to see their success. A similar plan for El Camino and Cal Ave is anticipated, but would add a lot to the cost.
The problem is now funding these plans, along with funding our expanded bike system (in progress) and more shuttles. The solutions are there, but they are not cheap. Last year, a majority of the city council supported consideration of a Business License Tax (BLT) devoted to these measures. Unlike many cities in the region, Palo Alto has no BLT and this one would have been devoted to local transportation. Unfortunately, there was strong opposition from the Chamber of Commerce and some of the business community, as well as the time frame being rushed to finalize the measure. We now need to wait for the 2018 general election as a next chance to put this measure on the ballot. In the meantime, the Downtown TMA may be partially funded by new paid parking measures that will be considered by the City Council this year.
If we don't make a major commitment to these solutions, our traffic and parking problems will further degrade the quality of life in Palo Alto.

2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 28, 2017 at 3:36 pm

"This is on top of the over $2 Billion for the electrification of Caltrain which will double its capacity and improve service."

Who supplies the power and how is it delivered to the tracks? How vulnerable is CalTrain to local outages; like could a tree falling on the power lines in Burlingame shut down the system?

3 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2017 at 4:16 pm

@Curmudgeon Our electrical grid is very reliable, particularly so since Enron was given the boot. The trees will be trimmed back regularly, as with any trees close to power lines. Stadler KISS trains (the selected trainset type) are in use extensively in Europe and Asia in places that have much more inclement weather than the Bay Area.

As for outages, given how easy it is for a car or person to be struck right now due to level grade crossings, that's the thing we need to tackle first. Thankfully the Measure B bond is supposed to help address that. Lots of stuff to look forward too!

6 people like this
Posted by air power
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2017 at 5:03 pm

air quality is is unlivable-nauseating industry ,diesel ,fireplace smoke-clothes dryers-0deatrhly poison and illness will is over for silicon valley.

13 people like this
Posted by Deborah Goldeen
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 28, 2017 at 9:59 pm

All the comments from people who've lived here for fifteen or twenty years crack me up. The change and pressures that are going on now are nothing compared to the changes that took place in the eighties and nineties, changes that took place because of you all were moving here. It's kind of like someone in a theater standing up in order to see better, then everyone else has to stand up to see and the person who first stood up complains about it.

Unlike Menlo Park and Los Altos, Palo Alto was never intended as a bedroom community. If your realtor convinced you otherwise, complain to them. If you don't like the traffic, ride your bike. I've been biking around Palo Alto since I was five; I'm soon to be fifty-five. It's fun and easy.

Palo Alto is struggling with growth. In my opinion, we are blessed because of it. Palo Alto's special quality has nothing to do with the suburban idyll fantasy that so many indulge in as a form of mental narcotic. What makes Palo Alto special is the unusual intellectual and forward thinking culture it has that, I think, is the result of being so closely affiliated with Stanford. That has not changed. Palo Alto has always been multicultural in a deeply cultural way.

In the past twenty-five years I've witnessed significant improvements and innovations around traffic design. Also, the city council gets better every decade - more educated and capable. The schools took a huge hit from Prop 13. It nearly took them down. But they have come back. If you don't like the pressure cooker quality, the problem is the parents pushing it. That can be fixed.

If there is anything that has undermined Palo Alto, it is people who moved here to "make their million" and then move on. These people have no intention of returning any of the social capital they so happily gobbled up. You want community? Dig your heals in and make it happen.

12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2017 at 12:48 am

The $3 billion of taxpayer money being spent to improve Caltrain will have little to no effect on the traffic in Palo Alto. Doubling the capacity of the system sounds great until you come to terms with the fact that Caltrain carries less than .01% of the passenger miles traveled on the peninsula every day.

Caltrain is NOT a mass transit system. Caltrain is a boutique system at best. To be a real mass transit system, the system must actually carry masses of people

Real mass transit (underground rail) costs a lot more than $3 billion. The going rate is about $1-2 billion per mile. Your mileage may vary depending on your jurisdiction's percentage of waste, fraud, abuse, and graft.

Nobody is talking about the billions of dollars of real-estate value ordinary middle-class families are going to lose to above-ground rail induced blight, or the wisdom of warehousing the millennial generation (at their own expense) in $1,000,000 micro-units in the soon to be blighted areas surrounding the tracks.

I guess the Boomers just want to screw the Millennial generation one last time with their sanctimonious, self-serving grift, before they pin a medal on themselves for their symbolic acts of service to the planet, and ride their bicycles off into the sunset.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 29, 2017 at 7:18 am

@Ahem, curious where 0.01% comes from. That's 1/10,000th?

