It was a real time warp for me to read the carefully researched BJ articles, based on U.S. Census figures published in 2012 and data analysis.
The mental time whoosh was because I had written a similar article for the spring 1973 issue of Cry California, the statewide journal of California Tomorrow — an organization that advocated stronger regional and statewide planning from 1961 to its dissolution in 1983.
My article was entitled simply, "The Palo Alto Experience." It cited the running "open space vs. development" battle then enveloping Palo Alto relating to its vast undeveloped foothills lands, stretching up to Skyline Ridge. The article covered regional and national implications of the battle.
I have a copy, somewhere, in an old box. But Palo Alto City Historian Steve Staiger found one in his archives.
In re-reading the long-ago piece this week I was struck by two things: 1) the similarities between then and now, and 2) that the jobs/housing ratio has gotten so much worse — despite decades of lip service to local and regional planning, with uncountable hours of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on studies.
Here are a few paragraphs from that piece that today's generation of residents and city officials may find familiar:
"'Open Space vs. Development.' That phrase, overstamped on the cover of a Palo Alto study of its large undeveloped foothill areas, appeared to announce the prize-fight of the decade. In a sense, it did.
"In one corner: developers, bulldozing and hammering their way across the landscape. In the other: environmentalists throwing themselves in the path of advancing machinery, or using guerrilla-warfare methods in the courts and on the political field."
I cited Palo Alto's "Foothills Environmental Design Study" published in 1971. The report concluded famously that it would be less costly for a city or county with large undeveloped areas in its jurisdiction to buy the land and keep it open rather than pay for streets, utilities, schools, police, fire, parks and other amenities needed for lower-density housing.
That finding was revolutionary and became a rallying cry for environmentalists nationwide. Cities and counties began seriously to consider limiting growth. Palo Alto adopted an Open Space Zone, quickly challenged in court by landowners. There were regional and statewide examinations of hitherto permissive growth policies. Growth-control measures appeared in several state legislatures and in Congress.
There was an intense focus on the difficulties individual cities faced in trying to chart their own destinies, and "regional planning" became a buzzword that is still buzzing.
Developers, some landowners and trade unions fashioned growth-promoting responses, mostly lobbying and some lawsuits.
The Cry California article also mentioned balancing open space with social programs in Palo Alto, and the city's efforts to foster more low-to-moderate-income housing. Surging rents and home prices were already driving some residents out of town, forcing many to commute long distances from homes or apartments they could afford.
The average daily commute at the time was something like 18 miles one way. Traffic jams made commutes long and exhausting, even before gasoline prices started soaring — creating a cruel double economic whammy for lower-wage commuters forced to live far away from their jobs, with social impacts ranging from loss of a community at either end to impacts on couples and families.
The 1971 foothills study, known as the Livingston & Blayney Report after the consultants who prepared it, had another significant conclusion: that added housing should occur in areas of town already served by police, fire, schools and utilities. That meant increasing density around downtown Palo Alto, for instance, or elsewhere where acceptable sites could be found. "Acceptable" is the trick word here, as attested by recent discussions about "overdevelopment" and parking overflow in downtown Palo Alto.
The Business Journal articles (http://tinyurl.com/kaxop67) place the jobs/housing ratio at the core of the incredibly high housing prices in Palo Alto and other parts of Silicon Valley. The articles are well worth the reading for anyone who wants to understand what's really happening in their community, region or state.
"In Silicon Valley, high housing costs, gridlocked traffic and stark income disparities are all major quality-of-life issues exacerbated during boom times," the lead article states in a nutshell summary.
"All three of these obstacles for sustained growth can be traced to one concrete problem: A glaring geographic mismatch between the region's job centers and housing for an economically diverse workforce."
I personally was a bit surprised by the 3.13-to-1 ratio for Palo Alto. I was surprised that it had been allowed to get that much worse over the four decades, despite all the talk about balancing jobs and housing and the futile-seeming attempts of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to assign housing goals to communities to alleviate the imbalance even a bit.
There's been more talk than action largely due to neighborhood-level quality-of-life resistance to increased density and from developers who dislike housing-impact fees. That translates to no good place to build housing and no good way to pay for it. Then as now.
Then there is the overall economy.
The BJ article concludes: "In theory, people will stomach higher costs of living and even commuter gridlock for economic opportunity. How long that theory holds up is a matter with stark implications for the region's future."
The full text of the Cry California article can be found at www.paloaltoonline.com/media/reports/1394726066.pdf.
This story contains 957 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a member, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Membership starts at $12 per month and may be cancelled at any time.