Dear Palo Alto,
It has been almost 26 years since we fell in love with you as starry-eyed graduate students arriving from Mexico -- we felt very foreign and couldn't believe you would be so welcoming. We never predicted that you'd be so bold in your ideas and values that you encouraged, even expected, the community to believe themselves capable of changing the world. We've lived through a lot together. You've seen us through the birth of our children and their coming-of-age -- through tech bubbles and bursts, through moments of wild growth and startling silence.
Sometimes, there are moments in a relationship when we need to make sure that we are growing together and not apart. This is one of those moments. When we see worlds being torn apart -- refugees seeking asylum being referred to as "illegal" people; children ripped away from their parents and locked in cages; the unending attack on our environment; when the safety net for immigrants and low-income people is being dismantled and overall humanity challenged, it is time to define who we are and act accordingly to our values.
Who are you today? Are you seeing folks of incredible wealth standing next to those that are struggling to find their next meal? Have you seen that these two worlds barely interact -- never really see each other? Do you notice the bumper to bumper RVs lining El Camino? They're mostly families or working adults who contribute to our communities but can't afford to live here, and yet you fight tooth and nail every time we could be building more affordable housing.
We raise incredible amounts of money for all presidential candidates who espouse progressive values, feel really good when we do, but then turn away or don't care when our own community has become more segregated, less caring and less willing to invest in all of us.
I see our community changing. It is palpable how we are driving people away and not welcoming our new starry-eyed ones. Our own children cannot afford to come back; our community members who help keep our city running -- teachers, police officers, and restaurant workers -- are commuting for hours and our seniors cannot age in place. Remember my son's extraordinary seventh-grade teacher -- the one who changed his life? She left our town for a cheaper place to live; she can't teach in our town anymore. Or, remember Katie -- who after serving as an accountant for a bunch of medical departments at Stanford retired after a career of more than 25 years, then became like a second mother to all our children as volunteer extraordinaire at Ohlone? She also had to leave her home, friends and community because she could not afford to stay.
How many stories like this do you need? What will happen to us if we don't fix this now? Do we understand our own responsibility in the tragedy that so many of our neighbors are living in? Do we understand that the more that our home prices rise because we are not building more housing for all income levels -- the more that we are creating an exclusive, segregated and lethargic economy and community?
I know who you are. You are the inventor of bold solutions, the innovator who knows that diversity is your strength, that inclusion is your weapon -- that caring for each other and building a vision that includes us all is the only way that we will be the sustainable, diverse, thriving community that we both want in the future. So, this is the time when we say enough "buts," enough "they're different," enough "why do they have to park there?" enough "but, my property value" and enough "us versus them" mentality.
Let's become together the strategic, visionary, caring and cohesive community that would be an example and an antidote to what is happening in many parts of our country and of the world. Let's build housing solutions for every income level -- including for those who struggle every day to make ends meet, those who take care of our kids, clean our houses and mow our lawns. How? How about streamlining the permitting process, intentionally seeking and investing in inclusionary projects, getting rid of constraints that discourage more dense development? That would be a start.
Let's be intentional about ensuring that those most affected by the housing crisis are at the table and an integral part of our decision making -- and yes, let's make it easier to run and elect more young people and people of color to our school board and city council. How? How about putting limits on campaign expenditures, reaching out to young leaders in our communities and supporting their campaigns, making council meetings off-working hours and providing stipends for child care?
Let's ask for those companies within our borders to enter a shared compact where they are also responsible in generating solutions for challenges that their growth has created. Let's ask them not to stop growing but to sit at the table and help us find common solutions. How? By investing capital in housing projects and initiatives, offering surplus land to developers and maybe even using technology to support shared housing models in our town.
The future does not have to be defined by our past. Where we are today is not a good place for most of us. Where we are today is clearly the result of policy decisions and actions we have taken in the past. Let's take different ones going forward to build the vibrant, cohesive, sustainable and diverse future we both want -- together. I'm in. Are you?
Gina Dalma is a resident of the Midtown neighborhood in Palo Alto. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.