60,000 daily weekday ridership is at least 30,000 people. Which puts the peninsula's daily traveling public at 30,000 x 10,000 = 300 million. Unless the average driver is driving 100 times the distance of the average Caltrain rider.

I might accept 1%. Is there a comparable number for BART? Your other numbers look good, so maybe the 0.01% was a typo.

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2017 at 8:44 am

Deborah you make some valid sounding points, but my experience is not the same as yours.

When we bought our home, built in the 50s, we did so from the original owners. Neighbors on both sides and further along the street were still the original owners. They came here as young couples eager to raise a family. Many of the originals were working for some of the new innovative companies like HP. Others were carpenters, electricians, etc. working primarily at Stanford or on some of the new constructions in the area. They lived and worked locally but quite often socialized in San Francisco at various big events, and shopped for the clothes that they would need for these events in the city also. They definitely thought of this as suburbia. I enjoyed chatting with the neighbors, discovering the history of my neighborhood. One home was sold to a Japanese couple and another to an African American couple. At first they were both treated a little wary and looked out of place, but I was told that as soon as they got to know the neighbors they were thought of as just like everyone else and there were no problems.

2 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2017 at 4:43 pm


Thanks for thinking about the numbers.

Caltrain's annual passenger-miles are pretty clear from Caltrain reports:

62,000 riders/wk x 20 mi/rider x 52 wks/yr = 65M passenger-miles/yr

An rough under-estimate of annual vehicle passenger-miles can be obtained by multiplying the number of passenger vehicles in the three counties served by Caltrain times their estimated annual in-county mileage:

3,000,000 cars x 10,000 mi/year = 30,000M passenger-miles/yr

The Peninsula has Caltrain for the same reason LA has palm trees. Palm trees are not native to southern California. The depression-generation found all things Arabian very exotic, so the government-developer-industrial complex planted tens of thousands of palm tree to lure depression-generation buyers into LA real-estate.

The boomers running our local government-developer-industrial complex keeps Caltrain going (at taxpayer expense) to lure millennial-generation buyers into $1,000,000 under-parked micro-units in the soon to be blighted areas surrounding the railroad tracks, and camouflage the scam under a thin layer of green-wash and infrastructure band-aids like grade separation.

If you would like to come up with a better estimate, here are some useful links:
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 29, 2017 at 8:01 pm

@Ahem, thanks for your methodology. Except I interpret Caltrain's chart as 62,000 riders per weekday, not per week. So I'd multiply your 65M passenger-miles/yr by five, to 325M.

325M train passenger-miles / 30,000M car passenger-miles

is around the 1 percent I said I might accept, rough order of magnitude.

As you say, 30,000M is an under-estimate of vehicle passenger-miles. Train is higher too, adding weekend runs.

Sanity check on ridership is 92 daily trains x 700 seats/train = 64,400 daily seats. And SF to San Jose is 47 miles, about twice the 22.8-mile average weekday trip length. This suggests the seats are half-empty on average, which sort of makes sense if they start each trip empty and get completely full by the end, or vice versa.

At any rate, your point is valid that Caltrain carries a small, even tiny, amount of the total passenger miles traveled. But 7,400 people using the downtown Palo Alto Caltrain station twice a day still qualifies as mass transit to me. Can't imagine what the place would look like without it.

5 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 30, 2017 at 7:47 am

@musical and @ahem....I can say that I take the train daily from PA to MV so I don't deal with traffic. The trains are over capacity during commute times and pretty full all day long. A huge difference from when I commuted to SF in the 80's.

From my personal experience I would imagine that Caltrain is underestimating their numbers as I travel daily -- and only get asked to show proof of ticket once in a while. I'm sure most people are honest and pay their fare, but you never know.

So traveling Caltrain is good for local commutes too. Try it and see that it works just as well going short distances...and the marguerite busses and VTA can get you most places.

12 people like this
Posted by Lazlo
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 30, 2017 at 8:28 am

Thanks to the current City Manager and his senior management "team" for the declining Palo Alto livability statistics and reducing all city services.

5 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 30, 2017 at 9:12 am

[Post removed; off topic]

10 people like this
Posted by Jim Bourdon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2017 at 9:13 am

I sold our family house of 60 years and moved to Livermore. I used to love living in Palo Alto but the new snotty people that moved in and traffic caused me to move, Palo Alto has lost its small town appeal. All any of the new people that moved into our neighbor hood are talked about was how much they were making on their homes.There kids never came out of the house and we didn't even know their names. If I won the lottery and could move to any area I would stay in Livermore which has the small town appeal.

5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 30, 2017 at 9:28 am

@anon, as an occasional rider I'm happy with Caltrain as is. I'll be on it to Moscone tomorrow. I'm used to the mile walk on both ends. Fortunately I've always worked in Palo Alto. Seems to be plenty of jobs here.

I also find VTA useful. The #35 gets me to downtown Palo Alto or to Castro in Mountain View when I anticipate traffic and parking problems due to special events.

Back to the original topic of the 2016 National Citizen Survey, I wasn't one of the recipients, but would have had mixed feelings on how to respond. Higher ratings might indicate we can handle more of the world's stress. Lower ratings might put the brakes on our rapid rate of change. When people think you are rich, they always want more from you. Pride can be expensive.

8 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 30, 2017 at 9:44 am

[Post removed; off topic]

14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2017 at 9:44 am

I was involved in a discussion yesterday which was interesting.

The comment was made that here in Palo Alto we take a pride in our diversity which on the face of it seems to be true.

But looking deeper, the prevalent attributes seem to be the same. The highly educated, well employed, similar opinions, are the norm. Anyone who fits these types of attributes seem to fit in well nowadays. Anyone who has been here a while or has different attributes appear to not fit in. It seems to me that although we appear to be very diversified and very welcoming, to many we appear to be very narrow thinking and unaccepting.

10 people like this
Posted by Kenagain
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2017 at 12:20 pm

I am one of those who moved out - way back east ( Go Patriates) and we love it, much as I loved Palo Alto when I moved there 35 years ago and restored a Professorville home. My neighborhood was one of the first to be blighted by downtown parking.

Then, traffic reached the point where it was "Barely Intolerable." From my professional experience that is the best it will ever be. Yes, it will likely get worse, but never better. Implement all of the good ideas for transit, employee subsidies, autonomous cars, etc. at best they will curtail will be a bit of the future growth as Council encourages and approves more development. But, the current level of Barely Intolerable traffic and congestion is the best you can ever expect. Really.

17 people like this
Posted by Awakenings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2017 at 8:55 am

People who remember what Palo Alto was should fight for it. Los Altos managed to set up a community foundation that invests in keeping a village feel. San Jose wants the investment, high rises, renewed urban downtown, and yuppies living in microunits, and is still having difficulty attracting that despite the protracted boom. Start with based on impropriety in the last election, taking $20k in developer cash after the election but returning it during in order to avoid full disclosure.

You are wrong about the schools. So many parents have tried to reduce the stress, bring in project-based learning, ask for innovative programs. The administration doesn't want any part of it. They don't want anything to risk their winning formula of school scores so they can continue their resume building and 1%er salaries even though they are school administrators. There was a documentary about alternative schooling and it sold out like 1500 seats within the first hours, and surveys at the event showed massive interest in the more project-based, lower stress approach. The superintendent's comments afterward made it clear that he didn't get it. Parents who asked there and afterward to do something like that here were ignored and brushed iff. No, the idea that the pressure cooker is parents is just made up, same as the idea that you can bring in more people and reduce traffic.

10 people like this
Posted by Awakenings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2017 at 8:59 am

Clarification: Start with RECALLS based on impropriety in the last election, e.g., taking $20k in developer cash after the election but returning developer cash during in order to avoid full disclosure was wrong.

2 people like this
Posted by Castilleja Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2017 at 9:58 am

Castilleja wants to add hundreds of car trips per day on Embarcadero Road by increasing enrollment 30% and adding a massive underground garage in a R1 neighborhood. 6-9 years of construction on Embarcadero, then after that, hundreds of cars will be streaming in and out of Castilleja, at an intersection that is already gridlocked and unsafe for cyclists. City Hall is owned by developers and Castilleja board members. The neighbors don't stand a chance. It will be a city-wide referendum. #stopcastilleja

7 people like this
Posted by Parent Who Want to Leave
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2017 at 2:17 pm

It isn't just older people with empty nests who dream of leaving Palo Alto.

Many people with children in PAUSD want to leave, as well.

In addition to all the aforementioned issues, the schools are simply NOT what they once were, and many of the newer residents are polluted with phony values.

Palo Alto is no longer a good place to raise a family. People complain that their children are BEGGING to transfer to other districts once they hit 5th grade!

Hopefully, the capital gains tax on home sales will be rescinded, and then we can afford to join the exodus OUT of Palo Alto!

2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 2, 2017 at 8:58 am

Hmm, amused by the lack of enthusiasm for PA. At one point could buy in PA but liked the small town more heterogeneous community Mountain View offered. Well that has changed as now Mountain View is more and more like PA. My pet peeve is people coming from 3rd world countries with no concept of community and privacy and building monster homes on small lots.
I comfort myself by the fact that throughout the history of California, natives(or faux natives) have always been overwhelmed by new arrivas.

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Posted by America
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 20, 2017 at 9:40 pm

[Post removed.]

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